Wednesday, September 30, 2009


The Incomparable One, Bob Somerby, uses Tom Friedman as an example to deliver a nice swift kick to the so-called liberal media (mostly my emphasis):

As we talk, can we offer some context? Friedman announces, this very day, that the Whitewater “scandal” was bogus. His announcement is less than timely:

  • It has now been seventeen years since the first bungled Whitewater story appeared—on the front page of Friedman’s own newspaper.
  • It has now been fifteen years since Harper’s published “Fool for Scandal,” an article by Gene Lyons. Lyons’ piece debunked the New York Times’ bungled work. Harper’s is a rather well-known American journal of thought.
  • It has now been fifteen years since Lyons published an op-ed column, “The Non-Scandal That Won’t Quit,” in the Washington Post, a well-known newspaper.
  • It has been thirteen years since Harper’s published Lyons’ book, Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater.
  • It has been nine years since the publication of The Hunting of the President, by Lyons and Joe Conason.

In short, Friedman is rather late to the game with today’s announcement. But that’s exactly how things work inside an idiocracy! Inside the mainstream press corps, everybody knew the rules in the 1990s—you had to bury Lyons’ work, which went right after the mainstream press corps. By now, a great many years have passed. At long last, it’s safe for store-bought fellows like Friedman to tell Times readers the truth—but only in passing, of course.

Let’s be fair! We only single Friedman out because his column appears today. On Monday night, the gruesome dandy Lawrence O’Donnell played a related game on Countdown. And of course, that program’s $5 million man ran off and hid in the late 1990s, blubbering in the arms of Roger Ailes rather than staying to tell the truth about what was happening around him. (Olbermann publicly apologized to Ailes for criticizing Matt Drudge, then accepted big-bucks employment at Fox Sports. He kept his pretty trap shut tight all through the Clinton impeachment and the subsequent War Against Gore. Today, of course, he’s on your side—paid $5 million to play there.)

In short, the “liberal” world played the lead role in the hunting down of Clinton, then Gore. You may live in an idiocracy if:

The people who agreed to perform those tasks can be hailed as “liberal” giants, with no questions ever asked.

On Monday, we thought Paul Krugman was right on target, as he typically is—but insufficiently shrill. Yes, it’s striking when a society refuses to discuss climate change. But in fact, your society can’t discuss any issue! Bob Herbert can’t discuss education; to this day, we have seen no one attempt to explain the gonzo state of our health care spending. It isn’t that we don’t discuss it well. We don’t discuss it at all!

This morning, Friedman makes a rather odd statement. “[M]e wonder whether we can seriously discuss serious issues any longer,” he clumsily says. He wonders whether we can do that? Isn’t the truth rather clear?

In the midst of all this idiocracy, the liberal world still hails the people who conspired to take down Clinton, then Gore. No questions are asked of our liberal heroes, who now play progressives on TV! They, no less than Roman Polanksi, have remained free to roam the world. Now, Polanski has stepped in a trap. Their free range continues.

Now that it is clear that neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton has any intention of leaving the world stage, and even more clear that to the degree Obama has any effectiveness outside of his fawning circle, it is due in great part to the support they are giving him, suddenly the chattering class is beginning to wonder if maybe, just maybe, they missed some boat.

But Somerby's point, the one that was driven home by the campaign of 2008, is that the so-called liberal media is driven by celebrity, not by politics and sure as hell not by facts. Like Polanski, their freedom is based on the confidence that other members of the tribe - members like Olbermann and Friedman, Dowd and Maddow - will not turn on them and expose them to judgment. The spoil sports, like Lyons, Conason, Krugman and the Incomparable One himself, are ostracized, ignored and treated as beyond the pale. Shrill! Like the Polanski apologists, the popular "liberal" punditocracy secretly (and not so secretly) approve of the violations they witness others of the tribe perform, preferring to blame the victims for their less than pure states to identifying the lies, the crimes and the preferential treatment the attackers deploy to excuse their acts.

The A-list blogosphere had the opportunity to align itself with the truth tellers or to comfortably ensconce themselves as the pool boys and cabana babes of Versailles. We know where they have thrown in their towels. The failure of Democrats to make headway against the Movement Conservative onslaught is partially their responsibility as willing enablers of Versailles and as participants in the persistent demonization of Clinton Democrats. It is the political equivalent of slut-shaming, and it is not mistake that the same bloggers who hate everything Clinton are also so cool with misogyny. It is the same pattern of behavior - domination masquerading as morality. Meanwhile, the vast rightwing conspiracy continues to utilize every media channel to promote their anti-D/democratic ideology and move their agenda forward despite being rejected by the majority of the nation.

Whole Foods Nation holds as an object of contempt a particular slice of the nation that fails to be sufficiently cultured for their tastes and spurns the popular heros of that culture, even when it is clearly the way to hold substantial political power with a minimum of political compromise. Their cultural contempt for people who just won't see that defense of their celebrity hero is worth some fucked over females is paradigmatic of their politics as well.

That is idiocracy.


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Monday, September 28, 2009

Roman Polanski drugged and raped a 13 year old child

Repeat after me:

Roman Polanski drugged and raped a 13 year old child.

That child did not seduce him. By her own account, she screamed and struggled and fought and tried to get away.

Roman Polanski drugged and raped a 13 year old child.

She is not an "accuser". She is the victim of a brutal, vicious, premeditated attack on her by a fully aware adult. The State of California is the accuser in this legal case, and it is the State that is pursuing this criminal.

Roman Polanski drugged and raped a 13 year old child.

In response to that accusation, Polanki pleaded guilty to the crime. He stated for a court of law that he knowingly planned and executed the violent rape of a child. Whether he did so as part of a plea bargain is irrelevant. He pleaded guilty to the full extent of his attack on a minor.

Roman Polanski drugged and raped a 13 year old child.

There was a civil case later, where he was also found guilty and made to pay retribution to the child he brutally violated. Some people think this constitutes "paying" for the crime. It does not. It is a civil proceding for damages against a private individual. It does not pay for his crime against the laws of the state, those that forbid violent assault, even if the criminal is able to hand over a wad of cash afterwards. And, by the way, that is known around these parts as prostitution - the exchange of sexual services for money or goods in trade. The civil law offers additional remedies to those wronged, but it is not a substitute for punishment by a criminal court for criminal acts.

Roman Polanski drugged and raped a 13 year old child.

His movie making "genius" is irrelevant to his assault on this child. He planned, in a horrific echo of Humbert Humbert in Lolita, to render the girl unconscious with drugs, unable to protest his carnal use of her body. As in Lolita, the drugs did not work. Unlike Lolita, much like real life, the child fought back. She rejected him. She did not want this to happen. He raped her anyway. Nabokov's novel is art, an examination of how men rationalize their violence against their victims. Polanski's rape is a crime, a case study of a particular man rationalizing his violence against his victim.

Roman Polanski drugged and raped a 13 year old child.

There is no defense for what he did. Nothing he has ever done as a movie maker excuses or diminishes the premeditated violation of another's body for his own physical satisfaction. Any pain he has "endured" since that decision - when he knowlingly and with malice of forethought chose to force alcohol and drugs onto a child so he could rape her - is entirely of his own making:
  • He chose to rape a child
  • He chose to play games with the court system
  • He chose to flee when the courts would not agree to diminish his crime
  • He has refused to face the consequences of his acts
  • He has attempted to buy off the victim and the law
  • He has paraded his story around to increase his own celebrity
  • He has traded on his celebrity to get his brutal rape excused and escape just punishment for what he did

The defense seems to be Polanski is an artist and should not be subject to the same laws as the rest of humanity becuse he has gratified us with his artistic endeavors. That is an exact inversion of the principle of the law:

Because Roman Polanksi does not wish to share the earth with other human beings, feeling entitled to treat another person as a sex toy for his personal entertainment and gratification, there is no reason why the rest of humanity should wish to share the world with him.

He deserves to go into prison with the rest of the child rapists and spend the rest of his miserable life suffering in his own self-inflicted hell. Why does he deserve this?

Because he drugged and raped a 13 year old child.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Support Corrente

My blog owes much of its traffic, and I owe significant portions of my sanity, to the indefatigable efforts of Lambert Strether, a charter member, contributor and Janitor in Chief (JiC) of the Mighty Corrente.

If you have spare change, please consider giving some of it to Lambert so he can keep the house warm and Corrente running. Give all of it to Lambert and maybe he can get some new glasses while he's waiting for the Precious to (not) deliver on health care.

Click here to read how those donations are going to be used. PayPal buttons are right there, waiting for your loving click.

Off to make my donation,


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Check Out

A few days ago, I came across an interesting article in the LA Times about two supermarket chains operating in California, Whole Foods and Fresh & Easy: Grocery stores taking check use off shoppers' lists. Anything that has to do with Whole Foods interests me, of course, and there is a Fresh and Easy going in just a few blocks from my house. The article opens (my emphasis):

Long before banks started locating branches inside supermarkets, grocery stores acted as informal financial establishments, cashing payroll checks and personal checks to provide ready cash for their customers. That's starting to change.

Whole Foods Market Inc. is considering banning the use of personal checks at its stores and this month stopped accepting checks at two stores in Los Angeles County and one in Arizona as a test.

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, the California division of British retailing giant Tesco, won't take personal checks at any of the 70 stores it operates in California.

"Supermarkets used to be a repository of checking, cashing payroll and personal checks, but in an age of direct deposit and debit cards, that's not something that is relevant to their customers anymore," said Mac Brand, a Chicago food industry consultant.

Both I and the Spousal Unit remember an era before ATMs, when Mom or Dad would write a check for $20 (or $12, or $36, or whatever specific amount they needed) above the grocery purchase and get some cash back from the grocery store till. You had to be known at the grocery store to get this privilege most times and it was how you got quick cash. It still can be:

Vons, Albertsons and Ralphs -- the stores most likely to have a bank branch within their locations -- continue to accept checks.They also cash payroll checks, although the chains typically charge a service fee of about $1 to about 1% of the check, depending on the municipal regulations of the city where the store is located.

Representatives of the chains said there were no plans to end the services, and one supermarket industry executive questioned why, in an environment of increasing competition for shoppers, a company would add a barrier to potential sales.

So Ralphs will cash my payroll check, for a service fee, but Whole Foods will not? Vons will take my check, but Fresh and Easy will not? Sounds like these are services that some customers still want.

Such as customers who don't have direct deposit, or who need that extra day to "float" the check, or who can't get a credit card but need to defer that purchase just a tiny bit. (I'm also reminded of The Dude buying a carton of milk that cost less than $1 with a check in The Big Lebowski, but I digress...). Or even just people like my parents who don't have an ATM/Debit card (or, if they do, it is sitting unused in the desk drawer) and only use credit cards when they are buying something on credit. Everything else is cash and check. A lot of checks.

Credit cards are getting harder to come by, have higher fees, higher rates and lower credit lines. Banks are pushing debit cards like crazy, as are merchants, and nobody likes checks. ATMs nickle and dime (well, quarter and dollar) you if you aren't in the network when you make a withdrawal. What we're seeing is the rise of an electronic wall around ordinary, mundane transactions, like buying groceries.

Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism (You *do* read it everyday, don't you?) had a recent post on the dangers of using a debit card, Why Do Consumers Accept Debit Card Abuse? There are a few details she may have over-emphasized (read the comments for some alternate perspectives), but she does a thorough smack-down on why banks want to encourage use of debit cards among all customers. It's the fees (or, as Lambert cheerily reminded me, the rents) that can mount up to obscene levels within a day or two because of a cascade of overdrafts.

What Yves didn't get into in her post, which focused on the relationship of the bank and the consumer, was on why merchants are just as eager as banks to get customers to use debit, not credit, cards. Before I got into IT, I worked for a credit card processing company. It was a dull job but had nice people and I learned way more about the credit card indstry than I really wanted to know. The basic way the credit card processor makes money is by charging a combination of a flat transaction fee of a few pennies plus a percentage of the dollar value of the sale for each transaction. Different cards and processors charge different rates and American Express was notorious for having the highest rates. There was usually a minimum amount on credit purchases because below a certain amount, the merchants lost all their profit to the fees. Different industries paid higher fees than others due to fraud. The group in the company who had the best time was the fraud recovery folks because every dollar they recovered was kept by the processor, not paid to the credit card company. They were a loud and vicious bunch.

Debit cards run through a processing network, but they don't have the kinds of merchant fees that credit cards do. They also cost singificantly less than checks to process, so it is absolutely in the interest of any merchant that sells a high volume of low to medium priced goods to have the purchaser use debit, not credit. Even using debit cards like credit cards is a hit to the merchant because then the transaction goes through the credit network, not the debit one, and the merchant is hit with credit fees.

Meanwhile, back at the consumer ranch, the purchaser is at constant risk of fraudulent use, unable to count on "float" to help manage cash flow, may be liable for all the fraud on the card (not just a nominal amount as with a credit card), has no purchase protection, and now has all of their transactions digitized and distributed instantly, with a perfect connection between their debit card number and the specific items that were purchased. It is much harder to link a processed paper check that way, and you can't link cash.

So let's talk about food. What does it mean to buyers when a grocery store won't take checks? You have cash or you have plastic. Who is hurt by this? People who do not have regular access to banks, who do not have credit and whose cash on hand is irregular. People without liquid savings, such as an elderly woman who lives on Social Security and owns her house, but has little or no savings and lives check to check. Someone who doesn't have a bank account. Someone who needs to cash a payroll check so they can buy groceries first with the cash. It's no longer so simple to get cash, remember. You have to either go to a bank where you have an account and use your ATM to withdraw money or stand in line at the teller and do a withdrawal, or else cash a check (such as a payroll or benefit check) at a bank where you don't have an account (assuming they will do it) or go to a check cashing service and get hit with usurious rates. Or you go to your local grocery store of a decent size where they know you.

What this does is strengthen the plastic barrier between people and the most ordinary and necessary of commodities, food. In the case of stores like Whole Foods, it places pressure on the shoppers to conform to purchasing habits that benefit the retailer in ways beyond making a simple profit - it reinforces class barriers (read this post by a Santa Barbaran thrilled that all those icky, old, slow check writers are soon to be banned from her beloved Whole Foods! And then read the comment thread for an extra dose of elite thinking, both liberal and conservative), it makes the consumer more trackable, it shifts the burdens of financial risk onto the consumer.

In terms of Fresh and Easy, there seems to be a more complicated story because of the odd market niches it is trying to fill, not entirely sure if it is going upscale or downscale, clearly trying to capture the high-end chic of the typical WFN shopper, yet also trying to crack into low income areasas well, where a large mega-grocer can't afford the overhead. In those cases, their sales strategy is less debit vs. check as much as plastic vs. cash, with underserved areas being more likely to use cash in the first place because they are also underserved by banks.

I look at the situation and I see two fault lines.
  1. Those who have/don't need credit and those who do, with those who do having their exposure to financial risk steadily increased. If you have great credit, it probably means you also have solid cash reserves and have the luxury of choosing between payment methods. If you don't have good credit, you will benefit the most by being able to use personal checks (a form of credit - the merchant has to wait for their payment, if only for a business day) and the least by having instant and manipulated electronic transfers from your accounts. Cash is increasingly difficult to obtain.
  2. The social divide between the plugged in and the outsiders. Lower end stores may still take checks because that is their clientele. They will have inferior/deprecated goods, less safe shopping environments, and social stigma. People who can use electronic transactions with certainty will, by that marker, be granted access to premium/desireable goods, luxurius shopping environments and social approval. Mid-range places, from Albertsons to Trader Joes, will waver and have to decide how they will treat the marginal cases, those who appear to be financially sound, but whose plastic may be worthless. Where does the risk go in those cases?

In short, it looks more than a little like the collapsing housing market. Except in grocery stores.


PS - For what it's worth, I buy all my groceries and just about everything else on my Costco branded AMEX. Cash reward on purchases that pays for the annual fee and enough in addition for one Costco trip. I have never used a debit card and never will. I do all my banking through ATMs or online sites. I make full use of class position and economic leverage to improve my cash flow.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

More Fires

Ventura County wildfire
(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times / September 22, 2009)
A DC-10 drops fire retardant on the hillside by Grimes Canyon Road.

Five new wildfires in Southern California under mild Santa Ana conditions. LA Times is covering things well, so head over there for details. From the article:

Fire season got off to an ominous start Tuesday as Santa Ana winds fueled five brush fires across Southern California, including a 6,000-acre blaze that forced hundreds of residents to flee their homes in Ventura County.

The blazes erupted like clockwork on the first day of autumn, which typically marks the beginning of Santa Ana winds. Firefighters braced for a tough week ahead with more unusually strong winds and extreme heat forecast through the end of the week.

"We're in triple-digit temperatures and single-digit humidities . . . and it's beginning with a bang here," said climatologist William Patzert of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "There's not much good news."

So far, nothing significant has flared up in San Diego County.


Ventura County firefighters battle a blaze along Grimes Canyon Road that began south of Fillmore and marched rapidly to the outskirts of Moorpark. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times / September 22, 2009)

Good Eats

Someone (Sha, I think) asked for recipes. OK, here's what I cook a lot of:

Crock Cooked Beans for Two

Start at 8:00 PM. Take a cup of dry beans of some pinto-ish variety (pintos, anasazis, something mottled, you get the picture). Rinse and soak until the next night.

At 8:00 PM the next day, pour yourself a glass of Two-Buck Chuck from Traders or pop open a bottle of beer you bought on sale at the IGA. Miller's good. Drink as you cook. Also have a spousal unit, congenial family member, a friend or two, and/or whomever is in the house come and hang out. Give 'em a beer. Make 'em chop stuff.

Drain and rinse beans and put into a medium or bigger crock pot. Pour in liquid to cover and turn on "High". Chicken stock is good, water is good. Add a splash of wine or beer if you like, right from the glass/bottle, but not too much.

Take a sausage, whatever kind you like (I like Louisiana hotlinks or spicy Portuguese linguica best), slice it into 1/4 thick rounds and pan fry on medium heat until browned and the fat is rendered. Put sausage in crock. Do not drain fat from pan unless really excessive.

Chop up a whole bunch of garlic cloves, as many as you like. I usually add about 6 cloves. If you have some bell peppers in the fridge that need using, chop them too, but not more than two. Chop up a big yellow onion (sorry VL, I *love* onions). Toss these into the pan with the sausage fat and cook on low to medium heat until they soften and the onion begins to change color.

Chop up all the old tomatoes you have sitting around and throw them in the pan. I usually have three to five in the vicinity. Or use a can of tomatoes, whatever size and chopped/unchopped status is on hand. Do you have some tomato paste that needs using? Spoon in some, maybe a tablespoon or two. Add two or three whole chipotle peppers, being sure to get a good spoon of the adobo sauce.

While that simmers, mix spices. Here's what I did tonight: 1 tsp coriander, 1 tblsp cumin, all the chili powder left at the bottom of the jar (about 1/2 tsp), 1 tsp pasilla chili powder, 1 tsp new mexico chili powder, 1/4 tsp cayenne, 1+ tblsp dried oregano. Toss spice mix on top of vegetables and stir to incorporate. If stuff is sticking, add a little water or a splash of whatever you're drinking, but only enough to control sticking.

As soon as spices are mixed, dump into crock. Use a little liquid to loosen up anything stuck to the bottom of the pan and put that in, too. Stir to mix ingredients.

Cook overnight. If you have a really good crock pot, cook on low. If you have a crappy crock pot, cook on high. It just needs to be hot enough to gently bubble all night.

In the morning, turn off crock, lift crock out of cradle (if your's works like that) and/or let it sit with the lid off while you get ready for work. I don't like putting the crock into the fridge, so I pour the mixture into a different bowl, put that in the fridge and soak the crock so stuff doesn't stick all day. The mixture may be dry across the top, so be sure to stir the dry stuff down into the wet stuff.

When you get home from work, take it out of the fridge and let it warm up a bit. Ladle out what you're going to eat that night and warm it up on the stove or in the microwave. Add salt as desired. Serve with whatever starch accompaniment you like best (rice, potatoes, tortillas, corn bread, etc.) or have on hand to make the proteins complete. If you want to get fancy, add some sour cream, avocados, tomatoes, diced peppers, green onions, stray vegetables from the back of the crisper you need to use, etc. as condiments.

Should be enough left over for lunch a few days later.

The chipotles are expensive per can, but a little goes a long way and they keep forever in the fridge. The sausage doesn't have to be great, it just has to be strong flavored. It's best if it is pork, but follow your dietary/religious bliss. The rest is cheap and crock pots are very fuel efficient cookers. Double or triple recipe as desired. Scale chili heat up or down according to your taste.


Monday, September 21, 2009

A Taste of Things to Come

I think a lot about food.

I like to eat. I like feeling full after feeling hungry. I like the way certain foods feel in my mouth, the taste they leave on my tongue, the way they scent my kitchen and my hands while I cook. Now that I have a really good kitchen for cooking, I think even more about what I cook and how. My recipe collection is expanding by leaps and bounds. I think about menus and kinds of beans and if it will be too hot to cook when the Santa Anas blow and how to use the left overs.

I think a lot about food.

I think about what it was like to grow up not being able to afford the kind of food "normal" people ate. I think about cans from charity. I think about having to shop at cut-rate food stores, buy day-old ("used" in my family's lexicon) bread, have only non-fat dry milk on the shelf, cheap off-brand margarines on sandwiches, big cans of peanut butter we had to stir to keep the oil from separating, and lunch boxes that had books in them because sometimes there wasn't lunch. I think about a mother too far gone in depression to care what she served her family. I think proudly about eating Hamburger Helper because I could make it myself and have it ready when Dad got home. I think about the way our meals improved as Dad finally got seniority at his job and his pay inched up. I look at the pantry shelf and wonder if I'm hoarding again.

I think a lot about food.

I think about the varying quality of produce between the IGA, the Trader Joe's the Ralph's and the Henry's Market where I live. I remember, living in New York as a grad student, walking around Balducci's, eyeing the perfect red bell peppers, then sighing and going to D'Agostino's or the A&P. I remember bunches of fresh arugula at the little Korean grocery down the block near the corner of Prince and Mulberry. I think nothing of buying off brands of pantry staples and splurging on bulbs of fresh fennel. I grin when the check out clerk at the IGA just says "Three today?" as she pushes the plastic bag past her because she knows I always buy that many bunches of radishes each week. I think I need a new container as I prepare a small plastic tub of cut-up vegetables and a single hard-boiled egg every morning for lunch, but don't want to spend the money.

I think a lot about food.

I think about the way in which grocery stores and shopping lists become political markers of having "made it." I think about socio-economic classes in terms of where they buy their potatoes and what color they are - red, white, gold, purple. I read the comments on food blogs and ponder the arrogance of the people who write almost as much as I wonder whether they know what they sound like. I think about why food allergies are so chic. I wonder where the hell do I get sherry vinegar because no store I go to carries it. I think about rewards cards and tracking purchases. I think about union busting at grocery stores.

I think about food a lot.

I think about the gendering of our interactions with food - real men eat meat, real women watch their weight, famous chefs, unpaid housework, hunters and gatherers. I think about the way a woman's mouth is regarded when she puts something into it. I think about stepping on a scale and having my worth reduced to three digits. I think about beefcake and cheesecake. I think about the bones in shoulders and clavicles. I think about preparing dishes you don't dare consume, fearful of what it will say about you, both the making and the consuming.

I think a lot about food.

I think about the desire to tax "junk food". I think about the industry of shaming fat people. I think about scarfing down ice cream, ashamed I am doing so because I'm fat. I think about the self-indulgence of watching rock concerts to stop hunger. I think of the anxiety about not ingesting the courant food of the month. I think about the miracle elixers that will save us all from the heartbreak of some obscure condition. I look at case after case of frozen convenience foods and their bar codes. I think about quaint little groceries in the Oakland Hills with prices written by hand onto the shelf tags. I think of relatives who sneer at stores I rely on. I think about the medicalization of food, turning eating as such into a pathology. I think about the transformation of food into a visible sign of personal rectitude.

And because I think about food a lot, I think I'll be writing about it quite a bit.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Note to Self

Do not under any circumstances give in to the temptation, no matter how good it smells, to lick the chipotle chili adobo sauce off your fingers after dropping the chopped up bits into the bean mix.

You know how it will end.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Why the Southern Strategy Works

More on my continual thinking about "The South" in the American political imagination.

The bruhaha over Pres. Carter's claim that opposition to The Precious is rooted in racism makes me reflect back on the primary campaigns when that was the standard response to anyone on the left who voiced criticism or opposition to Obama - or who merely said they preferred a different candidate.

The interesting political question for me, however, is not that the idiocy of the campaign is coming back to bite The Precious Administration in the ass, but why the Democratic response to opposition time and again (and not just by Obamacans) is to point out the imagined moral/ethical failings of the opponents on the subject of race, rather than make a political argument about the weakness of opposition's stances or identify the failures of the previous administrations, etc. The response also fails to distinguish between the sources of opposition - criticisms coming from the anti-D/democratic side and opposition from inside the party. The problem here is not that this racism claim is being pushed forward in a cynical way, but that it is what the speakers really believe.

I'm going to make a claim - Pres. Carter was sincere when he asserted that opposition to Obama was based in racism. This was not a calculated use of an argument to fluster opponents, but what Carter believes to be true. This is a politician for whom opposition to racism was his motivation and organizing principle. He is paradigmatic of a certain kind of Democrat for whom racism is the prism through which politics is viewed, unable or unwilling to put that particular battle into its constituent role in liberal politics as such.

As I detailed in The Whiteness of the Whale:

Why this psychotic and self-defeating projection onto the working class? It is the deep guilt of the liberal upper class that we know, every last miserable one of us, that our privilege is due to centuries of white supremacy and to the informal, unspoken, but pervasive advantage our skin color and behavioral patterns gives us in this society. It is our Moby Dick, the whale we pursue obsessively through political seas, frantic to have material proof that we are innocent of the crimes of our nation.

The Democratic Party was the party of slavery and civil war in the 19th century. It was the party of Jim Crow in the early 20th century. The New Deal set it on the path to renouncing that legacy through the mid-part of the last century, and it was a brutal passage. Instead of reimagining the South and what it could become, the Northeast elite who had taken over the leadership simply renounced it – you will be like us or you can get out. When desegregation came to the Northeast and the Midwest, the contempt for “The South” was transferred easily to the working class ethnic whites who resisted this change. Archie Bunker became an eternal truth rather than a thought exercise, a denunciation of the unchangeable cretin in front of the TV instead of a call to reflect on how we become what we are and how, despite ourselves, we can find our common humanity. Most of all, the determined demonization of working class whites, especially those with Southern connections, allows the upper class elites to turn a blind eye to the way in which they are the biggest beneficiaries of the centuries of racism in the nation. There is a growing group within the liberal elite who wishes to jettison “The South” entirely, leaving the working class immiserated and isolated, rather than face up to the obligation of the party to complete the task before it. That task is to create the conditions under which racism is no longer something that can be exploited for electoral gain or needed as a survival tactic in deteriorating and demeaning socio-economic conditions.

I add to this that it wasn't just Northeast elites, but also down-in-the-trenches Southern Democrats, like Jimmy Carter, who had lived in the worst areas of America's apartheid and who understood just how inhuman Jim Crow was, who made the battle against racism the crown of liberal politics. Institutionalized racism had to be dismantled becuase there was no defense for it. Pres. Carter is not wrong when he emphasizes the corrosive effects of racism on the body politic; it is clearly the weapon of choice on the Right to undermine Democrats. The "Southern Strategy" continues to this day, though it could probably be renamed the "Sunbelt Strategy" to take cognizance of the anti-Latino theme.

But here is the irony - the moralistic and non-political use of racism as a shaming mechanism by party leaders in combination with the passionate rejection of "white trash" (the working class) by those same leaders has made the Republicans' political strategy just that much more effective. We're doing their work for them. Instead of policies, like universal health care, that materially improve the lives of people in their current socio-economic location, there are half-assed half-measures that tie provision of common social goods to obtaining stable, high-paying, white-collar career employment. Sure, if you are one of the "creative class" types who provides a service the people with the money consider important, you, too, can have the perks that make life comfortable. If you don't choose to improve yourself (Organic food! More exercise! Fewer children! Higher education! Better dental hygiene!), then you don't deserve a better life. If you don't like the policies being proposed, well, you're probably just a racist who doesn't want benefits going to "those people."

That's a moralistic argument, not a political one. It offers an insult where there should be a promise of material goods. When people voice, however awkwardly, fears and resentment about being treated unfairly by social and political institutions, their discontent is dismissed as individual failings (clinging to guns and God) instead of organizing that discontent into a movement against the real sources of racism - entrenched economic elites who interests are anti-D/democratic.

The Southern Strategy has become the de facto operating principle of the Democratic Party. Divide the working class on racial lines and designate these groups as deserving and undeserving. Focus on individual failings rather than the deep structures of power. Make people pick tribes.

Paul Krugman, in The Conscience of a Liberal, methodically dissected the use of race by the Right to undermine the advances of the New Deal. When he expresses amazement that "zombie" ideas of the Movement Conservatives just keep resurrecting themselves no matter how badly they fail, he overlooks the way in which the use of race by the Left has also undermined the advances of the New Deal. The economic claims of the Right have staying power because their social claims are confirmed by the actions of the Left. The 2008 campaign was breathtaking in the way it laid bare these fault lines on the Left, presenting the ideologies in their pure form, unmoored from any supporting reality. It was an incredible display of contempt for people living on the edge.

Racism is the hueristic of the Stevensonian elite. These people keep the Southern Strategy going to the detriment of us all.


PS - Right after I posted this, I saw Historiann's excellent post Race and Barack Obama’s political opposition. Go read it. Now. It's good.

Friday, September 04, 2009

New Kid on the Block

A little blog business.

First, Daily Howler added an RSS feed and is now in my "Just Click Already, OK?" sidebar. And the Incomparable One is on fire this week, so be sure to click.

Second, I'd like to direct your attention to a new blog that just started up yesterday, Democrat Without Apology. It's a promising start.


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Station Fire was Arson

Oak Crest Road in Sierra Madre
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / September 2, 2009) Mill Creek Hot Shot crew members stop for a breather as they cut a fire line behind homes near Oak Crest Road in Sierra Madre.

The Station fire rampaging through the Angeles National Forest north of Los Angeles was caused by arson, according to the LA Times. With the death of two fire fighters, this means a homicide investigation is now under way.

Link to set of LA Times articles on the fire.

The fire itself burned 144,000+ acres and is still not under control, though great progress has been made. The last report said it was aboiut 38% contained. It is the largest fire in Los Angeles' modern history. The last two big San Diego Fires, the Witch fire in 2007 and the Cedar fire in 2003, were bigger fires and both were accompanied by south county fires at the same time. Since the Station fire has been successfully contianed within the backcountry, there has been relatively low damage to property (fewer than 100 houses burned so far), but the damage to the forest is immense. The following pictures were taken from Big Picture at

The Station Fire moves through brush September 1, 2009 in Sylmar, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Firefighters look for hotspots on a burnt landscape in the Acton area in California on August 31, 2009. (REUTERS/Gene Blevins)

Around Casa Anglachel, all we can hope is that we won't see a fire like this in San Diego anytime soon.


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

100K Acres and Growing

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / August 31, 2009)
A group of young men watch the Station fire from a hill overlooking Tujunga on Monday night.

The Station fire continues to spread through the Angeles National Forest. Winds have picked up, but no Santa Anas yet.

More photos of the fire can be found here on the LA Times.