Sunday, February 28, 2010

Here we go again!

I refuse to subscribe to conspiracy theories, but, goddamn, it’s hard sometimes, especially when the Beltway is trying to pull a fast one on the public, such as Iraq’s WMDs or Iran’s nuclear weapons. Such a scam is dribbled out bit by bit in little dollops of media coverage that infer, suggest, imply, hint, allude, insinuate, all of which are peppered with sound bites that say much by saying nothing, such as, “We can’t wait until the smoking gun becomes a mushroom cloud,” that was so instrumental in justifying our Iraq invasion.

Now we find the same pattern with our oligarchs’ ongoing campaign to privatize Social Security. The latest song and dance took place last week when Ben “Swamp-em-with-Wampum” Bernanke appeared before a congressional committee and rent his garments as he bewailed our out-of-control budget.

Naturally, the first thing that came tripping off his tongue was to emphasize the need for a “plan that eases market worries by laying out how Congress will address the long-term insolvency of Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs…”

You said it, Ben! Let’s start cutting those deficits by privatizing Social Security, ramping up the war in Afghanistan and invading Iran, because the important thing isn’t deficit reduction. If it we’re we would have been out of Iraq and Afghanistan a long time ago. No Sir! All we need do is lose Social Security and all will be well in the land of the free. Hell, how can we afford all those wars with all those old farts draining us dry by cashing their Social Security checks?

Thank God Ben had a new red herring to wave, Greece. If we’re not careful, Ben warned, we’ll end up just like Greece. (Not really, Ben. The American sheep would never consider rioting in the streets like the citizens of Greece are. That would be irresponsible.)

Ben condensed the problem into a simple either/or dilemma---either we raise taxes or we cut spending, not that we raise taxes and cut spending. Since raising taxes would constitute socialism, we know which way that one will go.

The subtext of this entire deficit song and dance is all about the total disassembly of the New Deal and the final snipping away of the remnants that are all that remain of our social safety net.

It is feral corporatism’s swan song as it tries to fill its final balloon with the lead shot that will drag us down to the depths.

Friday, February 26, 2010

In Praise of Rahm Emanuel

It’s no surprise that The Washington Post thinks Rahm Emanuel is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Here is a paper so fixated on access that it would praise Jack the Ripper for his feminism if it gained it greater access.

In a fluff piece by Dana Milbank we are told that Emanuel is a realist who mission is to bring the “cult of Obama” down to earth and to introduce them to the realities of Beltway politics, which is to do little other than an occasional exercise in meaningless window dressing. The problem is that the Beltway is a closed system with its own warped view of reality driven by an amorality that cares only about the checks its corporate handlers write.

This is why Emanuel was bitterly opposed to closing the Guantanamo Bay prison because “it wasn’t politically feasible.” He also opposed including a public option in the healthcare reform bill because it was “a needless distraction.”

But then, it seems every president needs a handler who acts as ballast to keep the status quo on an even keel. Cheney was Bush’s handler, Emanuel is Obama’s. And Milbank argues that Obama isn’t in trouble because of Emanuel; he’s in trouble because he ignored Emanuel’s advice.

One of the most hysterically funny statements in the Milbank article tells us that, “Emanuel, schooled by Bill Clinton, knew what the true believers [members of the cult of Obama] didn’t: that bite size proposals add up to big things.”

Such as?

Let’s get real! Bite size proposals add up to diddly-squat! One of Congress’s favorite scams when it passes a watered-down bill is to promise the public that “We’ll revisit the legislation later,” which it never does. So, if Emanuel had had his way, Congress would have passed a bland healthcare reform bill that did little other than increase coverage for children, and that would have been it.

Now some might argue that Emanuel’s approach was necessary given the lunacy that permeates the Beltway, and, all things being equal, that might make sense. But things aren’t equal. The country is in deep shit. We’ve got a crumbling economy, our states are in financial distress and we’re up to our necks in two-plus wars that are bankrupting us. Public money is bailing out the financial retards that tanked the economy and all our leaders can talk about is a “jobless recovery,” surely one of the foulest oxymorons ever uttered by a public official.

This is not a time for “small bites.” Rather it’s the time to tear a big chunk out of the corporate ass.

Good lord, if Emanuel had been FDR’s chief of staff, there never would have been a New Deal. That could be why conservatives love him so; he is keeping the ship of state on an even keel while it is sinking.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Huxley's Ultimate Revolution

It seems to me that the nature of the ultimate revolution with which we are now faced is precisely this: That we are in the process of developing a whole series of techniques which will enable the controlling oligarch who have always existed and presumably always will always exist to get people to love their servitude.
Aldous Huxley

There’s someone in my head but it’s not me.
“Brain Damage”
Pink Floyd

George Orwell was a wonderful writer, deeply in love with the English language and always quick to call attention to its abuse. Yet it has always puzzled me why dystopian views of the future always cite his 1984 as a benchmark by which we measure this future dystopia, when our dystopia bears a closer resemblance to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

The unfortunate thing about the emphasis on 1984 is that is a misleading diversion. We look at our little worlds and conclude that they are nothing like Orwell’s world so everything must be okay. (Of course, if you’re an inner-city Afromerican male, your world is probably closer to Orwell than Huxley.)

In a 1962 speech at the Berkeley Language Center Huxley pointed out that Orwell wrote his book between 1945 and 1948 at a time that saw the downfall of Hitler’s totalitarianism and the rise of Stalin’s.

Huxley wrote his in 1932, at a time when the influence of Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, was beginning to peak. It was Bernays who argued that, “The engineering of consent is the very essence of the democratic process, the freedom to persuade and suggest.”

Huxley said:

I’m inclined to think that the scientific dictatorships of the future, and I think there are going to be scientific dictatorships in many parts of the world, will probably be a good deal nearer to the brave new world pattern than the 1984 picture, they will [be] a good deal nearer not because of any humanitarian qualms of the scientific dictators but simply because the BNW pattern is a good deal more efficient.” (Huxley’s point that there will always be oligarchs is a good argument for changing them from time to time. This is called a revolution. Of course, it’s a given that no matter how democratic a revolution is, the formation of an oligarchy is inevitable, and any oligarch will sour over time. This is why they must be changed freaquently, much as you change the oil in your car every 5,000 miles.)

Huxley’s point was that a dictatorship was much more stable if the people consented to their servitude than if the servitude was enforced by guns and clubs, though even the most scientific of dictatorships will resort to the latter if the mob gets testy.

In Brave New World, people love their servitude because they are given an unlimited supply of SOMA, a drug that soothes. Instead of SOMA, we have a full medicine chest of psychotropic drugs comfort and caress our minds.

Our houses are filled with screens that divert our attention from the real world even as they paint a distorted view of that world. The problem with this ubiquity of screens is not mind control ala 1984, it is mind apathy.

In his talk, Huxley also spoke of suggestibility, which is the degree to which a mind can be manipulated. He suggested that in any given population, twenty percent of the people are highly suggestible while twenty percent can totally resist it. The remaining sixty percent could go either way depending on the circumstances, though he did point out that a heightened state of anxiety makes an individual more prone to suggestibility, as in the War on Terror.

What this means is that in the United States, 60 million people hang on Rush’s every word while 60 million think he’s a complete asshole. The remaining 180 million watch “American Idol.”

We are entering an era of increasing unrest as economic and environmental problems continue to mount. How this plays out depends to a large extent on how well the 60 million skeptics in America are mobilized. This is especially important because Fox News, the Tea Party and the radical right are mobilizing the 60 million sheep. And lies, if they are repeated enough, can sway the remaining 180 million, and that would be enough to silence the skeptics.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Herding Cats

There has been a lot written about the “War on the Middle Class, an unfortunate choice of words. Granted, the middle class is certainly under siege, but to call it a “war” is misleading. War needs a central command and a central strategy. What we have, instead, is an ooligarchical lynch mob, an example of monkey-see-monkey-do, all in the name of maximizing profits.

And the maximization of profits is the sole measure by which our oligarchs measure the economic health of America. They crow over the fact that productivity increased by 9.5 percent in the third quarter of 2009 and that 78 percent of the companies in the S&P 500 exceeded earning expectations.

All of these glowing reports of “better than expected earnings” are meaningless in light of the fact that a contributing factor to these increased earning has been a 5.2 percent reduction in unit labor costs thanks to the off-shoring jobs and the use of foreign workers. So, the increase in productivity has not seen a corresponding increase in wages. Had wages kept pace with productivity, the minimum wage would now be somewhere in the neighborhood of $18 per hour.

However, it must be remembered that our oligarchs would shed no tears over the demise of the middle class with its periodic outbreaks of reform mania that brought us an end to child labor laws, the civil rights movement, reforms in the treatment of the mentally ill, a regulated food and drug industry and scores of antismoking legislation, all of which have cut into to corporate profits.

It is true that the modern day reforms have become trivialized with the contemporary emphasis on such nonissues as second-hand smoke, childhood obesity and the elimination of transfats from restaurant menus. Of course, our oligarchs are four-square behind these reforms since they divert the middle class’s attention away from core issues such as the erosion of our civil liberties and the militarization of America.

The media loves to market the lie that we are the “richest nation in the world.” How can a nation be rich when its total corporate, private and public indebtedness equals 350% of it s GDP? Sorry fellows, but debt isn’t wealth as millions are discovering as their homes go underwater. Now American is suffering from “new-age” poverty in which one is poor because one does not have access to credit.

Some call the elimination of the middle class economic terrorism. I call it economic stupidity. The middle class has long been the backbone of the consumer spending that made up 70 percent of our GDP. The only thing that could possibly replace it is total war, which might give us a clue as to the direction in which we’re heading.

Our oligarchs have one unifying factor working for them that progressives don’t, and that is greed. Just as a lynch mob is an undisciplined collection of individuals focused on a single victim, so is our oligarchy an undisciplined collection of individuals focused on a single objective, the bottom line. The more labor costs are slashed, the better the bottom line looks. And if the middle class is destroyed in the process, it’s all the better. That means an end to pesky reform movements.

History isn’t planned; it just happens that way. And if we don’t like the way it’s happening then the solution is to make it happen another way. It’s kind of like herding cats. You never know where it's gong to end up.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Money isn't money when it's spent on defense

It’s not a conspiracy, nor is it a case of bias. Rather it's a holistic condition so comprehensive that the mind, both personal and collective, is unable to wrap itself around any sort alternative. Recently, the lead story in The New York Times brought this home.

The ominous head line warned, “Party Gridlock Feeds New Fear Of A Debt Crisis: A Rising Fiscal Alarm.” (No Shit, Dick Tracy.) The second paragraph of the story cast a spotlight on our oligarchs’ mindset. The paragraph read:

After decades of warnings that budgetary profligacy, escalating healthcare costs and an aging population would lead to a day of reckoning, economists and the nation’s foreign creditors say that moment is approaching faster than expected, hastened by a deep recession that cost trillions of dollars in lost tax revenues and higher spending for safety net programs.

Notice what isn’t mentioned as a major contributor to our deficit, such as a war in Afghanistan that is costing taxpayers a cool $57,000 per minute, or a trillion-dollar-a-year defense budget.

I guess these don’t exist. They are phantom wisps floating around somewhere overseas, well out of the public’s view.

If Napoleon’s army ran on its stomach, ours runs on its tires. Now the Pentagon is telling Congress that gasoline in Afghanistan costs our military $400 a gallon. That is what the Pentagon calls the “fully burdened cost of fuel” once all the expenses of moving fuel in and around a country that is without either infrastructures or gas stations.

Of course there are some locations so isolated that fuel has to be airlifted in giant bladders carried by helicopter. In that case, the fully burdened cost of gasoline jumps to $1000 per gallon. Factor in the fact that the large trucks used to haul tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles get seven miles to the gallon and you’re looking at one hell gasoline bill.

All of this assumes that the trucks carrying fuel escape roadside bombs and make it to their destinations. In June of 2008, 44 trucks carrying 220,000 of gasoline were lost to attacks while trying to deliver fuel to Bagram Air Field. That’s $88 million of gasoline up in flames. You could bail out a lot of underwater home owners with that kind of money.

Military sources call Afghanistan a “logistical nightmare.” It is said that in discussions of military affairs, amateurs focus on tactics while professions sweat logistics. I guess the amateurs planned Obama’s surge.

Obama plans to form a panel to “find answers” to our nation’s looming fiscal crisis. And I fear that this panel will reek of a prejudice for a neoliberal Washington Consensus as a solution that would include slashing social programs and privatizing as many government programs as possible.

Just when you thought Social Security “reform” was dead…

We may rest assured that no politician will have the courage to even suggest that a good place for some vigorous deficit reductions would be the endless corridors of the Pentagon. This simply wouldn’t do.

Besides, reducing defense spending does nothing for Wall Street while privatizing Social Security does much. And we all know whose going to be wielding the scalpel when it comes time to slash expenses.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Cue the Angry Mob!"

One of the challenges facing 24/7 cable news saturation is that twenty-four hours is a hell of a lot of time to kill, especially if the emphasis is on image and not substance. Image is so much fluff and it’s difficult to make it sound weighty. The same is true of spin. Calling black white is easy; making it entertaining is not. One way to hype it up is through dazzling graphics and giant touch computer screens. The quick cut from scene to scene is necessary when what is being shown reveals little. Dazzle ‘em and they might not notice how vacuous it all is.

Another way of filling empty time with empty content is a parade of corporate shills and lobbyists, dragging their gravitas behind them, who are presented as impartial “experts.” Ex-politicians make excellent filler since the emphasis is on their past service and not their current service to a corporation or trade group.

As they say, “Out of the mouths of babes,” and the shills are no exception. Often what they say is revealing by what is not said. It’s called political analysis, though the analysis is as selective as it is slanted.

During the 2008 economic meltdown, “expert” Bernard Whitman appeared on Fox News to “analyze” the collapse of AIG. What wasn’t mentioned was that Whitman has worked for AIG to “develop, test, launch, and enhance their consumer brand.”

During the show, Whitman made a comment that is typical of our oligarchy’s response to public anger when he said, “The American people were understandably outraged about AIG. Having said that, we need to move beyond anger, frustration and hysteria to deal with the brass tacks of solving this economy (emphasis mine).”

Umm, Bernie, aren’t anger, frustration and hysteria the solution to solving our economy, along with torches and pitchforks? There are times when an angry mob can really stimulate systemic reform.

Some may find such a statement irresponsible, to which we reply, “So, what has responsible behavior done for us lately, besides tank an economy and mired us in two-plus unnecessary wars.” Face it, responsible behavior is an enabler for preserving the status quo.

Those who hold power never yield it willingly. Power only changes in the face of anger, frustration and hysteria. There is much about the Tea Party that disgusts me, especially their bigotry and xenophobia. But at least they’re pissed, which is more than I can say for progressives.

As frustration over the corruption flooding the Beltway increases, any fringe group that seeks to shake things up looks appealing. The danger is, of course, that one’s frustration becomes so intense that one compromises one’s principle just to join the mob.

“Stay cool!”

“Don’t be irrational!”

These are the mantras our oligarchs preach to the unruly mob. Reason has been degraded until it is little more than a tool for the protection of the status quo.

Progressives are “reasonable” and in being so they lend their tacit support tour oligarchy even as they criticize it. This “reasonableness” is why the Right has high jacked the Main Streeters that should be in the progressive camp.

The corporate state is an open wound leaking blood and pus; it’s going to take some strong medicine to staunch the flow.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Another Spittle Spray of Christian Love

They call it the “Manhattan Declaration.” The document is an attempt by conservative Christians to reignite the culture wars that so consumed the nation in the early years of the last decade. The Declaration compares pro-choice advocates to eugenicists and Nazis and argue that same-sex marriage will be the road to polygamy and incest.

That, in a nutshell, is pretty much it. It contains the usual hype and bluster about creeping totalitarianism in the United States, even though its issuers would like nothing better than to turn America into a theocracy that would replace the Constitution with Leviticus. (Granted, stoning is a cost-effective means of execution, but really, now…)

The first thing to understand is that this is not a Christian documents because the individuals who drafted it and those who signed it are not Christians; they are Christianists. Christianism is an ideology that does its damndest to steer Christianity around the teachings of Jesus and resurrect the wrathful Jehovah of the Old Testament.

The whole concept of Christian love and forgiveness is anathema to them. They prefer their deity pissed off and ready to kick some ass. This is what makes organized religion so dangerous. As theologian William Stringfellow puts it, “The American churches more often than not have been among the most menial, manipulated and degraded vassals of the power of death.

Christianists hide behind the ramparts of dogma and express their piety in a spittle-spray of rage. Slaughter rocks when done in the name of God, and mendacity tastes sweeter when flavored with scripture.

As far as abortion goes, I refuse to entertain any pro-lifers unless they are active as hell in the peace movement. If they were serious about the “sanctity of life,” they would be storming the Pentagon, and Roman Catholic bishops would be demanding that our military budget be cut to the bones. But, that would mean an end to the patriotic violence they find so stimulating.

One of the best defenses of abortion was told me by a devout Roman Catholic who attended mass daily. He quoted Genesis 2.7, which reads: “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being (emphasis mine). In other words, the Bible tells us that life begins when an infant draws its first breath, or when is can survive outside the womb. Prior to that, it is simply a mass of cells.

But then, how could you have a culture war with thinking like that.

As far as homosexuality goes, Leviticus does have some nasty things to say about it. But the same book also prohibits the eating of shell fish. Now, the ban on shell fish had a practical basis since eating them in the days before refrigeration could be deadly.

When you stop and think about it, the ban on homosexuality also had a practical basis. In biblical times, the average life expectancy was somewhere around 21 years. The average was dragged down by an inordinately high rate of infant mortality. Back then, a woman had to go through six pregnancies just to keep the population stable.

Couple that with the fact that the main source of labor for the labor-intensive endeavors necessary to keep the village or farm going was children and we can understand why homosexual unions were banned since such a union would deprive the village or farm of twelve pregnancies.

However, fast forward to the modern area when Homo sapiens cover the earth like vermin, a homosexual unions start to make a lot of sense.

To date, 419,000 people have signed the declaration. (That’s .002 percent of the population for those who keep track.)

The religious right wants a utopian society that would consist of well-behaved Christians living lives of piety and obedience who would behave with propriety while attending a public stoning. I have no doubt they would oozed Christian love while the victim died a slow and painful death.

The problem with any utopian society is that you have to wade through so much blood to establish it. All you can do with the legions who don’t buy into your particular brand of ideology is herd them into a stadium and kill them.

But then, Christian love has always been a great rationale for murderous mayhem. Hell, if someone won’t convert the best thing to do is send them upstairs to have a heart-to-heart with the old man.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hot Air and Power

As children we were raised with masturbatory fantasies of power. We saw films of steel mills spewing there red-hot sprays of molten steel, scores of brand new automobiles marching along their assembly lines, muscular workers turning giant bolts on giant machines with giant wrenches, tons of concrete being poured to create Hoover Dam, and, most thrilling of all, warships plunging through stormy seas as wave after wave broke over their bows and formations of fighter jets cutting across a clear blue sky.

We grew up believing we were entitled to both power and progress, to industrial and military might. Progress, we believed, was a straight-line ascent that would go on forever and ever.

That was then; this is now. Now we are beginning to see that rather than a straight line, technological progress, like all other cultural movement, inscribes a parabolic curve with it ascent, apogee and descent, and at this point in time it appears that we are on the descent segment of the curve. The advances in technology are becoming increasingly trivial (do I really have to stream videos on my cell phone?). One could even argue that the technological advances that profoundly changed society surfaced between 1820 (the emergence of the railroads) and 1930 (the splitting of the atom) and that these major advances, while they seemed fantastic at the time, are now producing some very negative feedbacks.

It could well be, in the far, far future, that our Age of Oil will barely register as a cosmic fart on the timeline of geological history, assuming anyone is still around to make this observation.

Empires also inscribe parabolic curves, and ours is definitely on the decent segment. John Michael Greer points out that “[E]mpire is the methamphetamine of nations; in the short term, the effects feel great, but in the long term they’re very often lethal.”

Power once seized must be defended, and this is how empires end up bankrupt Empire is an ego trip, and ego trips are essentially fragile balloons filled with hot air. With the passage of time this hot air leaks out and all that is left in a flaccid membrane.

Power doesn’t just corrupt, it rots the brain because those who achieve power live with the fear that they could easily lose this power. Therefore everything outside of the corridors of power is seen as a potential threat. Clear thinking and power don’t mix well. In an effort to hold on to it the powerful end up hollowing out the very institutions that gave rise to their power.

Power only feels safe when it is growing. Unfortunately, growth is a parasitic vampire that sucks the life blood out of its host. As the host weakens, power weakens until it withers and dies. If there is one rule that governs power it’s that it’s never forever. Yet, those who hold power believe it is. That is their tragic flaw and why the gods spend so much time laughing.

The feudal lord of the thirteenth century was convinced that feudalism was not only ordained by God that it would last forever. The powerful always think they are the endpoint of history while behind their backs history continues to move at its slow, steady pace. And nobody, but nobody, knows where it’s going.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Streamlining the Constitution

The Constitution has always been a pain in the ass. It’s hard to know what our founding fathers were thinking when they started hand out rights as if they were candy. If the goddamn document had never been written there never would have been a 9/11 because we would have snuffed the bastards before they even planned it.

This certainly seems to be the premise behind the multiple policies designed to keep us safe from terrorists by seeing how many terrorists we can create by blowing up their families.

If nothing else, many of these policies reflect the corporate state’s belief that efficiency is more important than civil liberty. Trials are expensive and involve too much effort on the part of the government to prove that in accused is guilty as charged. Prosecutors actually have to dig up evidence and then contest with a troublesome defense attorney to win a conviction. How much nicer it would be to do away with the whole process.

And the Obama administration is aiding this effort by continuing the Bush policy of targeting American citizens for assassination if the administration deems them “terrorists.”

Glen Greenwald quotes Dahlia Lithwick who calls the policy part of the administration’s “own special brand of terrorism-derangement syndrome.” Pogo Possum summed it up nicely when he said, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.” (He made the comment back in the 1950s when Albert the Alligator was being investigated for speaking English instead of Americanize.)

It’s for certain we are in more danger from our government than from any terrorists who might be floating around.

“Terrorist” is such a delicious label that makes the corporate state’s job so much easier. It’s a much more sophisticated label than “Communist.” “Communist” was too damn abstract to have any sort of real punch. It had to be propped up with an array of sub-labels such as, “pinko,” “fellow traveler,” “subversive,” the esoteric “comsymp,” and the ever popular “commie.”

Terrorist requires no such help. Its legs are strong enough to stand on its own and justify all sorts of derangement. Of course it helps that “terrorist” immediately brings to mind brown skin and a heathen religion. This gives the label a little extra oomph.

There is a toxic irony to all this. The only difference between the ’93 bombing of the World Trade Center and 9/11 is that 9/11 succeeded in bringing down the towers where the ’93 bombing failed to do so, even though that was its intent. However, all the perpetrators of the ’93 bombing were apprehended, tried in a court of law with all of its pesky constitutional safeguards in place and convicted. All of this was accomplished without a Patriot Act, military commissions, rendition, torture or wars of aggression. Meanwhile Obama bin Laden continues to make tapes.

And now the president wants to execute American citizens without the benefit of a trial by their peers.

Greenwald pointedly asks, “[I]f the Fifth amendment’s explicit guarantee—that one shall not be deprived of life without due process—does not prohibit the U.S. government from assassinating your without any process, what exactly does it prohibit?

I guess this is the change we can believe in.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Keeping Reality at Bay

Power can only exist in a sterile bubble from which reality is excluded. The most efficient method of keeping this reality at bay is to build a dike out of quantified data and believe that it represents reality.

Data is so sanitary. It never cries out or moans or bleeds or stinks. It is the foundation stone upon which the fantasy world of theory is built that serves as the justification for power’s actions.

And according to Paul Krugman, Barack Obama’s bubble is in fine shape. He quotes an interview Obama had with Business Week in which Obama justified the bloated bonuses Wall Street bankers have awarded themselves.

After reading it one wonders if he occupies the White House or Never-Never Land. He praises them as “savvy businessmen” even though their actions as financial fools damn near tanked the economy. If a lowly store clerk behaved with the same recklessness this bunch did he’d be out on his ass. But that’s the difference between the rich and the rest of us. When the rich screw up they’re bailed out and use the bail-out money to award themselves healthy bonuses. (Of course there’s always Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein in sack cloth and ashes who is doing penance by reducing his bonus to a paltry $9 million.)

Obama then goes on to illustrate how he’s the “people’s” president by saying that, “I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth.” Of course we have to understand that Obama’s definition of people differs from Lincoln’s use of the word in his Gettysburg Address. By “people” Obama means the one-percent harboring most of the nation’s wealth.

But the high point of the interview came when he praised the Wall Street bankers for their influence on his economic policies. And there is no doubt they have had their influence. Hell, they wrote the bailout legislation. Nor can one deny their influence on our economy, just as one can’t deny Typhoid Mary’s influence on New York City’s public health policy.

Krugman has his finger more firmly on the public pulse when he says, “There is good reason to feel outraged at the growing appearance that we’re running a system of lemon socialism, in which losses are public but gains are private.” After all, he points out; the Wall Street banks are wards of the state. Though in this case, the ward are ordering the adults around.

But then, has there ever been any doubt that Obama is primarily a shill for the corporate interests that put him in office. No politician worth his salt is going to bite the hand that feeds him. Nor is the fault Obama’s alone. He is simply carrying forward a long and established presidential tradition.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

When he was in office, Ronnie’s guiding principle was that the poor were poor because they lacked get-up-and-go and that if they’d just get off their asses and stop freeloading off the country they would prosper. Of course, the factory jobs that for decades had been the economic ladder by which the poor climbed out of poverty were being shipped overseas, and it’s kind of hard pulling yourself up by your bootstraps while drawing a minimum wage. But then, Ronnie was a product of the Hollywood Dream Factory, so it figures.

Ronnie’s appeal was that he was the ultimate expression of the angry white male. This is the demographic that was falling all over itself to dump decency in an attempt to ape an ethos defined by the Hollywood western, which bore little or no resemblance to the historical west. Rugged individualism is the ethos of the sociopath, and Ronnie and his gaggle of angry white males made it socially acceptable. Now this sociopathology is gaining an even greater cachet with the rise of the Tea Party.

And, of course, part of this ethos was to destroy the labor unions since they enabled workers to freeload by earning a living wage. It was a milk run for Ronnie because the American labor movement was never anti-capitalist. As Harriet Fraad points out:

Americans accepted the capitalist system in which each generation had relatively prospered. American labor fought for an increasing amount of income that would permit workers to consume more goods and services, a system in which each generation could move to jobs considered more prestigious and lucrative within the capitalists hierarchy.

Since Americans believe that there is no class but the middleclass, the working class came to believe that an above-ground pool and two cars in the garage made it middleclass. So it flocked to a Republican Party that proceeded to screw it. (It never occurred to the labor movement to call a general strike when Ronnie fired the air controllers for striking. That sent a message to our oligarchs that the union movement was on life support and that all they had to do was pull the plug, which they did.)

The death of the labor movement coincided with the death of social mobility. The ability of a man, born in a humble log cabin, to rise to a position of wealth and power also fed into Ronnie’s vision of poverty. The heroes of the Horatio Alger’s novels of young boys achieving middleclass prosperity through hard work, courage, spunk (something Alger was quite fond of) and determination were largely myth. The system was gamed from the get-go, and Ronnie could never understand why a poor person who wasn’t born into the right family, didn’t attend the right school and didn’t know whose ass to kiss couldn’t climb the economic ladder.

So, he came up with the idea to build a fire under the poor by destroying the social safety net that had kept them out of total impoverishment. At the same time, the economic ladder they were suppose to climb kept getting taller and taller as money started to rise towards the top of the pyramid.

But, this is America, where all a poor man need do is strap on his six-shooter, gun down the bad guys and ride into the sunset all the richer for his effort. And if he’s too poor to own a gun, it’s his fault and not the system’s. All he has to do work three minimum-wage jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over his head and in time, prosperity will be his, somewhere over the rainbow where “troubles melt like lemon drops.”


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Changing Batteries and Tilling Fields

There is much talk in progressive circles about restoring democracy to America. All too often this is the closing sentence of a screed that lists the multiple sins afflicting the country. It is a clarion call for a movement, a call that is totally devoid of the nuts and bolts of how we are going to achieve this.

It is the thinking of a technician and reflects the belief that life is basically a machine and that in order to restore democracy all we need do is change a battery, throw a switch or tighten a screw. Unfortunately, life ain’t like that. Life a swarmy mess of currents and counter currents, of contradictions and paradoxes. It moves at its own pace and is painfully slow to change courses. Albert Camus defined the absurd as the interface between our desire for order and predictability and the unpredictable chaos that is life.

Too many progressives, having been raised in a society that values instant gratification above all, become too easily discouraged when they discover that simply advocating for democracy fails to produce it, as if the word were an incantation that could create change as soon as it is uttered.

Christopher Hayes relates a story told by Robert Michaels of a German peasant on his deathbed who tells his sons that there is a great treasure buried in his fields. Upon his death, the sons run out and began madly digging up the fields. The treasure, it turns out, is the bumper crops the fields yield because they have been properly tilled.

Michaels went on to say, “Democracy is a treasure that no one will ever discover by deliberate search.” The implication is that democracy is a byproduct, perhaps a byproduct of the effort to build a decent and free society. It is a process that is never finished, the force of which ebbs and flows. It is a process that may go dormant for decades until life becomes so wretched that it springs back to life.

It is a process that is hobbled by a paradox Michaels called The Iron Law of Oligarchy. As Hayes explains it, “In order for any kind of party or, indeed, any institution with a democratic base to exist, it must have an organization that delegates tasks. As this bureaucratic structure develops, it invests a small group of people with enough power that they can then subvert the very mechanisms by which they can be held to account: the party press, party conventions and delegate votes.

Michaels says, “Who says organization, says oligarchy.”

All of this is done in the name of efficiency, and this is the greatest paradox of all: efficiency and freedom are mutually exclusive, which explains why the fields must be constantly tilled and why we will never be free by simply throwing a switch. It’s an unending grind.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Progressives have no imagination; the right has plenty. This is why, on every issue, the right constantly out frames the left. The left remains mired in statistics and dry facts while the right soars on imagery, and the fact that the right’s imagery is grounded in distortions and falsehoods in no way diminishes its effectiveness.

George Lakoff argues that “freedom” is the buzzword the right most frequently employs. Of course, their crippled definition of freedom is anything that advances their interests, and they have deftly equated capitalism with freedom even though capitalism thrives best in an authoritarian society, as we are seeing with China.

Lakoff observes that, “The conservatives are wining the framing wars again—by sticking to moral principles as conservatives see them and communicating their view of morality effectively. …We progressives are long on factual analysis, critique, suggestions—and ridicule.” Part of the reason for this could be that the left is crawling with individuals trained in the value-free world of the social sciences and not enough with individuals versed in literature and the humanities.

Because of this, Martin Luther King’s, “I have a dream.” has been reduced to Obama’s “I have a plan.” It doesn’t inspire.

Lakoff suggests making democracy the moral principle around which progressives can rally the troops. However, this is problematic because the word “democracy” has been reduced to a hackneyed expression through over use and the sometimes futile attempts to use it to justify a multitude of sins as in “bringing democracy to the Middle East.”

Progressives would do better to fight for the building of a decent society without which freedom is difficult if not impossible to achieve. A decent society is characterized by four moral absolutes: Do not kill, do not steal, do not lie and do not exploit. This explains why decency is anathema to the corporate state because to survive and grow, the corporate state must kill, steal, lie and exploit.

Ironically, Obama defined the decent society during his campaign. In the following quote, I have substituted “decency” for “democracy:”

[Decency] is about empathy—caring about your fellow citizens, which leads to principles of freedom and fairness for all. Empathy requires both personal and social responsibility. The ethic of excellence means making the world better by making yourself better, your family better, your community better, and your nation better. Government has two moral missions: protection and empowerment for all. To carry them out, government must be by, for and of the people.”

Needless to say Obama left that thought on the podium, jammed between the pages of his inaugural address, and he hasn’t looked at it since. But it sits there beneath the soil, dormant and waiting for the right conditions to germinate, and it is the tears of the dispossessed and the impoverished that will nurture the seed even as the anger of betrayal fertilizes it. With time it will take root and grow in spite of Obama and not because of him.

One thing should be understood—decency has nothing to do with sex. The right tries its damndest to equate the two because in their eyes, cum is ickier than blood. Blood soars and waves the flag of patriotism. Blood is homeland, motherland, and fatherland. Blood sings its ownperverse poetry; it seeks its own purity and destroys all that might contaminate it. Cum, on the other hand, is a post-coital mess to be cleaned up. It’s quite alright to shed blood; just be careful where you dump your load. As the artist Madison Young puts it, “If you can’t fuck it, it’s not a revolution." Though I’m not sure how effective “More Cum; Less Blood” would be as a rallying cry.

In Lakoff’s opinion, a guiding moral principle is what makes the difference between a movement and a coalition. As he explains it, “Coalitions are based on interests. Movements are based on principles. We need a movement that transcends interests and goes beyond coalitions.”

Today, there are three cesspools of rank indecency that are smothering freedom: Wall Street, the Pentagon and the Beltway. And as long as progressives keep their faces buried in specific issues buried beneath dry prose and statistics, these cesspools will continue to stink. Only when there is a movement that cuts across class and ideological lines dedicated to the building of a decent society will the cesspools finally be flushed out and reduced to rubble.

In other words, progressives have to start writing some poetry and using the imaginations God gave them. The public has had enough of coalitions. They are ripe for a movement.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

"Reforming" Criminal Prosecution

The finance reform bill painfully working its way through the Senate will have as much of an effect on the financial community as spraying perfume on cockroaches. To the observer, it looks as if stern steps are being taken against the roaches as the spray is pumped into the cracks and crevasses where they hide. The roaches love it.

But now, it appears that the Obama administration is trying to jeopardize the bill by adding some toxins to the perfume, and Senator Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, is upset.

According to Wednesday’s New York Times, the White House wants the bill to cap the future size of financial institutions so a bank going belly up won’t threaten to take the economy down with it.

Former fed chief Paul Volker summed it up nicely when he said, “The mandate is to arrange an orderly liquidation or merger—in other words, euthanasia, not a rescue.”

Dodd’s reaction to the administrations gambit speaks volumes about why the United States is saddled with an impotent Congress. “It’s adding to the problems of trying to get a bill done.” He charged that, “The Obama administration ran the risk of derailing months of delicate negotiations over overhauling financial regulations.”

Let me see if I have this straight. The FIRE (finance, insurance and real estate) industry committed financial assault on the American public. Because of this assault, home values have plummeted, retirement and savings accounts have been hollowed out, and credit has dried up forcing many small businesses to shut their doors, and Congress is negotiating with the criminals over how they are going to be regulated?

There’s not a felon in the country that wouldn’t jump at an opportunity like that. Instead of jail time we’d have “months of delicate negotiations” over the sentence with the accused making a sizable contribution to the judge’s reelection campaign coffers.

Of course, this coddling of criminals in nothing new to the Beltway. Obama has informed us that he will not investigate possible war crimes committed by the Cheney administrations because it’s time to forget the past and look to the future.

This, also, is a concept the criminals of America would embrace. “Hell, your honor, I did it. But let’s not become mired in the past. It’s time to look forward.”

But I forget—bankers are rich; criminals are poor. Therein lies the difference.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Anybody seen a leader? Anybody?

Frank Rich quotes historian Alan Brinkley who points out that Congress is entering its fourth decade in which it “has failed to deal with any major national problem from infrastructure to education.”

Rich, sometimes the master of understatement, goes on to observe that, “There is also a gaping leadership deficit. A closer look at either Pelosi or Reid shows that there is, not just a leadership vacuum; there is a gaping leadership hole down which meaningful legislation disappears to reemerge diluted to the point of nonexistence.

The Senate Majority Leader chair once occupied by Lyndon Johnson is now a child’s potty seat. Rich notes that Johnson was “able to transform a sleepy, seniority-hobbled, regionally polarized debating society into an often-progressive legislative factory.” And that was with a slim majority and a Republican in the White House.

Much as we may miss a Johnson at the Senate’s helm, the truth is we will never see the likes of him again until we wrest control of Congress away from its corporate masters. No member of Congress can hope to achieve a leadership role unless they have been vetted by the oligarchy.

The days of congressional leadership are over. Corporate managers of the Pelosi/Reid ilk have replaced them. These managers create nothing. Rather, they implement the assorted corporate policies mandated by their masters. And their masters are not going to allow a potentially strong leader near anything that resembles a position of power.

In his column, Rich implies that a repressed Congress is thwarting Obama’s raging, progressive hormones. The truth is that there ain’t none. Obama’s as repressed as Congress when it comes to bucking the country’s corporatacracy. His rhetoric is sound without fury. And that’s the best we can hope for until corporations are stripped of their personhood and constitutional rights.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Rats, Lice and Currency

Rats desert a sinking ship; lice flee a cooling corpse. It is no different with currency. As soon as it begins to sink, value heads for the nearest exit. There is, however, one difference. Rats occupied the ship, the lice were at home on the body, but value hasn’t inhered to our currency for decades. The truth is that our worthless fiat currency was one of the greatest scams ever to be foisted on the world.

It all started in another decade mired in another war. The time was the 70s, and the war was Vietnam. For the first time in the twentieth century, the United States found itself saddled with a trade deficit.

At that time, we were a signatory to the Bretton Woods Agreements which obligated us to keep our currency pegged to gold, i.e., every dollar represented real value. The problem was that we’d printed so much money just to keep up with the cost of losing the war in Vietnam that we only had enough gold to cover twenty percent our the currency in issue.

The solution to that problem was simplicity itself. Nixon simply unpegged the dollar from the value of gold. The liberated paper now represented whatever we could scam the world into thinking it was worth.

Without the albatross of gold handing around its neck, both the dollar and the Dow Jones soared while assets bubbled.

One plus side of a worthless currency is that it is much easier to go into debt. And go into debt we did. Between 1987 and 2005, public and private debt went from $10 trillion to $43 trillion.

Of course there’s the danger that some damn fool will look at the Dow and realize that it’s being denominated in worthless dollars. Once upon a time, the Dow was sitting at 12,200. However, had it been denominated in Euros, it would have dropped to 7300. This simply wouldn’t do.

These days, Obama, Geithner and Bernanke are like tap dancers frantically tapping away in a burning theater, smiles frozen on their faces as they try to convince the audience that the smoke is really fresh air.

To them, reality is whatever they want it to be.

This allows our oligarchs to game the system, which they tout as the actions of a free market. The freedom so cherished by free market ideologues is the freedom to manipulate the free market so it favors their interests.

They find the roller coaster ride that is our economy stimulating. The slow climb up followed by the stomach-churning plunge downward invigorates them. And they expect us to enjoy the ride as much as they do. What they forget is that while they are safely strapped in their seats, we’re clinging to the outside of the car, and a lot of us fall off as the car speeds down towards the bottom.

Oligarchs never do.