Saturday, September 20, 2008

Saturday Morning Malamute Blogging

Don't let the photo fool you...he may seem alert here but yesterday a black and white cat ambled through the back yard as Kodi slept obliviously on the deck...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ike and Katrina

Although for many of us Hurricane Katrina now represents the Bush Administration’s colossal ineptitude and criminal neglect of its duties, it is useful to remember that in the hurricane’s immediate aftermath, many saw the mass of people awaiting rescue in the Superdome as living proof that dependence on the government produces individuals who fail to take personal responsibility for their lives.

So far, despite the fact that 40% of the population on Galveston Island, and perhaps an equal percentage on Bolivar Peninsula, chose not to evacuate, even in the face of warnings that to stay meant “certain death,” we’ve not yet witnessed the level of vilification of those who remained in harm’s way. The New York Times, Newsweek, and NPR have retailed stories painting the Galevestonians who decided to ride out the storm in colors that contrast dramatically with those used to render the victims of Katrina. For example, when asked, “What kind of person stays?” Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, responded:
I heard an interview this morning on NPR with someone who was electing to stay in Galveston. This was a guy, his family and extended family, that were moving into a masonary building to ride it out. They are strong-willed, independent individuals who I think relish the idea of riding out something most of us would consider to be too dangerous to remain.
And in a commentary on “All Things Considered,” the writer Bret Anthony Johnston, observed:
But you have to understand — it's not stupidity or insanity or even pride that keeps most people in their homes during a storm: It's hope.

You hope the life you've built can sustain what's bearing down on it; hope that if a window cracks or a leak opens up, you'll be there in time to fix it; hope that if someone calls for help, you'll be close enough to offer what they need. Mostly, though, you hope you'll get lucky, hope that when those who fled ask about the storm, you can think about raising a cold one with your friends and dancing with your wife and watching your son play in the rain. You hope you can smile and say, "Oh it wasn't that bad. It wasn't that bad at all. Nothing more than a little wind."
Again, a far cry from much of what we heard about those who stayed behind in New Orleans and were killed or trapped when the levees failed.

Some may say that the difference in the responses is as plain as that between black and white. After all, the people in the Superdome, whose plight was broadcast graphically were, in overwhelming numbers, black, while most of those I saw or heard declaring their intent to stay on the Texas coast as Ike bore down were white. And yet as Adolph Reed has pointed out, focusing solely or primarily on race in explaining Katrina is to mistake symptoms and effects for causes:
What happened in New Orleans is the culmination of twenty-five years of disparagement of any idea of public responsibility; of a concerted effort--led by the right but as part of a bipartisan consensus--to reduce government's functions to enhancing plunder by corporations and the wealthy and punishing everyone else, undermining any notion of social solidarity.

The people who were swept aside or simply overlooked in this catastrophe were the same ones who were already swept aside in a model of urban revitalization that, in New Orleans as everywhere else, is predicated on their removal. Their presence is treated as an eyesore, a retardant of property values, proof by definition that the spaces they occupy are underutilized. And it's not simply because they're black. They embody another, more specific category, the equivalent of what used to be known, in the heyday of racial taxonomy, as a "sub-race." They are a population against which others--blacks as well as whites--measure their own civic worth.
Although the demographics of those who chose to face Ike rather than evacuate may turn out to differ significantly from those who couldn’t or didn’t evacuate New Orleans before Katrina, there is at least one commonality in the responses to these disasters that shouldn’t go unnoticed, namely the almost automatic turn to cultural-psychological narratives as a way of processing the social world. We now routinely dissect the body politic into subgroups whose behavior is to be understood, treated, chastised or whatever, rather than operate from a presumption of common citizenship which holds that people are, to quote Reed again, “subjects of political action with their own voices and needs.”

For some time now the ruling class has pushed a vision of government as something that only comes into play when individuals or groups, for reason of their pathologies or idiosyncrasies, fail to do what they ought to do. From that standpoint any government effort to improve the general welfare of the nation only enables self-destructive behavior that would otherwise be checked by the discipline of the market. More importantly, in this vision there's no room for the idea of politics as the means through which we, as citizens, shape the kind of society we want to live in.

Of course, when it comes to government's bailing out major investment firms, only then does the word come down that we're all in this together.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Saving Obama’s Ass

To start off, I’m not sure that Obama’s ass is worth saving. Even if he does win, which is looking less and less likely with each passing day, the Republican alternative four years hence is going to be no more palatable than it is now, meaning that a hopelessly compromised left will only be asked once again to suck it up for the sake of preserving a presidency that will become less and less relevant to furthering progressive ends.

But I’ve always found McCain odious--an impression that’s only deepened with his selection of Palin as his running mate—and listening to Obama these days has been one cringe moment after the other. On Monday of this week he criticized McCain’s “Drill, drill, drill” mantra, by complaining, and I quote, “What kind of slogan is that?” Are you kidding me? Is that as deep as the criticism goes: “What kind of slogan is that?” Is the message here, “Vote Obama/Biden: We’ve got better slogans”?

Clearly his vaunted brain trust is fumbling badly (and remember this is a candidate who, when asked what qualifies him to be president, proclaims proudly that he’s run a national campaign), so I thought I’d help the brother out a bit with the following speech, just to show him it’s possible to utter progressive sentiments minus the mealy mouth pandering and gratuitous swipes against the poor, which have become his stock-in-trade. And he’s free to use any or all of the words below gratis and without attribution (which we know he knows how to do).

You’ll have to imagine it delivered in the uncertain accent and faux meaningful pauses that characterize his style on the stump these days:
Thank you for coming out today.

As most of you know, I didn’t get into politics the usual way. I started my political life as a community organizer. Now I know that some people don’t think much of being a community organizer (wait for knowing laughter). Some people think it’s trivial. A laughing matter. That’s their opinion. They’re entitled to it.

But there’s at least one thing you learn from being a community organizer. You learn that when the powerful people in the country--the president, the CEO, yes even the governor or the mayor--have made their big decisions, posed for their photo ops, and delivered their press releases, it’s the less powerful people who have to try to live with the consequences of those decisions. It’s the people without power who have to pay when factories close, when jobs are exported over seas, and when funds that should be going to schools, roads, and bridges go instead to stadiums and sport complexes.

Once you’ve seen up close how dearly real people have paid for the decisions made by those in power, it’s not something you forget easily. So I began this campaign with a simple idea: Wouldn’t it be better to govern from the standpoint of all those people who’ve had to pay dearly for the decisions made by those who’ve held power in this country for so long? Isn’t that what this country should be about? Isn’t that what democracy is about? (See, Barack, no need to bash the poor to make this point.)

Now there’s another party in this race. You may have heard of it. It’s the Republican Party. The leadership of that party has held power over the country for eight long years. And in holding power they’ve remained faithful to one idea, one guiding principle. This idea, this principle, has been that come what may—come war, come hurricane, come fiscal crisis, the party’s wealthy friends and supporters would never pay. And they’ve remained faithful to this promise. As US soldiers and the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan have paid with their lives, the Republican leadership has softly reassured its well-heeled buddies, “Don’t worry, you won’t have to pay.” As levees have failed, bridges fallen, and pension funds foundered, the Republican leadership has continued to croon the same soothing lullaby to its wealthy friends, “Don’t worry, we’ll make someone else pay.” And, by God, have they ever.

And now after eight years of making the rest of America pay; after eight years of lying to the American people, soiling the nation’s reputation in the eyes of the world, bankrupting its finances, and neglecting the environment this same Republican Party leadership is standing before the nation, like an abusive spouse on the doorstep, saying “Baby, give me another chance. I can change. I have changed. I promise. Look, I’ve even nominated a maverick.”

But they can’t expect that line to get them over can they? John McCain? Change? For John McCain to represent change he’d . . . well, he’d have to be a Democrat because the bottom line is that if you want change this year, you have to put another party in power, and that party is the Democratic Party (See Barack, the post- or nonpartisan crap isn’t necessary)

As for John McCain, he once believed the Bush tax cuts were irresponsible, now he wants to make them permanent. He once believed that global climate change was an immediate threat, now he wants to drill for more oil. He once believed that the Religious Right as represented by Jerry Falwell was a force of intolerance, now he embraces these ministers to his bosom (and Barack, I know you’re kind of soft on the ministers as well, you upright Christian, you.)

I suppose you can call all of this change. But it seems to me that the Republican Party Leadership has changed John McCain. Not the other way round. Senator McCain couldn’t even get the party to accept his first choice for the vice presidency. Hell, if John McCain can’t change his own party leadership, how in the world is he going to change the country?

I stand before you representing a party committed to governing on behalf of those who’ve had to pay for the corruption, the greed and the criminal misuse of our armed forces. I stand before you representing a party committed to seeing that those who have abused their power, violated the laws of the land, and abused the public trust will be held accountable for their actions. You, the American people, are owed a full accounting of what has been done in your name for the past eight years. You need to know whose rights have been trampled to the dust in the name of national security. You need to know who has been tortured in backrooms with the approval of the men and women you trusted to uphold the law. You need to know all of this. Not for vindictiveness, but for justice—the justice necessary for healing. The nation must be healed, but for this healing to take place the poison of eight years of Republican leadership must first be drawn out of the body politic like poison is drawn from a wound (all props to Gandalf/Tolkien/Peter Jackson).
from the professor