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.