Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The politics of cruelty

Yet another terrific post from Charles Pierce, on the human cost of allowing the "negotiations" meme to prevail. These really are issues of life and death, and it is flat-out immoral to consign millions of people to profound suffering, pain and death unnecessarily. Reality defeated delusion on Nov. 6, and reality should not let delusion back into the tent for the sake of yesterday's Beltway decorum.

In fact, the Dems should take a page from Israel's book. They shouldn't negotiate until they have a real partner for peace. They should not sit down with terrorists, with America's Hamas. There's actual work to do, and John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Lindsey Graham and the rest of the Party of Lies have nothing to do with it. They're a distraction.

Friday, November 30, 2012

You must remember this

CDS is still CDS. Some crap never dies. Some crap doesn't even fade away.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Gaffe confirmed

In case there was any doubt about whether Mitt's infamous (and possibly fatal) "47 percent" video was just a pander and a lie, rather than a gaffe (i.e., a true statement of his feeling, however embarrassing), the latest results from the election are now in. Gaffe it was, and is. There were many varietals of sour grapes he could have chosen to serve. He picked Racist Scrooge.

Dig in - Updated

I had no particular feeling one way or another about the prospect of Susan Rice succeeding Hillary at State. But now I hope Obama names her, and I hope she gets confirmed on a party-line vote. He needs to stare these jerks down.

Update: As Bob has been saying, the facts are on Rice's side. This is an opportunity space, not a danger zone. Let the hearings happen. A full, open examination of reality will discredit McCain and Graham and the rest. Obama should give them all the rope they are willing to grab. That, in fact, is what I take his hot response at yesterday's presser to have been -- a macho dare, and a clever lure.

Why? Because what is most likely the case is that Benghazi was not just a diplomatic outpost but a staging HQ for US spooks. In other words, this was CIA spy stuff that got blown up. Why else, do we suppose, Mitt suddenly dropped the subject, after going at it hammer-and-tongs for weeks? Isn't it likely that he got a confidential briefing, in which it was made clear to him that pressing on this "issue" risked exposing our clandestine intelligence operations and operatives? So let Senator Senile and Senator Smarmy hammer away -- and let their party suffer the political consequences. Even if my speculation about the underlying facts of Benghazi is wrong, even if all that happens is that Susan Rice's actual statements on these news programs get played again and seen for what they are, this is a political winner.

Bad Memes, Bad Politics, Bad Policy - Updated

Still accepting rightwing memes, Robert Reich proposes a half-measure on the economy that cedes far too much ground.

Obviously, reviving the economy and lowering unemployment come first. They also come second, third and fourth. As Krugman has shown repeatedly, the deficit is not an urgent issue, in terms of actual economics. And as Reagan famously showed, it is never an urgent issue in terms of politics. Krugman has also shown how the GOP itself isn't serious about reducing the deficit, and never has been. It's pure theater for them. Well, we shouldn't go to that play.

Obama's frame from now on should be to redefine what it means to be "serious." That needs to be wrenched away from the faux VSPs, who have heretofore succeeded in equating it with fiscal austerity. Instead, seriousness should be equated with returning to reality, to data, to facts. Obama does have a mandate -- for a new, pragmatic governance based on facts. It is post-partisan, not bipartisan -- "post" in the sense that it doesn't organize itself around the opinions of partisans (or whoever is in the room), but around the evidence. This taps into the new Age of Nate Silver, of the Sandy-driven acceptance of climate change, of math education not just for our children, but for our politicians. The Democrats are now the party of reality, and the Republicans the party of fantasy. The election accomplished something really valuable in that respect, and it should not be pissed away.

Obama should paint the Republicans as the party of illusion and delusion. Central to those delusions are its memes -- like "entitlements," "job creators" and "fiscal cliff." These words should never be uttered or reinforced by our side. They should be relegated to the dustbin that contains "creation science" and its ilk.

Once again, Krugman lights the way: we bomb the cliff. The correct framing is to demonize "austerity" -- and calling it a "bomb" is a good way to do that.

Rhetorically, this should take the form of a polite but firm ignoring of the GOP. Obama should not treat this as a negotiation, but as work he is doing for the American people -- with the Republican House positioned as no more than an annoying obstacle. If that obstacle proves really persistent, no matter. Politically, the work here should never be framed as "compromise." The election was the arbiter between the two sides -- and one side won. That's over now. The facts are the facts, and the job of our government is to act on them. The American people have demanded that. If the House tries its extortionary bluff, Obama has to call them on it. They'll fold.

Update: Simpatico sentiments from the always piercing Charles Pierce, Esquire.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hooray for Jonathan Chait

Yes, I know he's a fanboy who makes risible claims for the greatness of the Precious. But he has also been hammering the right ideas and debunking the bad memes, and bad memers. He is doing God's work -- including his latest analysis of the election's meaning. This will, I hope, be read carefully by the White House. This is why Obama won. With the possibility of actual legislation eliminated by the Grover Norquist government-drowners in the House, Obama finally yielded to reality and began speaking in progressive frames. This is why the Dems won close Senate races in surprising places like North Dakota (in addition to those rape-erendums), and in once-doubted places like Massachusetts. This is the path to continued electoral success. This is the key to legacy.

Monday, November 5, 2012

And from the other side of the moon... Updated

You really have to wonder what Noonan will do to explain herself the morning after. But maybe, if you can talk yourself into actually loving Romney, it's a sign that you'll never wake up.

Update: Well, we no longer have to wonder. What she does to explain herself the morning after is, Romney-Janus-like, simply assert she never said what she said. Reality evaporates. Monday's faux-poet of right wing hope becomes, handy-dandy, Wednesday's finger-wagging, I-told-you-so Cassandra-scold of the right wing's fundamental flaws.

And, of course, Noonan is not the only Martian in this head-exploding comedy. She is legion -- pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. We don't have enough microwaves - it's an Orville Redenbacker orgy.

The irony is beyond thick here -- its gravitational pull is growing into a self-absorbing (literal and conventional) black hole. 

Update 2: Krugman on the deep magic of the GOP dissolution. If this party isn't fit to stand trial, it would be the height (or depth) of irresponsibility for our president to continue propping them up. Any talk of bipartisanship or reinforcement of the memes of "fiscal cliff" or "entitlement reform" is a betrayal of the American electorate.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Oh, snap

The uber poll nerd fights for facts:
"If the state polls are right, then Mr. Obama will win the Electoral College. If you can’t acknowledge that after a day when Mr. Obama leads 19 out of 20 swing-state polls, then you should abandon the pretense that your goal is to inform rather than entertain the public."
 Nice to see the reality-based community standing up for itself.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Blast from the past

Ah, yes. One had almost forgotten the smell of CDS in the morning. Thanks, Matt Bai, for trotting it out again. Our president didn't possibly blow the election on his own, with his epic-fail first debate meltdown. No, it was that ol' debbil Bubba again.

These people are beyond pathetic.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hail Mary - Updated

Putting aside for the moment Obama's woeful, and perhaps psychologically revealing performance last night, what about Romney? What he did was, by any measure, extraordinary -- not in its effectiveness, per se, but in its daring.

First of all, he lied serially and with no apparent fear of being called on any of it. He demonstrated utter contempt for the voting public, treated everybody as "low-information voters" who would take his reinvention last night at face value. Whatever else you can say about it, it's not cautious. But even more, he totally pivoted, throwing his wingnut Tea Party base off the train, under the bus... pick your vehicular cliche. Apparently, he doesn't fear them, either. He may have figured that they'd be so happy seeing Obama get beat up that they'd cheer their guy regardless of what he said. Again, maybe that's smart (it's certainly what everybody expected him to Etch-a-Sketch to a long time ago)... but it's not for the faint of heart, not in this high-drama, high-stakes venue.

What, I ask myself, is one to make of this Hail Mary pass? Was it his plan all along? Fine, David Remnick doesn't think Obama was doing rope-a-dope last night... but has Romney been doing just that for the past six months? And if so, whom was he looking to deceive? Was it his base -- giving them as much time and evidence as possible to convince themselves that they could actually pull the lever for him? Was it the Obama campaign, leading them to get complacent? Was it the media, laying the groundwork for a dramatic, last-second reversal of fortune (always a sexy narrative)? Was it all of the above?

If it was a long-hatched plan, what that suggests is a certain level of desperation -- and an Errol Flynn derring-do response. It suggests that he and his campaign looked at something early on that convinced them they could only win this thing through a dramatic narrative that they would have to construct -- a la Witness for the Prosecution.

What might have convinced them of that? Maybe it comes from knowing their base. Maybe if you knew how crazy those folks really are, how ready they are to desert the GOP on Nov. 6, you'd come to the conclusion that you do have to pay maximum lip service to their deranged views and feelings.

Maybe it was the economic numbers. Maybe they looked at the general trajectories and decided that things just weren't going to be bad enough for the people to throw Obama out. Maybe they were waiting on what the EU would do, and when Mario Draghi took action, they concluded that that hurricane wouldn't hit our shores before the election.

Maybe it was a broader sense of the dissolution of the Republican Party. Maybe they knew that this asylum that tries to pass as a coalition simply cannot be held together for more than five minutes -- so you shouldn't really begin your campaign until the last second.

Whatever the reason, the bet was a bold one. And then the pass-launching quarterback was blessed with remarkable good luck -- an opponent who came into the ring not as Muhammed Ali, or even Joe Frazier, but as Bartleby the Scrivener.

Only thing is, there's still time on the clock. Our own quarterback may have lost interest in the game, but there's a sideline full of people who actually want to win. And together, they may be able to put together enough fourth-quarter drives -- you know, using the wildcat or short passes... or, at least, a stout enough defense -- to hold onto the lead and run out the clock.

You gotta hand it to Mitt, though. There really wasn't anything in his past that suggested this level of daring. Whatever else it tells you, it says that he really wants this thing. Which is more than you can say, it seems, for his opponent.

Update: When David Brooks is wrong -- and that is often -- he usually errs on the side of naivete. Tomorrow's column argues that the real Mitt has escaped from his Tea Party handlers to give forth a proud, full-throated roar of moderation. He says that the only option Obama has in response to this pivot is to perform one of his own -- to switch from the accusation of extremism to one of making flippy floppy.

Well, to paraphrase our late-awakening president, this David Brooks should talk to Monday's David Brooks. That one had, with unintentional truth-telling, revealed the obvious alternate strategy: You continue to accuse Romney of being a conservative ideologue -- and add that he's a liar.

That's what Obama did today. Will it stick? Remains to be seen. "Liar" is more aggressive than "flip-flopper," and Obama doesn't like to be aggressive, but the shoe does fit. It fits the guy who created the prototype for Obamacare, only to demonize it for a year and swear he'll repeal it on day one of his presidency (as if). It fits the guy who doesn't just change from the $5 Trillion Man to the Lone Ranger in a flash, but denies that he ever said the other thing in the first place (you know, the thing that's in the party platform, that the Republican House passed with nary a dissent, that Romney repeated over and over). And he did so with pathological insouciance. Yeah, liar can stick.

Indeed, one of the highest-risk bets of Romney's Hail Mary is that people will only pay attention to last night -- and, presumably, the next month -- and not the previous year. That they'll look at this only as an election between Moderate Competent Romney and Moderate Incompetent Obama, ignoring the party Romney represents. And that they'll believe that the Romney now playing the compassionate conservative in public is the real one, rather than the shockingly cynical, heartless plutocrat of the "47 percent" conversation in private. It might work, but as I say, it's definitely a high-risk bet. Especially given the existence of that video. Expect to see it a whole lot for the next month.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How many scenarios...

... can dance on the head of a pin? I like Nate Silver, but this is absurd. Eight, count 'em, maps and this headline -- "New Polls Raise Chance of an Electoral Tie" -- for a rise from 0.3 percent to 0.6 percent? Really? Must be a slow news day in pollville.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


So now, after a modest amount of decorous throat-clearing that "nothing is decided yet" -- data to the contrary -- and with predictable (and accurate) grumbling about what a truly terrible candidate Romney has proven to be (except, of course, compared to every single one of the alternatives)... and with the occasional detour into truly sophistic fantasy ("But in Bizarro America, where they don't hold 'elections,' his chances wouldn't be so damn good!")... the commentariat will start wrapping its head around the reality of a second Obama term.. 

The first shot out of the box is from Andrew Sullivan, in full fanboy ecstasy with a piece whose headline and thesis -- "President Obama: The Democrats' Ronald Reagan" -- are what an irony therapist might call overdetermined. Sullivan, the poet laureate of 11-dimensional chess (aka "Obama's long game") is an imaginarium architect of the first water, rearranging the universe around the infallibility of his love object (indeed, constructing a heavenly sphere in which the Father and Son are not just enthroned, but wed).

Inspired by that, let me offer a brief version -- to be elaborated at a later date, if events justify it and I have the energy -- of my own fantasized near future. It involves a president who perhaps has -- thanks in significant part to his opponents on the right (we on the left had little or no effect) -- been turned into an actual Democrat, an actual thinker and an actual leader. 

If the past year has accomplished anything, it has clarified the reality of the political arena. I guess our elections, despite their vacuous and depressing theatricality, do that. Obama has been driven, against his natural instincts, to an actual ideological place -- and it has proven to be much more politically successful. Rhetorically, at least, he has moved left -- or, more precisely, has gelled into something comprehensible. George Lakoff must be gratified that he is, at long last, shaping the dialogue in ways that reflect a comprehensible progressive view. This view is proving effective -- he's winning, and thankfully, he's winning for approximately the right reasons. The country really is rejecting the three Rs -- Romney's plutocratic noblesse oblige, Ryan's Ayn Randian social darwinism, and the Republicans' Grover Norquistian economic mono-thesis-ism: Whatever the question, the answer is, "Cut taxes!" There can be no doubt that the majority view post-election 2012 -- the center of gravity, the Tea Party nothwithstanding -- will be that government has a vital role in society.

If a second Obama term were grounded in nothing more than that, it would be cheering. But I am allowing myself to fantasize that the wet clay of our Precious President might be being shaped into something even better than a Democrat. I am hoping he can become an actual thinker and leader -- which is to say, a systems thinker-and-leader (or, at least, a vessel capable of absorbing and enacting systems thought). Instead of an actor delivering empty paeans to bipartisanship and compromise -- instead of being guided by the narcissistic imperative of looking like the most reasonable person in the room -- perhaps he has been dragged, kicking and pausing, into the role of leader with an actual world view. Maybe he is arriving at a hard-won comprehension of the emerging planetary paradigm and of how America's political dynamics fit into that. Maybe we'll stop obsessing about debt-reduction through "grand bargains," and start lowering actual spending (on our way toward single payer), through, say, a lower Medicare eligibility age. Maybe we'll pump aid back to the states, so that all those laid-off teachers, police and fire fighters can resume pumping money back into the economy. Maybe we'll save Wall St. (and the rest of the economy) from itself, by imposing meaningful regulations that turn banking into a boring utility, and shift innovation to where it belongs in this coming era -- away from financial capital and toward production capital.

Okay, I said this was an exercise in fantasy. But I do, er, hope that he has, er, changed.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Since the Presidential race is now decided... - updated

Yes, I know. I'm giving it a kinehora -- and on Rosh Hashana, yet. So be it. Mitt was already a goner before Moochergate, and now he is unelectable. He has already written the scripts of the debates, and they were his one remaining predictable chance to change the trajectory. Now he's down to hoping for dei ex machina. And since the dysfunction of his campaign has itself become a robust meme, there is now the likelihood of an exponential shift: the meta taking each actual gaffe and lost opportunity to the next power, and so on. Stick a fork in it -- this one is done.

Which means that the Democratic Party, if it has a whit of sechel, should right now be redirecting resources into Senate and House races. As Nate Silver points out, the momentum in the Senate is already favorable to the Dems. It should not be allowed to backslide for lack of money. As for the House, I suspect retaking it is beyond the pale, but a large infusion of advertising across the country could perhaps win back 15-20 seats. I mean ads that do double duty nationally and locally: Show the increasingly toxic Romney and Ryan next to Candidate X, with the headline, "They want to take away your Medicare and give you Vouchercare." For good measure, include a clip from Romney's 47 Percent Dis-solution video.

L'shana tova.

Update: It would be nothing short of astonishing if this election turned into a Dem wave -- after Obama's failures on the economy, after the GOP wave in 2010. And yet, some signs are pointing that way. Witness Nate Silver's latest on the Senate. Money quote -- which would have seemed insane even a week ago:
...if the trend continues, the question may no longer be whether Republicans can win the Senate — but how vulnerable they are to losing the House.
Update 2: More grist. Maybe there's something in the methodology gap between cell-phone-and-live-interview polls and the others that doesn't just favor Dems, but also provides earlier indications of trajectory?

Update 3: Rats, ships, and all that.

Update 4: And the cupboard was bare.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

It could be

Or, at least, here's what I'm permitting myself to hope this morning: That the choice of Paul Ryan will prove as disastrous in its way for the GOP as the choice of Sarah Palin -- more so, in fact, since the outcome of this election is far less certain than was 2008, post-Lehman.

It really is striking, and encouraging, that the MSM -- and even Fox -- have called out Ryan's Pants on Fire acceptance speech. Krugman's cries in the wilderness that he is not only deeply unserious but deeply phony seem less lonely today than they did before the convention. Perhaps marathongate will provide the second data point -- the establishment of a pattern -- necessary for a meme to drop anchor. Meanwhile, nobody is talking about Mitt's failed treacle, thanks to the birth of the Eastwooding meme. Thanks, Clint -- you really did make my day. All in all, these are wonderfully inept political mistakes, because they are so easily remembered. My guess is that there will be little or no convention bounce -- that Nate Silver's prediction will prove correct.

And now, if this piece in the Times is to be believed, there is considerable running-away from the Ryan Budget in Congressional races around the country. We know how it affected the special race in upstate NY a year ago. God willing, it'll do the same nationally in November.

I remain as jaundiced about Obama's failure as ever. But I also deeply fear a takeover by the right-wing radicals. I would definitely celebrate on election night if the Dems managed to reverse 2010.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Another of Obama's boys weighs in

Matt Taibbi is his usual badda-bing self in decimating Wall Street's reaction to Sandy Weill's foxhole conversion -- reserving his sharpest barbs for Steve Rattner's mendacious op-ed. What Matt doesn't point out, though, is that Rattner is one of "ours," a high-proflie advocate for the Precious. With financial geniuses like this, who needs GOPmageedon?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Flunking the orals

Mitt's Grand Tour of Fail just received its most devastating pan -- not from lightweights like Dowd, who drool over trivia, but on the deep merits, by one of his chosen scholarly sources, Jared Diamond. 

Money quotes to start...
"Mitt Romney's latest controversial remark, about the role of culture in explaining why some countries are rich and powerful while others are poor and weak, has attracted much comment. I was especially interested in his remark because he misrepresented my views and, in contrasting them with another scholar’s arguments, oversimplified the issue."
 ... and to finish:
"Mitt Romney may become our next president. Will he continue to espouse one-factor explanations for multicausal problems, and fail to understand history and the modern world? If so, he will preside over a declining nation squandering its advantages of location and history." 
Yes, I know what you'll say: Voters don't know or care what scholars say. But I have a feeling this one will matter, whether or not people remember who said what. I mean, this is the political equivalent of Woody Allen as Alvy Singer in Annie Hall pulling Marshal McLuhan out from behind the poster: "You know nothing of my work!... How you got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing."

Alvy, you have your wish. Life sometimes is like this.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Valuable and important... but

George Lakoff is a worthwhile thinker and presence -- and his latest discussion of the proper way to frame political discourse in America makes a valuable contribution. It would certainly be good if Democrats did what he suggests. It would indicate movement back toward being capable of political success and the capacity to turn that into a better world -- the capacity actually to govern.

However, his argument only goes so far. In the interest of reinforcing the long-term "brands" of these competitors, he tends to ignore the existing context -- the climate and zeitgeist within which these philosophical and moral struggles are playing out. I don't mean the issues du jour, much less the distractions and gaffe-mongering. I mean the broad trajectories.

Simply put, when things are heading south and people are unhappy -- are more fearful or angry than hopeful -- it's hard for an optimistic frame to resonate. And not surprisingly, nobody is offering one today. People keep chastising both Romney and Obama for not doing so -- but how could they? Nobody would hear it. What people are actually eager for is somebody to blame for how they feel. The Republicans have their candidate -- government. Obama and the feckless Dems have been reluctant to finger theirs -- the malefactors of great wealth, Wall St., the 1 percent. 

It's not surprising that Lakoff is happier these days with Obama. Our president is, finally, articulating a Lakovian frame -- the idea of the public. But unless the Dems effectively finger the opponents of that idea -- the enemies of the public -- it won't do the work it needs to do.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Actually Wanting to Win

This blog was forged in the Mt. Doom of the '08 primaries, fueled by the misogyny and anti-Boomer, "post-partisan" fallacies of the still-crawling-toward-Bethlehem-to-be-reborn Democratic Party. For many people, that is now yesterday's news. Perhaps this includes Bill and Hillary themselves. I have more trouble getting past it -- though I definitely want Obama and the Dems to win this November. Even if I can't get progressivism, even if I can't have someone who would read Krugman and turn those analyses into legislation... when forced to choose between feckless -- or even corporatist -- "centrists" and a batshit wingnut road to hell, I'll choose the former. It really will matter to millions of people's lives.


It is a mordant irony to see the political and policy fratboy amateurs of the Cult of the Precious turn, once again, to a Clinton to bail them out. After demonizing them, slandering them, rejecting the wisdom and the smarts that they had brought to this floundering institution. Once again, a Clinton is carrying their water, after they have pissed all over his leg. Once again, they find themselves turning to actual leaders, who actually want to win, and know how to do so.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Krugman again, on the mark again -- this time about the narcissistic dimension of our elites' insanity. I would just add that it's not only about wealth and privilege (pace F. Scott). It's about isolation (cue Jared Diamond). 

My experience in corporate America has made it clear to me that the putative emotional-familial structure of hierarchical organizations (and by extension, societies) is, in fact, a willful collective delusion. We tell ourselves that our leaders are like parents and those they lead are like children -- but the emotional truth is precisely the opposite. Executives are emotional babies, in need of constant stroking and assurance that they are wise, powerful, beautiful, beloved. The workers of any organization play the role of the grown-up, reassuring and protecting them. 

Why do we do this?  Because we want there to be leaders (and, eventually, to be a god). We find a life in which there is no final authority -- a genuinely open uiniverse -- too frightening. We're acutely aware of our own limitations, and we long for a loving authority who will protect us from having to be adults. So we invent one, we invent more than one. We tell ourselves and them that they actually exist.

This collective fiction can be sustained when the overall system is more or less stable and broadly beneficial. But when it breaks down, when the power imbalances get too wide, and a correction is required, the emotional dishonesty is suddenly unavoidable. What we're hearing from these criminal infants on Wall St. is not just the deranged hypersensitivity of the bubble-ensconced rich brat (though the thought does occur that bubbles beget other bubbles). It's the desperate cris de coeur of the naked emperor, the dreamer of the universal dream of inadequacy who has suddenly been woken up. They have to blame that on somebody. Being awake is too scary.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Stop, now, what's that sound?

As someone once noted, paranoia strikes doofy -- this time in Nutlanta. Bike out of line, one of America's two major political parties come and take you away.

'Tis the time's plague, when the mad lead the bland.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Beyond shameless

John Yoo, the soft-spoken Dr. Strangelove of the imperial executive, the legal architect of the president's right to torture, has no bottom. Keep diving, and you'll never hit it. Even the Balrog eventually hit a floor.

Witness his remarkable op-ed in the Wall Street Journal denouncing John Roberts for, he claims, immeasurably strengthening the power of the Federal government. Yes, our government must be entirely free to spy on, detain, torture and kill us -- but god forbid it should seek to protect or help us.

This man is evil.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


David Brooks performs a public service in tomorrow's column, "What Republicans Think." He tells us just that -- and it is clear how deranged, disconnected from actual facts, unconcerned about real suffering, locked inside bogus and disproved theories (though even calling them "theories" is far too kind) that thinking is. He claims Republicans are the big thinkers, aware of the historical inflection point at hand and ready to move into what lies on its other side, while Democrats are pettifogging tinkerers of the failed welfare state, apparatchiks of the status quo. 

Except, of course, the version of history Brooks -- thank you very much -- accurately reports from the GOP cerebral cortex is a silly fantasy with no connection to what has actually happened, and without the first idea of what is driving the economy, society, technology and the trajectories of the future. When it suits their factitious debating purposes, they purport to celebrate global integration and technological transformation, but they don't have the first idea of how those forces actually intersect and what real potential for economic prosperity and societal progress (not to mention environmental sustainability) they hold. As Krugman has been saying all along, this mixture of hand-wringing, sober beard stroking and faux philosophizing is a pretext to help plutocrats continue the plutocracy. We're in Jared Diamond territory, with hermetically sealed elites fiddling while Rome burns. 

Yes, we do need big thinking -- big, smart, fact-based thinking, accompanied by the guts to fight for a progressive future. We have lacked both for these past four years. But it is salutary to be reminded, from an unimpeachable source, what passes for thinking in the billionaires boys club.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Well, duh

Finally, a small bit of political intelligence from the Dems. Of course they're channeling Krugman -- Cassandra makes the evening news! Is it too late? We'll see.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Fascinating -- and frightening

Krugman points to a speech George Soros gave on Saturday which is remarkable for its clarity and breadth. His principles of fallibility and reflexivity constitute a true systems-thinking view of the history and likely breakup of the European Union. His notion of a "political bubble" interacting in complex ways -- generating what complex systems theory calls positive feedback loops -- with the financial bubble is particularly interesting. One candidate for nut graf is:
"While the European Union was being created, the leadership was in the forefront of further integration; but after the outbreak of the financial crisis the authorities became wedded to preserving the status quo. This has forced all those who consider the status quo unsustainable or intolerable into an anti-European posture. That is the political dynamic that makes the disintegration of the European Union just as self-reinforcing as its creation has been.  That is the political bubble I was talking about."
Among the other fascinating and frightening points Soros makes is that the accelerating (not slowing) crisis is leading toward doubling-down on previous mistakes. Thus, instead of winding down the euro while preserving the EU -- the correct course -- the opposite seems likely to happen. And he believes the moment of truth is now upon us:
"In my judgment the authorities have a three months’ window during which they could still correct their mistakes and reverse the current trends. By the authorities I mean mainly the German government and the Bundesbank because in a crisis the creditors are in the driver’s seat and nothing can be done without German support."
It may be, in a historical sense, one of the comparatively less important aspects of this that it is happening in the midst of a U.S. election. If the dream of a post-national Europe goes gaflooey, its impact will be far deeper than the replacement of an inadequate Democratic president with an inadequate Republican president. However, Soros's plausible timetable certainly does put this Fall's election home stretch into perspective. After all, it was another Fall -- the Fall of Lehman -- in September 2008 that decided that contest.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What happens now depends on what happens

With two deeply flawed candidates -- political C players who have by now squandered whatever capacity they might once have possessed to affect events -- the outcome of the presidential race will depend on those events, most importantly in Europe. If the ECB and the Germans, in their infinite wisdom, allow the EU to plunge into depression, and if that, in turn, washes over our shores in noticeable ways, then Romney probably wins. If that doesn't happen, then Obama probably wins.

In a nutshell: 

Romney's brand is now set. He is the plutocrat who only cares about rich people, and he only wants to get elected to serve their interests. There is nothing he can now do to shake this branding -- and he doesn't even have the sechel to try.

Obama's set, too. He cannot be a credible economic crusader for the middle class, because he cannot be a credible crusader. In the past I have lamented his failure to emulate FDR's "I welcome their hatred." What was I thinking? This man cannot become a believable emotional presence -- cannot deploy his feelings as a political force. He can utter populist-sounding words, but the chance for his feelings to be believed by most people on any subject has passed. It's not just that he has betrayed most of the principles and policies Democrats hold dear -- which he has -- but that he has disappeared as an actor, in both senses of the word. He has hidden in plain sight for his whole life, and now on the big stage for the past four years. We no longer credit him with caring enough about anything to fight for it. When he tries, it doesn't take.

So... now we wait.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Yet again

Yet again, Paul Krugman is a light in the darkness. One could raise a tribute to him every day, and it wouldn't be too often. He tells the truth about important things.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Gimme a break

Look, I yield to few in my conviction that Barack Obama lacks a center -- or, at least, lacks access to whatever center may be in there. But what's up with this ridiculous NY Times/CBS News poll? The findings themselves are entirely uninteresting -- what else could the outcome have been on this or any other controversial topic during a contentious campaign? The point was the question itself -- it's simply a meta-way of taking a shot at him. And it's the hypocrite calling the kettle black -- not only for the Times and CBS News, but for the poll's participants to criticize Obama for not having been a long-time supporter of gay rights. One can only assume some snark-monger decided this would be a good headline. Please.

Yes, one can only hope

As Krugman has continued to do for the past three years (more, if you count the 08 campaign), now Joe Nocera is making it clear what Obama should say -- saying it for him. Isn't that teleprompter enough?

Sunday, May 13, 2012


This is scary, if accurate. Scary re Europe, and scary re the US. I hope that the hermetic seal around our president has not repaired itself, and that he will recognize the direness of his straits. Politically speaking, he must seize the initiative, must start going hard after the banks and tying Romney and the whole GOP to them in any ways he can. Ross Douhat groks this, for chrissake.

Of course, even then, a collapse of the Euro within months may doom his presidency. And then, Gaia help us.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Some tempest

Some teapot. I hope the S.E.C. is planning to ask: What did Jamie Dimon know, and when did he know it.

Jamie Dimon? Now, why is that name familiar?

And yes, the correct outcome is clear. So glad you helped steer us away from Hillary Clinton, Bob.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Romney's assignment, if he chooses to accept it - updated

Here's how Romney wins the presidency: He runs against Tim Geithner and the too-big-to-fail banks. He attacks Obama's socialism for the rich, while portraying himself and the rest of the vulture capitalists as playing by the high-risk, high-reward rules of true capitalism: "We at Bain were never too big to fail. If we made bad bets, we were subject to the swift judgment of the market -- which is exactly how capitalism is supposed to work. But President Obama, Secretary Geithner and this Administration stepped in and distorted the market -- making the government of the United States a crony capitalist of historic proportions. I said at the time that the bailouts were wrong -- and we see now how right that was. The corruption of moral hazard continues to this day -- witness the latest outrage from JP Morgan Chase. This isn't what capitalism, or America, are supposed to be about. It's time to restore a true free-market economy, and get America back to work."

As Confidence Men and Frontline's "Money, Power and Wall St." make clear -- and as Krugman, Reich, Stiglitz et al. have noted for years -- Obama aided and abetted the looting of Main St. by Wall St. Romney can have his cake and eat it by singling out the big banks, while continuing to collect contributions from the rest of corporate America. Obama is genuinely vulnerable on this issue, and Romney would get a twofer -- appealing both to the Tea Party and to independents appalled when Citibank, Goldman Sachs and their brethren were made whole.

Will he do it? Probably not. It probably requires more political imagination -- and more acting skill (i.e., the capacity to project convincing outrage) than he possesses. So my guess is he won't accept this mission-eminently-possible. But I wish he would. Even if Obama did win, a debate framed in this way would create a lot of pressure to address financial reform in a more serious way in his second term.

Update: If Obama, Axelrod, Plouffe et al. have an ounce of political sechel, they will seize the opening created by the shaming of Jamie Dimon and JP Morgan Chase. They will forget that they ever had a good word for Dimon and Blankfein; forget that they let Geithner slow-walk the break-up of Citi, as Suskind reveals; forget that they have sat idle while Dodd-Frank was being dismantled before our eyes. They will run hard against the banks, starting right now -- and cutting off Romney's potential winning play at the pass. They will whip the Senate to ensure that none of these eviscerations of Dodd-Frank make it into law. Obama will talk over and over again about the need for a strong Volker Rule, to accompany his Buffett Rule -- and put out the word through surrogates that Volker would become Treasury Secretary in his second administration.

Friday, April 27, 2012

It was obvious all along

The new op-ed by Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann in the Washington Post is getting a lot of attention, and it's obviously salutary. The GOP should be called out as batshit crazy, and the media should be called out for not reporting that as fact. To have this piece appear in the Post, the Broderist temple of bipartisan orthodoxy, is good.

But the thing is, as Bob Somerby has been saying for 15 years, and as Ornstein and Mann remind us here, this is not a new state of affairs. And it was political malpractice of historically disastrous proportions for the Democratic Party not to have understood and fought against this. I have just finished reading Ron Suskind's Confidence Men, and its judgment on Barack Obama is devastating. He was incapable of doing this job, and is not growing into it. Far from being a quick study, he is rigidly locked into his own severely limiting psychic needs. He is incapable of making a decision. There was never any real-world opportunity for bipartisan agreement with this GOP. The pursuit of it was entirely a function of Obama, not of reality.

And now, the best option we face is to re-elect this guy, because the alternative is madness. It's a deeply depressing state of affairs.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


This valuable post by Big Tent Democrat argues that the "inactivity" argument -- on which the wingnuts' challenge to the individual mandate rests -- is unprecedented (pun intended), unconstitutional and specious.

If this is correct -- and it seems so to me -- it drives home how extraordinary it is that the current Court seems bent on applying this bullshit to thwart the people's will. What does it say when a majority of our definitive legal body is made up of fools, ideologues and charlatans? And how remarkable is this chapter in our nation's history, when the basic underpinnings of the United States Constitution's separation of powers are dissolving before our eyes? People like Dahlia Lithwick have speculated that Roberts will not want his tenure to go down in legal history as a partisan travesty -- but that assumes the goal is to preserve the Court's power and credibility. Maybe Grover Norquist rules the judiciary, as well as the legislature. Maybe the driving motive all across the Beltway (and in state capitols throughout this great land) is to reduce all branches of government to the size (or to a condition of pathos and contempt) where we can (and want to) drown them in a bathtub.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Head exploding

Mine, that is. And I don't understand why others (like the Times editorial page, the lefty blogosphere -- and the paranoid wingnut blogosphere, for that matter) aren't.

I'm speaking of yesterday's jaw-dropping Supreme Court decision authorizing universal warrantless strip searches. Forget whatever happens with the healthcare decision -- this cements the Roberts court's place in judicial history. I already had as low an opinion of Scalia, Alito and Thomas as I thought it was possible to have -- but this reveals a new sub-basement. I honestly don't know how even they can look themselves in the mirror, much less Roberts himself. These people who purport to be hyper-alert, above all else, to intrusions by the state into our personal freedoms. And what can one conclude about Kennedy, except that he is actually around the bend, that his "interesting" ideas on liberty are infused now with even more fascinating speculations on the humours and phlogiston and personal messages conveyed on food packaging? Go ahead, read what he says in his majority opinion about why it's okay to strip search people for broken tail lights. A police state can't get more, ahem, interesting than that.

The crazy is abroad in the land. The Tea Party tinfoil hatties and dedicated misogynists are on the march, and the perception of that is empowering our faux "originalist" Supremes to throw off the shackles of their strictly constructed robes and let their freak flags fly.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Political malpractice

As Paul Krugman makes clear, yet again, citing a post by Greg Sargent, Obama's failure on the economy was as mistaken politically as it was on policy.

But, then, speaking of political malpractice, it seems this David Corn book from which Sargent grabs a damning passage is, in fact, a big wet kiss for the Big O. Given Corn's performance in the primaries, that's no surprise. Now, he seems to have been chosen as the apostle and chronicler of The One's mid-term conversion experience. Here's a taste from the Amazon blurb:
"Corn captures the dilemmas faced by a president assailed by disappointed progressives and defiantly obstructionist Republicans determined to see his defeat. Here is a chief executive trying to balance the cross-cutting demands of governance and politics while handling unending challenges at home and abroad. The book reveals a thoughtful leader with a cool head who is unafraid to take risks and make tough choices, a steely battler who successfully turned his enemies' obstinacy to his advantage. Obama has often frustrated supporters, but Corn shows how the president, who often puts pragmatism ahead of partisan demands, has craftily operated within a hostile conservative political climate, looking to win the long game, achieve progressive goals, and, ultimately, win reelection."
Oy. Eleven-dimensional chess is back in season.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

This ain't no party

Because (note the double negative) it is one party, at least. The Republican War on Women, I mean. And Charles Pierce in Esquire nails it. This guy is good.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Silence of the Lim(baugh)? - Updated

Key parts of the wingnut echo chamber are starting to crumble. Rush. Rupert. Dare we dream that Roger will not be far behind?

Update: The sounds of silence.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sinking ship

The GOP's plunge into stark raving insanity is accelerating -- witness the departure of even its putative "moderates." Anybody who isn't mad as a hatter is booed offstage, and if you want to stay on that stage, you have to put on your best Ophelia 24/7. No knowing asides to the audience allowed.

Please, please, Dems -- wake up, seize this moment. Do not be content to get elected because "at least they're not crazy." Recognize that we now have one party rule -- because the other party is into misrule, unruliness. No more bullshit post-partisan posturing. No more self-flattering "reasonableness." Instead, do serious economic analysis and push for serious solutions to real problems. You're gonna get another shot at actual power -- the Republican Party is melting, melting. Don't blow this.

Friday, February 24, 2012

"This is Madness" - Updated

So says Diane Ravitch, describing the astonishing doubling-down on teaching to the test now underway in New York State and nationally. As she notes, the Obama Administration is directly culpable for this. Our President may say in SOTU that we shouldn't teach to the test -- but he is dramatically increasing that in practice.

And what of Gov. Cuomo, he of the gay-marriage halo effect? This way political irrelevance lies. "Taking on education" (aka embracing the agenda of today's conventional-wisdom education "reform") seems to be the policy crack of our age. No Child has now been Left Behind by everyone -- witness a hall of Arizona Republicans loudly booing Rick Santorum for having voted for it at this week's debate. Making it his signature issue doomed Bloomberg to "he wasn't Giuliani" in the history books (and prepared that great educational reformer Joel Klein to become Hack-in-Chief Rupert Murdoch's defense attorney). And my bet is that it will at least do serious damage to Cuomo's presidential hopes.

We need a smarter approach to educating our political leaders on education. They keep failing the test.

Update: It is encouraging that the Grey Lady seems to have woken up to the sham that is "education reform." Witness two devastating pieces by or about persuasively wonderful teachers (both in Brooklyn) whom the test-mad regime labels "bad": A Sunday op-ed by William Johnson and a commentary today by Michael Winerip. There was even a sort-of public retreat from "reform" funder-in-chief Bill Gates.

The money quote from the Winerip piece:
"If city officials were trying to demoralize and humiliate the workforce, they’ve done a terrific job. News organizations get an assist for publishing the scores, and former Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein deserves a special nod for enthusiastically supporting the release."

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Monday, January 23, 2012

Fighting a dumb war

Paul Krugman correctly reams Larry Summers for having given Obama exactly the wrong advice on the economy -- and having done so from the get-go, as revealed in Ryan Lizza's New Yorker article about the newly released White House memos.

The broader point about Obama, though, is one that Lizza characteristically raises and misses. As usual, he doesn’t deeply understand the meaning of his own facts – or even his own observations about those facts.

The thing he misses here is that there’s no such thing as “public opinion” in a holistic or monolithic sense. There are (a) widespread feelings (things are getting better or getting worse); and (b) strong feelings about particular topics (abortion is a woman’s right, it is murder). So, yes, there is general “distrust of government.” But there’s also at least equal distrust of business – and therefore a widespread desire for help against its predations. There’s an even more widespread desire for someone to lead, already. There are many widely held and mutually contradictory wishes and biases and feelings and beliefs.

The reason Obama flunked was his lack of any personal information about which of those actually mattered. He picked the wrong version of “the public’s beliefs” to follow. In fact, framing this whole thing in terms of “attitudes toward government” is, yet again, an example of accepting the right’s frames, rather than fighting your battles on your home field. Think "entitlement plans." Lizza, like most of the MSN, is stuck inside frames Obama himself promulgated, which speak more to the Precious's psychic needs than to the needs of the country -- or even the prospects for political success.

Objectively (vs. psychologically) speaking, Obama didn’t have to wind up hog-tied and flunko. He could have framed this whole thing as getting the American social compact back to health and getting Americans back to work – something Hillary would have understood and done in a heartbeat. FDR surely did. Despite Lizza's ruminations on the limits of presidential influence -- and despite actual presidents' own humility on the subject -- is there any credible argument that the public was already pressing for the New Deal before Roosevelt got into office? Can there be any doubt that FDR shaped a new frame, a new model of government itself? Or that he did so in a political environment every bit as polarized as this one?

Lizza does report some salutary observations and ideas -- e.g., that the polarization we've seen is asymmetrical. But then he doesn't follow through on their implications. Given that asymmetry, shouldn't any actual attempt to wind up in a space of actual policy efficacy have pushed harder against the GOP than the Dems?

The truth is that Obama lost these battles before they began, because he chose to fight (or, rather, to wave the white flag within) the wrong battles.
To paraphrase someone, he shouldn't have been against all wars -- just dumb ones.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A pivot?

God may or may not play dice with the universe, but She is clearly watching out for Barack Obama. (Or, conversely, our president cut a really good deal with Beelzebub.) Whatever the agency for the way events are rolling out, he/she/it is making sure that O'll cross the finish line first a year hence. The whole thing feels like "The Truman Show" (before Jim Carrey's epiphany -- when everyone in town was scrambling to construct a nice world around him).

Consider his likely opposition, and the basket case GOP that is shooting itself in the forehead around him. If David Axelrod had gone to sleep and dreamed of a foil as perfect as Mitt Romney has turned out to be... and if he had then drifted into a reverie in which the entire phalanx of Romney's wingnut opponents would brand him indelibly as a hybrid of Freddy Kruger and Gordon Gekko... Axelrod wouldn't have dared to write it down when he woke up -- it's that outlandish.

I can't think of anything comparable in my lifetime of watching politics. When the Left turned on LBJ and by extension Hubert Humphrey, at least they were criticizing them for not being left enough. For Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry to use their dying campaigns to brand Romney as the Bain of the working class... it's as though Noam Chomsky had bought time on the Super Bowl to eviscerate Hillary Clinton as a raging socialist.

Of course, the hypocrisy is jaw-dropping. So much so that one is tempted to wonder whether "Newt Gingrich" and "Rick Perry" were planted as Manchurian candibots 60 years ago -- by, you know, the Trilateral Masons.

Anyway, whatever it says about them, I think the branding of Mitt will stick -- its sources are ideologically impeccable, and it lights up exactly Romney's Achilles heel. Romney, of course, is reinforcing this branding with his every excuse and clueless metaphor. He's George H.W. Bush at the checkout counter on steroids.

I watched "When Mitt Romney Came to Town" tonight, and I have to say, it feels to me as though this moment is a pivot, if not to the left, then at least away from the right. When Krugman and Brooks walk into that same room through different doors for the same edition of the paper, maybe something's up. And the irony of ironies is that its beneficiary will be the phantom Democrat now in the White House, the Luck Child of modern global politics.

One can only hope there's a Truman Show-style awakening on tap for this show's second season.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A national -- no, make that global -- resource

I'm talking about Paul Krugman. He is truly a remarkable thinker, teacher, writer. Tomorrow's column is just one among hundreds that actually teach something. He is to economics what Pauline Kael was to film criticism.