Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Say it isn't so!

Congress cannot be so stupid that it believes that the “financial innovations” that brought down our economy should continue unregulated.

Congress cannot be so stupid that it believes the Fed is an impartial arbitrator of our nation’s economy.

Congress cannot be so stupid that it will allow our banks to continue to leverage their hearts out without sufficient capital reserves.

Congress cannot be so stupid that it believes that the deregulation that let loose the hounds of feral greed is good for America.

Congress cannot be so stupid that it fails to see that Treasury and the Fed are subsidiaries of Goldman Sachs.

I mean, if Congress isn’t stupid, what is it?

But, why worry? The market is rising, green sprouts are sprouting and a fool, when he steps off a cliff, thinks his plummet is flight.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Making up the Authentic

This taste for the “authentic,” and for the control that goes with it, accompanies the petty bourgeoisie in its colonization of working class neighborhoods…By chasing out the poor people, the cars, and the immigrants, by making it tidy, by getting rid of all the germs, the petty bourgeoisie wipes out the very thing it came looking for.
The Invisible Committee
The Coming Insurrectin


We seek the real in the make believe. The moment we enter a carefully engineered, sanitary bubble we feel that we have arrived. Its sweet smell and kitschy d├ęcor tell us that we have stepped into a world that evokes a golden past when life was coherent and whole. The irony is that by stepping into that bubble, we leave the authentic, which is authentic because it grates on our nerves.

A visit to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia personifies this “authentic” bubble. The restored colonial village is peopled with actors in “authentic” costumes walking “authentic” dirt streets down which “authentic horses” pull “authentic wagons.”

There are, however, a few authentic touches missing. No chamber pots are dumped out second story windows onto the street below. The pungent odor of an eighteenth century people that believed bathing to be unhealthy is missing. No pigs wander streets clogged with filth. No butcher guts an animal and leaved the offal to rot in the noonday sun.

We prefer our authenticity sanitized just as we prefer our lives sanitized. So when working class neighborhoods are gentrified, they are fumigated and scrubbed clean. Families are uprooted and sent looking for affordable housing. Building are gutted, walls that have absorbed decades of memories and smells are torn down to be replaced by genuine, reproduction plaster walls.

What was once vibrant and alive becomes quiet and comatose; make believe always does, because, in the end, the search for authenticity is a flight from the authentic. A well-appointed condo, accessorized and color coordinated becomes a refuge and haven, from the teeming, chaotic, contradictory, nonlinear, cacophonic smelly, throbbing and alive world of the real.

We wander the land of the dead, finding solace in the zombies we pass, always careful to step quietly less we stir up some dust.

It is no wonder antidepressants are such a growth market. A dust mote on a dunghil is not noticed; a dust mote on the highly-polished lens of a telescope screams for attention.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Class Division and the Dating Game

Anyone who thinks America isn’t riven by class divisions isn’t paying attention. The recent reaming of General Motors is exhibit number one. What better way is there to disabuse our working class of their middle class pretentions and send them back to the impoverishment that is their God-ordained lot? Meanwhile, the banks, which are hotbeds of upper middle class privilege, get a pass.

I grew up in an upper middle class suburb in Michigan during the late forties and early fifties when the state was a fiefdom of the Big Three automakers. We were blessed and privileged children who were rushed to the doctor at the slightest fever, whose parents were passionate members of the PTA, who attended Sunday school every week and who received our first Bibles when we were eight.

We were children whose lives were plotted out for them at the moment of birth. School, high school and then college (preferably a Big Ten school), engagement in our senior years and then we would pledge our troth to one of the Big Three, or enter one of the professions. Girls became librarians, teachers or nurses because those were the only fields open to them. They allowed enough flexibility so a woman could leave the workforce; raise her 2.5 children and return.

The good life was a house in the burbs and a station wagon. To belong was to wear the right clothing, think the right thoughts and live the right life.

In high school, we were centers of the universe, properly outfitted in our olive crewneck sweaters worn over our plaid button-down shirts with our legs sheathed in chinos with the belt in the back and our feet shod with penny loafers. The Princeton and the crew cut were the regulation haircuts.

Class dictated our social life. Twice I made the error of falling for girls outside my class. In seventh grade there was Judy Smith. Her father ran the municipal garage in the town where my father was mayor. We were doomed from the start. She was a slight girl with a vivacious face who wore plain cotton dresses and kept her hair in a perpetual pony tail.

I fell in love with her, one day, between classes when we passed each other in the hall and she slipped a piece of candy into my hand.

There was to be a school dance the following week and as I was screwing up my eleven-year-old courage to ask her,my father informed me that I was to ask a neighborhood girl of the proper pedigree. Being an obedient son, I complied.

Judy moved to Lansing and started attending Patingale Junior High School. I never saw her again.

In my junior year, I met Beverly Richardson who sat next to me in typing class. She had three strikes against her from the get-go. Not only was she working class, but she was a foster child to boot. A dog had gotten hold of her as a child and left several scars on her face.

One day as I was trying to master the typewriter, I became confused over something and she reached over, smiled, and moved my hand to the right key. Such acts of kindness didn’t come from middle-class who protected their virtue by holding themselves aloof until the second or third date (Not that they ever lost their virtue; they simply smiled more).

I asked her out to the consternation of my friends and family. Her father met me at the door with a shotgun and announced I was to marry his daughter. We all broke down in laughter. They were a lively and fun family, something I knew little of. Several times, during the evening, she looked at me silently, waiting for a kiss. In my prudishness I equated a kiss with a long-term commitment. The voices of friends and family rang in my ears. There was no kiss and we never went out again.

By my senior year, I despised all that my class stood for. But, in the fifties, there was no place to rebel. So instead of packing myself off to the nearest Big Ten school, I joined the Marines for a five year hitch.

One of life’s bitter ironies is that once you reject a lifestyle, you immediately want it back. The separation was long and painful, and it was never complete. I live in the burbs; have one child and two grandchildren and two cars. But the pain and the separation have been worth it. I have emerged from my long journey through the darkness with a unique point of view.

I may not have broken entirely free of my class, but I broke free of the American myth and am all the better for it.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Suffer the little children unto the nearest trade school

I heard this one back in the fifties. I’m not sure who said it, but I suspect it was Bennett Cerf. Whoever it was said:

The trouble with American education is that the teachers are afraid of the principle, the principle is afraid of the superintendent, the superintendent is afraid of the parents, the parents are afraid of the children, and the children aren’t afraid of anything.

Children are feared. Society fears their passion, their spirit and their sexuality. When I was teaching, the one workshop guaranteed to draw an attentive crowd of teachers was one with “Behavior Management” in its title. Many a charlatan with a doctorate in Education made a small fortune by hawking a “guaranteed” behavior management program.

What the author of the above left off, however, was the corollary to his statement—we crush what we fear. Why else would the Supreme Court have to rule that it is illegal for a school administrator to strip search a teenage girl because he suspected she had ibuprofen on her person.

The sixties taught our plutocrats the danger of a permissive education that teaches children how to think and question. Ours is a sick system, one decaying at the hands of corrupt plutocrats whose sole objective is to strip out as many resources as they can before the whole thing collapses.

A system this decayed cannot stand questions, and as every parent of a young child knows, “Why?” is one of their favorite words. This curiosity must be bludgeoned into submission by what William Astore calls, “The Tyranny of Being Practical.”

This is why books are so dangerous. A good book reaches out and embraces its readers; it challenges and stimulates; it opens new vistas of thoughts; it is downright subversive.

We no longer have to burn books; we simply put them online and download them to portable readers. In this way, books remain passive and dormant because readers can no longer underline the passages that inspire or make margin note when a new idea is struggling to break free.

The whole educational enterprise is just that, an enterprise designed to reduce our schools and colleges to vocational training centers. As Astore points out,

If you view education in purely instrumental terms as a way to a higher-paying job—if it’s merely a mechanism for mass customization within a marketplace of ephemeral consumer goods—you’ve effectively given a free pass to the prevailing machinery of power and those who run it.

As a result, we are little more than a nation of atomized individuals who live vicariously through the lives and foibles of celebrities. This suits our plutocrats because they fear that too many books and too much learning could foster what Astore calls, “[A] struggle against accepting the world as it’s being packaged and sold to us by the pragmatists, the technocrats, and those who think education is nothing but a potential passport to material success.”

And the girl who was strip searched? She was an honor student.

Maybe she thought to much and had to be taught a lesson.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Killing for laughs

The Neocon-rightwing-jingoistic noise machine would be a great source of comic relief if their antics didn’t kill so many innocent people. In the proper hands, language can soar and brush heaven’s face. In the noise machine’s hands, it is a clown crawling in the gutter.

One of their finer routines is their blather about moral character/fiber of America. They see it as seriously lacking. However, we must understand that by moral character they mean a homicidal abstinence. “Sex bad, killing good”, they grunt. It’s bad to fuck a person outside of a monogamous, heterosexual marriage, but good to fuck a country rich in resources.

They justify this by claiming that war builds character. Mind you, it doesn’t build the character of those actually fighting the damn war. If anything, it destroys their character, as it must, because that is the only way they will survive. What it does do, they claim, is build the moral character of the spectators. They see war as a rallying point for the country, forming it into a unified and almost totalitarian whole focused only on the victory that will be won by those who are destroyed doing the actual fighting.

Their memory banks are still mired in the glory days of World War II, which was the last war America won, unless you count the epic struggles in Granada and Panama.

That’s why they were elated over 9/11. It was another Pearl Harbor that would unite America into a pliable patriotic whole as united we stood against the forces of evil by creating evil ourselves.

That lasted until W. invaded Iraq and it became apparent that 9/11 was simply an excuse to implement the Big Dick’s energy policy.

It’s a pity that the only ones who now take them seriously are members of the Democratic Party that still shake in their boots every time the machine speaks and spreads the rank odor of its patriotic halitosis over the land.

They are vampires who live for the blood of the innocent, sucking our nation dry as they goad us from one imperial misadventure to another.

They are our arrested adolescents who have been given too many deadly toys to play with, and like a gang of bored teenagers who trash an empty house for the sheer fun of it, they have left our economy and our nation in shambles.

We thought Obama would take away their toys. Instead, he is giving them even more to play with.

Whose house is next?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A memo to NPR

Listen up National Public Radio. Take my name off your mailing list. Don’t look to me for any more pledges. You will get nothing from me until you take a deep breath, swallow once or twice, take a drink of water, or throw down a shot, clear your throat and screw up your courage until you’re able to say t-o-r-t-u-r-e on the air.

Yes! It’s the dreaded‘t’ word that you have chosen not to utter for fear it will upset your sources and get the rightwing noise machine all in a tizzy.

Your ombudsman, Alicia C. Shepard gives a tortured (Whoops! Sorry, I mean “enhanced”) explanation for your decision, which Glenn Greenwald masterfully deconstructs. So, let me add some comments of my own.

Alicia frets that. “…the word torture is loaded with political and social implications…”

In other words, the word is too unhygienic for NPR’s delicate tastes. It’s smeared with blood, urine and feces, so it offends their liberal sensibilities. All good journalists who crawl after the official line fall all over themselves to use the “value-free” language so loved by plutocrats and oligarchs. It doesn’t upset anybody.

Alicia informs us that, “A basic rule of vivid writing is: ‘Show Don’t Tell.” In other words, use facts not coded language.” I guess this means that if a reporter is covering a murder, he should avoid using the word “murder” because it is coded language. So, he should call it a “prematurely ceased life experience.” That’s why we don’t refer to bombed civilians in Afghanistan as “dead people,” even though they are quite dead. “Collateral damage” is much politer, and today’s journalists prefer politeness over truth.

But, Alicia is on a roll. Next she warns us that, “If journalist use the word ‘torture’ then they can be accused of siding with those who are particularly and visible still angry at the previous administration.”

As Greenwald correctly points out, “Here’s the nub of the matter—the crux of journalistic decay in America.”

There was a time, in the time before time, when a journalist spoke the truth and didn’t give a good goddamn who it pissed off. Thank god journalists aren’t physicians. If they were, nobody would be sick because they would be afraid of upsetting their patients by telling them the truth.

Next, Brian Duffy, NPRs former managing editor reassures us that, “President Bush said, ‘We do not torture—period.’ Yet water-boarding and several other tactics no approved in the Army Field Manual were approved by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Council (OLC) during his administration.”

That makes it okay! Some legal hacks twist and torture (Damn! I mean “enhance”) language in a way that is roundly condemned by legal scholars, and , in NPR’s eyes, that means torture isn’t torture even if it is, but it isn’t because they hacks say it isn’t, so NPR will avoid using the word because they might bump into the truth if they did.

I.F. Stone once said that all a reporter needs to remember is two words: “Governments lie.”

That tremor NPR feels beneath its feet is Stone doing back flips in his grave.

NPR cowers and the public remains uninformed. This is what keeps our oligarchs happy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kiss off Viagra! There's a new sheriff in town!

Okay! I’ve used this before, but here it is expanded into what has to be a memorable television commercial.

(Ad opens with rear shot of man and woman in a hot tub, staring lovingly at each other.)

Voiceover: Men, worried about your performance? Does your wife snigger every time you give her that come-hither look? Can’t afford those blue pills that turn you into a raging stud?

Well, help is here!

Announcing the Ultimate HMO Erectile Dysfunction Kit: two tongue depressors and a roll of duct tape.

Ladies! Get ready for the thrill of a lifetime. Experts tell us that a well placed splinter can send a woman’s orgasm off the charts, and afterglow takes on a new meaning when a man goes down on his beloved with a flashlight and a pair of tweezers.

(Soft music plays as the man leans forward to kiss the woman. Suddenly, he cries out in pain and grabs his crotch.)

Woman: What’s wrong?

Man: Shit! They’re warping on me!

Woman: o-o-o-o! Come on baby, light my fire!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Consensus building, with permission

Obama is pounding the drum of financial reform. Yes sir! He’s going to show the crooks that ruined our economy a thing or two.

If they agree.

It’s called consensus building.

His cop is going to be the same enablers who held the door while their cronies looted the Treasury—the Fed.

The comedy team of Geithner & Summers gave us a blueprint for Obama’s planned reform in a Washington Post op ed.

Commenting on the op-ed, Henry C K Liu says, “[The] administration’s regulatory reform plan is generally viewed as having backed away, due to the political difficulties involved, from a more extensive structural overhaul…”

Once again, the ruling party gingerly creeps forward on hands and knees, being ever so careful not to rock the boat or to cause their patrons any undue stress. Congress wouldn’t stand for it; Geithner & Summers wouldn’t stand for it, and most importantly of all, Goldman Sachs wouldn’t allow it.

To Congress, corporatism is the goose that lays the golden egg. To the rest of us, it’s road kill. That’s why we’re shut out of the process.

The happy duo promises us that they will increase the capital reserve requirements for “the largest and most interconnected firms.”

“Not a problem,” their handlers tell them. "All we need do is revise our arcane mark-to-models and through the magic of second-rate mathematical manipulation, presto!, we have all the reserves we need to float another bubble.”

Reform is not about reform, it’s about spin and window dressing. Wall Street and the Beltway are locked in an intricate tango in which Wall Street may allow a little dry humping, but that is as far as it will go.

The important thing is to have this window dressing in place so it can be unveiled when the next financial crisis hits and private ruin is magically transformed into public ruin.

Obama is just too damn polite. FDR grabbed Wall Street by it short hairs; Obama is holding it hand. The only question is, how bad will it have to get before Obama goes for their groin?

That’s how you build consensus.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Another flood, another ark.

It’s been raining here in New Jersey. It’s been raining for a long, long time. Rain rains on the rain that has rained. Fungus grows between our toes; strings of Spanish moss dangle from our nose hairs; a green slick of algae coats our skin.

It can only mean one thing: God’s pissed and its flood time again.

I know, he promised us no more floods. But the people who inked that contract are long dead. Besides, God drew up that contract before drones and aerial bombing. I’m sure there was a no-bomb clause in the original.

Not liking to be caught with my pants down, unless I’m in a compromising position, I’ve started making plans for my ark.

However, this time it’s going to be different.

Given the body count since Noah’s ark touched down on Mt. Ararat, it is apparent that God screwed up: He drowned the sinners.

This time around, I plan to save them. After the floods recede, they’ll be too busy partying to start a war. Besides, virtue has started more wars than sin has.

This means no animals; animals can swim. A lot of sinners are too stoned to even tread water.

No more wooden arks, either. I’ve contracted the construction a luxury ark to a shipyard in Connecticut. I thought there was going to be a hitch when the yard quoted me a price of $2.5 million to build it.

Then God whispered that magic word into my ear: “Earmark.” So, I contacted my congressman and convinced him that the defense industry could use a shot in the arm with a new threat—God’s wrath.

It worked, and he is adding an earmark to the next bill that passes through Congress. (The down side of only accepting sinners means I’ll have to take the whole damn congress with me. That’s okay; I’ll stick them all down in steerage.)

Anyhow, my shipbuilder is thrilled because this means he’ll be awarded an $18 billion contract, plus cost overruns, to build the ark.

Given the large numbers of sinners walking the face of the earth, I’m going to have to prioritize. The first to be allowed on board will be young, nubile females. Next will be the rich who can pay exorbitant sums for their first class cabins. Stoners will follow. The remaining space will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.

It’s raining again, so sinners must hurry and contact me by June 30th. A $500 deposit is required for all reservations, payable in small, unmarked bills. The deposit is waived for young, nubile females.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The freedom of choice that isn't very free when you get right down to it.

The word “freedom” takes more abuse than a submissive in an SM whorehouse. The word is used to justify oppression, war, death and carnage. “Freedom” and “capitalism” are the ties that bind, the chastity belts that protect us from the dangling dick of democracy. Whenever a politician speaks of freedom, the wise person heads for the nearest exit while those who think freedom means freedom bend over and spread their cheeks.

Politicians do not have a monopoly on the word. Private enterprise uses it to justify its avarice and rapacity as it associates freedom with choice, meaning that the consumer is free to choose from a wide selection of useless items designed to fill the artificial needs created by clever advertising.

Now the word had entered the debate over healthcare reform. In a statement that threatens the collapse of life on earth as we know it if Congress adopts a single-payer health plan, the American Medical Association warned, “The introduction of a new public plan threatens to restrict patient choice by driving out private insurers, which currently provide coverage for nearly 70% of Americans (emphasis mine).”

In this case, the “free choice” is the freedom to choose which private insurer one wishes to be screwed by, assuming the one can afford a private plan.

The association goes on to wave the tattered red flag of “tax increases” when it warns that, “If private insurers are pushed out of the market, the corresponding surge in public plan participants would likely lead to an explosion of costs that would need to be absorbed by taxpayers.”

This assumes that the public is too stupid to do the math, i.e., wouldn’t the tax increase created by a public plan with a 5% expense ratio be less than the premiums charged by private plans with their 30% expense ratio? Plus, the best example of a single-payer plan, Medicare, charges premiums based on income, unlike private plans who want an arm and a leg, no matter how poor you are.

Not that the AMA has to worry. The corporate flunkies in Congress are not about to do anything as radical as a national single-payer health plan. It can’t afford to jeprodize all those campaign contributions.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Are you kidding?

There's no way in hell we could ever be a Christian nation. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, so the government would have to kill or incarcerate everyone who refused to accept His message of universal love.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Dirty Fingernails

Governments cannot abide Christians with dirt under their fingernails. They are the ones who go beyond the saving of souls and fight for the systemic changes that will bring peace and justice to impoverished and oppressed peoples of the world, regardless of their religion.

This is why the Vatican squashed the Liberation Theology movement in Central America that made the mistake of takings Christ’s teaching about clothing the naked and feeding the poor seriously through its emphasis on Democratic Socialism.

The Sandinistas of Nicaragua, with their blend of Marxism and Christianity, were anathema to successive American administrations until they were finally crushed by Reagan’s Iran-Contra initiative, which returned “God” to his heaven and made the world safe for democracy.

Now, another Christian with dirty fingernails has appeared, Filipino minister Goel Bagundol who works in the Philippine’s Mindanao province with its concentration of the nation’s Muslims.

He believes that it is a Christian’s mission to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

And he has raised this to an art form.

Recently, three young girls were taken from their families to begin a life of prostitution, with the rapes and beatings that would have been an integral part of their vocational training.

Bagundol took his life into his hands, plunged into the back alleys of Manila, rescued the girls and returned them to their families.

For this, and other activities in behalf of the poor, the government has branded him a Communist, and he has received numerous death threats. Given that there have been 900 extrajudicial killings in the Philippines over the past seven years, the threats are real. There have been 200 disappearances, as well. None of these have been solved.

Bagundol is a member of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). Sixteen of his fellow pastors have been murdered.

He responds to the death threats with cheerful good humor. In his church, there is a wall with photographs of the murdered and disappeared. With a laugh, he muses that next year his photograph might join the others.

His courage in the face of death is an integral part of his faith.

The Muslims of Mindanao have never taken kindly to foreign rule. When the Spanish invaded the Philippines in the sixteenth century, they conquered the northern end of the archipelago and converted the unsuspecting natives to Roman Catholicism, but they couldn’t touch the Muslims of Mindanao who outfought them.

When America took over the islands after the Spanish-American War, the Muslims nearly fought the Americans to a draw, as well. Then, in 1911, General John L. Hansen Jr. decided to apply some American ingenuity to the problem.

He knew Muslims believed that if a pig contaminated them, they would go straight to Hell. So, he took eight Muslim prisoners and sentenced seven of them to be shot. The eighth was to be a witness.

First, he had the seven dig their own graves. Then he tied them to stakes without blindfolds. Before their eyes, he slaughtered a pig and smeared their bodies and clothing with its blood. Then he had the pig cut into seven pieces with a piece dropped into each open grave.

According to eye witnesses, the prisoners all went “blue/black with terror, screaming for Allah to save them,” while the handcuffed eighth prisoner looked on.

Leonard left them like that until sundown when had had them shot and buried with their part of the pig.

The eighth prisoner was released. The story of the American’s methodology for executing Muslims spread rapidly, and the war ended.

(There is no doubt that at least one clerk in the War Department bemoaned the loss of a good pig.)

The respite was temporary.

Since the Philippines achieved independence, the Muslims of Mindanao have fought for their independence, sometimes peacefully, sometimes not.

However, since 9/11, this struggle has taken on a new twist with the advent of our Global War on Terror, known to some as the Eternal War of the Empty Policy.

The GWOT has led to the emergence of an unusual natural phenomenon: wherever there is a plot of land that contains a valuable resource beneath its surface, terrorists suddenly sprout.

The hills of Mindanao contain gold and other minerals that have caught they eyes of large mining firms. Nothing mucks up a good mine like an indigenous people occupying the land. So it was that Muslims struggling for independence suddenly became terrorists.

As a part of our War on Terror, which is really a War on Resources, America started providing the Philippine government with military aid and technical assistance to clear the land for the mining companies (or to facilitate economic development, as it is euphemistically known.)

We have a lot of expertise in this area, though George Armstrong Custer did hit a slight bump in the road when he tried to clear the Black Hills of Native Americans to make way for gold and silver mining. But in the end, civilization prevailed.

It is in this hothouse of conflict and oppression Bagundol works. He doesn’t care about people’s religion; he only cares about their needs. He raises money to feed the malnourished and to provide tribal people with water buffalo to help with their farming. He provides books for the area’s elementary schools and arranges for scholarships to send student to high school, an opportunity normally denied them.

And as the war between the Philippine government and the newly-minted Muslim terrorists ravages the land, he is there to provide comfort, assistance and, where needed, sanctuary.

For this, he is called a Communist.

For this, he lives under a constant threat of death.

All for an annual salary of US$1,600.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Marley redux

We can’t call Obama “Marley’s Ghost.” He’s much too alive for that. However, he’s dragging a chain behind him that’s every bit as long and heavy as Marley’s was. Its links are the dead ideologies forged by men long in their dotage.

His coddling of the banks is one of the links, specifically the link forged from the belief that the banks could clean up the mess that they created. The result, as William Greider points out is that, “The leading bankers worked out a rare deal for themselves that essentially says to the government in Washington ‘heads we win, tails you lose.’”

Now, thanks to bail out money and accounting gimmicks, the banks are singing “Happy Days are Here Again.” The economy will bounce back in the last half of 2009, which means it will be time to float another asset bubble and to encourage tapped-out consumers to sink even further into debt.

According to Greider, “The essential bet Obama made as president was to insist on a ‘voluntary’ approach to rescuing the financial system, picking up the main policies launched by his predecessor.” Of course they were the same policies. We may have a different administration in the White House, but the lobbyists are the same.

One of these days Obama may figure out that the only way to deal with a bully is to kick him in the balls.

Greider pinpoints the problem when he says, “His (Obama’s) political logic was obvious—maintain the appearance of temporary intervention to assist private enterprise and avoid any accusations of left-wing activism. The right called him a socialist anyway.”

That perhaps is the strongest link in Obama’s chain—a Democratic Party that is still running scared of the right-wing noise machine. Left-wing activism is what we need right now and the democrats are acting like a sick man who refuses to get his prescription filled because he’s afraid the pharmacist will yell at him.

Hell, given the scope of our economic meltdown, it’s a complement to be called a Socialist.

Maybe the democrats will wake up and discover that McCarthy’s been dead for 52 years.

Maybe…

Monday, June 15, 2009

...again and again

Stupidity comes in many forms. There is the stupidity that arises from plain ignorance, or the stupidity that arises from inadequate information, or the stupidity that arises from misinterpreting the information at hand.

However, the deadliest stupidity, the one that has spread death and carnage across the face of the earth, is the stupidity grounded in sheer momentum. If an individual does the same thing over and over and expects different results, it’s called insanity. If an organization does the same, it’s called policy.

We are seeing this momentum at work in Central Asia with the resurrection of that nineteenth century folly, the Great Game. In the nineteenth century, the game was between Russia and England. Now it is between the United States and everybody.

The nominal rationale is terrorism; the real rationale is oil, specifically whether Caspian Sea oil can be piped to the West in a pipeline that bypasses both Russia and Iran.

On May 22, Iran and Pakistan reached agreement to build the Iran-Pakistan (IP) pipeline, which would allow Iranian oil to pour into China. As Pepe Escobar points out, “The decision brazenly defied Washington’s diktat.” So we are trying to destabilize Pakistan in the hope that construction be delayed indefinitely as we sow Hellfire missiles and reap even more insurgents, whom we brand as terrorists.

That's the way it is with the delusion of power. Those gripped by it believe that if they think it, it will happen. So deep is this delusion that the powerful believe it is happening, even though it isn't, On the contrary, the results are often the exact opposite of those hoped for, a lesson we learned in Korea and promptly forgot.

Despite drones, missiles, airstrikes and assassinations, there is one hard and fast rule of insurgent warfare that hasn’t changed: the insurgents can’t leave because the theater of war is their turf. The occupier will leave once they’ve been bled dry, a lesson we learned in Vietnam and promptly forgot.

Bankrupt powers bleed out must faster than flush ones.

Thank God for the momentum of policy. It spares our leaders the burden of thinking.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The sexual frustration of dots waiting to be connected

Why can’t the mainstream media connect the dots when reporting on the economy? The dots sit there, throbbing, screaming, “Connect me! Connect me!” and like a blind geek in a strip club, the media ignores the dots.

Yesterdays New York Times headlined a story, “China Fills Its Pantry With Global Commodities." The story told of “90 large freighters full of iron ore…idling off Chinese ports, where they face waits of up to two weeks to unload because port storage operations are overflowing.”

Then the story asks why, with all this iron ore waiting to be offloaded, is Chinese steel production so weak.

Then the experts chime in. Steel production won’t pick up until the global economy recovers; China is trying to rebuild inventories that were “drawn down during autumn and winter.” Others see the purchases as an indication that China believes that the economy in the United States and Europe are recovering.

In addition to steel, China is also buying as much aluminum, copper, nickel, tin, zinc, canola, soybeans and oil as it can lay its hands on.

For the real answer to the question why, we have to turn to Peter Lee of the Asia Times, who points notes that “ [China] doesn’t want to be under the US gun and be forced to buy Treasury bills to finance a yawning deficit simply because Beijing has no place else to put its money. So China is looking for options.”

Conventional wisdom in the United States clings to the belief that China will be forced to finance our deficit because, if it doesn’t, the value of the dollar will plunge and will trash the Chinese economy, which is why China can’t afford to dump the dollars it has.

This is the same conventional wisdom that said housing prices would continue to rise indefinitely.

Hello!

What do our geniuses think China is doing with its massive commodity purchases? It's dumping its dollars by converting them into commodities. It’s a win-win proposition for them. The faster China buys up hard commodities, the more their price will increase, and the more the value of the commodities they hold will increase.

China is also talking to the IMF about buying bonds denominated in Special Drawing Rights (SDR) that represent a fiat basket of currencies, in which the dollar only accounts for 44% of the value, and is offering to buy 400 tons of gold from the IMF. (At $950 an ounce, my calculator doesn’t display enough zeroes to compute how many dollars the Chinese could dump with that purchase.)

Lee connects the dots nicely when, speaking of SDRs, he says:

Despite professions of bafflement and scorn from Western economists, the prospect of SDR bonds has elicited strong interest from all the BRIC countries, especially Russia—an indication that people who actually run economies rather than simply talk about them find the SDRs a potentially valuable and significant development.

Perhaps that’s the Times problem, it talks to too many people who simply talk about the economy. Whatever the reason, there are a lot of frustrated dots waiting to be connected.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Keynes and Consumption

All of a sudden, John Maynard Keynes has returned to the A-list. Exiled at the beginning of the Reagan administration, he is once again in vogue after the policies of Reagan and his successors collapsed in an economic meltdown.

Keynes made his name during the Great Depression when he knocked Says law off its pedestal. Says law stated that supply and demand would always balance out in the long run. 1929 put the lie to that.

Instead, Keynes put forth a theory of aggregate demand in which he argued that demand evolves from the interaction of consumption, investment and government spending. In short, he believed that if consumption drops because of an economic downturn, then it was necessary to increase government spending, which would put money in the consumer’s pocket, which, in turn, would be used to buy goods, and this would stimulate the economy. (Of course, this implied that government spending be reduced in good times, something our leaders ignored during the Cold War.)

The only problem I have with Keynes theory is that it was developed when mass consumption was in its adolescence.

It is difficult to date exactly when the age of mass consumption began since several factors contributed to it. There was the sudden flooding of the consumer market with large quantities of mass produced goods that were affordable. Some argue that mass consumption really took off in the 1890s with the growth of corporate bureaucracies and the increased pay for white collar workers.

If we accept 1890 as an arbitrary start date, then Keynes formulated his theory when mass consumption was a little over forty years old. At this time, there was still room for growth in the consumer market. Many homes were without indoor plumbing or electricity. Coal or wood still heated houses and cooked the food. Clothes were washed by hand; fields were plowed by a team of mules; hot water had to be heated on the stove.

Now we fast forward to today when consumption is seventy percent of our GDP, and one could argue that much of this consumption has been superfluous since most of our basic needs were met in the go-go days of the fifties and sixties. In addition to that, this superfluous consumption has been floated on a sea of consumer debt.

How do you stimulate spending in a saturated consumer market? Whatever money is funneled into the consumer’s pocket will most likely go to pay down consumer debt. We have been floating on a consumer bubble, and it has popped. It is unlikely it will be re-inflated.

Like Icarus, our economy flew too close to the sun and has come crashing back to earth. Unfortunately, there are no more wings to be had.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bored Children

Obama’s economic policy is simplicity itself: butt fuck General Motors whilst giving the banks a blow job.

How we arrived at this state of affairs is another question. The answers are varied and complex. Like a perfect storm, multiple variables congealed to form the clot that is choking our economy. Here are a few suggestions.

Once our bored children of prosperity lost the dewy-eyed idealism of the sixties, they decided it was time to make a buck. So they flooded the nation’s business schools in pursuit of that Holy Grail, the MBA.

Now the last thing a bored child of prosperity wants to do is spend time in a dirty factory with its foul-mouthed workers. They much preferred the sanitized atmosphere of a well-appointed office with its banks of shadowless florescent lights and central air. Isolated from the factory, their fervid minds turned from the science of making things to the heady world of feral economic growth.

So it was that they transitioned us from a real world where real money was made by making real things, into a world of make-believe where illusory profits were made by over leveraging arcane instruments of economic fantasy.

This suited our plutocrats quite well because the profit margin in manufacturing was beginning to shrink due to our obsession with efficiency.

Nothing is more inefficient than human beings. They have to piss and shit. They whine and complain about being overworked and under paid. They go on strike or call in sick. And worst of all, they expect to be paid a living wage.

To our captains of industry, the answer was automation. A machine doesn’t have to use the bathroom and knows how to keep its mouth shut.

However, there was a flaw in their thinking. When the economy goes south, a manufacturer can lay off human beings, thus cutting his costs until things pick up again. Not only is it impossible to lay off a machine, but the manufacturer has to continue making payments on it, and the damn thing has to be maintained. This reduces the cost savings realized through layoffs and cuts into their profit margin.

Of course, it didn’t help that the bored children of prosperity who occupied their corporate headquarters suggested that instead of sinking profits into improving their product they should use said profits to diversify into different areas. This resulted in a drop in quality and a consequent loss of market share, as in the case of the big three automakers. So, the bored children suggested shipping oporations overseas where labor is cheap and union agitators can be snuffed without anyone raising much of an eyebrow.

With manufacturing overseas, our MBAs had to come up with another gimmick for inflating profits. Thus, did they create securitization, which Mike Whitney describes as:

[T]he conversion of pools of loans into securities that are sold in the secondary market…[The quality of the loans make no difference at all, since the banks make their money on loan origination and other related fees. What matters is quantity, quantity, quantity; an industrial scale assembly line of fetid loans dumped on unsuspecting investors to fatter the bottom line.

This allowed the banks to move the toxic loans off their balance sheets, which made it possible for them to become over leveraged.

It was a gigantic asset bubble filled with the hot air of illusion that eventually popped. And the Fed and Treasury are doing their damndest to reinflate it while letting General Motors sink into the Detroit River.

Two running sores mar Liberty’s face: Wall Street and the Beltway. There is no sign that they are healing.

Monday, June 8, 2009

On Abortion

The tragic shooting of Dr. George Tiller by a pro-lifer in Wichita has moved the abortion debate off the back burner. (The fact that Dr. Tiller was gunned down in the narthex of his church gives the murder an added piety.)

The crux of the debate is whether a glob of cellular material is a living human being.

One of the most compelling pro-choice arguments I have ever heard came from an devout Roman Catholic who attends Mass daily and wears his rosary around his neck.

He cited Gen. 2:7, which says:

--then the lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

In other words, the fetus becomes a living human being only when it draws its first breath.

It’s a moot argument, though. The anti-abortion movement has nothing to do with religion. If it did, every pro-lifer would be active in the peace movement.

--Case Wagenvoord

Sunday, June 7, 2009

In Defense of Porn

So, what gives here? We bomb innocent women and children in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and there’s nary a ripple of outrage. We torture prisoners and there is silence. Our bankers loot the public treasury, and a passive public sits enthralled by the newest reality show.

But, let two ex-strippers marry two soldiers, and all hell breaks loose.

In Colorado Springs, the local paper interviewed Alysabeth Clements, a writer, exotic dancer and feminist, and Lily Burana, an exotic dancer and writer. Both had married soldiers and the interview traced their exodus from exotic dancers to loyal Army wives.

The paper has a website where readers can chime in on the paper’s articles. The response to the Army wives’ story was outrage laced with invective and vituperation. The readers, mostly women, raged against what they called “moral bankruptcy” and “whoredom.”

Such a violent reaction against the two wives is difficult to understand until one realizes that the reaction to them and to and adult industry in general has political underpinnings. Specifically, it has to do with the relationship between the State and its proles. (A prole is not to be confused with an informed citizen who tends to view the State with skepticism.)

To understand this relationship, we would do well to borrow a metaphor from the wonderful world of porn, the relationship between a dominatrix and a submissive, abbreviated in porn talk as dom/sub.

The one thing a dom demands of a sub is polite obedience and predictable behavior. No matter how demeaning the indignity, the sub is expected to not only comply, but to be grateful. The sub is expected to spread eagle herself on the bed and wait passively for the dom to apply the wrist and ankle straps.

Should the sub rebel and get laid on her own terms, she draws the anger and contempt of her fellow subs who feel that her freedom underscores their oppressed state.

It is no different with the prole who is also expected to wait passively for the straps. The only difference between the two is that the prole's straps are imaginary, constructed, as they are, out of the big-screen TVs, SUVs, high-end kitchen appliances and assorted electronic gadgets, all bought on credit. Like the sub, the prole is suppose to maintain an attitude of passive gratitude no matter what indignities the State visits upon the prole’s standard of living.

The sixties scared the shit out of the State. It was then that the State discovered that the line between sexual passion and political passion is very thin indeed. For the State, morality is equated with polite submission, i.e., good manners. This is why it loves the religious right with its constant railing against “moral decadence” and all that goes with it.

Suppress sex and you calm political passion. To the state, a safe woman is one who keeps her legs crossed. However, let her celebrate her sexuality, and she becomes a subversive who threatens the status quo.

It is unfortunate that many progressives have jumped on the anti-porn bandwagon, which explains why the progressive movement is such an anemic shell of its former self. They envision a pot-bellied redneck swilling beers in a strip joint or pounding off to a porn flick and consider it deviant behavior. In doing this, they further distance themselves from the poor and working classes that were once their base. The redneck becomes the “other” that threatens their vision of a sanitized world.

Regretfully, too many progressives have fallen victim to their ideological prissiness.

They complain that porn turns women into sexual objects while ignoring the fact that every television commercial that touts a beauty product, mouthwash, soft drink or liquor does the same. Objectification is common to all media that reduces human beings to labels and demographics.

They speak of husbands who are addicted to porn, and in doing so make a pejorative use of a word that properly describes an obsession to booze, drugs or tobacco that can kill. But then, one of the State’s instruments of control is to pathologize tastes that do not conform to its standards for a polite, obedient public. Of course, no mention made of men who are addicted to televised sports, fishing, hunting or golf since these are all approved activities.

They contend that porn exploits women, and where it does so it is wrong as all exploitation is wrong. Yet, they are silent about the rampant exploitation that goes on in the workplace, which is acceptable unto the state since it contributes to our feral economic growth. It’s an outrage for a woman to be fucked on the screen, but okay to demand three dollars of work for one dollar in pay.

Bombing a wedding party is okay; flashing Janice Jackson’s nipple for a split second on television threatens the very foundations of the American Empire. This is why ex-strippers shouldn’t marry soldiers.

--Case Wagenvoord

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Legalizing the Illegal

Individuals are capable of dying with dignity; empires are not. Their death is always ugly because they deny it is happening even as the lifeblood drains out of them. It is this denial that causes them to pile brutality upon brutality and subterfuge upon subterfuge.

All empires believe themselves to be “The Way,” the civilizing force that brings the light of truth to those they subjugate and destroy. This exceptionalism results in a loss of decency as the empire enters its decline. In the case of the United States, this loss is heightened by a sense of exceptionalism that is bloated beyond recognition. Because we are “The City on the Hill,” Liberty’s beacon enlightening the world, we can do no wrong, which is why the law must be constantly changed to legitimize our ever increasing loss of decency as we resolutely deny our decline.

Glen Greenwald describes the Obama administration’s latest attempt at this retroactive legitimization.

In a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit brought by the ACLU, a circuit court ruled that the administration must release photographs of prisoner abuse by American forces. The administration has appealed the ruling and it looks like they will lose the appeal, as well.

So, if the law goes against the empire, the empire simply changes the law, which is what Obama is trying to do.

Good old Joe Lieberman and his partner in crime, Lindsey Graham, have introduced a bill euphemistically titled, “The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009” allowing the government to suppress any “photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States.”

The logic is simple: if there is no evidence of a war crime, there was no war crime. Instead of washing the blood from our hands, we simply put on a pair of white dress gloves.

Greenwald asks, “What kind of country passes a law that has no purpose than to empower its leader to suppress evidence of the torture it inflicted on people?” The short answer is one that feels its potency waning. Brutality is a dying empire’s Viagra®.

The administration’s justification is that releasing the photographs would stir up resentment against our troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hello?

I think the folks over there are already pissed off. Precision strikes by drones and aircraft that kill innocent women and children are doing the job, and it’s no secret that our prisons aren’t high-end health spas.

Hell, just our presence in these countries is enough to roil their resentment!

But then since we’re a dying empire we can't be expected to do things a sane country would do. Power doesn’t corrupt; it’s a malignant brain tumor that addles the senses.

--Case Wagenvoord

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

More Decadent Behavior

Where will it all end? First there was porn, then the promiscuous sex of the sixties, followed by gay marriage. Now the nation is facing an epidemic of teenage hugging!

That's right, hugging!

According to a recent issue of The New York Times, America’s high school students are now greeting each other with a hug. Think of it! All those budding boobies pressed against all those hormone-soaked male chests. It can only lead to a spike in teen pregnancies (or, in schools where abstinence is preached, oral sex).

No to worry, though! America’s educators are on it. According to the Times, “[S]chools…wary in a litigious era about sexual harassment or improper touching…have banned hugging or imposed a three-second rule.” (Admittedly, it’s hard to knock someone up in three seconds unless you’ve been at sea for a long, long time.)

God bless our schools! I’ve always said that America’s youth manage to grow into decent human beings in spite of the best efforts of our educators.

--Case Wagenvoord

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Pissing away our freedoms so we can be free

To be free is to accept that life is full of unforeseen dangers and contingencies, that risk is an integral part of living. When we obsess on risk aversion, we turn to authority to guarantee our security and in doing so we allow our freedom to be eroded.

The tragedy of our republic is that for the last forty years the public has become so conditioned to a state of risk aversion that it is apathetically accepting the erosion of our freedoms with nary a whimper. Everything frightens us: Communism, hippies, sex, drugs, sex, crime, illegal immigrants, sex and terrorism. One after another fears have been exaggerated and inflated all out of proportion to the actual risk they pose.

The wise person worries about probability; the fool worries about possibility. Anything is possible, but we need hard data to prove that something is probable.

For example, when the wind is right, the approach way to Newark Airport passes directly over my house. It is “possible” that a piece of metal from a passing 747 could plummet to the ground and crown me. It’s highly improbably that it would, so I rarely wear a hardhat outside. Even if a piece did fall, the probably would remain so remote that it would still remain within the realm of the possible.

Yet, our leaders continue to exploit our fear of the possible. The fashionable threat of the twenty-first century is terrorism. As horrific as 9/11 was, it was still an isolated incident and hardly qualifies “terrorism” as a real probability. I assume that every politician and public official who prattles on about the threat of terrorism dons a flame retardant suit and crash helmet before getting behind the wheel, because the probability of being wacked in an automobile accident is greater than being wacked in a terrorist attack.

In a recent speech at the National Archives, Obama continued to morph into a Bush lite. In it, he hyped “possibility” when he said, “An extremist ideology threatens our people…al-Qaeda is actively planning to attack us again. We are indeed at war with al-Qaeda and its affiliate.”

So it is that the change we can believe in is that Bush’s Eternal War of the Empty Policy will continue eternally.

Like Bush, Obama needs a war, no matter how imaginary, to justify the growth of our police state. In typical Bush fashion, he is hot to trot over preventive detention. He tells us that, “Those we capture—like prisoners of war—must be prevented from attacking us again.”

And since the war is eternal, these prisoners will be detained eternally.

Therefore, we need a war that isn’t a war so that those we “capture” can be declared prisoners of war even thought there is no war.

To a power that is devoid of a moral gyroscope, reason is a whore to be fucked any which way power chooses. As a result, reason has a bad dose of the clap.

--Case Wagenvoord

Monday, June 1, 2009

Why leaders act like leaders

You gotta love the Greeks! Their mythology wasn’t so much a religion as it was an explanation of human behavior. Specifically, it explained why leaders are such assholes.

Take, for example, Aite, the goddess of divine infatuation, or ruin. She was the daughter of Zeus and Eris (strife). Zeus booted her out of Mt Olympus when, by switching babies, she deprived Heracles of his rightful inheritance.

She ended up on earth where she moves across its surface by walking on men’s heads instead of the ground. (Men are more susceptible to her wiles than women.)

Aite’s divine infatuation has nothing to do with religion, though religion is often used to justify the madness she creates. Her specialty is generating the blind hubris that leads to an individual’s or a nation’s downfall.

There is a cure for her madness. Feeling remorse for the chaos caused by his exiling her to earth, Zeus sent his daughters the Litae who offer a cure for Aite’s madness, but only if they are asked through prayer. Since they are lame and wrinkled crones, this rarely happens.

When last spotted, Aite had taken up permanent residence in the Beltway, though she’s been known to take the shuttle down to Wall Street for an occasional visit.

--Case Wagenvoord