Category Archives: plus ca change

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.

***

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?

 

Winning, losing, and winning while losing

I cringe to paste in this title: Hey, Democrats, stop gloating — your party is imploding right before your eyes, too. Salon gon’ Salon. But I’m pretty much completely down with Steve Almond’s sentiment:

There’s been a gleeful sense of schadenfreude in the coverage churned out by left-leaning outlets in particular. How lovely it has been to watch the conservative movement’s house of cards fall into shambles!

The problem, of course, is that Republicans aren’t the only party facing an historic rift. Over the past two weeks, it’s become increasingly obvious that grassroots liberals are thoroughly disgusted by their own party establishment.

The Republicans no doubt face a brutal convention, in which they must either nominate an unpopular candidate or incur the wrath of the masses by handpicking an establishment figure.

But the Democrats already face a kind of inverse dilemma. Barring a miracle, they will nominate an establishment candidate who is at best tepidly supported, and at worst reviled, by those who have rallied behind her insurgent foe, Bernie Sanders.

Remember, the whole primary season is designed to consolidate support behind the frontrunner. At this point in the race, with only one opponent—an elderly socialist from Vermont with a degree from the Larry David School of Charm — Clinton should be turning her attention to the general election.

Instead, she’s lost eight of nine contests many by a wide margin, and is barely hanging on in her home state, where her opponent is drawing huge and ecstaticcrowds.

Right wing pundits—a sad and desperate lot at the moment — eagerly compareSanders to Trump. The idea here is that the widespread disgust with Washington’s dysfunction has opened the door to outsider demagogues who spout lurid promises.

In fact, Sanders and Trump have about as much in common as George Wallace and Eugene Debs. Sanders isn’t trying to sell steaks or live out some Reality TV fantasy. He entered politics from the tradition of social justice .

The reason he keeps beating Hillary Clinton is because a huge portion of the electorate—particularly young voters—is yearning for the kind of explicit social justice he’s prescribing. To put it bluntly: he’s articulating a moral vision, not an electoral path to the White House.

And that, frankly, is what the Democratic Party used to do, back in the era of the New Deal and the Great Society. It offered as its essential pitch to voters a compassionate and responsive government that sought to combat — or at least mitigate — the corrosive values of a capitalist theocracy.

What does the modern Democratic Party offer? The strategy put forward by Bill Clinton was called “triangulation.” And while it may have worked in an electoral sense, the de facto result was a strategy of appeasement that left Democrats pushing conservative policies: welfare reform, tax cuts, financial deregulation.

Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act, is essentially theprogram Bob Dole proposed back in 1993. His solution to our suicidal dependence on fossil fuels—cap-and-trade—is yet another recycled Republican idea.

The modern Democratic Party, in other words, has chosen to enable — and in many cases sponsor—policies that have allowed capitalism to act like a giant centrifuge, concentrating wealth and power in the hands of the few to the detriment of the many.

 

Not entirely bad news, this implosion. I guess I have my own twisted version of the schadenfreude regarding a party whose leader Debbie Wasserman Schultz carves up legislation to benefit PAYDAY LENDERS–in an election season. Is that party — or the dominant DNC wing — really worth saving?

But I will confess to getting sad in advance at the prospect of Hillary barely surviving Bernie’s challenge, thanks in large part to mastery of the arcane anti-democratic machinery of primaries, caucuses and superdelegates, and limping to the presidency. Where I have every confidence she will be terrible.

But should that happen, I’m hoping to see follow-through with the 80-90 percent of young voters who favor the Sanders view, that there will be progressive candidates winning the seats the Democratic leadership can’t even be bothered to contest, obsessed as they are with the spoils of presidential politics.

Not giving up on Bernie, though. If the Dems REALLY cared about guaranteeing a win for the party in November, he is their guy. If he falls short, it will be a race between two candidates everybody hates.

My optimism is stubborn, though. I hold out high hopes for the Mark Ruffalo/Rosario Dawson ticket in 2020.

A birthday, an unhappy Anniversary, and Back to the Future we go …

The divine Julie Christie came into this world 75 years ago today, which is something to ponder and/or celebrate. Here is an interview she did in 1967 for something called “Tonight, Let’s All Make Love in London”….

… and there’s this amazing clip from the other end of her career…

Let’s not forget that she has always been, and remains, a feisty activist lady.

***

Two other historical resonances to note for April 14, 2015. First, the unhappy anniversary: it’s been 150 years since John Wilkes Booth shot Abe Lincoln with a derringer (!) at a performance of “Our American Cousin.”

Second, it’s apparently also the target date for the Back to the Future Delorean time machine, so there’s that.

It’s a little early for me even to try to wrap my head around the awfulness of the coming (likely) Clinton v. Bush death march. Already I have Facebook acquaintances throwing down the gauntlet, daring anyone to question the inevitability of the Hillary express. I have yet to take the bait, but it’s, what, 18 months to go? Don’t know if I can hold out.

She does seem pretty fricking inevitable at this point, I will grant you that.

It’s true: There are definitely ways to restore popular control of federal elections that increasingly seem to have little or nothing to do with the popular will. Indefatigable antiwar activist David Swanson does a nice job in laying out all the things that have to be changed at the activist level:

Instead, we need to grab this moment in which two corrupt dynasties are vying for royal powers, to use every nonviolent tool available to work at the local, state, and federal levels for:

No private election spending.

Free media air time on our air waves for candidates qualified by signature gathering.

Public financing, ballot access, and debate access for candidates qualified by signature gathering.

No gerrymandering.

Hand-counted paper ballots publicly counted in every polling place.

Election day holiday.

Limited campaign season.

Automatic voter registration.

National popular vote with no electoral college.

Mandatory voting with an option for “none of the above.”

Yup. That’s all there is to it. Easy-peasy.

***

Evergreen post: Why we fight…

David Swanson is always worth a read, especially when the drums of war are beating, which come to think of it is always….

From his latest, Putin Wants to Eat Your Children:

My point is not that bombs would be worse than the problem addressed and would make the problem itself worse as well, although that’s all true. Rather, my point is that most people who favor wars do so in order to blindly support a nation, and in blindly supporting that nation they allow it to dictate which wars they will favor. Although war supporters will give you reasons for the wars they favor, they actually favor whichever wars they are told to favor, and no others. And they’ll give you the reasons they are told to believe in as well.

More often than not, the U.S. public is advised to favor a war on a single individual of demonic nature, even though a war against an individual is completely nonsensical. According to nonsensical propaganda, you don’t bomb Iraqis; you bomb former-U.S.-ally Saddam Hussein. You don’t bomb Afghans; you bomb former-U.S.-ally Osama bin Laden. You don’t drone kill Pakistani and Yemeni and Somali children and women and men; you drone kill Al Qaeda Terrorist Number Three, over and over again. You don’t liberate Libya from what stability it had; you kill former-U.S.-ally Muammar Gadaffi. You don’t attack Panama; you attack former-U.S.-ally Manuel Noriega. Et cetera et cetera.

Well, it’s Vladimir Putin’s turn, which means Russia is at risk, which means the world is at risk, and yet the rough beast stumbling toward Bethlehem to be born is as oblivious to its conception as any unborn thing or television viewer.

Read the whole thing….

The book of laughter and forgetting

***

At 7:31, I looked up and said, “It’s 7:31” at the same time Lila ran in from the kitchen, shouting, “It’s 7:31.” Heather popped her head out of the bedroom: “7:31, everybody.” It was 7:31.

 ***

Call me shallow but I really enjoyed this. Christina’s impressions of Britney and Cher were spot-on. Jimmy Fallons’s Bowie wasn’t bad either. And the Roots are the Roots. I would totally watch a weekly series in which celeb singers mimic one another. I watch the Voice with the family most Mondays, and have to admit to enjoying the bickering among the judges more than the performances of the contestants. It brings up warm memories of watching the Match Game with my mom on a little black and white tv.

***

I was writing yesterday about how the basic assumption of a U.S. official in a press conference is that there is no history. So, for example, any suggestion that the U.S. is involved, directly or indirectly, in trying to overthrow the Maduro government in Venezuela is outrageous on its face. The ability of reporters or the general public to search for Venezuela Coup 2002 — well, let’s pretend that’s impossible.

Another egregious example of this History Starts Now, or At Least When I Say was John Kerry yesterday baldly stating, without an iota of self-awareness, that Bibi Netanyahu can’t be trusted because of his support for the 2002 invasion of Iraq.

“The prime minister was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush,” Kerry replied. “We all know what happened with that decision.”

It was a peculiar decision on the part of TPM writer Catherine Thompson not to mention a fairly obvious bit of context:

Of course, Kerry voted for the war in Iraq in 2002 and said he was for the invasion during his presidential campaign against George W. Bush in 2004.

I’m beginning to think the war on AP History in Kansas is not an idea from the fringe. This hatred of history is simply a core part of what makes American thought American.

“so that you can’t tell cattle from human”

This is the kind of thing I expected to read this morning.

I also expected this from Glenn Greenwald. I happen to agree there is value in describing the horror and brutality, on a much larger scale, of the grotesque (intended) effects of our superior body-charring and -exploding technology. (Fire and/or ice, we have it covered.) First surprise was that the conversation surrounding Greenwald’s linking tweet was, as of 9:23 a.m. ET, surprisingly civil. There were the predictable howls of “false equivalence” but all in all a mild substantive conversation. This is not a twitter I recognize. (But the day is young.)

I will paste in a brief excerpt from the Greenwald piece, itself an excerpt from the Stanford/NYU “Living Under Drones” report.

The most immediate consequence of drone strikes is, of course, death and injury to those targeted or near a strike. The missiles fired from drones kill or injure in several ways, including through incineration[3], shrapnel, and the release of powerful blast waves capable of crushing internal organs. Those who do survive drone strikes often suffer disfiguring burns and shrapnel wounds, limb amputations, as well as vision and hearing loss. . . .

In addition, because the Hellfire missiles fired from drones often incinerate the victims’ bodies, and leave them in pieces and unidentifiable, traditional burial processes are rendered impossible. As Firoz Ali Khan, a shopkeeper whose father-in-law’s home was struck, graphically described, “These missiles are very powerful. They destroy human beings . . .There is nobody left and small pieces left behind. Pieces. Whatever is left is just little pieces of bodies and cloth.” A doctor who has treated drone victims described how “[s]kin is burned so that you can’t tell cattle from human.” When another interviewee came upon the site of the strike that killed his father, “[t]he entire place looked as if it was burned completely, so much so that even [the victims’] own clothes had burnt. All the stones in the vicinity had become black.”

Also read with  a deep sigh that King Abdullah puffed up his feathers, quoted a Clint Eastwood movie (not specified), and said “The only problem we’re going to have is running out of fuel and bullets.” Apparently “nobody” Sajida al-Rishawi, has already been hanged.

“She was seen as a dupe, even if she showed no remorse, it’s not like she exuded a lot of ideological energy, none at all, in fact,” said Joost Hiltermann, who is in charge of the Middle East for the International Crisis Group. “People see her as a very lesser person.”

The cycle of executions and reprisals is just getting started, it would appear. Last night I read, for the umpteenth time, Frank O’Connor’s short story, “Guests of the Nation,” in which a small group of rebels in a rural backwater hold a pair of British prisoners during the Irish Civil War. The rebels and the prisoners get along famously, play cards and argue religion, and then word comes down the prisoners are to be shot. The narrator Bonaparte does the deed. The final paragraphs destroy me every time I read them:

oconnor

 

 

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

Juicy stuff and faux grassroots in the Bluegrass

strongsss

I’m kind of obsessed with Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, a faux-grassroots super-PAC of out-of-state millionaires ponying up big bucks to re-elect the odious turtle vampire zombie Mitch McConnell. That is some of their artwork up there. Pretty high quality, wouldn’t you say? In the graphic on the right there appear to be issues with color balance. Why, McConnell’s challenger Alison Grimes seems to be as dark, if not darker, than President Obama. Surely some mistake has been made!

As for the “Kentuckians” part. Well well well. Don’t see too many Kentuckians on this list. In fact, don’t see any.


kentuckians

Anyway, while I’m sure it cost a pretty penny, the Kentuckians for Strong Leadership web site looks to have been assembled by middle-schoolers. This particular page seems to take for granted that Harry Reid is some sort of radical liberal, and that the idea that coal makes us sick is some sort of laughable notion.

Ha ha. Reid is only talking about easily verified research — and he was only talking about air pollution. Look to West Virginia to see what coal does to our water. Kind of ironic, but not exactly funny, that the current water crisis catastrophe is caused by toxic chemicals used to make coal CLEAN (for the air, sort of).

I highly recommend Excuse me, but we shouldn’t be moving on from West Virginia’s chemical spill by Ana Marie Cox in today’s Guardian. In the past I had lumped her in with those journalists who are paid quite well for their command of what Joan Didion nailed as political “Insider Baseball” way back in 1988,

When we talk about the process, then, we are talking, increasingly, not about “the democratic process,” or the general mechanism affording the citizens of a state a voice in its affairs, but the reverse: a mechanism seen as so specialized that access to it is correctly limited to its own professionals, to those who manage policy and those who report on it, to those who run the polls and those who quote them, to those who ask and those who answer the questions on the Sunday shows, to the media consultants, to the columnists, to the issues advisers, to those who give the off-the-record breakfasts and to those who attend them; to that handful of insiders who invent, year in and year out, the narrative of public life.

But lately, (this is pure speculation) since she has moved from the Washington DC area, Cox’s perspective appears to have broadened a bit.

In June she issued a series of tweets name-checking Wendell Berry’s “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” That’s a poem I’m pretty much obsessed with so I notice these things. “Amazing how this poem, rolling around in my mind for the past month or so, keeps becoming relevant to the news,” she wrote. More recently she has used her bully pulpit as the US politics correspondent for the Guardian to shout to the mountaintops that the West Virginia water catastrophe is a big fucking deal, certainly orders of magnitude bigger than the stories that catch the imagination of establishment journalists.

Noting that there has been a second leak at Freedom Industries, inexplicably still in business following some shady bankruptcy/temporary financing sleight-of-hand, and more of the obfuscation we’ve come to expect from West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection, Cox writes:

This seems like juicy stuff to me. Yet the story, as the national media sees it, is over. On Friday, MSNBC killed a segment with activist Erin Brockovich on the topic in order to devote more airtime to Chris Christie’s traffic problems.

bumped by @msnbc as they cover Christie, 300k without water in WV & all these officials do is play political games http://t.co/rDkxoj8wWa

— erin brockovich (@ErinBrockovich) January 31, 2014

To anyone that follows environmental news, this arc is familiar: A human-interest story with an environmental pollution angle breaks through the media chatter. Cable news outlets roll clips of distraught residents. Footage the damage unspools (with or without stomach-turning images of dead or injured wildlife). There is a news conference of dubious utility. Investigative reporters find evidence of previous infractions of safety and environmental regulations. Politicians declare the need for hearings and more strict enforcement. Volunteers show up to help. Sometimes there’s a concert.

Then we move on. We move on despite the fact that the chemical leak was, in some ways, an improvement on the status quo for West Virginians: at least the residents knew there were questions about the water piped into their homes. Most of the time, most West Virginians simply live in the toxic aftermath of the daily release of not-quite-as-verifiably deadly chemicals. The mix of air, water, and soil pollution that is a matter of course in coal mining counties means that children born in those areas have a 26% higher risk of developing birth defects than those born in non-coal-mining counties. That’s not from drinking water that’s been declared contaminated, that’s from drinking water, breathing air, and playing on ground they’ve been told is safe.

The underlying crisis behind most environmental tragedies is the part of the story that we rarely hear about. Our attention is shifting away from chemical spill, as it has from mine collapses and explosions, from oil spills, and, often, from natural disasters as well.

Cox goes on to explore “a distressingly simple pattern of cause and effect”:

… for 200 years, and most particularly during the last two decades, the coal industry (and the energy lobby in general) has been as much, if not more, effective and industrious in its influence on politicians than it has been in generating electricity.

Our country has grown a vast and complex regulatory and financial support system for cheap, dirty energy: tax breaks, loopholes and the like. Researchers estimate that if Americans has to pay the real cost for each kilowatt-hour, factoring in hidden costs to communities’ health, economy, ecology, we would pay three times as much than we do today. The energy lobby’s approach to influence peddling, on the other hand, has [the?] systematic elegance of a see-saw: They put money into politicians’ pockets, and they get legislative favors back. Indeed, it has been 38 years since Congress passed any law that had a substantive impact on the use of toxic chemicals. To put that in context: in 1975, we were still using asbestos in our walls, you could smoke on airplanes and food packagers did not have to report or monitor pesticide residue levels on fresh produce.

Cox also mentions the stunning news (to anyone paying attention at the time) that the New York Times dismantled its environmental reporting desk last year, leaving “approximately 15 dedicated environmental reporters among the nation’s top five papers.” I do wish she had acknowledged  the indefatigable, jaw-droppingly excellent work done by regional reporters. (If the Charleston Gazette staff does not win a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Freedom Industries debacle, I will know the fix is in).

I was going to conclude this post by wishing Ms. Grimes well in her campaign against the McConnell machine, but then made a quick visit to her campaign web site and my shoulders slumped a little bit to read her “energy” position statement featuring boilerplate that could have been borrowed from Mitch himself.

I strongly oppose President Obama’s attack on Kentucky’s energy industry. This Administration has taken direct aim at Kentucky’s coal industry, crippling our state’s largest source of domestic energy and threatening thousands of jobs. Washington Democrats and Republicans need to be realistic about what powers our nation and recognize that developing Kentucky’s supplies of coal is crucial.

War on Coal. Please. Do not start with that. If Obama were fighting a war on coal, maybe he would have offered a comment on the Charleston debacle. He released disaster money for the Charleston, area, but otherwise … crickets.

From the EPA, that evil all-powerful slayer of the angelic job creators of the coal industry, pretty much crickets as well. The White House and the EPA are integral parts  of the “tableau of abdication” Jedidiah Purdy noted in the New Yorker a few weeks back.

As are politicians from states controlled (there is no other word) by coal. One day there will be a Kentucky politician who acknowledges the real costs and depredations of the business of coal, which extracts the coal out of the ground, and the profits out of the state. But this ain’t that day. Even with the West  Virginia catastrophe in the headlines, our state has no politicians to take the side of its mountains, streams and people against a brutally destructive business, a business that is, by any objective standards, “a loser economically, environmentally, and in terms of public health.”

 

“As for the rest of America, good luck”

Still processing Andrew Huszar’s remarkable Confessions of a Quantitative Easer, which appeared on the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page on Monday.

A former Morgan Stanley managing director,  Huszar managed the Federal Reserve’s $1.25 trillion agency mortgage-backed security purchase program from 2009 to  2010. Since the crash of 2008, he writes,  the Fed has, by one estimate, spent over $4 trillion for a total return of as little as a $40 billion bump in output, which is minuscule (it’s sometimes tough to visualize a trillion dollars. Here is a handy reference.)

This, while BOTH parties insist “we’re broke” (Obama’s very words).

We’re broke, but the Fed can create $4 trillion to loan to the banks. Oh, I see. In return the nation got very little, but for the banks it was a  windfall.

 Despite the Fed’s rhetoric, my program wasn’t helping to make credit any more accessible for the average American. The banks were only issuing fewer and fewer loans. More insidiously, whatever credit they were extending wasn’t getting much cheaper. QE may have been driving down the wholesale cost for banks to make loans, but Wall Street was pocketing most of the extra cash.

Here is a naive question: If the government can print $4 trillion to give to banks, to very little positive effect for the  country, why can’t it print even a fraction of that amount to finance massive public works to make need infrastructure repairs, make education more affordable (or better yet, free), and convert our energy economy to one that is sustainable?

Hell,giving every American a few thousand bucks would be a much more effective stimulus than what the Fed has done.

And don’t forget that the QE program rewards the very entities that created the crisis.

Having racked up hundreds of billions of dollars in opaque Fed subsidies, U.S. banks have seen their collective stock price triple since March 2009. The biggest ones have only become more of a cartel: 0.2% of them now control more than 70% of the U.S. bank assets.

As for the rest of America, good luck. Because QE was relentlessly pumping money into the financial markets during the past five years, it killed the urgency for Washington to confront a real crisis: that of a structurally unsound U.S. economy. Yes, those financial markets have rallied spectacularly, breathing much-needed life back into 401(k)s, but for how long? Experts like Larry Fink at the BlackRock investment firm are suggesting that conditions are again “bubble-like.” Meanwhile, the country remains overly dependent on Wall Street to drive economic growth.

Even when acknowledging QE’s shortcomings, Chairman Bernanke argues that some action by the Fed is better than none (a position that his likely successor, Fed Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen, also embraces). The implication is that the Fed is dutifully compensating for the rest of Washington’s dysfunction. But the Fed is at the center of that dysfunction. Case in point: It has allowed QE to become Wall Street’s new “too big to fail” policy.

Getting “countrier than thou” about “artificial redneck morons”

Can’t explain exactly why I’ve been silent here for so long, or why I’m finally prodded into action by this (uncharacteristically) dumb Charles Pierce reaction to the “Obamacare by Morning” schtick at the CMAs the other night.

To these lyin’ eyes, Brad and Carrie’s routine looks like a fairly safe, innocuous jab at a much-discussed current event. And clever. Both in the wordplay and by the fact that it butters up featured CMA guest George Strait, who doesn’t always turn up for awards shows.

Its attitude is pretty closely aligned to this (also very funny) bit from the Daily Show:


But Brad and Carrie really set something off in Pierce:

Let’s forget, shall we, that the act is working gloriously in places like Kentucky, but that places like Tennessee, which hosted the yearly gathering of artificial redneck morons, have decided to sabotage the act because Tennessee insists on electing idiots, which is why there are a lot of the problems for Jethro and Zelda Mae to make sport of on the electric teevee. Let’s also forget how much an actual Medicaid expansion would help in all those Southern states where these posers sell records and that have governors who suddenly find themselves allergic to Free Money (!) Let’s also forget that none of the make-believe goobers on stage last night ever are going to have to make the decision between medicine for the kids and food on the table.

Not a lot to disagree with here on the substance (though I might be cautious about proclaiming  “the act is working gloriously in places like Kentucky” until those enrolled actually try to get their claims processed), but what is notable (beyond the embarrassing attempt at country diction) is the contemptuous “How Dare They” vibe. “Jethro and Zelda Mae.” Wow. “Make-believe goobers”! Pierce knows as well as anyone the glaring issues with ACA, and Jon Stewart’s much more critical satire goes unremarked, but country singers making fun of what is looking (sadly) to be a prototypical product of 21st century (neo)liberalism is just too much for Mr. Pierce to bear.

First the ad hominem, and then the revealing obiter dictum.

Let’s forget all of that and concentrate on the main issue — which is that I think modern country music sucks gigantic bowls of monkey dick. It is, weight for age, the phoniest genre of music since Pat Boone was ripping off Little Richard. Most of what is celebrated as “country” these days is simply bad rock and roll played by people who look like they flunked the audition for a Night Ranger tribute band. I mean, Taylor Fking Swift is already a “legend,” and Patsy Cline would have eaten her on toast.

Stop the presses.  Boston-based writer derides current country music as fake, knows what REAL country music is.

Pierce then moves on to the musical question “You know what coutry music is?” and name checks Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle and Harvard Divinity School dropout Gram Parsons. I’m a fan of all of these guys, but every one of them is a middle-class white dude, applying a bookish veneer to the country genre. To Pierce’s credit he does mention Loretta Lynn, but doesn’t link to any of her iconic songs (you know, the ones a Jethro or Zelda Mae might know), but to “Van Lear Rose,” from the all-over-the-place album she did with another slummer, hipster Jack White.

Which is a little weird. And where am I going with this exactly?

A first bash: patronizing east coast writer’s take can be summarized as: these rubes don’t know what they want (the ACA), or even what they like (debased country music, not the “real” stuff), and they sure as shit don’t know what’s good for them. There’s a lot of the crazy in Southern-identified folks mistrust of Yankee superciliousness, but sometimes there’s some justification….

Country music left its rural roots behind at least as far back as the (then-maligned, now celebrated) countrypolitan era. It’s been a suburban thing for half a century, so the Jethro and Zelda Mae jibe is kind of out of the blue. Are Brad and Carrie trying to act like hicks? Does Carrie Underwood have her teeth blacked out? Not exactly. Say what you will about her outfit here but … not exactly. (OK. Paisley does wear a cowboy hat. It’s a Nashville thing, a shorthand connection to country’s real country (distant) past. Also, a godsend for artists with receding hairlines.)

Ian Crouch’s dispatch in the New Yorker, while still a tad glib, at least indicates that he actually saw the CMAs and didn’t just fly off the handle because OMG these rubes were making fun of Obamacare.

And the music itself, as always, has one foot in respectability and the other in foolishness. The best-selling country album in the United States right now is a Christmas collection recorded by the family from “Duck Dynasty.” One of the tracks, “Away in a Manger,” features the vocals of Alison Krauss. It’s still a weird swamp down there in Nashville.

Weird swamp indeed. And it has always been so. As someone who listens to a lot of country music, both old (“authentic”) and new (“bogus”), I have a lot of problems with contemporary music trends, but beg to differ with the notion that today’s country stars are talentless hacks. All of them are in possession of major chops, as players, singers or writers (or all three) or they wouldn’t be on the CMA stage rubbing elbows with Vince Gill.

Random anecdote: I recently had a quick overnight visit to Nashville. Three friends and I went out to see some music. Being cheap–we only went to free bars, –and old–our night started at 5 and ended before midnight–, we were exposed to the absolute bottom tier of Nashville talent (it was a Sunday night too) but I found it pretty remarkable that everybody at that level could really play and sing. There are tens of thousands of full-time musical strivers between these cover musicians and the Carries, Brads, and yes, Taylors. Country is another classic American winner-take-all, long-shot business–like the movies, pro sports, and fashion–but the problem is never the talent. The business of Nashville is just like those other show biz machines. It mercilessly molds artists into a template that is predictable and sells. But the talent shows through, it always has. Personally, this is why I pay attention to any pop culture: genius, of some sort, rising above an overly rigid framework. The auteur theory of country music, to get all grad schoolier than thou.

A common tactic of those who argue for a false Golden Age of anything is to set up a dubiously intense competition between artists of yore and the poseurs of today. So “Taylor Fking Swift is already a ‘legend,’ and Patsy Cline would have eaten her on toast”. I disagree. If Patsy and Taylor had been contemporaries, they would have collaborated dozens of times.

To be even more contrary, I would go so far as to say that we are in the midst of a Golden Age of Nashville, for female singers and songwriters, at least. In thirty years, a crusty writer will spit when mentioning the current crop of fake country talent, fix you with a steely gaze, jab a bony finger in your chest and say, “Now Miranda Lambert. There was a true badass country singer.” (And so she is)….
 

Once again stuck for a way to end this, am bailed out by the great Robbie Fulks, who has noticed the tendency of Yankees to preach to country folks what real country is. I love the weird and wonderful adjectival mouthful below, and think Pierce might find himself somewhere in there. He certainly will see his reflection in the opinionated, overalled Bostonian (cue to 2:22).

Not a hillbilly dilletante, fair weather hick, demi-clod, faux po’folks, well-readneck…
Robert-E.-come-lately hayseed wanna-be undercover Yankee…
Mississippi Ph. D., Alabamateur, 50% less Tarheel armchair Arkansan