Sunday, December 20, 2009

Thoughts for the Season

So I woke up this morning thinking about "The Homeless," which is only natural in weather like this, I suppose.

The emergence of "homelessness" as an identity category reveals the repugnance of the neoliberal version of social activism at its bluntest. "Homelessness" was invented as a social status—the equivalent of an estate--over the 1980s with the collusion of government agencies, academics, foundations and advocate/activists. The Grand Compromise, fitting the terms of "activism" under emerging neoliberalism, was to accept recognition of the "homeless" as a population with special needs for social services—shelters and reform of shelter administration, treatment for addiction, mental disorders, emergency housing, pro forma job counseling etc. Everything, that is, except a stable, secure, and decent place to live, which would require limitation of the juggernaut of urban redevelopment and bolstering social wage protection. The "activist" justification for this compromise was a combination of rationality and immediacy of need. The larger and deeper sources of homelessness are too big to tackle and certainly not in a way that can address people's immediate needs. So, the question became, what can we do to make people's lives better that takes as given that they have no place to live? (Social scientists, of course, particularly those cavorting between Hyde Park and Evanston, played a substantial role in providing a legitimizing "it's not so simple as providing housing for people" discourse in all the predictable variants. I recall getting the dinner guest tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright—or maybe Frank Lloyd Wright's student-designed home of a colleague who was then writing his explanation of why it's more complicated than that—really just a fanciful taxonomy of types of homelessness based on a dearth of direct experience that would have shamed Richard Hakluyt—and his proposal to bring back tiger cage housing as a more humane modification of the hazardous shelters) And here we are. Homelessness grows unnoticed; a social service apparatus—largely privatized—has grown, with its own political economy, around minimally ameliorating its effects, or appearing to do so, and young people—the ones who are to lead us to a better world that coincidentally looks suspiciously like nothing more than a superficially more rationally administered version of this one—imagine that ladling soup at the church kitchen or picking up people to take to cooling or warming centers, getting to know and be enriched by their personal stories, getting a mother and her three kids into an SRO motel, etc is fighting for social justice and, of course, a good way to soak up Life and boost the extracurrics on the Harvard Law application.

And then there are the more serious activists, the ones who have ideas about prefiguration and embodying alternatives. I've been involved in three public housing displacement fights, in Chicago, Stamford CT and New Orleans post-Katrina. The first was led by an activist tenants association that had official recognition as a representative body in the CHA system, even though the latter's public rhetoric, along with the City's, kept insisting that the body that it recognized as the official representative of Cabrini-Green tenants represented no one other than themselves. Because of the scale and power of entrenched interests on the other side, including Allison Davis's Habitat development company to which Valerie Jarrett had connections and Obama more indirect ones, from the outset it was clear that the only hope was to negotiate the best possible terms of surrender. We were able to get what we got partly because the Canadian bank that was the central financier was getting skittish about the project, and Daley and the CHA didn't want to go to trial, and even that settlement was sold out after the fact in implementation. The Stamford campaign was led by a coalition of unions, a quirky concatenation of circumstances that worked in our favor: a multi-union, wall-to-wall organizing campaign going on in the city, the fact that the lead organizer of the campaign was politically very savvy and had a history as a housing activist, and the fact that because housing costs in Stamford are so high, many unionized public sector workers lived in public housing. An additional quirk was that the Fortune 500 firms located in Stamford couldn't give less of a shit about the downtown revitalization interests that were driving the hastily put together HOPE VI project, or at least gave much less of a shit about it than they did about having their low-wage maintenance and clerical workforce nearby and not having to depend on their training in from Bridgeport nearly a half-hour away and subject to the vagaries of Metro North system delays. So it was possible to mobilize some support among them. The campaign won, partly through undercutting developers' and the housing authority's purchase of the black ministers by mobilizing clear-headed and active dissent in their congregations against them and exposing, or threatening to, the corrupt deals they were trying to make. This in turn enabled us to turn up the heat on the blacks on the city council. We also were able to get the Columbia Urban Technologies Action Project (run by an ex- though all too repentant Maoist) to do a structural assessment of the projects in the housing authority's sights, defeat the claim that the buildings were unsound and propose renovations like wiring the entire building for the internet, creation of on-site job development and day care centers, etc. The developers backed down. The outcome of the New Orleans case is well known. The only support for tenants, who themselves of course were largely dispersed, were the small clusters of left activists with no institutional capacity or ability to do anything except disrupt momentarily. That's all there was to do, and people did it admirably. Sometimes it's true that the only action available is bearing witness with the knowledge that there is only the slimmest imaginable hope that that action might spark a prairie fire. In the vast majority of instances they don't; I suspect they never do in the absence of a cadre force capable of fanning the sparks, even though we all have some romantic affinity for the heroic spontaneist narrative. (I've been struck lately, by the way, at how much what calls itself the left likes to bond around offhanded disparagement of Lenin and Leninist parties.) In fact, like propaganda of the deed under fascism, that's a political mode that speaks more of desperation and the reality of defeat than demonstration of power or capacity. It can be principled and is sometimes all we can do, but especially in a society like this it doesn't put us in position to fight for, or for that matter against, anything.


ht alr

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Massive Defense Spending Leads to Job Loss"

Dean Baker explains:
There is a major national ad campaign, funded by the oil industry and other usual suspects, to convince the public that measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and slow global warming will result in massive job loss. This ad campaign warns of slower growth and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, possibly even millions of jobs, if some variation of the current proposals being debated by Congress get passed into law.
For some reason, no one has chosen to highlight the job loss associated with higher defense spending. In fact, the job loss attributable to defense spending has probably never been mentioned in a single news story in The New York Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio, or any other major media outlet. It is difficult to find a good explanation for this omission.
thanks to alr for the link

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sad News

The words aren't flowing today so I'll paraphrase someone who was intimately acquainted with loss:

Edward Kennedy "need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him...pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world..."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Illegitimate Concerns

From Campbell Brown to Jon Stewart to Barack Obama himself, the recent recipe for dealing with the crazies and operatives who’ve dominated the coverage of the health care debate appears to be as follows: Separate the fear mongering about death panels and such nonsense from the “legitimate” concerns about cost, being able to keep one’s current insurance, etc. Then, having sorted one from the other, dismiss the first and address the latter.

I suspect this will work, if by “work” one means helping pave the way to getting some version of a bill passed when Congress returns to session.

But we shouldn’t forget that at the end of the day, the only legitimate concern in the health care debate is this: Will anyone who needs to see a physician or receive a medical procedure be able to get treatment at a nearby health care facility without worrying about how to pay for it?

If the answer is “No”—and it looks like that’s what it will be—then illegitimate concerns will have once again carried the day.

Monday, August 10, 2009

BO's Health Care Reform: Settling for Less

When the makers of the animated film The Incredibles wanted a visceral symbol for our society’s moral turpitude they knew exactly what to do: depict an insurance company executive--single-minded in the pursuit of profit and lacking even the slightest glimmer of sympathy for his fellow humans. The message was so clear that a four-year-old could get it: the only way that insurers make money is by denying claims and coverage to those who need help.

So why is it that on an issue that everybody “gets” immediately, do the big corporate players, including the insurance industry, have the upper hand? Well, as even Frank Rich has now come to see, it’s because those on whom so many counted to smite the mighty, have instead been brokering deals:
As Congressional Quarterly reported last week, industry groups contributed almost $1.8 million in the first six months of 2009 alone to the 18 House members of both parties supervising health care reform, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer among them.
Add to that the fact that, as has reported, candidate Obama was by far the greatest beneficiary of contributions from the health care sector and the hash being made of health care reform was a foregone conclusion.

To be sure, as many have pointed out, the obnoxious opposition to health care that has torpedoed many townhall meetings was largely manufactured by corporate lobbyists. Even so, the real problem was with the townhalls themselves, which were little more than Administration efforts to palm off the mystery meat in the various congressional health insurance reform bills as the high quality stuff of truly democratic health care. It’s hard to imagine shouting down the wingnuts and paid corporate operatives with chants that amount to “We want Spam!” Yet as even Rich acknowledges in observing that some form of health care reform is likely to pass, Spam is what we’re going to get.

When an Obama-enabler like Rich allows himself to voice a “fear . . . that Obama might be just another corporatist, punking voters much as the Republicans do when they claim to be all for the common guy,” it is tempting to believe that a moment of Liberal /Left-reckoning regarding Obama might be at hand. But two other columns from the Times indicate otherwise.

First, Paul Krugman’s “Averting the Worst” column on Obama’s flawed effort to fix the economy illustrates how difficult it is for Obama’s liberal critics to avoid being boxed in to muttering the mush-mouthed mantra of what Obama support has always been: a plaintive wail that the other guys would have been worse.

Then there’s Barbara Ehrenreich’s indignant account of what amounts to a legislative and policy war against the poor being carried out by states and municipalities across the country. After cataloging the despicable ways that poor people in this country are treated, Ehrenreich’s column concludes:
Maybe we can’t afford the measures that would begin to alleviate America’s growing poverty — affordable housing, good schools, reliable public transportation and so forth. I would argue otherwise, but for now I’d be content with a consensus that, if we can’t afford to truly help the poor, neither can we afford to go on tormenting them.
I have no doubt that Ehrenreich truly believes that we could “afford the measures that would begin to alleviate America’s growing poverty”—but what the hell does this really mean? Let’s roll back poverty rates to what they were two years ago? Whoop-dee-frickin'-doo! But that’s not even where the piece ultimately comes down. Despite the fact that her guy is now in office, Ehrenreich would be content, for the moment, with treating the poor a little better.

What ever else this is, it’s unmistakably a way of telling the guy in charge just how little you’d settle for. And to extend Rich’s somewhat homophobic metaphor, if you tell the big guy on the block that he can punk you for a quarter, don’t be surprised if he pays you only a dime, or perhaps nothing at all, because he probably thinks, when all is said and done, that’s what you wanted in the first place.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Malamute Blogging

Finally warm enough to take him to the lake and let him play in the water. I can't believe I just wrote that on the last day of July in Chicago. What happened to summer?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Them That's Got Shall Get...

If you were wondering how wealth, income, and power have been, and still are, distributed in the USA than have a look-see at an article by Professor G. William Domhoff, available at the Sociology Dept. at UC Santa Cruz. I've excerpted some of the more upsetting paragraphs, tables, and figures below.

In the United States, wealth is highly concentrated in a relatively few hands. As of 2004, the top 1% of households (the upper class) owned 34.3% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 50.3%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 85%, leaving only 15% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers).

Besides illustrating the significance of home ownership as a measure of wealth, the graph also shows how much worse Black and Latino households are faring overall, whether we are talking about income or net worth. In 2004, the average white household had 10 times as much total wealth as the average African-American household, and 21 times as much as the average Latino household. If we exclude home equity from the calculations and consider only financial wealth, the ratios are more startling: 120:1 and 360:1, respectively. Extrapolating from these figures, we see that 69% of white families' wealth is in the form of their principal residence; for Blacks and Hispanics, the figures are 97% and 98%, respectively.

Here are some dramatic facts that sum up how the wealth distribution became even more concentrated between 1983 and 2004, in good part due to the tax cuts for the wealthy and the defeat of labor unions: Of all the new financial wealth created by the American economy in that 21-year-period, fully 42% of it went to the top 1%. A whopping 94% went to the top 20%, which of course means that the bottom 80% received only 6% of all the new financial wealth generated in the United States during the '80s, '90s, and early 2000s (Wolff, 2007).

It's even more revealing to compare the actual rates of increase of the salaries of CEOs and ordinary workers; from 1990 to 2005, CEOs' pay increased almost 300% (adjusted for inflation), while production workers gained a scant 4.3%. The purchasing power of the federal minimum wage actually declined by 9.3%, when inflation is taken into account. These startling results are illustrated in Figure 7.

ht to alr

Saturday, July 04, 2009


Watching The Fog of War for the second time around, I couldn't help but wonder: is this watery-eyed man in Rumsfield's future? Twenty, or so years, down the road will he subject himself to hours of interviews on his many errors in the Iraq war?

As of today confirmed deaths in the Iraq War stand at just over 4,300, a far cry from the over 25,000 who died during McNamara's seven-year term as Secretary of Defense. This isn't to say that fewer deaths should lay more lightly on Rumsfield's conscience, but rather that, as much as we make easy comparisons between the Iraq War and the Vietnam War, those of us who are for the first time grappling with a war with significant casualties have no concept of the ultimate blood cost of a protracted, and ultimately futile, conflict.

The Fog of War, and McNamara himself, frustrates our need for a complete mea culpa. In so many ways he remained to the end a Washington bureaucrat, rationalizing at the same time he chided those who rationalized war, and, at times, flatly refusing to address the issue of his own guilt. However, throughout the documentary he numbers the dead, numbers them and draws comparisons to the populations of American cities. For a cracker-jack statistician the way he recalls those numbers speaks of a mind who never stops seeing the loss of life, never stops wondering how many had to die.

McNamara strikes me as someone who desperately wanted forgiveness and yet was enough of a realist not to ask for it. Yet, he spent his years following his time attacking poverty, the nuclear arms race, and, ultimately, the culture of war itself. It's difficult to know how to weigh the actions of his later years with those of his sojourn at the Pentagon; for at the end of the day how do you weigh a few good works against the thousands of lives either lost or irrevocably damaged by your actions?

Atonement works great in theology but it is pretty much impossible in real life. Asking regular human beings to have enough grace to forgive on that scale is too much. So I don't want to make excuses nor suggest that in attempting to atone for his crimes McNamara deserves a break. At the same time in measuring him against others of his ilk--his contemporary Henry Kissinger for one and those who followed, Cheney and Rumsfield-- McNamara's dedication to atoning for his crimes raises him above those others merely in the recognition of having done egregious wrongs. That recognition seems such a small thing yet is so rare amongst those who recklessly drive us into deadly and morally compromising situations. In our time we are faced either with silence (Colin Powell) or a flat denial of any wrongdoing. Cheney's callousness is so despicable as to suggest a certain joy in the chaos he creates. It shouldn't be so much to ask for those in power to recognize that their actions have consequences. It shouldn't, but it is.

McNamara offered himself up as a cautionary tale in 2003, the same year we invaded Iraq, possibly in the vain hope that the mess we're in could be avoided. I think that all by itself, while many might say it is 40 years too late, is worthy of our consideration if not our absolution.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy Father's Day Weekend!

Ian Frazier says it best.
O my children, you are disobedient. For when I tell you what you must do, you argue and dispute hotly even to the littlest detail; and when I do not accede, you cry out, and hit and kick. Yes, and even sometimes do you spit, and shout "stupid-head" and other blasphemies, and hit and kick the wall and the molding thereof when you are sent to the corner. And though the law teaches that no one shall be sent to the corner for more minutes than he has years of age, yet I would leave you there all day, so mighty am I in anger. But upon being sent to the corner you ask straightaway, "Can I come out?" and I reply, "No, you may not come out." And again you ask, and again I give the same reply. But when you ask again a third time, then you may come out.

Hear me, O my children, for the bills they kill me. I pay and pay again, even to the twelfth time in a year, and yet again they mount higher than before. For our health, that we may be covered, I give six hundred and twenty talents twelve times in a year; but even this covers not the fifteen hundred deductible for each member of the family within a calendar year. And yet for ordinary visits we still are not covered, nor for many medicines, nor for the teeth within our mouths. Guess not at what rage is in my mind, for surely you cannot know.

For I will come to you at the first of the month and at the fifteenth of the month with the bills and a great whining and moan. And when the month of taxes comes, I will decry the wrong and unfairness of it, and mourn with wine and ashtrays, and rend my receipts. And you shall remember that I am that I am: before, after, and until you are twenty-one. Hear me then, and avoid me in my wrath, O children of me

Friday, June 05, 2009

Obama's Panderer's Box... always open.

When David Horowitz is complimenting you, it's way past time to trash the preferences and uninstall the software.

Michael Smith at Stop Me Before I Vote Again describes Obama's Cairo speech as an "...emetic concoction of falsehood, sanctimony, and hypocrisy..."

The whole sick-making performance is like this -- Parson Obama, master of the drone aircraft and the cluster bomb for six days in the week, ascends the pulpit on the seventh and tells everybody -- well, almost everybody -- to renounce violence.

On Obie's one hand, the Israelis. On his other, the Palestinians. Obie weighs, Obie judges, Obie sits on the throne and apportions the deservedness and destiny of nations. So let it be written! So let it be done!


The qualities that his admirers admired him for -- intelligence, moral seriousness, high purpose, the whole Eagle Scout package -- curdle, it seems, once mixed with actual power, into a filthy foetid smarmy preacherly pustular effluvium worthy of Woodrow Wilson himself.

Obama and his administration are not really change agents. They are more like grand cosmeticians trying, and possibly succeeding, at putting lipstick on the pig that is the United States (to borrow a phrase from the whole McCain/Palin episode). No one will buy the line about the USA not being a self-serving empire, but they'll appreciate the effort.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Dear Mr. President

It's always heartening to find that there are many who are not hoodwinked by the rhetoric:

Mr. Obama,
You are a fine speechmaker and have helped the government and people of the U.S.A. generally feel a more sincere and positive connection to the civilized world than they have had a right to feel in recent years. However, to name a few of what I honestly feel are dangerously misguided positions of yours that will allow the black mark on our nation’s legacy to further stain its way towards becoming a permanent scar:

1) Afghanistan is not a “good” war.
2) The government and people of Israel ought not be held in higher esteem than those of any other nation.
3) Most importantly, you should not let Cheney, G.W. Bush, and other immoral, murderous criminals in their administration off the hook. You and your relatively new government are, it is hoped, better than Gerald Ford and his government, who unforgivably pardoned the wretched criminal Richard Nixon for somewhat less significant wrongdoings and betrayals of the people of this and other countries than Cheney and company are guilty of.

Mr. Cheney,
Please return to cuddling up on your immense pile of blood-soaked plunder and go back to sleep. You are a lying, mercenary, savagely cruel, shameless coward. You were a child once; please remember that there are children and families of these children in the United States of America and in the rest of the world who suffer long-lasting harm from your merciless, uncompassionate words and actions, and from your continuing unrepentant espousal of the same.

Umm...V.M. is Viggo Mortensen.

Friday Malamute Blogging

Finally warm enough to drink water with two feet. He kept batting at the reflection of himself, or something, in the water. I couldn't get a pic of that. Maybe next time.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Stupid and Contagious

(click on image for a larger version)

From the Center for Economic and Policy Research
This report finds that the U.S. is the only country among 22 countries ranked highly in terms of economic and human development that does not guarantee that workers receive paid sick days or paid sick leave. Under current U.S. labor law, employers are not required to provide short-term paid sick days or longer-term paid sick leave. By relying solely on voluntary employer policies to provide paid sick days or leave to employees, tens of millions of U.S. workers are without paid sick days or leave. As a result, each year millions of American workers go to work sick, lowering productivity and potentially spreading illness to their coworkers and customers.
"Not really any surprise here, but it's nice to have the numbers."

thanks A.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Malamute Blogging

He's very sweet after a long walk by the lake, otherwise he's cranky.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Seoul Music

...or as Maurice White would say "Can I get a right-on?"

Saturday, May 09, 2009

A moment of (ex)Catholic reflection

So what has struck me most about the Miss California thing is what it says about that strain of Protestantism. There's nothing special about the fact that she did the softcore photos; that hardly registers on the hypocrisy scale any more -- not after legions of Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader prayer leaders, dope fiend anti-drug crusaders, barely closeted gay ministers
denouncing homosexuality, etc. And the cute little "whore next door" thing -- e.g., Hooters -- has long been a staple form of respectable titillation among the holyroller set, even down to slutting up the barely post-toddler girls for those hideous child pageants. I used to think of this as a distinctly southern phenomenon, and I guess I still do, even though its range has broadened greatly. In this regard one strain of California is the biggest, boldest southern state, a semi-autonomous, or at least closed, republic of parvenu okies. (I suspect in Miss CA's case that a little unraveling would find some Cajun roots not very far back, and Cajuns who'd become holyrollers at that.) A few years ago, with Engels and Mencken on my mind, I watched one of those wedding preparation shows that featured a former Miss Mobile who had washed out at the Miss Alabama pageant and her minor league baseball player boyfriend, who was from either CA or one of those big, empty states out West. Part of what was going on was clearly that her wedding was to be her consolation victory pageant, and she planned it accordingly. A leitmotif, though, was that they were both celibate holyrollers and were going to have sex for the first time in their lives after the wedding. The guy seemed like he could be deeply closeted even to himself, but she was a different story. The show was an hour-long pricktease. She kept winking and making coy references to what she was going to give him on their wedding night, pulling up the skirt of the wedding gown to show the garter, flexing her hotness for the camera and the like. It was extraordinary.

What most intrigued me about Miss CA's reaction to discovery of the photos is the way her first move has been to do damage control to protect her brand-- going first and without modification by attempt to explain them away or defend her morality -- to try to preempt their circulation by insisting that she was a minor when they were taken. Here she'd just set herself up to become a star on the right-wing Christian circuit as a sexy little kewpie-doll martyr to the fags and liberals and the like, and she may have rushed straight to her Jimmy Swaggart moment before she even got the career off the ground. Makes you wonder how many years of him and Jim Bakker we'd have been spared if you tube had been around.

For this kind of holyroller, apparently, God -- or Jesus -- is that little ventriloquist's dummy or imaginary Friend you carry around with you to tell you, and of course anyone who might even hint otherwise, that whatever you do -- whatever nasty prejudices you hold, whatever meanspirited actions you undertake or endorse, whatever apparent hypocrisy you may display, whatever you calculate to be in your narrowest and most immediate self-interest at the moment, whatever unreflected-upon impulses you act on no matter how outrageously they seem to contradict "principles" or "values" you parade around in public or what harm they might inflict on others -- you're fine, Saved, elect, and that, therefore, your qualifications for passing peremptory judgment on others based on your superiority as His one true Xtian are in no way compromised or impaired.

I suspect that only the deeply stupid (e.g., GWB, Palin), or psychotic, can take solace in so obviously self-serving a fairy tale, and only the deeply immoral (e.g., ditto) would want or need to do so.

Thanks, Professor Reed

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Confederate History Month?

Last week Georgia Governor, Sonny "chickenshit" Perdue signed into law a bill permanently designating that:
every April “shall be set aside to celebrate the Confederate States of America, its history, those who served in its armed forces and government,” and all those who contributed “to the cause which they held so dear.”
I would think that this news would cause more than a ripple of interest and derision in the 21st century, or are we now celebrating slave owners in our brand new "post-black"— "post-race" world?

This excellent column goes on to quote the Vice President of the Confederate States, Alexander Stephens, a Georgian:
“Our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists among us — the proper status of the negro in our civilization. … was the immediate cause of the late rupture and the present revolution...
...[the Confederacy’s] foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical and moral truth.”
Most of those who supported the Confederacy and secession unambiguously supported slavery and this should be pointed out at every opportunity during the month of April in Georgia. It should be noted that not all white southerners aligned themselves with secessionists, and it is those whites who resisted the tyranny of the Confederate majority before and during the war, and who fought against white supremacy and for black political rights in the Reconstruction period following the war who deserve commemoration.

with the professor

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Another Promise Bites the Dust

I think that the current NAFTA regime lacks the worker and environmental protections that are necessary for the long-term prosperity of both America and its trading partners. I would therefore favor, at minimum, a significant renegotiation of NAFTA and the terms of the President’s fast track authority.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday he is ``delighted'' the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has closed the door to reopening the North American Free Trade Agreement.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told reporters in a conference call on Monday that it is not necessary to renegotiate NAFTA to honour Obama's campaign promise to add stronger labour and environmental provisions.

``The president has said we will look at all options,''Kirk said. ``But I think they can be addressed without having to reopen the agreement.''

US Deploys Anti-Nuke Contingent to Israel

Ominous news from the Army Times:
U.S. European Command has deployed to Israel a high-powered X-band radar and the supporting people and equipment needed for coordinated defense against Iranian missile attack, marking the first permanent U.S. military presence on Israeli soil.


EuCom has repeatedly deployed troops and Patriot air defense batteries for joint exercises and Iraq-related wartime contingencies but has never before permanently deployed troops on Israeli soil.
I got a bad feeling about this.

ht alr

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Malamute Blogging

Spring has sprung, but not Kodi.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blogroll please...

We're adding emptywheel to our home remedies. Marcy Wheeler, welcome!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Is this the beginning of the end...

...of public schools and teachers unions?

Here's Morning Joe Scarborough, Pat Buchanan, and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty talking about education reform:

• Privatization of public schools?
• Freeing teachers and principals "from the burdens of contracts" -- i.e. union busting?
• using D.C. as a national model?

Is this really what's coming down the pike nationally? With charter school and voucher-loving Arne Duncan at the helm of our public education system we need to be worried.

ht to alr

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Change? Count on it

Here's part of Barack's Floor Statement on the Habeas Corpus Amendment on September 27, 2006:
We don't need to imprison innocent people to win this war. For people who are guilty, we have the procedures in place to lock them up. That is who we are as a people. We do things right, and we do things fair.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the White House. Glenn Greenwald breaks it down in detail:
The Obama DOJ is now squarely to the Right of an extremely conservative, pro-executive-power, Bush 43-appointed judge on issues of executive power and due-process-less detentions. Leave aside for the moment the issue of whether you believe that the U.S. Government should have the right to abduct people anywhere in the world, ship them to faraway prisons and hold them there indefinitely without charges or any rights at all. The Bush DOJ -- and now the Obama DOJ -- maintain the President does and should have that right, and that's an issue that has been extensively debated. It was, after all, one of the centerpieces of the Bush regime of radicalism, lawlessness and extremism.
and here's the nutshell:
Obama files a brief saying he agrees in full with the Bush/Cheney position. He's arguing that the President has the power to abduct, transport and imprison people in Bagram indefinitely with no charges of any kind. He's telling courts that they have no authority to "second-guess" his decisions when it comes to war powers. But this is all totally different than what Bush did, and anyone who says otherwise is a reckless, ill-motivated hysteric who just wants to sell books and get on TV.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

We had an "Historic" Election...

... and all we got was Barack Obama.

Here's a really succinct observation from an East Coast union activist:
I am glad we put the struggle on hold so we can elect a guy to give the bankers a trillion tax payer dollars so we can refinance our own debt with our own money, send 50K more combat troops to Afghanistan to win a war that no military authority says can be won with guns and is a land that has defeated imperial conquerors for a thousand years, and, oh yeah, we are withdrawing our troops from Iraq not by actually moving them out of the country but by calling combat troops trainers and declaring the withdrawal complete, Mission accomplished. Maybe he will even get on an aircraft carrier if he isn't too busy sucking the queen’s butt.
ht alr

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Nation Jumps the Shark

A friend writes: As if it weren't already clear, The Nation has dropped all pretense to critical integrity or political and intellectual standards.

Here's Melissa Harris-Lacewell on how her friends pull themselves up by their bootstraps in these difficult economic times:

I have a good friend who has decided to get rid of their family's second car. Though she and her husband work 30 minutes in opposite directions they are finding a way to make this crazy commute work. Why? Because they live a town with seriously underperforming public schools and they are absolutely committed to providing their daughter with a first class education. For them, this means private school tuition. So everyone is bracing for obscenely early mornings and far more inconvenient work schedules. They never thought twice about this priority.

Well, one must have priorities, mustn't one?

Where to begin?

• The endorsement of the privatization of public schooling?
• The endorsement of faith-based initiatives?
• The false claim that generous financial aid packages at elite institutions significantly improve access to higher education for poor people?

Note to The Nation: if you're paying Ms. Harris-Lacewell to shill for the Obama administration the rules of political advertising for print media clearly state:
Step 1
Set aside a small area outside of the main body of any printed advertising material. The text must state who paid for the material and whether or not it is authorized by the official campaign.

Step 2
Check to be sure that the disclaimer box is in a contrasting color from the rest of the ad. Make sure that the font size is clearly readable to an average person.
And I think the advertisers are supposed to buy the ad, not the other way around.

with the professor
ht to alr

Friday, March 20, 2009

Obama Takes in Millions...

...and he made a buttload of cash, too.

Friday, March 13, 2009

About Last Night

It was deeply satisfying to see Jon Stewart putting it to Jim Cramer on last night’s Daily Show. Cramer deserved no quarter and Stewart gave him none. And it’ll be interesting to see whether the handshake at the show’s close does result in CNBC’s trashing the “In Cramer We Trust” promos. But let's face it, at the end of the day, asking CNBC to step up its investigative reporting of the finance sector is a bit like asking the cheerleading squad to improve oversight of your athletic department. As the Times reported today and on March 9th despite CNBC’s culpability in the financial crackup, they win regardless.

For there’s virtually no learning curve as far as this debacle is concerned. In the eyes of the system’s staunch defenders, the boom and bust cycle is a necessary feature of the progressive force of capitalism. As Alan Greenspan puts it in a recent interview when asked what benefits were left behind by the bursting of the housing bubble:
Well, that should be clear - entire neighborhoods have been revitalized, home building and renovation technology has been advanced, and millions of Americans who could never afford a home before are now homeowners because of innovations in mortgage finance and debt securitization.
Or the nature of capitalism is creative destruction, and every cycle leaves more winners than losers, more prosperity than misery, yadda, yadda, yadda.

So if you’re expecting a retreat from Cramer and the forces he represents and serves don’t hold your breath.

Monday, March 09, 2009

A hero ain't nothin' but a sandwich...

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, at 90, is no fool.
You know, just because he is black, everyone thought he was a revolutionary. He's no revolutionary. Obama is a centrist. And as far as any on the left who thought he was a revolutionary, I think the air is going out of his revolutionary balloon daily.
One sad chunk of fallout from the last eight years is that Obama's centrist moves look radical and will be spun as downright subversive by the right. A look at the plus column shows Barack is piling up a lot of reversals of odious Bush policies, and I'm all for that. But moving the government closer to the center on a scale that doesn't take into account the true middleground when voters resoundingly repudiated the right and center right is a waste of time and political capital. You can't take credit for stopping the rain when all you did was wait out the storm.

ht to alr

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Single Payer in the Door?

Apparently as a result of criticism raised by the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Health Care (LCS-P), the Obama administration finally invited Congressman John Conyers, who introduced HR 676 (the "Expanded and Improved Medicare for All," which establishes the federal government as the "single payer" of everyone's medical bills), and Physicians for a National Health Program (a major advocate of Single-Payer) to participate in the Obama Administration's Health Care Summit. According to a press release issued by LCS-P, the original invitation list included no supporters for the single-payer solution.

Time to keep the pressure on.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Getting Things Done

As I noted in an earlier post, Democratic Party effectiveness will require that they get past the false notion that without a filibuster-proof majority they can't get things done. David E. RePass in an op-ed in today's Times argues eloquently to the contrary:
[F]ixing the problem would not require any change in Senate rules. The phantom filibuster could be done away with overnight by the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid. All he needs to do is call the minority’s bluff by bringing a challenged measure to the floor and letting the debate begin.
I say amen.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Change in the Wind?

Having observed a week ago that Obama appeared to be listening more to the voice of David Brooks and his ilk than to the Paul Krugmans of the world, I have to be heartened that Krugman’s response to the President’s Budget Proposal Plan was largely positive. Quoth Krugman:
President Obama’s new budget represents a huge break, not just with the policies of the past eight years, but with policy trends over the past 30 years. If he can get anything like the plan he announced on Thursday through Congress, he will set America on a fundamentally new course.
That’s no small beer (although, quite possibly, an overstatement).

I haven’t read the budget plan in its entirety, and am still worried about some of the signals it sends (for example, he lists the growing obligations of Social Security among the threats to the nation’s economic health), but I’ll go with the “It’s better than I expected” feeling of the moment as long as people don’t start claiming the budget to be farther to the left than it actually is. And frankly I can't shake my suspicion that the plan's title, “A New Era of Responsibility: Renewing America’s Promise,” portends, in the next installment, some “Get off your lazy asses!” to the nation’s poor-- but, hey, I guess we’ll see...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Malamute Blogging

A boy and his dog...
Two peas in a pod.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Doctrinaire Bipartisanship

If anything recommends bipartisanship to us (and frankly I think the entire approach is a pile of shit) it would presumably be its expressed commitment to engaging problems as they come without asking first whether or not a proposal advances or compromises party interests. The goal would be to de-calcify political thinking by focusing on solutions.

But wouldn’t it be a deep irony of the moment if President O’s governing philosophy turns out to be a doctrinaire bipartisanship that deems worthy only those solutions that enjoy the backing of both parties? I’m not talking here about compromising to get the votes needed to pass a piece of legislation. I’m talking about elevating bipartisanship to a guiding principle so that even when you have a majority of votes on your side of the aisle in favor of, say, healthcare legislation, you choose not to put forward a bill unless you believe it has some chance of gaining support from the other side of the aisle.

That’s what happened with the stimulus package, although the Prez was unable to get a single Republican vote in the House and only three in the Senate. So, in essence, a lowball stimulus package, designed to gain Republican support, was pitched even lower at the request of “centrist” Republicans and still failed to gain any Republican support.

The Democratic leadership will tell you, though, that they face a practical political problem in that it doesn’t make sense to go forward with legislation in the Senate unless you have the 60 votes necessary for cloture, but is it only me, or does this sound assbackwards? You need cloture to end or avoid a filibuster from the other side, so why not, on truly important measures where it would be refreshing to draw clear political lines, put forward the bill you really want and force the Republicans to filibuster it? It’s not clear to me that they will filibuster every piece of legislation that the Dems put forward, so why not put the heat on them and force them to be openly obstructionist? (After I'd drafted this, I was alerted to a superb post on Common Dreams making just this argument--thanks for the tip brokenwindows!)

No matter. In this case, before the bill went forward the Democrats made “a procedural deal [which meant] the bill needed 60 votes to pass.”

Well, this does begin to look on Obama’s side like bipartisanship uber alles and on the Republican’s side like a “well, thank you very much.”

So, with apologies to poetry lovers everywhere, and most of all, to Archibald MacLeish, here is

The End of the World

Quite unexpectedly as Barack O
That doctrinaire bipartisan
Back-stabbed healthcare and gave the go
To an invasion of Pakistan
Saying Asif Ali Zardari was about to prove no better than Musharraf,
Quite unexpectedly the top blew off

And there overhead, there there hung over
Those millions of unemployed white faces, those Obama-manic eyes
There in the bankrupt dark and mortgaged skies
The pall
Of nothing nothing nothing—nothing at all

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Time to End It and Not Mend It: The Republican Party, That is . . .

Well, hey folks, I’m back. (I haven’t really gone anywhere, just sitting back and seeing how the Obama era begins to unfold.) It comes as no surprise to readers of this blog that my expectations are not high, but under the circumstances it’s hard not to hope for the best. Yet, alas, signs are not particularly good.

Imagine, if you will the Friday, NYTimes op-ed page, bookended by Paul Krugman’s and David Brooks’s biweekly columns, as an image of Obama staring up at you from your morning breakfast table. In one huge ear a doughy, bespectacled avatar of Brooks whines in an inimitable smarmy voice, "embrace 'a functioning center,'" while in the other, an exasperated Krugman risks tumbling into the massive auricular cavity as he shouts, "Go left young man, your 'attempts to transcend partisanship [have only ] ended up empowering politicians who take their marching orders from Rush Limbaugh.'”

True to form, however, Our Boy Barack, rather than recognizing he has to make a choice is trying to follow the advice of both angel and demon, which in effect means he’ll be listening to Brooks, which also means that he’s trying to save a party that has no justification for continuing to exist as a major force on the American political scene.

Why are there any tax cuts in the proposed stimulus package? Do Republicans really believe that tax cuts will turn the economy around? Well, since some folks believe that Elvis is still alive, perhaps. But whether or not they believe in the efficacy of tax cuts, what they know is that absent a commitment to tax cuts, the Republican party doesn’t exist. That’s why, as Krugman reports in his blog:
Thirty-six out of 41 Republican Senators voted for the proposed DeMint amendment to the stimulus bill — a massive package of permanent tax cuts that would create a huge hole in the budget, while doing very little to help the economy.
Republicans know that if a stimulus plan goes forward without any tax cuts and the economy begins to turn around, the empirical basis for their existence will have simply disappeared. By contrast, a stimulus plan with some tax cuts will allow them to attribute any subsequent success to the presence of tax cuts, whether or not the tax cuts contributed to the turnaround.

So, now is the time to drive a stake through the heart of the political vampire that’s been sucking this country dry ever since Grover Norquist crawled out from some cave during the reign of Reagan with his “Tax-Payer Protection Pledge.”

Obama has the stake in his hand but doesn’t seem inclined to use it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009