Sunday, November 03, 2013

Now, Where Was I?

I hope everyone's enjoyed our little rest after all the debt limit excitement. Almost seems now like it never happened, right? In that time since Your Ob'dt Hmbl Svt has been trying to access the ACA website, as I calculate a savings of over $3,000 per annum for myself (not to mention a vastly improved coverage menu) should I ever get the damn thing to turn over for me. So far squatum, but I will strive in earnest starting tomorrow, and promise to check back here with the results.

In the meantime, I hope all of you read the Booman Tribune (link at right) on at least a semi-daily basis. I sure do, and here call attention to a knowledgeable and articulate rundown (far more than I'll ever be capable of) of two recent developments which I, however, have been predicting here for a while now: the peeling away of business interests from the GOP, and the transmigration of purple state Republicans to the Democratic Party.

Fun stuff, if you ask me.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Dumb And Numb-er

I would like to think that the fallout from our current disorder might have certain clarifying properties, at least as far as the public, the interested part of it anyway, regards the actors and actions in DC.

To wit: I may be imagining things here, but it seems to me that the reporting of the last few weeks has been a grade or two sharper than previously, and driven by reporters and bloggers attached more to online organs than to the traditional news mongers and TV divisions. There was smart, behind the GOP scenes stuff from Robert Costa at NRO respectfully picked up and commented on by folks I read more dependably--your Drums, Sargeants, and Longmans for example--which greatly aided in grasping the sturdy outlines and transient vapors of the derangement.

Traditional reporters, print and TV, bound by unforgiving corporate governance to the notion of Balance, at last proved completely inadequate to the task of, you know, actually explaining what was happening before our eyes. Instead of the broad old-line assessments of the action, Olympian and dim, guided by official pronouncement and "sources", given at the end of day, it was the far-more granular dispatches, sent out hourly, of smart and engaged policy wonk reporters all over the Hill by which a sense of things emerged, which in turn informed the reports of newspaper and TV.

Dare I say that high-information technologies have finally transformed the reporting of news? Stay tuned.

One way we might judge a possible change is how the current players are now considered by the MSM. Specifically, I have never understood the apparently common DC judgement of Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor as deeply intelligent men. Even Ted Cruz came to Washington with an Ivy League reputation for tremendous smarts. There's a particular imbecility writ on all three of their mugs, a vacant and arrogant exasperation that comes through photos as a particular disengagement in eye and mouth, message being: I am completely uninterested in what you have to say. Now, granted, these photos are taken generally when those three guys are meeting members of the press, but the hallmark of a first-rate mind is an eagerness to engage in a bright combat of ideas (I mean, Bill Buckley for crying out loud); all three of these wiseguys look like their first wish is to hire goons to beat up people who cross them.

No, if these clowns get through this somehow with their MSM reputations as the smart guys in the room intact then we'll know that the official narrative still lags badly behind events.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Elsewhere On The Internet

from TED Talks Are Lying to You, by Thomas Frank:

What was really sick-making, though, was Florida’s easy assumption that creativity was a thing our society valued. Our correspondent had been hearing this all his life, since his childhood in the creativity-worshipping 1970s. He had even believed it once, in the way other generations had believed in the beneficence of government or the blessings of Providence. And yet his creative friends, when considered as a group, were obviously on their way down, not up. The institutions that made their lives possible — chiefly newspapers, magazines, universities and record labels — were then entering a period of disastrous decline. The creative world as he knew it was not flowering, but dying.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Midnight In The Garden Of Goobers And Weasels cont.

Booman thinks the default was never a real option for John Boehner (so chill), and Jonathan Bernstein doubts the GOP is imploding, so let me say I think the chances of the first this morning are one in four, and that Mr. Bernstein may not be seeing the monkeys for the monkey house. On the one hand, yes, I am fairly certain that something called the Republican Party will be fielding slates of candidates in future local and national elections, I just don't see it winning any significant offices outside the old Confederacy for years, maybe decades, to come.

Why? Because right now it is mainly staffed floor to ceiling with selfish, tone deaf, incompetent, numbskulls who have been lavishly and utterly wrong about the nature of our problems, the nation's status in the world, and the outcomes desired by a majority of the electorate for now well over a decade; and that those among them who have some semblance of order and decorum are utterly reviled, and hamstrung, by the more active agitators. This is why I put the chances at default at 1-4, and will go 50-50 Monday noon if nothing changes before then, because they are running out of time and you cannot count on anyone of those now in nominal authority not to screw things up, or rather guarantee that no screw-ups will happen.

"There is always some sonofabitch," John F. Kennedy once said, "who doesn't get the word."

Has anyone yet considered publicly that once the hostage is effectively shot, there are no more hostages to take? Successful kidnapping gangs operate under lawless conditions where there is a nearly limitless supply of victims to be rendered according to however the demands were or were not met. That is how it's rolled in Sicily, land of my forefathers, for centuries. The GOP was much better off shaking down lobbyists and trade associations, where the pool was large, and the chance to deliver on threats and deals was unencumbered. Right now success for them would be to make good their threat (because respect) though it neither achieves what they want, nor strengthens their position for the next round, because there can't be one. (And, yes, I see no reason not to take the president at his thoroughly-enunciated word regarding the debt default.) So success is, of course, failure, and failure is failure too. Only a sturdy culture of long-term incompetence, and an association of indelible idiots, could have come up with this fairly breathtaking equation.

Friday, October 11, 2013

All Systems Goo cont.

Permit me to resurrect this blast from the past, 9/30/06 as a matter of fact, wherein I enunciated for the second or third time what I saw then as the impending implosion of the GOP.

It's errors are mainly on the side of dispatch, that, granting conditions, things have not moved with the speed I'd hoped. I was not expecting the TP backlash election in 2010, or rather did not expect it to be co-opted so smoothly by the GOP establishment. Also naive of me was to imagine the party would have the decency to just go away and not precipitate a constitutional crisis, so I think we've all learned something here.

Though the timing and details hasn't been what I'd expected, the cause, and the dead cert inevitability of it all still hunts: the shattering effect of new, broad-based technology on top-down hierarchies utterly dependent on a guiding central authority. This effect works out in myriad ways, from new sources of funding outside traditional big-donor circuits; to the rabble-rousing potential of social media; to the broad dissemination of dumbass statements, intended or otherwise, by cement-headed politicians thinking they are speaking to a select and closed audience of like-minded individuals; to closed circuit information loops; to the overwhelming idea that feelings, and passion, and self-expression are now more important than studied plans and far-sighted policy.

I'll add that for all the creepy and closeted hypocrisy of many of its major actors over the decades: the pious adulterers, the sobersided drunkards, the gay upstanding family men, the GOP managed quite well in fealty to the paternalistic ideal of the hard, wise dad, one best appreciated on TV. I need not tell you that that mirage died a few years before Ronny went grinning off to the beyond. Bill Clinton really was the New Republican, and it felt good to be the big dog. While despising him for it, the GOP was jealous of Clinton. Under the regime of that squalid little man whatever felt right was right. and usually what looked right felt right.

Which is all to say that whatever decorum the GOP once held as dependable stewards of community standards went completely ga-ga after 2000. Democrats, long accustomed to dissension and self-expression in the ranks, were able to accommodate the fractious power of new digital/media technologies pretty well. The GOP, with ruling-party discipline lost and members spouting off whatever came into their heads, because that's how rugged individuals rolled (right?) were now united only by hatred--of the president, of population trends, of defining social needs they can't control and won't understand. But hatred, as we've seen, is not uniting so much as self-immolating, the merry blaze of rank selfishness and stupidity now illuminating the Republic.

UPDATE: Though explanations for this will differ (see John B. Judis, The Last Days of the GOP), everybody sees it happening now.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Objective Corrective

Saturday afternoon last an enormous electrical storm hovered over northwest Chicago, two or three bolts in the alley behind casa Divide effectively wiped out both my modem and carbon monoxide detector. These were not direct hits, mind you, only close enough to the center of things so as the electromagnetic pulse knocked out the two under-shielded devices in my employ. I relate this just to say that we all live in the midst of vast invisible powers we rarely acknowledge and little understand; draw what conclusions you will.

The above is prologue to my assertion that we shall shortly go over the debt limit falls, through a bewitching mix of accident and incomprehension. My time away from the humming intertubes has helped incubate a few strange ideas about what is, beyond the push and pull of what some still think of as politics as usual, really going on, which I will try to outline cogently here. Wish me luck.

The precipitating condition is one I've beaten to near death here for years, being the implosion of the Republican party. I'll take that point now as being fairly clear and nearly uncontroversial, though it is amazing how many central observers to our constitutional crisis, refuse to accept this fact.

In all my self-satisfied crowing over the demise of the GOP I never stopped to think of the practical outcome of one of the pillars of our two-party system crumbling to angry chunks, which is--as happened when the Whig party split in North/South halves and vanished about 155 years ago--a guaranteed Constitutional crisis.

And here I hope people realize that Speaker Boehner, clearly over his head and lost to reason, is not struggling to save his speakership, but any semblance of cohesion in the dead GOP. One way or another this will be over soon and they will have to fight over what to call the swollen Southern White Guy Party.

But, beyond labels, what we are seeing is the natural outcome of several forces so far outside common consideration of current events. I submit that what we are living through is the much needed corrective to a deformed system of government which President Obama stoutly refused to undertake upon first taking office five years ago. At the time the nation dearly needed some kind of truth and reconciliation hearing regarding how the country was led into two pointless and costly wars. Likewise the financial system escaped any broad period of obvious discipline, in favor of a few rule changes, some interesting fines, and a broad ticket to walk away with a promise to be good (outcomes which bankers have had the temerity to complain about). Neither of these options was taken all that seriously by the so-called serious people in DC.

The main problem with our ruling class, at last how it's defined (and protected) itself for the last 30 years, is how no one suffers any ill consequences for being wrong. Plenty of our public actors--politicians and pundits, bankers and editors--have been lavishly, wildly, vividly wrong in judgement and act for the last, gee, twelve years, and precious few have paid any price for it. Many in fact have seen their pay scales upgraded. I need not tell you how poorly this reflects upon the so-called vitality of our democratic free-market system.

One might sympathize with the president for trying to move on from all of this at the dawn of his administration. The system treated him damn well over the years and, though I am sure he would have been amenable to sterner measures if certain factors were different, no way in hell was he going to lead the charge for real change, the audacity he campaigned on was very much missing in his governance. His touching desire to find a decent common ground (especially in his giving in to the 2011 debt threat) and just move on ignored distinct abscesses in the body politic which, unexamined and left to fester, have brought us to this point.

I will close this extended rant by observing that this fight is in fact one between two large priorities which have never appeared in conflict before but which have been at odds since the apotheosis of global finance capitalism; namely should the main priority of government be the sanctity of its institutions and the welfare of its citizens, or the satisfaction of its bondholders? I submit that, by threatening default, GOP dead-enders are in fact claiming that bondholders should be privileged over broad social needs and that, by defending the separation of powers, the president is insisting that there is indeed something more important than what investors require. This is an astonishing schism, one we have never had to resolve before.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Got Live If You Want It

A solo acoustic set from a couple years back from the estimable Mr. Ray Wylie Hubbard. You should really hear the whole thing.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Stuck Market

Well, color me disappointed, because yesterday the admin made clear there'd be no chief executive 14th Amendment option to clear the debt ceiling. I would like to think that Citizen Boehner's putative concession on that impasse, reported late yesterday afternoon, came as a result of the president's stated intention at their little Wednesday get together to do exactly that, and the public withdrawal of the option came once the Speaker's sentiment was leaked to the Times, but that is neither here nor there.

Yes, the move would abrogate congressional power, but the main argument against it seems to be that it has never been done before, and that no one wants to go there. To which I say there's plenty of stuff happening that's never been done before, and that I do not see the Cincinnati bartender's son at all doing the right thing in time. Honestly, I don't understand how an amendment to the constitution may be taken as something to merely consider instead of a law the chief executive is bound to uphold, but I guess we'll find out once we meet the event horizon.

And so we have another day of Republicans back-stabbing each other for print reporters on deadline while making jackasses of themselves in front of cameras, which I will never, ever grow tired of seeing.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Churl Up And Die

As the bright flames of the crashed GOP burn first bright yellow and vivid orange, before their inevitable dull red diminuendo, let us measure several of the unintended consequences of their failing coup, or at least those outcomes which the ringleaders and troops did not think through when they decided to go over the top.

An astonishing level of Democratic unity tops the list. One of the flaws of my strategic political thinking over the years has been imagining Dems to be far more united (I know, I know) than even expediency dictated. Well, those days are over, for any number of reasons mainly stemming from the stupid and rude way they've been handled by Republicans for the last five, okay thirteen, years. Elections of smart, hard-nosed progressives over the last couple cycles has helped too, but hey, the worm has turned.

A stunning churlishness, being a complete lack of regard for those support groups usually dependent upon GOP generosity, and on whom the party relies in thousands of small, invisible ways. This list of subjects stretches from big defense contractors hammered by the sequester, to those many smaller DoD service providers (who very likely hate thinking of themselves as suckers on the Federal teat, but who are), down to the very congressional staff who runs the offices, and stocks the private bars, these people scuttle in and out of everyday.

How Republicans can so easily betray those they rely on for the smooth operation of their professional lives, just to score talking points with people already inclined to agree with them, is utterly mystifying, the fascinating marks of self-destructive sociopaths.

Then there are the broader economies of those red-verging-on-purple states which gratefully soak up federal disbursements as if it was their due for being strong, loyal, and not over bright. Here I was thinking mainly of Texas and Georgia, but other commentators have rightfully put Virginia and Georgia on the list too.

Finally there's the full-blown narcissism which plays very poorly outside the circus. Everyone knows how full of themselves politicians are; it is in fact part of their charm. Until recently though fake humility was part of the deal, the sly in-joke that would get big laughs at community dinners. Now however, in the midst of the mess, to have a member demanding respect without a clear idea how to get it, and reported as something worthy and meet at the top of a story in a reliably rightist news site (I do not link to such things, but you will have no trouble finding the Washington Examiner on your own), only shows how many are crowded in the bunker, and how deep underground that place is.

My feeling is that Democratic unity and presidential resolve both stem from a moral nausea at the sight of how spiritually leprous the GOP has become, and the clear understanding that if Dems remain standing on guiding principle, the Republican project will be broken forever, and that furthermore the nation will be infinitely better for that.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Midnight In The Garden Of Goobers And Weasels cont.

Anyone paying attention to the president's Rose Garden remarks yesterday will have noted a new hard-nosed attitude on his part, specifically calling out the House GOP for engineering this pointless crisis. One notes too his firm assessment that the situation borders on a Constitutional crisis, which he, as the most powerful Constitutional scholar in the country, intends to see settled for the good of the nation's future.

There's all kinds of speculation as to what happens next. The very sharp BooMan suspects resolution will come in the form of House Dems agreeing to protect Boehner's speakership once he opens the floor to a clear CR and the yay-hoos come howling with their knives. (This is apparently being floated on the Hill too.) I like this way of thinking, but it seems just a bit to elegant an outcome for the Cincinnati bartender's son. I'm not sure he has the imagination, the style, if you will, to carry it off. Certainly his reportedly backing out of a summer deal with Senator Reid to preserve healthcare bennies for Congressional staffers speaks to a measure of craven ill will, or lack of any will whatsoever.

No, I believe John is going down with the ship, which will go hurtling to the bottom once the president alerts the chief justice of his intention to assume executive power over the debt limit, a power implied in the 14th Amendment, and end Congress' pointless sovereignty over it. Justice Roberts, already proving to be a sensible, however unsympathetic, jurist will certainly concur. Not to do so will invite chaos, and Justice Roberts hates chaos.

When the 14th Amendment option was floated last time we were here in 2011, there was some objection based, as I recall, on the authority of the bond issuer; that it was creating a new category of Federal note, perhaps unconnected to the power to tax, and therefor dicey in its appeal. Well, that was then, and I do believe the Big World Money guys have cast a cold eye at the nitwit caucus and are prepared to overlook their previous doubts regarding the new paper.

I'm sure signals have gone out already and the president will act with plenty of time to spare. This could all be over, and the GOP broken in two, in a week.

Monday, September 30, 2013

More Seriously

As a follow-up to yesterday's meditation on the sorry state of things, there's this really neat post from Felix Salmon perfectly illustrating the conflict between acknowledging serious consequences for very destructive, if not criminal, actions on the part of the JP Morgan bank (articulated here by Salon's Alex Pareene) and the abundantly unserious attitudes taken by the crew at CNBC whenever the topic of lavish riches might be critiqued (and not reflexively praised).

In thinking in the wake of yesterday's post about what our culture broadly and obviously does take seriously, the best I could come up with was sports and making money (maybe patriotism too, but so much of that is caught up in spectacle, and used by so many in exclusionary, self-obsessed ways so as to be unserious).

Sports, as serious as the subject has become, is, of course, essentially the spectacle of play; and the measure of how seriously they are taken now might make a fascinating comparative study regarding the coinciding loss of seriousness elsewhere in our culture. But let's save that for another day.

Right now I would propose that the deadly serious subject of capital acquisition, the very serious way money, or rather the focus of capital investment and details of monetary policy, have manipulated, maybe degraded, whole societies and populations, and steadily laid waste to the planet has been a topic which our entire media enterprise, largely created by vast capital investments and returns of its own, has evolved to obscure. We are instead shown daily the entertainment side, the unserious scrim if you will, of the money game: the hot picks unloaded hourly, the arguing analysts, the fawning billionaire interviews, The Apprentice, the ever-fluttering charts, so as to render diverting and comprehensible a financial system clearly beyond rational understanding and ultimately devouring of human lives and humane perspectives, the latter case especially among those who presume to work it.

Two-three months ago I was having the western omelette at a local greasy spoon, my first and last visit, and was astonished to see the single TV above the counter tuned to CNBC. It was hard squaring the setting of cheap eats, and the weary-looking cooks and customers, with the bright, breathless display of finance capitalism beaming forth. It was, in fact, absurd; it was just not serious.

UPDATE: Alex Pareene writes about his appearance on CNBC with this neat observation germane to the points made above: The New York Stock Exchange is at this point essentially a heavily guarded television studio and occasional film set, which I guess is an appropriate enough symbol of American capitalism in late 2013. Thanks, Alex!

Sunday, September 29, 2013


Poster Doug Milhouse J, over at the ever-refreshing Balloon Juice, articulates something that's been on my mind too. Conventional wisdom late this past week has it that once a government shutdown is effected, and proper blowback directed at the GOP, the tots will have then gotten the anarchy out of their systems and, chastened, will raise the debt limit in due course.

Well Doug isn't having any of it, and neither am I. Really, why should some ignorant yay-hoo, bumped up to Washington from a kind of rural, faintly exurban district to show them damn yankees a thing or two about freedom (which, let us note, mainly means freedom from responsibility) give a good goddamn about the full faith etc.etc. of the nation's credit standing? And the world economy? Don't make me laugh.

The point of this is not to gaze full-of-whist at my political crystal ball, to game out what's to come; rather to point out a broader issue that is at the heart of our disorder and, for obvious reasons, left unremarked upon by nearly everyone on the culture fair merry-go-round, and that is a dreadful lack of seriousness in any aspect of our commercial, that is public, transactions.

Oh, we feign seriousness alright. Writers at every major magazine and/or website can fill whole archives on "The Golden Age of Television" we are apparently witnessing, or the meaning, the seriousness of The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Breaking Bad, all of which are--with all due respect to the pronounced talents and admirable care vested in those fine entertainments--only as serious as soap operas can be: serious by comparison, of course, to Wheel of Fortune or Two and a Half Men, maybe even temporarily culture defining, but our culture is not serious, and has not been for quite some time.

"Okay, smartass", I sense some of you snorting, "what do you call serious?"

For starters, serious does not appeal to the emotions; serious is not a distraction; serious is not something that goes away when the show is over, or the series ends; serious does not have a message, or provide uplift; serious does not care how you feel about it. Serious is hard and slow, a constant testing of ideas and goals, and demands that people pay attention if they are to live within its boundaries. Serious is terrible and devouring, and will always prevail in the end, and to ignore it is to live a shallow and skittish life of endlessly rocking unease.

The country had seriousness in spades for the century starting in 1860, and one can certainly appreciate every attempt to escape it in those particular years, and the decades since. In fact seriousness is made whole by diversion, and that diversion itself, by treating seriousness as something worthy and profound, can then command a great weight as art, be it high or low. But at some point our commercial culture--which is pretty much all we have left--rather than acknowledge seriousness in its attempts at relief, resolved to abolish it altogether; to send us on fantastic little journeys, aided mightily by electronic and digital vehicles, so as to reach a place where seriousness is defined completely by our own intentions for ourselves. And we can't be serious.

Friday, September 27, 2013


In a nod to blogger conformity, let me direct your attention to this must-read from Jonathan Chait on the constitutional reason why the president will not negotiate a debt limit "deal" with the GOP, and why we are careening towards a national payments default on Oct. 18.

You several regulars know where I stand on this, that certain Republicans, like certain southerners 155 years ago, knowing that the broader nation will never, ever, conform to their sick social and economic agendas are eager to torch the whole enterprise and go away as losers in fact and form, albeit heros in their own eyes.

Chait cites the debt-hike bargain Obama struck in 2011 as the biggest mistake of his presidency, and I am inclined to agree. As I recall, I expected him to allow the clock to tick down then without a bargain (with a little looking, I may be able to link to that post), and the chagrin that he did not was buffered by other considerations that must have entered into his judgement: real debt reduction, a trembling economy, the upcoming election.

What rankled throughout his first term however was the president's dogged need for what looked like agreement for agreement's sake. This inane philosophy was played beautifully by the opposition to frustrate and reduce every single policy initiative and bill, with the one person in town apparently unaware of this, for years, was Obama himself. This has, of course, led to the confidence among Republican strategists--reported also by Chait--that the president will fold yet again.

In all those battles of the first term, all those months waiting for some compromise on something from the GOP which never came, no commentators that I'm aware of ever noted what was glaringly obvious to me, that there was a solid psychological basis for why the child of divorced parents--and not just divorced but wildly separated by culture and geography so as to make the gulf between mother and father absolutely unbridgeable--would believe so fervently, so illogically, in finding a place where two so-very-different sides, brought together by his own heroic efforts, would meet and, presumably, prosper.

The cynic in me absolutely believes that particular GOP operatives knew this all along, that there was a very detailed profile whipped up by some public relations psy-ops shop which outlined these very issues in some detail, and that was the text used in every negotiation with the president from his first inauguration onward. Who knows? Maybe someone will leak it someday...

Anyway, I do believe we are past that point. The young man understands now that his father never cared all that much about him, and is never coming back. He is an adult at last, and now it is the arrested adolescents on the other side with control issues of their own, still terrified of their own daddies, haunting their dreams and guiding their lives, who are about to burn down the farm.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Whigged Out

A stray comment I posted at a far more responsible political blog last week, wondering what it would take for the MSM to stop referring to the GOP as an intact, national political party, got me thinking seriously about the topic and here's the best I can come up with:

A) Desertion of office holders to other parties in advance of elections.

B) Unexpected losses at the polls, especially among "safe" seats.

C) Policy irrelevance.

D) Irreconcilable regional policy differences.

E) Collapse of small donor contributions.

F) MSM recognition of total collapse.

Looking over the list, I now see that F) will come only at the very end; also that the Repubs are pretty well along the paths described in C) and D). The outlines of B) and E) will not be clear for at least another year, which leaves us with A), and such developments which may accrue between the government shutdown/debt limit showdown and the kickoff of the 2014 campaign season.

Last year I predicted that there would be a migration of so-called purple state Republicans to the rather more sedate bays of conservative Democratic politics. Honestly, I thought we'd see more movement in that direction before now, but some things take time. I will note that there is probably more than a handful of GOP reps who would feel far more welcome (and be far more effective) in conservative Dem tribal circles than the howling gauntlets being prepared for them next year by the radical avengers. Human nature being what it is, I still look forward to several grateful crossovers.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Got Live If You Want It

Another new feature here at H&J is the In Performance link at right, connecting one to the YouTube channel of a modest videographer here in the Windy City, who tends to record performances by his favorite artists when certain conditions cooperate.

Fortune certainly smiled here, at The Hideout, for this performance of Steel Guitar Rag by the briefly reunited trio Devil in a Woodpile last November.

Bassist Tom V. Ray is currently touring with Nico Case; singer and washboardist Rick Sherry finds steady employment with his regular jug band the Sanctified Grumblers (catch them this Saturday at the National Jug Band Jubilee in Louisville, KY!); and guitarist Joel Patterson plays with several ensembles of his own devising, here and in Europe, about as well as anyone can.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Midnight In The Garden Of Goobers And Weasels cont.

Whatever confidence among certain political bloggers that John Boehner would do what was needed to avoid a government shutdown and/or debt default has taken a hard cross to the jaw over the last 24. Nope, it looks like my contention that the dead enders would rather destroy the funhouse than share it with a bunch customers they hate might be the more germane

In thinking about that post, it came to me that in some cases sheer nihilism might not be fueling some in the House GOP caucus, that a certain ignorance, long observed among the rightwing faithful, prevails; that some refuse to believe the party has anything to lose by this desperate gambit, because it's clear from the polls that people hate Obamacare, correct?; or the proposition voiced by, oh, the Chamber of Commerce and Wall Street Journal that a debt default would have dire and long-lasting consequences to the nation's economy, and economic world standing, because, hey, it's never happened before (has it?) so who can say for sure? They see a winning strategy heading to the elections fourteen months away, and even the most skeptical, evidence-based observers are not prepared to disagree.

A large part of the reason why, we're told, is the effective gerrymandering which rendered dozens of white conservative districts safe as banks for GOP intransigence for the next ten or so years. This has become one of the sturdiest props in conventional political thinking in our day, which leaves me to say: Really?

People die all the time, people move, people sometimes need to make new adjustments to hard circumstances; all of which is to say that if I was planning a campaign to retake the House, the last thing I'd count on is the mortal lock safety of a majority of the seats I have already. If you ask me (and no one ever does) the GOP, spectacularly wrong for over 12 years now, might have less going their way than anyone, right or left, is prepared to acknowledge.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Lost 'Cause

As the minutes tick down to the inevitable debt-limit zero hour, I believe there is a certain psychological element being overlooked by even the heartiest liberal commentators regarding the paste-headed GOP intransigence: namely a profound social death-wish, the absolute willingness to destroy whatever structures they cannot control.

An example from this can be drawn from the American Experience, and how the rebellious South fought what was obvious to all, once Grant took Vicksburg, and certainly Hooker's victory at Lookout Mountain, a losing cause. But the Rebels fought on for another 18 months, pleased to see their cities and rural infrstructure laid waste and their whole stupid economy enter a period of economic vassalage, which did not end until rescued by the New Deal 70 years later.

That is because if they couldn't have it, by God, they'd make sure nothing of value remained for the Yankees and their former bondsmen.

I submit that it is not at all coincidental that this latest resistance to thoughtful, fair, and humane governance comes from the same dreary districts of white ascendency. Now, as then, they know, on a sub-luminous level at least, that the jig is up. They can't even watch football on Sundays without seeing the new America, young, diverse, and tolerant, reflected in nearly every commercial, from car insurance to fast food, soft drinks to nice cars.

And it bugs the shit out of them, those fat headed suburban nihilists who see no future for themselves and so are keen to fix that wagon for the rest of us. And I say, yeah, boy, because to consider them and their mean little concerns as somehow separate, or an aberration from the national psyche is a profound misunderstanding of our history, and if their rancid fruit is even the partial undoing of the vast credit project which undergirds our economy by laying waste to the planet, well, worse things have happened to nicer people.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Elsewhere On The Internet

Russell Brand, a surprisingly sensitive prose stylist and clear thinker, takes on our corporate sponsorship culture (here connected to a big-name magazine). He probably won't be invited back.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


Eagle-eyed regulars, if there are any here, will not only note the brand new look--in which the tyranny of black type at last prevailed over the free expression of white cuneiform on the mantle of deep blue which was once the hallmark of this abject scriptorium--but also a few new links to our right.

Top of the list is the website for a book published last April by my, uhm, indispensable colleague, Joe Gioia, being The Guitar and the New World, a sort of rambling, multi-faceted social history of the guitar and American music. The book's central proposition is that what are now called the Blues and old order Country music are in fact divergent branches of an early-American rural music very much formed by the chromatic scales and songs of the continent's Indigenous people; that the real roots of American music are Native American.

Though excerpted in the online Utne Reader in June, and reviewed in Publisher's Weekly, the book's central, and one might suppose mildly controversial, proposition has so far attracted no argument from the diligent cadre of music writers prone to care about stuff like this. This is slightly puzzling, though might be chalked up to the persuasive nature of the argument, which is something I know its author certainly wants to believe.

Interested parties can order this thought-provoking number via Amazon.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Muddle East

Two days ago I ended my rambling discourse by observing that the president's handling of the current foreign policy dilemma in Syria is really an altogether new, interesting, and I submit, far-reaching development. Mr. Greg Sargeant of the Washington Post yesterday asked all interested parties commenting on the affair to put up or shut up (well, he was a little nicer than that), and so I will.

It has been clear, if not altogether impressive, to most observers that Barack Obama has been from the get-go an exemplar of certain cautious and completely central means of advancing in this country. Issues of unhappy parentage, and the real struggles endured by his mother, aside, a private high school education, leading to Ivy League undergrad and law degrees, are distinctive marks with which the best and brightest, both good and bad, go on to make their mark on the times.

Obama's faults, at least as seen by his usual supporters, tend toward hewing to this defining system of rule by a democratic elite: an appreciation of process, an unseemly willingness to concede marks to the opposition under the basic assumption that the values shared by both sides will render whatever outcome the most just, if not exactly the most sensible or efficient, solution. (I will leave for another time any consideration if this guiding attitude was ever at all justified.)

I think the president advocated bombing Syria in the wake of a poison gas attack on a dissident population because, as the moral exemplar of a democratic nation (a role I believe he takes very seriously) he had to. In this his hand was forced by fate, and one presumes he hoped for the best.

Best may well have been the refreshing rejection by Parliament of any British participation in punitive strikes, which then presented, or at least made more vivid, another opportunity: seeking permission from congress for military action. This, at this stage in our history, had to have been taken in full knowledge that passage would come by way of every other successful bill this era, by splitting the Republican caucus. I submit too that the administration probably was not expecting the level of resistance among Democrats, which Ms. Pelosi was beginning to whip against shortly before the secretary of state made his marvelous off-hand remarks.

While most on both sides are probably relieved a vote was avoided by Syria's unexpected acceptance of Kerry's putatively inadvertent terms, let us however not lose sight of the fact that the GOP was poised to split over what was called in simpler times a war resolution, which is an altogether stunning development certainly noted with no small alarm in corporate war dog circles.* That the president was prepared to abide by the vote also strikes me as unheard-of in our history.

As for the Secretary of State's supposed gaffe: does it matter if it was one or not? As we have learned early-on in this century, Truth is a very dodgy concept, and of only lateral concern in most political deliberations. I tend to think the remark was not as accidental as many would like to believe, but I know next to nothing.

What I have learned though is that Barack Obama, a very smart and honest man, will always hew to the ways established in the order of constitutional governance, even if there is no good way forward, even if no one else wants to. This is the central fact of his success, and a sustaining thing: the authority of the office, the division of powers, and the respect between branches. As designed, it's a refuge in difficult and dire times, and immune from second-guessing and mean motives.

*While there was certainly some posturing among normally pro-war Republicans looking to hurt the administration, I will bet that the radicals have successfully introduced isolationism back into the GOP DNA and that the resulting schism is now indelible.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Summer Summary

Mr. Brian Beutler writes one more wither goest thou? for the Gone Old Party today, which, I submit gets it kinda backwards. The hopeless fight against Obamacare is not destroying the Republican Party, rather (my longterm hobbyhorse here) a shattered Republican Party is now being defined by the central social issue of our time, just as the busted window is defined by the brick.

I have kept mum of late in these precincts for a bunch of reasons, mainly because the politics of the past year have been staggeringly dull. I also hate repeating myself, and have seen no reason to change or amplify my central proposition of these many years, old friends, regarding the collapse of the GOP. The only change I've noted over the last few months is that others, like Mr. Beutler, are finally beginning to say it out loud.

This is not to say that I've been right all down the line. I honestly thought the "working" press would have twigged to this reality long before now, and it has been spectacularly discouraging to witness the charade enabling, the straight-faced deference to patently dumb losers made every goddamn day in the byways of mainstream journalism. Fact is, and I knew this very well, the undergirding assumptions of media companies, being those of material consumption and civic spectacle, are far better suited to the big-money verities of the GOP than the rather more open-ended, and therefore complicated, concern for the broad civic well-being generally voiced by Democrats.

And let me tell you, Bub, people hate thinking about open-ended, complicated, that is, difficult stuff; and they avoid it as much as possible. But clarity and simplicity have their own pitfalls, especially on the rather meaner and crazier edges of political calculations. And, fact is, people deal with complicated stuff everyday. One of our finer national characteristics is problem solving, which the magical thinking Republicans forgot very early in the administration of that squalid little man. I think most Americans are looking forward to solving the problem of healthcare in this country, which most Republicans, astonishingly, can't begin to comprehend

I also expected the rather more business-minded elements of the GOP to have a much greater say in the direction of party affairs, but I guess one of the drawbacks to oligarchy is that you get only so much loyalty as you can buy, and even if you can buy a lot, you can never buy enough. The vastly wealthy are also easily fleeced by their factotums. Pockets are lined, everyone looks good, and nothing of merit really gets accomplished.

What has, in fact, prompted my return to blogging, such as it is, is the fascinating turn recently made, I believe against everyone's expressed wishes, in foreign policy: that is the president's fruitless quest to get the nation to support an application of cruise missiles to Syria. That, however, must wait for a day at least as I have gone on long enough for one warm morning.