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Election 2012

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The Change is Us. It Has to Be.

So, how about that Election Night? Once you factor in that the ridiculous gerry-mandering of 2010, coupled with Obama’s terrible, coattail-cutting first debate performance, killed any chance of Democrats retaking the House, Tuesday night went about as well as it possibly could. Every swing state except North Carolina swung blue. The Senate kept some of its best progressives (Sanders, Brown) and added a few more very promising contenders (Warren, Baldwin). Gay marriage and marijuana decriminalization both made important footholds. California moved to end Howard Jarvis’ Tax Revolt, now in its fourth decade. And the Republicans — again, the House notwithstanding — were routed, and their cruel Ayn Rand-inflected ideology decisively repudiated at the polls.

All things considered, it was a great night, and all the more for what it portended about elections to come. Ever-growing in recent years, the Rising American Electorate — unmarried women, people under 30, people of color — showed its power on Tuesday night, displaying its centrality as the backbone of our new Democratic coalition and sending Karl Rove, Bill O’Reilly, and other White Men of a Certain Age into very public paroxysms of despair. (Good times. Enjoy that 2004 experience, y’all.) And while the Republican base is looking long in the tooth these days, our Democratic coalition is only continuing to grow.

As I noted in 2010, even despite the dismal showing then, demography is destiny, and the rest of the country is and will continue to experience Californication. Today we got the first taste of what a really multicultural America will be like at the polls. See also David Simon of The Wire and Treme on this: “A man of color is president for the second time, and this happened despite a struggling economic climate and a national spirit of general discontent. He has been returned to office over the specific objections of the mass of white men. He has instead been re-elected by women, by people of color, by homosexuals, by people of varying religions or no religion whatsoever. Behold the New Jerusalem. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a white man, of course. There’s nothing wrong with being anything. That’s the point.

So, all in all, 2012 was a great victory for we progressives, and things are suddenly looking up. But, of course, we’ve been here before.

I really hope President Obama and his closest advisors are looking at the same demographic realities as the rest of us, and that he decides to spend his second term governing closer to what he promised back in 2008. But I trusted in hope last time around, and, needless to say, that didn’t get it done.

The fact of the matter is our Democratic standard-bearer, at least up to this point, is behaving and governing in a fashion that is clearly to the right of the growing Democratic base that got him elected and now re-elected. No more benefit of the doubt: It is up to us to put pressure on this administration to make sure they hold to the promises they’ve made. That work has to begin right now.

We all know what’s coming up first, and Glenn Greenwald already laid out the dismal pattern we can expect — and need to break — on the Grand Bargain front. True to form, Peter Orszag — and what does it say about our president’s priorities that he staffed up his first administration with this kind of jackass? — has already sent out the let’s-fiddle-with-social-security trial balloon. Erskine Bowles’ name has been aggressively floated as the new SecTreas and High Inquisitor in the matter of the Deficit Witches. By all accounts, President Obama seems to think he can play Nixon-in-China on Social Security and Medicare. But this is not at all why voters gave him a Democratic mandate, and that’s exactly the sort of wrong-headed notion, coupled with Katrina, that turned the electorate against Dubya in 2005.

In his victory speech on Tuesday night, President Obama continued his recent turn toward the progressive rhetoric of citizenship and self-government. He said: “The role of citizens in our Democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government. That’s the principle we were founded on.”

On one hand, I should be overjoyed that the President has taken this rhetorical turn, since it’s something I’ve been pushing for here for as long as GitM has been running. At the same time, President Obama has shown over the years an irritating penchant for co-opting progressive rhetoric only to serve centrist, corporatist, and/or neoliberal ends. It would be a shame if we let that happen again.

A presidency really concerned with fostering civic responsibility and self-government would look quite different than the one we have experienced up to this point. In the strictest and most literal sense, it would acknowledge, sometime before the second-term election night, that both our voting and campaign finance systems have been broken for decades, and require a significant overhaul. But, even more than that, a philosophy of encouraging citizenship and self-government presupposes different priorities and different policies.

First and foremost, to paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt, it would recognize that necessitous men and women are not free men and women, and work harder to ensure everyone has the basic economic liberty to choose their own path through life. It would not, to take just one example, make the center of their housing reform a foreclosure program designed to help banks rather than homeowners.

An administration advocating citizenship and self-government would do more to emphasize the fundamental importance of education at all levels, and invest mightily not just in schools and teachers but in after-school programs, early childhood education, anti-poverty and anti-hunger initiatives, and all the other efforts that can help alleviate the various and persistent environmental factors limiting children’s potential in America. That requires a significantly different and more comprehensive approach to the education issue than simply competitive grants that reward grant-writing skills and teaching to the test.

It would mean emphasizing a conception of citizenship that is broader and richer than just a world of workers, consumers, and automatons — one that, as per Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Herbert Croly, encourages introspection, critical thinking, and self-exploration. This is a hard nut to crack, of course. But at the very least we could fight to give more men and women freedom from the necessities of work to do whatever it is they want to do. We are not just our jobs, or at least we shouldn’t be, unless that’s what we want. That means pushing for a higher minimum wage, equal pay for men and women holding the same job, increasing access to affordable child care, more worker protections, and a shorter work week.

Emphasizing self-government only works if the political system remains accountable to its citizens. That means, along with voting and campaign finance reform, working to break the hold of any particular special interest over the political process — namely, corporate power. But as Matt Stoller, Glenn Greenwald, and others have noted, this administration has perpetuated and even accelerated a two-tiered system of political and economic justice in America. The losses of bankers and corporate elites have been subsidized by the public, even when they clearly broke the law. Meanwhile, the average homeowner and debtor has been disparaged and left on their own underneath a crushing burden — so much so that inequality has actually increased over the last four years. Similarly, the Bush-era torture regime has been swept under the rug, while whistleblowers have been aggressively prosecuted. This will not do.

Meanwhile, even though Obama himself has been a user of illcit drugs, as have the last several presidents, there has been no attempt at all by this administration to undo the drug war destroying communities and putting so many in jail — Quite the contrary, in fact. Nor has this administration done anything to stop the reprehensible practice of private prisons selling their “workforce” as forced labor.

Citizenship is a bond — Being a citizen means that one is part of a larger community and has a stake in it, a sense that we’re all in it together. So emphasizing citizenship means investing in big projects and big ideas that bring the American community together in larger purpose, from a massive rebuilding of America’s infrastructure to a re-energized space program to a WWII-sized response to the climate change crisis. Instead, this administration has trafficked in deficit hysteria for several years, and clearly plans to bring another dose of it in the months and years to come. Meanwhile, the biggest project we have been involved with as a people in recent years is expending blood and treasure on remaking Afghanistan and Iraq. This, it is now clear, has been not just a considerable waste of public resources, but a policy that has resulted in thousands and thousands of lives lost around the world.

Especially in America, where we are tied together not by blood but by an idea, being a citizen also means agreeing on a story — a shared narrative that ties the members of the community together. Because our connection is a story — even a fiction, some might say — it is all the more important that our government uphold the founding values of that story. (As Charles Pierce eloquently argues here, this is why Obama’s re-election is important independent of everything else — it reaffirms our conviction that race is no longer any barrier to the highest office in the land.) But, quite obviously, this administration has not lived up to our founding ideals in many ways, especially with regard to how it has prosecuted the War on Terror. As Mark Danner says in the piece I just linked, “President Obama has taken a position so strongly in favor of unremitting military violence that he has left his Republican rival, struggle though he may to shoulder his way past him, no place to stand.” And let’s be honest: As a party, we Democrats utterly failed to call the president out on this.

So, yes, an emphasis on citizenship and self-government could very well be the basis of a new progressive politics. But, unless he makes a marked shift from his first term, I fear this president is just going to use these words as a new rhetorical toolbox to push for more half-assed, neo-liberal Third Wayisms and lousy Republican ideas from the mid-80′s. We face dire problems in this country, and yet this administration is somehow afraid to even consider the time-tested New Deal ideas, from public works to the HOLC, that worked in the past.

The only way President Obama will make that progressive shift, it is now clear, is if the American people push him in that direction. In this, what Obama said on election night is absolutely correct. No matter what the president has said on the campaign trail, we can no longer hope this administration will bring change we can believe in. He is going to have to be forced into it by a Democratic electorate that refuses to accept anything less. It’s not a coincidence that the two progressive reforms Obama finally embraced this year — same-sex marriage and the DREAM Act — were ones that had passionate, vocal, and uncompromising reform movements behind them.

The election results showed that progressives are and can be ascendant in America. But we need to be much tougher on this administration than we have been in the past. Lip service to good intentions and progressive ideals is no longer satisfactory. And that hard work of keeping this administration in line has to begin right now, before the tentpoles of our current social insurance system are chipped away at by way of Grand Bargain.

Democrats just elected this president for a second time, and we don’t want to see any more compromising with and capitulating to economic terrorists. It is past time for this president and this administration to do right by us.

The Rightward Drift.

What you saw, I think, anyway, was…the end product of thirty years of a Democratic Party that has slid so far to the center-right that a Democratic president found himself arguing with a ‘severely conservative’ Republican candidate over the issues of how much the Democratic president had cut out of the budget, how many regulations he’d trimmed, how much more devoted to the middle-class-kick-in-the-balls Simpson-Bowles ‘plan’ he is, and how he would ‘reform’ Social Security and Medicare — and, frankly, a Democratic president losing some of those arguments to his left.

Hey all. Haven’t given up on the blog again, but I am in the midst of the final ascent on the old dissermatation. (With two more hopefully brief chapters to go, I just rounded page 1055. Yes, I know. This whole thing has just gotten out of hand. Ohhhh well. Everybody needs a coping strategy.) Anyways, between that and work GitM is back to being neglected for a few weeks. In the meantime, I strongly endorse this Esquire piece by Charles Pierce on exactly why Obama stunk up the bed so badly in the first Republican primary debate general election debate.

Basically, if you give America a choice between a Republican and a Republican, the Republican will win every time. The problem wasn’t Obama had an off night. The problem is this former great hope of the left actually believes Simpson-Bowles is a good idea (it isn’t) and that the deficit is a huge problem (it’s not.) Even while the Obama campaign is trying to convince us to get more than just a wee bit cult-y “For All”, the Grand Bargain train is already leaving the station.

In short, we seem to have reached a point where so many top Democrats have spent so many years doing the protective camouflage thing that they’ve completely forgotten which way is up. As a party, we are now clearly to the right of Nixon and verging on being right of Reagan. The president’s stinker of a performance on Wednesday was just a clearer-than-usual, real-time manifestation of the Democratic Party’s deeper dilemma: We have lost our way.

So Hot in Herre.


“This video, put together by NASA using temperature records from 1880 to 2011, shows you the warming world in just 26 terrifying seconds. Blue shows temperatures that are lower than the baseline average between 1951 and 1980, and reds show temperatures above the average.” By way of Mother Jones, a NASA animation tracks the warming of the earth over the past century and change. A crazy coincidence, I know.

In related news and per this post, a high-school friend sends along these similarly distressing charts of arctic ice melt. And here, via The Guardian, are the 100 most endangered species on the planet. “Some of the creatures on the list are down to the last few individuals. For example, numbers of the saola – an antelope known as the Asian unicorn, so rarely is it sighted – have been whittled down to the last few tens in existence.

The New Haymarket.

What I said last year stands. The world doesn’t need any more 9/11 retrospectives. Still, this NASA picture from that dark day is pretty impressive, so there’s that.

I will say this: Since last week we watched Democrats — Democrats — chant USA, call out Mitt Romney for being insufficiently for the troops, and all but roll the severed head of Osama Bin Laden out on stage, perhaps it’s time to regain a little perspective.

9/11 was a horrible crime that demanded justice. It was also an event, it has now become clear, that could have and should have been prevented by the Dubya administration using traditional, pre-9/11 intelligence methods. Since that dark day, nine people have died in our indefinite detention prison camp at GitMo. The only person being prosecuted for the Dubya-era torture regime is the whistleblower. And we’re now set to unleash a wave of SKYNET-like drones over our own territory in the name of keeping us safe.

It’s long past time to stop compounding the tragedy of what happened in New York and Washington eleven years ago by shredding the constitution in response. It’s time to get back to being America again.

Romney: The Uncanny Valley.

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Those evil natured robots, they’re programmed to destroy us…So, yeah it’s hard to feel much of anything about Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech, other than that I saw more lifelike human performances in the Final Fantasy movie ten years ago. The guy is just forever lost in the uncanny valley to me. This will no doubt be a close election, and Romney could well win it by sheer dint of a bad economy and boatloads of under-the-table campaign cash. But I still find it hard to take his seriously as a candidate, and most of the time just end up feeling bad for his much more presidential father that the previously-moderate Mitt has become such an obvious sellout. (And, tbh, I’m much more worried about the truth-averse Paul Ryan’s no-doubt-bright future in his party than Romney’s bid this year. He’s the T-1000 to Romney’s T-800.)

In short, Romney has that generic, milquetoast liked-by-his-base-but-has-zero-crossover-appeal quality we’ve previously seen in Bob Dole and John Kerry, and just like Joe Biden’s “noun, verb, and 9/11” evisceration of Rudy 9ui11iani last cycle, Mike Huckabee already nailed Romney dead-to-rights in 2008 with his quip, “He looks like the guy who fired you.” I just don’t see Romney getting past that — and, if he does, it won’t be because of this speech.

Clint Pulls a Wheeler. | 1924.

So…regarding Clint Eastwood’s much-maligned empty chair speech: I actually liked it. Not for its content per se – It was discursive and rambling and definitely embarrassing to sit through. But I admired it for being a brief burst of weirdo-improv in the midst of a four-day-long political commercial that’s usually been scripted right down to the second.

There was also the added bonus that Clint’s speech helps make the old dissertation that much more timely. Since, as it happens, the empty-chair routine was a favorite campaign trick of Burton Wheeler, Robert La Follette’s vice-presidential running mate in 1924. To pull the relevant paragraph:

Wheeler got particularly good mileage out of debating an empty chair or cross-examining a straw dummy about Teapot Dome and various other campaign issues. ‘You knew all about the oil scandals and the Ohio gang, didn’t you?’ Wheeler would ask. Then, after the ensuing silence, he would add, ‘Well, knowing all these things, you kept quiet, didn’t you? And now you have the reputation of being a strong, silent man, haven’t you?’ Here, Wheeler told voters, was America’s ‘Silent Cal.’

Clint’s gonzo chair bit also brought to mind one of my favorite chapters to write, on the disastrous 1924 Democratic Convention in Madison Square Garden — in which Al Smith and William McAdoo were dead-locked for over two weeks and 103 ballots, before the Democracy settled instead on West Virginia lawyer John W. Davis. To give you a flavor of the disaster:

‘This thing has got to come to an end,’ begged Democratic humorist Will Rogers a week into the ensuing fiasco, ‘New York invited you as guests, not to live.’ In years to come, Rogers quipped, when little children asked their fathers if they were in the war, they would reply, ‘No, son, but I went through the New York Convention.’ Mencken harrumphed that the ‘convention is almost as vain and idiotic as a golf tournament or a disarmament conference.’ Journalist Arthur Krock deemed the unfolding Democratic nightmare ‘a snarling, cursing, tedious, tenuous, suicidal, homicidal roughhouse.’ Lippmann thought the Democrats had taught America ‘more at firsthand about the really dangerous problems of America’ and ‘learned more of the actual motives which move the great masses of men than anyone of this generation thought possible.’ ‘No man or woman who attended the Convention of 1924 in the old Madison Square Garden will ever forget it,’ Daniel Roper, one of McAdoo’s lieutenants, said later in life. ‘This country has never seen its like and is not likely to see its like again.’ Over three decades later, Al Smith’s daughter still remembered those sixteen days with a shudder. ‘Traits that I do not like to think of as American played too great a part that year,’ she winced.

And, for the first time in history, the convention had all been broadcast nationwide through the miracle of radio.”

In fact, one of the first-ever radio catch-phrases emerged from the 1924 convention, when the Governor of Alabama, William Brandon, kicked off each round of voting with the same sentence: “Alabamah casts twenty-foah votes for Oscah Dubya Undawood!” (For years later, a resolute man or woman would be considered ‘as steady as Alabama for Underwood.’) In any case, back then memorable, often un-scripted or badly-scripted Eastwood-esque speeches were the norm. To take just a few notable examples:

James Phelan, nominating McAdoo:When the roll of states got to California, boss James Phelan gave a florid fifty-minute nominating speech for McAdoo that was deemed by observers ‘the worst speech never heard.’ It, according to others, nearly ‘stampeded the convention of Smith’ and would have killed ‘Thomas Jefferson running on a ticket with Andrew Jackson.’ Long before Phelan got to his closing, the galleries were desperately screaming ‘Name your man! Name your man!’ When he finally Mc’did, McAdoo forces festooned with buttons and hatbands reading ‘Mc’ll do!’ broke out in an hour-long celebration, chanting ‘we don’t care what the Easterners do; the South and West are for McAdoo!’ In response, the galleries bellowed ‘Ku Ku, McAdoo!’ and ‘No oil on Al!’ The situation was only just beginning to get out of hand.”

FDR, nominating Al Smith: “When the roll of states reached Connecticut, the delegation yielded to their neighbor New York, meaning, everyone knew with bated breath, it was time for Al Smith’s official nomination. The deliverer of this good news to the galleries, on account of his relative stardom and offsetting attributes to the candidate, was Smith’s campaign manager, Franklin Roosevelt. (When Joseph Proskauer first pitched the idea to Smith, the candidate asked, ‘For God’s Sake, why?’ Proskauer replied, ‘Because you’re a Bowery mick and he’s a Protestant patrician and he’ll take some of the curse off of you.’)”

“Helped by his teenage son Jimmy, whose arm he gripped so hard it bruised, Roosevelt slowly made his way to the lectern on crutches. Once there – Joseph Guffey of Pennsylvania had already tested that ‘the pulpit’ could bear Roosevelt’s weight – he turned on the charm, winning the McAdoo crowd over right away by gently admonishing the galleries above. Then, delivering a speech written by Proskauer (although Roosevelt would rarely admit to it later), Roosevelt praised Al Smith as ‘the Happy Warrior of the political battlefield,’ a moniker, derived from Wordsworth, that would stick to Smith as surely as ‘The Sidewalks of New York’ had in 1920. The Smith crowd loved every minute of it, and the McAdoo crowd was quietly impressed – Franklin Roosevelt was back.”

Andrew Erwin, on the Klan:: “As soon as the anti-Klan plank was read, the floor and the galleries both went into full hysteria…by the time pro- and anti-Klan speakers began making their remarks late in the evening, the assembled Democrats were cheering and hissing with abandon. The wall of noise became particularly intense during the remarks of Andrew C. Erwin, the former mayor of Athens, Georgia. Expecting pro-Klan nostrums from the Georgian, the pro-Smith galleries booed Erwin mercilessly – until the room slowly started to realize that Erwin was actually denouncing the Klan, at which point a lusty cheer erupted from up above even as McAdoo Alley wailed with rage. When Erwin went back to his seat, only one member of the Georgian delegation stood to welcome him.”

William Jennings Bryan, on the Klan: “The last speech on the Klan issue was delivered by William Jennings Bryan, who pleaded with anti-Klan delegates that everyone could agree if only the three words ‘Ku Klux Klan’ were left out of the platform. It went over like a lead balloon. The galleries were so vociferous in their booing of the Great Commoner that Bryan had to stop three times. On the third such interruption, [Thomas] Walsh rose up and began gaveling and screaming in fury to quiet the balconies down. Rattled, Bryan slipped into the cadences of the church and implored the unruly congregation ‘in the name of the Son of God and Savior of the world. Christians, stop fighting and let us get together and save the world from the materialism that robs life of its spiritual values.’ The crowd was having none of it, and Bryan retreated to a chair on the platform, too tired to walk back to his seat with Florida. It wasn’t even his worst speech of the convention.”

(Note: For a very funny book-length treatment of the 1924 convention, check out Robert K. Murray’s The 103rd Ballot.)

Ryan: Ignorance is Strength.

It was an entire evening based on a demonstrable lie. It was an entire evening based on demonstrable lies told in service to the overriding demonstrable lie. And there was only one real story for actual journalists to tell at the end of it.

The Republicans simply don’t care.

They don’t care that they lie. They don’t care that their lies are obvious. They don’t care that their lies wouldn’t fool an underpaid substitute Social Studies teacher in a public middle school…They don’t care that their history is a lie and that, by spreading it, they devalue the actual history of the country, which is something that belongs to us.”

That Esquire‘s estimable Charles Pierce writing on the first day of the RNC, and he hadn’t even heard Paul Ryan’s ridiculously falsehood-filled screed of night two. I’ve already said all I need to say about this clownshoes, but still: It’s amazing what a congenital liar this guy is. (As you know, people in real life don’t “accidentally” lowball their marathon time by an hour — especially not Type-A gunner physical trainer types.)

Of course, Republicans have lied before — Their 2004 convention, for example, was devoted to turning a bland Vietnam war hero into a brie-eating surrender monkey and the Democrats at large into an Al Qaeda sleeper cell. But I can’t remember hearing another speech by a major-party nominee so rife with statements that were easily and demonstrably untrue.

As Winston Smith wrote in his diary, “Freedom is freedom to say 2+2=4. If that is granted all else will follow.” And that is exactly the freedom Ryan launched a full-scale assault upon in his convention speech. In short, this was a new low for the GOP.

More of the Same.

If Republicans are willing, Obama said, ‘I’m prepared to make a whole range of compromises’ that could even rankle his own party. But he did not get specific.” (*cough* Grand Bargain *cough*)

Change you can believe in? If you relished the first term but really wished the White House would fold a winning hand even more often, the president has your back for Term 2. Because, in the face of 8% unemployment, 15% poverty, and rising seas, what America really needs right now is more mealy-mouthed centrism, hysteria about a fake problem, and rank capitulation to domestic terrorists. Real Democrats please. Our party has lost its way — We’re now rather clearly to the right of Nixon and coming up on Reagan these days.

Akin is the New Normal.


So, Todd Akin. I must say, it’s heartening to see some of the Taliban-like tendencies of today’s GOP finally drawing condemnation in the culture at large. But the thing is, what Rep. Akin said is very much within the mainstream of his party. This was not a one-off event: They actually believe this tripe, and they’re constantly voting like The Handmaid’s Tale was meant to be aspirational.

In their very first month back in power, Paul Ryan, Akin and the gang — 225 Members, in fact — were trying to define rape down — “House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has dubbed [it] a top priority in the new Congress.” — and that bill passed the House(!)

Yes, today’s Democrats have their own serious problems — our leaders prostrate themselves before the phantom deficit gods, look the other way on Wall Street malfeasance, and have been actively terrible on the civil liberties front, and our policy playbook (individual mandate, cap-and-trade) has too often been cribbed from the Republicans of the ’90s. But it’s a difference in kind, not in degree. Akin is not an aberration in the GOP — He’s the new normal. Not that anyone who comes around here still does this sort of thing, but if you vote Republican, have no illusions about what you are doing: Ayn Rand and Akinism is basically what you’re voting for. Seriously, these guys are cray-cray.

(By the way, the great facehugger pic above is from From Talking to Doctors — worth checking out.)

12:50, Press Return.


I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumors, but I think that God’s got a sick sense of humor…” Or is there some other way to explain this, via @andrewducker:

‘Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’ is an anagram of ‘My Ultimate Ayn Rand Porn.’“

Frightening, right? I’m highly agnostic, but still. In the fury of the moment, you can see the Master’s hand

Score One for O’Brien.

Given how often I complain about lazy and terrible media practices here at GitM, I should also give credit where due: Interviewing longtime GOP hack John Sununu yesterday, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien did exactly what a good journalist is meant to do — respond to obviously false talking points with an appeal to the facts. (To see how these things usually go at CNN, see this classic Candy Crowley riff.) More of this, please.

Mitt’s Serious Man™ is Clownshoes.

Unfortunately, Mitt choosing Paul Ryan this morning means we’re probably going to be stuck with the media treating the Congressman from Wisconsin like he’s a Very Serious Person™ for at least the next three election cycles. But on the bright side, I’ve already said everything I need to say about this clownshoes, so I’ll just direct you to my post on Ryan from last year. And if you don’t particularly feel like clicking through, here’s the meat of what I said, below.

For months, as you all know, the Serious People in the media have been banging the drum of the deficit witchhunt even though, from an economic perspective, austerity at this hour makes about as much sense as Birtherism. And, in the past few weeks, they have doubled down on this idiocy by trying to elevate the most recent flavor of the month, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, as a Serious Man, come to tell us hard truths about the need for sacrifice.

In fact, Congressman Ryan is scarcely any less of a huckster than the Donald. This is a guy who laments the intrusions of the welfare state at every turn, but only made it to college thanks to Social Security benefits received upon the passing of his father. (To be fair: Ryan is only emulating his hero with this sort of hypocrisy.) This is also a guy who, when confronted with the Clinton budget surpluses of a decade ago, then lamented that the debt was too small.

And this is a guy whose budget proposal — which he was quick to deem not a budget, but a cause — is basically the same vile, stale concoction of malice and magical thinking that the right has been peddling for decades. It uses made-up numbers to argue that privatizing Medicare (and leaving seniors with the bills), slashing the social safety net, and lowering taxes on the rich will somehow end deficits and save America. (Short answer: It won’t.)

By any reasonable standard, the Ryan budget should have been laughed out of the room as soon as it dropped. But, no, the press needed A Serious Man™ on the right for its lazy he-said, she-said approach to any political story. And, so Ryan got the Trump treatment and the rest is history. Ostensibly liberal pundits fell over themselves praising Ryan’s budget. In response, the president eventually drew progressive kudos for pitching his own deficit reduction plan. (More on that in a sec.) With both sides established, the press can now continue to happily indulge in the usual medley of content-free, he-said, she-said inanities that, to them, constitutes political journalism. And everyone in Washington can continue to ignore the fact that, actually, more spending, not cutting the deficit, is what is needed to fix the economy right now. Win-win!

Regarding President Obama’s deficit proposals, he delivered an eloquent speech on the subject last month, to be sure — one of his best as president. But, even if we hadn’t already been burned far too many times by his rhetoric not matching up to his policies, it’s hard for me to take his remarks as some great moment of the left just because he finally articulated what should be pretty basic principles of American government. Particularly when you consider that the Obama plan is, of course, center-right-leaning, and yet it has nevertheless become the left pole in an exceedingly narrow economic debate.

(By the way, if you’re really worried about the long-term deficit, the answer isn’t rocket science. Try raising taxes on the rich. Or passing real health care cost controls. Or going where the money’s at. Or growing the economy and putting people back to work. Or, y’know, doing nothing — that would work too.)

In sum, the Trump boomlet of last month was not the exception. It was a clear and distilled expression of the rule, a sideshow to a sideshow. And because the Village press is so terrible, our entire politics is distorted — We are living out the consequences of this disaster yet again in the deficit debate. Only the sheer amount of money flooding the system right now is a bigger political problem than the broken state of the newsmedia.

Bowlesed over.


For the Obama administration, Bowles has a number of qualifications. For one thing, Republicans adore him. Ryan has called him ‘my favorite Democrat.’ Appointing Bowles to be Treasury Secretary would ensure a smooth confirmation, and it would be interpreted as a sign of goodwill and ‘seriousness’ both by Republicans and by the media.

Er…Not a single one of those are pluses. And neither the Republicans nor the media are in any way serious anymore, and they haven’t been for close to two decades. So why cater to them? In any case, Ezra Klein starts floating Erskine Bowles, one of the high priests of the deficit witchhunt, as the second term Treasury Secretary. Actually, Ezra, that’s a fucking terrible idea, because guess what? The deficit is not and has never been a real problem, and you should know that. Nonetheless, folks, start girding yourself for the Grand Bargain…Our president has made it patently clear that that’s the direction he plans to head should he be granted a second term. And this is pretty much why I won’t be posting about Election 2012 here all that often.

Attack of the Furry Stomach.


‘Quite frankly, his behavior is abhorrent,’ said Gardner, who emphasized that Digby does nothing to provide for the Chambers family, subsisting entirely on free handouts. ‘This asshole’s chowing down like he’s in a pie-eating contest. Meanwhile, the nation’s credit rating has been downgraded for the first time in history, and everyone’s fucking job is moving overseas. And he does know we’re fighting a war, too, right? Unbelievable.’

My favorite Onion piece in a few moons: Pet Eating Like Country Isn’t In Goddamn Recession. “According to reports, the 5-year-old labrador appears callously unswayed by the constant stream of gloomy market forecasts and instead demands greater and greater supplies of dog food, to the point where he must think the Dow Jones industrial average is soaring through the fucking roof or something.

Game of Votes.

Still taking a break. Nonetheless, this was too on-the-nose not to share, for election 2012 is dark and full of terrors. Enjoy.

The Best Republic Money Can Buy.

In the 2010 election cycle, 26,783 individuals (or slightly less than one in ten thousand Americans) each contributed more than $10,000 to federal political campaigns. Combined, these donors spent $774 million. That’s 24.3% of the total from individuals to politicians, parties, PACs, and independent expenditure groups. Together, they would fill only two-thirds of the 41,222 seats at Nationals Park.

According to a recent report by the Sunlight Foundation, 0.1% of the country made almost a quarter of the campaign donations last year. It’s a great system, tho’.

There’s Money in the Memory Hole.

The contrast in fortunes between those on top of the economic heap and those buried in the rubble couldn’t be starker. The 10 biggest banks now control more than three-quarters of the country’s banking assets. Profits have bounced back, while compensation at publicly traded Wall Street firms hit a record $135 billion in 2010. Meanwhile, more than 24 million Americans are out of work or can’t find full-time work, and nearly $9 trillion in household wealth has vanished. There seems to be no correlation between who drove the crisis and who is paying the price.

As Bank of America pays a pittance to other banks for its malfeasance, former chair of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Phil Angelides looks into how the winners are now rewriting the history of the 2008 financial collapse. “So, how do you revise the historical narrative when the evidence of what led to economic catastrophe is so overwhelming and the events at issue so recent? You and your political allies just do it. And you bet on the old axiom that a lie is halfway around the world before the truth can tie its shoes.” Attorney General Schneiderman, our nation turns its lowly eyes to you.

PATRIOT Games.


When the clock strikes midnight tomorrow, we would be giving terrorists the opportunity to plot attacks against our country, undetected,’ Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor Wednesday…’[Any delay would] increase the risk of a retaliatory terrorist strike against the homeland and hamper our ability to deal a truly fatal blow to al-Qaida.

Honestly, what is this horseshit? In a disturbingly complete 180 from his comments the last time this came up back in 2006 — although, to be fair, he eventually folded like an accordion then too — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dusts off the Cheneyite talking points to call for an immediate, unamended extension of the PATRIOT Act. (It passed the Senate today, 72-23.)

Contrast this with Reid in 2005: “‘We killed the Patriot Act,’ boasted Minority Leader Harry Reid…to cheers from a crowd at a political rally after the vote.” Ladies and gentlemen, our Democratic Senate Majority Leader. And, yet, however hackadocious Reid is being in this instance, let’s remember — this is coming from the top, from the constitutional scholars at the White House. After all, as Mike Riggs notes in Reason: “If the PATRIOT Act lapses, and a sarlacc does not swallow LAX immediately after, it’ll be that much harder to convince Americans that those provisions are necessary.

Drake’s Misfortune.


Gabriel Schoenfeld, a conservative political scientist at the Hudson Institute, who, in his book ‘Necessary Secrets’ (2010), argues for more stringent protection of classified information, says, ‘Ironically, Obama has presided over the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history — even more so than Nixon.‘”

In the New Yorker, Jane Mayer delves deeply into the Obama administration’s continued war on whistleblowers, via the prosecution of NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake. (See also Glenn Greenwald on this, as well as here and here.) “‘I actually had hopes for Obama…[b]ut power is incredibly destructive,’ Drake said. ‘It’s a weird, pathological thing. I also think the intelligence community coopted Obama, because he’s rather naive about national security. He’s accepted the fear and secrecy. We’re in a scary space in this country.’

Not Our New Bicycle After All.

“‘This was maybe America’s last chance to fight back against the greed of the Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats, to generate some serious discussion about public interest and common good that sustains any democratic experiment,’ West laments…’I thought Barack Obama could have provided some way out. But he lacks backbone.

In a discussion with TruthOut‘s Chris Hedges, Cornel West — who admittedly is nursing some rather petty personal grievances here as well — lays hard into the DLC-centrism of President Obama. “I have to take some responsibility,’ he admits of his support for Obama as we sit in his book-lined office. ‘I could have been reading into it more than was there.‘” You and me both, brother. You and me both.

Another D’oh From Simpson.


Told that the data came directly from the Social Security Administration, Simpson continued to insist it was inaccurate, while misstating the nature of a statistical average: “If you’re telling me that a guy who got to be 65 in 1940 — that all of them lived to be 77 — that is just not correct. Just because a guy gets to be 65, he’s gonna live to be 77? Hell, that’s my genre. That’s not true,’ said Simpson, who will turn 80 in September. Understanding life expectancy rates at age 65 in 1940 is central to understanding Social Security itself.

In keeping with his informative interview with Alex Lawson last fall, former Wyoming Senator and co-head of the president’s deficit commission Alan Simpson — while railing against AARP — proves once again knows as little about Social Security as he does about hip-hop. So, yeah, by all means let’s put him in charge of social insurance “reform.”

Simpson’s forceful gesture came after an extended diatribe against Social Security, which he said is a ‘Ponzi’ scheme, ‘not a retirement program.’ Simpson argued that Social Security was originally intended more as a welfare program.Um, no. But, in Simpson’s defense, the president who appointed him also harbors some misunderstandings about Social Security. And at least the Senator is right on public financing of elections. So, there’s that.

Too Big to Jail.


Lloyd Blankfein went to Washington and testified under oath that Goldman Sachs didn’t make a massive short bet and didn’t bet against its clients. The Levin report proves that Goldman spent the whole summer of 2007 riding a ‘big short’ and took a multibillion-dollar bet against its clients, a bet that incidentally made them enormous profits. Are we all missing something? Is there some different and higher standard of triple- and quadruple-lying that applies to bank CEOs but not to baseball players?

In Rolling Stone, a simile-happy Matt Taibbi reiterates the open-and-shut fraud and perjury case against Goldman Sachs that was laid out last month in the Levin report — a case that, thus far, nobody in a prosecutorial position seems to be taking up. Too busy going after Wikileaks, I guess.

To recap: Goldman, to get $1.2 billion in crap off its books, dumps a huge lot of deadly mortgages on its clients, lies about where that crap came from and claims it believes in the product even as it’s betting $2 billion against it. When its victims try to run out of the burning house, Goldman stands in the doorway, blasts them all with gasoline before they can escape, and then has the balls to send a bill overcharging its victims for the pleasure of getting fried.

Enabling the Hucksters.

‘Trump’s presidential run is no longer being treated as serious by the easily distracted and resolutely frivolous political press that covered it so thoroughly just a few short weeks ago. While it was always an unamusing joke…we had what felt like a lifetime of New Hampshire trip coverage and Piers Morgan interviews and ‘President Trump? It might be more likely than you think!’

With last month’s embarrassing Trump boomlet seemingly run its course in the Village, Salon‘s Alex Pareene comes to bury, not praise, the Donald. “[T]ransparent idiocy didn’t cause the press to take Trump less seriously, but it did lead people to gradually grow to hate Trump, which made his ratings suffer, and the exposure of the artifice of the Trump persona was decidedly damaging to his ‘brand.’ Once your ‘brand’ has been damaged, say goodbye to credulous political press coverage!

To be honest, I couldn’t care less about Trump, and mostly avoided all of his Birther shenanigans as they were unfolding two weeks ago for the same reason I try to avoid any political coverage — from right or left — of the “You won’t believe what Sarah Palin just posted on Facebook!” variety. It’s lazy, it’s boring, and it’s actively pernicious given all the real problems we face right now. (But at the very least, both Trump and Palin are noteworthy indicators of how far the GOP done fell.)

I’m only posting on this now to point out that the Trump boomlet was by no means a one-time-thing. When the President of the United States actually had to come on TV two weeks ago to prove he was an American citizen, there was much pearl-clutching by the Village press about what a travesty this had all become. “What a sad day in American political history,” lamented MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. Meanwhile, the Washington Post opined that the release “says something embarrassing — actually, make that disturbing — about the state of American politics” — soon after that newspaper of record invited Trump to the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. (An evening, by the way, that’s as good as reflection as any of how desiccated and domesticated today’s establishment press has become.)

For his part, ABC’s Jake Tapper — a fellow who, let’s remember, got his big break as a hard-hitting journalist by kissing-and-telling on Monica Lewinsky back in the day — tried to defend the press by pointing to a Pew study which found that the deficit debate was actually the most-covered news story of the week. The problem with this line of argument is that conducting lousy journalism in one arena does not absolve you of conducting lousy journalism in another. And in fact, Village criers have been just as incompetent and/or duplicitous on the deficit.

For months, as you all know, the Serious People in the media have been banging the drum of the deficit witchhunt even though, from an economic perspective, austerity at this hour makes about as much sense as Birtherism. And, in the past few weeks, they have doubled down on this idiocy by trying to elevate the most recent flavor of the month, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, as a Serious Man, come to tell us hard truths about the need for sacrifice.

In fact, Congressman Ryan is scarcely any less of a huckster than the Donald. This is a guy who laments the intrusions of the welfare state at every turn, but only made it to college thanks to Social Security benefits received upon the passing of his father. (To be fair: Ryan is only emulating his hero with this sort of hypocrisy.) This is also a guy who, when confronted with the Clinton budget surpluses of a decade ago, then lamented that the debt was too small.

And this is a guy whose budget proposal — which he was quick to deem not a budget, but a cause — is basically the same vile, stale concoction of malice and magical thinking that the right has been peddling for decades. It uses made-up numbers to argue that privatizing Medicare (and leaving seniors with the bills), slashing the social safety net, and lowering taxes on the rich will somehow end deficits and save America. (Short answer: It won’t.)

By any reasonable standard, the Ryan budget should have been laughed out of the room as soon as it dropped. But, no, the press needed A Serious Man™ on the right for its lazy he-said, she-said approach to any political story. And, so Ryan got the Trump treatment and the rest is history. Ostensibly liberal pundits fell over themselves praising Ryan’s budget. In response, the president eventually drew progressive kudos for pitching his own deficit reduction plan. (More on that in a sec.) With both sides established, the press can now continue to happily indulge in the usual medley of content-free, he-said, she-said inanities that, to them, constitutes political journalism. And everyone in Washington can continue to ignore the fact that, actually, more spending, not cutting the deficit, is what is needed to fix the economy right now. Win-win!

Regarding President Obama’s deficit proposals, he delivered an eloquent speech on the subject last month, to be sure — one of his best as president. But, even if we hadn’t already been burned far too many times by his rhetoric not matching up to his policies, it’s hard for me to take his remarks as some great moment of the left just because he finally articulated what should be pretty basic principles of American government. Particularly when you consider that the Obama plan is, of course, center-right-leaning, and yet it has nevertheless become the left pole in an exceedingly narrow economic debate.

(By the way, if you’re really worried about the long-term deficit, the answer isn’t rocket science. Try raising taxes on the rich. Or passing real health care cost controls. Or going where the money’s at. Or growing the economy and putting people back to work. Or, y’know, doing nothing — that would work too.)

In sum, the Trump boomlet of last month was not the exception. It was a clear and distilled expression of the rule, a sideshow to a sideshow. And because the Village press is so terrible, our entire politics is distorted — We are living out the consequences of this disaster yet again in the deficit debate. Only the sheer amount of money flooding the system right now is a bigger political problem than the broken state of the newsmedia.

The Last Debt Fight.

After the Civil War, political leaders in the defeated South announced their intention of resuming their seats in Congress and of using their power…to compel the federal government either to pay off all debts of the Confederacy or to default on the national debt which had been borrowed to finance the Union war effort…For this reason, [Reconstruction Republicans] wrote into our fundamental law an absolute prohibition against defaulting on the national debt. Its language establishes a complete firewall against the misuse of governmental power by one political faction to get its way by wrecking the public credit.

As congressional Republicans try to bluff their way through another round of hostage-taking with the American economy, this time vis a vis the debt limit, Garrett Epps reminds us that the debt limit idea is actually unconstitutional, by way of the 14th Amendment (already not the GOP’s favorite accomplishment.) “This requirement is absolute. It is contained in Section Four of the Fourteenth Amendment, which directs, in no uncertain terms, that “the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law…shall not be questioned.

Silence will Fall.


‘There is a huge irony,’ said SETI Director Jill Tarter, ‘that a time when we discover so many planets to look at, we don’t have the operating funds to listen.’ SETI senior astronomer Seth Shostak compared the project’s suspension to ‘the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria being put into dry dock.’…This is about exploration, and we want to keep the thing operational. It’s no good to have it sit idle.

Another casualty of the lousy economy and the budget crises (in this case, California’s) SETI’s Allen Telescope Array goes dark. “‘We have the radio antennae up, but we can’t run them without operating funds,’ he added. ‘Honestly, if everybody contributed just 3 extra cents on their 1040 tax forms, we could find out if we have cosmic company.‘”

Same as It Ever Was.


Treasury’s mismanagement of TARP and its disregard for TARP’s Main Street goals — whether born of incompetence, timidity in the face of a crisis or a mindset too closely aligned with the banks it was supposed to rein in — may have so damaged the credibility of the government as a whole that future policy makers may be politically unable to take the necessary steps to save the system the next time a crisis arises. This avoidable political reality might just be TARP’s most lasting, and unfortunate, legacy.” On his last day on the job, outgoing special inspector general for TARP Neil Barofsky laments the failures of the program he oversaw.

In very related news, see also NYT columnist William Cohan on the same subject yesterday: “Not only did the government’s theory fail in practice — unemployment remains relentlessly and historically high and American businesses seem intent on hoarding, rather than spending, the $2 trillion in cash on their collective balance sheets — but it also lost a once-in-a-century opportunity to change the mores of a momentarily chastened Wall Street, which remains badly in need of substantive reform. This is more than a shame; it is prima facie evidence of how deep Wall Street’s hooks have been — and continue to be — into the powers that be in Washington (and vice versa).

The Priorities of the Serious People™.

This chart puts the class war in simple, visual terms. On the left you have the ‘shared sacrifices’ and ‘painful cuts’ that the Republicans claim we must make to get our fiscal house in order. On the right, you can plainly see WHY these cuts are ‘necessary.’” Via JackDean and several other sites, This is What Class War Looks Like.

But, hey, Win the Future and all that.

If it ain’t broke…

You can practically break a search engine if you start looking around the Internet for those words. They’re used repeatedly with reference to our local, state and federal governments, almost always to make a case for slashing programs — and, lately, to go after public-employee unions. The phrase is designed to create a sense of crisis that justifies rapid and radical actions before citizens have a chance to debate the consequences. Just one problem: We’re not broke.

Swimming upstream against a tide of misleading soundbites and outright idiocy — from Republicans and Democrats both — E.J. Dionne tries to explain the obvious: America has plenty of money right now. “A phony metaphor is being used to hijack the nation’s political conversation and skew public policies to benefit better-off Americans and hurt most others.

Obama Ghraib.

“‘There can be no conceivable justification for requiring a soldier to surrender all his clothing, remain naked in his cell for seven hours, and then stand at attention the subsequent morning,’ he wrote. ‘This treatment is even more degrading considering that Pfc. Manning is being monitored — both by direct observation and by video — at all times.‘”

Sometimes I don’t post here because I’m really busy. Sometimes I don’t post here because the news is too damned depressing: The United States takes another big step towards Miniluv by applying Dubya-era torture and intimidation techniques to an American citizen in custody for leaking, Bradley Manning. (Y’see, it’s a four lights = five lights kinda thing. Manning has to break — and then, like Zubadayah and KSM, voice untruths — for there to be any sort of possible criminal conspiracy case against Wikileaks.)

What is there to say, really? State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley already correctly stated that this abusive treatment of Manning was “ridiculous, counterproductive, and stupid,” and, within days, he was fired for stating the obvious.

The president, meanwhile, assures us everything is ok because the Pentagon said so: “I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assure me that they are.” This, as Glenn Greenwald (who’s been on top of this all the way) points out, is exactly the same rationale Dubya used to use: “‘When [Bush] asked ‘the most senior legal officers in the U.S. government’ to review interrogation methods, ‘they assured me they did not constitute torture.’” Well, ok then.

So let’s review. Dubya’s administration constructs an illegal and unconstitutional torture regimeNobody goes to jail, and nothing changes. (Look forward, not backward!) The Dubya administration lies to the American people in order to prosecute a war of choice in Iraq. Nobody goes to jail, and nothing changes. Through greed and outright fraud, Wall Street traders implode the global economy to the tune of trillions of dollars, and, with the convenient exception of Bernie Madoff, nobody goes to jail, and nothing changes. (Synthetic junk, anyone?) Big banks continue their crime spree by engaging in a massive epidemic of foreclosure fraud, and nobody goes to jail (but we’ll make them promise not to do it again!)

Oh, and an Army private leaks “secret” documents (so secret they were available to millions of people) because “[h]e wanted people held accountable and wanted to see this didn’t happen again” — the very definition of whistleblowing — and now we’re treating him like Winston Smith. (Then again, our president does despise whistleblowers.)

Should Manning be in U.S. custody right now? Yes. He took an oath to the United States military and, knowing full well the consequences, broke it in an act of civil disobedience. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime — I get that. But should Manning be abused and tortured in U.S. custody? Of course not — Nobody should be. In fact, I thought we elected Barack Obama as president to make sure this never happened again.

Nope, sorry. Instead, President Obama fired Crowley and is owning what’s happening to Manning right now. He also just reinstated and normalized indefinite detentions at Gitmo. (Obama the constitutional scholar? Meet the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.) And when not perpetuating Dubya-era illegalities, he (and new lefty-bashing chief of staff) spend their days talking up the deficit, talking down regulation, and hoping the Chamber and the NRA take their meetings. Feel those winds of change, y’all. (Obama meme pic above via here.)

Update: “Based on 30 years of government experience, if you have to explain why a guy is standing naked in the middle of a jail cell, you have a policy in need of urgent review.P.J. Crowley reflects on his recent firing. “I stand by what I said. The United States should set the global standard for treatment of its citizens – and then exceed it. It is what the world expects of us. It is what we should expect of ourselves.

Do Not Trust to Hope…

What is at stake in the long run? Two things, mainly, in my view. First, it seems to me that we as progressives need to make an honorable defense of the great legacies of the New Deal and Great Society — programs and institutions that brought America out of the Great Depression and bought us through the Second World War, brought us to our period of greatest prosperity, and the greatest advances in social justice. Social Security, Medicare, housing finance — the front-line right now is the foreclosure crisis, the crisis, I should say, of foreclosure fraud — the progressive tax code, anti-poverty policy, public investment, public safety, and human and civil rights. We are going to lose these battles- get used to it. But we need to make an honorable fight, to state clearly what our principles are and to lay down a record which is trustworthy for the future.

In a hard-hitting address to the Americans for Democratic Action from last November, economist Jamie Galbraith puts the current situation of progressivism in perspective. His steely resignation may sound fatalistic, but it’s hard not to feel thus these days. “Recovery begins with realism and there is nothing to be gained by kidding ourselves…We need to lose our fear, our hesitation, and our unwillingness to face the facts. If we thereby lose some of our hopes, let’s remember the dictum of William of Orange that ‘it is not necessary to hope in order to persevere.’

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