Category Archives: priorities

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?

 

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.

“the danger is the same whether the cause is terrorism or corporate indifference and malfeasance”

oshacollage1
Not real, satire geddit?

Fifty States of Fear by Northwestern University philosophy professor Peter Ludlow is insightful on so many fronts: the manipulative and coercive nature of terror-scaring; the counterproductive nature of drone attacks; the gradual but steady widening of the net to include environmental activists as terrorists; and this:

But while we spend more than 7 billion dollars a year on the T.S.A.’s national security theater in which over 58,000 T.S.A. employees make sure we are not carrying too much toothpaste or shampoo onto airplanes, the budget for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is under $600,000 per year. It seems that our threat assessments are flawed.

We are conditioned to fear persons in caves in Pakistan but not the destruction of our water supply by frackers, massive industrial accidents, climate change or the work-related deaths of 54,000 American workers every year. Fear of outside threats has led us to ignore the more real dangers from within.

The actual threat of shoddy workplace safety and environmental protections is orders of magnitude greater than that posed by intentional terrorists, but no stone is left unturned to catch terrorists, even before they do anything, to say nothing of terror plots hatched and/or enabled by the authorities themselves. In contrast, the “unintentional” terrorists wreakers of catastrophic havoc–old-fashioned, red-blooded American entrepreneurs–are given a pass. The pundit class yawns:

Few, if any, of the Sunday TV talk shows discussed the [West Virginia water catastrophe], but imagine the fear that would have been pedaled on those shows if terrorists had poisoned the water of those 300,000 Americans. Of course the danger is the same whether the cause is terrorism or corporate indifference and malfeasance.

Cutting corners to make a buck, deregulating, keeping regulatory agencies  toothless to enforce already weak regulations, hey, it’s the American way. Shit happens, and when it does, we’ll pray hard for you, West Virginia….

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

 

 

 

 

“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.

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.

WASSUP?

Garry Wills, who is a smart man, is really mad at Roberto Unger and others who are tempted to stray from the two-party system.

All these brave “independents” say that there is not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties, and claim they can start history over, with candidates suddenly become as good as they are themselves. What they do is give us the worst of evils.

Long sad sigh.

First, no one ever said there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the candidates. Some of the points Wills makes are valid, and a reign of Romney, especially one combined with Republican control of Congress, would be a dark age indeed.

But for the overwhelming majority of Americans, and millions living in countries unfortunate enough to be “strategically important” to Washington,  so was the Bush era. And so are the Obama years. Yep, Romney would be worse, but as David Swanson’s tweet below says, our choices are calamity and catastrophe. Definitely there is a difference, but forgive us for not getting excited about it.

The Obama years have taught me (and I am slow to learn, though not as slow as some) that what binds the parties is more important than what separates them, and that the areas of agreement, the issues that aren’t even on the table, are a bigger problem that the things the parties fight about. As Conor Friedersdorf wrote recently, “the political press mostly covers whatever arguments Republicans and Democrats are having, a tendency that effectively outsources judgment about what’s important to partisans.” Or, to be a little less polite, party hacks.

I have been trying to summarize these commonalities with a catchy little acronym.  I’ve been stuck on WASP for some time (War, Austerity, Surveillance and Prisons) but it left a lot of things out. This week, I had a breakthrough. Tossing on a hot sleepless summer night, this came  to me:  our politics, it’s like those old Bud commericials, you know: WASSUP!

So. WASSUP? No matter who wins the 2012 presidential election we will get:

WARS, lot of them, declared  and un-, fought with armies, swarthy special forces spooks, and robots. Wars fought in particularly dirty ways, like bombing wedding parties, and targeting first responders who come to the aid of first strike victims. And those are only the ones we know about.

AUSTERITY, in just slightly differing flavors.

SURVEILLANCE: Your right to privacy went out the window in September 2001. That’s the story and both parties are sticking to it.

SECRECY, for the gubmint, not for us. See above. I mean, who saw this coming? You couldn’t have been more skeptical about Obama than me, and yet I’m shocked on a daily basis that the man who ran as the transparency candidate has been an absolute nightmare on that front.  And don’t get me started on whistleblower persecutions, especially as that would mess up the WASSUP.

UNDEREMPLOYMENT, and (bonus letter) UNAFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE (and education).

PRISONS, and prisoners, inside the United States, at Guantanamo, and God knows where else. An area where the USA can proudly and  truthfully claim We’re Number One. Not just in the number of people incarcerated, but in the staggering variety of cruel and unusual punishments  a true growth industry can create when motivated: from Supermax to the pure evil of the death penalty system, to mandatory long sentences for the pettiest of crimes.

More on this latter, but all I have to say is (wait for it) WASSUP with that? WASSUP?! WAZZZZZAAAAPPPPPP!!?????

And to get back to the Gary Wills thing. It’s a little disappointing. I expect, and usually get, sophisticated analysis from him. That NYROB piece is a bit lazy, based on straw men and oversimplifications, and as a bonus perpetuates the canard that Nader cost Gore the election in 2000.* How tedious have arguments been over that very point for the past dozen years?

The 2012 election will make that argument seem as brilliant as the repartee in Gertrude Stein’s salon. Yeah, Obama’s been appalling, but Romney would be worse. Can’t WAIT to rehash that simple proposition in all its permutations for the next six months.

And I don’t disagree. But … calamity/catastrophe. Not exactly stoked about the choice.

_________________

* Here is a more than decent summary of the state of the truthiness in that Gore Nader thing.

Shame, Come Back!

Really good article by Neal Gabler in Politico today. In How conservatives lost their moral compass, America’s Republicans, Gabler writes, have decided that shame is some sort of liberal plot designed to hobble tough, robust Conservatism. Hence, Perry’s unseemly boast about his record-setting execution numbers. And Paul’s (theoretical) condemning of an uninsured 30-year-old man to death if he can’t pay for medical care.

As Gabler notes, the crowds at the debates cheer for this sort of nastiness.

An excerpt:

American history can be read as a series of episodes in which we reached what could be called a “tipping point” of shame — when our behavior became so egregious that we, as a people, decided to desist from our worst excesses, whether it was slavery or antipathy to immigrants.

Take civil rights. The majority of Americans, even outside the South, might originally have had little real enthusiasm for the civil rights movement. Most urged patience. It was only after the public saw the beatings during the Freedom Rides, the firehoses and police dogs at Selma and the church bombing in Birmingham that Americans were shamed into accepting the claims of African-Americans to equal justice under the law. Shame was the moralizing force.

Shame also defeated the hatred of Father Charles Coughlin, the famous “radio priest” who laid the Great Depression at the feet of Jewish international bankers, and Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who recklessly accused his critics of communist treachery. Both had reached that tipping point at which ordinary Americans felt these provocateurs had gone too far. Americans felt shamed.

There is a reason we have never previously had a hatemonger like Rush Limbaugh enjoy popularity for as long as he has. The reason was shame. You couldn’t find enough people, let alone a broadcaster, who wanted to be identified with that sort of viciousness. The initial enthusiasm for it eventually waned.

But that was then. Surely when a group can publicly cheer a man’s death for not having health insurance, the sense of shame is gone. It faded not only because liberals had subverted it by casting it as a conservative scheme to corset society, but because conservatives managed to delegitimize it. They attacked it as yet another elitist scheme, contrived to neuter strong conservatism.

Great stuff. I highly recommend reading it. I would only add that Gabler could be a little more inclusive.

I would stop short of saying this shamelessness is shared equally by liberals, but you’re not paying attention if you don’t see it across the political spectrum. Consider how giggly  the Secretary of State became when she sat down with Diane Sawyer to have a Just-Us-Girls chat about the death of Gaddafi (“We Came We Saw He Died”), or Obama’s joking about using predator drones to assassinate the Jonas Brothers. Ha-ha. You thought he was joking? Nope. Sixteen-year-old boys in foreign lands are legitimate targets these days. Or maybe not. Maybe Awlaki’s son, vaporized as he sat down to eat with some friends, was “collateral damage.” Obama won’t say,  because he doesn’t have to ask permission, and he doesn’t have to explain.

I wrote in an earlier post about the giddiness I notice when politicians like Madame Clinton play at being tough guys. In the last week, Ice T said she should be the next president and brought the tough-guy schtick to an entirely new level:

She did the Secretary of State job, she was a G, she held it down, she didn’t cry.

Set aside for a moment the patronizing “she didn’t cry.” This is a shout-out from Ice-T! Hillary Clinton an honorary “G”! I’m pretty sure that HuffPost piece has been printed out and taped up somewhere conspicuous at the Secretary’s office. Did it gave Hillary and her staffers another case of the giggles and high-fives all-around? I have a feeling it did.

True, the Democrats do not seem to revel in cold-heartedness (theirs is still a little school-marmish, “it’s for your own good” affect–see Albright, M.),  but let’s look at the bipartisan coldness that is at large in the land.

Start by taking a look at Adam Gopnik’s recent New Yorker piece on our sprawling, and growing, prison complex, and the ugly fact that, according to a 2010 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “nonviolent offenders make up more than 60 percent of the prison and jail population. Nonviolent drug offenders now account for about one-fourth of all inmates, up from less than 10 percent in 1980.”

Is that only the product of Republican mean-spiritedness? I think not. Is it possible for a situation like the one described by Gopnik to exist without broad support from politicians of all stripes?

For most privileged, professional people, the experience of confinement is a mere brush, encountered after a kid’s arrest, say. For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones. More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.

As Gopnik notes, the fact that we’re sticking millions of our citizens down a hole for decades at a time is just the beginning. Absurd numbers of prisoners are singled out for solitary confinement. The very existence of even one “Supermax” prison is pretty much enough to indict our culture as broadly vindictive, even sadistic. There are dozens of  prisons with Supermax wings, and I would venture to bet they are in districts represented by politicians of both parties.

And, if you ever find yourself on the wrong side of the criminal justice system, not only will you be locked up, you will be pretty much on your own vis a vis preventing yourself from being raped. This should be the subject of much outrage, right? Uh, no. Gopnik again.

Prison rape is so endemic—more than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject is standard fodder for comedy, and an uncoöperative suspect being threatened with rape in prison is now represented, every night on television, as an ordinary and rather lovable bit of policing.

Again, I’m not rejecting Gabler’s point. There’s no question: the state of “conservative” discourse has changed into something that is unspeakably ugly to behold. The past months of virtually non-stop debates have put this fact on dramatic display (while at the same time setting the range of topics for whichever candidate emerges from this clown/monster show to debate Obama).

There are of course significant differences between the parties, but a similar agenda gets enacted no matter who wins. Bold prediction: It will be More War, More Austerity and More Prisons for the foreseeable future. Three things few voters are clamoring for. And you’ll have a hard time finding a politician of either party willing to apologize for (let alone be ashamed of) that state of affairs.

“They are right.”

Barry and Mitch, working together for their constituency, and you ain't in it! Credit: Newscom

From the New York Times this morning:

  • At least a quarter of the tax savings will go to the wealthiest 1 percent of the population.
  • The wealthiest Americans will also reap tax savings from the proposal’s plan to keep the cap on dividend and capital gains taxes at 15 percent, well below the highest rates on ordinary income.
  • And negotiators have agreed that the estimated $900 billion cost of the cuts will simply be added to the deficit…
  • In fact, the only groups likely to face a tax increase are those near the bottom of the income scale — individuals who make less than $20,000 and families with earnings below $40,00.

From Nobody represents the American people by Michael Lind, in Salon:

The basic outlines of American economic policy and foreign policy remain the same, even as Congress and the White House change hands. The changes promised by progressive Democrats and Tea Party Republicans are quickly discarded after the elections.

The changes that do take place are often the opposite of those that majorities of Americans want. Most Americans want Social Security to be strengthened and American manufacturing protected. But the conversation among elites inside the Beltway-New York bubble is about cutting Social Security and more one-sided “free trade” deals with mercantilist nations that, unlike the U.S., protect and promote their domestic industries.

Many Americans have come to the conclusion that nobody represents them in Washington anymore. They are right.

PS And on that one tiny sliver of something that might, in a pinch, be called progressive, the “extension” of unemployment benefits, another case of false, or at least deceptive advertising:

Just to be clear, the “extension of the unemployment benefits” is an extension of the qualifying dates for the various tiers of benefits, and not additional weeks of benefits. There is no additional help for the so-called “99ers”.

You’re welcome. And Merry Christmas.

“Ultimately politicians will do as they please”

Comparative responses to being boiled alive:

France: “Aux barricades!”
UK: “We are all in this together!”
USA (USA!): “Hey, Glee’s on tonight!”

Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Some students feel that it’s unfair that the people who got their education for free – for example our parents’ generations are now placing their budget deficits onto us. As someone who didn’t vote in the last election, the current political situation makes me feel even more disillusioned than before, if the coalition was to collapse in the next 6 months I wouldn’t vote again because policy changes such as this have shown that despite voting patterns, ultimately politicians will do as they please.