Saturday, May 31, 2008

Life in the "winner's circle"

Flying High - Tom Paine

We're xenophobes and you're not: will Republicans play the hate card?

Hey, it worked for Goebbels.*

Can Identity Politics Save the Right? - The American Prospect

*Sorry, couldn't resist. Beyond their shared fondness for tribalism, militarism, authoritarianism, order, an all-powerful Fuhrer executive, and the continuous deployment of media-based propaganda to control public perception, as well as their sneering disdain for "degenerates," dissidents, immigrants, homosexuals, and the "weak," any comparison between Republicans and the Nazis is clearly absurd.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

It's only a crime if they kill you

The Working Wounded - The New York Times

It isn't all talent and effort

The Economics of Teeth and Other Beauty Premiums - The New York Times

One quibble: Dubner observes, "[T]eeth (unlike height or looks in general) are something that can be fixed." Certainly--if you have the means to do so. But if you are someone who is barely getting by, with too much month at the end of the money, fixing your teeth--like repairing your car, filling the gas tank, finding affordable child care, buying suitable work clothes, or meeting the plethora of other expenses that employment imposes--are barriers that can't be flattened with the simple flick of a credit card. They are among the many ways that need keeps a tight grip on those it seizes. Dubner's comment, conversely, is the kind of generality that could only be assumed from the perspective of privilege.

What is conservatism?

An outside-the-box definition and discussion, but (consequently?) there's a fair amount of truth here.

What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong with It? -

A reformer's patriotism

Obama's Patriotic Call - Washington Post

Nicely said:

"We cannot meet the future, either by mere gross materialism or by mere silly sentimentalism; above all, we cannot meet it if we attempt to balance gross materialism in action by silly sentimentalism in words." - Theodore Roosevelt

"Loving your country shouldn't just mean watching fireworks on the Fourth of July; loving your country must mean accepting your responsibility to do your part to change it." - Barack Obama

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The central paradox of health reform

The Elusive Politics of Reform - The American Prospect

I should say, "mostly meaningless gaffes"

All About Eve - The New York Times

No, I don't think Clinton had her fingers crossed when she said this; she's not hoping for the worst. But it's obviously not the sort of possibility in which one should, however indirectly, find an "upside."

What Clinton has never understood is that this sort of transparent, win-at-any-cost overstrategizing is her chief weakness as a candidate. And it contrasts badly with Obama's aura of spontaneity and straightforwardness--his "this is who I am, take it or leave it" quality. Indeed, I believe Obama is winning this race precisely because (rightly or wrongly) it is hard to imagine his campaign countenancing the kind of icy calculus that Clinton considers part of the game.

They're all tied up covering gossip, trivia, and meaningless gaffes

House Votes to Ban Pentagon Propaganda: Networks Still Silent - The Huffington Post

The beauty of the plan is its simplicity

As Tiabbi suggests, one's trust in the Administration need not even be measurable at the subatomic level to reject goofiness of this magnitude.

If Cheney & Co. Had Really Plotted the 9/11 Attacks ... - AlterNet

Thursday, May 22, 2008

McCain's law: on the right side of Bush; on the wrong side of history

In McCain's Court - The New Yorker

The company he keeps

McCain's Team of Lobbyists - Credo

Being George Bush means never having to know what you've done

Hologram Man: The Sad, Weird Twilight of George Bush - The Huffington Post

The once-comfortable center cannot hold

(Not) Keeping Up with Our Parents: Just Being Middle Class Is Becoming out of Reach - Beacon Press

The most conspicuous part of the Great Education Myth and yet, to all the blathering, clueless commentators, the most invisible (here Upton Sinclair's famous observation seems to pertain: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it"):
Alongside our schooling in philosophy and economics, today's college-educated professionals have been conditioned to see ourselves as among the financially stable, mainstream haves. Many of us attended what are considered strong academic institutions. Others come from families with comfortable financial backgrounds. Our childhood friends, our college roommates, the couple we met at that holiday party are those same lawyers and financiers who've hit the financial jackpot, driving multiple Mercedeses and buying $2 million starter homes. We know we aren't like them. We've aspired to different career and financial goals, those more rooted in education, the arts or public service. But, given our often-similar backgrounds and educations, it's clear we aren't entirely unlike them either. This rising and dramatic economic inequality among college-educated professionals, leaving so many of us to struggle while a select few enter the strata of the "super rich," was not supposed to be part of the package.

N.B.: legislatures enact the majority's will, and courts protect the minority's rights

A Useful Nudge in California - Washington Post

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Under the weather

I have the cruds today, so in lieu of actual content let me refer you instead to Pundit Kitchen, an lolcat offshoot that substitutes the political animal for the four-footed kind.

Here's a few of my favorites so far:
Political Picture - Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf

"The level of desperation is just frightening"

Food Stamp Recipients Scramble for Food - MSNBC

Friday, May 16, 2008

Reckoning with Malthus

This essay gets a little loopy in places, but Costello's central argument--that some big course corrections will be needed to make the logical collision of infinite growth in a finite world less fatal--is right on target. He also includes some revealing history along the way.

Wall Street and Washington Are Failing Spectacularly -- Where Do We Go? - AlterNet

LATE ADDITION: The Last Bite - The New Yorker

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Manufacturing a new kind of American

The Century of the Self - BBC

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Restoring workers' paychecks

Good Jobs for Americans Who Help Americans - The American Prospect

Lattes are not the problem

Have we fallen behind our parents? - Salon

Factoid of the day

A full five percent of the nation's income goes to the top 1/100th of one percent of the population. That's 30,000 people. Five percent. Wow.

(Bonus round: The answer to the question, "Who really runs the country" is...?)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

There's always bread for the hungry rich

Food Pantries for Poor, Loans for Hungry Bankers - Common Dreams

The key passage:
[W]hy some conservative commentators focus on the purported moral or intellectual limitations of the poor is mystifying.* More media and public scrutiny should be directed toward the other end of the social spectrum. Wealthy financial houses and mortgage brokers have dragged the rest of us down even as they walk away with awesome severance packages.

*Not really: stoking contempt for the poor greatly advances their anti-decency, pro-misery agenda. Their ultimate goal, it appears, is to exempt the rich from contributing to the general welfare in any fashion.

(Anticipated objection #1: "But the rich provide jobs!" Response: In a globalized economy, how many of those jobs land in America? And of those that do, how many are good, living-wage jobs?)

(Anticipated objection #2: "But the rich pay a lot more in taxes!" Response: Not really.)

(Anticipated objection #3: "But rich people give a lot to charity!" Response: The conservative commentators in question would consider this a character flaw. [And whether the rich give more than others, as a percentage of income, is open to debate.])

(Anticipated objection #4: "Why should government get involved in this at all?" Response: Because the ability of private organizations to help is irregular and insufficient. The resources of charitable groups even now are stretched to the limit, and people do not contribute to them at consistent rates throughout the year. People don't need food, shelter, and medicine just at Christmas.)

See no corruption

The Bush administration repeatedly ignored corruption at the highest levels within the Iraqi government and kept secret potentially embarrassing information so as not to undermine its relationship with Baghdad, according to two former State Department employees.

Arthur Brennan, who briefly served in Baghdad as head of the department's Office of Accountability and Transparency last year, and James Mattil, who worked as the chief of staff, told Senate Democrats on Monday that their office was understaffed and its warnings and recommendations ignored.

Ex-officials: Bush admin. ignored Iraq corruption - AP

Par for the course. In its defense, the Administration could always argue that it is just as determined to prevent malfeasance in the Iraqi government as it is in our own. (Call it "Bush normal.")

The McCain road map: leading America into an even deeper hole

The Most Important Piece of Paper in America - The Huffington Post

Sunday, May 11, 2008

So you thought those beliefs were your own

The Gospel of Consumption - Orion Magazine

[T]he industrial elite represented by NAM, including General Motors, the big steel companies, General Foods, DuPont, and others, decided to create their own propaganda. An internal NAM memo called for “re-selling all of the individual Joe Doakes on the advantages and benefits he enjoys under a competitive economy.” NAM launched a massive public relations campaign it called the “American Way.” As the minutes of a NAM meeting described it, the purpose of the campaign was to link “free enterprise in the public consciousness with free speech, free press and free religion as integral parts of democracy.”

Consumption was not only the linchpin of the campaign; it was also recast in political terms. A campaign booklet put out by the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency told readers that under “private capitalism, the Consumer, the Citizen is boss,” and “he doesn’t have to wait for election day to vote or for the Court to convene before handing down his verdict. The consumer ‘votes’ each time he buys one article and rejects another.”

According to Edward Bernays, one of the founders of the field of public relations and a principal architect of the American Way, the choices available in the polling booth are akin to those at the department store; both should consist of a limited set of offerings that are carefully determined by what Bernays called an “invisible government” of public-relations experts and advertisers working on behalf of business leaders. Bernays claimed that in a “democratic society” we are and should be “governed, our minds . . . molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

If you're interested in the history of consumerism (and if you've gotten this far, you must be), I also highly recommend the National-Book-Award-nominated Land of Desire by William Leach.

LATE ADDITION: As I meant to note earlier, Kaplan's advocacy of a shorter work week obviously is a poor solution for those of us whose wages barely cover the essentials. We need every paid hour we can get. Indeed, many employers today are all too happy to cut hours (while the notion of a compensatory pay raise would at best yield feckless sympathy or a hearty horselaugh). Further, as a condition of providing even these reduced hours, employers will often demand "open availability," making it next to impossible for the underscheduled to take on a second job. For many employees, therefore, needless gewgaws aren't even on the radar screen. Fewer hours simply mean less money for food, medicine, and other necessities.

More broadly, businesses may want to consider the contribution their stagnant pay scales, coupled with their ceaseless inflammation of consumer desire, have made to the credit crunch and the state of our now-sputtering economy.

Our predicament, in a nutshell

Both of these articles are hugely insightful regarding our economic predicament today--particularly Fraser's, which compares the original Gilded Age of the late 1800s to the reenactment we now see around us (there's a reason Karl Rove loves that period). Fraser writes:

As in [the] days [of the first Gilded Age], there is today no end to ideological justifications for an inequality so pervasive that no one can really ignore it entirely. In 1890, reformer Jacob Riis published his book How the Other Half Lives. Some were moved by his vivid descriptions of destitution. In the late nineteenth century, however, the preferred way of dismissing that discomfiting reality was to put the blame on a culture of dependency supposedly prevalent among "the lower orders," particularly, of course, among those of certain complexions and ethnic origins; and the logical way to cure that dependency, so the claim went, was to eliminate publicly funded "outdoor relief."

How reminiscent of the "welfare to work" policies cooked up by the Clinton administration, an exchange of one form of dependency -- welfare -- for another -- low-wage labor. Poverty, once turned into the cultural and moral problem of the impoverished, exculpated Gilded Age economics in both the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries (and proved profitable besides).

Even now, there remains a trace of the old Social Darwinian rationale -- that the ascendancy of "the fittest" benefits the whole species -- and the accompanying innuendo that those consigned to the bottom of the heap are fated by nature to end up there. To that must be added a reinvigorated belief in the free market as the fairest (not to mention the most efficient) way to allocate wealth. Then, season it all with a bravura elevation of risk-taking to the status of spiritual, as well as economic, tonic. What you end up with is an intellectual elixir as self-congratulatory as the conscience-cleansing purgative that made Professor Sumner so sure in his cold-bloodedness.

Then, as now, hypocrisy and self-delusion were the final ingredients in this ideological brew. When it came to practical matters, neither the business elites of the first Gilded Age, nor our own "liquidators," "terminators," and merger and acquisition Machiavellians ever really believed in the free market or the enterprising individual. Then, as now, when push came to shove (and often way earlier), they relied on the government: for political favors, for contracts, for tax advantages, for franchises, for tariffs and subsidies, for public grants of land and natural resources, for financial bail-outs when times were tough (see Bear Stearns), and for muscular protection, including the use of armed force, against all those who might interfere with the rights of private property.

So too, while industrial and financial tycoons liked to imagine themselves as stand-alone heroes, daring cowboys on the urban-industrial-financial frontier, as a matter of fact the first Gilded Age gave birth to the modern, bureaucratic corporation -- and did so at the expense of the lone entrepreneur. To this day, that big business behemoth remains the defining institution of commercial life. The reigning melodrama may still be about the free market and the audacious individual, but backstage, directing the players, stands the state and the corporation.

Crony capitalism, inequality, extravagance, Social Darwinian self-justification, blame-the-victim callousness, free-market hypocrisy: thus it was, thus it is again!

The Great Silence:
Our Gilded Age and Theirs - TomDispatch

The second article, Kevin Phillips's discussion of America's shift from a manufacturing to a finance-based economy, is also incisive, if ultimately less optimistic:

Bubble and Bail - The American Prospect

Keynes: Laissez-faire is not a law of nature

As Keynes argues here, "A study of the history of opinion is a necessary preliminary to the emancipation of the mind."

Keynes: The End of Laissez-Faire - Economist's View

Saturday, May 10, 2008

There's two kinds of populist: the kind that wants to help the rich, and the kind that wants to help the rest of us

Let Them Eat Arugula - The New Republic

This is a strong analysis. The following passage is key:

Liberal populism is mostly harnessed to a concrete legislative program aimed at broadening prosperity. Al Gore's "people versus the powerful" campaign focused on his differences with Bush over issues like regulation of HMOs and progressive taxation. Conservative populism, by contrast, is a way of exploiting the grievances it identifies without redressing them. It has an ever-shifting array of targets--Michael Dukakis's veto of a law requiring students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or the rantings of Jeremiah Wright--but no way to knock them down.

Conservative populists sometimes ape liberal populism by promising material benefits to average people. But the promise is structured so as to pose no threat to any wealthy economic interest. George W. Bush offered tax cuts to the middle class, but paired them with far larger tax cuts for the rich, so that, ultimately, the middle class bore a larger proportion of the tax burden.

In short, conservative "populism" is a form of political misdirection in which the phrase "I'm one of you" can be more accurately translated as "I don't give a damn about you."

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Yes, we can

Will.I.Am was just awarded a well-deserved Webby for this pro-Obama video. It really is inspiring.

Yes, We Can

The GOP health care plan: helping those who can help themselves

Why John McCain Wants You To Give Up Your Health Insurance - The American Prospect

The conservatives' desperate faith in "the magic of the market" is almost touching. It's like a 10-year-old who won't stop believing in Santa, all evidence and sense to the contrary.

Here's some of that market magic in action:

Even the Insured Feel Strain of Health Costs - The New York Times

Even against that rap sheet of greed, chicanery, lies, and misdirection that so often constitute the business practices of the modern American corporation, the insurance industry truly stands out for its determined and ceaseless efforts NOT to provide the very service for which its customers have paid.

On matters of faith, too, the Founders wanted us to think for ourselves

Prior Convictions - The New Yorker

As government diminishes, the corporations swoop in to pick us clean

The Middle-Class Squeeze Is A Result of Low Taxes - The Huffington Post