Sunday, March 30, 2008

Walking Papers

Nowhere in Eric Alterman's pretty good piece about the dying newspaper biz is an acknowledgment that there are social forces tearing down daily papers that have little to do with the internet per se.

You've heard me say this here before, papers are also dying because they are visually boring, stubbornly uninformative on the level of causes, obsessed with "lifestyle" reporting (mainly an excuse to promote a conspicuous consumption largely unaffordable by the average reader), and absolutely stuck in a world-view dictated by the needs of the local and national Chambers of Commerce. Now that people have a choice they are leaving in droves, because reading the country's newspapers has come to feel like dropping in on a PTA meeting at a mall.

Mr. Rich today carves up Mrs. Clinton's increasingly tone deaf campaign in such a way to make it broadly applicable to the above, and (ha-ha!) proves what I've been nattering on about for years here regarding stresses placed on traditional institutions by digital media.

And it is worth noting, again, that for the old institutions, the best way forward is to reach back. Obama's success is in large part due to his evocation of an earlier, perhaps nobler, rhetorical past. He keeps one foot in the 21st century, the other in the 19th. So too papers, if they are to survive, need to appeal to the information intensive present, while reforming their hard copy selves into models of what the best newspapers used to be -- vivid, graphic, impudent, and politically biased in clear and entertaining ways.

You'd think that more people would get this, but the Clinton campaign, this season's objective correlative of old-order collapse, continues to see itself as worthy, capable, hard working, serious, just like blacksmiths used to be. Of course she would say she's in it until the end. She just won't see the end until it hits her.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Iraqing Up

While the fighting in Basra and Baghdad is not a sign the US escalation policy is working, it does tumble down logical tribal lines from our policy, a necessary clash of factions if the American puppet is to prevail. Others have parsed the players far better than I ever could. For those of you who have stumbled here looking for help with their English papers, but are interesting in the Iraq situation nonetheless, no one is better at explaining the game than Professor Juan Cole.

But I do think it is altogether interesting that Prime Minister al-Maliki went to Basra to direct the fighting there. Now why would a politician, who claims to be commanding the effort against the Basra militia of his chief rival, do that? Maybe because, should his plans, and the plans of his ambivalent American sponsors, go to pieces, it will be far easier for him to escape the country from the airport there, than to hazard the same from Baghdad?

Politicians running military actions is a poor omen of success. Giving the opposition 72 hours to 'lay down their arms' is another. If you can take them out, then take them out. Bargaining is a sign of looming collapse.

UPDATE: Oh, and vowing to fight to the end ? Another bad sign, maybe even strike three.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Monster Mashed

I want everyone within yelling distance to go say hi to the Big Fat Slob, feeling fit as a fiddle after a rather scary trip to hospital last month. He's back in fighting trim just in time for the contest on his home turf of Pennsylvania, for which we are all grateful.

Speaking of, the Clinton monster's continued yakking about the Wright stuff yesterday got me thinking that maybe her internal PA polls were showing a certain incontinence, and (via Raw Story) lo and behold.

What's even more interesting is what the Slob relayed to me in a private communication yesterday regarding the allotment of delegates in Pennsylvania. Turns out that, as in Texas, traditionally Democratic districts are alloted more delegates than those which are GOP strongholds.

This means that appealing to bunches of rednecks terrified of cities and black people in the vast center of the state will not fill the delegate basket in the numbers that might be gained by, oh I don't know, campaigning on the economy, the war and infrastructure issues in Pittsburgh and Philly.

But, really, the Slob is far better suited to take you through the nuances of all this, as I'm sure he is limbering up to do shortly.

There is some question if the Clinton Keystone slippage is due to a favorable reaction to Obama's speech, or her wacky adventures in Bosnia. Why not both? sez I. Loyal Dems are a bit tired of the Clinton brand of dissembling, and here the reappearance of the Big Dog can't help. He seems to have gotten mean with age. This is too bad, as Americans expect, rightfully or no, their former presidents to mellow into wise, grandfatherly types. Bill spitting bile on the hustings is bad for his candidate, but here is Hil's main dilemma: how do you keep him under wraps?


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Clinton's Folly

Matty Y. asks regarding Mrs. Clinton's strategists: Why would you refer to core Democratic voters in terms literally lifted from a Club for Growth ad?

As the inevitability of loss drifts in, Clintonistas are reacting in funny ways: boycotting Kos (ouch!), vowing to fight to the bitter end, even, gasp!, voting for McCain in November.

I'm not sure why this is happening, but I get the feeling that events have conspired to reveal certain contradictions which have been held close in the Democratic Party for too long. The most obvious is an ostensibly populist political movement no less beholden to the evolving needs of the rich than the GOP. If the Clintons stand for anything it is first the monetized nature of modern society, of accepting certain abiding givens regarding the haves and have nots, which then must be ameliorated by educational opportunities and affordable health care, of course.

That, since the days of Reagan, has been, like it or not, the Democratic way. Add in a fondness for defense spending (utterly endemic to the fabric of things for over sixty years now) and a concomitant willingness to send the troops (albeit less unilaterally than the opposition, and ameliorated again with greater concern for vets and survivors) and you have the Clinton camp in a nutshell.

And that I can handle. It's fucked up, but, hey, welcome to Earth. At the heart of this contradiction, though, is the notion that only a few select are capable of managing the farm, and that to challenge their knowledge, assumptions, and motives is something worse than wrong--corrupt.

And here one catches the distinct stink on the 60s, the same miasma of rectitude which clings so mightily to the neocons. I may be reading too much into the sound of the wind, but I sense at the heart of the Hilary camp's inane criticisms of Sen. Obama, how they time and again conflate her seriousness, her so-called lifetime of experience, with that of the ga-ga McCain, is that Obama has the temerity to be so young.

Right before the last election I predicted not only the total collapse of the GOP (now in progress), but that many of the same stresses would hit the Democrats as well. But the Dems, because of the traditionally fractured and plural nature of the party, would be in a much better condition to survive those social changes, mainly new-technology based, which are sweeping the old top heavy GOP brand down the sluces.

Well, heigh-ho, wot? Wouldn't it be a gas if the GOP in eight years, having jettisoned the Jesus screamers, supply siders and the rabid war dogs, comes to resemble the Clinton wing of the Democratic party? That how once there were Reagan Democrats, there will shortly be Clinton Republicans?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Speech

I was able to watch Senator Obama's speech live this morning, and I will just briefly add to the chorus of praise.

He broadened the discourse and upped the ante. Nuanced, intelligent, moving and brave, delivered with assurance and sincerity. I think people will look back and say, like Lincoln at Cooper Union, this was the address which gained him the presidency.

Brave in that he more or less challenged the nation, black and white, to both look at itself and towards the future. Brave because he said things that no one running for office has ever said about anger and class, and is staking his campaign on the idea that the majority of Americans will understand what he means and want to change how we have been living these last 40 years. Brave because he threw down the gauntlet to right wing talk shows, did not apologize, and stood up for his pastor in ways his enemies will still try to use against him. In doing so they will appear smaller and smaller.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Look Out Below

The whole point to Morgan stepping in to brace up Bear Sterns was to calm a very jittery financial universe. Their ghoulish offer, accepted, of $2 a share has rather had the opposite effect.

In the last six months no one in finance has ventured to price the instruments in the murky world of sliced-up leverage. Well, if only symbolically, JPM just did, and it's pennies on the dollar.

Katie, bar the door.

The Wright Brother

There's been much speculation concerning the source and timing of the revelation concerning Rev. Wright's fulminations from the pulpit. And while you just never know about these things, I have a feeling the story came from the Obama camp itself.

Consider it was coming out in some way sooner of later. Last week is better than, say, the days leading up to a deadlocked convention, or in October. Obama's statement, after characteristically letting the pot simmer for a while, was measured and just right. I think any damage done, and there is bound to be some, can be made up in due time.

Then consider how, in the minds of the African-American electorate, people who know exactly what Rev. Wright is driving at, this will serve to firm up the question about just how "black" the candidate is.

So, to sum up, the issue appeared when it could do the least damage. The candidate's response was measured and thoughtful. It raises an interesting dynamic for the general election regarding McCain's recent endorsements from nutty evangelicals. It affirms Obama's identity with his base, and in no small way it is the black response to the race card thrown down by the surrogates of the very junior senator from New York.

One way or another this shit has to come out if this country has a prayer of gaining a better society. And it is altogether just that it is happening in the confines of the Democratic party now, 'cause it will never happen on the other side. My own feeling is that given all the huge problems facing the country the racial lens will seem less and less important to the majority of voters. If we need to go though a season of asinine pronouncements from aged politicians and community leaders, white and black, I say it is a small price to pay. Obama said he wanted to change the discourse, and a lot of Democrats somehow got the idea that that would be simple and without measures of rage and pain.

Ha ha.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Copyright Infringement Theater Presents. . .

Mr. Staples

Nut Fade Away

Pardon me if I crow some about another called shot apparently coming to pass. You seven or eight regulars here have heard me say time and again how a coming feature of the new media landscape will be a bloodletting among old media right wing nitwits. Here, for example, from last september.

. . . a lot of rightist blowhards are going away fairly soon. 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.

And now, just in the last two weeks, three, count 'em, three of those agate-eyed pinheads have gone tits up.

I promise never to sell ad space here, but I'm beginning to think I should be raking in the huge consulting bucks from somewhere. In the meantime, me hearties, I will give it away for free.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Nodes In Passing

Juan Gonzalez on David Paterson.

If you have not seen it already, Olberman addresses Senator Clinton.

Matt Cooper on Ferraro (via TPM).

And, for your listening enjoyment, two very fine recent episodes of Electric Politics: Jim Lobe on the advent, influence and recent fall of the neocons, and Dr. Ha-Joon Chang addressing the fallacies and dangers of globalization.

Also, if you have not heard the bootleg of Dylan's radio show on the subject of Birds, you really should.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Our Stupid Press

From Bloomberg:

U.S. Retail Sales Unexpectedly Declined in February

Like, ohmygosh, how did that happen??

There are as many reasons as there are invidious hearts for the meltdown of the latest financial miracle, but the main enabling factor, I submit, is a financial press that is nothing more than a pep squad for finance capitalism. The first people who should have seen this disaster on the horizon are among the last to figure out the goose is cooked, the pooch is screwed, and the shark jumped over some time ago.

Granted, gas prices in Chicago are highest in the land, but yesterday I saw my first $3.99 a gallon sign (for BP Super Premium). When the survivors shift through the rubble to figure out how this all happened, I submit the reason most will point to is gas topping $3 a gal. With everything else stretched so thin debt-, wage-, and productivity-wise, that was the paddle that slapped all those bad loans into active default. The rest is recent history.

Certain financial thinkers believe that high gas prices are in fact tolerable, and point to England, where taxes bring the price of petrol to something like $9 a gallon. (Okay, the rate of exchange may make that look harsher to us than to the average Brit, so let's put it at $7 for argument.) Forgotten is that driving distances are much shorter in Jolly Old, and a great many tasks may be accomplished on foot or bicycle, or via delivery and public transit. I will bet their average MPG is greater than ours too.

And why did gas prices shoot the moon? Well, kittens, our invasion of a mid east oil nation probably was enough encouragement. Something our stupid press will never, ever admit.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New York State Of Minefields

Wow. I mean, just. . . whew. Am I going to lose my respect for every female politician in the Democratic party before November? Off hand I'd say Nan Pelosi (who has perhaps disappointed, but not disgusted) and the sublime Louise Slaughter are safe. But, hey, life is full of surprises.

I think it is altogether great that that awful Ferraro woman's early bid for a competency hearing came in the same 48 hours it became abundantly clear that David Paterson, one of my favorite politicians on earth, will be her next governor in New York.

Quite literally a child of the Harlem Democratic machine (he is the son of Basil Paterson, whom none of you outside of New York need ever have heard of) that has also given us Shirley Chisolm, Dave Dinkins (a fine, if modest man) and the great Charlie Rangel (Who I see has been feeling a bit under the weather lately. Get well soon, Mr. R!), Paterson has been a thorough and highly-regarded public servant for 20 years. Thing is, I think he was a lot more interested in the mayor job. But duty, which characteristically he did not refuse, called him to Albany.

And then Fate intervened. I think he will make a great governor.

What is so remarkable about the two very different meltdowns of Spitzer and Ferraro, is how people so keen for the public eye have such limited views of themselves. I'm not surprised. I mean, that squalid little man in the White House is Exhibit A for that particular pathology, and the GOP is chock-a-block with compartmentalized freaks. But let this be a lesson that a reforming agenda, or a transformative role in the nation's politics (which Geri just kicked to the curb) is no guarantee of self knowledge.

I think I have suggested this here before, but it certainly bears repeating in light of Ferraro's inane yakking. The least competent person to judge if you are a racist is you. Racism may well be a social illness that comes to dwell in everyone's hearts sometime after childhood. For it to disappear, it must be first be recognized for what it is. As such, it is a diagnosis often best made by others. The worst racists are those who don't think they have a racist bone in their bodies.

Our inner selves become revealed more easily in this digital age. Ferraro's comments to a small California weekly ended up at Kos. Not long after that she hit the air, and then a wall. If nothing else, the Obama campaign is giving the country a chance to take a good look at itself, for the first time in decades. Sometimes not a pretty sight, which might be cause for hope.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Rat Rates

While I think Mr. Kunstler is a bit hard on Mr. Krugman in his piece today (3.10.08), he certainly has a point about the Paper of Record's institutional fondness for promoting the obvious to the clueless, or at least those readers nestled into the warmth of social and commercial assumptions that have kept them calm, or at least sedated, since grad school.

In fairness, Krugman's blog posts from last Thursday and Friday are, in their measured ways, very worried looks at the trouble we are in. This might be as close to frightened as a guy like Krugman gets.

We, of course, is a very general term, some are in a hell of a lot more trouble than others. But the scope of the problem is very open ended. That is, after months of wishing and confident expectations, it is dawning on the so-called smart people that everyone is vulnerable and no one knows when it's going to stop.

Two stories this morning from Bloomberg on the meltdown at the Carlyle Group's hedgie and, related, how the banks just changed the rules for all their once highly-valued--well, make that leveraged--clients, very interesting pieces which you should take time to read. Basically, banks have just upped the vig they demand from clients, even those with putatively good assets, to keep their money castles above the rising tide. Just cause, well, it's rough out there. And you either pay, or go away.

I love, love, love this quote from the latter story, a glimpse of the killing floor:

``It's not a question of prime brokers deciding which firms live and which don't,'' said Odi Lahav, head of the European Alternate Investment Group at Moody's Investors Service in London. ``They're trying to manage their own risk. There's a Darwinian aspect to survivorship in this industry.''

Some managers set themselves up for a stumble by taking on too much leverage and not anticipating that terms could change, said Christopher Cruden, CEO of Lugano, Switzerland-based Insch Capital Management, which oversees $150 million for clients.

``If you're going to dance with the devil, there comes a time when your toes are going to be stepped on,'' Cruden said. ``Prime brokers are there to do business, not be your friend.''

Think of sharks eating the killer whales, or something like that. Maybe weasels eating rats is more like it.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Dead-Eyed Dicks

This video clip of Matt Simmons on a financial show last Friday talking about the price of oil (via The Oil Drum) is fascinating not for what he says (which my smart readers will have internalized some time ago) by for the brain dead, bullet-headed, ice eyed dimwits on the panel questioning him. Those are financial reporters? Their vacant, fearful expressions as Simmons calmly slaps down each and every one of their jabs tell me cutbacks are coming soon to Money TV Land.

They have already reached my bank, where the most handy downtown branch for me will be closing in a month (sorry as they are for the inconvenience.) That absurd Matalin woman was repeating only a couple weeks ago on a Sunday chat show a common enough GOP talking point, that the media is driving down the economy by scaring people. In fact, I expect that in our age of superb public relations, the breaching economic contraction will come to us in bright, positive ways, as something to better serve you the customer, as legions of bankers and brokers, and all the professions which tumble down from there, resign to persue greater opportunities elsewhere, or spend more time with their families.

I will say this again, anyone who thinks congressional Repups are not going to be flailed alive this election year, or that that nitwit McCain has a prayer of winning the White House is just not paying attention. The reason that the Democratic campaign heated up so quickly is that everyone cool knows the winner there will be president. The November election will be a contest only in the mind of the fearful MSM, whose fortunes are eroding almost as fast as the GOP's.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Down Hil From Here

I hope Mrs. Clinton has enjoyed the past day, because this is probably about as good as it's going to get for her. And before I launch into my own breakdown of what's in store I suppose I should fess up and say that I am, or was, an Edwards guy and that when he dropped from the race I was pretty agnostic about the remaining Democratic candidates, seeing plusses and minuses in both.

No longer.

Now I'll also say that I think K. Drum has it just about right. I think the campaign energizes people, which is altogether to the good, and that either candidate will utterly grease McCain and the GOP come November.

I also think that a couple astute readers at TPM are spot on in their appraisals of what happened to Obama in the last week. Notwithstanding the Canadian curveball, mainly his organization shot itself in the feet with some pretty weak responses to pretty standard back-against-the-wall stuff tossed at them which they should have been ready for.

If I may offer an explanation, it may be because for all the candidate's talk about changing the political dialogue, and working together in Washington, the Obama people were pretty unprepared for the nature and level of the attack from the Clintons. Now, the candidate can sit and hold his head that someone basically on the same team can be so mean, so calculating and irresponsible, or he can decide to fight.

One of the stupidest tropes of the political commentariat is the if I were the President, this is the speech I would give essay, very popular in particular among drifting right wingers who don't know what to believe anymore. I have no desire to put words in his mouth. What I am interested in is how he might fight back.

Let's look at Mrs. Clinton, shall we? A former board member of Wal-Mart, for whom her husband's free trade policies did so much over the years, her main strategist is the chief of one of the biggest PR firms on the planet, a citadel of calculation and mendacity. She voted to allow the president to wage war against a third rate dictator in a second world country, which has bankrupted our nation and ruined its standing among the civilized nations of the world. She has not bothered to apologize.

Mrs. Clinton only today characterized both herself and John McCain as having lifetimes of experience compared to Obama, the climax of a week belittling his qualifications to be president. While I don't think she won Texas with GOP crossover help, more than a few people disagree with me, and the lingering stink of that will certainly be no help in collecting super delegates. I think a lot of people discovered only today how much they dislike Mrs. Clinton. I hope one of them is Barack Obama.

The way is now clear for Obama to link Clinton and McCain, so fresh from his endorsement by the most disliked man in America, together at their centrist DC necks and flog them both like government mules. He is free to wheel left, which is where his support tends, and maybe rethink some of his policy assumptions and his ideas about getting along with others. He is free to go after the big dog, so quiet these last few weeks. He can now start talking so passionately about the broad cost of the war and the business of Washington in such a way as to make Clinton, McCain and that squalid little man nearly indistinguishable from one other. In nattering on about just how fucking qualified she is, Hil just made it very easy for him to kill two birds with one stone.

I don't think Barack would have come this far if he was not a fighter, and if the very junior senator from New York can get away with pushing him around at this stage of the game, then maybe he really should go back home.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Tied And Emotional

I guess it would be too much to ask if today's results put paid to the Clinton era. Far from suffering at the hands of the press, my impression is that her poorly-run campaign has been helped along by news organizations whose main fear is that there will be no close race to cover this year. Then what would all those people have to talk endlessly about?

I also think the press likes Mrs C. to the extent that she is a known commodity, her narrative is in place and she's a proven player of the game that keeps everyone in policy talk clover. Insofar as polls reflect the dreams of the questioners, of course the sides would be tied going in. I just wonder if the pollsters are asking the right people the right questions.

While I have no illusions about the liberality of Obama's workaday aims, I get the idea he has not made his bones with the establishment yet and that this makes them afraid. Indeed he may yet clean house following a successful campaign. Furthermore a black man running for president, and winning by a large margin, lets loose all kinds of mainly positive energy that he is not apt to control at all, an overdue reassessment of everyday life in every village in the land.

And that, finally, is what makes me think he will prevail, and that maybe the old media have not a clue what will happen. The change he represents is something kind of disconnected to the notions of policy altogether, and that in a nation of voyeurs, those people still capable of acting on their desires, who want to change the future, will succeed.