Monday, December 29, 2008

The Political Question

I was prompted to this thought by an email from a friend who sent me a link to a Joan Walsh piece on Salon. Walsh is more right than wrong in the article, though she misses (or deliberately overlooks) the use of institutional power within the Democratic Party to bring about the desired nomination outcome.

However, the big political question is not being asked, let alone answered, and that is why did Obama end up running for the presidency not against John McCain but against Sarah Palin?

I'm going to continue my blogging hiatus a little while longer, but that question has been nagging me since September.


Friday, December 12, 2008

The Clapper

Another great bit of cultural comedy, this courtesy of comic genious Mark Fiore:

The Clapper

Do watch it until the end for the punch line.

Other bits of market crashing fun:


Monday, December 08, 2008

Dignity of the Office

There are good discussions of the Favreau photo showing Obama's chief speechwriter and another Obama staffer performing lewd acts on a cutout photo of Hillary Clinton, with Favreau grabbing Sen. Clinton's breast while the other staffer grabs her hair and forces her to chug beer. See posts one, two and three on Alegre's Corner, and posts at one and two at Corrente, Feminist Law Professors, Historiann, Shakesville and TalkLeft. My opinion of Favreau himself is that he finds denegration through sexual molestation a neat-o thing, and I pity those who have to deal with him on a daily basis. I am a little unclear on when the photo was taken (Before June? Near the convention? Before the election? Within the last few weeks?) and I am also uncertain about his employment status (Is he currently chief speech writer? Applying for a job at State?), but these are subsidiary concerns, things that slightly increase or decrease the offensiveness of the image but do not change the political circumstances of the revelation of the image.

The question of Favreau himself (well discussed at the above linked blogs) may be getting most of the attention but that is not where the political issues lie. The political question remains: what will Obama do with this challenge to his authority? Does he have the political acumen and self-assurance to make a well-timed example of someone who has been important to the campaign?

The stance Obama takes towards Favreau will have repercussions. To say "Sorry, this behavior does not measure up to this administration's standards, can't have this around," would clearly communicate some serious expectations for executive staff performance and workplace environment. To fail to do so will damage the administration.

The reluctance to act upon the irreducible fact of this photo is paradigmatic of Obama's political behavior. He is loath to spend political capital to do the right thing if that thing involves an implicit (let alone explicit) criticism of himself. This is one of the reasons the Rev. Wright situation dragged on as long as it did. The desire to not be wrong overshadows the desire to do what is right, particularly if there is political advantage (real or imagined) to be wrung from the wrong. I compare this political tendency - wait out bad news and see if it will resolve itself - to the behavior of banks that have reaped a windfall from the Hanky Panky. They have capital but will not put it at any risk even when the long term danger for failing to do so dwarfs any immediate penalty. The Village snickers at Hillary's degradation, shills like Campbell Brown want HRC to act out their own private revenge fantasies instead of behave like a public figure of stature, and the public is distracted by the collapsing economy. It must be tempting to see if this situation can be toughed out.

What should be an opportunity to set a number of political expectations is being allowed to slide down the memory hole to defend the imagined hoard of capital.

But this isn't a campaign and we are talking serious, high-stakes politics. Hillary Rodham Clinton is not an electoral adversary, nor is she just another senator. By virtue of her appointment as Secretary of State, she is the representative of the United States to the world. She embodies American policy and reliability to other sovereign nations. To allow this image of her being treated with disrespect by a close associate of the president, someone who appears to be on track as a member of the administration, says two things to the nations and diplomats she will engage:
  1. Go ahead, piss on her. We do.
  2. We don't respect you enough to send someone we respect to treat with you.

Had this photo come out during the campaign, it could have been kept an individual matter, dimissed (however disingenuously) as the unfortunate side effect of a highly competitive contest. But now Hillary has been named Secretary of State and the revelation of the contempt under these circumstances carries a different meaning. This image is no longer about her. This is not a situation of her making. It is an act of denegration towards her. She cannot respond to it politically because, while it is a personal insult, it is not her political predicament.

It is about defending the dignity and authority of a cabinet officer, which is identical with defending the dignity and authority of the administration as such. It is about Obama's ability to maintain order and enforce discipline. In this case, the president is responsible for defending the nation, as represented by a member of his cabinet, from violation and degredation. That the acts were perfomed on a cardboard cutout should increase awareness of the symbolic import of an assault upon a representation of the country. People have mentioned (and even Photoshopped in) faces of other women, which misses the point. The correct reshuffling of that image would be to have foreign nationals in the place of the staffers. What is done to the Secretary of State is done to the nation.

As I mentioned above, it is not clear when the picture was taken but that is irrelevant. The repercussions of this demonstration of disrespect are happening now.

The dignity, efficacy and authority of the office is at stake.


Jet crash in San Diego

To all the emailers and commenters, thank you for your concern. I don't live anywhere near the crash area, nor do I work in the vicinity. The Spousal Unit saw smoke rising a few miles north of his office building, but nothing more than that.

National news says two people were killed in the house hit by the jet while local news says three. It could have been worse as there were people throughout the neighborhood and a large in-session high school a few hundred yards away.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Undeserving

The LA Times has a business columnist, David Lazarus, who isn't much of a writer and he's far too committed to conventional economic wisdom for his own good, but in today's Sunday Times he hit one out of the park:

Why were Wall Street workers not asked for concessions?

Say what you will about the role of the [UAW] in exacerbating Detroit's financial troubles, one thing stands out: Blue-collar workers are taking it in the shorts as part of their employers' efforts to secure some bailout bucks from Uncle Sam.

I don't recall white-collar workers on Wall Street stepping up with similar concessions in return for their companies' receiving billions of dollars in taxpayer cash. ...

That said, a bailout's a bailout, at least as far as taxpayers are concerned. So why are we holding blue-collar workers to a different standard than their white-collar kin?

Put another way, how many people can even list the terms of the recently announced multibillion-dollar bailout for financial colossus Citigroup Inc. and what the company agreed to do in return for our generosity? ...

The UAW, long criticized (unfairly, I believe) for being too powerful and too greedy, has done the stand-up thing in offering concessions to protect jobs at a perilous time for the auto industry.

White-collar workers on Wall Street, many of whom pull down hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in salary and bonuses, have shown no such spine or self-sacrifice as their employers pass the hat among taxpayers.

[Economist Robert] Reich is right: A bailout should require concessions from all stakeholders, not just the top brass and certainly not just the public.

By that standard, the auto industry has earned its piece of the pie, while Wall Street firms, silver spoons in hand, are enjoying their dessert on the house.

The poll that accompanies the article is over 77% in agreement that blue collar workers are being treated differently and unfairly compared to white collar workers. It's just an online poll so should be taken with a grain of salt, but it probably does register some fairly common popular sentiments that are not often represented in the media.

The people being forced to offer concessions here for a manufacturing base bailout are not members of Whole Foods Nation, the people who comprise the symbolic analyst elite that is having its collective butt covered by the economic Hanky Panky (thus far).

From my perspective, this is another sign of the fault line in the Democratic Party and is indicative of where and how the power elite is going to spend their political capital.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Hubble Telescope Advent Calendar

Big Picture at is doing a very fun picture show - a celestial "advent" calendar where a new Hubble telescope image is posted each day:

Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar 2008

I love the Hubble images and my computer at work always has some beautiful vision of the galaxy, so this is a very fun online present to unwrap, so to speak.

Keep it bookmarked on your desktop and visit every morning.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Wisdom of Tanta

CR of Calculated Risk has composed a post that is a chronological list of Tanta's writings on the blog:

Compendium of Tanta's Posts

I'm linking that here to bring it to my readers' attention. I have also linked to that post under the Econoblog heading in the right-hand sidebar. For anyone who wants to understand the ins and outs of the mortgage industry from someone who can explain the arcana with intelligence, wit and no bullshit, you will not find a better teacher. If Paul Krugman can learn from Tanta, so can you.

As for the lack of my own posts lately, I've had various problems (family, head cold, basement) to attend to and that means less time to read up on events and compose posts. I anticipate slow posting through December. My one observation that I'm going to try to write up soon is on Kevin Drum's "hat eating" stunt. It says a great deal about the myopia of the blogospheric pundits and points to the self-defeating division of the left that these pundits reproduce day in and day out.