Sunday, May 20. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Glenn Greenwald: The American Character:
Starts by complimenting a Fareed Zakaria piece (not something one does
all that often -- as Greenwald puts it, "a reliable and pleasant purveyor
of conventional 'centrist' wisdom").
What Zakaria is describing here, of course, is a permanent, sprawling
Surveillance State, one that has been inexorably built over the course
of six decades but which has massively accelerated under two different
dministrations in the post-9/11 era and which has no end in sight.
Quite the opposite.
One of the reasons I loathe Election Years -- which actually endures
for 18 months -- is because the vast bulk of the most consequential
political issues are completely ignored by virtue of enjoying full
bipartisan consensus. The transformation of America into a full-scale
Surveillance State is, on every level, indescribably significant; as
Zakaria put it, it "now touches every aspect of American life."
Its never-ending growth results in a massive transfer of wealth from
ordinary citizens to the private sector corporations which operate it;
it empowers unaccountable public and private sector factions which
surveil and store massive amounts of private information about the
citizenry; it is conducted entirely in the dark and thus further
eliminates notions of transparency and accountability; and it destroys
any remnant of personal privacy, the indispensable attribute which
fosters and enables creativity, dissent and challenges to orthodoxy
and has thus long been viewed as the most central right, the one that
anchors all the others.
Paul Krugman: Win Some, Lose Some:
Is it possible that I have misjudged Mitt Romney?
My take has always been that he's a smart guy who also happens to
be both ambitious and completely amoral; he decided that his career
can best be advanced by pandering to the crazies of the right, and
will say anything to that end.
More and more, however, he has been coming out with statements
suggesting that he is, in fact, a dangerous fool.
[ . . . .] I'm beginning to suspect that we can --
that outside of whatever he did at Bain, Romney really is ignorant
as well as uncaring.
Case in point was JPMorgan Chase's recent $2 billion trading loss --
"no biggie," according to Romney.
Andrew Leonard: Sabotage: The New GOP Plan: May 4 post (finally
catching up), on Paul Ryan's Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act
of 2012, designed to avoid the war cuts mandated by last summer's debt
But a close look at the insidious nature of proposed cuts is stil
revealing, even in the midst of all the posturing. Ever since the
midterm elections of 2010, House Republicans have been honing a new
approach to government. Forget about old school "starve the beast"
politics, the simple-minded belief that lowering taxes and depriving
the government of revenue will ultimately topple the social welfare
state. The new school tactic is sabotage. Break the government.
Pour sugar into the gas tank. Steal the spark plugs.
Ryan's new package of cuts takes aim at the heart of the two
biggest pieces of legislation Democrats passed during the Obama
administration, bank reform and healthcare reform. The details are
wonky, but the goal is clear. By defunding crucial mechanisms
designed to ensure that the laws actually work as intended,
Republicans achieve two goals simultaneously: They avoid the
anathema of cuts to defense spending, while rendering the legislation
that they hate so much not just toothless, but incapacitated.
Machiavelli would applaud. Republicans may have lost the 2008
presidential election, but their insurgency-style guerrilla tactics
ever since have ensured that the war is far from over. In 2012, the
politics of sabotage rule Washington.
Andrew Leonard: Kansas' Nasty New Tax Plan: Rare for someone
writing on either of the coasts to notice what's happening in Kansas,
but this much is true:
Kansas is special. In most American states in which Republicans control
the state legislature, the GOP busies itself with redistricting efforts
designed to minimize the chances of Democratic electoral success. But in
Kansas, the fight is over new districts cooked up to get rid of moderate
Republicans. Similarly, nearly all Republican-dominated states are working
hard to limit the ability of women to get abortions, but only in Kansas
will you hear a state legislator compare rape to a flat tire.
Something is clearly the matter with Kansas, so it may be it's not
the wisest idea to go overboard extrapolating from the state's behavior
to potential developments on the national scene. On the other hand, if
you're wondering what complete Republican control of the U.S. government
at the federal level would look like, Kansas does offer some clues.
Take taxes, for example. Last week, Kansas House and Senate negotiators
agreed on a new tax plan that will sharply cut income taxes for wealthy
state residents while at the same time raising taxes on the poor. The
result, predictably, will be a shortfall in state revenue that will
undoubtedly force additional cuts to state services.
[ . . . ]
The details are different, but the basic outline is similar to the
ideas codified in Paul Ryan's Mitt Romney-endorsed budget: We'll pay
for tax cuts for the wealthy by cutting services that help the poor.
Romney might not be as conservative as Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, but
when the bills passed by a GOP-controlled Legislature start arriving
on his desk, his response will be identical: He'll sign it.
Andrew Leonard: Corporate Criminals Gone Wild: Interview with
Charles Ferguson, who produced the Oscar-winning documentary Inside
Job (worth seeing, maybe more than once), and who has a new book
coming out: Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption,
and the Hijacking of America (May 22, Crown Business). All worth
reading, and he makes sure to spread the blame among Clinton and Obama,
but you have to conclude that the Bush administration's nonchallance
about regulating anything and enforcing any laws on business is what
made the atmosphere so conducive to wrongdoing. Here's a sample quote
But you know, when I was in academia and also when I was running a
software company I had a fair amount of contact with portions of the
financial sector, investment banking industry, and the venture capital
sector. And certainly they were already pretty rapacious and pretty
politically conservative. But they would never then have said and done
the things that they say and do now. I recently was at a dinner in New
York City and one of the people there was a very, very successful man
who is on the borderline between venture capital and private equity. And
this guy went into an extended rant about how he was at a disadvantage
because he had to pay 15 percent capital gains taxes. When I was first
dealing with venture capitalists in a significant way, the capital gains
tax rate was 28 percent, and nobody was complaining. Then they got them
reduced to 20 under Clinton, and then later 15 under Bush. Plus, they
got a rollover provision so if they took the proceeds of a venture
capital investment and rolled it over into a new venture capital
investment it was tax-free. At that point, we've reached nirvana,
what more could there be?
But now we're in this environment where this guy was loudly and
aggressively complaining that he has to pay 15 percent to the government.
And if that's where you're at, then of course you are going to complain
about Dodd-Frank. You are going to complain about everything. If you
have already got 96 percent of what you want, why not take the remaining
4? That's where the culture of American finance is right now, and I think
it's really dangerous for the country.
Andrew Leonard: Romney's Solar Flip-Flop:
Of course, back in 2007, Romney also believed that climate change was
man-made and supported a global cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse
gas emissions. Now he says "we don't know what's causing climate change
on this planet" and "I do not believe in cap-and-trade." So it shouldn't
be all that much of a shock that Romney is giving the cold shoulder to
solar power. If there's one thing we know about Mitt, he never allows
his past positions on an issue to weigh him down.
Alex Pareene: David Brooks, "Structuralist":
David Brooks is everything that's wrong with elite opinion in America.
The president reads him and takes him seriously. That is why the opinions
of venal faux "reasonable" clowns like Brooks matter. Brooks today sums
up the new argument for not actually doing anything to alleviate worldwide
unnecessary hardship: The problem is "structural," not "cyclical"!
[ . . . ]
This is Brooks' conclusion:
But you can only mask structural problems for so long. The whole thing
has gone kablooey. The current model, in which we try to compensate for
structural economic weakness with tax cuts and an unsustainable welfare
state, simply cannot last. The old model is broken. The jig is up.
It's so sad, but everyone will now just have to accept that social
democracy is an impossibility. We have learned that "the old economic
and welfare state model is unsustainable," so shut up about your
unemployment benefits running out and there being no jobs still.
Actually, if Brooks had just stopped at "it's a structural problem"
he'd be right, but he missed what the structural problem is. It isn't
that there's some sort of mismatch between jobs and skills -- there
always is a little disconnect there but if employers wanted certain
skills they could easily train for them. The real problem is that
there's no way to reverse the decline of wages except by changing
the rules of the labor market -- e.g., by forcing wages up, reducing
Alex Pareene: America's Idiot Rich:
Based on "multiple media accounts of billionaire thought and an entire
special issue of the New York Times Magazine, but especially the account
of one Thomas Conard, one of Mitt Romney's confreres at Bain Capital.
He has a book coming out arguing that massive wealth disparity "is an
unalloyed Good Thing," something he'd like to see doubled (and has
contributed over a million dollars to Romney's campaign to help bring
Conard also detests charitable giving and has developed a statistical
method for finding a spouse, because he is a sociopath. Because he is
very wealthy, he is very used to his ideas being taken seriously --
even economists offer him (qualified) praise. He is utterly convinced
that his book will convince every serious person that wealthy finance
industry titans not only deserve their wealth, but make society a
better place for all. He has basically taken what is a gut feeling
among his class and turned it into a philosophy and an argument.
Alex Pareene: The Book of Mitt:
Long post, an excerpt from Pareene's e-book The Rude Guide to Mitt,
where Pareene is rude to Mitt's Mormonism. A taste:
The Mormonism of the 19th century bears little resemblance to Mitt
Romney's Mormonism. Mitt Romney's Mormonism is the impossibly cheery
"Donny and Marie" variety, not the armed apocalyptic homesteading cult
member variety. Tolstoy -- referring to the scrappy/crazy 19th century
version -- called Mormonism "the American religion," and he decidedly
did not mean that as a compliment. But the modern church still deserves
the title. It's the Coca-Cola religion, with a brand that denotes a
sort of upbeat corporate Americanness, considered cheesy by elites but
undeniably popular in pockets of the heartland and abroad.
[ . . . ]
The modern Mormon aesthetic is deeply indebted to Walt Disney, but
somehow even more square. Their grand temples look like variations on
Cinderella's castle. Their religious music sounds like Oscar-nominated
Alan Menken-penned hymns. Their annual pageants -- I highly recommend
attending the Hill Cumorah pageant in upstate New York, in which
formative stories from the Book of Mormon are acted out for an audience
of thousands just beside the actual hill where Smith found the plates --
are spectacular, involving massive casts and lavish costumes and thrilling
theatrical effects, paired with the cheesiest imaginable dialogue and
storytelling, like a vintage Disneyland animatronic "Ben-Hur." (The
sound system was easily the best I've ever heard at a large outdoor
performance. Each line of risible King James pastiche narration was
crystal clear from a hundred yards out.)
It's very easy to make fun of a religion that literally takes communion
in the form of Wonder bread, but the appeal of all that mandated clean-cut
decency is also pretty easy to figure out. It pairs well, for example,
with motivational business leadership books. In France, church leaders
encouraged a young Mitt Romney to study "Think and Grow Rich," the
landmark self-help book written in 1937 by motivational guru Napoleon
Hill. Romney had his fellow missionaries read it, and told them to
apply the lessons to their mission work. [ . . . ]
This sort of "think yourself rich" bullshit, with its promise of a
foolproof path to success made up of basic lessons in persistence and
confidence combined with pseudo-scientific hokum, is a great philosophical
fit with Mormonism, which teaches that men are on a spiritual progression
toward Godhood. And the fantastic thing about Mormonism is that you can
apply the early 20th century version of "The Secret" -- want something
very, very badly and you will make it real with thought powers! -- toward
the amassing of material riches both here on Earth and after death,
because Mormon doctrine says the believer will continue working and
procreating in the afterlife. That may sound tedious and frankly hellish
to you and me (though you do eventually get your own planet!), but this
exaggerated re-conception of the Protestant work ethic is an essential
tenet of Mormon culture and dogma. It helps that Mormonism is decidedly
less squicky about rich people than traditional Christianity. (Again,
Tolstoy really nailed it with that "American religion" thing.)
Another excerpt is
Rich. Weird. Romney. Pareene also has an earlier post the touchy
subject of making fun of someone else's religion --
The Coming War on Mormon Jokes. Needless to say, the problem with
Romney is not his religion; it's his politics. How nutty (or treacherous
even) a religion seems has more to do with your personal distance from
it than anything else, and other people are likely to think the same
about you -- even if you're an atheist and are convinced you've gotten
rid of all that nuttiness and treachery. On the other hand, people with
right or left politics can be found attached to virtually every religion
(including none) -- I'm inclined to argue that fact shows the irrelevance
of religion, especially compared to more predictive traits like class,
but I do find -- and G.W. Bush certainly reinforced this point -- the
gloss that religion gives to bad politics to be especially toxic.
It occurs to me that the practice of presidents (and presidential
candidates) wearing their piety on their sleeve only dates back to
Jimmy Carter. Kennedy actively campaigned against his religion. LBJ
was so confused or indifferent he wound up attending Catholic masses
on occasion, after starting out in a church which I know (all too well)
regarded such as utter nonsense. And he was followed by the war criminal
Nixon, nominally a Quaker.
Charles P Pierce: The Rise of Deb Fischer and the Grifter Conservative:
Republican Senate primary in Nebraska, which Fischer wound up winning.
A Fischer win, of course, would be an act of cannibalism on a par with
the nomination of Richard Mourdock in Indiana, and a further indication
that there is very little room within the party in which Willard Romney
can "pivot to the center." On the state level, the party is a tight,
hard crystal of pure crazy. Given the right combination of circumstances,
any Republican can fashion any other Republican as being of "the Left"
or "the Establishment." If done successfully, this can render the
targeted candidate unelectable in a primary. In this case, she would
demonstrate that a candidate endorsed by the Club For Growth (Stenberg)
and another one backed by both the Tea Party Express and Citizens United
(Bruning) can be rendered insufficiently conservative. This leaves the
state party on the ideological scale somewhere to the right of an Uzi.
It's also a great indication that "conservatism" is more performance
than principle, more intellectual style than actual substance, and more
dogwhistling than ideology.
One reason I've missed many weaks doing this, and have much more than
(or are they features?) that literally kill my browser, so I stopped
looking at it. But most of the above links are from Salon: I scraped
them up by using a second computer, some newer software, plus I turned
have been grossly abusing it ever since it came out, and that's turned
into the rule (plus other nuissances like Flash) for music zines. It's
a long, sore slog to collect that data, and turning the baubles off is
a first step. (Of course, what I really need are more automated tools,
although actually looking at the review pages does provide some useful
information gathering.) Anyhow, this proved to be useful for cracking
Salon. Reminds me especially how invaluable Andrew Leonard is.
While I'm on a roll, I could expend this considerably, but will hold
the rest for next week. Means indeed there will be a next week.