Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Occupy the Ballot Box?

Yesterday, in Balloon Juice comments, I wrote:
There are factions of Occupy that are quite radical; it is an anarchist movement, after all. Rather like a US political party internally, come to think of it. Link
Could it be? Could Occupy be the seed of the next major US political party? Let's see: young people, check. Women, check. Libertarian left, check.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

On Occupy and Violence

In answer to Ian Welsh, advocating that Occupy tolerate violent anarchism.

Occupy is an anarchist movement with or without the violence. I do not see how inviting a crackdown is going to help Occupy as a political movement: when it comes to violence, Occupy is not a patch on the government, or even private security forces. Occupy's great strength lies in its widespread popular support, and in the real grievances it gives voice to. If it turns into a factionalized violent movement, it will lose that support and much of its power.

[Later thought: violence is inherently authoritarian. Can anarchism ever be violent?]

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Political Spectrum, 1931 vs. 2011

[In response to Jay Ackroyd at Balloon Juice, comment, Eschaton, post, and DougJ at Balloon Juice, post. Originally posted in response to DougJ, lightly edited.]

A generation ago what Jay and Stuart are calling “centrism” and what you are calling “centrist corporatism” would have been simply called “conservatism.” Two generations ago, what you are calling “the outright insanity of conservatism” would have been called fascism.

In FDR’s time, the far right of the political spectrum was fascist and the far left was communist; the center was what FDR called liberal. Now the political spectrum is between the Tea Party Republicans—fascist in all but name—and the liberals. Unsurprisingly, then, the center of debate in Congress is what Doug has called “centrist corporatism.”

We had, until recently, lost the far left of the political spectrum, and the moderate had been marginalized. The how and why of this are not entirely clear. The anti-union activism of Reagan and his successors was part of the story, as was the fall of the Soviet Union. Probably the imperial Presidency; the intense militarism of the Cold War period, which continues to this day; and the consolidation and politicization of the national news media that was enabled by Reagan-era policies also contributed

So a big part of the story was a successful reactionary movement that has emerged into politics as “centrism.”

And now Occupy, enabled by new technology, ideology, and vaguely Gandhian tactics, brings back left anarchism. It’s an astonishing development, and one which I only dimly foresaw. In stated policy Occupy is liberal: at the popular center. But in practice it is pure left anarchist. How this will play out in electoral politics—or if it will play out, or if it will be silenced for years to come—remains to be seen.

Thinking it over, I think I see the short-term triumph of centrism. Occupy has already shifted the terms of debate far enough that the radical right looks less credible and I think this will tell in the 2012 elections. But I do not see actual liberal, or even a bit further left, policies being adopted at the Federal level for some years to come. I've been predicting 2020 as the watershed year and this still seems plausible: it will take time to raise a new generation of liberal politicians and bring the Supreme Court back to the true center. But just possibly it will be faster: if the Obama administration, like that of LBJ, decides that it is best to side with the reformers. On the other hand, it could also be slower: the reactionaries are deeply entrenched and very wealthy.

How do we shift the balance? Can we?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Important Ideas Have Been Discovered—or, Rather, Rediscovered"

Mark Thoma commenting on John Cassidy's article on Keynes, link.

Paul Krugman commenting on Thoma and Cassidy in The Amnesiac Economy.

And then I read Andrew Sullivan writing about how he learned to love the "hippies" of Occupy, link. Sully says some sensible things:

The theme that connects them all is disenfranchisement, the sense that the world is shifting deeply and inexorably beyond our ability to control it through our democratic institutions. You can call this many things, but a “democratic deficit” gets to the nub of it. Democracy means rule by the people—however rough-edged, however blunted by representative government, however imperfect. But everywhere, the people feel as if someone else is now ruling them—and see no way to regain control.
This could have been written in 1931. It isn't only economists who have forgotten. Activists, commentators, and political scientists have forgotten, too.

I wonder if Occupy remembers?

Iraqi Veteran Critically Injured by Police at Occupy Oakland

The Oakland Tribune has the story.

Trying to feed the corvids, are we?

What's striking is that the decision of police to undertake action against OWS seems to bear no relationship to the conduct of the protesters. OWS seems to be a kind of Rorschach blot for local governments: they see what they want in it, and act accordingly.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Afterthought: OWS and the Overton Window

Cole, missing the point,
Now if we can just focus this energy into primary challenges and swing the Democratic members of the money party to the left

Not going to be the Democrats, John. May not be any party like we recognize. I don't see how any major US political party can win on liberalism in the current media and rhetorical environment.

I am starting to believe that electronic media has broken the forms of the US government. It is hard to escape the sense that any Presidential candidate now must act a bit like Ronald Reagan: that looking Presidential has overwhelmed executive competence as the requirement for gaining office. In the system, top to bottom, we have a triumph of symbol over substance. And so people hold liberal beliefs, but make conservative votes.

There's a lot to be thought out here, and I have only the time for occasional croaks. But what would a government for a mediated world look like?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hoocoodanode: OWS and the Overton Window

John Cole, editor and publisher of Balloon Juice, magnificently missing the point:
I have to admit to being kind of shocked that we are a month into #OWS and no one has pointed out that THIS is how you move the Overton window. Not by writing whiny blog posts about how Obama let you down. Now if we can just focus this energy into primary challenges and swing the Democratic members of the money party to the left…, post
Phoenix Woman, at Firedoglake, about a week previous:
The greatest value so far (and possibly in the long run as well) of the Occupy Wall Street movement has been not so much in the shaping of electoral politics — though it’s already starting to influence that somewhat — but in its shoving the Overton Window away from the far right end of the spectrum, far enough away to make talk of meaningful solutions possible, which is the first step towards making them politically viable, post
Editorial FAIL!

John missed it because he hates FDL so much. But there's another point: I am not sure that Occupy could have made a difference earlier. We had to get to the point where the consensus on austerity had emerged, which it did in the 10-year deficit-reduction deal, before an opposition could form. It all sounds very Hegelian.


[2011.10.20 Weasel-sentence removed.]

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Feeding Corvids: the Death Penalty

On Troy Davis:
I am struck by the way all of the highest authorities of the USA found reasons not to intervene. The Supreme Court, Congress, the President, all found reasons not to act, and now a man who is likely innocent has been killed by the state of Georgia. No citizen is safe from a corrupt state government, it appears. Why is there not more concern for your own lives and freedoms, if not compassion for Troy Davis? 
On Awlaki:
And what is to prevent any future administration from declaring any of you “enemies of the state” and ordering you killed without a trial?
On Amanda Knox:
Released, Guardian article, link.

"If Amanda Knox had been in Georgia’s legal system, she would probably be dead instead of on an airplane home."--Juan Cole, link.

But Juan, you forget that Knox is white.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Obama and Blacks

I am surprised at how bitter I have become about the Obama administration's failings and its continued popularity, especially among people who it is harming more than most. Ah, well. More food for corvids.

A slightly different version of this got me banned from Ta-Nehisi Coates comments. I will therefore say here that anyone who uses these remarks in support of racism, to claim that Obama is racist, or to claim that I believe Obama is racist is twisting my words, and doing so without my support. The final question is not to me rhetorical.

The fact of Obama's blackness is an enormous boon to black people everywhere in the world. It is such an enormous symbolic victory, to have a black President of the United States of America. And yet Obama's economic and immigration policies fall hard on US blacks. Statistics show that blacks were among the groups hardest hit by the mortgage crisis and that the current high rate of unemployment is also hitting blacks very hard. The Obama administration has done very little about either problem. Obama's intensification of immigration enforcement has granted legitimacy to anti-Muslim bigots and anti-Latino racists, and this, in turn, supports all racism.

I am reminded of Ronald Reagan, who Obama admires. Reagan played the "man of the people" for the white working class, all the while supporting policies that impoverished that class. And now we have Obama, standing as the voice of US blacks and all the while supporting policies that are continuing to impoverish and harm US blacks.

Does the content of Obama's character matter more than the color of his skin?

Update, the following morning: I find the above incredibly sad. It is only one betrayal in a global pattern of betrayals: so many democratically elected leaders are acting against the interests and, often, the expressed will of their publics, but Obama was elected with so much hope and with so much love and--this?

There's more, I think, to say about the betrayals of democracy of the past 30 years, but right now I am too sick at heart.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Two Letters to My Senator, Who Is On the Super-Committee

These were written in response to a letter which began:
Thank you for contacting me regarding the recent passage of an increase in the United States' debt ceiling. It is good to hear from you.

I share your concerns about our nation's growing national debt and deficit, and I believe that we must to work together to bring down the debt responsibly. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to not burden them with unsustainable debt.

One I sent, one I didn't. The first version was titled, "The Cuts Have Your Name on Them." The second one was titled, "Raise your Voice!"

They both had the same beginning:

The short-term deficit is not a problem. The head of the Congress own Budget Office has told you so. If you don't want to listen to him, you might try the IMF. If even that is too much trouble, look up Hoover in 1930, FDR in 1937, or Ireland and the UK right now.

Austerity doesn't work in this kind of depression. This is well documented.

"The Cuts Have Your Name on Them" went on:

And there have been riots in London.

And I hold you accountable for any deaths that come from the cuts that are planned. If my family members die from Medicare cuts, or Medicaid cuts, I will remember that those cuts have your name on them.

And I do not think I am alone.

"Raise your Voice" ended:
Maybe the Democrats are as weak as their apologists claim. Maybe there is nothing you, or your party leadership, can do but accede to the demands of the radical right. But even the weakest politician has a voice. Use yours!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Capitalism 2.0

Or perhaps "New Capitalism."

This was the name we came up with at the end of Thursday night's Virtually Speaking. Jay and Stuart we arguing for rehabilitating capitalism with regulation and some direct governmental programs like health care. I suspect we are past trying that trick again, but maybe if we start in that direction, we will end up with something worthwhile. Anything has to be better than continuing as we have.

So what is Capitalism 2.0? Well, Jay and Stuart didn't say. So I'm going to croak something out.

First, comprehensive regulation of banking on Keynesian lines, by which is meant regulation of "any institution that borrows short-term and uses the funds to make longer-term, illiquid investments" (Krugman, "The Profession and the Crisis," link.) This is not quite, as Keynes suggested, "euthanasia of the rentier" (Keynes, The General Theory, link), but it is the domestication of the rentier.

Second, comprehensive national regulation of limited-liability business organizations, corporations. The legal recognition that legal artificial persons are different from natural persons, and have only the rights granted by law and charter.

Third, creation of new social institutions:

  1. A highly-regulated comprehensive health care system.
  2. Unions, not as an adjunct to commercial corporations, but as full partners in corporate operations.
  3. Environmental protection organizations at all levels of government.
Now, this is a very broad-brush program, and a very radical one. Every element is subject to rethinking, and I would very much like input from Jay and Stuart, as well as experts in the fields covered.


[minor changes made the day after and the day after that]

Friday, September 9, 2011

More Messaging

That's my reaction to the speech yesterday.

There's at most 10% of the needed stimulus, and plans for five times as many cuts. But, hey, Obama said "jobs, jobs, jobs." It will help him get re-elected and, as far as I can tell, in Obama's mind, getting re-elected is more important than 15% unemployment.

That was a more bitter croak than I expected to write. But it seems that Obama, like his model Reagan, is much more concerned with his public image than anything that is good for the USA. Are we to take him, then, as a man dominated by the kind of all-consuming vanity which usually afflicts actors? Perhaps yes. He seems to want to look presidential rather than be President.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Keynesian Story

I'm not sure how much of a future the Tea Party Republicans have; their approval ratings are incredibly low. It may be they will just slink back to their corners after the next election.

But the Wall Street Republican/conservative Democratic coalition will go on and on. That, I think, is the long-term enemy.

We need to make the case for Keynesian economic policies. The right has all the good stories, but they're propaganda for policies that fail, just as the communists had good stories, but couldn't actually create and run a government that delivered freedom and equality.

Keynesian policies work, but we don't have stories to tell, so we can't persuade people to vote for them.

John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, link.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Comparing Barack Obama and James Buchanan

Prof. Tim Burke of Swarthmore draws really interesting comparisons between Barack Obama and James Buchanan, the US President just before Lincoln, post:
The basic error was that Buchanan approached American politics in procedural or legal terms at a moment when the reigning political conflicts in American life were no longer in any sense shaped or resolved by procedural or legal processes. He waited passively for legal decisions to determine his course of action, and when the Dred Scott decision dropped in his lap, he regarded that as the end of the matter. Open conflict in Kansas baffled him, and again he turned to a safely procedural answer (advocating that Kansas enter the Union as a slave state).

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dead Cats, Bouncing Down the Stairs

We've had an extraordinary sell-off in the global securities markets. Everyone is down. As I wrote over on Jared Bernstein's blog, I think the deal dashed all hopes for a recovery in the short term. Before, there was still some hope that matters might get better, and that at least the programs currently in place would stay in place. Now both of those are gone. I suppose one could view this as a correction. Perhaps the big investors have gone back to their models, factored in a lost decade, and are shifting their bets, going from stock to bonds. If this is so, I suppose this would become a trend, and some of the slack in interest rates would be taken up. I wonder if, ultimately, bond prices would rise.

(And, in fact, investors are buying up Treasuries like they are going out of style.)

On the other hand, it is interesting that the big fund managers are apparently now mostly Keynesians--otherwise we'd expect to see a jump in stocks, in the belief that deficit cutting would lead to growth. In another generation, this may penetrate the marble halls and marble heads of the world's capitals.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Scourging Themselves

It occurs to me that the apparently hedonistic US culture is no such thing. Most USers trust pain much more than joy. And that is why, though there is much complaining, the United States has embraced austerity as a solution to its economic problems.

Who needs slavemasters, when the citizens are willing to scourge themselves?


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Greater Depression

As usual where Obama is one of the lead negotiators, the deal is worse than it need be.

Paul Krugman has been calling this the Lesser Depression. But if the austerity budget holds in Congress, it will become the Greater Depression. There will be no WPA, no new government programs to help people in bad times. The austerity budget commits the government cutting what programs there are. Education funding will be cut, as will research. There will be nothing to keep cyclical unemployment from becoming structural unemployment.

I wonder how long it will take to get there? Is there any hope that Congress or the President will see sense before 2020?

(First sentence added the following day. Two weasel words removed a month after initial publication.)

Google+, Pseudonyms, and Sexism

Google+'s "real" names policy is sexist, and an expression of privilege.

The largest group of internet users who use pseudonyms on the internet is probably women, and they do it because anyone with a woman's name on the internet is subject to harassment and stalking, and also because writing is often taken more seriously if it comes under a male name. So forbidding pseudonyms, whatever the intention, is sexist. Google's policy protects the abuses of privilege.

Google does not go to the expense of actually authenticating its users. They end up with names that their software accepts: not real names, but plausible names. Do not trust a Google+ name, regardless of Google's policies: such names are in no way trustworthy.

It is not just women who are harmed by this policy: it's everyone who is put at risk by speaking their minds under an easily-traceable name, or who is marginalized because of the use of their name. Police officers. Radio or television personalities. Closeted gay people. People with a violent exes. People who don't want their bosses snooping on them. Union organizers. Political activists at risk of their lives and freedoms.

Without pseudonyms, Salaam Pax could not have posted from Baghdad. George Eliot might not have published, and might have vanished without a trace if she had. Mark Twain would have had a different career.

The 800-pound gorillas in the room which everyone is ignoring is abuses on the part of US government security agencies, the data miners, the banking system, and the employment system. It's likely that government security agencies played a significant role in devising this policy, and the data miners that are both major Google customers and themselves sellers to the security agencies.

"Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice."


Sunday, July 31, 2011

Feeding Corvids

The outlines of a deal are emerging in Congress. It looks very very bad. Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler has a summary, article.


Jane Hamsher in a spitting-mad post:

Few [of the liberal Congresspeople who will vote for this deal] will admit they were willing to cast old people into poverty and deny them medical treatment for the sake of Barack Obama’s 2012 election hopes. Post.


That isn't "shared sacrifice," it's asking the poorest, oldest and sickest among us to give up a piece of their meager security in exchange for the wealthy giving up some tip money and the defense industry giving up a couple of points of profit. Post.
"We are the sacrifice."

I think default might actually be better than this deal.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Can we call them "fascists" yet, mommy?

Democracy Now interview with Eva Larsson, wife of the late novelist Steig Larsson, whose life work was largely anti-fascist activism. The recent Norwegian terrorist is discussed. See also Searchlight Magazine.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"We Are the Sacrifice"

Robert Greenstein, President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
If enacted, [the Boehner budget-cutting proposal] could well produce the greatest increase in poverty and hardship produced by any law in modern U.S. history. Statement.
The Reid and Obama proposals are little better.

Let the children of the wealthy and powerful go fight on the front lines in one of their many wars, and then we will listen when the leaders they sell us talk about "shared sacrifice."

Meantime, as one son of Ulster said while marching to the Somme, "We're not making a sacrifice. Jesus, you've seen this war. We are the sacrifice."


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Even the Mainstream Types Are Talking About a New Party

[This was written for comments on this post over at Economists View. It didn't run, for whatever reason. So here it is.]

I think a new party could move in on the Democrats from the left, and reduce the Republicans to third party status. The Democratic Party has managed to alienate both women and young people so a new party would have a natural constituency.

Progressives could also pursue electoral and legislative reforms that would make third parties possible: instant runoff or range voting and proportional representation.

I've been writing about this for years, search link 1, search link 2.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Was Murdoch Involved in Climate E-mail Break-in?

It is speculated that Murdoch's Neil Wallis, participated in the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit breakin, and sabotaged the PR job afterwards, much like an arsonist firefighter.

It is known that Wallis, the News International Executive Editor who was in charge of their electronic break-ins was reporting back to News International at the same time he was ostensibly working for Scotland Yard on those break-ins. He was also the person hired by the University of East Anglia to handle PR in their e-mail break-in. Did he do it twice?

Olbermann video: (the Wallis coverage starts at 5:57.)

Olbermann transcript:

Discussion by Joe Romm of ThinkProgress: Croak!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Obama employment crisis croak

In response to Ta-Nehisi Coates post.
This is Obama's employment crisis. He's working really hard for it. Maybe he wants to lose--it makes about as much sense as any other explanation of Administration policy.


But, really, I don't think he will. Look at the Republican clown car, er, field.

In Response to Krugman: should Democrats in Congress vote for it?

Krugman, via Economists View post:
Anyway, I don’t believe that it’s all political calculation. Watching Mr. Obama and listening to his recent statements, it’s hard not to get the impression that he is now turning for advice to people who really believe that the deficit, not unemployment, is the top issue facing America..., and who also believe that the great bulk of deficit reduction should come from spending cuts. It’s worth noting that even Republicans weren’t suggesting cuts to Social Security; this is something Mr. Obama and those he listens to apparently want for its own sake.

Which raises the big question: If a debt deal does emerge, and it overwhelmingly reflects conservative priorities and ideology, should Democrats in Congress vote for it?

This birds take is, the House Democrats would be best opposing; let the Senate Democrats do as they wish.

The House Democrats are largely progressive and quickly subject to public outrage. There's no victory for them--let the Republicans take the hit.

The Senate Democrats, on the other hand, are largely conservative. The conservatives won't hurt in the short term from this; let the liberals refuse to participate, and the conservatives form a coalition with the Republicans.

New party, still in the works.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Bipartisanship or, "What Digby Said"

So the stage is set. The conservative Democrats, led by Obama and Reid, will cut a compromise with the Wall Street Republicans, led by Boehner and McConnell. This will include substantial austerity for the lower class and continued support and amnesty for the upper class. Going to be a rocky decade; think 1950s politics combined with 1930s economics. As progressives, we need to turn to the question of how to deal with such a decade with very little support from national elected officials.

The Combined Corvids of North America thank the government of the United States for this rich gift of food.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Content of His Character

Jack Balkin, on the Obama administration arguing that the USA isn't really at war in Libya, post.
If one is disturbed by Bush's misuse of the process for vetting legal questions, one should be equally disturbed by Obama's irregular procedures. [...] The fact that Obama is a former professor of constitutional law does not justify his scuttling practices that are designed, over long periods of time, to improve legal deliberations and help ensure that presidents conform to the law.
Progressives had hoped that Obama was going to be one of the great and rare presidents, who, like Washington and Juarez, have been able to renounce power for the greater good. With this action, he shows clearly he is not. Yet that is what is needed to end this burst of authoritarianism in the USA and the Western world.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fascism Express

News of the past few days has brought:
  • A Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that the state legislature is exempt from open meeting laws, and its questionably-passed law stripping the state's public empolyye unions of most of their bargaining rights therefore stands. Report. The ruling is, at its base, an abrogation of law.
  • Darrell Issa, Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee, interfering with the testimony of Democratic witnesses. Report & analysis.
  • An amazingly racist and sexist campaign ad. Report.
If the courts have been corrupted, and the legislature is dominated by the radical right, what is to stop the legislature, or the shadowy powers behind it, from dismantling the rule of law completely? Totalitarian states have the forms of democracy. They have legislatures, courts, unions. But none of them are free to act: the power is centralized in a small group. This is how legislation is created in a totalitarian state. The rulers say what the legislation is, distribute it to their tame legislature, silence or stifle all opposition, and then use their captive courts to interpret the law in their favor.

The legislation here comes from the State Policy Network, funded by a few wealthy right-wing radicals. We only know some of their names. The content of the legislative program is anti-union, anti-environmentalist, sexist, racist, corporatist, classist: in a word, fascist.

Now what? Do we step off the train?

Postscript, 2011.06.16: Today brings the news that the CIA was asked to attack the reputation of Juan Cole, one of the most informed public critics of the Iraq war. Report.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Weinergate croak

It has become way too easy to find and publish someone's steamy love letters.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Short Labor Croak

Jared Bernstein wrote:
Strengthening of labor laws is important. Most objective observers judge the playing field for union organizing to be seriously tilted against forming a union. Union-busting—mostly by making sure elections to recognize a union fail—has become a huge business; I’ve heard there are law firms that offer money-back guarantees. A functional NLRB is very important in this space and as you can imagine, they were not exactly loaded for bear during the Bush years. But they’re back now and have some good ideas (and they can make rule changes, as opposed to legislative ones, which are a much heavier lift). I’ll try to write about them soon.
My response, in comments:
The hell with “strengthening” labor laws. Repeal Taft-Hartley, and then we’ll talk. As a start, Obama could appoint pro-labor NRLB members as he gets the chance. Heck, I’d settle for neutral members.

(And you know, and I know, that there isn’t a chance of either of those before 2012, and probably not before 2020. The fight continues.)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Coulds, Part II

I realized that I'd written, in the context of a reply to John Cole, a not-bad list of coulds. I've updated them slightly, but I think they stand up pretty well.
  • Get out there & start talking up Keynsianism. Remind people of Hoover’s failure in 1930, and FDR’s budget balancing in 1937. Criticize the investment banks for gross malfeasance, the mortgage banks for fraud, and the health insurance companies for price-gouging.
  • Get out there & start talking environmentalism. Start talking science. Start talking jobs. Start talking union. Start talking women’s rights. Start talking freedom and equality—remember those?
  • Investigate the Koch brothers and the De Vos family. Investigate ALEC. Investigate the State Policy Network.
  • Stop lying to the public. Stop telling people it’s really OK when no way it is. Stop making deals with the devil.

DougJ at Balloon Juice Sees Fascists

I think that politically, it might be smart for Republicans to force a default this summer and blow up the economy. [...] I would not have said this before they all voted for Vouchercare. [...] If the economy goes into true free fall, they’ve got a very good shot to unseat Obama. [...] Once they’re in, they should find some pretext to abolish labor unions as much as possible and then try to disenfranchise as many younger and non-white people as they can, after extended DOJ “investigation”/Congressional hearings/Breitbart circuses about teh voter fraud.

He is, of course, describing a fascist revolution, and this is made the stronger by his not recognizing what he is describing.

So what do I think?


There are two factions in the Republicans: the Wall Street faction (Pete Peterson, et al) and the nationalism-values-and-racism aka Tea Party faction (DeVos, Prince, Koch brothers, et al.) The Wall Streeters obviously don’t want a default. The Tea Partiers don’t care; I've met some who are convinced that it would make no difference at all. It is possible that some of the Tea Party leaders are using actual fascist history as a model.

There's a historical precedent in the rise of the Nazis: the German equivalent of the Wall Street faction invited the Tea Party faction in and, in hard times, found the Tea Party faction was popular. A split on the left, between Stalinists and democratic socialists, prevented an effective unified opposition.

The US situation is considerably different. There is no effective left. I suppose the current governing coalition of Wall Street Republicans and conservative Democrats might successfully oppose the Tea Party Republicans, but it would be the ruin of both parties, and the end of the Democratic progressive faction.

My guess is no revolution, but also no substantial change. Continued conservative governance, with the Tea Party Republicans become increasingly shrill until the next election, after which they will probably lose power. As I wrote previously, I see nothing that will lead the USA out of its current political deadlock and economic depression. Which means...

More food for corvids. Croak!

[2011.06.08: minor copy errors (capitalization and verb tense) corrected]

Monday, May 30, 2011

To Jared Berstein, on shoulds and coulds

Jared Bernstein writes:
Especially re the WPA-idea, this got me thinking about the relative value of important voices like Paul’s promoting what we should do right now as opposed to what, given political constraints, we could do. And I think now is a good time to emphasize the latter.
My reply in comments, slightly edited, which I record here, since I doubt this will clear moderation.

What coulds?

You did all you could, or at least you say you did. It wasn't anything near enough. Maybe the administration did do all that it could. The administration and the Democrats now own the new depression and as far as I can tell, it's going to last for ten years.

A 30-year propaganda campaign created the Tea Party Republicans. They were not born from one mortgage modification. They started as a tiny group of radicals given a megaphone by the Koch Brothers and the DeVos family, and perhaps a few other wealthy family groups. That opposition network, ALEC, the State Policy Network, and perhaps other radical right organizations that I don't yet know the names of, will oppose anything that will bring a real improvement. Their Supreme Court judges--which your party allowed to be confirmed--have allowed them even greater influence in the Citizens United decision.

So there's no sense appeasing them: they will try to shoot down anything that might make a real difference.

In the long term the demographics are changing. In the long term most of the financial fallen angels of the conservative movement will die, and their children will find other things to do with their vast ill-gotten wealth. About all that I can see to do now is to teach the truth and begin reforms that will lay the groundwork for new politics in the future. So Paul Krugman is on target: he is teaching. I do not know how he does it, how he keeps on going, day after day, as the developed world slides deeper and deeper into its self-imposed misery.

I am not a young bird. You and Paul Krugman are about my age. I expect we will all be old before we see any substantive positive changes.

Postscript: when a very young Paul Krugman dreamed of being Hari Seldon, I doubt that he considered that Seldon's vision of a falling empire, and of mitigating the fall, was one of centuries of heartbreak, though one with an ultimately positive outcome. Asimov, who created Seldon, never fully engaged the emotional impact of Seldon's vision. But heartbreak it was, and all Seldon could do was lessen the harm. There is perhaps some relevance to the current situation, here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Losing, LOSING, and Losing BAD: US Electoral Croak

Losing is getting a corporate-insurance health care system. LOSING is having Medicare dismantled. Losing BAD is what voting for third parties gets you in the current system--it actually works in favor of your enemies. (Exception: if the Republicans turn into a regional party, as seems likely, voting for a third party might work.) 

Paul Ryan: Outdoing the Left

It appears that Paul Ryan has succeeded in doing what the combined might (hah!) of the leftist media (hah!) could not: make a single-payer health care system popular in the USA.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Overlords of Our Democracy

[This comes from a series of comment responses I wrote over on Balloon Juice, where I realized that everyone in a discussion was more interested in rebutting a sharp criticism of Obama than engaging a policy issue. Which led to these remarks.]

Is not it possible to believe that Obama is wrong and doing a bad job in some policy areas, yet doing a good job in others, without hating America? Must all criticism of a sitting President be treated as lèse majesté? Following on that, this thought: if one treats all criticism of a ruler as a result of personal animosity, there is no need to engage the substance of any criticisms. This has been a feature of US political discourse since Nixon at least. I find it profoundly undemocratic, and wonder why it gets so little notice.

Apparently this is the political discourse of empire. We welcome the new overlords of our democracy! Oh, wait...

I wonder if Schlesinger wrote about this in The Imperial Presidency?

[edited 2011.05.28. Punctuation changed and a paragraph break removed. 2013.10.31, wandering thought at end removed.]

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Doug, over at Balloon Juice, on the Republican backing away from their Medicare proposal:
What we’ve got here is more than failure to communicate […] Doug Mataconis thinks that convincing the public to gut Medicare may be as simple as putting together a Draper-worthy PR blitz [...] It isn’t being done because it can’t be done. The Ryan plan wasn’t ineptitude with insufficient cover, it was a spectacularly slick roll out of a product that no one wants to buy. […]
But it’s not just Teh R’s—it’s a disease of US politics. Me, last November:
Faced with an election that is the crystallized result of essence of policy failure, Obama decides that he…sent the wrong message.
To win the first election you have to “message.” To win the next election you have to deliver. Obama didn’t deliver on jobs, housing, and banking, and it’s pretty hard to message that away. Now the Republicans are offering poison and calling it medicine, and it’s pretty hard to message that away, too.

(This, by the way, is part of why Krugman is so successful at prediction: he looks at things which can reliably be measured and relies on models measured against actual history—on scientific knowledge, in other words—and this takes him past the messaging.)

The overall disease is probably a result of Really Really Badly not wanting to face reality, on the part of the leadership of both parties. Neither party wants to alienate the wealthy and powerful, neither party wants to bell the Dragon (Chinese currency policy), neither party wants to take a strong environmentalist stance, neither party wants to tell the public they were wrong about economics for the past 30 years. So we get “messaging” instead.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

On Keynes and Marx

Brad Delong is complaining about Marx, and defending Keynes from charges of being a central planning advocate again. I wrote two comments, and these seem to have merged into one thing. So far, Delong has not run them, and I don't know that he will--he only runs a few of my comments. So here they are.

"A somewhat comprehensive socialisation of investment" (as Keynes advocated, in his own words) is pretty damn socialist, really.  It strikes right to the heart of wealth and power, in arguing for democratic governance of the financial system.  But Keynes was not an advocate of minutely-detailed planning, no.  Is this unfair to the rich?  I suppose so.  But Keynes goes on to explore the alternatives and finds them wanting.

A Marxist might say that Marx's "dictatorship of the proletariat" would use Keynsianism.  Indeed, what else could it use?  But for Marxists a Keynsian system would be only a step on the way to a fully Communist system, which did not use money at all.

Delong: "[Marx] believes there's something wrong about credit."

He believed there was something wrong about money, at least if he held to the viewpoint expressed "The Power of Money" (1844.)  In TPOM Marx objected that money falsifies human relations, a point still worth attending to, but one difficult to erect an economics on.  To some extent it seems to me that, in that essay, Marx was objecting to the constraints of physicality and embodiment.

I think Delong was objecting that Marx had not read, or was not, Keynes.  But Keynes read Marx, not the other way around, and I do not see how it could have been otherwise. Is it not possible to regard Marx as an important and useful historical theorist or philosopher, without insisting that he was entirely right or entirely wrong?  A forerunner of a still-emerging social science, in the way that, perhaps, Copernicus was a forerunner of what has since become physics?  The Copernican system still used perfect circles and epicycles; it was not particularly useful for computation.  But by putting the Sun at the center, Copernicus made it possible for Kepler and then Newton to do their work. Marx put system at the center of economics, rather than the wealthy or powerful, and paved the way for thinking about economics without defining economics in terms of central figures or groups.  Which might put Keynes in the position of Kepler or Newton.  And, as with physics, economics advances, one tombstone at a time. It is only 65 years since Keynes death; only a few more years since his major works were published. That is not so very long for a revolution in thought.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Counting the votes, seeing the forest

There is much rejoicing that not all of the House Republicans voted for the budget measure. But this isn't a proof that Boehner didn't have the votes; after all some House Democrats voted for it.

Let us look at the forest—the political consensus—rather than the trees—individual politicians. The vote shows that a bipartisan coalition of conservative Democrats and non-Tea Party Republicans is the governing consensus of the USA. Which was already pretty obvious.

Now…will this coalition address unemployment? Nope? The housing crisis? Only on technical issues. The banking disaster? Nope.

...and global climate change and other international environmental issues?

Houston, we have a problem.


On the Deficit Speech

Obama is campaigning, at least that's my take on it. And, as with all of Obama's campaign speeches, it's important to listen to what is not there. I like Thoma's remarks on the speech; he quotes Krugman and Delong and adds "this proposal turns its back on those who are still unemployed." And also the people who are being thrown out of their homes and the people who want a trustworthy banking system.

This will become the leftmost marker of Congressional debate, with the rightmost being very far right: the Ryan plan. So what we get will likely be worse than this in significant ways. Obama may be hoping that, like Reagan, he can use his popularity to pressure Congress. With high unemployment and people losing their homes every day, I don't see how. Half the public, maybe, is convinced that cutting social programs will somehow magically restore their jobs, and none of our elected leaders have even tried to kill that zombie idea: maybe it has eaten their brains.

Hard times, no leadership.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Brief Note on Uncritical Support of Obama

Personal loyalty to rulers is not a democratic virtue.

"Serious People"

When I hear people talking about how a plan is "serious" about the US budget, when I hear talk of "necessary" pain, I know that that the pain is unnecessary and the plan is junk. A person who has made bad mistakes, and who needs to do hard things in their life to set them as right as possible, may talk like this. But that's not where this is at. This about making the elderly and poor suffer, and further impoverishing the majority of the USA.

And that is what it takes to be "serious" in the politics of these times: making your "inferiors" suffer. Because, if the Serious People couldn't do this, they might have to undertake some austerity in their own lives.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What the Democrats Might Do

John Cole, complaining about criticism of Obama and the Democratic Party leadership.
I honestly don’t know what exactly the Dems are supposed to do.
He goes on to say “raise more money, volunteer more time, and walk more precincts in 2012”—to work even harder for a party and a leadership that has consistently failed and often betrayed him. I don't agree, so instead I offer this answer, slightly edited from comments.

  • Get out there & start talking up Keynsianism. Remind people how of Hoover’s failure in 1930, and FDR’s budget balancing in 1937. Criticize the investment banks for gross malfeasance, the mortgage banks for fraud, and the health insurance companies for price-gouging.
  • Get out there & start talking environmentalism. Start talking science. Start talking jobs. Start talking union. Start talking women’s rights. Start talking freedom and equality—remember those?
  • Investigate the Koch Brothers. Investigate ALEC.
  • Stop lying to the public. Stop telling people it’s really OK when no way it is. Stop making deals with the devil.

Without these things—without some positive program and the will to advocate it—“raise more money, volunteer more time, and walk more precincts in 2012” will at best keep matters as they are, and matters as they are are pretty grim. I don’t believe the Tea Party Republicans can sustain their fever pitch of madness, even with ALEC/Koch funding. They are losing credibility with the public, and they will not regain it. But without some realistic, compassionate alternative there will be no change, except from the currents of history.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

On Intervention in the Middle East

Comment from an FDL discussion of the ethics of the military intervention in Libya (Jane Hamsher is against it):
But I’m wondering what the smart folks here think the U.S. response to all these rebellious and seemingly democratic movements in the M.E. and Africa ought to be? (RFShunt, ***)
My general take on this is that peaceful support of freedom and democracy is always both ethical and, in the long term, most likely to produce the best results for the USA and the world, in many different ways.

Violence is a much harder question. I do not think it wise for the world to sit by while mass murder is done, but the why and how of military intervention troubles me. In theory, the United Nations exists partly to prevent exactly what the UN has so far prevented Qaddafi from doing. For this to end well though, military intervention has to be undertaken in the right way, and it is probably best it is undertaken for the right reasons. Right reasons we can fairly say we don’t have here: none of the leaders of this intervention have clean hands, though it is possible that Obama and Clinton are motivated by a genuine desire to see justice done. Obama does have his moments, and this may be one of them. Based on her history, I think Hilary Clinton is also motivated by humanitarian concerns. However, they can only get support for this because the US hawks are also interested in intervention, and their reasons are far less savory. As to the right way, the UN would have to provide disinterested support for freedom and democracy in Libya, and the support would have to be enough and last long enough for the rebels to win. Disinterested support for freedom and democracy isn’t in the picture, and enough support for enough time also may not be–wars are expensive.

So it’s going to depend. This is not badly begun, but I do not, personally, have much hope that it will end well.

Well, what do you expect from a raven?


Friday, March 25, 2011

When you stare into ALEC, ALEC stares back into you

University of Wisconsin professor of history William Cronon, staring into ALEC:
After watching the sudden and impressively well-organized wave of legislation being introduced into state legislatures that all seem to be pursuing parallel goals only tangentially related to current fiscal challenges–ending collective bargaining rights for public employees, requiring photo IDs at the ballot box, rolling back environmental protections, privileging property rights over civil rights, and so on–I’ve found myself wondering where all of this legislation is coming from.
And ALEC staring back.
Here’s the headline: the Wisconsin Republican Party has issued an Open Records Law request for access to my emails since January 1 in response to a blog entry I posted on March 15 concerning the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in influencing recent legislation in this state and across the country. I find this a disturbing development, and hope readers will bear with me as I explain the strange circumstances in which I find myself as a result.
Via Josh Marshall at TPM. Personally, I think ALEC could do with some attention from the police, or at least Anonymous and Wikileaks.

A further reaction

President Obama spent many years associated with the University of Chicago. To what extent did the arrogance and elitism of the Chicago-school economists influence his thinking, and to what extent does their current despair, denial, and anger influence his governing?

Saltwater, Freshwater, and Economic Policy: a reaction to a Brad Delong interview

[Welcome, visitors from Paul Krugman's blog.  Your comments are welcome, but this is an old post—auto-moderation kicks in. I will release your comments when I see them or you can comment on the new post here.]

The interview was conducted by Jay Ackroyd of Virtually Speaking, you can listen to it here (audio at link) or download it from iTunes as a podcast, and I hope you will do one or the other--in my opinion it is the best discussion I've heard of the personalities and politics involved in the recent and on-going economic meltdown.

My understanding of part of what was said was that Prof Delong and the other saltwater economists for a long time believed that they were engaged in an intellectual dispute with the moderate conservatives. The freshwater economists, however, believed that they had The Truth, and that Keynsianism would fall as surely as the Soviet Union did; that analogy may even have figured in their thinking. They believed that they were wise adults willing to face hard truths, the saltwater economists were foolish, weak children, and events would prove them right. Delong's description of what what Prof. Robert Lucas thought of Prof. Christine Romer's support of the stimulus was chilling in its contempt for Romer: by Delong's account Lucas believed Romer was lying when she supported the stimulus.

I wonder if the thought processes of the freshwater school were not an elevated version of those the hardcore tea partiers: a threatened sense of privilege and contempt for the weakness of their opponents. It is hard for me not to see this as fitting into a pattern of threatened male privilege, though in some cases sexism was not the core of the belief.

The freshwater economists are now faced with incontrovertible proof that they were wrong and the saltwater school was right. Their reactions, it seems to me, are no different than what anyone wedded to an inflated idea of their self-worth. Not only were they wrong, they have lost the argument to people they feel are their intellectual inferiors and to women. They are angry and denying, denying, denying.

The saltwater school, on the other hand, is having to reevaluate a great many of their ideas, not the least about collegiality and scientific epistemology. The recognition of the contempt in which their colleagues held them has to be a shock to many; I think I detect traces of it in Delong's writing, and in Prof. Krugman's. Likewise, the recognition that many freshwater economists were not thinking scientifically at all, but rather bound by prejudice and intellectual rigidity seems to have come as a shock. It is very much to Prof. Delong's credit that he is willing to consider these realities.

There is also a practical problem, if economics as a discipline is to survive. There is a huge amount of junk in the peer-reviewed economics literature--the reviewing process is no protection when the reviewers themselves are prejudiced. A comparison that comes to mind is the collapse of "scientific" eugenics. There were vast amounts of that written, and now it is only read as an object example of the capture of a social science by prejudice and authoritarianism. For economists, meantime, there is a huge task ahead: the garbage must be taken out; removed from the field's teaching, textbooks, and policy advice. It will be a generation at least before this is set right, if indeed it can be set right at all.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Croak of the Day: Mark Thoma, "Revealed Preference"

Well, yesterday, anyway. "We have enough money to pay for military action in Libya, but not for job creation?"--from Mark Thoma's excellent economics blog.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bought Men? A Brief Note on the Fascist Revolution

In every state where the Tea Party Republicans have come to power, they have attempted to put the same program into practice: breaking the public employee unions, mass firings, weird anti-abortion laws. Apparently, this is a coordinated program from the Koch Party's American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC.) Very dirty money. And since when does private industry make policy? But I wonder...just how many of the Tea Party Republicans are directly or indirectly in the pay of the groups that support ALEC? It would explain their remarkable solidarity. These people are in the state legislatures, making enemies of their neighbors. If this was simple crazy ideology they would be concerned about their chances for re-election, and work after they leave public office. Yet they do not seem to be, and I wonder if this is because they are paid, and expect to be well-paid in the future.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Alternative Energy: Hard Choices for Hominids

You hominids have a deadlock in the politics of power generation. In the USA, at least, activism has stopped nuclear plant construction. This turns out to have been the energy equivalent of Norquist's "starve the beast," and it has worked about as well. You have ended up relying heavily on coal for electric power generation and oil for transportation, which, in the amounts used, are as or more harmful as nuclear power.    

There is much talk about sustainable energy production, and there have been some substantial successes in those technologies, but you are not ready to convert your whole economy to sustainable energy production. Partly, this is because sustainable energy has to be gathered, whereas fossil fuel and nuclear fuel contain energy which need only be released: without a "carbon tax" or some similar regulation, sustainable energy sources will always be more expensive. Partly, though, the conservatives in Congress have been successful in preventing the research necessary to widespread deployment of sustainable energy production. Your economic models do not, yet, embrace sustainability.    

So you are faced with hard choices. To stop using coal, oil, or nuclear power immediately would mean great hardship. Without international agreements to prevent further development of such systems, action in an single country might in any event be futile except perhaps as an example. And yet if human civilization is to survive, this must be undertaken in the long term.

One thing that could be done in the short term in the United States would be to abandon the tax subsidies for resource extraction. They started as World War I production subsidies, and ever since, conservatives have been defending them. This might be an excellent time to attack these. They could be attacked on libertarian grounds as government subsidies. It might just work.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Mercantilist World?

(An earlier version of this was posted as a Firedoglake diary, where so far it has not been noticed. This is my copy here, for a record and perhaps discussion. Minor changes on day of publication.)

Over at Project Syndicate Brad Delong writes:

But there are two dangers in America’s forthcoming debate. The first concerns the term likely to be used to frame the debate: competitiveness. “Productivity” would be much better. “Competitiveness” carries the implication of a zero-sum game, in which America can win only if its trading partners lose.


The second danger is that “competitiveness” implies that what is good for companies located in America – good, that is, for their investors, executives, and financiers – is good for America as a whole. Back when President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s cabinet nominee Charlie Wilson claimed that what was “good for America was good for General Motors – and vice versa,” GM included not just shareholders, executives, and financiers, but also suppliers and members of the United Auto Workers union. By contrast, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, recently appointed by Obama to lead the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, runs a company that has long since narrowed to executives, investors, and financiers.

In other words, a focus on “competitiveness” could lead to a neo-mercantilist class society. It is hard to imagine a world in which all major economic powers are neo-mercantilist, but that seems to be a real possibility. China and Germany already pursue mercantilism through their currency polices, and if the USA does also, mercantilism is that much closer to becoming the global economic order. A mercantilist economic order is not likely to be an economic order in which anyone except the very wealthy would be happy: part of the push to increase trade profits would involve a push to lower labor prices.

It would also be an economic order where conflict would be endemic. Between the great mercantile powers, trade conflict. Within the great mercantile powers, class conflict. Between the successful mercantilist powers and their less-successful trading partners, international conflict. There is a cost, paid in security measures and hatred, to maintaining a class society: to being the filthy rich minority in impoverished world. Nor can I see how such a world could be environmentally sustainable: there would always be the temptation to gain a competitive edge by damaging the environment by extensively using fossil-fuel energy, overfishing, polluting. A neo-mercantilist world would institutionalize the tragedy of the commons.

This could be the way the world ends.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Short Croak: The Red Menace

The United States is going through a new red scare.  Only now we are all reds.

This produces very odd rhetoric.


To this old bird, this sounds like one of those official speeches one hears from a defeated leader. Rah-rah-rah. Only…there’s nothing to rah about.

Obama has at least found a way to defend infrastructure spending. We seem to have come full circle: much of the expansion of the Federal government in the 1950s and 1960s was justified by nationalism. The Interstate Highway System started as a “defense” project, and much of the expansion in education and research similarly. So now we have Obama defending these things as appropriate for “competitiveness.” At the same time, though, he plans to cap a great deal of spending. The states are cash-strapped, and Obama has committed to a course where the Federal government will not help them. So just where is the funding for all this education and research going to come from?

SOTU croaks I approve of:

But I think it sounded oddly discordant, as if the economic crisis is a best forgotten nightmare even though we still have 9.5% official unemployment and a housing sector in deep distress. It's not as if GDP is growing at some jaw dropping pace. So, to my ears it was oddly out of touch. “Winning the future” would be a lot more inspiring if we were all sure we were going to survive the present.
Overall, however, I have no idea what the vision here was. We care about the future! But we don’t want to spend!
 Mark Thoma (Economists View):

[...] How do we help those who need a job right now? Solving the more immediate job problem needs to be first and foremost on our national agenda, but this was not addressed in the speech. [...] it wasn't lack of innovation or lack of competitiveness that got us into this mess, it was an out of control financial sector. [...] We need to get our deficit under control, but not before the economy is ready for it. [...] there needed to be more emphasis on the fact that eliminating tax cuts for the wealthy and spending cuts will not solve our budget problem by themselves. [...] a spending freeze while population is growing amounts to a cut in per capita spending. While this sounds courageous, it's actually the easy way out since it avoids tough choices on which programs to cut and which programs to preserve.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What Eskow Said, on Martin Luther King and Economic Justice

Richard Eskow: 
This weekend Dr. King's name will be spoken by politicians and business leaders who would probably despise what he would have had to say about 21st Century America. They'll try to appropriate his name and memory to ensure their own well-being. They hope to domesticate his moral challenge in order to protect their own ambition.

Fortunately, Martin Luther King left his words behind. In his honor, here are ten quotes from Dr. King, illustrated with images from today's events to show their continued meaning. If they don't manage to comfort the afflicted on this national holiday - and at least unsettle the comfortable - they're followed by a slide show with even more quotes.
Wow. Read the rest.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Talking moral sense about hate rhetoric

"Slacktivist" on Conor Friedersdorf on the hypocrisy of the haters:
Violent language and violent rhetoric can be a problem, but I do not think it is the main problem afflicting our diseased political discourse. The main problem, rather, is disingenuous rhetoric that coolly and calmly demands a violent response from anyone who believes it or takes it seriously. This talk may have nothing to do with guns or crosshairs or "reloading," but it is the logic of life and death. That logic doesn't just raise the possibility that some unhinged person on the fringes might take it wrong. It suggests and requires violent action as an unavoidable moral obligation.
 A point worth keeping in mind. Slacktivist goes on to point out that the haters don't actually believe: if they did they would be out fighting their revolution.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Changes after the shooting of Giffords

I think the most likely short-term outcome of this is a crackdown: more investigations, more policing, more censorship. Possibly deployment of porn scanners outside of airports. While Sheriff Dupnik blamed his local people, who he knows very well, FBI director Mueller has blamed the internet—us. It is difficult for me to see anything that is likely to lead to a reduction of hate speech or the pathological obsession with violence our right wing displays. The Tea Party leadership shows no shame; I do not expect Murdoch to reign in Fox News or the Kochs to reign in the radical-right groups they fund.

 Nothing to see here, move along.

In the long term, it's hard to say. When weak people have no arguments left, they resort to violence. Jared Laughner seems to be a psychologically disabled man. He seems to have targeted Rep. Giffords because she was the nearest authority figure in reach and, probably, because of all the hate speech he had already heard directed at her. He was able to buy a semi-automatic pistol with an extended clip because we do not take seriously the need for checks on the mental health of firearms purchasers. In the long term, it is likely that the violence will collapse the credibility of the radical right, but it could be decades before that long term arrives.

Well-fed corvids.

Meantime, Politics as Usual: Simon Johnson on the Daley Appointment

It's too early to declare a croak of the day, but I think this might be a pretty good candidate.
If the country’s most distinguished nuclear scientists told you, clearly and very publicly, that they now realize a leading reactor design is very dangerous, would you and your politicians stop to listen?  Yet our political leadership brush aside concerns about the way big banks operate.  Why?
Read the whole damn thing.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves, II

Back in August of 2009 I wrote:
I think I know the bottom line: someone is going to die. Too much crazy has been unleashed, too much negativity. Mobs at town halls. Death threats. And they're going to keep stirring the pot, until some dramatic act of violence happens, until the House caves, or until the House is back in session.
 And now we have the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Obama, Inequity, and Democracy

Obama does seem to care about income inequity: the appointment of Sotomayor, a strong critic of corporatism, to the Supreme Court indicates that. Likewise, his environmental and energy appointments indicate a liberal sensibility. But he is not willing to challenge the bankers, health insurance companies, or militarists directly. This suggests that Obama has adopted an incrementalist approach. His health care plan is also suggestive of this. If it stands as written, it will be a failure; the hope is that it will be changed later.

"Hope and change." I remember those words.

Can it work? Obama's supporters point at improvements to Social Security to argue that it can. Yet the improvements to Social Security were made against the background of a strong left, especially a strong union movement. The groundwork for the incremental gains of labor in the period 1950-70 was laid by the labor radicalism of the 1930s. In 1953-4 Social Security was extended, the authoritarian wealthy of that period were also afraid of a communist revolution, and so, it seems, were willing to make more concessions  The Glass-Stegall banking law probably could only have been passed in a mood of public outrage. I croak: sometimes the times call for radical approaches, other times incremental approaches. Obama came to power in a time when radical approaches were appropriate and instead adopted incremental approaches, discarding a great opportunity.

An incremental strategy can only be maintained in a time of relative prosperity and peace: when people are terrified of attack, losing their jobs, and being thrown out of their homes they demand action. Obama delivered small steps and concessions to the people who made the problem instead. So now the Republicans control the House, and the Tea Party (or is that the Koch Party?) controls the Republicans.

Beyond that the administration's incremental strategy ignores the present pain, which seems to me a deeply undemocratic course of action. Surely the "government of the people, by the people, for the people" is to respond to the people in their great need? Yet it is not responding, and the Obama administration is part of that failure. People are losing their homes by the millions. People are going from well-off to poor by the millions. In response to this, so far the Obama administration has offered only small and inadequate steps. The Obama administration, even, is part of the problem. Ancient rights of property and person are routinely abrogated by financiers and local officials. And what does the Obama administration do? Take small and inadequate steps. The oppressive polices of Guantanamo Bay and Homeland Security set an example for local policing. People who helped lay the financial system open to looting are in charge of the President's economic policy. The Obama administration looks ready to bargain away Social Security, one of the United States's great bulwarks against poverty, and for what? No-one seems to know.

I believe that the US is now in for a decade of misery which might have been avoided if Obama was more willing to confront the enemies of freedom and democracy. The next two years, as the radical right attempts to implement its program of domestic reforms, promise to be be especially hard. Obama's hero Gandhi never shrank from confrontation, though he pursued his political goals without violence. Obama seems not to grasp this, and I can only wonder at his rigidity and lack of empathy. Gandhi was willing to sacrifice his life for his goals; Obama seems not willing to sacrifice one iota of his beliefs.

And that is enough about Obama's failings. Let us now turn to what we may do.


[Minor copy errors corrected 2010.01.04-5]