Someone gave a proper order to a few very current events

Chris Floyd had the honor:

The uprising in Egypt on Tuesday is of infinitely greater importance than the goon show staged by the corporate-lackey-in-chief and the great mooing herd of cud-chewers in Congress the same night. For decades, the remarkably brutal — and rottenly stagnant — dictatorship in Egypt has been one of linchpins of Washington's never-ending effort to "project dominance" over the Middle East. If the Cairo regime falls to a popular revolution, it will send shock waves all through the world-spanning tentacles of the American Empire.

So, while Barack Obama exhorted Americans to suck it up and to firmly grab their bootstraps — "The future is ours to win." and "It [the future] has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle and meet the demands of a new age." — parts of the world were then forcing the American Eagle to retract his claws.

Blowback? Yes, indeed! Expected? Yes, at least by some. Welcomed? Yes, by many, for retrenchment of this kind is both inevitable and timely. It's inevitable because the United States cannot afford to engage forever in wars of conquest and pacification, especially since these will remain wars which it will never truly win. This incapacity can be explained by the fact that both global political and military power presuppose a globally significant economic power by the country that would be a world power. Yet having economic power of this magnitude is something which America can only watch dissipate while this economic power passes eastward from its hands to China and India's. It's timely because, for decades, America's global empire garroted America's modestly democratic institutions while it has also wasted the lives of millions of Americans and millions more of those targeted by Uncle Sam's juggernaut. Americans should never forget that the United States was the Rogue State in the world, one that was too powerful to resist by most of the Lilliputians who confronted it. Fortunately, successfully resisting the Rogue Power has since become a feasible goal for those willing to fight and die for their political project. This is their moment. This is America's descent to a condition of unexceptional existence.

As his speech neared its conclusion, Obama the myth-monger (on which, see this, this, this, this, this) exclaimed, "We do big things." Indeed, America has done many big things over the course of its history. In making this claim Obama clearly meant to convey to his audiences that he was hopeful about the future. Nevertheless, America will fail spectacularly simply because it does so many things in a very big way, as Floyd suggests in his conclusion:

Poor Barack. Not that long ago, he was taking the world stage in Cairo, with a speech that offered a "new start" in relations to the regions — empty words which have long since proved to have been just another part of the vicious deceptions currently being exposed by al Jazeera. Now Cairo is ablaze with the promise of a genuine new start, driven by the needs of ordinary people, not the greeds of the elite. More than ever, Obama looks like yesterday's man, abandoned by history as it sweeps forward, leaving him mired with the goons and the loons, fighting a rearguard action to save the pomps and privileges of a rotting empire.

This article was cross-posted at FireDogLake


Chris Hedges yet again criticized liberals and advocated a civilly disobedient politics

Hedges wrote the following in his Monday Truthdig article:

The moral outrage of the liberal class, a specialty of MSNBC, groups such as Progressives for Obama and MoveOn.org, is built around the absurd language of personal narrative — as if Barack Obama ever wanted to or could defy the interests of Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase or General Electric. The liberal class refuses to directly confront the dead hand of corporate power that is rapidly transforming America into a brutal feudal state. To name this power, to admit that it has a death grip on our political process, our systems of information, our artistic and religious expression, our education, and has successfully emasculated popular movements, including labor, is to admit that the only weapons we have left are acts of civil disobedience. And civil disobedience is difficult, uncomfortable and lonely. It requires us to step outside the formal systems of power and trust in acts that are marginal, often unrecognized and have no hope of immediate success.

Hedges next focused his attention on "a politics of solidarity":

The organizers of the Left Forum conference scheduled for this March at Pace University in New York City also communicate in the amorphous, high-blown moral rhetoric that is unmoored from the actual and real. The upcoming Left Forum conference, which has the vacuous title "Towards a Politics of Solidarity," promises to "focus on the age-old theme of solidarity: the moral act of imagination underpinning working-class victories everywhere. It will undertake to examine the new forms of far-reaching solidarity that are both necessary and possible in an increasingly global world." The organizers posit that "the potential for transformative struggles in the 21st century depends on new chains of solidarity—between workers in the rich world and workers in the global south, indigenous peasants and more affluent consumers, students and pensioners, villagers in the Niger Delta and environmental campaigners in the Gulf of Mexico, marchers and rioters in Greece and Spain, and unionists in the United States and China." The conference "will contribute to the intellectual underpinnings of new and tighter forms of world-wide solidarity upon which all successful emancipatory struggles of the future will depend."

Hedges showed his disdain for such talk-fests when he exclaimed:

The last thing the liberal class intends to do is fight back. Left Forum brings in a few titans, including Noam Chomsky, who is always worth hearing, but it contributes as well to the lethargy and turpitude that have made the liberal class impotent.

Only action suffices, according to Hedges

The only gatherings worth attending from now on are acts that organize civil disobedience, which is why I will be at Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., at noon March 19 to protest the eighth anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

To my mind, there are problems with Hedges position, problems which reveal his argument to be sloppy and even demagogic. Briefly put, they are:

First, communication, such as those Hedges criticized, is a species of political action. That is, to write and speak about unemployment and the incoherence of Obamanomics, the state of race relations today and white terror in the United States, America's empire and militarism, its prison population and poverty, personal privacy and public action — that is, to communicate about these issues entails acting politically.

As it turns out, Hedges article denouncing liberal talk-fests counts as a politically communicative act. He thus ensnares himself in a paradox when he makes claims such as these.

Second, the March 19 march Hedges will attend can and ought to be considered an instance of political communication about Iraq and an act of solidarity with the victims of that crime. As a matter of fact and logic, the solidarity revealed on March 19 is itself an instance of political communication. This act of communication manifests itself through the collective action of a group of individuals and though the solidarity expressed for the victims of America's crimes. The relationship between solidarity and communication does not directly depend on the intentions of those acting. It issues instead from the public and political nature of the action.

Third, I see no reason for America's small dissident public to limit its political repertoire to forms of civil disobedience and marches. Any movement that wants to endure and, in the end, to be successful must attract members, organize those it attracts, raise monies that fund actions and solve coordination problems which it must solve in order for these actions to succeed. Organizations are forms of communication and solidarity as well as being instruments which serve the interests of their members. They enable like-minded individuals to act collectively. They also tell the public that they have political projects they intend to achieve along with strategies and tactics they will use to achieve their ends. The tactics employed by these organizations include civilly disobedient actions and marches.

As of this moment, the left in the United States is so weak that limiting itself to civilly disobedient acts is both unproductive and unnecessary. For one thing, security forces can easily police these events, turning them into opportunities to jail march leaders and activists. For another, acts of civil disobedience and political marches also suppose organizational support. Organization- and movement-building work thus leads to and provides a necessary condition for engaging in the actions Hedges affirms.

If my conclusion seems wrong, I only ask my reader to consider the fact that the left is weak today because it has not endured as a politically independent entity, one composed of strong movements and viable organizations. That is, it failed to conserve the political and organizational achievements won with the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left, organized movements that left their mark on the federal, state and local governments they touched.

Cross-posted at FireDogLake


A disturbing photograph

Someone's famine and another's feast:

Photograph taken in Africa


MSNBC gave Keith Olbermann a pink slip

The eight-year run of Countdown on MSNBC came to an end last night (1.21.2011). It is only a coincidence that the Federal Communication Commission approved (.pdf) Comcast's purchase of NBCU from General Electric three days before.

Olbermann's public goodbye:

Update (1.22.2011)

The New York Times now reports that Olbermann and MSNBC had quietly negotiated over the terms of Olbermann's departure for "the last several weeks." The talks ended on Friday.


Bill Maher bashes the reactionaries

It's funny even if he's not always accurate!

Barack Obama — a neoliberal without restraints

Now that Barack Obama has provided Wall Street with the economic and political aid it craves, wrecked Health Care Reform for a generation or more, prosecuted two politically senseless and criminal wars, tipped the Supreme Court to the right, has the 2010 midterm elections the results of which he can use as shields when his deceptions prove too damaging to his persona — now that he has accomplished so much, he appears poised to ruin Social Security. His first trick in this game, the Cat Food Commission, failed to complete its mission. But Obama seems determined, and the Commission's failure only requires he use another tactic. The destruction of Social Security would be considered a decisive historical moment if it came to be, as Andrew Levine suggests: "The danger that the last nail is about to be driven into the New Deal's coffin is real and imminent."

Levine continues by stating a point that is obvious but often ignored:

Republicans may still be better than Democrats at engineering the tax system to redistribute wealth upwards. But Republicans can't touch the 'third rail' of American politics. Even with the vaunted "political capital" he acquired after the 2004 election, the first that he actually won, George Bush couldn't privatize (gut) Social Security. Clinton probably could have but for la Monica, and so can Obama, at least so long as the "folks" who routinely vote Democratic, the only people left who can block the Reaganite tide he is riding, continue to stand by their man.

We might hope that Obama faces strenuous opposition to his plan when it becomes publicly evident that he intends to wreck Social Security. Will he? Perhaps not. On the one hand, Obama would need to confront popular unrest before he trimmed his sails. On the other hand, he knows he can count on the Republicans for their votes on this matter and for more than that. Levine writes, that "Obama is counting on Tea Partiers and their representatives in Congress to scare those voters into line and to bring 'moderates' back into his fold. Perhaps they will." This is the "lesser evil argument" in action, revealing to be a mechanism which forces some to abandon their interests and others to follow the physically safe path.

Would it be surprising if Obama were to derive indirect political benefits from America's white terror? I think not! As Walter Karp remarked (Karp, 1993, p. 31) years back when he discussed state party politics:

It is not electoral competition which characterizes the relation between two state party organizations, but strict and pervasive collusion. That collusion does not necessarily require conspiratorial plotting in smoke-filled back rooms. It springs up automatically between two state party organizations by virtue of powerful bonds of common interest. Neither party organization could retain control of its party unless the two organizations were in collusion. As Senator Robert Lafollette rightly remarked in 1912: "Machine politics is always bipartisan." It is because it has to be.

An insight today even though the American political system is much different than it had been when Karp wrote these words (circa 1973).

This article was cross-posted to OpenSalon and FireDogLake

Tim Geithner — obstructionist?

Surely Treasury Secretary Geithner is a Republican. He must be since he is publicly willing to hinder the implementation of even a modest reform such as this:

…[T]he G20 will press ahead with the creation of two separate systemic bank lists, the first with an estimated 20 global banks whose failure would pose a risk to the international financial system. The second would be a country-by-country list of banks that are systemically important within their home economies, but pose little danger to the world.

To achieve these goals, the Dodd-Frank Act (H.R. 4173) authorized The Financial Stability Oversight Council to identify those banks the failure of which would threaten the financial system. Geithner chairs the Council. However, the Financial Times
reports that "Tim Geithner has questioned the feasibility of identifying financial institutions as 'systemically important' in advance of a crisis, just as the regulatory council the Treasury secretary chairs is supposed to start doing precisely that." Geithner made this argument in defense of his reticence: "What size and mix of business do you classify as systemic? … It depends too much on the state of the world at the time. You won't be able to make a judgment about what's systemic and what's not until you know the nature of the shock." This appears to be an argument from ignorance or, more precisely, a confusion of evidence of absence (we do not know with certainty what a future state of the world will be) with absence of evidence (we cannot probabilistically predict what a future state of the world will be). I strongly suspect that of all possible future states of the world, those which we believe to be feasible possibilities are also those which resemble the world as we know it. Using this point we can infer a practical rule: Some future states of the world are offensive but can be avoided if actions are taken in the present that are meant to avoid these futures.

Geithner seems unwilling to tolerate that ambiguity entailed by the presence of any regulatory mechanism. To be sure, his willingness to avoid regulation which is uncertain to work as intended — that is, regulation which will not prevent a systemic crisis — likely depends upon his knowing that present and future American taxpayers can be made to bear the risks and pay the debts of a crisis prone financial system.

Another concern about the Dodd-Frank regulatory mechanism believed it would provide large banks with another set of rules to game. Perverse effects would supposedly follow from this rule-gaming behavior. Should the possibility of perverse outcomes deter efforts to implement regulations? No. I make this claim because one could concede the point that regulations can be gamed in every instance without also concluding that any given regulatory regime is equal to every other regulatory regime. Some regimes are preferable to others. Thus, the mere possibility that new regulations can be gamed implies that regulations ought to be designed to achieve desired results along with the knowledge that these regulations may need to be updated in the future.

Should these be problems to worry about that one would want to scuttle a part of the Dodd-Frank reforms? I doubt this. After all, the Great Recession proved that an under-regulated financial system can and will generate bubbles and instability, crises and bailouts. It is unsurprising, then, that Open Congress harshly and rightly evaluates Geithner's reserve:

This sounds to me like an excuse to not do your job. If you're serious about keeping a handle on systemic risk, you'd err on the side of caution and make as inclusive a list as possible so you don't accidentally let firms through to take advantage of their lower capital and leverage requirement and get too interconnected. Instead it sounds like Geithner is inclined to keep a short list and wait until things get messy before making judgements, because, you know, that's when the best decisions are made. Right.

This kind of waffling when it comes to actually taking decisive regulatory action is exactly why proponents of limiting bank size think hard-and-fast rules are the way to go.

This article was cross-posted to OpenSalon and FireDogLake


McCoy Tyner



John Coltrane



Let’s vote out the SOBs

We could do that, but such resistance today seems futile, according to Maureen Tkacik, of the New York Observer. She wrote:

"If you want to get some traffic on this one [the White House hiring Daley and Sperling]," a former senior House aide told The Observer, "make your angle 'Obama's Fixers to End the New Deal.' They are going to dismantle Social Security. I guarantee it. And he won't suffer any push-back. But Obama is the extremist here; he is the wing nut. There's been a total collapse of political power on the left. The left is not even at the table, and they don't even realize it. You can't blame the voters. In 2006 they voted out the party of endless war and corporate bailouts. In 2008 they voted out the party of endless war and corporate bailouts. And in 2010 they voted out the party of endless war and corporate bailouts."
Well, I am certain that some on the left are aware of their lack of political power. And for this situation the left in general cannot criticize the voters who voted for a national alternative that did not exist but for the 2008 Nader candidacy. Barack Obama may have fooled some Democrats or, perhaps, enabled them to fool themselves. But that was then. As of this moment, who but a political innocent, a yellow dog Democrat or a committed neoliberal would vote for him? No one would except for those savvy individuals who consider voting for the "lesser evil" Democrat to be an iron rule of political life.

Building large and well-organized social movements provides a path that can break the power of the legacy party duopoly, an outcome that would create political options for a left that effectively has none. This is the path principled leftist must take if they wish to become effective.

This article was cross-posted to FireDogLake and OpenSalon


Winning arguments vs. making sense, ducking for cover vs. taking the lead on an issue

David Frum addresses the faults to be found in Sarah Palin's response to the Tucson Massacre and to those who claim she bears responsibility for the event:

Obviously, Palin [with her infamous gun-sights graphic] never intended to summon people to harm Representative Giffords. There was no evidence that the shooter was a Palin follower, and in short order it became evident that he was actuated by a serious mental illness. Whatever you think about Palin's "don't retreat, reload" rhetoric, it could not be blamed for this crime.

So — argument won? No. Argument lost.

Palin failed to appreciate the question being posed to her. That question was not: "Are you culpable for the shooting?" The question was: "Having put this unfortunate image on the record, can you respond to the shooting in a way that demonstrates your larger humanity? And possibly also your potential to serve as leader of the entire nation?"

I wholly agree with Frum on this point save for his use of the Loughner was insane trope. My position on the "insane gunman argument" can be found here. Moreover, the internet is now full of similar arguments (of those that I have read, two of the better ones can be found here and here), with Frum offering one of them. I have drawn attention to Frum's argument only because Frum is a conservative, and his writing might influence the rightwing in this country to address their violent reactionaries problem. Frum concludes his article with his assessment of Palin the person and Palin the national politician:

Of course, Palin has yet to give the answer called for by events. Instead, her rapid response operation has focused on pounding home the message that Palin is innocent, that she has been unfairly maligned by hostile critics. Which in this case happened to be a perfectly credible message. And also perfectly inadequate. It was about Palin, not about Giffords. It was defensive, not inspiring. And it was petty at a moment when Palin had been handed perhaps her last clear chance to show herself presidentially magnanimous.

This essay was cross-posted at FireDogLake and OpenSalon


An argument for considering the Tucson Massacre a political event

1. Jared Loughner had a politics, one that included violence as an expressive political event.

2. Rep. Giffords was a national politician, who was engaged in local political work at a public place when Loughner attempted to kill her.

3. Rep. Giffords had local political opponents who contested her election and her policy choices, sometimes by using violent speech, symbols and actions. Some of her opponents were Republican partisans and some were likely movement activists associated with that Party.

4. America's political culture, along with the society of which it is a part, is composed of fragments, some of which consider themselves authorized to act violently in order to defend their interests and to defend what they consider to be an authentic American way of life. They believe they have this authority because they utilize the thoughts and symbols of the American Revolution and because they, in some cases, draw upon the Protestant political theology that many of America's colonists brought with them from Europe.

5. Those social fragments which consider themselves authorized to act violently in order to defend their interests and to defend what they consider to be an authentic American way of life are mostly if not exclusively located within the orbit of the national Republican Party.

6. The national Republican Party seeks and has long sought to monopolize the naming and defining of what is truly American. The Republican Party attempts to achieve this monopoly, in part, by excluding every competitor they encounter in this matter. In this way the national Republican Party practices what can be identified as an absolutist politics.

7. As a practitioner of an absolutist politics, the national Republican Party seeks to effectively if not to actually eliminate its opponents as political opponents. It is motivated to achieve this end because of its commitment to an 'authentic American life' and because of the religiosity of some of its member groups.

8. Mr. Loughner's attempt to assassinate Rep. Giffords neatly encapsulates this dangerous and uniquely American political situation, a situation which provides the context in which we must evaluate the Tucson Massacre.

The attempted assassination of Rep. Giffords was a political event because her assailant had a politics that made her a target while, in turn, she had a politics that motivated some politically violent individuals to make her a target; she was a politician with a local following and a national reputation; the assassination attempt occurred at an open, public political venue, more specifically, at a place where Giffords practiced her politics; Loughner's violent act reflected key features of the local and national political culture; and the killings could be irrationally justified by the assailant and others by drawing upon the symbols, rhetoric and violent nature of America's founding. To the reactionary, assassinating Giffords could be defended as an act of a patriot. He sought to water liberty's tree with the blood of tyrants.

It can be and has been argued that Jared Loughner was incapable of reasonable thought and action because he suffered from a severe but as of yet unknown mental illness. Loughner, because of his illness, was incapable of acting politically because politics in general assumes a modicum of rational thinking capacity and because Loughner was incapable of rational thought. Consequently, Loughner's actions cannot be rightly considered political because, to put it simply, he was not sane or, at best, barely sane.

This argument fails, I believe, because it ignores the context in which the Loughner lived and thus learned to think, feel and act. In recent years this context was flush with violent rhetoric and behavior, most of which issued from the mouths, keyboards and bodies of the reactionary right. Much of the locally generated violent talk took Rep. Giffords as a key target. This discourse of violence crystallized during the 2010 midterm campaign. Moreover, Giffords was a member of Congress, and thus a plausible threat to the weak and marginal in America, at least she was thought to pose this kind of threat by those on the right who believe government to be an evil in every instance when that government exceeds its minimal size. Loughner, it seems, was such an individual. His internet videos reflect this kind of thinking. His deed and words reflect this local and national political context. And his action was premeditated. He acted purposefully in the weeks that preceded the massacre. Thus, Loughner's deed can be judged a political act because it was meant to be a political act and produced political effects.

That said, even if one believes that Loughner's mental distress meant that he was unable to form a politics, that is, even if Loughner was insane and unable to rationally formulate a politics and a practice, it remains the case that his deed also reflects the thinking and recommendations of the reactionary component of the national Republican Party and the movements related to it. The context confers political significance on the event no matter what Loughner intended or could intend.

It is for these reasons that I believe the Tucson Massacre to be a political event, and ought to be considered a political event even if Jared Loughner were to proven to be criminally insane. Any claim which refuses to consider Loughner's act a political act also refuses to consider the facts as they are known and refuses to treat politics as an activity that cannot be wholly reduced to the subjective intentions of this or that individual.

This essay was cross-posted at OpenSalon and All Tied Up and Nowhere to Go

One feature of America’s fearful political culture

Glenn Greenwald wrote the following this morning:
There has been much talk over the last several days, in the wake of the Arizona shooting, about attempts by some citizens to instill physical fear in elected officials. That's a worthwhile and necessary topic, but the fear that government officials are attempting to instill in law-abiding, dissenting citizens is far more substantial and sustained, and deserves much more attention than it has received.
He wrote this paragraph while concluding another one of his long, lucid and well-argued essays on the WikiLeaks saga. When I broadly consider his position, I believe he was right to take it. After all, there can be no doubt that America's political-legal assault on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange wants to intimidate whistleblowers like Bradley Manning, citizen journalist like those found at WikiLeaks along with those citizens who would protest and thereby reform the use of government power in the United States. Nor can anyone doubt that such intimidation has been achieved to some degree. Why would willingly desire to be tortured as Bradley Manning has been since his incarceration?

Nevertheless, unlike Greenwald, if I have accurately interpreted his essay, I do not believe that a state induced fear and a socially induced fear are wholly distinct. Nor do I believe that popular reactionary violence and the threat of such have taken aim only at America's elected officials, especially those officials who are members of the Democratic Party. It is not even clear to me that one practice is more important than the other. Fear, like radiation, has a scope that is far greater than its direct target. It is both immediately devastating for those targeted and broadly instructive for those who witness a fear-inducing attack. It often attaches a stigma to its targets and it enforces the sense that keeping one's head low means that someone cannot take it off at the neck.

The Tucson bloodbath this past weekend has had the noticeable effect of drawing attention to the use of fear in politics in the United States today. This fear, as stated above, is meant to eliminate political opponents while cowling others into silence. It is a political act and has political consequences.

The Tucson attack also has achieved more than pointing to the use of fear as a political tool in the United States. It has also focused attention on the work of one American political movement, with its famous and not-so-famous leaders, a reactionary political movement that wants to intimidate different political movements, organizations, parties and institutions. The violence-laden rhetoric, the symbols and tools of violence used by this movement, the attacks it mounts on human diversity — these practices achieve an end similar to the ends pursued by the government when it seeks to intimidate those who threaten it, namely, the suppression of what remains of liberalism in the United States, of a political commitment to a full set of rights and of a strong democracy emboldened to contest a strong government. I also believe it is clear that this reactionary movement provides the squadristi and Sturmabteilung for that faction of the Republican Party that has absolutist pretentions and that actually believes it expresses the essence of an authentically American life. Like the surveillance and security practices of the federal government, the violence prone reactionaries function as an agent that constrains political speech and action in the United States.

Since the reactionaries have more than a foot in American government, including the military, it is not too farfetched to identify the reactionaries as the sometimes extra-legal agent of a terror that, all things being equal, affirms governmental power! It surely affirms the security and surveillance apparatus, which must now protect good apolitical Americans from the extremists. It also affirms bipartisan government, a kind of American political compromise that actively suppresses political conflict, especially conflict that originates within civil society. When thought of in this way, governmental surveillance and security work complements actual and potential political terror produced by America's reactionaries, and vice versa. Both produce depoliticizing effects.

The proof of this is ready at hand. The United States currently lacks an opposition party and has not recently produced an effective opposition movement that can contest the policies and practices of the American political system. This absence is not due to luck, to America's well-designed institutions or to the well-being enjoyed by most Americans. It is an effect of long-term political work by America's government system, including its legacy parties and the duopoly they compose, and by the reactionary popular forces originating within civil society.

Although the Tucson shootings have caused some of America's political elite to take a step back with respect to their use of inflammatory talk, I could not help but to agree with Alexander Cockburn's assessment of America's near-term political future: "I doubt [America's] rhetoric will stay subdued for long." It appears that there can be only one American politics, and it is vain, militaristic, violent and narrow.

This essay was cross-posted at OpenSalon and FireDogLake


Assassination attempt in Arizona

Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a three-term Democrat, was shot this morning by a gunman who also injured some of her staff. Giffords is a liberal on many issues, married to an astronaut and defeated last November a Tea Party conservative that criticized Sarah Palin from the right.

Although the motives of the gunman for shooting Giffords are currently unknown, the shooting must be counted as a political assassination attempt because of the grass roots political conflict present in the United States today.

This is a breaking news story; live updates can be found at the Huffington Post.


Rep. Giffords, along with six others, died as a result of this shooting, according to NPR.


A poll asks a grave question about the deficit and unbalanced budgets

Vanity Fair and 60 Minutes conducted the poll. The most interesting question of the lot is, "What would you do first to balance the budget?" While writing this post the tally of the response is:

75% — Increase taxes on the wealthy

16% — Cut defense spending

4% — Cut Medicare

4% — Cut Social Security

Obama and a lame duck Congress controlled by the Democratic Party just extended the Bush Tax Cuts. Significantly cutting defense spending is not on the agenda while Obama, his party and the incoming Republicans do intend to cut Medicare and Social Security.


To restructure or not to restructure?

Joseph Stiglitz looks to the past and the future:

For Europe and the United States, 2010 was a year of disappointment. It's been three years since the bubble broke, and more than two since Lehman Brothers' collapse. In 2009, we were pulled back from the brink of depression, and 2010 was supposed to be the year of transition: as the economy got back on its feet, stimulus spending could smoothly be brought down.

Growth, it was thought, might slow slightly in 2011, but it would be a minor bump on the way to robust recovery. We could then look back at the Great Recession as a bad dream; the market economy — supported by prudent government action — would have shown its resilience.

Resilience? Recovery? Prudent government action? I think not. Stiglitz continues:

In fact, 2010 was a nightmare. The crises in Ireland and Greece called into question the euro's viability and raised the prospect of a debt default. On both sides of the Atlantic, unemployment remained stubbornly high, at around 10%. Even though 10% of US households with mortgages had already lost their homes, the pace of foreclosures appeared to be increasing — or would have, were it not for legal snafus that raised doubts about America's vaunted "rule of law."

But profits were made secure. Sure, the EU may have just averted a systemic crisis, but it didn't fall. Still, there can be no doubt that the "little people" feel put out by their insecurity. The elite response to their most recent failures and the insecurity they engendered:

Unfortunately, the New Year's resolutions made in Europe and America were the wrong ones. The response to the private-sector failures and profligacy that had caused the crisis was to demand public-sector austerity! The consequence will almost surely be a slower recovery and an even longer delay before unemployment falls to acceptable levels.

Why should anyone find it surprising that a political elite committed to neoliberal policies would propose remedies to a recession that won't work and will intensify the misery of the politically powerless? Only the daft and the vicious would find this surprising.

Stiglitz offers this solution to our common problem:

Debt restructuring — writing down the debts of homeowners and, in some cases, governments — will be key. It will eventually happen. But delay is very costly — and largely unnecessary.

Color Stiglitz an optimist!

This essay was also published on FDL.com

A Zero Option politics for the American left

Chris Hedges recently talked with Ralph Nader. One part of their conversation has Nader pointing to a very odd mechanism found in American politics:

"The more outrageous the Republicans become, the weaker the left becomes," Nader said when I reached him at his home in Connecticut on Sunday. "The more outrageous they become, the more the left has to accept the slightly less outrageous corporate Democrats."

Why would Republican outrageousness work like this? Why does it produce this counterintuitive result? It's not that the left has to commit to supporting the moderately less destructive Democratic Party. In fact, the Obama administration has already demonstrated that the Democratic Party does not find it difficult to move rightward with the Republicans. In this respect Obama has continued the grand push rightward that took hold with the emergence of the Democratic Leadership Council and the political defeat of the Rainbow Coalition. Putting the matter in blunt terms, one can say that the Democratic Party has long been the tail end of the Reagan Revolution.

Hedges continues:

Nader fears a repeat of the left's cowardice [voting for the Democrat] in the next [2012] election, a cowardice that has further empowered the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party, maintained the role of the Democratic Party as a lackey for corporations, and accelerated the reconfiguration of the country into a neo-feudalist state. Either we begin to practice a fierce moral autonomy and rise up in multiple acts of physical defiance that have no discernable short-term benefit, or we accept the inevitability of corporate slavery. The choice is that grim. The age of the practical is over. It is the impractical, those who stand fast around core moral imperatives, figures like Nader or groups such as Veterans for Peace, which organized the recent anti-war rally in Lafayette Park in Washington, which give us hope. [emphasis added]

The left, need it be said, has no place within the Democratic Party save as useful idiots who dutifully vote for a Democrat when given the opportunity. It may appear that the left has nowhere to go, as Nader contends. This is the left's zero option politics. If, on the other hand, the broad left wants to give itself a multidimensional politics, if it wants to have options to play, it will need to refuse to support the Democratic Party.

Is it me or is it ironic that America is counting on the left to make the right decision in this matter?

This essay also appeared on Salon.com and FDL.com