Sunday, October 31, 2010
A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting
on previously. This seems to be happening more and more: I find
something and go straight to my scratch file to scave it for the
end of week and wind up posting nothing during the week. Much
angst on next week's elections, which thankfully will be done
(except for the lawyers) in a few days.
Jonathan Alter: The State of Liberalism: Idea here was to do a
split front page lede matching Alter reviewing a bunch of liberal-ish
Christopher Caldwell: The State of Conservatism. You'd think that
with the bestseller list dominance of bulk-purchased right-wing screeds
Caldwell would have been able to come up with more than three books to
review -- Scott Rasmussen/Doug Schoen: Mad as Hell: How the Tea
Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System
(Harper Collins); Paul Ryan/Eric Cantor/Kevin McCarthy: Young
Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders (Threshold Editions);
and Angelo M Codevilla: The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America
and What We Can Do About It (American Spectator/Beaufort) --but he
was too busy glitzing up his anti-Obama screed with bogus polls and
fanciful comparisions, like likening the Democrats to 1930s Tories
and the Republicans to "a European workingman's party at the turn of
the last century." Follow the link to sample the nonsense.
Alter, on the other hand, digs through a much taller (not to
mention deeper) stack of books: Roger D Hodge: The Mendacity of
Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism
(Harper Collins); Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Winner-Take-All
Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer -- and Turned Its
Back on the Middle Class (Simon & Schuster); Arianna
Huffington: Third World America: How Our Politicians Are
Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream
(Crown); David Callahan: Fortunes of Change: The Rise of the
Liberal Rich and the Remaking of America (Wiley); Burton
Hersh: Edward Kennedy: An Intimate Biography (Counterpoint);
Tom Daschle: Getting It Done: How Obama and Congress Finally
Broke the Stalemate to Make Way for Health Care Reform (Thomas
Dunne/St Martin's); Gary Hart: The Thunder and the Sunshine:
Four Seasons in a Burnished Life (Fulcrum); Walter Mondale:
The Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics (Scribner);
Chalmers Johnson: Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best
Hope (Metropolitan); and Jeffrey C Alexander: The Performance
of Politics: Obama's Victory and the Democratic Struggle for Power
(Oxford University Press). (That makes three times as many books,
ten to three in the same space; just goes to show who works harder,
and who'd rather just shoot off their mouths.)
Notable on that list are a few books
very critical of Obama (Hodge, Johnson, and more implicitly the
important book on inequality by Hacker/Pierson the more PR-savvy
but similarly themed one by Huffington), while there is nothing
that specifically turns its guns on the Republicans -- like Will
Bunch: The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters,
and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama or Markos Moulitsas:
American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists
and the Radical Right (Polipoint Press -- not one I recommend,
but still saner than Codevilla) -- leaving Alter struggling with
confusion and division among liberals over policy while ignoring
the one thing they are clear about: the dangers of a Republican
Party return to power. (I also have to wonder if the Times'
conservative editor Sam Tanenhaus isn't relieved to have swept
so many liberal books off his schedule.)
One quote stands out:
A couple of new books recall the story about the civil rights and
labor leader A. Philip Randolph, who was visiting F.D.R. to push for
a policy. "Make me do it," the president is said to have replied.
Roosevelt meant that his visitors should go out and organize and
demonstrate, not just expect him to wave a magic wand. Liberals have
a tendency to think that when the "right" person wins, order has
been restored. The idea of permanent trench warfare between liberals
and conservatives is an abstraction to them rather than a call to
arms. One reason health care reform stalled in the summer of 2009
was that Tea Party forces turned up en masse at town meetings in
swing districts while liberals stayed home, convinced that after
electing Obama they were free to go on Miller Time.
The argument that the left has lost Obama because they haven't
done the hard work of continuing to organize to press their case
is true and fair, at least superficially. But it's also true that
the left isn't an interest group that can afford to go out and hire
agitators and propagandists to keep the pressure on. The right does
that because they're rich and fighting an anti-popular cause, one
that depends on fooling people to advance their interests -- one
reason why the right has been so bullish on promoting ignorance
lately. On the other hand, in a democracy advocating for the public
interest should be popular, should be something that can win at the
polls. Insisting that your political work has to continue at fever
pitch after the elections, after you've elected people who have said
over and over that they agree you, is pretty cynical. The left, such
as it is, has certainly tried to hold Obama and the congressional
Democrats to their commitments, and we have repeatedly pointed out
their shortcomings. Sure, we need more organizing, more clamoring,
more agitation to push fair, equitable, peaceful, public interest
policies. Sure, not everything we want has a majoritarian consensus
behind it. (Although I can't say for sure that withdrawal from Iraq
and Afghanistan, radically cutting the defense budget, and single
payer health care don't have close to majority support.) But the
politicians we vote for owe us something too, and Obama hasn't just
lost on things he fought for; he's repeatedly failed to fight for
things that he was elected to do.
Of course, the Republicans have made a nonstop stink ever since
he got elected. But really, there's enough range of opinion and
diversity in the Democratic Party that, well, what the hell do we
need them for, anyway?
Peter Daou: BP Funds the Tea Party: The Ugly Truth About Climate Denial:
A lot of material here, mostly taken in big chunks from other sources.
The one I find most interesting is from
The core idea is most clearly expressed by Rush Limbaugh:
We really live, folks, in two worlds. [ . . . ]
Everything run, dominated, and controlled by the left here and around
the world is a lie. The other universe is where we are, and that's where
reality reigns supreme and we deal with it. And seldom do these two
universes ever overlap. . . . . The Four Corners
of Deceit: Government, academia, science, and media. Those institutions
are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That's how they promulgate
themselves; it is how they prosper.
The right's project over the last 30 years has been to dismantle the
post-war liberal consensus by undermining trust in society's leading
The decline in trust in institutions has generated fear and uncertainty,
to which people generally respond by placing their trust in protective
authorities. And some subset of people respond with tribalism, nationalism,
and xenophobia. The right stokes and exploits modern anxiety relentlessly,
but that's not all they do. They also offer a space to huddle in safety
among the like-minded. The conservative movement in America has created a
self-contained, hermetically sealed epistemological reality -- a closed-loop
system of cable news, talk radio, and email forwards -- designed not just as
a source of alternative facts but as an identity. That's why conservatives
catch hell when they're skeptical of climate skepticism. They're messing
with tribal cohesion and morale.
I found the Limbaugh quote too disorienting to parse at first,
probably because we think of ourselves as being the "reality-based"
ones, and we think the right is living in a dream world of its own
delusions, whereas Limbaugh is almost positing a mirror image. I
say "almost" because I can't quite reconcile the idea that a right
in any way tethered to reality can imagine that the left actually
controls anything. The actual power centers of the left are pretty
much limited to unions, community and public interest groups, none
of which are notably powerful at least in America. (By contrast,
the power centers of the right are business, the military, and the
churches -- admittedly, there are factions within each that adhere
to some notion of public interest, but business is by far the most
important, and the right is for all practical purposes the political
face of private business interests.) The problem that the right
faces isn't that the left is powerful so much as that the left
tends to make popular propositions that undermine the power and
interests of the right.
What the "Four Corners of Deceit" have in common is that they
represent potential limits on the freedom of business to further
enrich the rich: government, as the collective organization of
majority public opinion, can regulate or restrict business and
can limit profits and the accumulation of wealth; science, academia,
and the media can influence public opinion by distinguishing truth
and fact from falsehood, viable processes from debilitating ones.
The right's "closed-loop" blocks wholesale these potential opinion
influencers, leaving followers unwilling to think for themselves
unable to believe in anything but received truth. The right's come
up with an ingenious system of social control. All that's really
needed is a bait issue, something liberal norms generally support
that some sizable minority will react violently to: abortion rights,
gun control, illegal (or legal) immigrants, multiculturalism,
affirmative action, rights for homosexuals, coddling criminals and
understanding terrorists, fluoridating water, activist judges,
the list goes on and on. Almost anyone paranoid about any of those
issues can be roped into the whole lot, including flat taxes and
random acts of war and defunding the EPA and every other outfit
business doesn't like.
Glenn Greenwald: The Nixonian Henchmen of Today at the NYT:
Sees efforts to smear the character of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange
as recapitulating Nixon's directives against Daniel Ellsberg, except
that where the New York Times published Ellsberg's Pentagon Papers
now they're spearheading the smear campaign. The main protagonist here
is the Times' Iraq War reporter John Burns, who was also first out the
gate to defend Gen. McChrystall against Rolling Stone. I've been
reading Chris Hedges' new book, The Death of the Liberal Class,
which includes a section on how Hedges got fired by the Times for a
speech he gave questioning the wisdom of invading the occupying Iraq.
Hedges then went on to contrast how the Times never disciplined pro-war
reporters for the any breach of objectivity. His prime example: John
Burns. Also see Greenwald's
More on the Media's Pentagon-subservient WikiLeaks Coverage.
Paul Krugman: A Far Away Country of Which We Know Nothing:
Perhaps the best chart I've seen on the Great Depression/New Deal:
The blue line is total debt, public plus private, in billions of
dollars; the red line debt as a percentage of GDP (both on left scale).
But that was different, you say -- it was a war! To which I reply,
you think it's better if we spend all that money on useless
The initial spike in debt/GDP ratio is simply the collapse of the
economy -- actual debt dropped a bit. The post-1940 drop in the ratio
is all the more remarkable given the debt buildup. (You can add or
subtract the red line from the blue line to get a sense of changes
in GDP.) The New Deal is remembered mostly for deficit spending ono
jobs creation, which was actually so tame that conservatives still
attack it as being unproductive. (Of course, at the time they had
a different complaint: they called it socialist.) But once war took
over the political objections to deficit spending vanished and the
economy recovered -- indeed, the potential problem during WWII was
overheating, which FDR managed rigorously with sensibly administered
wage and price controls (much hated by business and quickly killed
after the war, leading to a wave of strikes and anti-labor backlash
which eventually killed the American labor movement, but I digress).
(Speaking of digressions, job creation was at best the fifth most
important thing the New Deal did, at least up to the war buildup.
Price supports, especially for agriculture; labor standards including
the right to join unions to ensure a more equitable distribution of
profits; effective financial regulation; and massive infrastructure
investment -- those were the foundations of postwar prosperity, at
least up to 1970 when those programs and postwar internationalism
and interventionism became increasingly perverted by business
We should give the New Deal (and for that matter the earlier
wave of progressivism) more credit for fashioning America's great
prosperity in the latter 20th century. We do this not only by
forgetting or discounting real accomplishments, but by drawing
erroneous conclusions -- such as the idea that war is good for
the economy. Nazi Germany from 1933-39 is another example of a
powerful deficit-led economic expansion, one that many were much
impressed with until they started using their military buildup
for war, which soon destroyed the country. The US was relatively
unscathed by WWII, the losses clouded in heads swelled with
victory, so it's taken us much longer to recognize the costs.
Paul Krugman: British Fashion Victims: Basically right, as usual,
but the reason reason I'm citing/quoting this piece is a turn of phrase:
"the confidence fairy." One of the things everybody knows is that the
economy booms or busts according to how much confidence actors have in
it, and exaggeratedly so. This is actually what's killing Obama in the
unemployment debate: he feels that as president he has to project lots
of confidence in the economy in order to get other people confident,
and that keeps him from scaring the hell out of people in order to get
some things done that will actually help the economy. Back when he was
a mere candidate he could be gloomy as hell because he was powerless
anyway. This idea that all it takes is confidence -- well, that's no
more than a vain belief in the confidence fairy:
Indeed, there has been a noticeable change in the rhetoric of the
government of Prime Minister David Cameron over the past few weeks --
a shift from hope to fear. In his speech announcing the budget plan,
George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer, seemed to have given
up on the confidence fairy -- that is, on claims that the plan would
have positive effects on employment and growth.
Paul Krugman: Falling Into the Chasm:
Actually, I've long thought, without figuring out the precise math,
that Krugman was being overly optimistic about prospects for recovery.
The non-financial slumps during the Bush years were painfully slow in
generating jobs, leaving workers much worse off. What growth their was
came from unsustainably piling on debt, which following the 2007-08
crash was neither something consumers wanted nor lenders wanted to
The real story of this election, then, is that of an economic policy
that failed to deliver. Why? Because it was greatly inadequate to the
When Mr. Obama took office, he inherited an economy in dire straits
-- more dire, it seems, than he or his top economic advisers realized.
They knew that America was in the midst of a severe financial crisis.
But they don't seem to have taken on board the lesson of history, which
is that major financial crises are normally followed by a protracted
period of very high unemployment.
If you look back now at the economic forecast originally used to
justify the Obama economic plan, what's striking is that forecast's
optimism about the economy's ability to heal itself. Even without
their plan, Obama economists predicted, the unemployment rate would
peak at 9 percent, then fall rapidly. Fiscal stimulus was needed only
to mitigate the worst -- as an "insurance package against catastrophic
failure," as Lawrence Summers, later the administration's top economist,
reportedly said in a memo to the president-elect.
But economies that have experienced a severe financial crisis
generally don't heal quickly. From the Panic of 1893, to the Swedish
crisis of 1992, to Japan's lost decade, financial crises have consistently
been followed by long periods of economic distress. And that has been
true even when, as in the case of Sweden, the government moved quickly
and decisively to fix the banking system.
To avoid this fate, America needed a much stronger program than what
it actually got -- a modest rise in federal spending that was barely
enough to offset cutbacks at the state and local level. This isn't
20-20 hindsight: the inadequacy of the stimulus was obvious from the
Paul Krugman: Divided We Fall:
Looking forward to bad news in the election:
When Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, the U.S. economy
had strong fundamentals. Household debt was much lower than it is
today. Business investment was surging, in large part thanks to the
new opportunities created by information technology -- opportunities
that were much broader than the follies of the dot-com bubble.
In this favorable environment, economic management was mainly a
matter of putting the brakes on the boom, so as to keep the economy
from overheating and head off potential inflation. And this was a
job the Federal Reserve could do on its own by raising interest
rates, without any help from Congress.
Today's situation is completely different. The economy, weighed
down by the debt that households ran up during the Bush-era bubble,
is in dire straits; deflation, not inflation, is the clear and present
danger. And it's not at all clear that the Fed has the tools to head
off this danger. Right now we very much need active policies on the
part of the federal government to get us out of our economic trap.
But we won't get those policies if Republicans control the House.
Actually, we're unlikely to get those policies if the Democrats
control the House either, for much the same reason we got so little
effective stimulus out of Congress the last two years. The thing
that more immediately bothers me is that if the Republicans win,
they'll see their burnt earth obstruction ploy as a big success,
and simply escalate it for two more years, forcing all sorts of
ridiculous brinksmanship showdowns with Obama. Control of the
House will make such showdowns much more likely. On the other
hand, control by Democrats won't change much, especially as the
smaller margin will play into the hands of the Blue Dogs, meaning
no real reform and leaving the Democrats with a hopelessly mixed
message. The only thing that is clear from the greater or lesser
debacle is that the American people have a short memory of how
bad the Republicans were, and no inkling of how badly we need
progressive reform. Both facts are direct results of the Democrats
failing to use their power bases to make the right cases to the
Andrew Leonard: The New Barbarism: Keeping Science Out of Politics:
A Scientific American online poll:
But even if you grant that the poll was the victim of an organized attack,
I'm still amazed by what we can learn from it. In response to the question
"Which policy options do you support?" 42 percent of the respondents chose
the answer "keeping science out of the political process."
Keep science out of the political process? Science? I thought it was
supposed to be the other way around; that the goal was the keep politics
out of science. I can understand, albeit disagree with, categorizations
of anthropogenic global warming as bad science, but I'm afraid I just
can't come to grips with the notion that we should keep "science" from
influencing politics at all. What is the point of civilization in the
first place if we don't use our hard-won understanding of how the
universe works to influence our decisions on how to organize ourselves?
Watching one Republican candidate for office after another declare
outright that they do not believe humans are causing climate change is
befuddling enough. But to flat-out reject science as a guide to policy
is beyond medieval. It's a retreat to pure superstition, a surrender
to barbarism. We might as well be reading omens in the entrails of
sacrificial animals. Our wealth as a country, our incredible technological
wonders -- the Industrial Revolution! -- were built upon scientific
Should the FDA reject clinical test results in deciding whether to
approve a drug? Should the U.S. Corp of Engineers ignore physics when
building dams and levees? Scientists say asbestos is dangerous to human
health and cigarette smoking causes cancer. Who cares? Let's continue
to build public schools packed with the fire-retardant material and
give free Camel nonfilters to teenagers!
We need more science in the political process, not less. The countries
that understand that will thrive and prosper. The ones that don't will
undoubtedly fail, if they haven't already doomed themselves.
Andrew Leonard: Wall Street's Best Friend: The Tea Party:
Call it the amazing bank bailout boomerang. Even though few things
enrage Tea Party rebels more than government checks made out to Wall
Street financial companies, the reverse dynamic does not seem to be
a problem. The top 12 Senatorial candidates most favored by Tea
Partiers have already hauled in $4.6 million in campaign contributions
from Wall Street. Even more amazing is a tidbit reported by the
The two top recipients of money from companies receiving TARP funds
are the top two House Republicans, Minority Leader John A. Boehner
(Ohio) with $200,000 and Republican Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) with
$187,000. They are followed by the ranking members of two key House
committees, Spencer Bachus (Ala.) on Financial Services and Dave
Camp (Mich.) on the tax-writing committee.
Let's spell that out: The Wall Street banks that were bailed out
with taxpayer money are using their profits to bankroll Republicans
who now claim to be unalterably opposed to any more bailouts, ever,
for all time, in any universe -- even though the original TARP bailout
was a Republican idea, signed into law by a Republican president, with
the strong backing of the Republican leadership of both the House and
Alex Pareene: Barack Obama's Favorite Columnists Are Awful:
Short list of five: David Brooks and Tom Friedman of the New York
Times, Jerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal, E.J. Dionne of the
Washington Post, and Joe Klein of Time:
Brooks is a mushy thinker who's made a living on lazy generalities
and wholly invented "observations" describing nonexistent trends. But
he's still not as awful as Thomas Friedman, our foremost authority on
what incredibly stupid but inexplicably powerful people think about
the world at large.
Friedman's Golden Books prose, recycled grandpa jokes, and ruthlessly
mixed metaphors have endeared him to airport bookstore-frequenting CEOs
across this great nation, but I can't understand how a supposed book-smart
guy like the president can read him with a straight face. (Especially
considering that in addition to being a mindless cheerleader of
globalization, Friedman is also an unapologetic warmonger.)
E.J. Dionne is an unoffensive old liberal. Joe Klein is guilty of
various heinous crimes against journalism and retains his cushy job
only because of inertia. Gerald Seib is a reliable purveyor of
Washington conventional wisdom for an increasingly dishonestly
edited Murdoch paper.
Matthew Yglesias: Business and Its Friends Continue to White About
Obama as Profits Soar: The stretch from 2003-07 is considered
to have been a period of economic expansion, but it sure didn't feel
like one: it produced few jobs, no improvement in standard of living,
most of the apparent profits turned out to be bogus. Feels even
worse now, but Yglesias quotes Politico:
Profits have surged 62 percent from the start of 2009 to mid-2010,
according to the Commerce Department. That is faster than any other
year and a half in the Fabulous '50s, the Go-Go '60s or the booms
under Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.
You would think that hard-nosed businessmen would be sufficiently
practical to realize that they're doing well under president Obama
and perhaps just stay quiet and enjoy counting their money. But no!
They want to whine loudly in public about the fact that the
president is saying mean things about them. Is the Fortune 500
being run by seven year-olds?
In practice, such complaints create a false sense of reality,
which Obama tends to accommodate, legitimating the complaints and
encouraging more while undercutting his options to do anything
that might lead to a more widespread recovery.
Three days, definitely the last "Weekend Roundup" before the
election. I'm still skeptical that the Republicans will take over
the House, let alone the Senate, when it's all done. If they do,
well, it won't be the dumbest thing the American people have ever
done -- that's still electing George W. Bush to a second term as
warmonger-in-chief, a term that ultimately proved to be every bit
as disastrous for Americans at home as his first term had been
for the world at large. It will be more like the 1946 election,
which started the dismantling of the New Deal, especially by
passing the Taft-Hartley Act, the beginning of the end of union
protection for American workers, and the first decisive steps
toward banking regulation, which ultimately caused the crash of
2007-08. The Democrats bounced back in 1948 as President Truman
found the courage to fight back against a know nothing, do nothing
Congress. But it's hard to imagine Washington's Democrats standing
up now after they've spent the whole campaign bending over. They
rose to the top of their party mostly on their ability to raise
campaign funds, and they were elected mostly because they didn't
suck as bad as the other party. It's hard to see in either trait
much of a knack for overcoming adversity.
On the other hand, there's little reason to think that the
electorate has changed much in the last two years. The crowd in
photos from Jon Stewart's Washington event (see
still looks like America -- upbeat, prosperous, good-natured,
cognizant of but unflustered by all the nonsense. Gives me a
small ray of hope.
PS: CBS put the crowd size at 215,000, versus 87,000
for Glenn Beck's August Tea Party rally.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Movie: The Social Network: Facebook story, smartly
written and paced with lots of little details that ring if not true
better than true -- e.g., Bill Gates and Larry Summers get a chance
to show why no one really likes them.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Steve Benen: Why Partisan Storm Winds Blow Stronger in One Direction:
That is, Republican rage blows stronger than Democratic rage, especially
relative to the putative outrages. This is certainly true, and important
to understand, but Benen is groping. He cites a Kevin Drum post which
argues four points: (1) conservatives go nuts faster; (2) conservatives
go nuts in greater numbers; (3) conservatives go nuts at higher levels;
(4) conservatives go nuts in the media. True enough, but all of that is
basically explained: conservatives are much more likely to go nuts, for
the simple reason that liberals can articulate their positions rationally
whereas conservatives are stuck with a few platitudes and raw emotion.
But it goes deeper than that: reasonableness, moderation, and respect
for differences are traits exemplifying the liberal worldview; on the
other hand, conservatives demand authority, order, and discipline, and
have little recourse when that fails but to blow a gasket. Of course,
(3) and (4) are also helped out by the fact that conservatives have
easier access to money and media -- the whole point of conservatism,
after all, is to feed the rich -- and the conservative media is much
more indulgent of fringe opinion than the liberal media is. (Which is
actually not what you'd expect, since freedom of speech and press is
a founding liberal principle. In practice, the liberal media, such as
it is, parades its liberalism by indulging the right while denying
legitimate access to the real left.)
I think the fundamental problem with right-wing hysteria is that it's
so darn mainstream. In Democratic circles, 9/11 Truthers, Code
Pink, Diebold folks, and the like can't get any establishment attention
at all. Members of Congress won't return their phone calls or even be
seen in public with them. On the right, however, there's practically
nothing a right-wing extremist can say or do to be exiled from polite
There's a clear and impermeable line between the progressive mainstream
and the left fringe. The line between the Republican Party/conservative
movement and the far-right fringe barely exists. Whereas Dems kept the
fringe at arm's length, Republicans embrace the fringe with both arms.
Both sides have nutjobs; only one side thinks their nutjobs are sane.
I don't get the compulsion to divide and balance "nutjobs" on the
left as well as on the right, with the implication that the spectrum
extends into nonsense on both ends, and that only the centrists --
which is all liberals aspire to these days -- are sane. There are
reasonable (albeit idealistic and impractical) people at both ends --
libertarians on the right, communal anarchists on the left -- and
there are nuts scattered far and wide but mostly tending toward the
right, where they are not necessarily welcome. Contrary to Benen,
the respectable right does have some standards: Nazis are no longer
in vogue, and overt racists are generally recognized as misguided.
On the other hand, the problem with Code Pink isn't that they're
wrong (like 9/11 Truthers, who by the way aren't necessarily leftist
at all) but that they're disruptive and, well, rude. That may not be
the best of tactics, but thus far the only one who's said anything
under the Capitol dome about American war crimes has been Medea
Benjamin, which strikes me as a credit.
Benen asked for help in the comments, and some interesting points
came in. I'll push the quotes below the fold, but make a few summary
one of my own here:
- The Republicans, at least from Nixon on, decided that the ends
justify whatever means it takes to win. That includes dominating the
money at every level, managing the media full time, researching and
exploiting wedge issues, fighting close elections in the courts, and
who knows what else. They take whatever they can get, and when they
lose they keep clawing back. They don't believe in fair play or in
representative democracy or in any common good. They play to win,
and when they win they play their advantages to win again. And when
they lose, they don't look to the future; they look to wreck their
enemies now. They are, in short, ruthless. Democrats are wusses (or,
at least, slow learners, still in thrall to their high school civics
- In a democracy, the Republicans's love for and support by the
rich is a disadvantage, because there are always many more non-rich
voters than rich voters, leaving them with the unenviable task of
selling a bare majority a government that serves the interests of
a small (but powerful) minority. This is why the Republicans have
to be ruthless in order to win. They have to exploit the advantages
they do have -- mostly more money (spent on elections, of course,
but also leveraging business power for jobs, public relations, and
media influence) but they also leave few stones unturned. They know,
for instance, that their odds improve when poor people who would
vote against them don't bother to vote. They fight unions not only
because businesses don't like them but because unions organize
workers to vote against them. What all of this adds up to is that
the core mission of the Republicans is profoundly anti-democratic.
- The rich, of course, feel entitled to rule. Indeed, every day
they rule over their businesses, their employees, their vendors.
They are used to getting their way, so they don't see any reason
why they shouldn't have their way with government also. Sure, they
were once chastised by the Great Depression and the joint national
sacrifices of WWII, but that's a long time ago, and those lessons
are conveniently forgotten. (The shift here reached a tipping point
around 1970, which is a significant year for a number of reasons.)
The rich are so convinced of their right to rule that many people
find them convincing -- there seems to be something ingrained in
our nature urging us to follow the most self-assured leader, even
though history is full of just that sort of wreckage.
- The Republicans get votes from the rich and from people who are
subservient to or who by nature follow the lead of the rich, but
that alone doesn't provide enough votes to win many elections. One
way the Republicans add voters is by adopting single-issue voters
based on wedge issues. Abortion is a striking example, especially
given that before 1970 Republicans tended to be more pro-abortion
and Democrats, with large concentrations of Catholics and Baptists,
tended to be more anti-abortion. There is a long list of similar
hot button issues meant to attract people who would not otherwise
vote Republican, even when they involve obvious trade-offs (e.g.,
through 2000 Muslims tended to vote Republican, but that's changing
fast as Republicans find political gains in attacking Muslims).
- While the rich may be rational in supporting Republicans, nearly
everyone else -- especially single-issue voters -- are irrational:
they have massive blind spots, especially on economic issues but
also on critical matters of war and peace and justice, and those
blind spots are deliberately obscured by party propaganda. One
result is that nut cases flock to the party which flatters them.
Another is mainstream Republicanism becomes saturated with all
sorts of crazy mythology. Lately, Republicans have become so
embattled by reason and reality they appear to be advocating a
new dark age of ignorance and superstition, as if that's the
only way they can cloak their ambitions.
- There is much more one can say about how the Republicans are
able to corral the nonpartisan media, which allows considerable
room for the right fringe and far less for the serious left --
although the latter is largely the work of established Democrats
who often seem more worried, and take greater pains to distance
themselves from, their own party's left than from the Republicans.
The nonpartisan media limits the range of discourse to what the
political powers allow, and to limit the depth to what they can
easily provide and what their viewers and readers can easily
digest, which turns out to be pretty shallow -- criteria which
doubly damn the serious left while playing up the entertainment
value of the crackpot right.
- For much of the 1980s and 1990s the right was able to get
away with extolling itself as the "party of ideas" -- something
which became increasingly untenable as those ideas were put
into practice and turned disastrous. (Supply side economics
and preemptive wars were notorious failures; privatization
and deregulation have frequently failed, sometimes -- as with
the repeal of Glass-Steagall -- spectacularly.) Nowadays the
right is reduced to endlessly repeating hollow formulas, like
their obsessions with tax cuts and arms races and denying
climate change -- only a small fraction of the wrongest and
dumbest things Republicans say these days come from cranks.
Mostly they come from party propagandists, making the whole
issue of crankdom superfluous.
I'm beginning to feel like I'm rambling here, or maybe just
trying to reduce something book length to bullet points. Maybe
the reason for the disproportionate rage is simpler. Maybe the
Republican ranks just include more flaming assholes.
The quotes. First up, from dontcallmefrancis:
You are missing the "divine right" to rule, that conservatives
From matt, same basic thing but longer:
I think the root cause is that conservatives basically don't think
Democrats are legitimately entitled to govern, even if they win the
election. This may have started with Clinton, when Republicans thought
Bush had it in the bag after the first Iraq war and couldn't
emotionally accept that they lost, so they clung to the fact that he
didn't get a majority, and pursued all kinds of crazy theories to
delegitimate him -- Vince Foster was murdered, the endless fake
With Obama they've been more or less explicit that they don't think
he should be allowed to govern, and have gone to ridiculous lengths to
prevent him from governing, even after being dealt an absolutely
unambiguous defeat at the polls. They don't care that they lost
the election. Hence the birther nonsense, and the crazed
constitutional theories (some of which may still be adopted by the
Supreme Court); they can't emotionally accept that it's legitimate for
Democrats to govern and to pursue their agenda.
The Far Right Conservatives are OBSESSED with the idea that theirs
is a righteous cause that will transform this nation into whatever they
want it to be. In the 60s, it was their belief in Goldwater's brand of
conservatism. By the 1980s, the banner had switched to Ronald Reagan.
The same Reagan revered as a Saint by these Far Right believers.
Everything since 1980 is supposed to be part of the Grand Plan of a
glorious Republican Revolution that cannot be stopped and cannot be
interrupted. A hundred-year GOP empire.
From biggerbox, something pretty obvious:
(5) Conservative nuts are bankrolled extensively by wealthy interests
who manipulate them as a weapon on behalf of their own agenda.
Conservatives feel entitled. They want "their" country back. Remember
in the early days of George W Bush's the first time he was even mildly
criticized conservatives went psychotic. I very much remember "THIS
President will not be criticized" being said more than a few times. Even
when they had control of the White House, both chambers of congress and
were stacking the supreme court, conservatives were still going nutty
over everyhting . . . that's how Fox News, talk radio,
Limbaugh, etc, flourished . . . flogging the assault on
their entitlement over and over. Even in complete control they were
It's rather simple in my eyes. Republicans are extremely more fearful
right now of loosing the ability to Maximize profits or capitalize on
business opportunities. I think they see government and democrats as
blockers/regulators/socialists that will limit/prevent their ability to
profit. This applies to the business elite only. Once they kick in their
propaganda machine we get the other 2/3's raging mad as well. These are
the ignorant, patriotic, gun totting, social conservatives and small
government wack jobs screaming their heads off about how the dems are
destroying the country.
From Texas Aggie:
There seems to be a strong distinction between the way the regressives
and the progressives think. Regressives are strongly prone to faith based
thinking, emotional responses, short sound bites, and things like that.
They are wired to think in hierarchies with absolute obedience to those
above you with little ability to think analytically. They think in terms
of punishment to control behavior. They don't have any tolerance for
anything that is even approaching the limits of what they consider proper
behavior. In other words, they basically are rule bound with no ability
to analyze the rules (or anything else, for that matter) to see if maybe
they don't apply in a particular situation.
From Tim H:
Liberal care about policy, while conservatives care about who gets
to rule. When Bush proposed comprehensive immigration reform, he got
backing from liberals. Conservatives wouldn't back Clinton or Obama
if they proposed renaming the country Reaganville. It's only legit to
rename the country Reaganville if conservatives do it.
Liberals embrace policies that benefit the widest swath of citizens,
while conservatives look out for the interests of the moneyed elite.
[ . . . ]
Liberals value people. Conservatives value money.
Liberals value reason. Conservatives value faith.
As far as I can discover, there are just two goals for the present-day
Republican party; firstly, to shrink the Federal government until it
returns to what it was in 1880 and secondly, to make themselves and their
rich "friends" even richer while doing so. The Republican Party isn't
"in the tank" for business and corporate interests, it IS business and
corporate interests and nothing else.
THAT fact is NOT going to win them any elections and the result is
"smoke and mirrors." By "mainstreaming" the fears, real and imagined,
felt by the right-wing, these interests hoped to provide cover for
THEIR agenda: clipping the wings of the one entity capable of taking
them on and winning -- the Federal government.
The result, though, hasn't been what was expected. There is always
a large group of people dissatisfied with what the Federal government
does and how it accomplishes what it does and who AREN'T insane. Those
were the ones who, I believe, were SUPPOSED to run this "revolt" against
the Federal government but, surprise! surprise! -- they must have been
too busy or something to attend the meeting that chose the committee
that vetted the candidates. And the Koch brothers can't be everywhere,
Birchers and other monomaniacs are nothing if not persistent. The
fact that they're still around (fighting Muslims, this time) proves
that. Their persistence has paid off though, as demonstrated by today's
crop of nut-job Republicans. Unfortunately for the Republican party,
there are many people who AREN'T insane conspiracy believers who vote
There are two large, enduring differences:
- Right-wing wingnuts are aligned with factions within the power
elite. They are funded, disciplined, and treated more gently by the
- The right basically wants to go back to the past (even if a
largely imaginary one); the left wants to go into an unknown
From Chris, who sees this as media distortion:
Normally I don't go in for the stereotype of the media as left-leaning,
but I'll accept it in the sense that the media tends not to be completely
fucking batshit insane.
Which means that your average journalist, when confronted with your
average right-wing wacko, wants to ask, "Are you serious? Do you actually
think that?" That's just basic professional curiosity. But the difference
is that the right has proven, with everything from wingnut welfare to
decades of media-baiting, that there is money to be made (and attention
to be earned), by treating conservative perspectives with gentle curiosity
and an aura of legitimacy.
However, your average journalist, when confronted with your average
left-wing partisan (I'm using different words here, "wacko" and "partisan",
because one side's adherents believe in palpably false, stupid, and
destructive things, and the other side's adherents think rationally,
if beyond the limits of corporate-Dem political possibilities), has a
couple thoughts in response: "Oh, shit, now I'm going to have to do some
homework (and probably call Republicans liars) if I want to report on
this. Hm, how can I avoid either of those things?" and "Of course this
liberal sincerely thinks _____. I know people like that. It's no fun to
talk about politics, because when you ask, 'Do you really believe that?'
they look blankly at you and say, 'Of course. Why wouldn't I?' Where's
the fun in reporting that? Who's going to read a story headlined,
'Liberals think about issue rationally!'?"
Monday, October 25, 2010
Music: Current count 17248  rated (+16), 867  unrated (-1).
No Jazz Prospecting
I have some stuff to report, but no time to wrap it all up today.
Will return with even more next week. Meanwhile, consider this a
personal day. I was born sixty years ago today. So I can use a break,
if you can call it that.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting
Peter Daou: The Impeachment of Barack Obama: On the asymmetry between
the two major political parties:
One glaring difference between Democrats and Republicans, left and right,
is that the former is trying to win a debate while the latter is aiming for
The White House's baffling message in recent days that if Republicans
gain seats they'll be more cooperative, is emblematic of that divide.
The reality is this: impeachment, not cooperation, is on the table if
the GOP takes the House. I've been arguing for months that the level of
anger and hate on the right, stoked by millionaire radio blatherers and
fueled by a well-oiled rightwing attack machine, has created a fertile
atmosphere to move impeachment from the fringes to the mainstream.
Democrats are constantly flabbergasted by Republican audacity.
Republicans will say and do things that Democrats won't; they'll endure
the initial outcry over outrageous comments to move the national discourse
to the right, a process I described in a recent post:
There is a simple formula for rightwing dominance of our national debate,
even when Democrats are in charge: move the conversation as extreme right
as possible, then compromise toward the far right. Negotiation 101. And
it's completely lost on Democrats. It's no accident that in 21st century
America, torture has been mainstreamed, climate denial has taken firm
hold, book burning, racial dog whistles and brazen religious intolerance
are part of our discourse and par for the course. This is how the right
plays the game, using Limbaugh, Hannity, Fox, Drudge, blogs, chain emails,
talk radio, etc. to shamelessly and defiantly drag the conversation as
far right as possible. . . . Democrats run away from the
left like it's the plague while Republican run to the right like it's
nirvana. The net effect is that the media end up reporting far right
positions as though they were mainstream and reporting liberal positions
as though they were heinous aberrations. And you wonder why America is
veering off the rails?
Another chronic problem for Democrats is that they underestimate the
American public's responsiveness to rightwing talking points. Take
poll for example: "Likely voters in battleground districts see
extremists as having a more dominant influence over the Democratic Party
than they do over the GOP."
Glenn Greenwald: David Brooks' campaign finance "facts": One "fact"
mentioned by Brooks in passing is that the total money being spent on
the 2010 elections is "something like $1.4 billion." Almost all of that
is coming from businesses -- directly from individuals to candidates,
or more and more from anonymous sources (including corporate coffers
thanks to the Supreme Court's ruling that corporate bribes are a form
of free speech) through new slush funds like American Crossroads and
more obvious conduits like the US Chamber of Commerce. Greenwald shows
how Brooks fiddles with the numbers to make the Republicans look a bit
less egregious here, the Democrats a bit more menacing there, then
sort of pooh poohs the whole thing anyway -- he contends "money is
almost never the difference between victory and defeat." Actually,
money is the difference between running and not. (A good example of
this is the KS-Senate race, where Republican Jerry Moran outpolls
Democrat Lisa Johnston 67-27%, which actually isn't so impressive
when you factor in that Moran has outspent Johnston by nearly 1000
fold -- according to Federal Election Commission as of Aug. 22 the
disbursements totals are $4,497,168 to $4,530. Johnston's inability
to raise funds is so extreme that when Democratic Party flacks come
to my door in Wichita they don't even mention her name.)
Andrew Leonard: The National Review's silly attack on Paul Krugman:
Cites a 3600 word article by Stephen Spruiell, likening Krugman to
But this is also an odd accusation to make, since Krugman has criticized
virtually every policy initiative of the Obama administration as
insufficient or unworkable. If anything, one would imagine that Krugman's
influence and number of followers would be gaining as a result. He said
the economy was in worse shape than the administration wanted us to
believe. He was right. He said the banks should have been broken up.
A review of the current foreclosure mess, once again threatening the
bottom lines of the too-big-too-fail goliaths, suggests he was right
again. He said the stimulus was too small. We can't know for sure if
he was right on that, but it's certainly possible. Non-partisan private
sector economy-watching firms attribute the stimulus with contributing
to economic growth and keeping unemployment from being even worse than
it is now. A bigger, better, stimulus could have achieved more.
[ . . . ]
Most of Spruiell's words are devoted to attempting to find
inconsistencies between what Krugman professed to believe before,
driven mad by George W. Bush, he turned irredeemably partisan. It's
an easy game to play with someone who has as long a track record
and as fierce a rhetorical style as Krugman. But Spruiell gives far
too short shrift to a point he mentions only in passing -- the fact
that Krugman has been nearly as virulent a critic of Obama as he
was of George Bush.
Because that's exactly why we know Krugman is sincere, and should
be taken seriously. From day one of the Obama administration Krugman
has been as tough on his own side as he was on his enemies. There was
no grace period, no slack, and no compromise.
In my opinion, Krugman was quite right about the stimulus being
too small. What's not clear, because it wasn't tried, was whether
his recommendation for a stimulus of $1.3 trillion -- roughly twice
what Obama got passed -- would have been enough. It's possible that
other factors would have continued to suppress demand.
Michael Lind: Esquire's deficit reduction plan gets an "F":
There are things that Obama would even with the best intentions and
efforts have had trouble doing, but there are other things he did
for no good reason that have caused him nothing but trouble. One of
the latter is caving in on the deficit argument. He didn't gain any
credit for his non-defense spending freeze, and his "bipartisan
deficit commission" is certain to be a fiasco. He actually hurt
himself by promising that his health care reform plan would be
"deficit neutral" when what most people wanted was better health
care regardless of cost. But his anti-deficit surrender wasn't just
a way of tying his shoelaces together so he would repeatedly trip
his supposed agenda up; it opened the door for Republicans and their
Tea Party allies/cronies to relentlessly pound him over government
spending, even when government spending was the only thing between
us and a full-blown 1930s depression.
This brings up a very interesting point: many of the most potent
conservative arguments are fallacies of generalization, taking points
that are absolutely valid for individuals and assuming that they are
(or should be) equally valid for the collective. It really is a bad
idea for individuals to go deep in debt; it's really something else
for the government to go deep in debt. Consevatives also have a bad
habit of assuming that something that is bad in excess is every bit
as bad in moderation or in exceptional circumstances -- they can't
help but think in terms of ridgid, authoritarian principles (part of
that "strong father" model they like to talk about, or what we used
to call the Führerprinzip). So, like, if excessive taxation
is bad, so must be all taxes. Now, you know Obama knows better than
this. He knows, for instance, that there is a time to balance the
budget and there are times when the best thing to do is screw the
budget and spend, spend, spend, and when we're running 8, 10, 12
percent unemployment is one of the latter times. One reason you
know he knows this is because the first thing he asked Congress to
do was to allocate a lot of money for an economic stimulus bill.
(Admittedly not enough money to actually solve the problem, and
with a bunch of inefficient tax cuts to appease the Republicans,
but at least he recognized the right direction, compromising on
numbers rather than principles.) He got that bill passed, but he
neglected to sell the principle to the public, and when he set
out on his anti-deficit kick he threw both the principle and the
argument away, leaving himself helpless when his economists ran
the numbers again and realized they hadn't asked for as much
stimulus as they actually needed. This is the thing that is so
very annoying about Obama: that he won't get up and teach people
things that he knows and understands to be important. And he
doesn't even have to convince diehard Republicans that he's
right; he mostly just has to keep his own ranks united so they
don't cave in, and establish his credibility and integrity to
the uncommitted so they see him as a source of hope. Deficits
aren't the easiest argument to make, but they're not impossible
either. For instance, every Republican president since Hoover
has, when faced with even a hint of an economic downturn while
in office, believed in and acted upon the idea of countercyclical
spending. The only time Republicans don't like the idea is when
a Democrat is in the White House and likely to get blamed for
the bad times: like 1993 with Clinton, or now with Obama.
The setup on this article is that Esquire set up their
own "bipartisan deficit commission" to scoop Obama's, and their
report, well, sucks. I don't have any particular comments --
it's all worth reading. And while I'd quibble with Lind on some
points -- that gas tax doesn't strike me as all that regressive
let alone such a bad thing -- he gets most of the low-hanging
Frank Rich: The Rage Won't End on Election Day:
Nor will the batshit political posturing, but at least the most
opportunistic cases will get less attention, for a while. I still
believe that what people are referring to as rage isn't triggered
by the economic downturn, which most people seem to take with a
good dose of self-pounding depression. This is a far cry from the
1930s when veterans marched on Washington, and when politicians
tripped over each other to see who could propose the highest taxes
on the rich. The Tea Party eruption is some sort of conditioned
response, where talk radio jocks summoned their zombie followers
to make news and spout utter nonsense and ultimately dutifully
vote Republican. About the only thing that might stop them would
be for the political ploy to go bankrupt and be overwhelmingly
rejected by the hitherto silent majority. That doesn't seem to be
in the cards, mostly because the rich have continued to rally
behind their party, especially with all the new campaign finance
loopholes courtesy of the Supreme Court. (If anyone actually is
concerned about corruption in Washington they should look first
to campaign finance reform: the $1.2 billion spent on campaigns
tells you all you need to know to see how little the will of the
people matters. The clearest example of anti-democracy I know of
is the KS Senate race, which pundits have called for Republican
Jerry Moran, largely because he's been able to outspend Democrat
Lisa Johnston nearly one thousand to one.)
Frank Rich: What Happened to Change We Can Believe In?
Argues that the Obama administration in letting the massive frauds
that led to the current recession go unexposed and unprosecuted,
Obama made it possible for the Republicans's "faux populism" to
make a comeback. I'd go further and say that the single greatest
categorical failure of the Obama administration and of the Democratic
majorities in Congress has been their unwillingness to document the
gross abuses and corruptions of power of the Bush administration
and of previous Republican Congresses. By failing to properly place
blame, they've inadvertently let themselves be tarnished by it:
The real tragedy here, though, is not whatever happens in midterm
elections. It's the long-term prognosis for America. The obscene
income inequality bequeathed by the three-decade rise of the financial
industry has societal consequences graver than even the fundamental
economic unfairness. When we reward financial engineers infinitely
more than actual engineers, we "lure our most talented graduates to
the largely unproductive chase" for Wall Street riches, as the economist
Robert H. Frank wrote in The Times last weekend. Worse, Frank added,
the continued squeeze on the middle class leads to a wholesale decline
in the quality of American life -- from more bankruptcy filings and
divorces to a collapse in public services, whether road repair or
education, that taxpayers will no longer support.
Even as the G.O.P. benefits from unlimited corporate campaign money,
it's pulling off the remarkable feat of persuading a large swath of
anxious voters that it will lead a populist charge against the rulers
of our economic pyramid -- the banks, energy companies, insurance giants
and other special interests underwriting its own candidates. Should those
forces prevail, an America that still hasn't remotely recovered from the
worst hard times in 70 years will end up handing over even more power to
those who greased the skids.
Matthew Yglesias: The Koch's Paranoid Style: The Kochs go
to Aspen to listen to Glenn Beck lecture on "Is America on the
Road to Serfdom?" along with Phil Anschutz, Rich DeVos, Steve
Bechtel, the fellow travellers:
I suppose I don't begrudge rich businessmen the opportunity to hang out
with one another throwing a weird pity party about how overtaxed they are.
But it strikes me as almost self-refuting for a bunch of billionaires to
be chilling at a lavish resort talking about how Barack Obama has somehow
done away with American liberty. At the end of the day the Kochs' biggest
policy priority is that they want to continue to get away with profiting
from un-taxed air pollution externalities. It's what any rich businessman
in a polluting line of work would want, but it's hardly a question that
goes to the core of human freedom.
Matthew Yglesias: Anti-Anti-Racism: On Juan Williams, who tripped
one of those live wire phrases that result in instant dismissal for
unthinking pundits, at least at NPR -- presumably his gig at Fox is
still smelling sweet:
What we're seeing is episode one million in the American conservative
movement's passionate attachment to the cause of anti-anti-racism.
Relatively few conservatives are interested in expressing racist views,
but virtually all conservatives are united in the conviction that
anti-racism run amok is ruining the country and almost no conservatives
are interested in combatting racism. You normally see this in a
black-white context, but increasingly over the past two years it's
emerging in a Muslim-Christian context. The central conservative
passion when it comes to these bias issues is the bizarre notion that
it's hard for members of the majority group to get a fair shake and
then unwarranted suppression of alleged anti-minority views is a much
bigger problem that actual bias against minority groups.
Steve Kornacki: Juan Williams ' real crime: Hack punditry.
Admittedly, I've only seen Williams on Fox, where he's a very token
liberal -- you can tell, if not because he's black, because smiles
wistfully when everyone else is jumping on him. Kornacki writes:
But Williams wasn't interested in saying something intelligent about
the Tea Party movement; he was happy to just accept the notion that
it represents an independent force with cross-ideological appeal and
to structure an argument around it. It was a classic example of hack
punditry: No one learned anything reading it, but it did provide
conservatives with a nice talking point: "Look, even a liberal like
Juan Williams says this Tea Party-bashing is bad for the Democrats."
Another reason not to feel sorry for Williams is that Fox more
than made up for his NPR loss, inking him to a $2 million contract.
You'd think conservatives would be more conscientious about perverse
incentives, but it looks like they favor them.
One problem with the "Weekend Roundup" approach is that I keep
filing stuff ahead and never post anything during the week, as
happened this week. Don't know whether that's bad or not. I did
think of doing a post on something dumb our Democratic candidate
for Congress said: he attacked his opponent for agreeing with DOD
secretary Gates to kill the utterly unnecessary and wasteful extra
jet engine project for the F-35 strike fighter, which as far as
I'm concerned is also utterly unnecessary and wasteful, because
some 800 jobs somewhere hang on the decision. In short, Goyle
guarantees that he's never going to vote against defense spending
no matter how dumb even though he likes to paint himself as a
Today Goyle ran a large ad in the Wichita Eagle with a long list
of "Republicans for Goyle" -- the only one I recognized was Carol
Rupe, who would likely make a much better Democratic representative
than Goyle if she could be persuaded to change parties and run.
The Eagle also gave out most of their editorial choices for state
offices, splitting fairly evenly between major parties but picking
Pompeo over Goyle, mostly questioning who the hell Goyle really is.
They also picked Sam Brownback over Tom Holland (despite an op-ed
that asked who the hell Brownback really is) for governor and Jerry
Moran over Lisa Johnston for senator, curtly dismissing Johnston as
"not ready." What they meant is that she has no money, and therefore
no visibility. I was shocked to discover that Moran has outspent her
by 1,000 times (roughly $5 million to $5 thousand). You can see why
that would impress the Eagle, which is moderate politically but in
the end loves to suck up to winners, but anyone concerned about the
corrupt influence of money in politics should be excited to find a
major party candidate who can prove she hasn't sold out.
Much of the above has to do with money and politics, so let me
also point out a couple of book pages to explore this further:
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Movie: Never Let Me Go: Kazuo Ishiguro novel. Laura
read it; found it "incredibly sad," which isn't really a good formula
to transplant to the screen, not just because Carey Mulligan's tear
(but not her mope) looked manufactured. More likely the novel has
suspense and inner depth that couldn't be maintained or expanded.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Music: Current count 17232  rated (+27), 868  unrated (-0).
Another week. Trying to clean up the workspace. Getting sick and tired of
listening to and writing about music.
Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:
- Jan De Gaetani/The Contemporary Chamber Ensemble [Arthur
Weisberg, conductor]: Arnold Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire Op. 21
(1971, Nonesuch): Back during my Adorno years, the one album of
classical music (vocal, no less) that I actually liked. Recalled
it while thinking about the label's classical music background.
Jazz Prospecting (CG #25, Part 5)
Mostly working out of my high priority box, not so much because
it's high priority as because my futile attempt at getting better
organized has left the lower priority boxes inaccessible. So if
the grades run high this time, beware that the selection process
isn't random. Not sure when I'll shift gears and try to close out
the column -- two, three weeks, something like that.
Lucian Ban & John Hébert: Enesco Re-Imagined
(2010, Sunnyside): A tribute to composer George Enescu (or Georges
Enesco in France, or George Enesco here), 1881-1955, from Romania,
also notable as a violinist and pianist. Ban is a pianist, b. 1969
in Romania; moved to New York in 1999 to study at New School. Played
on two Jazz Unit Sextet records 1998-99; since 2002 has a half dozen
or so records, mostly with baritone saxist Alex Harding. Hébert is
a bassist who invariably shows up on good records, although this is
one where the classical music strings (Albrecht Maurer, Mat Maneri)
try my patience, and the jazz horns (Ralph Alessi, Tony Malaby)
rarely break the surface.
Ken Fowser & Behn Gillece: Little Echo (2010,
Posi-Tone): Fowser plays tenor sax; b. 1982, grew up in New Jersey,
attended William Paterson University; studied with Eric Alexander,
Grant Stewart, and Ralph Bowen, and fits into their niche handsomely.
Gillece plays vibes; also b. 1982, somewhere near Philadelphia. First
record for either, quintet with Rick Germanson (piano), Ugonna Okegwo
(bass), and Quincy Davis (drums). Swings hard, the vibes adding a
certain frothy lightness.
William Hooker Trio: Yearn for Certainty (2007 ,
Engine): Drummer, b. 1946, has a couple dozen albums since 1982, mostly
odd avant-garde juxtapositions. The trio mix here pits David Soldier
(mandolin, banjo, violin) against Sabir Mateen (sax, flute, clarinet),
which is good for all sorts of sparks. Hooker adds some spoken word,
not exactly a highlight but fair enough within the framework.
Andrew Lamb Trio: New Orleans Suite (2005 ,
Engine): Tenor saxophonist (also credited with flute, clarinet,
and harmonica here), b. 1958 in North Carolina, grew up in Chicago
and Queens, studied with Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, has a handful
of records, mostly with drummer Warren Smith (e.g., The Dogon
Duo). Tom Abbs (bass, cello, didgeridoo, percussion) fills out
the trio. Smith takes charge early on with a rant about Katrina,
"Dyes and Lyes," worth featuring on your post-Brownie mix tape.
After that they settle down for some inside-out improv that won't
turn heads but will pique your interest.
Rich Halley Quartet: Live at the Penofin Jazz Festival
(2008 , Pine Eagle): Featuring Bobby Bradford, whose cornet adds
a second free-wheeling horn to tenor saxophonist Halley's trio. Halley
is from Portland, OR; trained as a field biologist, plays free jazz
with a feel for Aylerian primitivism (what Ayler thought of as spirit).
Has a dozen or so albums since 1984. Bradford adds something, but I
still slightly prefer his trio Mountains and Plains, and
someday hope to dig up deeper background.
Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra: Ashcan Rantings
(2009 , Clean Feed, 2CD): Bassist, b. 1968, has been recording
since the mid-1990s. Haven't heard his early albums on Cadence/CIMP,
but everything I have heard is brilliant. Most jazz musicians label
themselves "composer" followed or preceded by their instrument, and
Lane is no exception. I normally discount that because everyone says
as much, but he continually remind me of Mingus, both in his grasp of
how to push the tradition to the brink and especially in his knack
for running a band. He got a huge sound from his 7-piece Full Throttle
Orchestra back on New Magical Kingdom -- a Jazz CG Pick Hit --
and this one is bigger: aside from himself, a completely new lineup,
dropping the guitar and adding three more horns for a powerhouse nonet,
and a double serving of new arrangements. The horn work is dazzling,
especially the newfound trombones -- missing on the previous album --
and the bass pulses throughout.
Hugo Antunes: Roll Call (2009 , Clean Feed):
Guessing on the recording date, given only as "September 3" -- seems
inconceivably tight to be 2010, but if it was more than a year old
you'd think they'd think of noting the year. Portuguese bassist;
based in Brussels, Belgium. First album, as far as I can tell,
fronted by two tenor saxophonists -- Daniele Martini and Toine
Thys (who also plays soprano and bass clarinet), backed by two
drummers (João Lobo and Mark Patrman). Lots of deep rumble and
fleeting reeds, remarkable when it works, which is more often than
Decoy & Joe McPhee: Oto (2009 , Bo Weavil):
Decoy is an organ trio of sorts, with Alexander Hawkins on the B3,
John Edwards on bass, and Steve Noble on drums. The three players
otherwise show up more often in avant contexts -- I noticed Hawkins
recently playing piano in Convergence Quartet with Taylor Ho Bynum
and Harris Eisenstadt. McPhee has been an uncompromising free tenor
saxophonist for over forty years, so it's no surprise that he takes
every groove and grind the trio lays out for him and rips them to
BLOB: Earphonious Swamphony (2010, Innova):
Group, consisting of John Lindberg on bass, Ted Orr on guitar,
and Harvey Sorgen on drums. I'm least familiar with Orr, who
is also an audio engineer and plays Axon MIDI guitar as well
as electric. Don't have an acronym definition of BLOB, so they
may just be fond of caps -- certainly fits their penchant for
loud noise. Fifth album since 2006, with a couple more listed
as upcoming. This one bills Ralph Carney as a special guest,
and he adds a lot of resonance in the deep end, especially
when playing bass sax, bass trombone, and tuba -- clarinets
and flute are his other credits. Mostly noise, but they make
something out of it, and the lumbering rumble is fascinating
in its own right.
Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Llyria (2010, ECM): Swiss
pianist, plays jazztronica without the electronics, emphasizing
rhythm and shadings. Group includes Sha [Stefan Haslebacher]
on bass clarinet and alto sax, Björn Meyer on bass, Kaspar Rast
on drums, and Andi Pupato on percussion. Third ECM album, after
a half-dozen self-released albums where he worked out his format.
I like all of the albums, with Rea choice among the early
efforts and Stoa and Holon superb ECM albums, but
was slow getting into this one, the atmospherics clouding out
the rhythmic interest -- the exception is "Modul 4," which is
an oldie, way out of the current range (48-55). Still in play.
Jon Irabagon: Foxy (2010, Hot Cup): Tenor sax
slasher, has a couple albums on his own including one on Concord
that was his reward for winning a Monk prize. It was generally
dismissed as a milquetoasty sellout -- a complaint, by the way,
I don't share, but one that no one's going to make about this
one here. Sax-bass-drums trio, produced by MOPDTK leader Moppa
Elliott, who probably suggested playing off Sonny Rollins' old
sax trio record, Way Out West. Rollins' desert cover scene
has been faked on a sandy beach, the iconic figure of the sax
slinger moved to the back cover to make way for a bikini on the
front. Drummer Barry Altschul gets elevated to "with special
guest" and gets all the girls in a booklet photo, while bassist
Peter Brender gets a surfboard. Song titles: "Foxy," "Proxy,"
"Chicken Poxy," "Boxy," "Hydroxy," "Biloxi," "Tsetse," "Unorthodoxy,"
"Epoxy," "Roxy," "Foxy (Radio Edit)," and "Moxie" -- they could
all be one piece, and the end is so abrupt I checked for power
failure. One of the most intense, relentless sax records ever --
too fast to be free, too noisy to be bop, too ragged to for honk.
Despite the grade, I have reservations -- the same ones I have
not on Rollins' endlessly clever Way Out West but on his
torrential A Night at the Village Vanguard, which I've
only gradually warmed to while critics regard it as a pinnacle.
Altschul, by the way, is terrific throughout. Reminds me that he
is best known for his work with Anthony Braxton, whose take on
Charlie Parker is roughly comparable (though more masterful) to
William Parker Organ Quartet: Uncle Joe's Spirit House
(2010, Centering): With Darryl Foster on tenor sax, Cooper-Moore on
organ, Gerald Cleaver on drums, and Parker, of course, on bass. Not
an easy record to pigeonhole. Foster is the least avant of the many
players in Parker's orbit -- he fits into the Curtis Mayfield music
niche nicely, but rarely appears elsewhere, and takes a while getting
his footing here. Cooper-Moore on organ should be interesting, but
isn't -- he neither follows Jimmy Smith or any other known player nor
finds his own way, but part of that may be that with Parker on board
there's no need for the organ to double up on piano and bass duties.
The music is rather straightforward, built out from the bass line,
a steady pulse of life.
Nels Cline: Dirty Baby (2010, Cryptogramophone, 2CD):
Big package contains two art booklets, a total of 66 images of paintings
by Ed Ruscha. The two discs of music were commissioned by David Breskin
for some sort of "visionary recontextualization" of the paintings -- I'm
pretty unclear on just how that works. One set of paintings are abstract,
remind me of semaphores or morse code; the other look like blurry photos,
but I can't say I spent much time with them. First CD is the title
piece, "Dirty Baby," in six parts. Nine musicians are credited, but
it's mostly Cline's guitar, clear and coherent, one of the finest
extended pieces I've heard him do. The other CD, "Side B," is a mess,
broken into 33 short fragments, only two topping three minutes, four
more breaking two. Similar mob of musicians, with only Devin Hoff and
Scott Amendola joining on both discs. Soundtrack types, probably make
more sense in the intended context, especially the ones that give off
Ivo Perelman/Rosie Hertlein/Dominic Duval: Near to the Wild
Heart (2009 , Not Two): Tenor sax, violin, acoustic
bass, respectively. Perelman has been on a run lately, with the first
three of a batch of five new records rated A- hereabouts. Duval is
a hard-working free jazzer who shows up a lot in the Cadence/CIMP
orbit. Don't have any bio on Hertlein, but she has one album on CIMP
(Two Letters I'll Keep), side credits on previous albums by
Perelman, Duval, Trio X (Joe McPhee), Joe Giardullo, and Rozanne
Levine; some credits include vocals, and there are some uncredited
vocals here, most likely hers. Some of this music is very inventive,
but the violin keeps returning to a screech that grates on my ears,
the bass tends to wrap the music up like a clinging vine rather than
setting it free, reducing the saxophone to coloring in.
Ivo Perelman/Brian Willson: The Stream of Life
(2008 , Leo): The fifth of this year's batch of new albums
from the Brazilian tenor saxophonist, a duo with drummer Willson
(name spelled correctly this time), cut about the same time as
the trio Mind Games with bassist Dominic Duval. I'll have
to do a final sort on four of the five albums when I wrap up JCG,
but for now this is a bare notch below the other three. Without
the bass, this should open up a bit, and there are some superb
stretches when that happens, but a bass would take a bit of the
raw edge off the sax, which can grate here. Willson's drumming
doesn't explode, although he does help out.
Fond of Tigers: Continent & Western (2010,
Drip Audio): Vancouver group, guitarist-vocalist Stephen Lyons
is probably the main mover of the septet, with JP Carter (trumpet)
and Jesse Zubot (violin) names I recognize from elsewhere, plus
piano, bass, two drummers, a guest vocal from Sandro Perri and
a guest blast of noise from Mats Gustafsson. AMG files them under
rock, or avant-garde, or something experimental in between. I've
played this twice and know less than I thought I knew when I
started -- their previous (second) album caught my interest,
but this has a strange mix of overbearing soundtrack and light
pop, and while my grade is probably not where it'd be after 4-5
more plays, I don't see any reason to really figure this out.
Charles Lloyd Quartet: Mirror (2009 , ECM): Tenor
saxophonist, b. 1938, joined Chico Hamilton's band (replacing Eric
Dolphy as music director) in 1960, broke out on his own in 1965
and was remarkably successful, both popularly and critically, in
turn launching the careers of Keith Jarrett and Jack De Johnette.
Had the usual rough spot in the mid-'70s and '80s, landing at
ECM in 1989 and working steady ever since. Last year's record,
Rabo de Nube, placed very high in year-end jazz polls.
This is the same group -- Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers
on bass, Eric Harland on drums -- doing pretty much the same
thing; just fewer originals, but Monk and trad. make up for that.
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further
listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
- Rodrigo Amado: Searching for Adam (Not Two)
- Dave Brubeck: Legacy of a Legend (1955-70, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): advance, Nov. 16
- Bernal Eckroth Ennis: La Voz de Tres (Jota Sete)
- Tyler Blanton: Botanic (Ottimo): Oct. 26
- Luis Bonilla: Twilight (Planet Arts): Oct. 26
- Tom Culver: I Remember You: Tom Culver Sings Johnny Mercer (Rhombus)
- Maxfield Gast Trio: Side by Side (Militia Hill)
- Laura Harrison: Now . . . . Here (59 Steps)
- Benjamin Herman: Hypo Christmas Treefuzz [Special Edition] (Dox, 2CD)
- Chad McCullough/Michal Vanoucek: The Sky Cries (Origin)
- Rakalam Bob Moses/Greg Burk: Ecstatic Weanderings (Jazzwerkstatt)
- Suzanne Pittson: Out of the Hub: The Music of Freddie Hubbard (Vineland): Oct. 6
- Jerome Sabbagh/Ben Monder/Daniel Humair: I Will Follow You (Bee Jazz): advance, Dec. 7
- Will Swindler's Elevenet: Universe B (OA2)
- Dan Tepfer Trio: Five Pedals Deep (Sunnyside)
- Yeahwon (ArtistShare)
Sunday, October 17, 2010
A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting
Chris Floyd: "Dizzy With Success": The Accelerating Degeneration of
Life in America's Afghanistan: Sums up various recent reports from
Afghanistan, where claims of "success" are constantly confounded by
facts on the ground:
"Dizzy With Success." That was the phrase used by Stalin to describe
the "few excesses" that had taken place in the "historic drive to
collectivization," i.e., the Bolshevik war on the rural poor that
had led to massive famine and the deaths and uprooting of millions
of people. The campaign had left such a swathe of ruin that some of
those who saw its effects went mad, or turned dissident, or subsided
into horrified, soul-drained silence.
Paul Krugman: The Boehnerization of Barack Obama: Winds up quoting
We'll never know how differently the politics would have played if
Obama, instead of systematically echoing and giving credibility to
all the arguments of the people who want to destroy him, had actually
stood up for a different economic philosophy. But we do know how his
actual strategy has worked, and it hasn't been a success.
Andrew Leonard: Obama's EPA riles Bush's industry hacks:
For what it's worth, I drove through Mesa Verde National Park a few
years back and was struck, as so many others have been, by how fuzzy
cloudless sunshine can be. On Obama's EPA:
Industry is in an uproar. "The aggressiveness of the rules has taken
people by surprise," Jeff Holmstead, "former Bush EPA air chief and
now industry attorney" told E&E.
That would be funny if it didn't bring back such sharp memories of
how Bush's EPA appointees worked consistently to undermine everything
the EPA stood for. Holmstead and his successor as director of the
Office of Air and Radiation, William Wehrum, were lawyers who
represented industrial clients in their struggles against environmental
regulations before they joined the EPA. After years spent attempting
to gut the Clean Air Act, they went right back to their old jobs.
If (or when) the Republicans retake the House of Representatives,
they've already made it clear that one of their priorities will be to
roll back the EPA's efforts to carry out exactly what the agency is
mandated to do. As liberals sift through their various disappointments
as to what the Obama administration has failed to achieve in its first
two years, it might be worth noting that there are nonetheless some
very real and important differences between this White House and its
predecessor. An EPA that hasn't been handed over to industry, gift-wrapped,
is one of them.
Alex Pareene: Mitt Romney made everyone buy thousands of copies of
his book: A footnote on why conservative political books that
no one in their right mind would read keep topping the New York
Times bestseller list: bulk purchases.
In addition to having their own separate publishing houses and imprints
(generally with much laxer editorial standards than "real" nonfiction
publishers), conservatives have a well-oiled machine designed to get
their books on bestseller lists, through bulk sales to conservative
groups, "book clubs," and other organizations that purchase thousands
of books to give away to Newsmax readers or grow mold in Richard Mellon
Scaife's overflowing library. Nixon, supposedly, once ordered Chuck
Colson to get a book on the bestseller list, thus creating a beloved
tradition that lives on today.
Alex Pareene: White House wants "don't ask, don't tell" to remain law
while it seeks to overturn it: Another example of "change you can
believe in"? There are things presidents can't do, but one thing a
president can do is to decline to appeal a court ruling that found
in favor of the policy the president is committed to. Why Obama keeps
trying to drag out his wins is all the more perplexing given how few
If Obama actually thinks "don't ask, don't tell" is a bad policy that
should be overturned, he was just handed a gift -- a way to get rid of
the policy without issuing an executive order or attempting to corral
a lame duck congress. But he seems to worship the "correct" process so
much that he's willing to delay, or doom, the desired result.
Niall Stanage: A Republican who wants DADT repealed now adds the
following from former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson:
Enjoining the president -- apparently with limited success -- to
"let that ruling stand and move on," Johnson added: "Don't Ask,
Don't Tell" has always been wrong and it is still wrong."
Johnson insisted that there was no need to wait for Congress
to repeal DADT. "Stop the smoke screen," Johnson argued. "This
policy is just not fair and it does not work -- we need to get
rid of it now."
Andrew Sullivan: The View From My Window 2000-2010: Would appreciate
more mea culpas like this:
One reason for this is my greatest failure by far in these ten years --
and that was giving in to my legitimate but far-too-powerful emotions
after 9/11 and cheer-leading for a war in Iraq that remains one of the
most disgraceful, disastrous and murderous episodes in the history of
American foreign policy. I was wrong -- but more than wrong, I was
dismissive of those who turned out to be right. Some of those I mocked
I did so for the right reasons. But some I didn't listen to when I
should have. All I can say is that the great virtue of this blog is
that it gave me nowhere to hide. And if you read the archives, you can
see my mind and soul twisting slowly in the wind of reality, as illusion
after illusion fell from my eyes, until the knowledge that the president
I had trusted and the noble project I thought I had
supported . . . ended up in secret torture chambers and
mass sectarian murders and chaos and the empowerment of the very forces
we were trying to defeat. [ . . . ]
I have become an instinctually anti-war conservative, rather than
an instinctually pro-war one. I do not understand how anyone who has
lived and breathed this last decade could not reach a similar conclusion.
Which is why I have also been unstinting in my criticism of a key ally,
Israel, and its dogmatic American cheer-leaders, for failing to understand
this, and to gamble not only with Israel's own future with diplomatic
brinkmanship, collective punishment of Palestinians, and more pre-emptive
war -- but our own future as well.
Nick Turse: Making War By the Book: Various Pentagon reading
lists, including Petraeus's official COIN manual, David Kilcullen's
The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of
a Big One and Counterinsurgency,
John Nagl's Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife:
Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam, Lt. Col.
Anthony Shaffer's Operation Dark Heart, Thomas Henrikson's
Afghanistan Counterinsurgency and the Indirect Approach,
Joseph Celeski's Hunter-Killer Teams: Attacking Enemy Safe
Havens and, especially, Sebastian Junger's War:
That said, there is much to be learned from Junger's in-print version
of Americans-at-war. His blow-by-blow accounts of small unit combat
actions, for instance, drive home the tremendous firepower American
troops unleash on enemies often armed with little more than rifles and
rocket-propelled grenades. Page after page tallies up American technology
and firepower: M-4 assault rifles (some with M-203 grenade launchers),
Squad Automatic Weapons or SAWs, .50 caliber machine guns, M-240 machine
guns, Mark-19 automatic grenade launchers, mortars, 155 mm artillery,
surveillance drones, Apache attack helicopters, AC-130 Spectre gunships,
A-10 Warthogs, F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers, B-52 and B-1 bombers, all
often brought to bear against boys who may be wielding nothing more than
Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles -- a state of the art weapon when
introduced. That, however, was in the 1890s.
The profligacy of relying on such overwhelming firepower is not lost
on Junger who offers a useful insight in regard to another high-tech,
high-priced piece of U.S. weaponry, "a huge shoulder-fired rocket called
a Javelin." Junger writes: "Each Javelin round costs $80,000, and the
idea that it's fired by a guy who doesn't make that in a year at a guy
who doesn't make that in a lifetime is somehow so outrageous it almost
makes the war seem winnable."
But "almost," as the old adage goes, only counts when it comes to
horseshoes and hand grenades. And bombs dropped by B-1s, like one
unleashed at night near the village of Yaka Chine, are certainly not
hand grenades. Junger chronicles the aftermath of that strike when
U.S. troops encountered "three children with blackened
faces . . . a woman lying stunned mute on the floor
[while f]ive corpses lie on wooden pallets covered by white cloth
outside the house, all casualties from the airstrikes the night
before." He continues, "The civilian casualties are a serious matter
and will require diplomacy and compensation."
Instead, an American lieutenant colonel choppers in to lecture
village elders about the evils of "miscreants" in their midst and
brags about his officers' educational prowess and how it can benefit
the Afghans. "They stare back unmoved," writes Junger. "The Americans
fly out of Yaka Chine, and valley elders meet among themselves to
decide what to do. Five people are dead in Yaka Chine, along with
ten wounded, and the elders declare jihad against every American in
the valley." Vignettes like this drive home the reasons why, after
nearly a decade of overwhelming firepower, the U.S. war in Afghanistan
has yet to prove "winnable," despite the ministrations of Kilcullen
Later in the book we read about how Junger survives an improvised
explosive device that detonates beneath his vehicle. He's saved only
by a jumpy trigger-man who touches two wires to a battery a bit too
early to kill Junger and the other occupants of the Army Humvee he's
riding in. In response, Junger writes: "[T]his man wanted to negate
everything I'd ever done in my life or might ever do. It felt malicious
and personal in a way that combat didn't. Combat gives you the chance
to react well and survive; bombs don't allow for anything."
Junger, at least, traveled across the world to consciously and
deliberately put himself in harm's way. Imagine how the poor people
of Yaka Chine must have felt when a $300 million American aircraft
swooped in to drop a bomb on them in the dead of night. Junger's
book helps reveal these facts far better than his movie.
Sean Wilentz: Confounding Fathers: What he means by the subhead
"The Tea Party's Cold War roots" is that Glenn Beck's hysterical view
of American history recycles the views of the John Birch Society and
especially those of W. Cleon Skousen. Wilentz then goes on to sketch
a broad history of the post-WWII US right as a struggle between more
pragmatic/powerseeking conservatives like William F. Buckley and the
paranoid loonies, with the latter suppressed during the ascendancy
of Goldwater and Reagan and resurfacing in full force in the wake of
the Bush debacle. It certainly is true that no matter how ridiculous
it is to accuse Obama of being a socialist, those charges are no more
disjointed than the argument that Eisenhower was a Communist tool.
So there's something here, but it isn't fleshed out very well. The
John Birch Society wasn't the vanguard of the anticommunist movement,
even if it styled itself as such. The real Cold War was the work of
establishment insiders, mostly liberal internationalists like Dean
Acheson and Nelson Rockefeller (who at one point or another had lots
of key figures, like Dean Rusk and Henry Kissinger, on his payroll).
It's one of those brainfucks of history that JBS paranoids let their
visceral fears and dread of the liberal establishment be wrapped up
in fanciful clouds of Communist conspiracy, but they were trying to
make the most of the prevailing ideological wind. The Tea Party may
indeed be analogous to the JBS movement, but its ties to the Cold
War are tenuous at best. Rather, it is another effort by people who
feel themselves both entitled to power and losing it to forces they
scarcely understand to wrap themselves up in the self-righteousness
of establishment ideology -- in this case the conservative verities
that have been drummed home ever since Reagan declared government
to be the problem (even though he and the Bushes were quite
happy, once in power, to inflate it for patronage and cronyism).
Wilentz has some interesting historical tidbits -- I didn't know
(or perhaps just forgot) that Dizzy Gillespie organized John Birks
Society cells to support his 1964 presidential campaign lark (given
name: John Birks Gillespie); or that the LBJ response to Goldwater's
"in your heart you know he's right" slogan was "in your guts you know
he's nuts" (try to imagine Obama saying something like that). Useful
on Skousen, who would be justly forgotten except for how much Beck
cribbed from him:
Skousen was undeterred. In 1981, he produced The 5,000 Year Leap,
a treatise that assembles selective quotations and groundless assertions
to claim that the U.S. Constitution is rooted not in the Enlightenment
but in the Bible, and that the framers believed in minimal central
government. Either proposition would have astounded James Madison,
often described as the guiding spirit behind the Constitution, who
rejected state-established religions and, like Alexander Hamilton,
proposed a central government so strong that it could veto state laws.
The 5,000 Year Leap is not a fervid book. Instead, it is calmly,
ingratiatingly misleading. Skousen quotes various eighteenth-century
patriots on the evils of what Samuel Adams, in 1768, called "the Utopian
schemes of leveling," which Skousen equates with redistribution of
wealth. [ . . . ]
In 1982, Skousen published a follow-up work, an ancestor-worshipping
history text titled The Making of America, and prepared a study
guide for nationwide seminars based on its contents. As Alexander Zaitchik
reports in his informative study of Beck, Common Nonsense, the
new book became an object of controversy in 1987, after the California
Bicentennial Commission sold it as part of a fund-raising drive. Among
its offenses was an account of slavery drawn from long-disgraced work
by the historian Fred A. Shannon, which characterized slave children as
"pickaninnies" and suggested that the worst victims of slavery were the
slaveholders themselves. [ . . . ]
By the time Skousen died, in 2006, he was little remembered outside
the ranks of the furthest-right Mormons. Then, in 2009, Glenn Beck
began touting his work: The Naked Communist, The Naked
Capitalist, and, especially, The 5,000 Year Leap, which he
called "essential to understanding why our Founders built this Republic
the way they did." After Beck put the book in the first spot on his
required-reading list -- and wrote an enthusiastic new introduction
for its reissue -- it shot to the top of the Amazon best-seller list.
In the first half of 2009, it sold more than two hundred and fifty
thousand copies. Local branches of the Tea Party Patriots, the United
American Tea Party, and other groups across the country have since
organized study groups around it. "It is time we learn and follow the
FREEDOM principles of our Founding Fathers," a United
American Tea Party video declares, referring to the principles
expounded by Skousen's book. If Beck is the movement's teacher,
The 5,000 Year Leap has become its primer, with The Making
of America as a kind of 102-level text.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Time for another book report. Usual rules: forty listed up top,
plus some paperback reissues, plus a new section that flags some
future releases. Probably would have done future paperback reissues
too if I had been paying more attention earlier. Still holding back
some 65 more books, enough for a second post tout de suite, but
I've done enough cherrypicking this time the rest can wait. Of the
new books, I have Bryson and Hedges on the shelf, and have recent
vintage book pages on Junger and Woodward (based on reviews, not on
Tariq Ali: The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War
Abroad (paperback, 2010, Verso): Cover image shows
Obama's face breaking up with Bush's pushing through, an
effect you'll recall from The Clash of Fundamentalisms,
where the cover blended Bush and Bin Laden. Short (160 pp),
probably predictable from a leftist who doesn't see much in
liberalism, but also no doubt smart and to the point.
Kwame Anthony Appiah: The Honor code: How Moral Revolutions
Happen (2010, WW Norton): Princeton philosophy professor,
originally from Ghana, sketches out four cases where widely held
moral views shifted over time, tied to changing codes of honor:
dueling, Chinese foot binding, Atlantic slave trade, and honor
killing in contemporary Pakistan. Previously wrote Cosmopolitanism:
Ethics in a World of Strangers (paperback, 2007, WW Norton).
Dick Armey/Matt Kibbe: Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party
Manifesto (2010, William Morrow): The FreedomWorks
astroturfers come out of the shadows to stake their claim on
the tea party movement. They certainly feel entitled, although
there are other pretenders to the throne, like Joseph Farah:
The Tea Party Manifesto, and Charley Gullett: Official
Tea Party Handbook: A Tactical Playbook for Tea Party Patriots.
Michael A Bellesiles: 1877: America's Year of Living
Violently (2010, New Press): Not the only one, but
featuring enough lynchings, homicides, attacks on Indians
and striking workers to fill up 400 pages. The nation was
mired in a depression, with Reconstruction ending in a deal
that gave the presidency to a Republican (Hayes) who got far
fewer votes than his Democratic opponent (Tilden). Author
previously wrote Arming America: The Origins of a National
Gun Culture (2000; paperback, 2001, Vintage), a book
still hated by gun nuts for puncturing cherished myths about
Arthur C Brooks: The Battle: How the Fight Between Free
Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future
(2010, Basic Books): He means the romanticized idea of free
enterprise and the draconian idea of big government, not real
business and government which actually more often than not
are in cahoots. Foreword by Newt Gingrich, which makes this
more of a campaign manifesto.
Bill Bryson: At Home: A Short History of Private Life
(2010, Doubleday): Back in England, living in a big old house which
he tours room by room, tackling a world's worth of history and lore
along the way. At 512 pp., I reckon short histories are relative.
Ian Buruma: Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on
Three Continents (2010, Princeton University Press): Short
(142 pp) treatise on the use and misuse of religion in politics.
Buruma's previous book was Murder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe,
Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance, as well as several books
on China and Japan, Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany
& Japan, and Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of
Its Enemies (with Avighai Margalit).
Charles Cockell: Impossible Extinction: Natural Catastrophes
and the Supremacy of the Microbial World (2003, Cambridge
University Press): Short, expensive, no doubt interesting book on
how despite the worst the cosmos, let alone man, can throw at earth
bacteria just keep on keeping on.
Jefferson Cowie: Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the
Last Days of the Working Class (2010, New Press):
Labor history, with a soundtrack, cultural touchstones like
Archie Bunker, probing the question of why the working class
gave up their union legacy for goons like Nixon and Reagan.
The 1970s are increasingly being viewed as the decade when
America lost its way.
Lisa E Davenport: Jazz Diplomacy: Promoting America in the
Cold War Era (2009, University Press of Mississippi): Short
book (208 pp) on an interesting story. Looks like Dave Brubeck on
the cover. Jazz, of course, became very popular around the world,
and jazz musicians became much more popular in Europe than they
were in the US -- which still didn't do much for the reputation of
the US government.
Eric Foner: The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American
Slavery (2010, WW Norton): The preeminent historian of the
post-Civil War Reconstruction period backs up a bit to look at
Daniel Gordis: Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can
Win a War That May Never End (2009, Wiley): Propaganda,
"a full-throated call to arms" -- blurb reviewers include Michael
Oren, Cynthia Ozick, Natan Sharansky, and Alan Dershowitz -- but
even on its own terms, I fail to see any valor in a war that can
never end. Indeed, as even the US showed in WWII, the longer we
fight the more debased we become. I sometimes wonder if reading
such a book might offer some insight I lack, but what else is
there other than the founding existential dread of Zionism?
Paul Greenberg: Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild
Food (2010, Penuin): Salmon, tuna, bass, cod. The world's
major fisheries are overexploited, and aquaculture is, well, more
than a bit messy. Amazon has an interview with Greenberg on the
genetically-modified salmon controversy which shows a lot of
insight into salmon farming.
Chris Hedges: The Death of the Liberal Class (2010,
Nation Books): Most likely another fevered political screed on the
deterioration of public morals in American life, continuing a theme
from his Empire of Illusion and, for that matter, Losing
Moses on the Freeway. The "liberal class" is a vague but juicy
target: he identifies five "pillars" -- the press, liberal religious
institutions, labor unions, universities, and the Democratic Party.
Each has lost authority, especially since the 1960s, and with that
their moral high ground, leaving a void that is being filled by all
sorts of dangerous nonsense -- the relevant Hedges book there is
undoubtedly American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War
Michael Hirsh: Capital Offense: How Washington's Wise
Men Turned America's Future Over to Wall Street (2010,
Wiley): Covers a couple decades of politically-connected economic
thinking, basically the notion that all will be well if only you
keep the financial markets happy. That's a mantra that's been
followed lavishly and slavishly by presidents of both parties
as we've lurched from one burst bubble to another. Newsweek
writer, previously wrote At War With Ourselves: Why America
Is Squandering Its Chance to Build a Better World (2003;
paperback, 2004, Oxford University Press).
Roger D Hodge: The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and
the Betrayal of American Liberalism (2010, Harper):
Found this while searching out right-wing lunatic attacks on
Obama, and if you replaced "liberalism" with pretty much
anything else this would look like one, but the blurb quotes
include Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Barbara Ehrenreich
("should help wake up all those Obama-voters who've been
napping while the wars escalate, the recession deepens, and
the environment goes straight to hell").
Andrew L Johns: Vietnam Second Front: Domestic Politics,
the Republican Party, and the War (2010, University Press
of Kentucky): Nixon promised to solve the Vietnam War then kept
it going so long the Republicans became the permanent war party.
Covers 1961-73, so a big chunk of that time Republicans were in
opposition, threatening to burn Johnson if he let down his guard.
Wonder how this accords with now, when the Republicans are dead
set obstructionists on everything Obama does except Afghanistan,
where they have to be careful to keep him on the hook. Looks
like Gerald Ford and Melvin Laird on the cover.
Sebastian Junger: War (2010, Twelve): Fighting
the "good fight" in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, glorying in
the cult of "rough men"; he frets over nearly getting blown up
by an IED, while casually documenting the decimation of rural
villages. Previously wrote the equally exclamatory Fire,
and was responsible for the now-notorious cliché, The Perfect
Rhoda Ann Kanaaneh: Surrounded: Palestinian Soldiers in
the Israeli Military (2008, Stanford University Press):
This looks at the small number (about 3,000) of Palestinian
citizens of Israel who volunteer to serve in Israel's military.
Efraim Karsh: Palestine Betrayed (2010, Yale
University Press): Israeli historian, usually one that can be
depended on to sculpt history to fit Israel's nationalist
narrative. Not sure how this plays out, but a long litany of
how Palestinian leaders disserved their people by opposing
the creation of the Jewish State. Past books include: Islamic
Imperialism: A History, Arafat's War: The Man and His
Battle for Israeli Conquest, Saddam Hussein: A Political
Biography, and his hatchet job on Israel's "new historians,"
Fabricating Israeli History.
David Kilcullen: Counterinsurgency (paperback,
2010, Oxford University Press): Australian COIN consultant, wrote
The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of
a Big One, which could be read as reason not to, but for the
author business is booming -- no surprise for someone who can
write "Measuring Progress in Afghanistan" with a straight face,
or update Lawrence of Arabia's 27 articles to a full 28.
Arthur B Laffer/Stephen Moore: Return to Prosperity:
How America Can Regain Its Economic Superpower Status
(2009, Threshold): A quick about face after warning of certain
doom in his recession-timed The End of Prosperity: How Higher
Taxes Will Doom the Economy -- If We Let It Happen. Laffer
has one of those names like legendary toilet inventor Thomas
Crapper. Laffer was responsible for the back-of-the-envelope
calculations that led to the Reagan tax cut, justifying it on
grounds that turned out to be flat out wrong. As far as I can
tell, he's never been right since. So laff it off, or cry.
Jill Lepore: The Whites of Their Tyes: The Tea Party's
Revolution and the Battle Over American History (2010,
Princeton Unversity Press): A well-regarded historian of late
colonial/revolutionary America (The Name of War: King Philip's
War and the Origins of American Identity, New York Burning:
Liberty, Slavery, an Conspiracy in Eighteen-Century Manhattan)
takes a look at the historical assertions of Tea Party ideologues --
claims that the Founding Fathers hated centralized government,
weren't serious about church-state separation, etc.
Ussama Makdisi: Faith Misplaced: The Broken Promise of
U.S.-Arab Relations: 1820-2008 (2010, Public Affairs):
One of several recent long histories of the US in the Middle
East, probably more solid on the early period which the author
covered in more detail in Artillery of Heaven: American
Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East
(2008; paperback, 2009, Cornell University Press).
Istvan Meszaros: The Structural Crisis of Capital
(paperback, 2010, Monthly Review Press): A Marxist take on the
current state of the economy, by a Yugoslav philosopher still
optimistic over the prospects for socialism.
Dana Milbank: Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea
Bagging of America (2010, Doubleday): A portrait of the
broadcaster/book entrepreneur as "a sad, troubled, and dangerous
extremist crackpot who is validating and feeding paranoid delusions
of millions of Americans" (as an Amazon reviewer puts it). Looks
to be more melodramatic than Alexander Zaitchik's competing book:
Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance.
Michael Jason Overstreet: 71 Days: The Media Assault on
Obama (paperback, 2009, BookSurge): Amazon reviews are
evenly split between 5 and 1 stars, the latter coming from cons
who take it as an article of faith that the media foisted Obama
on an unsuspecting nation -- Bernard Goldberg pitched this line
in his A Slobbering Love Affair: The True (and Pathetic) Story
of the Torrid Romance Between Barack Obama and the Mainstream
Media. This is a day-by-day journal watching the media spin
their stories on Obama from the opening of the Democratic Party
convention to election day. I suspect that what this shows is
media bias less for either candidate than for the stupid and
the trivial, which come to think of it is bias against Obama.
Jeff Potter: Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks,
and Good Food (paperback, 2010, O'Reilly): Computer book
publisher, also responsible for things like Make magazine
(or journal?). Lots of sidebars, a few recipes, basic science and
some interesting details, a lot of practical advice. Looks like
my kind of book.
John Quiggin: Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still
Walk Among Us (2010, Princeton University Press):
Australian economist, has an occasional blog I sometimes look
at and much admire. The endless recirculation of economic ideas
that not only don't work but are flat-out evil is, well, that's
why they call it political economy. No doubt covers much
of the same territory as recent important books by John Cassidy:
How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities and
Yves Smith: Econned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined
Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism, but should go for the
kill instead of just pointing out economic absurdities.
Robert Reich: Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's
Future (2010, Knopf): Trendy liberal. I figure this is
a necessary course correction after calling his last book was
Supercapitalism. That is, it's not looking so super now.
Heather Rogers: Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy Is
Undermining the Environmental Revolution (2010, Scribners):
I think the point here is that "green businesses" are more business
than green, leading to a lot of activity that has little net (or
even good) effect on the environment. Sections on food, shelter,
transportation. Rogers previously wrote Gone Tomorrow: The
Hidden Life of Garbage, about how garbage never really goes
Paul Ryan/Eric Cantor/Kevin McCarthy: Young Guns: A New
Generation of Conservative Leaders (paperback, 2010,
Threshold Editions): Some title to apply to your own book, but
I suppose it polled better among their target audience than
Swinging Dicks. McCarthy ("the strategist") doesn't look
so young with all that gray hair; but then Ryan ("the thinker")
can't read, much less construct, a roadmap, and Cantor ("the
leader") has a brighter future in slapstick comedy.
Anthony Shaffer: Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special
Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan and the Path to Victory
(2010, Thomas Dunne): Lt. Col., claims he was on the verge of
destroying the Taliban in their safe havens in Pakistan until
the military bureaucracy got wind of what he was up to and fucked
it all up. How he managed to do all that in a five month tour
isn't clear, but he called his group the Jedi Knights and has
been called "the real Jack Bauer." The book evidently dates from
2003, so none of this is recent history. That it's only coming
out now is due to the Pentagon insisting on censoring the book,
buying up the original printing and forcing various changes.
As I understand it, you can find the redacted bits somewhere
Jeff Sharlet: C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to
American Democracy (2010, Little Brown): Follows up on
his earlier The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the
Heart of American Power (2008, Harper). C Street House is
a conclave in DC ("where piety, politics, and corruption meet")
that was recently home for KS Senator-designate Jerry Moran, among
others. I make it a point not to begrudge other folks' religion,
but I do find this stuff seriously creepy. Before Sharlet honed
in on DC, he co-wrote (with Peter Manseau) a road book seeking
out the weirdos of American religion: Killing the Buddha: A
Heretic's Bible (2003; paperback, 2004, Free Press), which
Sharlet and Manseau have returned to in their anthology:
Believer Beware: First-Person Dispatches From the Margins
of Faith (paperback, 2009, Beacon Press).
Rob Sheffield: Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young
Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut (2010, Dutton):
One of the more successful, probably because he's one of the better,
rock critics of his generation, which unfortunately was the one that
grew up in the 1980s, about the only excuse anyone has yet come up
with for taking Duran Duran seriously. Turned out a previous book,
Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time. Were
I still in my twenties, I'd be reading him like I read Paul Williams
and Ed Ward back when I actually was. Hard to find time now.
Paul Street: The Empire's New Clothes: Barack Obama and
the Real World of Power (paperback, 2010, Paradigm):
Formerly with Urban League in Chicago, previously wrote Barack
Obama and the Future of American Politics, now has a chance
to see what Obama as president is really like -- far short of
any sort of progressive agenda he might have imagined.
Richard Toye: Churchill's Empire: The World That Made Him
and the World He Made (2010, Henry Holt): Churchill lived
from 1874-1965, roughly from the pinnacle of the British Empire
through its final demise, and he did more than hardly anyone else
both to foolishly perpetuate the empire and to manifest the need
to dismantle it. He tends to be idolized, especially in America
where conceits about empire are still if not quite cherished at
least discretely ignored, so anything that helps tie empire and
Churchill together is welcome. Other recent Churchilliana: Max
Hastings: Winston's War: Churchill 1940-1945 (2010, Knopf);
Richard Holmes: Churchill's Bunker: The Cabinet War Rooms and
the Culture of Secrecry in Wartime London (2010, Yale University
Press); Barbara Learning: Churchill Defiant: Fighting On:
1945-1955 (2010, Harper); Madhusree Mukerjee: Churchill's
Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During
World War II (2010, Basic Books); and, and couple years back,
Carlo D'Este: Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War,
1874-1945 (2008, Harper).
Francis Wheen: Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden
Days of Paranoia (2010, Public Affairs): On the cover:
Nixon, Brezhnev, Idi Amin, maybe Mao (much smaller); lots of
fringe politics, some terror, distrations like UFOs, movies like
Jaws, lots of stuff to make no sense of.
Sean Wilentz: Bob Dylan in America (2010,
Doubleday): Eminent historian, wrote the monumental The Rise
of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln and the somewhat
lesser The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2008. Not sure
if this is a lark or a flight of fancy since it doesn't make
sense to me as a prism, but at 400 pp. he may give it a fling.
Probably better than Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings
1968-2010 (2010, Public Affairs), due out Oct. 19.
Bob Woodward: Obama's Wars (2010, Simon &
Schuster): Another insider-ish, who's fighting with whom, tome
in Woodward's neverending series -- his four volumes on Bush
are Bush at War, Plan of Attack: The Definitive Account
of the Decision to Invade Iraq, State of Denial: Bush at
War, Part III, and The War Within: A Secret White House
History 2006-2008. I occasionally wonder whether I should
take the time to dig through these books for their occasional
revelations -- the best documentation I've seen of Bush's initial
post-9/11 belligerence comes from Bush at War -- but
Woodward's fawning court reporter style is a turn-off. The big
revelation here appears to be the CIA's assassination squad
operating in Pakistan's tribal areas.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available),
new in paperback:
Max Blumenthal: Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement
That Shattered the Party (2009; paperback, 2010, Nation
Books): Focuses on right-wing religious leaders and their sugar
daddy patrons, while scarcely letting a sex scandal get away.
There is far more wrong with the GOP than the slime covered here,
but the book gives you a good whiff.
Juan Cole: Engaging the Muslim World (2009;
paperback, 2010, Palgrave Macmillan): A brief tour through the
Middle East, by the foremost blogger on Iraq and Iran. Revised
and updated from the hardcover version I read last year.
Chris Hedges: Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and
the Triumph of Spectacle (2009; paperback, 2010, Nation
Books): Hard-hitting screed on the moral decline of America.
Bethany Moreton: To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of
Christian Free Enterprise (2009; paperback, 2010, Harvard
University Press): Not the first writer to recognize religion as
the opiate of the masses, but a detailed case study showing that
there's more to Wal-Mart than smart inventory management, shopping
for cheap goods in China, and busting unions.
Jane Leavy: The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of
America's Childhood (2010, Harper): I don't know about
America's childhood -- always figured that was shot to shit by
Andrew Jackson, if not earlier -- but my childhood overlapped
Mantle's stardom. Moreover, on my cousin's advice I was a Yankee
fan, so I lapped up Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, even thought
Bobby Richardson was as fine a second baseman as Nellie Fox or
Bill Mazeroski or Red Schoendienst -- stats now show that notion
to have been ridiculous, although Richardson had more rings than
the others combined. The press coddled ballplayers back then, so
how was I to know otherwise? Still, to what extent can you spin
a book around such myths? People who read this today will look
not for more innocent times but for dirt. Bet they find it, too.
Future new releases:
- Nir Rosen: Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of
America's Wars in the Muslim World (2010, Nation Books):
- Harold McGee: Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to the Best
of Foods and Recipes (2010, Penguin): October 28.
- Noam Chomsky/Ilan Pappé: Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on
Israel's War Against the Palestinians (paperback, 2010,
Haymarket Books): November 1.
- Chris Harman: Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the
Relevance of Marx (paperback, 2010, Haymarket Books):
- Bill Bryson, ed: Seeing Further: The Story of Science,
Discovery, and the Genius of the Royal Society (2010,
William Morrow): November 2.
- Matt Taibbi: Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids,
and the Long Con That Is Breaking America (2010, Spiegel
& Grau): November 2.
- Tony Judt: The Memory Chalet (2010, Penguin):
- Shlomo Sand/Ernest Renan: On the Nation and the 'Jewish
People' (paperback, 2010, Verso): Introduction by Sand;
two lectures from Renan (1823-1892). November 22.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Pompeo and Goyle
The other night I saw back-to-back ads for the two party candidates
for the 4th Congressional District here in Kansas. The seat has been
held by Republican Todd Tiahrt since 1995. Before that it was held for
comparably long stretches by Democrat Dan Glickman and before him by
Republican Garner Shriver. It is a district that could swing either way,
but tends to stick once it's swung. First up was the Republican Mike
Pompeo. His ad consisted of a spreadsheet where on the left column
he said something trivial about himself, then on the right column he
said something flat-out ridiculous about his Democratic Party opponent,
Raj Goyle. For instance: "conservative" vs. "ACLU liberal," "US army"
(he is a veteran) vs. "Obama's army," "M-1 tank" vs. "liberal think
tanks." In other words, he's a lying simpleton, which seems about par
for his party.
Then came Goyle's ad, where his big pitch was that as a State Senator
he had voted with the Republican Party 80% of the time, because "good
ideas have no party." Goyle is a smart guy, has a bunch of smart guys
working for him, has access to serious money, and is one of the few
Democrats with a legitimate chance of capturing a Republican seat this
year, so presumably he knows what he's doing. He may be right that in
this year in this state he needs to clutch as tight to the right as
possible while remaining the lesser evil, and he may be right that in
this year in this state the very fact that he's running as a Democrat
is all the plus his base needs. He's certainly carved out a position
where he's much closer to the center of public opinion on virtually
every issue he cares to acknowledge -- which, by the way, does not
include the crippling waste of war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
On the other hand, why should we care if he's the lesser evil if
he doesn't even hint that Republicans represent real evil in this
election? With Republicans operating in lockstep, if they seize the
House this election they'll not only obstruct anything progressive
Obama attempts; they'll shut the government down, do whatever they
can to shred the economy. The only brake on their activism is the
likelihood that their disruption will backfire -- that they'll make
rather than break Obama's reelection. Still, that's a lesson they
usually have to learn the hard way, especially given that the same
basic tactics have brought them back from defeat in 2006-08 to the
I've never felt so indifferent about an election -- not even
Gush-Bore when I voted for Nader but secretly hoped Gore would
win, because at least there I could discern a difference (even
if Gore didn't have the guts to stand up for it). The difference
here is not only much less but much less significant. Pompeo is
basically a bought-and-paid-for Koch lackey, getting much of his
money straight out of Koch's front group. He will follow the GOP
line straight over the cliff, while grabbing as much graft as
he can lay his grubby hands on. But if we don't beat him now,
we'll get another chance in two, four, six years, however many
it takes. On the other hand, if Goyle gets elected, he will not
only be the worst Democrat in the House, a dependable vote for
the Republicans "80% of the time"; he'll be the face of the
Democratic Party in Wichita two, four, six years from now, until
he gets bored and runs for higher office or cashes in his chips
and snags a cushy job working for one of his benefactors -- and
as long as that takes, there will be no progress in getting
Kansas Democrats to run on platforms that their constituents
need and deserve, and to point out the truth about the future
horror the Republican Party is campaigning for.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Diamond in the Rough
Peter Diamond is one of the winners of the Nobel Prize for Economics
this year. He was also one of Obama's appointees to the Federal Reserve
Board of Governors that's being held up by Republican obstructions in
the Senate. The Federal Reserve, you may recall, has a legal mandate to
promote full employment. Diamond is one of the world's foremost scholars
in researching why unemployment remains a persistent problem, lagging
as it does well into so-called recoveries, so you might think that he'd
be a useful person to have working on the problem -- actually, under
current circumstances, what may be the biggest, most immediate problem
we face right now. But a lot of people in business don't see any real
problem with persistent longterm unemployment, and not just because
bankers dread inflation. Unemployed workers drag the whole labor market
down, which tilts the balance of power to capitalists, and capitalists
have found, at least since the 1970s, that there is more profit to be
made at the expense of labor than through growth that they would have
had to share with labor. (You may also recall how helpful economists
were back in the 1970s with their NAIRU theories: Non-Accelerating
Inflation Rate of Unemployment, the idea that the only way to limit
inflation -- which is to say, to protect the value of money -- is to
throw people out of work.) I don't know that Diamond would go as far
as I'm suggesting -- Paul Krugman, for instance, still seems to think
that NAIRU is solid economics and not just class war -- but he clearly
makes Republicans like Sen. Richard Shelby nervous.
Some relevant links:
Jonathan Cohn: Peter Diamond, Still Blocked from Fed, Wins Nobel:
Among other things, notes that Diamond was "a staunch defender of social
insurance," and with Peter Orszag wrote up a proposal to "maintain the
program's solvency without privatization."
Tyler Cowen: Peter A. Diamond: Good reference compilation on
Tim Fernholz: The Nobel Prize Has a Well-Known Liberal Bias: I can
think of plenty of exceptions to that title, starting with Milton Friedman,
Maybe Republicans are simply prone to the same kind of weird mental block
that makes famous economists and anyone on the Fed forget that the
institution has a purpose other than maintaining price stability (full
employment, ahem), but if you needed any more indication at how broken
the Senate is, I'm not sure you can find a better one than this: The
United States, purportedly the world's most advanced economy, cannot
put a Nobel-prize winning economist on the board of its central bank
because of obstruction from a minority of one House of Congress.
Ezra Klein: Peter Diamond wins the Nobel Prize, continues being blocked
by the Senate: something suspicious about behavioral economics.
Paul Krugman: What We Learn From Search Models: wonkish notes
on search theory.
Paul Krugman: Peter Diamond, Macro Maven: pre-Nobel prize:
This is disgusting: Senate Republicans holding up Peter Diamond's
nomination to the Federal Reserve Board on the grounds that he may
not be qualified to make monetary policy. Aside from the fact that
the same Senators cheerfully confirmed Bush nominees who didn't
know much about economics of any kind, this is especially stupid
right now. [ . . . ]
Diamond is exactly the man we need -- which, given the way things
have been going lately, probably means he won't get confirmed.
Andrew Leonard: A Nobel prize-sized challenge to Senate Republicans
Steven D Levitt: Congratuations to Peter Diamond on Winning the
Nobel Prize in Economics: More of a memoir:
The single most memorable moments with Peter Diamond always occurred
in seminars. Diamond often would fall asleep in seminars, often for
large chunks of time. What was amazing, however, is that he would open
his eyes and then make by far the most insightful comment of the entire
seminar! He also did something in seminars that almost no other economist
does: he both posed tough questions that would undermine the entire
thesis of the speaker, and he would provide the speaker the answer to
the very question. Academic economists are far more adept at poking
holes in other people's arguments than in constructing solutions, at
least on the fly. But somehow Diamond was able to work out in his head
complex models that would take others days or weeks and reams of paper
Ian Millhiser: Fed Nominee Whom Sen. Shelby Deemed Too Unqualified to
Confirm Wins Nobel Prize: more on Shelby than on Diamond.
Chris Weigant: Nobel Prize Obstructionism:
Over the past two years, Democrats have not made Republican obstructionism
the political issue it should rightly be by now. They should have been
screaming loudly about the abuse of the cloture (or "filibuster") by the
current Senate -- abuse which is simply unprecedented in our history. Few
know this, because Democrats have essentially given Republicans a free
pass on the issue. The media has even begun to regularly say things like
"you need 60 votes in the Senate to pass a law" which is not only false,
but also reinforces the notion that what Republicans have been doing for
the past two years is somehow normal, instead of unprecedented in all of
Matthew Yglesias: Peter Diamond Wins the Nobel Prize: Doesn't have
much to say, but commenter FGS has it right:
Richard Shelby neither knows nor cares a whiff about the actual
qualifications of Diamond or any other appointee. He's stalling for
the sake of stalling because he wants the country to be ungovernable.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Music: Current count 17205  rated (+23), 868  unrated (+6).
Got back from Upper Peninsula trip on Thursday (I think). Mostly felt like
playing Rhapsody when I got back, which helped bump up the rated count.
Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:
- Plastic Ono Band: Live Peace in Toronto 1969
(1969, Capitol): John Lennon's spinoff while Paul steered the
Beatles to their Let It Be swansong, a live memento of
the times. First side is remembered fondly for its rough and
tumble oldies warmup ("Blue Suede Shoes," "Money," "Dizzy Miss
Lizzy") and the new anthem, "Give Peace a Chance." Second side
is universally abhored for Yoko Ono's caterwaul.
Jazz Prospecting (CG #25, Part 4)
I didn't expect to post any Jazz Prospecting this week, but had
some stuff left over from pre-trip and got back from Michigan a bit
early, so I figure there's enough critical mass here.
Pablo Menéndez & Mezcla: I'll See You in Cuba
(2009 , Zoho): Guitarist, b. 1966 in Oakland, CA, moved to
Cuba at age 14 and has lived there ever since -- his mother was
folksinger Barbara Dane, who recorded albums like I Hate the
Capitalist System. Second album with Menéndez's name up front,
although his band has another half dozen going back to the 1980s.
Eclectic mix of Cuban styles, a little unsettled but proficient.
Florian Ross: Mechanism (2009 , Pirouet):
Pianist, b. 1972, based in Köln, Germany; looks like he has eight
albums since 1998. This one is a solo, fifteen originals out of
seventeen pieces, the two covers things I've probably heard but
don't readily recognize. Nice record, altough there's not much
I can really relate to.
Joe Morris/Nate Wooley: Tooth and Nail (2008
, Clean Feed): Guitar-trumpet duets, rather fractured,
which of course is Morris's specialty. I've heard Wooley in
a number of promising contexts lately, but he's rarely stood
out, and seems pretty superfluous here.
Urs Leimgruber & Evan Parker: Twine (2007
, Clean Feed): Two saxophonists, both play soprano and
tenor, with soprano listed first. Parker needs no introduction,
at least here. Leimgruber is Swiss, b. 1952 in Lucerne, based
in France. He has twenty or so albums since 1983. I have two
of them I picked up in a Hat Hut clearance sale somewhere and
never got around to. He's well regarded, clearly someone I
should get to know better. Three long improv pieces here,
called "Twine," "Twirl," and "Twist." Scratchy at first, but
the repeated circling, twisting and turning, is fascinating
in the end -- if, of course, you can stand this sort of
Neel Murgai Ensemble (2008 , Innova):
Murgai plays sitar and daf, a Persian frame drum. Based in New
York (Brooklyn), not sure where he's from or when he was born,
but New York is leading candidate. Studied civil engineering
at Georgia Tech before getting into music. Studied sitar with
Pundit Krishna Bhatt. Ensemble adds Mat Maneri on viola, Greg
Heffernan on cello, and Sameer Gupta on tabla.
Greg Ward's Fitted Shards: South Side Story (2010,
19-8): Alto saxophonist, b. 1982, based in New York -- I would have
guessed Chicago, which among other things has a South Side. First
album, a quartet with Rob Clearfield on keybs, Jeff Greene on bass,
and Quin Kirchner on bass. Has played with Mike Reed, Charles Rumback,
and in the group Blink (along with Greene and Kirchner -- their
MySpace page puts them in Chicago). Terrific saxophonist when he
breaks out, but this tends to get mired in a sickly postbop mode,
which I blame on the keyb -- suppose it's intended as a fusion move?
Mary Stallings: Dream (2010, High Note): Singer,
b. 1939, had a record with Cal Tjader in 1961 but otherwise her
discography starts in 1990, with four records on Concord, one on
MaxJazz, and now two on High Note. AMG describes her as "greatly
influenced by Carmen McRae" -- that at least captures her tone,
her precise sense of style and focus on interpretation. I first
heard her on Remember Love in 2005 and was blown away,
but just sort of drags its way through a list of songs that have
seen better days -- not even "That Old Black Magic" has much
spark. Eric Reed arranged and plays piano, with just bass and
drums -- previous record has Geri Allen in that role, and she
brought in Wallace Roney, Vincent Herring, and Frank Wess, and
for that matter Billy Hart on drums.
Houston Person: Moment to Moment (2010, High Note):
A tenor saxophonist, Person is the proper successor if not to Ben
Webster at least to Stanley Turrentine. He can bop when it wants
to, can't help but swing, blows pristine ballads, and has a knack
for slipping the right riff behind a singer. He's been doing this
for 40-plus years now, but while he doesn't exactly fold up here,
he's rarely made an album that makes so little of his talents. It
doesn't help that he yields so much space to trumpeter Terrell
Stafford, but it's probably more the fault of a lackadaisical
rhythm section. Or maybe fault isn't the point: the record has
its share of tasty moments but comes off as lazy in the end, not
so much because no one tried as because nothing much happened
Sarah Wilson: Trapeze Project (2009 , Brass
Logic): Trumpet player, sings some, from California, studied anthropology
at UC Berkeley, based in Bay Area. Second album, following Music
for an Imaginary Play (2006). Group includes Myra Melford (piano),
Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Jerome Harris (bass), and Scott Amendola
(drums). Both Melford and Goldberg have some remarkable solo turns.
Trumpet less distinctive, and her vocals are rather deadpan, about
right for "Love Will Tear Us Apart" -- a smart choice.
Mike Pride's From Bacteria to Boys: Betweenwhile
(2010, AUM Fidelity): Drummer, from Portlane, ME; based in New York.
First album with name up front; also has a duo with Jon Irabagon,
some odd side credits like the record with Talibam! This is a
quartet with Darius Jones on alto sax, Alexic Marcelo on piano,
and Peter Bitenc on bass. Each gets feature spots but they play
so differently it isn't clear what the point is. Jones is coming
off a terrific debut album, and has much more to add here, when
he gets the chance.
These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming
records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype,
often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra
rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with
a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go
into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception
for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the
Henry Grimes/Rashied Ali: Going to the Ritual
(2008, Porter): Wrote up pretty extensive notes on this duo of
1960s avant-garde heroes for their later Spirits Aloft,
which was so good I figured I had to check out their earlier
album. This is more like what I was expecting, which means that
Grimes plays much more bass than violin, and Ali's drums are
more up front. Neither of those are problems, although it does
take more listener effort to follow bass than violin. Ali died
in 2009, a heart attack, but seems to have been quite active
in his last years. His discography includes four 2009 albums
on Blue Music Group with a very unusual mix of players. Grimes
also has a double-disc solo album on ILK which offhand seems
like way too much, but he's surprised me more than once.
Ted Daniel Quintet: Tapestry (1974 ,
Porter): Trumpet player, may actually have played more flugelhorn
(as he does here), b. 1943, cut several albums in the 1970s, and
shows up in credits every now and then (occasionally as Teddy
Daniel or Ted Daniels) -- I was trying to figure out where I
recalled the name from, most likely Billy Bang's Vietnam:
The Aftermath and Vietnam: Reflections, but he's been
on other albums I'm familiar with -- Sonny Sharrock, Clifford
Thornton, Andrew Cyrille, Henry Threadgill, Defunkt,
Wildflowers: The New York Loft Jazz Sessions. He has
the only horn here, playing rough over the thick -- sometimes
luxuriant, sometimes ominous -- jungle concocted by Richard
Daniel's electric piano and Khan Jamal's vibes, with Tim Ingles
on bass and Jerome Cooper on drums.
Katherine Young: Further Secret Origins (2009,
Porter): Bassoonist, studied at Oberlin and Wesleyan, played
in Anthony Braxton's Falling River Quartet, based in Brooklyn,
credits this solo album as her debut. Seems to include some
electronics, but the bassoon dominates, ugly and unwieldy, a
record that first reminds one of For Alto but can't
sustain the horror -- maybe doesn't even want to. Parts to
start to develop a hypnotic groove, but that, too, is hard
Looked for but couldn't find (or play) on Rhapsody:
- Sylvie Courvoisier/Mark Feldman: Oblivia (Tzadik)
- Rafi Malkiel: Water (Tzadik)
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further
listening the first time around.
Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:
Rob Wagner/Hamid Drake/Nobu Ozaki: Trio (2005
, Valid): Couldn't find any bio on Wagner when I reviewed
this, so Benjamin Lyons sent one in. B. 1968 in Okemos, MI;
studied at DePaul in Chicago; moved to New Orleans 1992, where
he stayed until moving on to Brooklyn in 2005, but reportedly
still plays more in New Orleans than New York. Plays clarinet,
tenor and soprano sax in this eminent trio.
For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes to date,
Unpacking: Found in the mail the last two weeks:
- Marshall Allen/Matthew Shipp/Joe Morris: Night Logic (RogueArt)
- The Ray Anderson-Marty Ehrlich Quartet: Hear You Say: Live in Willisau (Intuition)
- Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Llyrìa (ECM)
- Bloody War: Songs 1924-1939 (1924-39, Tompkins Square)
- Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra: India & Africa: A Tribute to John Coltrane (Water Baby)
- Colin Dean: Shiwasu (Roots and Grooves): Oct. 5
- Andy Farber and His Orchestra: This Could Be the Start of Something Big (Black Warrior): Oct. 26
- Fernandez & Wright: Unsung (New Market Music)
- Michael Formanek: The Rub and Spare Change (ECM)
- Dave Frank: Portrait of New York (Jazzheads)
- Frank Fairfield's Pawn Records Presents: Unheard Ofs & Forgotten Abouts (1916-64, Tompkins Square)
- Jan Garbarek/The Hilliard Ensemble: Officium Novum (ECM New Series)
- Henry Grimes/Rashied Ali: Spirits Aloft (Porter)
- Dave Holland/Pepe Habichuela: Hands (Dare2)
- Lauren Hooker: Life of the Music (Miles High)
- Jazz Folk: Jazz in the Stone Age (1 Hr Music)
- Pete Levin: Jump! (Pete Levin Music)
- Mike Marshall: An Adventure 1999-2009 (1999-2009, Adventure Music)
- Lisa Maxwell: Return to Jazz Standards (CDBaby)
- Negroni's Trio: Just Three (Mojito): Oct. 26
- Jovino Santos Neto: Veja O Som/See the Sound (Adventure Music, 2CD)
- Hubert Nuss: The Book of Colours (Pirouet)
- Profound Sound Trio: Opus de Life (Porter)
- Serafin: Love's Worst Crime (Serafin)
- Harrison Smith Quartet: Telling Tales (33 Records)
- Sounds of Liberation (1972, Porter)
- Tarbaby: The End of Fear (Posi-Tone)
- Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast: It Would Be Easier If (Intuition)
- Anthony Braxton: 19 Standards (Quartet) 2003 (2003, Leo, 4CD)
- Lars Gullin: 1953-55, Vol. 8: Danny's Dream (1953-55, Dragon)
- David Murray Black Saint Quartet: Live in Berlin (2007, Jazzwerkstatt)
- William Parker & the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra: For Percy Heath (2005, Victo)
Sunday, October 10, 2010
A [short] week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting
Paul Krugman: Fear and Favor: Notes that "every major contender
for the 2012 Presidential nomination who isn't currently holding
office and isn't named Mitt Romney is now a paid contributor to Fox
Modern American conservatism is, in large part, a movement shaped
by billionaires and their bank accounts, and assured paychecks for
the ideologically loyal are an important part of the system.
Scientists willing to deny the existence of man-made climate
change, economists willing to declare that tax cuts for the rich
are essential to growth, strategic thinkers willing to provide
rationales for wars of choice, lawyers willing to provide defenses
of torture, all can count on support from a network of organizations
that may seem independent on the surface but are largely financed by
a handful of ultrawealthy families. [ . . . ]
As the Republican political analyst David Frum put it, "Republicans
originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering
we work for Fox" -- literally, in the case of all those non-Mitt-Romney
presidential hopefuls. It was days later, by the way, that Mr. Frum
was fired by the American Enterprise Institute. Conservatives criticize
Fox at their peril.
Alex Pareene: This week in crazy: Dinesh D'Souza: Actually, this
was a couple of weeks ago, but D'Souza's essay/book is so outrageously
nutty it deserves a takedown:
Half-wit third-generation Forbes magazine publisher Steve Forbes
uses a healthy combination of inane lists and relentless flattery of
millionaires to keep his grandfather's publication afloat in these
shaky times. But the occasional Republican presidential candidate
endangered his magazine's harmless reputation this week by putting a
rather stunning essay on its cover this month arguing -- unconvincingly
and with bad data and an incredibly obtuse reading of the president's
memoir -- that Barack Obama is motivated by the "Kenyan anti-colonialism"
of his father, whom he barely knew. The essay's author was Mr. Dinesh
D'Souza, the pundit so desperate to provoke that not even conservatives
take him seriously anymore.
D'Souza, longtime conservative pseudo-academic and current president of
a 200-person evangelical Christian college, was born and spent his
formative years abroad, which made him a super-Christian patriot, but
made Obama an anti-American radical. [ . . . ]
As Dave Weigel
explains, D'Souza first blew up in 1995 with The End of Racism,
one of those horrible '90s books daring to be "politically incorrect"
by outright lying about history.
Written to ride the wave of books and articles that called for white
America to get over its racial guilt, it included lines like the
"American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty
well." It was so sloppy and unconvincing that it killed the genre for
a few years; it's a 700-page doorstop by a one-time AEI scholar that
no one cites today.
Then came The Enemy at Home, a book that blames the left
for 9/11 by pointing out that terrorists hate the same things that
Christian right-wingers hate -- promiscuity, feminism, etc. This book
was so confused and horrible that all of D'Souza's right-wing friends
His newest, The Roots of Obama's Rage, is the story of Dinesh
D'Souza flailing to find a new and unique way of making a moderate
pragmatic Democrat sound like a horrible monster bent on the destruction
of America and enslavement of its people. He's recreating the nation in
the image of his "philandering, inebriated African socialist" father.
He is stealing America's wealth and redistributing it to third-world
nations. Sources include, in addition to Obama's memoir about the absence
of his father from his life, one obscure paper Obama Sr. wrote, and also
something one of Obama's grandmothers said, once.
D'Souza's embarrassing history should've led this book straight to
the remainder bin. Instead it made the cover of Forbes. Then Newt
Gingrich endorsed it. Then Glenn Beck endorsed it. The book immediately
climbed up the Amazon bestseller list.
Now the White House is involved, with Robert Gibbs asking Forbes
to retract the numerous factual inaccuracies. All Forbes will say
is that facts don't apply in opinion pieces.
Alex Pareene: This week in crazy: Bob Woodward:
This one is this week:
On Tuesday, Bob Woodward did one of those things that makes the entire
stupid cable news ecosystem go nuts for 24 hours: He claimed, based on
supposed inside info, that something plainly ludicrous was probably
going to happen. CNN's John King (USA) started it, of course. He held
up Woodward's book, then repeated some of that idle Beltway "gossip"
that is usually just made up by pundits wishing to speculate. "You
know the talk in town, a lotta people think if the president looks a
little weak going into 2012, he'll have to do a switch there, and run
with Hillary Clinton as his running mate." [ . . . ]
Woodward is notorious for giving favorable coverage in his books to
the people who talk to him the most (and for worshiping certain members
of the military, especially when they're engaged in policy battles with
civilian leadership). But does the guy actually believe what his odious
sources tell him in his lovely Georgetown home? Does he buy their lies?
Does the guy who took down Nixon think political operatives are
Here's a big red flag: His source on the Biden-Clinton switch was
apparently pollster grifter Mark Penn. Penn is a professional liar and
nearly every political decision he made while attempting to steer Hillary
Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign was epically, historically stupid.
So Woodward was just repeating half-baked speculative nonsense from
professional (and inept) Clinton-booster Mark Penn as if it was something
serious people in the White House were considering.
Matt Taibbi on the Tea Party: Starting with Rand Paul (and Sarah
Palin) in Kentucky:
Scanning the thousands of hopped-up faces in the crowd, I am immediately
struck by two things. One is that there isn't a single black person here.
The other is the truly awesome quantity of medical hardware: Seemingly
every third person in the place is sucking oxygen from a tank or propping
their giant atrophied glutes on motorized wheelchair-scooters. As Palin
launches into her Ronald Reagan impression -- "Government's not the
solution! Government's the problem!" -- the person sitting next to me
leans over and explains.
"The scooters are because of Medicare," he whispers helpfully. "They
have these commercials down here: 'You won't even have to pay for your
scooter! Medicare will pay!' Practically everyone in Kentucky has one."
A hall full of elderly white people in Medicare-paid scooters, railing
against government spending and imagining themselves revolutionaries
as they cheer on the vice-presidential puppet hand-picked by the GOP
establishment. If there exists a better snapshot of everything the Tea
Party represents, I can't imagine it.
After Palin wraps up, I race to the parking lot in search of departing
Medicare-motor-scooter conservatives. I come upon an elderly couple,
Janice and David Wheelock, who are fairly itching to share their views.
"I'm anti-spending and anti-government," crows David, as scooter-bound
Janice looks on. "The welfare state is out of control."
"OK," I say. "And what do you do for a living?"
"Me?" he says proudly. "Oh, I'm a property appraiser. Have been my
I frown. "Are either of you on Medicare?"
Silence: Then Janice, a nice enough woman, it seems, slowly raises her
hand, offering a faint smile, as if to say, You got me!
"Let me get this straight," I say to David. "You've been picking up a
check from the government for decades, as a tax assessor, and
your wife is on Medicare. How can you complain about the welfare state?"
"Well," he says, "there's a lot of people on welfare who don't deserve
it. Too many people are living off the government."
"But," I protest, "you live off the government. And have been your whole
"Yeah," he says, "but I don't make very much." Vast forests have already
been sacrificed to the public debate about the Tea Party: what it is,
what it means, where it's going. But after lengthy study of the phenomenon,
I've concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark
fact: They're full of shit. All of them. At the voter level, the Tea Party
is a movement that purports to be furious about government spending -- only
the reality is that the vast majority of its members are former Bush
supporters who yawned through two terms of record deficits and spent the
past two electoral cycles frothing not about spending but about John
Kerry's medals and Barack Obama's Sixties associations. The average Tea
Partier is sincerely against government spending -- with the exception
of the money spent on them. In fact, their lack of embarrassment when it
comes to collecting government largesse is key to understanding what this
movement is all about -- and nowhere do we see that dynamic as clearly as
here in Kentucky, where Rand Paul is barreling toward the Senate with the
aid of conservative icons like Palin. [ . . . ]
It would be inaccurate to say the Tea Partiers are racists. What they
are, in truth, are narcissists. They're completely blind to how offensive
the very nature of their rhetoric is to the rest of the country.
[ . . . ] It's not like the Tea Partiers hate black
people. It's just that they're shockingly willing to believe the appalling
horseshit fantasy about how white people in the age of Obama are some kind
of oppressed minority. That may not be racism, but it is incredibly,
earth-shatteringly stupid. I hear this theme over and over -- as I do on
a recent trip to northern Kentucky, where I decide to stick on a Rand Paul
button and sit in on a Tea Party event at a local amusement park. Before
long, a group of about a half-dozen Tea Partiers begin speculating about
how Obamacare will force emergency-room doctors to consult "death panels"
that will evaluate your worth as a human being before deciding to treat
you. [ . . . ]
You look into the eyes of these people when you talk to them and they
genuinely don't see what the problem is. It's no use explaining that while
nobody likes the idea of having to get the government to tell restaurant
owners how to act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the tool Americans
were forced to use to end a monstrous system of apartheid that for 100
years was the shame of the entire Western world. But all that history is
not real to Tea Partiers; what's real to them is the implication in your
question that they're racists, and to them that is the outrage,
and it's an outrage that binds them together. They want desperately to
believe in the one-size-fits-all, no-government theology of Rand Paul
because it's so easy to understand. At times, their desire to withdraw
from the brutally complex global economic system that is an irrevocable
fact of our modern life and get back to a simpler world that no longer
exists is so intense, it breaks your heart. [ . . . ]
Of course, the fact that we're even sitting here two years after Bush
talking about a GOP comeback is a profound testament to two things: One,
the American voter's unmatched ability to forget what happened to him 10
seconds ago, and two, the Republican Party's incredible recuperative skill
and bureaucratic ingenuity. This is a party that in 2008 was not just
beaten but obliterated, with nearly every one of its recognizable leaders
reduced to historical-footnote status and pinned with blame for some
ghastly political catastrophe. There were literally no healthy bodies
left on the bench, but the Republicans managed to get back in the game
anyway by plucking an assortment of nativist freaks, village idiots and
Internet Hitlers out of thin air and training them into a giant ball of
incoherent resentment just in time for the 2010 midterms.
The Bob Woodward item above seems to derive from one of his insider
tidbits in his recent Obama's Wars. I don't know whether I'll
ever get to the book -- by all accounts, Woodward is a mediocre writer
and a shallow thinker, and his court stenographer shtick with all of
his attendant favoritism and petty grudges is rather offensive, while
his revelations are so constrained to Washington meeting rooms that
they seem disconnected from the real world -- but I thought I'd at
least collate a few reviews for whatever insight they provide:
Andrew Bacevich: The Washington Gossip Machine: A "TomGram"
with two heads -- Bacevich's own is called "Prisoners of War:
Bob Woodward and All the President's Men (2010 Edition)":
Obama's Wars reportedly contains this comment by President
Obama to Secretary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
regarding Afghanistan: "I'm not doing 10 years . . .
I'm not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion
Aren't you, Mr. President? Don't be so sure.
[ . . . ]
And then there's this from the estimable General David Petraeus:
"I don't think you win this war," Woodward quotes the field commander
as saying. "I think you keep fighting . . . This is
the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our
Here we confront a series of questions to which Woodward (not to
mention the rest of Washington) remains steadfastly oblivious. Why
fight a war that even the general in charge says can't be won? What
will the perpetuation of this conflict cost? Who will it benefit?
Does the ostensibly most powerful nation in the world have no choice
but to wage permanent war? Are there no alternatives? Can Obama shut
down an unwinnable war now about to enter its tenth year? Or is he --
along with the rest of us -- a prisoner of war?
Peter Baker: Woodward Book Says Afghanistan Divided White House:
Preview piece, the first framing of what's new in the book:
Beyond the internal battles, the book offers fresh disclosures on the
nation's continuing battle with terrorists. It reports that the C.I.A.
has a 3,000-man "covert army" in Afghanistan called the Counterterrorism
Pursuit Teams, or C.T.P.T., mostly Afghans who capture and kill Taliban
fighters and seek support in tribal areas. Past news accounts have
reported that the C.I.A. has a number of militias, including one trained
on one of its compounds, but not the size of the covert army.
The book also reports that the United States has intelligence showing
that manic-depression has been diagnosed in President Hamid Karzai of
Afghanistan and that he was on medication, but adds no details. Mr. Karzai's
mood swings have been a challenge for the Obama administration.
As for Mr. Obama himself, the book describes a professorial president
who assigned "homework" to advisers but bristled at what he saw as military
commanders' attempts to force him into a decision he was not yet comfortable
with. Even after he agreed to send another 30,000 troops last winter, the
Pentagon asked for another 4,500 "enablers" to support them.
[ . . . ]
To ensure that the Pentagon did not reinterpret his decision, Mr. Obama
dictated a six-page, single-space "terms sheet" explicitly laying out his
troop order and its objectives, a document included in the book's appendix.
Mr. Obama's struggle with the decision comes through in a conversation
with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who asked if his deadline
to begin withdrawal in July 2011 was firm. "I have to say that," Mr. Obama
replied. "I can't let this be a war without end, and I can't lose the whole
Russ Baker: "Obama's Wars": The Real Story Bob Woodward Won't Tell:
In September of last year, McChrystal (or someone close to him) leaked
to Woodward a document that essentially forced President Obama's hand.
Obama wanted time to consider all options on what to do about Afghanistan.
But the leak, publicizing the military's "confidential" assertion that a
troop increase was essential, cast the die, and Obama had to go along.
Nobody was happier than the Pentagon -- and, it should be said, its allies
in the vast military contracting establishment.
[ . . . ]
For almost four decades, under cover of his supposedly "objective"
reporting, Woodward has represented the viewpoints of the military and
intelligence establishments. Often he has done so in the context of
complex inside maneuvering of which he gives his readers little clue.
He did it with the book Veil, about CIA director William Casey, in
which he relied on Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, a rival of Casey's, as his
key source. (Inman, from Texas, was closely identified with the Bush
faction of the CIA.) The book was based in part on a "deathbed interview"
with Casey that Casey's widow and former CIA guards said never took
Steve Coll: Behind Closed Doors:
If the narrative can be said to have a theme, it is that Pakistan
may be a fatally unreliable ally of the United States. "They're living
a lie," Mike McConnell, George W. Bush's outgoing director of National
Intelligence, told Obama before he was elected. McConnell meant that
Pakistan's military and its principal spy service, the Inter-Services
Intelligence agency, or I.S.I., ingested about two billion dollars per
year in U.S. funding, yet it still clandestinely supported the Afghan
Taliban and other militias that attacked American soldiers and plotted
international terror. Once in office, Obama received reports about this
perfidy again and again. "Changing the Pakistan calculus is key to
achieving our core goals," the President told his war cabinet in the
early autumn of 2009, as he began to consider whether to send more
American soldiers to the war.
Little has changed since then. The President's team has tried
inducements: it plied Pakistan's military with helicopters,
encouragement, and promises of strategic partnership. It has tried
threats: after the failed Times Square bombing, last spring, produced
evidence that the plotters had undergone training in Pakistan, James
Jones, the national-security adviser, warned President Asif Ali
Zardari that there might be no way to rescue his country's alliance
with the United States unless Pakistan did more to crack down on
terrorists. As recently as last spring, however, Woodward writes,
"the latest intelligence showed trucks crossing the [Afghan] border
that were full of Taliban combatants with all kinds of weapons packed
in the back. . . . The White House was almost right
back to where it had started." [ . . . ]
The President campaigned for office promising to fix the Afghan
war. The ambivalence he felt upon taking power and realizing more
fully what he had committed to is painful to read about. Rather than
dithering, however, Obama sought clarity during 2009 about means and
goals in Afghanistan. In Woodward's telling, it is the President, not
his advisers, who defines American war aims. His goal is to stabilize
and arm President Hamid Karzai's attenuating regime adequately, so
that the United States can withdraw from direct combat without leaving
a civil war or a Taliban revolution in its wake -- that, and no more.
[ . . . ]
Obama insists on an exit strategy when none is initially offered by
the Pentagon, and vetoes his generals' more expansionist goals, but he
also negotiates to make sure that his commanders and cabinet members
will hang together around his final decision, announced ten months ago,
to send thirty thousand more American troops into combat while setting
July, 2011, as a date to begin at least some withdrawals. There is
little that could be described as classically heroic about the
Presidential performance documented here, but there is much of what
Obama promised voters when he sought the White House: realism and
Bryan Curtis: Woodward: The Juicy Bits: In Q&A form; like Q:
We know the Woodward method. Those who tattle get better treatment.
Who wins Obama's Wars?"
James Jones, the national security advisor, is treated with kid
gloves. You might remember Jones as the guy one of Stanley McChrystal's
aides called a "clown" in that infamous Rolling Stone article. But here
Jones is smart, determined, and sensitive to bureaucratic reverberations.
He's allowed to blast his enemies more than he is blasted -- the sign
you've made it in Woodward book.
Joe Biden also makes out like a bandit. In one of the book's very
best scenes, he's shown confronting Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president,
at a state dinner. Biden smothers Karzai with contempt disguised as
diplomatic grace, right in front of the guy's entire cabinet. That
account -- presumably supplied by Biden -- gives the veep weight that
his media portrait has thus far lacked.
Other likely babblers: Lindsey Graham, Bob Gates, and Leon Panetta.
Which Obamaite comes off like a real tool?
Poor Dick Holbrooke. His turn as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan
was to be a diplomatic victory lap. "It wasn't until well into the Obama
presidency," Woodward writes, "that Holbrooke learned definitively how much
the president didn't care for him." In a revealing anecdote, Holbrooke asks
Obama to call him "Richard" rather than "Dick." For some reason, Obama
finds the request highly bizarre and, in Woodward's telling, repeats the
story of Holbrooke's pathetic plea around the White House.
Does anyone go the full McChrystal and napalm their career?
For his studly portrayal, James Jones comes pretty close. He blasts Rahm
and Co. as the "water bugs," "the Mafia," and the "Politburo." "There are
too many senior aides around the president," Jones says to somebody.
Jones thinks Rahm is a weenie who hides behind Obama's opinions. He
thinks Gates is always positioning himself to be on the side of the victors.
He feels the administration killed his friendship with Gen. Anthony Zinni.
I could go on. You doubt Jones is long for the administration.
[ . . . ]
It sounds like Obama's Wars is a tiny keyhole into Obamaland.
It's narrower still. Woodward is so focused on the White House dealings
that he never backs up and asks the obvious question: How did Obama get
himself committed to the Afghan War to begin with? A lot of us suspected
that during the campaign, Obama's support of a ramp-up was thrown in to
make him look hawkish as he advocated for drawing down in Iraq. I never
thought he was particularly convincing, anyway. Yet Woodward treats it
as a fait accompli that Obama would pursue it.
Robert Dreyfuss: Woodward: Obama Wants Out of Afghanistan:
But Woodward makes it clear that Obama has been virtually at war with
his military commanders, including Petraeus, since the earliest days of
his administration. Petraeus, sounding precisely like General McChrystal,
who got himself fired after yammering about Obama in Rolling Stone,
blusters at one point ("after a glass of wine") that Obama is "[fucking]
with the wrong guy." So much for civilian control of the armed forces!
As the Times notes, "General Petraeus was effectively banned by the
administration from the Sunday talk shows but worked private channels
with Congress and the news media." McChrystal did the same thing, in
2009, leaking madly to the media (including Woodward, who got ahold of
McChrystal's strategy paper last summer) and giving high-profile
interviews on shows such as 60 Minutes.
Justin Elliott: The many man-crushes of Bob Woodward: A portrait
of the journalist as a shameless flatterer; e.g., Woodward on Gen.
Perhaps no general in America had been held in such near-universal
esteem since General Dwight David Eisenhower after victory in World War
II. Young-looking with his neatly parted brown hair, Petraeus could pass
for a 35-year-old. [ . . . ]
He put other workaholics to shame, monitoring military business and
his personal e-mail day and night. His new office on the second floor
of the Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, made the bridge
of Starship Enterprise seem modest . . .
The Iraqis called him "King David." Some on his staff called him
"The Legend of lraq." Colleagues believed that Petraeus was so
competitive that he preferred fighting a war when the odds were
against him, even with both hands tied behind his back, so that his
eventual victory would be all the greater.
Robert Haddick: Obama's Wars:
The point is not whether the surge faction's advice for Afghanistan
is wise or foolish. The larger point is whether a president's staff and
decision-making process are responsive to his conception of strategy and
if not, what options a president has to fix his staff and process when
he finds them unresponsive. As Woodward makes clear in Obama's Wars,
Obama's response to his recalcitrant advisers is setting up an unfortunate
civil-military collision. Obama, informed by his legal background, granted
the surge faction its strategy but also obliged them to take responsibility
for their advice in writing, in the form of a "terms sheet" which Obama
personally composed. Should, as Obama very likely suspects, the surge fail
to produce the results the surge faction agreed to (in writing!), Obama
believes he will then have the standing to be merciless with their heads.
Michiko Kakutani: Afghanistan as Obama and Others Game It:
Many administration members in this volume express a decidedly gloomy
view of the under-resourced war they inherited from President George W.
Bush. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is said to be "pessimistic and
more convinced than ever that Afghanistan was a version of Vietnam." Lt.
Gen. Douglas Lute, the president's coordinator for Afghanistan-Pakistan,
is quoted saying that it's likely, by July 2011, that "we're not going
to be a whole lot different than we are today."
"When you look at all the things that have got to break our way,"
General Lute says, "I can't tell you that the prospect here for success
if very high."
Fred Kaplan: A Way Out of Afghanistan:
The book begins with President-elect Obama receiving his first really
serious intelligence briefing, in which he learns that the Predator
drones -- those unmanned aerial vehicles with the remote-controlled
cameras and smart bombs that have been bumping off terrorist leaders
in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- work as well as they do only because
of super-secret CIA paramilitary teams on the ground; the teams recruit
locals, who tell them where the bad guys are and thus where to send
the drones. The drones by themselves are no cheap way out. War, as
always, is unavoidably hell.
Then comes the monthslong internecine debate, through most of 2009,
over how to fight the war: How many troops, where, what they should
be doing, for how long, and to what end. We've read much of this before
(some of it in Woodward's own reporting for the Washington Post), but
a few things stand out: the continued lack of clarity, all the way till
the end, over just what U.S. interests are in this war; the uncertainty,
even after Obama's decision, over whether even the best-run U.S.-led
campaign would affect the ultimate outcome; and, amid this debate, the
Pentagon's persistent efforts to box Obama in to the one option that
the senior military leaders wanted to pursue.
[ . . . ]
In Woodward's account, even after Obama decided to send 30,000 more
troops, the Pentagon kept coming back with plans involving 40,000. Even
after he decided not to pursue an all-out counterinsurgency campaign,
the Pentagon kept coming back with plans involving just that.
Obama also kept asking his generals for more options to consider.
They were playing the old trick of giving the president three
pseudo-options -- two that were clearly unacceptable (in this case,
80,000 more troops for full counterinsurgency and 10,000 troops just
to train Afghan soldiers) and the one in the middle that they wanted
(40,000 more troops). They never gave him another option. When Gen.
James "Hoss" Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, drew up a compromise plan involving 20,000 troops (believing
the president had a right to see a wide span of options, even if the
military didn't agree with them), Mullen forbade him from taking it
outside the Pentagon. Obama never saw it.
Kathleen Parker: Can a president lead with Woodward watching?
Just not sure in the end whether Parker is taunting Obama to get
out of Afghanistan or to dig in even deeper, but she sees playing
along with the Press -- especially the likes of Woodward -- as
some sort of character flaw:
Question of the day: Why do presidents give the White House keys
to Bob Woodward? [ . . . ]
Through several administrations, Woodward has become president ex
officio -- or at least reporter in chief, a human tape recorder who
issues history's first draft even as history is still tying its shoes.
For years he's been the best-selling first read on a president's
inner struggles. His latest, Obama's Wars, exposes infighting
in the West Wing over how to handle Afghanistan.
[ . . . ]
What is of some concern -- at least based on those excerpts that
have leaked thus far -- is that the president gets pushed around by
the generals. And that impression feeds into the larger one that
Barack Obama is not quite commander in chief. He seems far more
concerned with being politically savvy than with winning what he
has called the good war.
Cognitive dissonance sets in when Obama declares that "it's time to
turn the page" in the war that he didn't like -- Iraq -- and that is
not in fact over. Fifty thousand troops remain in Iraq, while the surge
in Afghanistan seems to be not enough -- or too much for too long,
Michael D Shear: Obama's Wars: Scorecard for the Inside Game:
Notes on how the main players fare in the book: Gen. James Jones,
Thomas Donilon, Richard Holbrooke, Gen. David Petraeus, Robert
Gates, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, Adm. Mike Mullen, Gen. James Cartwright,
Adm. Dennis Blair.
Paul Woodward: Obama's war of political necessity:
Obama's problem: either an exit strategy was a necessity or the war
was a necessity but he couldn't argue for both.
Besides, whatever he might actually believe, he had already boxed
himself in by pursuing a political strategy that hinged on his ability
to portray himself as an opponent to the war in Iraq who was not an
opponent of war per se.
The war in Afghanistan was Obama's shield against Republican attacks.
"I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars," he said in
2002 when laying out his credentials as an un-antiwar Illinois State
If Obama as a candidate and as president was to have been more candid,
he might have expanded on a theme he touched on only briefly -- his
affinity with Ronald Reagan but more specifically their apparent shared
belief that American wars are best fought in secret using mercenaries.
Mosharraf Zaidi: Reading Woodward in Karachi: Woodward does much to
advance the thesis that America's real problem in Afghanistan is Pakistan,
which even if true is, well, problematical:
Relations between the United States and Pakistan have never been more
fraught. Last month, NATO helicopters breached Pakistani airspace several
times. In the first instance, they engaged a group of suspected terrorists,
killing more than 30. On Sept. 30, in another breach of Pakistani territory
and airspace, NATO gunships fired on Pakistani paramilitary troops from
the Frontier Constabulary (FC). Three Pakistani soldiers were killed and
another three were badly injured. No one even attempted to dismiss the
incident as friendly fire. In response, Pakistan has shut down the main
border crossing and supply route into Afghanistan at Torkham, and militants
have attacked convoys bringing fuel to NATO forces. All this comes after
the most intense month of U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan since the campaign
Into this environment comes Woodward's account of the Obama
administration's decision to embrace a surge strategy in Afghanistan,
which also offers a pretty good window into what American power sees
when it looks at Pakistan. Woodward's emphasis on the "Pak" in AfPak
reflects a larger shift in emphasis in official Washington. Perhaps
inadvertently, the book is also likely to confirm many of the darkest
suspicions that ordinary Pakistanis have about their erstwhile American
allies. [ . . . ]
The public humiliation of being the subject of Obama's war, without
being able to publicly acknowledge its myriad dimensions, is a pressure
that is crushing Pakistan's fragile democracy and hurting wider U.S.
goals. If one of the objectives of Obama's war was to stabilize and
secure Pakistan, then, by that measure, the war is not doing well at all.
The surge has been a massive failure, notwithstanding the achievements
of the clandestine war and the drone strikes.
Saturday, October 09, 2010
Rhapsody Streamnotes: October 2010
Pick up text here.
Friday, October 08, 2010
Fall Road Trip
Got back from out little fall trip to the upper midwest.
Thought we'd go to Detroit then loop back through the Upper
Peninsula to Chicago, but went to Chicago first and looped
back through Minnesota. Didn't actually get into Chicago. Just
stopped to see a couple of Laura's cousins northwest of the
metropolis. Drove up through rural Wisconsin, missing both
Madison and Milwaukee, which meant we saw a lot of signs for
the GOP's idiot savant, Paul Ryan. Hit Lake Michigan north
of Manitowoc, then bounced back inland to Green Bay, up the
bay coast to Escabana, then across the peninsula to Marquette.
From there we drove west through Ashland and Bayfield, WI,
to Duluth, then back down our familiar I-35. Was cold and
windy early in trip, but warmed up midweek, was pleasant
and sunny all the way; nice for framing the fall colors and
brilliant lake views.
Didn't do much this week. Was sheltered from news. Read a
little. Wrote virtually nothing. Played music in the car, but
mostly old stuff -- packed a case of real classic material.
One thing I will say is that it didn't look or feel like we're
in the midst of a huge recession, even though we certainly
are. This surface sense of normalcy more than anything else
doesn't bode well for the Democrats, and that at least partly
shakes my conviction that in the end people will reject the
notion that anything worthwhile can be accomplished by turning
Congress over to the Republicans. I don't get the sense that
people recognize the depths of crisis that could result --
one big part of this, of course, is that the Democrats aren't
responding as seriously as conditions warrant.
Monday, October 04, 2010
Music: Current count 17182  rated (+17), 862  unrated (+4).
Rushing to get this up. Will be on the road when it appears.
No Jazz Prospecting
Cut off Jazz Prospecting mid-week with little to show for it.
Will be on the road this coming week, so don't expect much more.
Should return to normal after that.
Sunday, October 03, 2010
A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting
Peter Daou: How a handful of liberal bloggers are bringing down the
Obama presidency: No doubt it's easier to tear something down
than it is to build something new, but there's plenty reason to doubt
the title, and for that matter the sniping from Obama's spokesguys.
I've argued for some time that the story of Barack Obama's presidency
is the story of how the left turned on him. And it eats him up. You
know it from Robert Gibbs, you know it from Rahm Emanuel, you know it
from Joe Biden and you know it from Obama himself.
The constant refrain that liberals don't appreciate the administration's
accomplishments betrays deep frustration. It was a given the right would
try to destroy Obama's presidency. It was a given Republicans would be
obstructionists. It was a given the media would run with sensationalist
stories. It was a given there would be a natural dip from the euphoric
highs of the inauguration. Obama's team was prepared to ride out the
trough(s). But they were not prepared for a determined segment of the
left to ignore party and focus on principle, to ignore happy talk and
Given how conservative Obama is and his administration has behaved,
the only way I can chalk up the "given" that the right would be out
to destroy him and his administration is their overweening sense of
entitlement (something we saw equally when Bill Clinton was elected):
how dare a Democrat assume the helm of Commander-in-Chief? I don't
doubt that Obama has been less corrupt and less malicious than Bush
was or McCain would have been, but I can't think of any issue where
Obama has embraced a left position -- at best he's sought a center
position explicitly rejecting the left, and in many cases (Afghanistan,
targeted assassination) his centrist position might as well be the
right's. He would be the immature one if he didn't recognize that
his constant rejection of left proposals would result in opposition,
at least over those principles. If anything is getting under Obama's
skin, it isn't the cold political calculus; it's that those liberal
bloggers are able to use Obama's own words to show how he's changed
position, which raises a question about integrity among people who
were among the first to support him. At least when the right attacks
Obama, they just make shit up. And they represent positions so opposed
to the best interests of most people that Obama becomes politically
Daou followed up with another post
The issue Daou posits that I don't see is the "convergence of left-right
opinion is a critical factor in the shaping of conventional wisdom against
Obama." I don't see any such convergence, but then I don't see the Tea
Party Movement as populism -- it's even less than the overrated Fascist
fronts of the 1930s. Daou explains:
Typically, countervailing left-right narratives create enough tension
to prevent the public from rapidly congealing around a single view.
However, in some cases (Bush with Katrina, Obama on health care), left
and right come to agree that a political leader is on the wrong track.
It is this merging of left-right opinion that has damaged Obama. He
can sustain relentless attacks from the right -- it's what everyone
expects -- but when the left joins in, the bottom drops out. That's
why opinion-shapers in the liberal blogosphere exert inordinate
influence over Obama's fortunes.
I get the theory, but don't see applications, unless you think that
left complaints that Obama is too chummy with banks and big business
gives credence to the right's unserious charges of corruption. The
only real left complaint about health care reform is that it should
have gone much further, and that some real leadership on the issue
could have sold a much bolder plan. That may or may not be true,
but no one on the right is making that charge, so where's the
Speaking of which,
Steve Kornacki: Obama's 2012 insurance policy? has the scoop on
GOP presidential nominees. I'll stick with Huckabee as a guess, but
right now the favorite is Mitt Romney. As you no doubt recall, before
going into politics Romney made his fortune in leveraged buyouts:
his group would buy up a company, borrow insane amounts of money,
pay themselves huge fees, then dump the company staggering dumbly
under a mountain of debt. Sounds like the perfect GOP pledge for
America, except for his fake credentials as a social
fascist, err, conservative.
Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Wall Street's attacks could turn Obama
into a true populist: Some wishful thinking -- I don't see that
Obama has a populist bone his body. On the other hand, there is a
residual well of populist anger in this country that a smart politician
could tap into, especially if it's clear that he's lost the business
support he craves. Roosevelt did that in 1936 when he "welcomed the
hate" of business fat cats, but that well was deeper then, not because
objective conditions have changed much but because the ideological
hold of the rich is much stronger.
But this has it exactly backward. The business-Obama divorce isn't
about personalities, and it's not because the president and his
economic team have pursued anti-business policies. Instead, it
reflects a deeper disconnect between corporate leaders and the
rest of America, rooted not just in the economic privileges
executives enjoy but also in the particular ways business connects
to Washington. This disconnect has blinded corporate leaders to
the extent to which most Americans feel that the government, far
from crushing corporate America, has been looking out only for
those at the top.
Had Obama realized sooner that he would never win over corporate
America, he might have pursued rhetoric and policies that would
have alienated fewer voters. But the cost would have been alienating
Democratic moderates in Congress, thereby jeopardizing his reform
agenda. After November's inevitable Republican gains, however,
those moderates will have a less decisive role, and Obama might
feel freer to adopt a more populist approach.
It seems much more likely to me that if the Democrats lose badly
in November, Obama will move even further to the right, possibly
even untethering himself from the Congressional Democrats viewing
them as losers. This would free him from having to pursue a program
tied to the Democratic Party base -- hey, we tried that, and got
pounded for it! -- to focus on his own reëlection unconstrained
by the party. For 2012, that would mean all he has to do is to
run a hair to the side of sanity from whoever the Republicans
nominate -- Huckabee is my guess, but with the gamut of hopefuls
running from Romney to Palin, well, how hard is that?
Ezra Klein: Can business afford the Republican Party?
Good question. I think it's clear that business did better, even
allowing for tax differences, under Clinton than Bush, but politically
may be a different story.
What business should want, in theory, is a Republican Party that
advocates for its interests. That is to say, a Republican Party
willing to send 20 senators and 50 House members to the table when
Democrats are writing a huge health-care bill that has the votes
to pass. The Democrats would've given anything for some votes from
across the aisle, and whatever it is that business wanted, it
could've gotten. But since the Republican Party wasn't interested
in governing or negotiating, business didn't have that leverage.
[ . . . ]
My hunch is that business doesn't really care about this for two
reasons. The first is that the Democrats aren't anti-business and
they in fact spent a lot of time talking to representatives from
the affected industries and reshaping the bill to address their
concerns. The second is that the people actually representing
business interests in Washington are movement Republicans rather
than disinterested CEOs, and they're allied with the interests
of the Republican Party in much the way that organized labor is
allied with the interests of the Democratic Party. But what that
means is that the GOP isn't going to come in and do what business
needs them to do, but instead what their base and electoral
interests tell them to do. And so uncertainty and inadequacy
will rule the day.
One of the forgotten stories of the health care reform act
was that Obama got virtually all of the interested industry
parties to consent to and nominally support his bill, but that
translated to zero Republican votes and no political coverage
for Democrats. Given how little he got for so much compromise,
it can certainly be argued that he wouldn't have had any more
trouble advancing a much more ambitious reform program.
Similarly, it was the Democrats who provided the bulk of
the votes to pass TARP and save the banking system, letting
the Republicans in Congress posture against bailouts even
while Paulson and Bush were handing them out.
Paul Krugman/Robin Wells: The Slump Goes On: Why? and
The Way Out of the Slump:
Two-part book review which occasionally touches on Raghuram G Rajan:
Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy,
Nouriel Roubini/Stephem Mihm: Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the
Future of Finance, and Richard C Koo: The Holy Grail of Macroeconomics:
Lessons From Japan's Great Recession. Krugman has been saying all along
that the contemporary worldwide recession is a lot like Japan's famous
"lost decade" -- a long stagnant period following their own stupendous
real estate bubble burst -- so it's not surprising that Koo fares best.
It may also help that doctors are better at prescribing medicine to others:
one little irony (or hypocrisy if you're inclined to be less generous) is
that while economist Ben Bernanke argued that Japan should inflate its way
out of its recession, Fed Chairman Bernanke doesn't seem to have the
slightest desire to test his theory at home. Rajan's seems to be by far
the worst of the three books -- although Yglesias was quick to praise
the book, Rajan has mostly argued that central bankers should aggresively
raise interest rates to guard against future inflation, and basically
shows no concern whatsoever over unemployment rates, even if they were
to get much worse. A couple quotes from the second piece:
Nor do many people seem willing to recognize the increasingly obvious
failure of austerity policies in those countries that actually have
lost the confidence of bond markets: harsh policies in Greece and
Ireland have led to soaring unemployment, yet investors seem less
willing than ever to buy those nations' debt. As one of us has noted,
supposedly responsible policymakers are sounding more and more like
the priesthood of some barbaric cult, demanding sacrifices in the
name of invisible gods.
[ . . . ]
One more thing: just as global imbalances -- the savings glut created
by surpluses in China and other countries -- played an important part
in creating the great real estate bubble, they have an important role
in blocking recovery now that the bubble has burst. Koo is right in
saying that the essential problem of the world economy right now is
an excess of saving, with not enough borrowers; countries that continue
running large trade surpluses in this environment -- like China and
Germany -- are propping up their own economies at the rest of the
Paul Krugman: Downhill With the G.O.P.: On the Republican Party's
Pledge to America:
Never mind the war on terror, the party's main concern seems to be the
war on arithmetic. [ . . . ]
True, the document talks about the need to cut spending. But as far as
I can see, there's only one specific cut proposed -- canceling the rest
of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which Republicans claim
implausibly) would save $16 billion. That's less than half of 1
percent of the budget cost of those tax cuts. As for the rest,
everything must be cut, in ways not specified -- "except for
common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops."
In other words, Social Security, Medicare and the defense budget
So what's left? Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center
has done the math. As he points out, the only way to balance the
budget by 2020, while simultaneously (a) making the Bush tax cuts
permanent and (b) protecting all the programs Republicans say they
won't cut, is to completely abolish the rest of the federal government:
"No more national parks, no more Small Business Administration loans,
no more export subsidies, no more N.I.H. No more Medicaid (one-third
of its budget pays for long-term care for our parents and others with
disabilities). No more child health or child nutrition programs. No
more highway construction. No more homeland security. Oh, and no more
The "pledge," then, is nonsense. [ . . . ] So the
clear and present danger isn't that the G.O.P. will be able to achieve
its long-run goals. It is, rather, that Republicans will gain just
enough power to make the country ungovernable, unable to address its
fiscal problems or anything else in a serious way. As I said, banana
republic, here we come.
Andrew Leonard: The United States of income inequality:
Just another way of counting: the ratio of the share of wealth of
the top 20% percent of Americans to the share under the poverty
line has increased from 7.69-to-1 in 1969 to 14.5-to-1 in 2009:
From Richard Nixon through Barack Obama, the gap between the rich
and the poor in the United States has cracked wide open into a
global embarrassment. Even in the wake of the worst financial
crisis since the 1930s, the rich have still managed to gain
headway while the poor and middle class continue to lose ground.
It's a remarkable record of government failure by both parties.
Ray McGovern: Obama Knows the War Is Dumb, but Prefers Power Over Peace:
Reviewing Bob Woodward's book, Obama's Wars:
Woodward paints a personal portrait of presidential cynicism by
describing a conversation between Obama and Sen. Lindsey Graham,
R-South Carolina, during which Graham asks if that July deadline
Obama is quoted in reply, "I have to say that." He then explains,
"I can't let this be a war without end, and I can't lose the whole
There is little doubt in my mind that Obama knows full well that
the Afghanistan war is a fool's errand, and that the only way to
end it is to disengage, rather than escalate. Yet he is convinced --
wrongly, I believe -- that the he has no real political alternative
but to kowtow to the generals. [ . . . ]
Predictably, this behavior earns Obama disdain rather than respect
from the top brass, who believe the President feels "intimidated"
in their presence, as Gen. Stanley McChrystal told Rolling Stone
magazine earlier this year. Generals generally know there is a huge
difference between being a mere politician and a real leader.
In Obama, they see a politician first and foremost, and have concluded
that his overweening determination to appear strong on defense has
the result of making him putty in their hands.
Maxine Udall: Structural Misalignment and a Counterfactual Economy:
I could link to Krugman debunking the "structural unemployment" excuse
but Udall has four perfectly good links in her first sentence. She isn't
out to fight Krugman, but wants to consider the possibility that there
is a deeper-seated structural misalignment that would be a real problem
if we didn't have so many realer problems in the way. One such problem
is that the lure of big finance dollars has drained so many brains from
the potential pool of scientists and engineers who might actually help
solve real problems.
Matthew Yglesias: Poor People Are Much Poorer Than You Think:
The chart maps dividies Americans into five quintiles by wealth,
then shows how much wealth each quintile has -- the top quintile
has more than 80% of the total pie, and the bottom two quintiles
have essentially nothing -- then asks various groups of people
to estimate how they think the pie is split. The breakdowns are
pretty marginal -- higher income people, Democrats, and men think
the rich are richer, but not by much. The big point is that all
groups underestimate the top quintile's share by 20-25 points,
and that they all assume that the bottom 40% has 8-10% of the
wealth where they actually have 0%. As Yglesias points out, such
common failure to recognize how poor the poor really are is the
big story here.
Saturday, October 02, 2010
Pick up text
Friday, October 01, 2010
A Downloader's Diary (3): October 2010
This is the third installment of Michael Tatum's column,
which makes it officially a series as opposed to a couple of
random events. First one, I'm told, took some scrounging to
come up with material, but now he's on a roll. I can relate
because I went through the same transitionary anxiety from
too little to too much over the first three or four Jazz
The archive material is
here (or will be when I get
the website fully updated later today).
Insert text from here.
Porkalicious: My People: Click through for picturs of a new
spice rack my brother built. Handy, nice use of space, looks like
it'll hold forty average-sized jars, and that it's already close
to capacity. I've seen carpentry plans for shelves like this, but
I'm already tight for space between the countertop and cabinets,
so I never thought it'd work that well. Still, a clever idea,
especially if you have the space -- and their kitchen is about
twice the size of mine.
Scroll to the bottom and you'll see the spice rack I built.
It holds 80 jars, of which about 70 are currently in use. Still
haven't moved everything in, but I buy bulk spices and load it
up when I need something. The three handles to the right are
attached to pull-out units, each with three shelves. I keep
flour, sugar, oils, vinegars, soy sauce, nuts, coffee, some
cereal, and more spices back there. Range is barely visible
to the right, countertop and sink to the foreground. Not much
countertop space there, but the handle visible pulls out an
extension covered in black laminate.
Main thing I need is something better for holding cooking
tools like spatulas and forks and flippers. I have an idea
for building a rack where the paper towel holder is now.