Category Archives: neoliberalism

Re-up: Hillary’s Emails? Hillary Smails!

nothinandlikeitUpdate, July 14, 2016: The news today is that Hillary Clinton’s once-formidable lead has shrunk to basically nothing, in a contest with a candidate who is pretty obviously trying to gift her the election.

 

If you are casting about for explanations of what is it about HRC that fails to connect with the voters, I’d like to re-up a little thing I wrote a couple months ago…. Bernie Sanders is apparently out of the race now, but that does not change the basic fact that Hillary’s is the “You’ll Get Nothing And Like It” candidacy.

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Everybody’s got Hillary Clinton all wrong. So many words spilled about Hillary’s emails, sure, but nothing about Hillary Smails! There is only one letter that’s different! I have googled around and have not seen this argument advanced anywhere, so let me be the first to assert that Caddyshack gives us the key to understanding the 2016 race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Hillary’s email issues are not nothing, especially for a politician who was high-handed and hawkish when it came to, oh, say, Snowden’s leaks. Definitely, Snowden has a point:  “Others get prosecuted for what Hillary Clinton did.”

I don’t know the status of the investigation, but a potential FBI indictment is a hell of a thing to have hanging over a campaign, especially for a candidate widely considered a lock for the nomination.

Let those chips fall where they may. I’m with Bernie: enough with this talk about Hillary’s emails. A single letter is the difference between Hillary’s emails and Hillary SMAILS. And THAT’S what I want to talk about.

Hillary Smails, as in Judge Elihu Smails. Don’t go saying Murray or Dangerfield or, God forbid, Chevy Chase was the star of Caddyshack. They were all good, but Ted Knight so completely ruled.

THIS SCENE!

Feel free to savor this terrific compilation reel of Smails highlights at your leisure. I started the clip at 1:30, where there are three straight scenes where Smails’ nervous little non-verbal chortles are just genius. “Ohh? Ho Ho. Ha Ha!” And of course at 2:38 comes the line that defines the character. “You’ll get nothing and like it!”

Now, cue up the all-but-certain Democratic nominee, SHOUTING something like Elihu’s catchphrase: that single payer “Will never, ever come to pass.” You can see her crew nodding their heads sagely. Tsk. Tsk. Those silly single-payer dreamers.  “You’ll get nothing and like it!” is an applause line for her! Last week we learned that consultants working for the Super PACs backing Hillary Clinton are joining in the battle to defeat a single-payer proposition for the state of Colorado. So not only is it, “Single payer is never ever going to happen.” It’s “Single payer is never, ever going to happen, because my people are working to prevent it from happening.” One wonders how that would play as an applause line.

Just as Judge Smails had a foil in Dangerfield’s crass interloper Al Czervik–utterer of the the film’s ultimate line,“Hey everybody, we’re all gonna get laid!”–so too does Hillary have a a foil in Senator Sanders, portrayed (widely and wrongly) in mainstream accounts as a naif promising everybody “free stuff.”

Even as the consensus says he has no path to victory, he continues to surge, filling stadiums, dominating primaries as he did Tuesday, winning every county in West Virginia. West Virginia! (I know. It’s become home to racists since Hillary won there in 2008, apparently, a state of affairs that can only be explained by Carl Diggler.)

My admiration for Bernie is neither absolute, nor unconditional. I don’t agree with him on all policy fronts. There’s the gun control thing, and the fact that he’s a little too accepting of the foreign policy consensus–drone bombing, extrajudicial assassination, and whatnot. But all in all, for a candidate that actually still has a (slim) chance to win the whole thing, I mean, my God. He has ideas, good ones, and speaks his mind. This is a once-in-a-generation politician.

Whatever happens over the next 180 days or so, Bernie has changed the expectations of what government can offer. His proposals for tuition-free public college and single payer are far from idealistic, or unrealistic. They are what governments offer in virtually every other civilized country. Sanders putting those ideas out there is an embarrassment to Clinton and the DNC, and their promise of nothing–of basically not being Trump. (Do I even need to say I find Trump terrifying? But he is a symptom, not the disease.) I may be wrong, but there’s a fair bit of evidence that the neoliberal experiment–from the Atari Democrats forward–is in its last days. Add up the Sanders and Trump supporters, and you’ll find something like two-thirds of Americans are contemptuous of the pitiful things the Democrats (and their Republican partners) have offered in exchange for economic security. You may have lost your job and your pension, but LOOK: NAFTA and 401(k)s!

Hillary’s going to get the nomination. The MATH! They say. And she will go on to win easily. If you say so.

Ignore all the polls that have Sanders easily beating Trump head to head, and Hillary struggling. Just today a Quinnipiac poll reveals that Clinton’s until-very-recently substantial lead is gone: she and Trump are virtually tied in three key swing states, and yes, that Bernie beats Trump in all of them.

Contrast the images from, say, the Sanders rally in Washington Square Park with this pitiful clip from an appearance by the front-runner in Los Angeles earlier this week. Which candidate looks like a future president?

 

Milestones

I have three amazing kids, and two of them turned 10 Tuesday!

Also on Tuesday, an election happened. The result made some people mad, others happy.

One party tried hard to be like the other party, so that the other party’s voters would vote for them, but nobody was fooled.

And now we only really have one party’s ideas. Good job all around.

And…. winter is coming.

A photo posted by Tim Ungs (@timungs) on


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A photo posted by Tim Ungs (@timungs) on

Politicians try to create distance between water catastrophe and coal industry. Denied!

CHEMSPILL_COLL1

“The incident that happened with this spill is not related to my view of the EPA, of overreaching and not looking at economics and trying to reach a balance in the energy industries,” Capito said, according to the Charleston Gazette. “I see this as a chemical issue, and so the coal issue is secondary. It’s a product used in the coal industry.”

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin: “This was not a coal company, this was a chemical supplier, where the leak occurred….. As far as I know there was no coal company within miles.”

“This is a chemical spill accident. It just so happens that the chemical has some applications to the coal industry, just that fact alone shouldn’t cause people to point fingers at the coal industry,” said Jason Bostic, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association.

Fortunately, nobody believes a word of this. Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette, writing in his excellent Coal Tattoo blog:

One problem with all of this, of course, is that the coal industry is always very insistent that every single job — direct, indirect, induced, whatever — be counted whenever anyone discusses the positive economic impacts of the coal-mining business to West Virginia. If that’s the way the industry and its political supporters want the discussion to go, then they’ve got to own this sort of accident as well.

The other thing, though, is that there are other clear connections between this chemical spill and its impacts and what the coal industry’s effects on West Virginia are like all the time. Plenty of West Virginia communities have watched their drinking water supplies be either polluted or dried up because of coal (see here, here and here). Me and my neighbors are getting a taste right now of what some coalfield residents live with all the time.

And then there’s this, explained most clearly on Friday by the folks at Appalachian Voices:

News reports of Thursday’s spill of a coal-processing chemical into West Virginia’s Elk River—and emergency orders to thousands of people to not drink or use their tap water—are currently focused on the still-unknown potential for direct harm to human health.

But the widespread disruption caused by the spill raises other important questions, including: How could a relatively small-volume spill in one small river cut off drinking water access to roughly 300,000 people across eight counties—16% of the state’s entire population?

An increasing number of private wells in southwestern and central West Virginia, where the spill occurred, have been contaminated by decades of coal mining and processing. One result has been an ongoing expansion of municipal water systems to rural communities that would otherwise rely on well water.

Yes, the well water has been pretty thoroughly poisoned. BY THE COAL INDUSTRY.

What if? What if this had happened to the water supply of the Upper West Side or Arlington or Berkeley? Would the reactions of the federal agencies allegedly responsible been so tepid? Shouldn’t the director of the EPA fly in and distribute water and vow to get to the bottom of this? (Really, this is the agency fighting a “war on coal”?) Where is the president on this? He released disaster money but has not addressed the subject directly. (I’m happy to be corrected on this point.) I think the inertia of the CDC and EPA speaks for itself.  (Jedediah Purdy in the New Yorker:  “The entire crisis is a tableau of abdication”).  Incredibly, the strategy of the federal government is mainly to wait til it blows over.

And maybe it will.

It’s hard for me to think clearly about this catastrophe, so I will simply encourage everyone to follow the indefatigable Ward on twitter. I’m pretty much in awe of his output, and he always seems to be striking the right tone of anger or skepticism or fatalism at the appropriate moments.

But I don’t really think he is fatalistic, or resigned. Maybe this is wishful thinking, or projection, or just delusion, but I think Ward knows, or hopes, that this will be the event that sours people on coal in West Virginia, and the nation. I have been thinking that for days, and then yesterday he sort of confirmed it when he issued this gnomic tweet:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

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 Further reading:

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/15/residents-still-gettingsickafterwestvirginiawaterdeemedsafe.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-waggoner/west-virginia-chemical-spill_b_4598140.html

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2014/01/a-chemical-spill-along-the-elk-river-in-west-virginia.html

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-january-13-2014/coal-miner-s-water—a-terrorist-plot-

And finally, may I suggest a model for the “arc of the moral universe” to follow:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tobacco_Master_Settlement_Agreement

 

 

 

 

Bonjour Man for Preznit!

A nagging question for marginal bloggers (such as I): Why Do This At All? A corollary query: what the hell does a dude living in the sticks, who has chicken shit on his boots, who drives a ’95 Camry Wagon (with pride, I might add), know about politics? And (questioning myself again here, but echoing a persistent line of my dad’s, rest his soul), What Makes You So Smart? There are EXPERTS out there, and you act like they are always wrong and you are right. Do you think you know more than George Stephanopoulos?

And at no time do I feel more like I’m just being a jerk than this week, as many of my friends and peers are basking in the glow of the truly impressive pageant that was the inauguration. Quibbling about Obama’s ongoing wars, kill lists, drone attacks and secrecy obsessions; his imprisoning whistleblowers; his Austerity Lite–why complain about this? Now is NOT the right time. (It never is ….)

Yes, him!

And I … I … just sigh, and wish we had a president who looked more like the French model from the State Farm commercial, someone lacking the kind of charisma that obscures the actual policies….. Obama is for liberals what Reagan was for conservative middle Americans a generation earlier, a smooth operator who can elide, obscure, prevaricate, misrepresent, flat-out lie to you in a speech, and yet you just watch and say, “What a soothing way of speaking this man has.”

So … I have not given up on this, yet can’t think of any new ways to say what I think, or what I wonder. A two (and only two)-party system is pretty much the same thing as a one-party system. No one ever ran on the neoliberal ticket, yet that is all we have to choose from. How did we get here? How do we get out?

Countering the mythologies of debt, the deficit, and everything

The United States is broke. The deficits we are creating will leave our grandchildren impoverished, and horror of horrors, in hock to the Chinese! The United States must manage its finances the way any family pays its bills. On the path we are on, we are destined to turn out like Greece.

If you agree with any of the above statements, congratulations. You are in step with current conventional wisdom on the economy. Unfortunately, you are also wrong. As Matthew Stoller pointed out a year or so ago, “The U.S. government prints dollars — it can no more run out of dollars than a bowling alley can run out of strikes.” Why, then, the commonly accepted misunderstandings? It’s a long story.

I just spent a couple of unproductive hours trying to explain my conversion to the ideas behind Modern Monetary Theory, and I realize it’s pretty pointless to do so. Better to link to a few places where MMT’s leading proponents make their case. The video above offers a pretty good summary, for starters.

And of course there is the entire New Economic Perspectives blog. The concepts can be heavy sledding for someone like me, who admits to being slightly illiterate macroeconomics-wise. The discussion can quickly get too complex or too contemptuous of opposing, establishment points of view.

Stephanie Kelton, the Deficit Owl, is for me the best preacher of the MMT gospel. She’s poised, polished, articulate, and frequently funny. Also capable of reducing complex concepts to layman’s (or laywoman’s?) terms. Here is a transcript of her appearance on Harry Shearer’s excellent Le Show, and here’s a link to the podcast itself.

Last weekend Dr. Kelton was a guest on Up W/Chris Hayes discussing “the magic coin.”

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Next, apparently, according to Kelton’s twitter feed, she’s “[g]oing on Oprah to declare truths about money/debt/deficit.” I THINK she’s joking, but wouldn’t it be nice….

In spite of the prevailing moralizing mythologies, deficits are not an indication of a nation going down the road to ruin. Too many people have accepted the argument that austerity is the only solution to the manufactured deficit crisis, that the “tough choices” we face means full employment just isn’t possible, that entitlements are out of control. The trillion-dollar coin idea may be dead (for the time being), but it brought into the mainstream a more sophisticated understanding about the nature of money, how it’s created, and what it’s for. I’m hoping the genie is out of the bottle.

Additional bonus: What is it About Money that Scares the Bejesus Out of People? is a carefully curated, and more than mildly amusing,set of twitter responses to the #mintthecoin hashtag, proof that ignorance of a subject is no obstacle to impassioned tweeting about it.

Short life, fully lived

I don’t think I’m alone in being only vaguely aware of who Aaron Swartz was, and for that I am more than a little ashamed.

Nor am I the only one who woke up to the news of his suicide Saturday morning and spent the rest of the weekend reading up on his many causes and splendid accomplishments. What a life!

His passing is doubly tragic, first for its untimely arrival, and second for the shameful fact that our government was so keen to persecute and incarcerate a bona fide genius whose crime, if it could be said to be a crime at all, was something along the order of seriousness of a prank.

But, as Matthew Stoller opines below, we are living in a world where qualities that should be valued are instead stigmatized, even persecuted.

Aaron suffered from depression, but that is not why he died. Aaron is dead because the institutions that govern our society have decided that it is more important to target geniuses like Aaron than nurture them, because the values he sought – openness, justice, curiosity – are values these institutions now oppose. In previous generations, people like Aaron would have been treasured and recognized as the remarkable gifts they are. We do not live in a world like that today. And Aaron would be the first to point out, if he could observe the discussion happening now, that the pressure he felt from the an oppressive government is felt by millions of people, every year. I’m glad his family have not let the justice system off the hook, and have not allowed this suicide to be medicalized, or the fault of one prosecutor. What happened to Aaron is not isolated to Aaron, but is the flip side of the corruption he hated.

As we think about what happened to Aaron, we need to recognize that it was not just prosecutorial overreach that killed him. That’s too easy, because that implies it’s one bad apple. We know that’s not true. What killed him was corruption. Corruption isn’t just people profiting from betraying the public interest. It’s also people being punished for upholding the public interest. In our institutions of power, when you do the right thing and challenge abusive power, you end up destroying a job prospect, an economic opportunity, a political or social connection, or an opportunity for media. Or if you are truly dangerous and brilliantly subversive, as Aaron was, you are bankrupted and destroyed. There’s a reason whistleblowers get fired. There’s a reason Bradley Manning is in jail. There’s a reason the only CIA official who has gone to jail for torture is the person – John Kiriako – who told the world it was going on. There’s a reason those who destroyed the financial system “dine at the White House”, as Lawrence Lessig put it. There’s a reason former Senator Russ Feingold is a college professor whereas former Senator Chris Dodd is now a multi-millionaire. There’s a reason DOJ officials do not go after bankers who illegally foreclose, and then get jobs as partners in white collar criminal defense. There’s a reason no one has been held accountable for decisions leading to the financial crisis, or the war in Iraq. This reason is the modern ethic in American society that defines success as climbing up the ladder, consequences be damned. Corrupt self-interest, when it goes systemwide, demands that it protect rentiers from people like Aaron, that it intimidate, co-opt, humiliate, fire, destroy, and/or bankrupt those who stand for justice.

This morning Marcy Wheeler also noticed the strange and disturbing fact that the Secret Service shoved aside MIT and Cambridge police investigating into Swartz’s downloading of scholarly articles. She could not completely account for why, nor could anyone commenting on her post, but it offers further confirmation, if any were needed, that hounding a young idealistic activist was a top priority with someone high up in the Federal hierarchy. I’ll be interested to see what comes of this loose thread…..

Over at boingboing there is a substantial and growing archive of remembrances of Swartz.

It’s complicated…

Noam Chomsky and Ron Paul agree on at least one thing: War is a racket.

Juan Cole uses last night’s GOP debate to compare and contrast Paul’s libertarian antiwar position and the left, Chomskyite variation.

As Right anarchists, [Libertarian Republicans] want the least government possible, and see government as a distraction for businesses, who succumb to the temptation to use the government to distort the eufunctional* free market. In essence, government is a scam whereby some companies are seduced by the possibility of manacling the invisible hand that ought to be magically rewarding enterprise and innovation. A significant stream within libertarianism theorizes war as the ultimate in this racket, whereby some companies use government to throw enormous sums to themselves by waging wars abroad and invoking patriotic themes. This analysis is remarkably similar to that of Left anarchists such as Noam Chomsky.

The difference is that for anarcho-syndicalists like Chomsky, the good guys of history are the workers and ordinary folk, whereas for Libertarians, it is entrepreneurs. Both theories depend on a naive reading of social interest. Right anarchists seem not to be able to perceive that without government, corporations would reduce us all to living in company towns on bad wages and would constantly be purveying to us bad banking, tainted food, dangerous drugs, etc.

…. Likewise, the anarcho-syndicalist tradition makes workers unions more saintly and disinterested than they typically actually are, though since they are looking out for the interests of the majority (workers), they typically have more equitable positions than the narrower business elites idolized by Libertarians.

___________

* great word!

This is OK, if simplistic. I might add that Cole is a stubborn defender of America’s and NATO’s latest adventure in Libya, “unabashedly cheering the liberation movement on.” As such, not really the guy to be flinging the word naive about. He even wrote an open letter, scolding the timid left for not getting behind our nation’s noble effort. To date, that mission has amounted to “18,774 sorties including 7,127 strike sorties.” That is a hell of a lot of metal to be slinging in a humanitarian kinetic action, but these are Hellfire rockets of love and concern, of course.

Back to Paul, in her summation of the GOP debate, the always thoughtful Amy Davidson gets a tad wistful when musing on the man’s appeal:

It was a little sad, watching the Republican Presidential debate last night, to remind oneself that at a certain point, next winter or summer or sooner, Ron Paul will no longer be taking part in these exercises. He is not likely to get his party’s nomination; and yet how useful was Paul’s presence in the debate last night? When he was asked a question, one knew, if nothing else, that one’s attention would be held by the answer, whether it’s about allowing churches to harbor undocumented immigrants or, as he seemed to be suggesting, effectively renouncing much of our national debt. His appeal to a certain segment of Republicans (and not just Republicans) is often ascribed to his consistency; just what he is consistent about is a harder question to answer, and anyway doesn’t get at his odd charisma.

These two pieces together start to get at what is so maddening about Paul. On issue after issue, he is coherent, rational, and appealing, especially to someone comme moi, with a vaguely leftish lean, and a strong disgust at the mainstream corporatist politics practiced by both parties.

On a host of issues, Paul’s positions and mine line up pretty well, and probably line up with the attitudes of a great number of uncommitted voters. He is the only high-profile politician seeing straight on war, militarism, civil liberties, and privacy issues.

But then there are the scary positions, anchored by the Libertarian Achilles Heel, the completely untethered-from-reality belief in the magic of Markets. Social Security and Medicare and the EPA are clunky and inefficient, but they are necessary protections against the predations of the marketplace. And they are not the drivers of the deficit. So, Ron: I like you, I really do, and I’m not saying you’re crazy, but you’ve said some crazy things.

BUT and this is where it gets complicated….Is Ron Paul SCARY?  Somebody thinks so:

But Ari has his own reasons. The question is: should ordinary folks  be scared of someone who thinks so opposite to the consensus, at least the consensus of Washington and mainstream media? I think not.

There is always much noise at this point in the election cycle about the frightening prospect of candidate A or B actually making his (or her) way into the White House.

Yes, we’re talking about that nutjob from Minnesota who shall remain nameless. Uh, er, the Lady Nutjob. I forget there are two sometimes…. Ryan Lizza has pretty much sealed the deal for anyone who had any doubts.

Nope, I don’t want to see her in the White House, nor do I find that much of a realistic concern. But there is another faction at least trying to make us very afraid of people with strange ideas taking the reins of power.

The We Must Re-elect Obama to Keep X Out of the White House hysteria brings up a large question for me: Why? Do we have a sane and/or benign presence in the White House?

The short answer is … no. And the short reason is … War.  And while one could, and I would, have some dissenting words on the necessities of any of the United States’ wars, it’s not controversial at all to observe that the wars of the past few decades have been beyond pointless. Or that alarmingly, the warfare state has expanded greatly in the Obama era. (I had a fairly low opinion of the man when he took office, but this is one absolutely shocking development. Who  saw that coming?)

The United States is currently admitting to be warring on, or in, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and our putative ally Pakistan. Why? I mean, really, why? When pressed, officials will mumble something about humanitarianism  or the threat of Islamic terror groups, and other times they will talk with a straight face about the remaining 22 targets in Afghanistan (140,000 US and NATO soldiers, makes 7000 soldiers per threat?!) And one might well ponder this underappreciated weirdness, as fleshed out by Nick Turse:

Last year, Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post reported that U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed in 75 countries, up from 60 at the end of the Bush presidency. By the end of this year, U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me, that number will likely reach 120. “We do a lot of traveling — a lot more than Afghanistan or Iraq,” he said recently. This global presence — in about 60% of the world’s nations and far larger than previously acknowledged — provides striking new evidence of a rising clandestine Pentagon power elite waging a secret war in all corners of the world.

The six wars, expensive wars, in terms of both lives destroyed and treasure wasted. The nuclear arsenal. The undeclared/unexamined military footprint  in nigh on 100 countries. This is the status quo. (And oh crap I did not even mention the callous disregard for rule of law, Obama’s assertion of his personal right to have anyone in the world ordered killed, the widening gulf between rich and poor, white and black, the overstuffed prisons, the ongoing criminalization of poverty. I’ve been away for so long….)

But let’s stay focused on the deranged, paranoiac military fortress that America has become. Try as I might, I cannot get my brain to accept that the civilian and uniformed planners of such madness think they’re doing the right thing for the world. I prefer to think it’s more about competition among the multitude of military branches and secret agencies, known and unknown.

I like to think there’s cynicism behind this, because the scarier thought is that very powerful people believe this shit–that a perpetual war footing against a sad excuse for a civilization-threatening enemy is a necessary and just thing to do. I’m hoping it’s more Milo Minderbinder than Jack Ripper, but who knows?

The recent frantic concern over the debt and the deficit is a fraudulent thing. Politicians nominally work for voters, and no demographic cohort puts this issue very high up on the list of things that need to be fixed. The drive to rewrite the social contract came from somewhere else. And the social programs that will be gutted to assuage this selective fit of fiscal probity will make America poorer, meaner, and less safe for everyone. Anyone seeking a serious bettering of the money mess need only focus on a distinctive five-sided building on the Potomac. But don’t hold your breath. Only fringe pols and marginalized media outlets ever mention the subject.

To say there’s not a whole lot of promise in the field of realistic presidential aspirants is a massive understatement.  Some are truly scary (that word again!) Perry scares me. Bachmann scares me. And Ron Paul scares me, but  less than anyone else, and a lot less than the Players in DC. Obama, Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, who with their Super Committee now look to disempower all but a dozen representatives when “fixing” the deficit. The rest might as well go home. The insider culture in Washington is already being run by crooks who may or may not also be bonkers.

Not saying who I’ll be voting for come election time, if anyone (Mr. Carlin is always whispering in my ear), but painting outsiders as “crazy” isn’t very convincing. We’re already at crazy.

Hedges: America more or less screwed, thanks to the liberal class. Have a nice day!

UPDATE BELOW: A defense of liberals!

Chris Hedges continues to hammer on the failure of the liberal class. And I can’t say I find much with which to disagree—either in the video above or his recent piece “The World Liberal Opportunists Made.”

I get so tired of the fearmongering about the threat to Democracy posed by Rush, Beck, Christine O’Donnell and Palin. It is absolutely true that they are are clowns, dangerous clowns. But at the moment they hold zero real political power. One wishes the Democrats would stop talking about how awful their opponents are, and just run things, as they were elected to do. But that is the only weapon left in their arsenal. Unwilling to actually enact changes that live up to their purported ideals, all they can do is say, “Look over there. What if those bad people actually took power!?”

Not that there’s any chance of the Dems finding their spine at this point, but even if they did, Hedges says it’s already gone too far.

An ineffectual liberal class, in short, means there is no hope, however remote, of a correction or a reversal through the political system and electoral politics. The liberals’ disintegration ensures that the frustration and anger among the working and the middle class will find expression in a rejection of traditional liberal institutions and the civilities of a liberal democracy. The very forces that co-opted the liberal class and are responsible for the impoverishment of the state will, ironically, reap benefits from the collapse. These corporate manipulators are busy channeling rage away from the corporate and military forces hollowing out the nation from the inside and are turning that anger toward the weak remnants of liberalism. It does not help our cause that liberals indeed turned their backs on the working and middle class.

 

UPDATED: “In defense of liberals, though, we…uh. Yeah, I got nothing.”

Are the Dems stupid? Or not?

rahm
"Either way, I win." REUTERS/Jim Young

Money makes the Democrats stupid is a pretty decent rant by Eli at Firedoglake.

The Republicans, he observes, have a big advantage in terms of money because the ideology of conservatism lines up perfectly with giving rich people and corporations more money and power.

Not because they have more [money], although they usually do.  No, it’s because their base is almost completely aligned with their corporate and wealthy big-money donors, while the Democratic base is the complete opposite.

Republicans can deliver their megadonors tax cuts, deregulation, corporate welfare, and protection from prosecution, all cocooned in a conservative narrative of supply-side economics, free enterprise, and independent frontier can-do spirit that their base just loves.

Contrast this with the Dems, who, with a few exceptions, are pretty much on the same level in terms of greed and lack of scruples. But they have this nagging problem with their party’s (purported) ideology, which isn’t a good fit. They have to be sneaky because “there’s simply no way to spin pro-corporate, pro-wealth policies as congruent with progressive values.”

The best they can manage is to play the DLC/Third Way game of pretending that capitulation is really some kind of principled pragmatic centrism which is the only way to win elections or get anything done against the all-powerful GOP and its 55 49 40 41 Senate seats.

Some of the base reluctantly goes along with this because half a loaf is better than the enemy of the good or whatever, but none of us are particularly happy about always settling for a compromise of a compromise of a compromise. Think how much leverage Obama and the Democrats had after two huge electoral landslides, a huge Republican-branded financial crisis, and a huge congressional majority… and how little they did with it. They didn’t deliver on progressive priorities because that wasn’t what their big campaign donors wanted.

And now they’ve failed so miserably, sold out so blatantly, demoralized their base so completely, and ceded the populist ground so thoroughly to the Tea Party, that they’re on the brink of losing the House and maybe even the Senate. All of the Democrats’ kabuki to protect their corporate friends so they could rake in campaign cash and get re-elected will end up costing them their seats instead. Because it is possible to fuck up so badly and so obviously that all the money in the world can’t save you. Just ask the Republicans.

I like this, and I’m down with Eli’s disgust, but wonder if he might be missing something, like maybe the fact that it’s on purpose?

Not sure about this, but I’ll throw it out there and wonder aloud if perhaps we are in for a few decades where control of Congress (and maybe the Presidency) will swing from party to party with every election.

The Party Out of Power promises Change, gets in power, doesn’t change anything, and is sent packing. Or it promises to reverse the Mooslem Socialist Mismanagement of this Once-Great Nation. Until the voters realize they get screwed there too. Rinse and repeat.

Either way the party pros win. If in power, hey, you’re In Power. Out of Power you can make massive amounts of money in the private sector. (Think of Rahm’s waltz with hedge fund Magnetar Capital. Think Tom Daschle. Bob Dole.) Leverage your public service. G’head. You earned it. Take a position with one of the corporations you’ll be in charge of “regulating” when you get back into power. Money’s much better, and you will probably get to spend a little more time with the family.

And don’t worry. You’ll be back in D.C. before you know it. Count on the Other Party not satisfying those pesky voters either. Because there’s no way the non-rich 95 percent can be satisfied–unless legislation happens that actually reverses the flow of wealth.  And both parties have shown how firmly they are allied on the issue of wealth distribution.

At the moment, polls indicate voters will throw the current regime out, WITH AUTHORITY as Marv Albert used to say…. To replace it with a regime that makes no bones about its intention to give an ever bigger piece of the pie to the wealthy and powerful.

Does that makes sense? Not so much. Will it work for a few more election cycles? I wouldn’t bet against it.

Ban looting from the language?

Banish the word looting from the English language. That is the suggestion of national treasure Rebecca Solnit, in When the media is the disaster.

It incites madness and obscures realities.

“Loot,” the noun and the verb, is a word of Hindi origin meaning the spoils of war or other goods seized roughly. As historian Peter Linebaugh points out, “At one time loot was the soldier’s pay.” It entered the English language as a good deal of loot from India entered the English economy, both in soldiers’ pockets and as imperial seizures.

After years of interviewing survivors of disasters, and reading first-hand accounts and sociological studies from such disasters as the London Blitz and the Mexico City earthquake of 1985, I don’t believe in looting. Two things go on in disasters. The great majority of what happens you could call emergency requisitioning. Someone who could be you, someone in the kind of desperate circumstances I outlined above, takes necessary supplies to sustain human life in the absence of any alternative. Not only would I not call that looting, I wouldn’t even call that theft.

Necessity is a defense for breaking the law in the United States and other countries, though it’s usually applied more to, say, confiscating the car keys of a drunk driver than feeding hungry children. Taking things you don’t need is theft under any circumstances. It is, says the disaster sociologist Enrico Quarantelli, who has been studying the subject for more than half a century, vanishingly rare in most disasters.

Personal gain is the last thing most people are thinking about in the aftermath of a disaster. In that phase, the survivors are almost invariably more altruistic and less attached to their own property, less concerned with the long-term questions of acquisition, status, wealth, and security, than just about anyone not in such situations imagines possible. (The best accounts from Haiti of how people with next to nothing have patiently tried to share the little they have and support those in even worse shape than them only emphasize this disaster reality.) Crime often drops in the wake of a disaster.

The media are another matter. They tend to arrive obsessed with property (and the headlines that assaults on property can make). Media outlets often call everything looting and thereby incite hostility toward the sufferers as well as a hysterical overreaction on the part of the armed authorities. Or sometimes the journalists on the ground do a good job and the editors back in their safe offices cook up the crazy photo captions and the wrongheaded interpretations and emphases.

Case in point: these two images from the Los Angeles Times.

GOODS FROM STORE: A looter makes off with rolls of fabric from an earthquake-wrecked store in downtown Port-au-Prince. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
ARRESTED: A Haitian police officer ties up a suspected looter who was carrying a bag of evaporated milk. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

I don’t KNOW the real story behind these pictures, but I suspect the copy editor in Los Angeles didn’t know either when he or she declared that these were cases of looting.

I look at the face of both of these desperate people, especially the one carrying a bag of evaporated milk (!) and wonder how anyone can judge them. Solnit recommends a simple solution: put yourself in their shoes.

Imagine, reader, that your city is shattered by a disaster. Your home no longer exists, and you spent what cash was in your pockets days ago. Your credit cards are meaningless because there is no longer any power to run credit-card charges. Actually, there are no longer any storekeepers, any banks, any commerce, or much of anything to buy. The economy has ceased to exist.

By day three, you’re pretty hungry and the water you grabbed on your way out of your house is gone. The thirst is far worse than the hunger. You can go for many days without food, but not water. And in the improvised encampment you settle in, there is an old man near you who seems on the edge of death. He no longer responds when you try to reassure him that this ordeal will surely end. Toddlers are now crying constantly, and their mothers infinitely stressed and distressed.

So you go out to see if any relief organization has finally arrived to distribute anything, only to realize that there are a million others like you stranded with nothing, and there isn’t likely to be anywhere near enough aid anytime soon. The guy with the corner store has already given away all his goods to the neighbors.  That supply’s long gone by now. No wonder, when you see the chain pharmacy with the shattered windows or the supermarket, you don’t think twice before grabbing a box of PowerBars and a few gallons of water that might keep you alive and help you save a few lives as well.

The old man might not die, the babies might stop their squalling, and the mothers might lose that look on their faces. Other people are calmly wandering in and helping themselves, too. Maybe they’re people like you, and that gallon of milk the fellow near you has taken is going to spoil soon anyway. You haven’t shoplifted since you were 14, and you have plenty of money to your name. But it doesn’t mean anything now.

If you grab that stuff are you a criminal? Should you end up lying in the dirt on your stomach with a cop tying your hands behind your back? Should you end up labeled a looter in the international media? Should you be shot down in the street, since the overreaction in disaster, almost any disaster, often includes the imposition of the death penalty without benefit of trial for suspected minor property crimes?

Or are you a rescuer? Is the survival of disaster victims more important than the preservation of everyday property relations? Is that chain pharmacy more vulnerable, more a victim, more in need of help from the National Guard than you are, or those crying kids, or the thousands still trapped in buildings and soon to die?

It’s pretty obvious what my answers to these questions are, but it isn’t obvious to the mass media. And in disaster after disaster, at least since the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, those in power, those with guns and the force of law behind them, are too often more concerned for property than human life. In an emergency, people can, and do, die from those priorities. Or they get gunned down for minor thefts or imagined thefts. The media not only endorses such outcomes, but regularly, repeatedly, helps prepare the way for, and then eggs on, such a reaction.

For these particular photos, Solnit proposes the following alternate captions:

Let’s start with the picture of the policeman hogtying the figure whose face is so anguished: “Ignoring thousands still trapped in rubble, a policeman accosts a sufferer who took evaporated milk. No adequate food distribution exists for Haiti’s starving millions.”

And the guy with the bolt of fabric? “As with every disaster, ordinary people show extraordinary powers of improvisation, and fabrics such as these are being used to make sun shelters around Haiti.”

In spite of the fact that I’ve slapped out rather large chunks of this essay, please read it in full. Solnit is a great writer who always has a fresh, insightful and, at times, strangely optimistic perspective on some of the most difficult topics.