Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Huck Considered

Perceptive readers will have noticed a slight change to this page, made a few weeks ago, namely an epigraph taken from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, just one more surprise that fell from a book which never tires of dropping them.

I was re-reading that very great novel, for maybe the fifth time, last month and warmed to the idea of taking on my own temperamental and flawed appreciation of it here, chapter by chapter, for the further entertainment of my readers and future salvation of dim and lazy high school students across the English-speaking world.

Some of you may have followed a far vaster project of a couple years back, managed by the estimable Neddie Jingo and yr. obt. hmbl., breaking down the fractals of Thomas Pynchon's raw-ther sprawling Against the Day. That was a blast, and, following the blast, a stitch. Be that as it may, I plan nothing so elaborate for Huck but if others would like to join in, please say so in comments and I'll think of something.

Word recently came of a new Pynchon novel, duly reported here two-three days ago, which has an August pub date (NB: in Pynchonland, august pub date might also describe Lady Ottoline Morrell) Annnyway, even if Ned and I got the band back together, I feel confident I could fulfill my promise to Huck and Jim to follow their adventure to their very famous conclusion.

So shortly after the new year I'll commence a weekly serial appreciation of a chapter of Huck Finn just for the heck of it. For those wishing to follow along, there's a nice online version from the University of Virginia, though I will be working from the Library of America edition.

Until then, endeavor to do good.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bit Player

I feel I owe that squalid little man one last kick before he goes whining into history, though in all candor I'm not sure what there is to say further. Word comes this morning that aides say that Hurricane Katrina swept away whatever cred the crud had, to which I say, No! Really?

Stupidity and venality and incompetence on the scale necessary to devastate the nation as it has is beyond the petty cravings of a single individual, no matter how twisted, vicious and inept he and his circle of henchmen may be (and I give high marks to all.) The true measure of our squalid chief executive is that he has always been a petty little man, albeit fluffed up by the regard of others, and party to entrenched power. He is, in short, a dupe, a greeter, no more capable of success or failure than a rooster in a henhouse fire.

All the comparisons to Herbert Hoover our busted gamecock has garnered recently forget something, that Hoover gained the presidency while being actively despised by the mandarins of the GOP. He was a Sunday-school prefect in a club of boodlers who got where he was by a sterling record of competence in public works, starting with the reconstruction of Europe after the First World War. The GOP never invested its all HH. Hell, it even had the sense to back slightly away from Nixon when the time came. But for the longest time, far past the point of too late, the Repubs cleft to that pointless little man as if he were the rock of the republic, AAA-rated.

Which is to say the enormity of his failure extends past the boundaries of his life and works, that it is not really his failure at all, but the peeling apart of a rancid and unsustainable way of life once embraced by millions. Going forward I would caution my amigos on the left from focusing too much on the wrinkled figure of that pathetic creep. From the start, the whole point with that guy was to pay more attention to him than the landscape (which is also the point of the movie cowboy, right?)

It was that silly man's ill luck, moved along-no question-by his own fecklessness, that the landscape turned toxic and erupted into fire and flood, the atmosphere burning with the stench of sixty years worth of bad ideas, while he was still in the saddle, still, so to speak, in the picture. Going forward, the only work he's ready for is bit player in a prison drama, if anyone even bothers to cast him.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dyspepsia Generation

We've all been busy doing nothing this holiday season, I hope. Me? I got caught up in the mad Facebook whirl two-three weeks ago and have been mainly enjoying the experience. I did have to delist one "friend" however after it became clear he was using his page, and the alerts sent from it, to post Jonah Goldberg columns and articles from the Washington Times.

Exactly why is unclear. When several of our very bright mutual friends began to take pointed issue with the opinions involved he tended to call them unintelligent and unfair critics of the president, in a tisk-tisky sort of way, and wonder when the hatred was going to end. Now were we on a mail list I'd have gladly joined the fray. But Facebook is a social thing, dammit. The great thing about it is you don't have to pay attention there to soreheads if you don't want.

It may or may not come as a shock to learn that the fellow in question is of generous girth, lives in a small Ohio town, fancies himself a genius, is Catholic, Republican and openly gay. Yes, I know, it takes all kinds, but that he can be so doggone loyal to two institutions, the church and the GOP, which hold him in categorical contempt is a wonder to me. And it got me thinking that perhaps he'd rather feel the ire of his liberal friends for what he'd very much like to believe, rather than the far more painful self-loathing for who he so indelibly is. My gay and conservative readers may have a better understanding of the forces involved, which I would appreciate hearing in comments.

Moving forward, we might consider if, extended outward from our Ohio example, the nationwide conservative pity party now ongoing is simply a reluctance of the compartmentalized minority to look within for the sources of their sorrow. Which is another reason why I believe the right wing whiners will be mainly gone in a year's time. According to the latest poll, apparently 87% of us are looking to get on with our lives.

Friday, December 19, 2008

GOPwned!

Regular readers know my called shot of two-and-a-half years past, that the GOP would collapse as a viable political party over the following three elections, with 2010 as their final gasp. I also predicted that the Democratic party would become more liberal in its positions, via primary challenges by progressives.

With two elections down, I'm feeling pretty damn good about my picks. (Call me sensitive.) And now I'm pleased to read Nate Silver add a statistical foundation to my tower of supposition.

That is, districts that are won by wider margins can support more progressive policymakers. The Congerssional Progressive Caucus now has 71 members, considerably larger than the Democrats' 47 Blue Dogs. Many congressional districts are so blue that the congressman is theoretically under more threat of losing to a primary challenge on his left than a Republican challenge on his right.

Read the whole thing.

Matty Y. has made the point at least twice lately that unless Obama can institute a "robust recovery" in the next two-four years, the GOP is going to come storming back. To this I say, fat chance. No use bickering about it now, but too many people blame them for what's happened. Their ideas are bankrupt and prospects nil.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Corn Hole

You can read this whole Times piece on former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, the next Ag. Secy. without encountering the words sustainable, organic or consumers. No, for some reason agriculture in Washington has come to mean energy resource--no, hang that, alternative energy resource, and Vilsack is supposed to be the guy to lead us to the green fuel future.

Trouble is, corn for bio fuel uses nearly equal imputs of petrochemicals to grow, harvest, transport and refine. The notion we can grow corn to run our car fleet is literally hogwash. The whole enterprise propped up by Federal farm subsidies to agribusiness and made reasonable by expensive and misleading advertising.

Talk of revitalizing our farm communities is also pointless so long as corn is grown in vast plains. Big corn, as opposed to a variety of plant crops and animals, is, all in all, pretty damn easy to look after. One guy in a combine can work land that once supported a couple dozen farmers and field hands, and take the winter off. Consequently rural communities have no need for many people anymore. Vast corn monoculture tends to reduce prices too, so only the biggest outfits make real money. What "small" farmers are left in the corn belt need to hold second jobs.

The ray of light in the Times report is that Vilsack is an advocate of reduced corn subsidies, which really is the keystone to this whole bridge of sighs. Anyone who thought someone was going to come in and set the Ag. Dept. in a completely new direction was dreaming. BUT a rule change here and there, say one reducing corn subsidies and another allowing small farmers to sell meat they've butchered themselves, can make a remarkable difference in a short period of time.

The truth is that people need to eat less and pay more for food, good food grown by people who care a lot about what they do. This is not a message that is easy to send. But unsustainable tends to cut through the shit, and I do believe we are at a breaking point. New York's Governor Paterson just proposed an 18% tax on sweetened (mainly by corn) soft drinks. He's calling it an obesity tax and it is as good a challenge as any to throw down right now. (New York used to be a huge farming state, believe it or not, where big corn never caught on.) Stay tuned.


UPDATE: Mr. Kunstler on the subject Monday:

The economy we're moving into will have to be one of real work, producing real things of value, at a scale consistent with energy resource reality. I'm convinced that farming will come much closer to the center of economic life, as the death of petro-agribusiness makes food production a matter of life and death in America -- as opposed to the disaster of metabolic entertainment it is now. Reorganizing the landscape itself for this finer-scaled new type of farming is a task fraught with political peril (land ownership questions being historically one of the main reasons that societies fall into revolution). The public is completely unprepared for this kind of change. We still think that "the path to success" is based on getting a college degree certifying people for a lifetime of sitting in an office cubicle. This is so far from the approaching reality that it will be eventually viewed as a sick joke -- like those old 1912 lithographs of mega-cities with Zeppelins plying the air between Everest-size skyscrapers.

UPDATE 2: Ez Klein:

At the end of the day, though, Vilsack is arguably less the problem than his agency. In 1862, when the Department of Agriculture was founded, agriculture composed 82 percent of American exports. America had three times as many farms as it does now -- and those farms were far more labor intensive, in a country that had one-third the population. Agriculture, in other words, was the main export and one of the nation's largest employment sectors. You needed a Department of Agriculture. Today, agricultural exports make up 8 percent of the total. Agricultural industry employs a tiny fraction of Americans and is dominated by a few large producers. It is an interest group that has attained cabinet status. That it would be headed by a governor from a state whose reliance on agricultural exports makes it a throwback to the days when the agency had a more obvious claim to existence makes sense. What doesn't make sense is why you'd have a Department of Agriculture rather than, say, a Department of Food.

LAST UPDATE:

The Organic Consumers Association is up in arms

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sound Bites And Simpletons

This highlight reel of Peter Schiff (a gold bug) reading the economic riot act to covens of idiots over the last couple years (via Wolcott) can be enjoyed on many levels (Ben Stein, for examp, should be required to wear the ears of an ass in public for the rest of his silly life.) What so fascinated me was not what Schiff's mockers were saying, so much as the inchoate snorts, gasps, and chuckles venting from their fat heads in preparation of their fatuous remarks.

This, kiddies, is the sound a system makes as it is going to die--not a weeping and knashing of teeth, not frantic pleading and panicked vows of reform, but the eye-rolling chuckle, a snort of disdain, the smart-alec remark of: Are you kidding me ?

Nope. The nitwits captured in the video, in full feather on FUX, knew no other way of performing, and resented the idea of anyone calling them to task. I submit that the current rondelet of GOP faux outrage over our next president's possible association with my dumbass governor, one kept running by the needful electric media, expresses exactly the same sentiment.

The notion that the climate has changed and that maybe they should react with more caution and thought, walk humbly in trying times, has not, nor ever will, dawn on the doomed GOP. I do believe they think they are poised to make gains in the next elections, that killing the Detroit three and the UAW is a great idea.

I suspect a great deal of P-e Obama's pre-inaugural calm comes from the conviction that events have already done a lot of the heavy lifting for him. Failure has a good way of clearing the decks of the deluded, no matter how rich and powerful they once appeared. After that, success can be defined any number of ways.

The news now is full of stories now about Big Shots who turned out to be crooks: Tom Petters in Minneapolis, Bernie Madoff and Marc Dreier in New York. As Lupica observes, there are bound to be more of such cases. Any one of them could take down a network or political party for good in an afternoon. I'm not saying it will happen, only that certain operators are nuts to think it can't.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Food Fight

I've started and stopped a couple posts here in the last two days, all on the usual topics, mainly because I can't get past the feeling I need to do something else with the space. Politics is fun and all, don't get me wrong. And the death of newspapers is just catnip to me. But I do believe most of our everyday life is peeling apart in quiet and steady ways and, frankly, I'd like to be a bit more aware of where we're off to than raging about where I think we are.

As a few of you might know, there was once a Divide family farm, owned by my grandfather and run by an uncle. Indeed the Divides were Sicilian farmers stretching back into dim antiquity. Though I managed to spend my pampered youth avoiding farm work, except for one often miserable summer, the subject of small-scale, local and sustainable agriculture is close to my heart.

The Divide family farm was, at the end ten years ago, mostly an orchard in western New York when Chinese apple juice imports shot my uncle's margins all to hell. It's hard growing apples organically and my uncle was never interested in trying. In fact he had no philosophical problems at all with DDT. But once upon a time the place had a prize dairy herd and then a pasture's worth of Angus cattle, very handsome beasts. which were sold off when I was a kid.

I guess my point is that even with pesticides it was the sort of place that once, like tens of thousands of others, produced pretty wholesome food, exactly the sort of small enterprise which has been under steady attack for over three decades.

Perhaps the most important appointment PE Obama will make will be the Secretary of Agriculture. No department beholden to so few is in greater need of reform. Consequently, small, but distinct and irreversible, changes can make an enormous difference. For a good overview of the broader issues involved go read Nick Kristoff's column (via Ez Klein) then sign the petition.

Want more? Watch this.

I do believe that food, how it's grown and consumed, will be the defining social issue of our time, connecting economic and ecological issues in ways most people can't begin to consider right now. You and me though have a head start.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Chicago Transit

Regular readers, of which I'm sure I have three or four left, will recall my wish that P-EBO pick Patrick Fitzgerald as the next Attorney General. However, watching this digest of his press conference yesterday he now strikes me as a tad high-strung for the job, and way too busy with work here in Chicago.

Ahhh, Chicago. I think we cling to our corrupt politics in a kind of egalitarian way, as leavening for a civil order that would have otherwise been utterly polarized along class, ethnic, racial, religious, labor and income lines. Chicago, more than New York or L.A. was the land of opportunity for all, the city which gave America Al Capone, Saul Bellow, Playboy and Jet magazines, Milton Friedman, Chess Records, the Pullman strike, Mayors Richard J Daley and Harold Washington, and the 1968 Grant park riots. The common thread here is a respect for power, an appreciation for larger-than-life characters, and the space to allow for a live-and-let-live attitude in civic affairs . . . most of the time. In truth, the genius of the current Daley machine is how open it is for advancement by formerly marginalized constituents, women, blacks, latinos and gays, as well as how remarkably committed it is to some progressive public projects, its library system, parks and ecological initiatives.

I'll add that the schools are a disaster, the cops are a mess, the public transportation woeful, and the mail delivery sucks too. But the last is a federal matter, and find me a city where the rest are consistently better.

What has people shaking their heads here is less Blagojevich's cupidity than his monumental, now defining, stupidity. This is not a smart man, and until he was led from his home in handcuffs yesterday at 6:30 am, not an interesting one either. Chicago demands that its politicians--either honest, bent or somewhere in between--be smart, and that such a plainly dumb and dull shyster like Blago made it to the statehouse speaks a great deal to the morbidity of a system which one hopes is, like so many others here in the states, about to come crashing down.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cool Daddy O

Apologies to my regulars for being asleep at the desk here. I can plead busyness elsewhere, but the fact remains there's been little worth commenting over. This, of course, has not stopped blogizens from helping the traditional media micro-manage the Obama transition, along with the composition of the majority's new leadership, the generational decay of the GOP, or the self-immolation of our previous financial system.

Now every single bobbin of the above is worthy of rapt attention, like sunset above an enthusiastic south seas volcano. But, really, what words can you add, for no money, to such a fine display? You'd be a dope for trying.

Our multi-faceted disorders have got me thinking about the power of narrative, however. That is: our habit of allowing the stories we tell ourselves to stand besides, or in the way of, situations usually so abstract or enormous we can hardly grasp them at all.

Our latest Wall St. plunge should come as no surprise to anyone who sees that the dream there is dead. But legions persist in thinking the situation, whatever it is, is almost in hand, that the bottom is near and recovery right around the corner. People who jumped into Citigroup last week, for example, who've now lost 40% of their nerve.

What sustains it all is narrative, the stories people tell themselves, usually about how smart they and the people around them are. When you're finished here, go read Michael Lewis's enthralling autopsy (via Ez Klein) of the last years of Wall St. It is all about the willing suspension of disbelief.

From deep in yesterday morning's financial eye-opener at the NYT, comes a glimmering of the true situation:

Much of the fear centers on the unknowable. It is unclear just how bad banks’ losses on consumer loans, credit cards and mortgages will be as the economy weakens. Commercial real estate loans are deteriorating, and it is unclear whether banks have sold the worst of their holdings. Then there are all the investments that lurk off of banks’ balance sheets, in the so-called shadow banking system. And a new uncertainty has leapt to the forefront as the automotive industry teeters, sending investors scrambling to calculate how much banks are exposed to these loans.

Wisdom is knowing that you do not know, right? Wisdom then is found nowhere on financial TV yak shows. Indeed the whole apparatus of TV is deeply wedded to narrative and so is designed to keep wisdom at bay.

This compulsive, long-term predation of our collective intelligence has already claimed the stupidest, least-adaptable members of the herd, namely conservative Republicans. Nate Silver puts his finger on their demise here. Briefly, they are slaves to the narrative fed them by talk radio, a narrative which has no interest whatsoever in telling our national unknowables. The message of the GOP's main medium is "Things will be great if people do what we say."

Not to go all McLuhan on you, but our political sea change has broken exactly along media fault lines that have almost nothing to do with policy per se and everything to do with emotions, temperament and expectations. The latter though do go a long way in focusing policy concerns. Obama is a cool guy who used cool media to cool down hot (talk radio) districts. That the Democratic states on our TV maps are colored cool blue and the GOP's hot red might be too canny for coincidence.

This is why all predictions for a GOP bounceback in two years are laughable. I would say that coolness and competence are now wedded in the public mind to such a degree that the Obama administration can pretty much write its own ticket for the forseeable, so long as their calm, open and inclusive ways of going about business remain in effect. The last people who'll comprehend this all work for TV. The only way the GOP can win anything in the next eight years (presuming it will be around for that long) is if new-media Democrats start acting like old-media Republicans, or vice-versa.

The chances of that? About O.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Loserman

Me? I'm just an illiberal blogger, and while part of me would like to see Joe Lieberman take his sad putty face to melt in tears over at the GOP wax museum, another part of me, the large Sicilian part, thinks what happened yesterday is a-ok.

As I see it, he has demonstrated himself to be little more than a useful boob, a true follower, whose shelf life is exactly four years long. It was widely shouted yesterday that he owes his status now to the man he vilified so smugly all summer. In prisons, guys like that are called, I think, punks. Something behind his eyes looked dead during his admission of wrongdoing and contrition for the cameras, which tells me that after having his nose slapped he was fitted with both a choke chain and shock collar.

And you know what, mine indignant colleagues? Most people who voted for our next president have no idea who Low-Joe is and even more don't care where the fuck he sits. Yes, yes, I dig all that inside Washington stuff too. But all those Dems made to walk the plank years ago had been disloyal to a sitting Democratic president. Joe gambled and lost during a revolution and his reward from here on out will be to crawl for the winners until he gets sick of it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Truth And Consequences

Man, you just can't venture far outside without running left and right into tired and emotional pundits offering advice or warnings to the next president. Mainly though such creatures are looking for others to care, about them, and the sensible among us really don't.

Here's my advice to the new president, amazingly given to me via Ouija board to pass on from a spirit identified only by the initials FDR: reward your friends, scald your enemies, hire smart people and do your best.

Wow, deep.

As I get tired of repeating now, a great deal of the right-wing commentariot are going bye-bye. Hilzoy, puts his or her finger on exactly why here. Mainly, no one of any consequence is paying attention to them anymore. Rush tells his elderly and dim listeners that the game has just begun, when in fact he has lost most of his hotels, all his railroads and for the next four years most of the streets his tiny battleship lands on, that is if he does not go directly to jail, have really steep rents.

Put it another way, talk is cheaper than ever. N. Silver, true to his promise the other night, offers us a glimpse of what he has planned between now and the next election. From here on out results count, threats don't. The Corner is Out. 538 is In.

Since no one in the MSM has bothered to mention it, though 60 Minutes came close last night, I'll say it again: The Obama campaign has forever changed how elections are won. Everywhere. (I encountered several young Brits down at the Illinois headquarters last month, and my guess is they are heading home with a few ideas they're keen to try out on Albion.)

The consequences of this are that the assumptions of governing have also changed, a lot, which all the tired writers mentioned above don't quite grasp. Few presidents really get to make the rules. Those who do, Jackson, Lincoln, FDR come to mind, get the chance because their elections signaled complete breaks with the prevailing order, or, looked at another way, the prevailing order collapsed from its own inertia.

There is though one precinct where talk is not cheap at all. In a stunning reversal it will be the Oval Office. A big part of that change, I expect, is that the new president will tell us what he has done as much as what he plans to do. That is, his words will dwell in the wake of action, allowing citizens to judge the consequences thereby.

As for first cases, I find it inconceivable that a former constitutional law professor will allow torture, the suspension of Habeas and extra-legal detention to last the first 24 hours (ha!) of his term. Watch and see, then pay attention to how he explains to the people why it was so very wrong and how he intends to clean its stain from our flag.

UPDATE: Golly, that didn't take long.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Ways And Means 2

At the risk of blowing my cover, I'll report that I was able to rub elbows t'other night with Al Giordano and Nate Silver at Al's post-election Chicago event. Introducing Nate to the audience of about 100 people was Tara Brownlee, my field organizer for Indiana. The crowd then spent the next couple hours in discussion in the glow of a job well done, and an unfamiliar sense of optimism for the coming few months at least.

It was the first time I'd met either man. Al's a trip, with no shortage of ideas, needing sleep, reeking of nicotine and enthusiasm. Nate strikes me as a buttoned-downed cove who prefers the order of numbers to the hash of the commons, but has figured out that it's probably better for him to spend more time with people. Both are very nice guys in the process of preparing new roles for their sites. They hit their strides, indeed became renowned, covering the election, and the theme of the evening for them, for everyone there, was Now What?

Good question, right? Certainly, Giordano is looking to use the broad connectivity of the net to conjure tactile gains in the real world of local activism. His point is that the most effective action is at once limited locally while extending the breadth of the republic, a Whitmanesque sense of the body politic, a Leaves of Grassroots, if you will.

Nate, on the other hand, in remarks he made to the audience and in conversation afterward, intends 538 to focus on the interior possibilities inherent in data bases, to find vulnerable incumbents among the GOP and deadwood Dems, track progress in legislation, dust for the fingerprints of lobbyists, analyze donor lists. Though endemically opposite to Al's vision, I'd say Nate's is no less an example of an abiding sense of American optimism, put simply--there's statistical gold in them thar data hills.

I believe Nate's mission, because he deals in the realm of ideas, is more clearly defined. Al has to handle the messy messages of many people in which contradictions abound. To wit, while local action is great, unless it can promote a broad sense of participation, of national connections among local actors, its half-life will be short. Put another way, self-starting is not nearly as hard as self-sustaining. Al's vision, though I did not say this to him, depends a great deal upon people meeting to do other things besides act politically, folks also need to participate in dependable local centers of work and recreation that have pretty much vanished from a large portion of our atomized land.

Now these centers are not unknown. Chicago, for example, has terrific farmers' markets, hand-made and DYI product meets, independent book stores, kick ball leagues, a wonderful public library system, and a lot of great neighborhood bars where people can congregate. But Chicago is also pretty damn special, being home to the likes of Studs Terkel (may his spirit stalk these streets forever), the Hideout, Oprah, and, y'know, our new president and all.

More than further action, what progressives really need is more Chicagos.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Now Hoosier Daddy?

For the last two weeks of phone calling, and the past four days canvassing, I was a GOTV grunt for Indiana. And this morning I can't look at a map of the results there without weeping in happiness.

In one of my calls to downstate Illinois to find volunteers for Indianapolis, I spoke to an older man whose accent indicated he was African-American. "You know," he said, "Indiana was headquarters of the Klan."

I said yes sir, I sure do, which is why I was calling.

Eighty years ago the Klan openly ran that state, membership from the governor on down. At a time when, in the deep south, the Klan was considered by the ruling classes to be a repugnant practicality, a terrorist project run at night by social dregs, in Indiana the rats felt confident enough to show their smirking faces in the daytime.

I spent Saturday and Sunday walking in Hammond, Monday and Tuesday in South Bend, and here's the deal: while my partners and I mainly worked poor neighborhoods, we did not find any segregated ones. Though black citizens predominated, white and hispanic people came to a lot of doors too, and most all of them said they'd vote Obama.

This is not to say segregation does not exist any more, just that the country has changed tremendously from when I was a boy in ways you will never see if you just watch TV. I found a happiness among people which I can't describe because I cannot really comprehend the depths from which it rises. My lasting joy was to witness.

Can I get an Amen?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

InSane Flailin'

Culture Collapse update: Spending: We shopped till we dropped

I seem to recall that during the heady boom days financial reports of the rah-rah kind enjoyed batting around figures like 40% of the economy was based on housing and something like 30% on consumer spending. Recall too that another 30% came from financial services.

Now these figures certainly overlap, but they should give a clear idea of the world of hurt we live in now, even if no one likes reporting the details. Plenty of time for that after the election, I guess.

Another figure, less mentioned, was that manufacturing accounted for something like 10% of GDP. And recall here how the current admin wanted to define fast food meals as manufactured product. Yea, the stupid has been at large in the land for years.

Which brings us to the final mention of Sarah Palin here. If ever there were a creature of the peak years it is her, suckled on oil and succored by culture warriors, she is, like every pinup, a fleeting barometer of popular lust, a safe recapitulation of what worked in the past, guaranteed to be tossed aside.

Why am I so sure? Let's start with the practical consideration of her getting reelected or moving on to higher office. Frankly, I don't see either happening. She has antagonized formerly sympathetic Alaska Dems and independents, and one can safely say half of her party up there hates her. But the even crueler truth is that in four years she just won't be as gosh-darn MILFible, and in eight? Bitch, please.

Sadly, the female of the Republican species tends to age in harsh and creepy ways. No need to speculate why, though you all have theories, I'm sure. What's struck me about the InSane campaign, and near as I can tell has gone completely unremarked, is how often Cindy is visible right behind her ga-ga husband's left ear. Not only does she lack any trace of subliminal warmth, but some part of the popular electoral brain has got to wonder what he needs her there for all the time and is at a loss for a good answer.

And here we may deduce another factor in a culture collapse, which is reliance on a tactic which either does no good or is indeed actively harmful to one's cause.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Futurobama

Mr. D has also been thinking lately about what's in store for an Obama administration. His conclusion:

No question then: if Obama manages to get out of Iraq and pass significant legislation in the areas of healthcare and energy, and nothing more, that would make his first term wildly successful. If he also adds some serious labor law reform and financial market regulation to the mix, progressives ought to be pretty delirious by 2012.

The only question is, will he do it? The foundations all seem to be there (majorities in Congress, a viable electoral coalition, and a public seemingly open to change), but Obama's past history, both in the Illinois Senate and the U.S. Senate, is clearly one of caution and tactical compromise. In my case, then, my doubts lie not in whether he has the right policy instincts, but in whether he's got the temperament to seize the moment, stick to his guns, force recalcitrant committee heads to follow his lead, and get a big agenda passed. I sure hope so, but I think that's the big question mark, not whether he's campaigning on the right set of priorities.


It's a truism of American politics that campaigning is a lot different than governing, but let's push against that idea for a minute.

What has astounded yr. obt. svt. about Senator Obama during his grand tour is something no one in the press, so far, has bothered to mention, namely: he has done everything right. Everything, from start to, near, finish. Stepped up to every occasion, carried every day that needed to be carried, made every point that needed to be made; been serious, affable, angry and funny as the occasion called, and delivered sincerely to every enormous crowd he's walked before.

The man is not perfect but he has perfect pitch in his bones. Consequently I do not see him down shifting after the election, of reverting to the dependable way of getting things done in Washington. Instead look for a programatic public appeal to involvement the likes of which we've never seen. This is likely to cut in a number of directions, not only in instituting policy but reshaping how the Democratic party finds new candidates and re-elects the old ones.

As evidence, nota bene the final words he spoke in the long, pitch perfect ad aired last night:

I will open the doors of government and ask you to be involved in democracy again.

Which is to say the campaign will continue. How long can you keep a broad portion of the electorate engaged in a movement of reform and justice before people get tired and discouraged? Good question. I fully expect to find out.

UPDATE: Over at Obsidian Wings, they get it: pitch perfect. (via Benen)

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Fist Hundred Days

Culture collapse update: General Motors, Driven to the Brink.

I imagine a wretched headline writer over at the Times whose arch double-pun was killed by his jerk editor insisting on the definite article in the above. I mean, if we can't find a little levity in the ruins of the American economy we are really in trouble.

As the SUV disappears from the landscape, to join the reputation of Alan Greenspan in the phantom zone of historical curiosities, we are left to ponder who among us will join them next. May I suggest: carping right-wing TV hosts, pundits who are consistently wrong, and, for you sports nuts out there, multi-hundred dollar ticket prices for baseball, basketball, and football games.

Since we are a full-service shop here at H&J, I also think the words Luxury and Gourmet will go away as signifiers of the desirable in ad copy. Call me crazy.

The ongoing scrum among players and coaches to figure out exactly what killed the luxury McCain campaign is exactly an exercise in wistful thinking, that there is but ONE reason why things went sour and that the system is otherwise secure. Well, we know better. He was a crappy candidate who ran a dumbass campaign featuring an inept co-star because all semblance of order for the GOP collapsed years ago.

I'm tired of talking about them now.

I've been thinking lately about what's in store for the republic under our new president, or, more to the point, where does he start? I upset some people in conversation when I say that I am ready to be disappointed by President Obama, and by that I mean I've been disappointed by every president in my lifetime, some certainly more than others, and I see no reason to think he will be able to change that.

However I speak mostly of policy decisions and compromises, the inevitable mess of governing. I'm a grownup and I can handle disappointment in this department. Where I don't expect to be disappointed is in my sturdy assumption that the nation will have elected a thoughtful man of no small intellectual capacity and rigor who will do his level best with what's at hand, win or lose, every day he wakes up.

But, again, where does he start? A lot in politics depends on the size and nature of one's victory and the nature of the people sharing the success. I can't begin to evaluate either. However, let's revert to cases. Our man is a constitutional scholar and an eloquent control freak, and from this I suspect we will see an early and thorough drive to put the Justice Department on track (Patrick Fitzgerald, AG anyone?), to be followed by some overdue prosecutions.

Call me crazy.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Lame, Set, And Match

Culture collapse update: Alan Greenspan yesterday (NYT via matty):

“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,” Mr. Greenspan said.

Referring to his free-market ideology, Mr. Greenspan added: “I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.”

Mr. Waxman pressed the former Fed chair to clarify his words. “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working,” Mr. Waxman said.

“Absolutely, precisely,” Mr. Greenspan replied. “You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”


I really have to credit (hah!) the former Fed chairman for such candor. Of course, in Japan a man in his position would have killed himself honorably, but we really don't know how to do honorable in the U S of A, and indeed Greenspan's public renunciation is a stunner, the gravestone to not only an era, but a governing philosophy.

I wonder now if he is still the big Ayn Rand fan too. . .

I present Alan's mordant obit for his era in order to lead us, if only stumblingly, to consider what's in store for the Obama administration. Shell-shocked conservatives are even now planning to regroup (I bet Custer was counting on a dashing counterstroke even as his troopers fired from behind their dead ponies), but I am here to say they will come a' cropper.

What Sen. Obama has achieved has all the marks of a sweeping movement victory NOT one of a coalition. I'm not sure we've seen the likes of it before. (Grant's first term might qualify, though it was on the shoulders of Lincoln's martyrdom, maybe T. Roosevelt's on those of McKinley. FDR's second landslide might look like a movement victory, but he presided over a party that somehow accommodated a coalition of big city Catholics, lefty unions, farmers and segregationist southerners. LBJ's '64 landslide had the marks of a movement not unlike Grant's and TR's, under the banner of the slain John Kennedy, but it was in fact made from the FDR coalition, which quickly fell to pieces in the wake of the escalation of the war and passage of sweeping civil rights legislation. But I digress. . . )

Perhaps a movement is just a coalition where everybody pretends their aims agree, so maybe Ronnie's reelection might qualify. But Ronnie won as a tested and popular leader. My impression is that Obama has taken pains to make sure a similar cult of personality does not cling to him. How successful he'll be with that after a remarkable, indeed transformative, landslide remains to be seen. That very well might be his first, and ongoing, test.

The immediate outcome of a movement victory is that it makes criticism based on prior conditions irrelevant. I believe we are already seeing evidence of this in the flailing McDrain effort. New criticism will have to be based on the conditions set down by the movement itself. This must needs take a while, and right now the Obama 'honeymoon' promises to be pretty damn long.

Part of that honeymoon is bound to include winning-over a portion of those not convinced on election day. This is what King Ronnie did so well, and, following the hiding a brain-dead GOP is bound to get in two years, I see no reason why Obama won't do the same.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Well Well Well

From The Politico (via kos)

But thanks largely to lack of passion for McCain within the conservative base, diminished hopes that he can win and a sharp decline in the stock market that has badly pinched donors’ pockets, veteran Republican operatives say it appears almost certain that what could be the most damaging line of attack against the Democratic nominee will be left on the shelf.

Emphasis mine.

Back in September '07, your far-sighted correspondent had this to say:

When times are good, rich assholes can spend as much as they like on their crusade to pour hogwash into the ether. But when the big system stumbles, when money levels begin to fall, when it becomes pretty clear that people really aren't paying attention, a lot of those wingnut welfare checks are going where the woodbine twineth.

Now I know that some of the biggest names in fat-head commentary have in the last week or so signed mulit-mil contracts, and to that I say, big deal. I don't care how much Billo gets paid, since his taxes are likely to go up, and I really doubt there'll be many paying attention to him, or Rush, or Sean a year from now.

What we are witnessing on Wall St. and in the GOP are the outer indicators of a cultural collapse. For those who do not get it, and their name is legion, this simply means that Things will Never be the Same. All the old assumptions of audience and issues, of politics and communications, of business and consumption, have been tossed out.

It will take a year or two for most people with interests vested in the old order to get this.

Barack Obama is not just beating the bootless John McCain, possibly by landslide proportions, he has already completely redefined how campaigns are funded and organized. If the GOP thinks otherwise, if they try this again, only with more flags and meat, they will lose one election after another. In fact, judging by the wildlife which as been revealed these last two-three weeks, as the big rock base has been turned over, and the revolting creatures there unused to the light scurry to defend themselves, I do believe it is too late for the old GOP. It seems it prefers to die, like the proverbial scorpion, stung with its own poison.

Because the GOP doesn't do ground-up, they'd rather not have a lot of small donors, they can't begin to articulate a social vision inclusive of all Americans. That has never been what they've been about. For them it's the rewards of loyalty and following orders, of resting secure in the knowledge that all the good people are just like you, and if they aren't, it's something that needs to be investigated. I'm not saying they're bad people, though lots of them, especially the powerful ones, are true shitheels, only that the way they look at the world no longer has any bearing whatsoever on the world as it is, either as we experience it as citizens of a diverse republic now falling on hard times, or as it exists in the decisions we make by way of our digitized media cortexes.

Entranced by their own image, the very one offered by the hottt Mrs. Palin, Republicans fell down their personal wishing well, and it now lies open, waiting for the rest of us to fill in with rocks.

UPDATE 10.24: Does Kathleen Parker read H&J? Hmmmm. . .

Recognizing oneself in a member of the opposite sex (or the same sex, as the case may be) is a powerful invitation to bonding. Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected in the river, imagining it to be his deceased and beloved sister's. In McCain's case, it doesn't hurt that his reflection is spiked with feminine approval.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

El Hombre

Maybe it's Obama
But he thinks that he's too young.
Maybe it's Colin Powell
to right what he's done wrong.


-- Neil Young, "Lookin' for a Leader" 2006

Put me down as one of those bloggers who thinks Secy. Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama is a huge deal, not so much for the endorsement itself but for his criticism of the GOP methods and the nature of the McDrain campaign. Powell uses the last three minutes of his presser immediately following the telecast to completely de-bone the last two weeks of McCain's campaign strategy (not to mention calling out Michelle Bachmann, whom he does not mention by name, in a priceless bit of TV for use by one El Tinklenberg). Basically he's telling the press what the real issues are, and Ol' John to shut up and go home.

What I found remarkable was his appeal to the future and to young people. Notice too how Powell answers "yes" when asked by a reporter if he is still a Republican. Clearly, he is out not only to drive a stake through the heart of an ugly and nonsensical presidential campaign, but to rescue what's left of a dying GOP. It remains to be seen how much of it wants saving. But lacking any adults in sight over there, I do believe we saw today the emergence at last of a genuine party leader. Watch and see how many, and who, go to throw him overboard in the next few days.

El, Hombre

Normally I don't bother with political endorsements or fund raising appeals here. You all know yourselves well enough, right? However this election happens to include a race in the Minnesota 6th congressional district between Michelle Bachmann one of the worst Republican clowns in the house, , and El Tinklenberg, a very nice guy I met a couple times through mutual friends when I lived in Minneapolis.

Bachmann was on Chris Matthews' show the other night to question Obama's patriotism and call for an investigation of un-American activity in the House of Representatives itself. Normally I think people should be left alone to send whatever nitwit they want to Congress, but Bachmann is a national embarrassment, and I can testify that El Tinklenberg is a modest, dedicated and accomplished public servant. He was mayor of Blaine, MN (north of Mpls) when I met him and went on to become Director of Transportation for Gov. Jesse Ventura. Laugh if you must, but Jesse took public transit very seriously, and El led the long and successful campaign in the state legislature for the new Twin Cities light rail line. Believe me, an astounding feat in a legislative body that's been in the pocket of big car dealers and road contractors for generations.

The good news is that the Minnesota 6th race is tightening, more good news is that the Tinklenberg campaign, thanks to Bachmann's big mouth, is right at the top of the list of Democratic targets, and the money is now pouring in. I say keep it going. I sent them $25, and I encourage you to do likewise, or better.

You may donate directly here, or via Act Blue.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rejection Seat

Don't quote me on this, but I suspect that "Blinky" McCain not only put paid to his dreary exercise in compensatory narcissism last night, but, as time dwindled away, his astonishingly brutal remark about the health of pregnant women as being somehow not germane in the abortion debate managed to set the "pro-life" cause back at least ten years.

Well done, soldier!

Man, the anger which Sen. InSane could not direct across the table at Sen. Obama, just vented out everywhere, in his rambling, snide and prolix answers, his twitching and toothless attacks and lame jokes, his condescending to that hapless Ohio plumber (who probably does not need to be spoken to, across the TV sky, as if he were a 13-year-old), his dismissing of Joe Biden (who, to be fair, has been tearing him up lately), his perplexing enthusiasm for competition as a means of solving household issues like education and healthcare, his jackass answers regarding women and families. (Will Gov. Palin be the one to break it to him that her son is not autistic, but suffers from Down Syndrome, or do you think no one will mention it at all?)

Our man was, as usual, on point and present throughout. His final peroration, while certainly planned and coached, sounded sincere and grand, in ways people used to hear their politicians express themselves--in terms of respect, honor, commitment and, above all, optimism.

To quote:

You know, over the last 20 months, you've invited me into your homes. You've shared your stories with me. And you've confirmed once again the fundamental decency and generosity of the American people.

And that's why I'm sure that our brighter days are still ahead.

But we're going to have to invest in the American people again, in tax cuts for the middle class, in health care for all Americans, and college for every young person who wants to go. In businesses that can create the new energy economy of the future. In policies that will lift wages and will grow our middle class.

These are the policies I have fought for my entire career. And these are the policies I want to bring to the White House.

But it's not going to be easy. It's not going to be quick. It is going to be requiring all of us -- Democrats, Republicans, independents -- to come together and to renew a spirit of sacrifice and service and responsibility.

I'm absolutely convinced we can do it. I would ask for your vote, and I promise you that if you give me the extraordinary honor of serving as your president, I will work every single day, tirelessly, on your behalf and on the behalf of the future of our children.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Bile Belt

What do many patients in the terminal stage of illness do? They spit up bile. And I submit that that is exactly what is going on in the life-support world of the woeful McCain campaign. Nothing is being energized or "re-booted". There is no fight in them any more, except amongst themselves. And, the good Josh Marshall notwithstanding, these hate-and-fear-fests the McCain people are staging, those ACORN challenges, are not going to galvanize opposition for the next four years. Nope. Most of the bags-of-shit who might be relied upon to articulate such things for their dwindling audiences are going away for good.

You've heard me say this before. The money sources of the nutter right wing are drying up. The pending Obama landslide will certainly have the marketing people at any number of red state organs rethinking their brand IDs. When your party has been smashed and its banner carriers disgraced and made absurd, there is no point in subsidizing cable and radio personalities who even in flush times captured a fraction, albeit engaged and affluent, of market share. America is moving on, and I am telling you FUX news will hurry to keep up.

I, for one, am pleased the Palin/InSane campaign is going out like this. Most Americans know all-too-well the sorts of idiots who remain supporting those jerks. They hide under rocks or remain quiet in the lunchroom. Rare is the opportunity to see them in action in public. Even rarer is the chance to tell them to fuck-off.

I dearly hope Ms. Alaska gathers the base unto her bosom in the aftermath of the debacle. Lest we forget, she came with the Limbaugh/Kristol seal of approval and since they are all incapable of admitting error, their daisy chain of white stupid will poison GOP chances as long as they breathe. I'm left wondering who will end up with the Republican brand name. I like the sound of Blue Republicans. On the other hand Base Republicans also has real appeal. Maybe the Libertarians will soak up the respectable conservatives in a couple years while Republican will go join Whig and Know Nothing in the wax museum of political failure.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mark This

As usual, Twain saw it clearest and said it best. From Huckleberry Finn:


They swarmed up in front of Sherburn's palings as thick as they could jam together, and you couldn't hear yourself think for the noise. It was a little twenty-foot yard. Some sung out "Tear down the fence! tear down the fence!" Then there was a racket of ripping and tearing and smashing, and down she goes, and the front wall of the crowd begins to roll in like a wave.

Just then Sherburn steps out on to the roof of his little front porch, with a double-barrel gun in his hand, and takes his stand, perfectly ca'm and deliberate, not saying a word. The racket stopped, and the wave sucked back.

Sherburn never said a word -- just stood there, looking down. The stillness was awful creepy and uncomfortable. Sherburn run his eye slow along the crowd; and wherever it struck the people tried a little to outgaze him, but they couldn't; they dropped their eyes and looked sneaky. Then pretty soon Sherburn sort of laughed; not the pleasant kind, but the kind that makes you feel like when you are eating bread that's got sand in it.

Then he says, slow and scornful:

"The idea of you lynching anybody! It's amusing. The idea of you thinking you had pluck enough to lynch a man! Because you're brave enough to tar and feather poor friendless cast-out women that come along here, did that make you think you had grit enough to lay your hands on a man? Why, a man's safe in the hands of ten thousand of your kind -- as long as it's daytime and you're not behind him.

"Do I know you? I know you clear through was born and raised in the South, and I've lived in the North; so I know the average all around. The average man's a coward. In the North he lets anybody walk over him that wants to, and goes home and prays for a humble spirit to bear it. In the South one man all by himself, has stopped a stage full of men in the daytime, and robbed the lot. Your newspapers call you a brave people so much that you think you are braver than any other people -- whereas you're just as brave, and no braver. Why don't your juries hang murderers? Because they're afraid the man's friends will shoot them in the back, in the dark -- and it's just what they would do.

"So they always acquit; and then a man goes in the night, with a hundred masked cowards at his back and lynches the rascal. Your mistake is, that you didn't bring a man with you; that's one mistake, and the other is that you didn't come in the dark and fetch your masks. You brought part of a man -- Buck Harkness, there -- and if you hadn't had him to start you, you'd a taken it out in blowing.

"You didn't want to come. The average man don't like trouble and danger. You don't like trouble and danger. But if only half a man -- like Buck Harkness, there -- shouts 'Lynch him! lynch him!' you're afraid to back down -- afraid you'll be found out to be what you are -- cowards -- and so you raise a yell, and hang yourselves on to that half-a-man's coat-tail, and come raging up here, swearing what big things you're going to do. The pitifulest thing out is a mob; that's what an army is -- a mob; they don't fight with courage that's born in them, but with courage that's borrowed from their mass, and from their officers. But a mob without any man at the head of it is beneath pitifulness. Now the thing for you to do is to droop your tails and go home and crawl in a hole. If any real lynching's going to be done it will be done in the dark, Southern fashion; and when they come they'll bring their masks, and fetch a man along. Now leave -- and take your half-a-man with you" -- tossing his gun up across his left arm and cocking it when he says this.

The crowd washed back sudden, and then broke all apart, and went tearing off every which way, and Buck Harkness he heeled it after them, looking tolerable cheap. I could a stayed if I wanted to, but I didn't want to.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Down Town

Okay, folks, it's safe to say that if the normally unflappable Barry Ritholtz was gobsmacked by yesterday's freefall then we are past a certain point of departure.

I was impressed when the market blew past 10,000 on the way down, appalled when 9k appeared in the rearview shortly thereafter. I don't think I was alone in thinking that 9,000 was a level that would have been defended for a while. And I think this indicates that the trading models, those programs these smart people use to run their buy/sell transactions, have gone pork belly up. Which is to say the entire system which managed the daily transactions of billions of world-wide trades, call it the financial borg, has imploded.

Add it to the list.

Someone who would not be at all surprised at what's happening is the late Marshall McLuhan. The most incomprehensible chapter (for me anyway) in his completely fascinating Understanding Media deals with money. What can be clearly taken from his thesis however is that money is a medium of communication as subject as any of the others to the stresses laid upon it by the advent of newer media, and as sensitive as any to the in-and-outflows of information.

Finance capitalism, as opposed to the old-fashioned capital capitalism, is (was) as creature of digital technology, abolishing national borders (even the time of day) as money flowed around the world, sometimes pooling in very obscure places, directed not so much by the former verities of labor, raw materials and infrastructure as much as fluctuations, sometimes exceptionally tiny ones, in stuff like currencies, interest rates, and political conditions. To put perhaps a too-fine spin on it, digital technology, which emphasizes speed and information flow, allowed financial capitalism to exploit weaknesses rather than build upon strengths.

We live now with the natural outcome of such a logical folly. Pretty effing inneresting, if you ask me. I'm afraid though we've gone past the point where even those of us who saw this coming and protected what assets we have can rest in an abstract appreciation of the breakdown. Crossing a lion park by car is all well and good, having to do it on foot is quite a different matter.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Call Up

More responsible liberal bloggers tended to weigh last night's proceedings as a policy tossup, with the advantage going to Obama for appearing more presidential. The bloggin' Drum didn't think Obama looked that sharp (I disagree) and expresses surprise that the snap polls went so widely in his favor.

I'm not surprised. At several points in the evening Sen. InSane reminded me of a lurching Charles Foster Kane tearing up his wife's bedroom. He looked older than his 72 years. He repeated himself. His zingers fell flat. He name-checked long-dead presidents as though they'd been friends of his. Oh, and pardon me for observing this, Mr. and Mrs. North America, but as someone who is old enough to remember the last years of American aparteid, pointing to a black man and referring to him as "that one" is about as racist as you can get in so-called polite company.

Yr. Hmbl. Svt.has spent the last few days volunteering at Obama headquarters downtown, calling lists of campaign supporters in different parts of Illinois to see if they'd like to canvass and GOTV in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri. And I am here to tell you that, while I leave a lot of messages in voice mail, NO ONE I've spoken to has been indifferent or unenthusiastic. EVERYONE I reached has heard me out and I'd estimate about ten percent of them signed up to help in one capacity or another.

Ten percent!! This is astonishing, an amazing phenomenon that, near as I can tell, has not been discovered by the national press or polls.

Yesterday I called downstate and, buddy, if you want to talk to the heartland, I had it on the line. One man said he couldn't get out but he had Obama in his prayers, a woman told she'd like to help but her son was coming back from Iraq today and she had to help him move to Ft. Donnelson, a prison guard said he isn't a racist anymore because of his work, and kept me on the line for a while as he talked about what we need to do in this country. Most of these people spoke to me in the cadences of Kentucky and Missouri. All of them promised they were voting. After yesterday I have a feeling Obama will do better on election day than anyone in the press corpse dreams.

I bring up my volunteer work only to encourage those of you with the spare time to do the same--not to help the senator (though his is a very worthy cause), or feel good about yourself (though one comes away feeling pretty damn justified), but as a way of parting that deadening scrim that hangs between you and your fellow citizens. Putting it aside for only a day, you will be amazed how alive you'll feel.

UPDATE: Heh. Joe Biden also says McCain was lurching. Niiice.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Deadly Exposure

While my thumbnail psychological profile of Ms. Alaska as she prepped for Thursday's debate leaned heavily in favor of some ill-advised attack dog tactics on her part, my notion that a well-lit platform and the gazes of admiring males would induce an embarrassing acting out by the ex-beauty queen, was--I submit--pretty damn close to the mark.

What happened? What was the TV moment I missed that seems to be part of the discussion this weekend? What was the physical takeaway (e.g.: Nixon's sweat, Gore's sighs, McCain's disinclination of look at Obama) that will soon come to define this highly-viewed event? Winks. Turns out that the Governor of Alaska felt confident enough th'other night to treat millions of Americans, men and women, like that hunky guy on the football team she really wants to bang.

Now for some, that was all which was needed to fire their regard and assure them that the future of the nation would be safe in her very experienced hands. A great many others though are sure to find the come hither signals, under the circumstances, as faintly repulsive gestures on the part of a wife and mother running for high office, evidence of inappropriate boundary issues and a constitutional lack of tact.

Interesting that both halves of the GOP ticket exhibit symptoms of severe personal relationship pathologies, the angry father figure unwilling to engage on any level less than punitive, while the apparent daughter (or young wife) seems happy giving it away for free.

My other point from the earlier post (which cannot be denied) is that McCain has welded his fortunes irrevocably to Mrs. Palin. And I submit that there is no figure more pathetic in the public mind than the indiscriminate seducer whose best days are past.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Debated Hook

I realized with a relief nearly as strong as one bestowed by a negative paternity test that my Thursday night guitar class at the Old Town School provides a legitimate reason not to watch the VP candidates' debate this evening. You and I have been up to our chins in conventional wisdom these last couple weeks regarding how it will play out: that Biden will stifle himself so as not to appear rude, will probably say something dumb, that Palin will do. . . okay, compared to expectations, and that we'll then be able to focus on the real race.

But you know me, I am prepared to take issue with the above.

Candidly, I think Sarah Palin is psychologically incapable of "doing okay" under the circs. Her entire presence on the ticket is predicated on a kind of self-involved overreaching that knows no stop before disaster. Forget John McCain's poor judgement in picking her for a second, knowing what we know now about her very limited intellect and skills, what could possibly have possessed her to think she was up to the job she was offered? Ambition, stupidity, and an utter lack of self knowledge are the only reasons I can come up with. Now consider what she was hired to do in the first place: attack sharply, with a smile and clear skin. These several aspects are not a combination for success in a situation, a 90-minute moderated discussion, which (in this case more than ever) calls for modesty, deliberation and tact.

I do believe that early in Palin's rollout, the dysfunctional McCain campaign should have bit the bullet and kicked her into the deep end of the press pool. (NB: when I mix metaphors I use at least three at a time.) It probably would not have been pretty, but she'd have either proved what merit she had or, more likely, been seen as a first-quarter fuck-up. Plenty of game left, Ol' John gets a new partner and moves unsteadily forward.

But no. Instead, Sen. InSane, beholden to the deeply dumb base, has bent over backwards to praise his soul mate's skills and experience, yesterday going so far as to say he's been getting foreign policy advice from her now for a very long time. In other words, instead of defusing the fizzing bomb, or pushing it over the side, he welded it to the deck. And unfortunately for him, a lit stage and the undivided attention of admiring men, in real time, is exactly the venue in which Palin will feel the most in control and willing to act out. (Anyone besides me notice the snake meanness in her voice when she told Couric she'd find out the answer to that question and get back to her?) Given her instincts and inflated sense of self, and since this is not a beauty pageant, her church, or an Anchorage VFW hall, that acting out promises to hit dismaying levels. I do believe the damage she'll do tonight will be deep and terminal.

UPDATE 10.3: Well judging by the leveler heads in lefty Blogsylvania, SP allowed the GOP faithful, to paraphrase Josh Marshall, not to feel ashamed of her. More to the point, JB performed kinda way beyond expectations, and took the fight to the top of the ticket. In what clips I've seen this morn, Palin comes off as perhaps one of Sen. InSane's more enthusiastic talk show spinners, but as a heartbreaker a heartbeat away from the Big Desk? Ehhh. . . Now seeing her at her best, I do believe most will feel insulted by the thought.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Copyright Infringement Theater Presents. . .

The writer and a couple pals give everything to what is probably the greatest song of all time.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sun Sets

Word this brisk fall morning comes of the immediate demise of the New York Sun, a right-wing rag which for the last eight years (imagine!) tried to fill that niche for brain-dead commentary on the city's newsstands between the N.Y. Post and the WSJ. Call it a crankier N.Y. Observer (which is saying something), a rich man's Village Voice. It had no point for being, other than the town was awash in cash and the owner thought he had something to say to the rest of us.

When I was in the city last month I saw a fresh pile of the Sun, which had a cover price of, I think, a dollar, left on a street corner in Chelsea. In the newspaper business (if you can still call it a business) this is called Not a Good Sign.

My eight long-time readers will I hope recall that as part of my outline of the Konservative Kollapse I said that once times got hard, as they inevitably would, a lot of these gasbag rightist think tanks, radio stations and publications would head for where the woodbine twineth.

The GOP, which has dodged consequences for so long that it became an article of faith among them, have now the serio/comic mien of Wile E. Coyote lifting his tiny umbrella as the mountainside he has knocked loose with his own hunger and stupidity drops towards his head. In the midst of their boo-hooing this week recollect if you will how they crowed for years whenever they got a sizable chuck of the Democratic delegation, those so-called Blue Dogs, to side with their voting majority. Yesterday though, they insisted the failure of the rescue package was the fault of 'dose very Dems.

Don't tell me we don't live in very rich times.

Going forward, we should see the events unfolding not just as a failure of one party, but one of a disgraced philosophical movement. And as the GOP goes to join the Whig and Free Soil parties, consider too how the current "center" will be the new right in the coming political landscape of our severely chastened republic.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Okay, Mets Fans


All of you know why this happened. (And anyone blaming Manuel should go follow another sport.) Frankly, I feel a relief it was not drawn out any longer. I think G. Vecsey says all that needs be said further.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Race Matters

From last night's Stan Greenberg snap poll (via kos):

These undecided voters had a strong positive reaction to Obama on a personal level. Before the debate, just 40 percent viewed Obama positively, but this skyrocketed to 69 percent after the debate – a remarkable 29-point gain that left him more personally popular than McCain despite this group’s conservative leanings.

My own intimate familiarity with a climate of prejudice has been mainly among my own people, second and third generation Italo-Americans. (Which is to say that I cannot speak to similar feelings among other established immigrant groups, or WASPs) I can state with confidence that there is an atmosphere of sturdy complaint against blacks in Italian American social culture, expressed most easily, of course, among themselves. (For, I think, very pronounced historical reasons dating back 1,200 years to the Saracen invasion of Sicily, but that is a topic for another time.)

BUT what astonishes me about my paisans is how nearly all of them, at some point in their lives, make individual exceptions to that climatic disdain when they talk about black friends, co-workers (or in some cases family members). It goes something like this: "You know, those molingana they're violent and lazy, they steal and are undependable. . . But Willie, HE's alright, he's good people. You can count on him. HE works hard, HE doesn't look for a hand out, he's got a sense of humor."

It's really very touching, for here we see how clannish individuals, and most people are clannish, can struggle against and overcome notions they cannot otherwise obviously reject. This is, of course, at the heart of the "I have black friends" canard, but a lot of people who say that really don't, while some really do.

This is just to say that, from the looks of it this morning, I think Barack Obama crossed that very important "HE's okay, HE's good people" line last night.

And really, it is impossible to expect the narrow-minded to accept an entire portion of the population they find threatening and different. But the world changes profoundly once an individual begins to make an exception to his own culture's prevailing, corrosive rules.

We live in a new world, and my take on McCain's reluctance to look at Obama last night is that he cannot bring himself to face the future.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The 400 Blows

Yesterday evening, Mr. Drum, reviewing Sarah Palin's latest bunny-in-the-headlights interview with Katie Couric, had this cri de coeur:

This campaign has gone seriously off the rails. I've never seen anything like it, but everyone is still nattering on as if this is business as usual.

Frankly, I thought John McCain had to be president first before he wrecked the country (further), but in his downward spiral, times being what they are, he's managed to knock the props out from under a financial plan, wait, hang that, a steady process towards a financial plan that, alas, was key to what might have been the last hope left for this country's financial autonomy.

Since we don't know for certain what exactly was scuttled, it is hard to say if the bailout deal was a good one or not. From the details which emerged Wednesday and Thursday, I think it passed the taste test--gamey, but not overpowering, and perhaps appealing to those with certain developed palates. Certainly it seemed a deal was in the offing.

And, frankly, I think that's all our financial overlords in China and the Gulf states were looking for right now, a signal that good-faith negotiations were progressing towards a timely placement of what could only be considered an interim solution. An assurance, if you will, that our nation's administrators took this crisis seriously.

And, to be fair, most of them did.

I think it can be safely inferred from events that Sen. McCain stiffened existing opposition to the plan. The White House Ghost did not help his own cause (of course) with his dreadful chain rattling th'other night, all fright and threats of doom, no confidence, no mastery, no control. Of course the dumb rump of House GOP saw that and their eyes lit with a holy fire, feeling for certain they could get a new tax break out of the crisis.

For a tax break is how they would encourage private enterprises to come in and buy the junk they don't want the govt. to own. Secy. Paulson said a measure like that won't work, probably because it puts reward too far down the road for such firms to leap in immediately, it opens just as wide a hole in the budget anyway, and sets up the possibility of bailing out those companies next year if, you known, things don't work out quite as planned.

Well, alackaday, Sen. InSane felt he could be of some help here, and it is worth noting that he has finally paid back our squalid president for South Carolina 2000. Took a while, and he's managed to hurt a lot of innocent people in the process, but he wasn't going to be president anyway, so why the fuck not?

I am trying to think of reasons why the market should not blow off 500 points today. (And it will be called the McCain Crash, one more material disaster, though by far the biggest, in a life remarkably punctuated with them.) Yesterday's economic news, lost in all the noise, was bad and pointed to worse to come. A domestic political catastrophe has invaded a very fragile policy process at the center of the capital market world and our overseas investors, now with little to gain and much to lose, are certain to signal their profound displeasure with the entire game.

What is unfolding really is a political disaster, but one, I submit, mainly played out in the GOP as its century-old coalition of Wall St. and Main St. comes apart in full view. Also rumbling underneath is a migration of the Republican libertarian wing away from whatever links it had to the Party of God. So long as Sarah Palin could be seen as a bright and energetic frontier avatar--untried but a quick study--I suspect the GOP moderates would have gone along with the rest of the package. But after the Coruic interview it's now clear to most of her new friends that Mrs. Alaska is as dumb as a bag of hammers.

NB: My rather opaque title today recognizes a small landmark here. After three-plus years, this is my 400th post. Yes, merely a week's output from the likes of Sully and Mattie, but, dammit, there are only so many hours in the day.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Down The Drain With John McCain 2

My long-time contention here has been that the GOP presidential candidate would poll only seven percentage points higher in total votes than wherever that squalid little man's popularity stood a month before the election. When Sen. InSane was nominated, I relented somewhat and gave him an extra two points in my intuited equation, for a total of nine above the president's base.

And so this morning comes word (via Kos) that FUX News' own poll, likely an outlier (but still), has just set Ol' John's number at 39% (Obama 45%), exactly nine points higher than the current standing of the White House ghost. (Note that this polling was completed before McCain shit the bed yesterday.)

I said in comments in the previous post, but I'll repeat for those only breezing through today, that I suspect McCain's dumb stunt will send a good number of the undecided towards Obama and send more than a few from solid McCain into the undecided zone. Upon further consideration there's one more category worth mentioning, those who tell pollsters they're voting for McCain who now won't bother to vote at all.

While I'm tempted to lower my margin back to seven, I'll keep it at nine, and watch as the other polls follow the pathetic, senile candidate downward.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rest In Pieces

Let's recap. On a day when it was revealed his campaign chief lied broadly, maybe even to his boss, about his lobbying connections, a day in which he was seen as the key, as leader of his party, to a bi-partisan agreement on very important and pressing work he has real trouble thinking about, a day in which it appears most of the heavy lifting has already been accomplished on said work, a day (the first in months) when the stock market only went sideways, a day in which his opponent's lead in the polls became starkly obvious, John McCain decided, fuck it, he really doesn't want to be president anyway.

I appreciate him saving us all the aggravation his shithead campaign was certain to induce over the next 40 days.

Street Of Reams

My eight long-time readers know I've been predicting the implosion of the GOP for slightly over two years now, and while I've not called specific details (I'm not a mind reader), the expected blows have fallen on those bastards with frequency and energy ever since that squalid little man's flyover of the Katrina blast zone.

(Indeed, one disappointment to me has been the apparently steadfast political loyalty this cycle of those states hit hardest two years ago, Louisiana and Mississippi. Is life so backward there, are the people so beaten down, so conditioned to being led, that the Democratic opposition can't even poll within single digits? It's sad.)

It was only a matter of time before the GOP alliance of Wall Streeters and Main Streeters came apart like a rotten tree. That the tree was hit by lightning only makes the expected event faster, more obvious. In a genuine bi-partisan movement yesterday (perhaps the broadest and most sincere since Nixon was whipped from office) Congress essentially told the administration to go fuck itself.

Clearly, the lecture delivered by that squalid little man sent the Reddest of them over the edge. He and Dick hectored the Hill as if they still had credibility in anything that mattered, instead of being the men who killed the GOP. (Note here, while I expect something called the Republican Party to go forward for a while, a coterie of aging Limbaugh listeners and shark-eyed consultants under a christian-family-war platform, by 2010 it will be done as a monistic national force.) Events and loyalties shifted remarkably yesterday.

Sen. Obama starkly outlined the Wall St./Main St. divide in his first comment on the market meltdown, calling both specifically by name and repeating them ever since. I submit that this not a mere rhetorical device but an adroit recognition of a recognizable political fault line the GOP has straddled for a generation, words every pissed-off Republican and independent understand, a rift which which Obama hammers wider every day.

Sen. InSane, who's been doing very well for 25 years on top of that Wall-St.-is-Main-St. seam has no where to go but down.

UPDATE: Word is that the fate of the bailout bill, in whatever form, is in John McCain's shaky hands. This is only right and just, a senior legislator, the standard-bearer of his party, Mr. Leadership, Mr. Bi-Partisan Accord has a chance to step up and show the American people just what he's made of and how he stands in a crisis.

Ha-ha.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Writing Wrongs

Christ on a crutch.

Two weeks ago, when Phoney and Fraudie went bust, I wrote:

The huge problem, which is not going away for a while, is that many of those shareholders are small banks and pension funds who once relied on the once rock-steady dividend returns of the two government-chartered giants to maintain their stated asset requirements. That is all gone now. Yesterday's Treasury statement only said that any small banks now in such a fix should contact the Federal Reserve. The sticking point here is that no one knows how many that may be, or how much, besides a lot, of worthless paper is still out there.

This morning comes this (from naked capitalism): Banks Take Bigger-Than-Estimated Hit on Freddie, Fannie Conservatorship

It reads in part:

“When the actions were contemplated to reduce dividends on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac preferred stock, the bank regulators estimated that only a dozen banks would be affected by it,” Mr Yingling said.

Regulators said this month only a small handful of banks had “significant” holdings in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac relative to their capital bases and that they would help develop plans to restore capital at these banks.

However, the ABA survey suggests the impact of writedowns could be more widespread and more severe than regulators initially indicated, particularly among small community banks that engage in lending for small and medium-sized local businesses.


I'm speechless. I really am. If you need any further evidence that the people running this pig circus have not been paying attention, this is it.

You know what was yesterday's Real Big News which Nobody wanted to pay attention to? GE, GE, asked to be, and immediately was, placed on the no-short-sell protection list. Said protection is due to expire Oct. 2.

Wanna bet?

Monday, September 22, 2008

As The World Burns

It only took the weekend for the glaring flaws of the Paulson bailout to come into general view, one of the main being how the toxic debt is to be valued. As suspected in this space last Friday, Overvalued is the hour's watchword, so as (though no one says so) to provide greater value to the criminal leverages downstream. (I've really got to come up with another word for the location of leveraged debt. Downstream strikes me as too, I don't know. . . wholesome.)

Another, unexpected, outrage is the bid for the absence of any judicial review whatsoever, a point where they may have overplayed their sweaty hand. It only invites a Supreme Court ruling, which can only come out against any preemptive legislated immunity, that will freeze the bill's effect without touching on its merits. The administration says it wants "clean" legislation and this guarantees it won't be.

I also wondered last Friday what will be eligible for saving. Word this morning comes of foreign banks with lots of lousy US instruments wanting redress too. Whoops. This alone could kill the Paulson deal, for to say yes to England and Germany will be to further enrage Main St. and empower opposition (which at this hour strikes me as still in the formative stage), to say no to the Rothman's crowd pretty much flattens western finance.

Ergo, a new plan awaits.

It took about 48 hours to figure that, while drastic measures are indeed called for, the Paulson Plan, like every other administrative offering by our squalid little president's men, will not really work as advertised. (Many agree, but Krugman makes the main case here and here.) The bids by the Euro banks only renders this clearer. Indeed the federal assumption of all that, in Damon Runyon's immortal phrase, phonus balonus guarantees a crash of the dollar into smoking ruins territory. Which, come to think of it, seems inevitable anyhow.

I do give Paulson and Bernanke credit for moving forward in a bold way. However, Paulson's instinct, which took him to the top of Goldman Sachs, is to job the little guy and brutally screw the competition. Trouble now is that it is the little guy who needs the most help and Paulson is going to need all the cooperation from the competition (that is, the assembling chorus of opposition to particular details of his plan) that he can get.

And, just to show that life as Henry knew it will never be the same, the last of the big-time spenders, the dudes he hung with the most, announced their retirement last night, effective immediately. They will likely be needing a pension too.

So what now? As my late father, a WW2 vet, liked to say, beats the hell out of me, lieutenant.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Nodes In Passing

McCain's toast.

Pollsters balance presidential results accounting for cell phone users.

Al Giordano walks us through his Palin tanning bed scoop and how it got a life of its own.

The most excellent naked capitalism blog basically draws the same conclusions as I did yesterday, only more informed, critical, and scary.

Timesman Joe Nocera (via naked capitalism) takes an even harder look at Paulson's plan. (Reading not for the faint of heart.)

And finally, a useful astrological perspective.

Friday, September 19, 2008

In The Zero

Pardon me for thinking out loud and in print, my small way of advocating a particular careful methodology for the wider press to use (yeah, hah) in considering yesterday's rather staggering announcement.

Or rather the announcement of an announcement.

Thursday's enormous last-hour rally came after the Treasury and Federal Reserve (effectively now the same enterprise, which is a pretty big story in itself) and a predominantly Democratic delegation from Capitol Hill signaled the pending creation of a new, what?, public corporation that would buy non-performing debt, thereby removing it from the books (where it currently lies un-priceable and therefore worthless) of the nation's financial bodies, large and small.

By creating a willing and, one gathers, omnivorous buyer, a market is then created for these financial ghosts, a means for them to flicker somewhat back to life.

Left unsaid, because no one knows, is at what rate the worthless shall be redeemed. Anything more than, oh, five cents on the dollar will be properly considered a handout to the greedy and heartless bastards who created this disaster. The govt. chieftains will most certainly try to promote this as a means of saving the little guy from foreclosure, and I expect for a certain number that will be the case--adjusting mortgage rates and extending terms whereby prudent and dedicated householders can pay off their homes.

But there are plenty of those loans which will never be repaid, perhaps more than the ones that will. (Indeed the realization of that is one of the many reasons behind the collapse.) And consider that those vacant properties are, for all their pathos, hard assets, at least for now. Unclear to me, and I beg anyone who can shed some light to do so in comments, is how this settles the connected leverages surrounding the essential debt instruments. Is this exchange of good pennies for bad dollars going to void current CDO contracts? How do these things get settled then?

One senses that the govt. in its new megalomanic role, may in fact overpay for the bad paper, say 30 cents on the dollar, so as to give some downstream value to CDO settlements which would otherwise be non-existant.

Then, of course, we need to wonder what the govt, body (let's call it the BBD, Bureau of Bad Debt) won't buy. It does not take much imagination to see monumental offshore frauds dressed up as worthy for domestic salvation. Who is to oversee the redemption?

Which brings up the issue of time. If the BBD is to be successful in a fundamental way it will take years to refine the sludge responsibly. The suddenness of its proposal, and the haste in which it will apparently be enacted, does not argue on the side of capable long-term assessments.

Which brings up the issue of scale. I don't think the lead actors in this drama have any idea of the size of the obligation they now seem ready to take on. No one does. It is nevertheless measured in trillions and a level certainly able to bankrupt the country. Less than a week ago I was speculating that Secy. Paulson did not save Lehman for fear of committing the taxpayer to an unknown, but huge, amount of debt. I still think that was the case. But the AIG collapse really is a black hole. The Treasury/Fed's event horizon has collapsed to nearly zero, a realm in which there is no practical difference between good judgement and insanity.

The BBD then is the best way forward mainly by appearing now to be the only way--successful only so much as it leavens immediate catastrophic failure by, so to speak, drawing it into an institution where we will dwell with that failure, and its still unknown consequences, for a very long time.

UPDATE: A sunnier take from Krugman which still conflicts with none of the above

UPDATE2: A rather more mordant view from England