Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What's Wrong With the Hope Machine?

In case you haven't been reading your Doonesbury lately, Garry Trudeau has been cranking out a series of smart, wickedly funny comics on the fundamental disconnect between the hype and the reality of Obama. It started on Sunday:

Click for a larger image.

Monday - Talking to W

Tuesday - Talking to Bill

Wednesday - Reflections on the Nobel Committee

Trudeau perfectly captures the cognitive dissonance of The Precious in his plaintive/brutally honest line "What's wrong with the hope machine?"

And is answering his own question.


PS - Be sure to catch Trudeau's take on Roman Polanski when Boopsie gets asked to donate money to a Polanski defense fundraising dinner. Heh.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Hard Work of Peace

The debate over the appropriateness of the Peace Prize award continues to roil the the blogospheric waters. It will end up being a political liability, I suspect, especially after Obama himself sheepishly admitted he did not deserve the prize - and accepted it anyway. A gracious declination would have made a positive impression on people like myself; those who are skeptical of Obama's actual talents but want to see him succeed because no one can afford to lose more ground to the Movement Conservatives. (For example, I am pleased to see him publicly committing to end DADT and DOMA, but will wait for tangible results before breaking out the champagne.) I wait, as do most of the reasonable skeptics I know, to see Obama personally perform the hard work of peace.

Friday, October 09, 2009


As a partial antidote to the Nobel news that the committee decided to cast a vote that made them feel good about themselves and their moral superiority rather than recognize people who have literally risked their lives for years to bring stability and peace to their part of the world, I offer up a photo essay from Big Picture on the Boston Globe web site:

The Berlin Reunion

"Earlier this week, 1.5 million people filled the streets of Berlin, Germany to watch a several-day performance by France's Royal de Luxe street theatre company titled "The Berlin Reunion". Part of the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Reunion show featured two massive marionettes, the Big Giant, a deep-sea diver, and his niece, the Little Giantess. The storyline of the performance has the two separated by a wall, thrown up by "land and sea monsters". The Big Giant has just returned from a long and difficult - but successful - expedition to destroy the wall, and now the two are walking the streets of Berlin, seeking each other after many years apart. "

The photo essay is spectacular. Take a few minutes to view it.

The reunion of Berlin, and the eventual reunion of Germany itself, was accomplished by ordinary people seizing a "moment of madness" (to cite my old professor Ari Zolberg's classic essay) to make the impossible real. I remember being crammed into a dorm room, watching a tiny TV with horrible reception showing people pounding away at the Wall with hammers, axes, steel bars, or just using their own hands, ripping down the will of the dictators that they should be a subject and sundered people. We passed around alcohol and screamed in delight every time someone whacked another chunk away or reached through a gap to embrace someone on the other side.

The next day, the school was in party mode. Every class held was about the Wall. Ari was grinning from ear to ear, and we teased him to tell how his essay explained this particular moment, which he did. Reagan had challenged Gorbachev to "tear down the wall", but it was the ordinary person who made it happen. What Gorbachev did do was refrain from doing anything, refusing (whether through principle or necessity is irrelevant) to send in force to quell the uprising. Action and inaction combined to create a world altering event.

I am, perhaps, not as dismayed as some over awarding the prize to Obama. The committee is composed of Whole Foods Nation types and their action says far more about their personal narcissism than it does about anything else. They selected their fantasy of making the world into their image through sheer cool awesomeness. The award itself has a checkered past. As Tom Lehrer wryly commented, awarding that prize to Henry Kissenger made political satire obsolete.

I also note that the actual people in the administration doing the hard work of peace - Clinton, Holbrooke, Mitchell, and the hundreds of State Department staff who don't get their names in the papers but who get the job done - are steadily giving me hope for an effective, humane and coherent US foreign policy. I add in the work done by Robert Gates and Jim Jones and their respective staffs, too. Their tasks are made more difficult by operators like Biden and McChrystal, who try to game policy through leaks and public posturing to force the President's hand and thwart the efforts of the policy team.

If Obama was politically savvy, he would have declined the award. In truth, it is a greater burden than a support*, setting expectations on situations like Afghanistan that won't be met because national interests and political ideals do not coincide, and adding another log to the fires of resentment against Obama for being The Precious; the object of obsessive desire by a sheltered, privileged, powerful socio-economic class and a person whose real world accomplishments are negligible compared to the hype that surrounds him. It would have served him better politically for the committee to have leaked that he had been nominated but declined. I am curious as to who submitted the nomination as it would have to have been done before he even took office. The nomination submission period closed two weeks after the inauguration, but a nomination is not just sending in a name. It involves a nomination package that takes some work to prepare and submit. The groundwork for the nomination came well before the inauguration. That piece of information could also become a political negative.

Overall, the award strikes me as a tone-deaf and politically stupid move on the part of the awards committee. It comes across as hubristic and self-indulgent. It talks to those already in agreement about the superdoublegood wonderfulness of Obama and distances those who are waiting to see tangible results. To the degree that it may complicate the actual work of the State Department, it is harmful.

It does not unify the sundered people.


*Contra the effect of the award for Al Gore, which provided greater legitimacy to his efforts as well as slapped the Bush/Cheney administration in the face.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Do the Math

A few people who left comments on the last post failed the math portion of the quiz, big time. I posted Russ' comment since he was the least offensive of the group, but even he really needs to brush up on the reading comprehension. He said he lives on $20K a year (which is not very much) and spends no more than $50/week on groceries. He gives examples of what he purchases, which sounds a lot like what I buy every week. He then claims how this is because he cares about nutrition, not stuffing himself ("The difference is that I do not view a meal as an occaision to fill my belly. I am more concerned about nutrition, fat content and calories.").

Let's do some math, m'kay?

Here is a table of the household income and expenses mapped out by Red Queen in her post, How about you economists do some fucking math instead. I've adjusted a few numbers to make the splits work more evenly, but it's within a couple dollars of her estimates. I use a simplified balance ledger style to show how the money amounts rise and fall through the month:

Paycheck #1$917$0$917
Payroll Taxes$0$56$861
Groceries - 15 Days$0$15.25/
Paycheck 2$917$0$917
Payroll Taxes$0$56$861
Utilities - Phone, water,
power, trash
Household - TP, clothes,
medicine, lightbulbs, gas
Groceries - 15 Days$0$21.50/

I assume all extra cash goes to food, and that non-food household expenses besides utilities average $75/month. That works out ot $36.75 per person, per month for groceries, which is misleading because that it does not take account of cash flow problems. Maybe one month they don't have much household expenses and they have a whopping $40 per person per month. That windfall breaks out to:

  • $10/week
  • $1.33/day
  • $0.44/meal

For comparison, I spend @ $240/month per person:

  • $60/week
  • $8.57/day
  • $2.86/meal

I'm only spending $10 more per week than Russ. I have six times the buying power compared to an individual in a poverty level family of four. What does that get me? I've totaled up a day's worth of food so you can see how the money is divvied up:


  • Cereal - $0.50
  • Milk - $0.22
  • Sugar - $0.03
  • Total: $0.75

Not too bad. If I had really gone for the belt tightening, I could have had oatmeal for @ 20 cents a serving, but then I would have to factor in the time and gas to cook it.

Lunch (Yes, I really, honestly eat this every day for lunch):

  • Bell Pepper - $1.00
  • Carrots - $0.15
  • Celery - $0.34
  • Cauliflower - $0.36
  • Snow Peas - $0.44
  • Radishes - $0.20
  • Hard boiled egg - $0.12
  • Total - $2.61

This is looking good and virtuous! Except that my virtually all vegetable lunch just cost nearly two days worth of meals in Red Queen's budget.

Dinner - Cost out a pot of home made vegetarian chili and divide by four servings:

  • Pinto beans, 1 cup, dry (no cans for me!) - $0.30
  • A bell pepper - $1.00 (I used it so it wouldn't go bad)
  • An onion - $0.17
  • A 1/4 package small tomatoes - $0.75
  • Small can of tomato sauce, off brand - $0.63
  • Half head of garlic - $0.13
  • Entire tub of Trader Joe Salsa - $2.99 (Purchased for a party, frugally used to avoid waste)
  • A few chipotles - $0.41
  • Oil to brown the vegetables - $0.23
  • Total - $6.61 or $1.65 for four servings

Let's round out that meal with $0.10 of cooked rice and $0.30 for half a sour dough mini baguette from Costco for a grand meal total of $2.05. My meals for the day came to $5.41, lower than average because my weekend dinners tend to be more elaborate and because I haven't factored in my two cups of coffee and one can of Diet Coke that I also consume each day, nor the $0.10 worth of pretzels that's my mid afternoon snack. (Yes, I buy pretzels in bulk and take a serving to work in a ziplock bag.) My consumption for one day was more than half of the weekly food budget in a poverty level household, and I was eating what would be considered frugal, cost-conscious meals.

My ovo-vegetarian, gluten free, ultra healthy meal cost the most, delivered a lot of nutrients and a decent amount of calories (@300), but I have to consume nearly 1 lb of raw vegatables in a single sitting. I end up eating my lunch over several hours, which I can do since I work at a desk and don't get hassled by a supervisor.

I'm sure I could reduce the cost of what I ate even more if I really, really tried, but cutting down more on that menu takes time and effort. I could get cheaper salsa, cook oatmeal instead of eating cold cereal, go without the bell peppers (2/5 of my food budget for the day, right there) and eat more carrots and celery.

But we're talking nickles and dimes at this point and not addressing the high cost of housing, child care, and transportation that is putting the food budget into a bind. Groceries are minor compared to these intractable costs. They end up being bargaining chips because a lot of food is cheap and a few days of going hungry is not precisely starving. You can gorge at a later meal, or scarf down somebody's leftover birthday cake in the break room.

I showed you a healthy, inexpensive day's meal plan that is still far too expensive for a poor household to manage. The food cannot be viewed in isolation from the other demonds on the budget, as well as the less obvious demands on time and the way in which low-paying work does not support the leisurely eating habits that go with consuming lots of roughage.

Obesity is endemic throughout American society. I work with a lot of fat people, myself included, and we're a pretty well-paid bunch. What we are seeing is the transformation of instances of obesity into pathology when the individual is from a socio-economic class we disdain. Hence the arrogance of Ezra Klein presuming to tell Red Queen that if she is fat (or, rather, that she *is* fat because of her socio-ecnomic markers) it is because she has a psychological problem related to her poor self-image/esteem/deep rooted desire for sweets/ etc. rather than saying that the food industry and low-wage employment creates a situation where people have only a little money to spend on a wide range of poor quality but easily obtained and easily consumed foods.

Pathologizing a condition like obesity privatizes it, making it a condition of personal rectitude that is my own weak-willed fault, and obscures the social structures that make this condition so prevalent, particularly among the poor.

Let's get the big ticket items like health care and child care figured out before worrying about the breadth of anyone's ass


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Red Queen on Food

Go right now and read the Red Queen of Elizabitches about what poverty does to food budgets. She's giving Ezra Klein a lesson in reality. Here are the concluding paragraphs, but read it all for the math lesson:

So most of the month lunch is a candy bar and a coke (or 800 or so calories in fat and sugar for under 2 bucks) and dinner is hamburger helper and a can of green beans (a little more than 5 bucks to feed 4 people and about 400 calories per person).

That is why poverty and obesity go together. It's not because twinkies are the prozac of the lower classes, but because our Darwin approved bodies recognize starvation and fight to hold onto every possible calorie. It's the thrifty fucking gene in action, and a wee bit of math would have shown that out.

I always get infuriated by the earnest assertion of people with money to spare at all times that, really, these poor people need to learn how to maximize the nutrition in their diets by shopping with cash at weekly farmers markets and getting organic produce that is only $2/bunch for kale.

This was also a poorly explained aspect of my post about refusing to take checks - sometimes that cash isn't there until day after tomorrow, and if you hand over a check late in the day at a grocery store, chances are it won't clear until sometime the business day after that.

You spend the money you have to secure the goods you can. You don't buy soy milk because it is expensive compared to powdered milk. Fatty hamburger is cheaper per pound than tofu and tempeh and fills up a teenage stomach much faster. Canned vegetables - you know, the off brands made with the non-organic vegggies and bathed in salty, preservative laced liquid - are cheaper than frozen which are cheaper than fresh. They don't go bad, either. Am I going to buy the store brand squishy white bread for .99 (a day or two old, but, hey, toast it and who knows the diff...) or the artisan baked French White loaf with the extra chewy (i.e., inedible) crust made from the organic, stone-ground flour fo $3.89 per paper-wrapped loaf?

Like, duh.

I have the luxury of eating a red bell pepper every day. I love those peppers. I never got them as a kid because they cost too much. I wasn't able to buy them as an adult until after I got a realatively steady high tech job. They are sweet, crunchy, tasty and packed with so many wonderful micro-nutrients per gram it boggles the mind. They are also $1 each, $30 per month (more, because some go bad), and about 100 calories. That's just 7 cents less than the per day food budget of Red Queen's family of four at the poverty line.

Think about that. My one bell pepper, inadequate to provide even a single meal, is worth almost as much as the entire day's food budget for someone who is at the poverty line. A $2 bunch of kale (I mention this because discussed on some food site as being the obvious choice for someone on food stamps to buy) might go a bit further, but is still all or half of a day's food allowance for one person. If I cook it up into a pot with pinto beans and some minced onions, then it might help make a meal, but why waste the $2 on the kale when I can get some sausage to go in the pot?

Most times, onions are cheap. Potatoes, too. Cheap bacon, probably bacon ends sold in a big box, mostly fat and really salty. Now, there's a yummy meal - pork fat, potatoes and onions. You think I'm joking? I'm not. I'd like a little salt & pepper to go with it, but I can do without and I'd gladly eat it. Even now when I can afford "better", I love a baked potato mashed with some onion cooked in a slice of bacon.

The obsession of the well-off upper middle class with the eating habits of the barely scraping by poor is both domineering and obscene, a deep desire to force their food choices (too little for too much) onto others who have little choice, and to closely observe, weigh, measure, and manipulate the bodies of subjects unable to avoid this invasion.

Who in this exchange better knows the cost of a pound of flesh?


PS - An observation. I'm getting more and more spam comment posts that have vague political stances and then include a link to "my site" which is something commercial, usually travel or "dating". Why put that much effort into spam?

It's the Power, Stupid

Pat Lang, of Sic Semper Tyrannis, posted the following observation about Obama going to Copenhagen to win the 2016 Olympics for Chicago (my emphasis):

"In making his pitch, the president had said that a nation shaped by the people of the world "wants a chance to inspire it once more." Never before had a U.S. president made such an in-person appeal, and Obama's critics will doubtlessly see the vote as a sign of his political shortcomings.

"I urge you to choose Chicago," Obama told members of the International Olympics Committee, many of whom he later mingled with as some snapped photos of him on their cell phones.

"And if you do — if we walk this path together — then I promise you this: The city of Chicago and the United States of America will make the world proud," the president said." Yahoonews.
$50 million dollars in costs sunk seeking the games and a great deal of private money to be made if they had the games. Those were the stakes. For that possible gain, the prestige of an already diminished president was wagered, and lost.

What we have learned from this is that the president is not his own man. His first inclination was to send his wife to appeal for the prize. That would have been wise.

Now we know that the Chicago money that drove his campaign is still very much in the driver's seat.

That is bad news. pl

Lang's analysis manages to cut to the heart of the problem Chris Bowers frets over, providing a political perspective (contra a policy perspective) on the problem. Interestingly enough, it also touches on Paul Krugman's concern in yesterday's column about misunderestimating the gambits being run by the Movement Conservatives.

The pithy response from Col. Lang cuts in two ways.

First, he talks about why the prestige and power of the Presidency was misused. Obama was called upon to play the huckster for parochial financial interests. He went to a high profile event for the sake of Chicago business interests. He went to obtain money for the private sector in a very crude way when the chief popular criticism of his adminsitration is that they are cosseting the monied class. It reinforces the perception that Obama is merely the bag man for financial elites. The US did need to have a significant presence in Copenhagen to bargain for the Olympics if only for appearance's sake, but the wider financial advantages of the games are questionable.

The second point is more subtle. A president's political capital is the perception that he can deliver on promises, whether to harm or to help, and this capital is not apportioned by type. By that I mean that a president can't wall off political weaknesses; a failure in one venue has repercussions for others. What Obama traded away for the sake of some crony capitalism was his efficacy in every scenario where he has to offer a credible promise. Small events reverberate when dropped into the Right Wing noise machine, and this sets the agenda for how to frame perceptions.

The currency of politics is power. Power is the ability to deliver. Failure to deliver reduces power.

Obama has yet to intimidate his opponents or reassure his contituents that he can deliver. The smackdown, the goods, neither are in evidence. This single event, the failed bid for the Olympics, cannot be viewed politically in isolation from events, like the dissing Obama received from one of his own generals, for example. It has nothing to do with hope, change, mad consensus building skillz, or bipartisanship.

It's the power, stupid.


Friday, October 02, 2009

The Hacks, the Whores, the Purchased Fellows

(This post got delayed few days due to family stuff and a insane work week.)

Bob Somerby points again to the origins of why the Left makes no lasting headway against Movement Conservatism. My emphasis in bold, Bob's in italics:

But such is the heartbreak of Friedman Disease. Here’s how it’s defined in the medical texts: The inability to be truthful about the Clinton/Gore years.

This disease has always driven the press corps, including its mainstream and “career liberal” factions. It drove the press corps during that era; it has driven the press ever since. It has driven the Marshalls, the O’Donnells, the Olbermanns, the Corns—the Dionnes and, of course, the Gene Robinsons. Frankly, it has driven the Riches. And of course, the disease is contracted from small, slimy microbes which breed on the set of Hardball.

But uh-oh: Taylor Branch had never played Hardball before last night! He arrived on the set in good health.

This disease has always served the interests of the big rollers who have made a joke of your discourse—who began to consolidate their power during the Clinton/Gore era. From that day right up to this, a Hard Pundit Law has obtained, enforced from precincts on Nantucket: To get on Hardball, you had to contract Friedman Disease—to agree that you never would tell. And the weak little hustlers all caught the disease. Taylor Branch, arriving from outside the system, showed up last night in good health.

Go ahead—observe it again. You never see this on these programs. Taylor Branch made an accurate statement!

The New York Times and the Washington Post drove the Whitewater scandals.

Gene Lyons wrote the book on that matter—in 1996! But so what? The entire “career liberal” world—the O’Donnells; the Olbermanns; the Dionnes; the Joshes—ran off screaming into the woods. Given prevailing winds of change, they knew they mustn’t tattle or tell.

This is one of the present but unidentified elements of Boehlert's Bloggers on the Bus, the degree to which the 2008 campaign became the event that exposed the cooptation of most A-list writers in Left Blogistan by the mainstream media, and a big slice of the B-listers, too.

This is why Somerby has placed Josh Marshall squarely with the anti-liberal talking heads like Dowd and Matthews. When he talks about "weak little hustlers", he is talking about the very people that Boehlert both praised as having influence, yet also backtracked on, wondering aloud at how little influence they had compared to the levels of noise they created.

Marshall, more even than Markos, is the quintessential "purchased fellow" in Left Blogistan, someone who had his awareness rased by The Howler and The Horse and who imagined himself following in their footsteps. His writings about Trent Lott and the assault on Social Security materially affected politics for the better. As I said in some post last year, I once has TPM as my home page because of how Marshall was able to use his connections to rake up the muck. I don't bother with Josh anymore as he has become the subject of Somerby's posts, deliberately seeking out the powerful and comfortable who are more concerned about Bubba's weight than about his long slide back into the poverty that condemned his grandparents to toil and early death. Like other people afflicted with Friedman Disease, Josh is on his knees looking for a pacifier to suck on.

Somerby gets dismissed as a crank because he won't quit pounding the drum (though he's not been pounding Kevin Drum as much as in times past) about the Clinton/Gore years, his focus on the events of that time being represented as mere partisanship for Gore. Why won't he give up on that loser? Somerby's point is simple:
What the media did to the Clinton/Gore administration was conduct a political war against liberal interests as such. Accepting the terms of the debate about Clinton/Gore is a material blow against the politics that administration represented.
It doesn't mean that administration was beyond criticism. It means that the efficacy of the political attack on the administration is inseparable from the social and class based attacks on the individuals at the heart of the administration. Paul Krugman gets this. As he says in today's column, The Politics of Spite:

The key point is that ever since the Reagan years, the Republican Party has been dominated by radicals — ideologues and/or apparatchiks who, at a fundamental level, do not accept anyone else’s right to govern.

Anyone surprised by the venomous, over-the-top opposition to Mr. Obama must have forgotten the Clinton years. Remember when Rush Limbaugh suggested that Hillary Clinton was a party to murder? When Newt Gingrich shut down the federal government in an attempt to bully Bill Clinton into accepting those Medicare cuts? And let’s not even talk about the impeachment saga.

The only difference now is that the G.O.P. is in a weaker position, having lost control not just of Congress but, to a large extent, of the terms of debate. The public no longer buys conservative ideology the way it used to; the old attacks on Big Government and paeans to the magic of the marketplace have lost their resonance. Yet conservatives retain their belief that they, and only they, should govern.

Krugman draws a direct line between the demonization of the Clintons and the political objectives of the Movement Conservatives. I get this. The Purchased Fellows (which I think I will use instead of Blogger Boyz from here on out) do not appear to be capable of getting this, certainly in part because their own sense of self is inseparable from their very confused disdain for things working class. In today's post, Somerby reminds us:

“It is possible to sympathize with Clinton,” Thomas grandly allows, showing the greatness of his high class. He then shows why any informed observer—any observer like Branch—would have felt that way in real time.

Why is it possible to sympathize with Clinton? Good lord! Because the New York Times and The Washington Post (and the networks; and the news magazines) “were part of a giant scandal machine that dominated official Washington” during the years of his presidency! This is a truly remarkable statement. But just like Friedman last week, Thomas brings us this remarkable news exceptionally late in the game—about fifteen years too late. And why is Thomas telling us now? Enjoy the comedy gold:

The endless string of special prosecutors and the media's obsession with Whitewater seem excessive in retrospect.
In retrospect, the war against Clinton seems obsessive! So says Evan Thomas, lying right in your face. In retrospect!

In this morning’s New York Times, Paul Krugman recalls just a few highlights of that disgraceful era. These things “seem excessive” to Thomas—now. But not so at the time!

It didn’t seem excessive to Thomas when Rush Limbaugh suggested that Hillary Clinton helped murder Vince Foster.

It didn’t seem excessive to Thomas when Jerry Falwell spent years peddling the Clinton murder tapes—remaining an honored guest on Meet the Press, and on cable “news” programs.

It didn’t seem excessive to Thomas when Dan Burton was shooting up pumpkins in his back yard, showing how Foster may have died.

It didn’t seem excessive (or strange) to Thomas when the original special prosecutor got canned by a panel of right-wing judges—and was replaced by a well-known conservative functionary.

It didn’t seem excessive to Thomas when Fools for Scandal published the documents the New York Times had disappeared in the course of inventing the Whitewater “scandal.”

It didn’t seem excessive when a first lady was called a “congenital liar” by a bungling major columnist. It didn’t seem excessive when the Village called her every name in the book as they pretended that she had lied about the Cubs and the Yankees. It didn’t seem excessive when the Post published that disgraceful piece by Andrew Sullivan, two days before the 1996 election. (Headline: “Clinton: Not a Flicker Of Moral Life.”) It hadn’t seemed excessive when that same baboon had published that crap by Betsy McCaughey, in 1994—a piece whose fraudulence became quite clear in rather short order.

These events made perfect sense at the time! To Thomas, they only seem excessive in retrospect! By the way, did it seem excessive when the Post and the Times invented all that sh*t about Candidate Gore, then pimped it for twenty straight months?

Look at what was done, and by whom, the Incomparable One says, and ask whose side you are on? What of the last political season will only seem excessive "in retrospect"?

The Purchased Fellows, in need of good incomes, health insurance, and insider connections, succumb to Friedman Disease. They seem befuddled by the way in which ordinary America is mostly going "meh" at The Precious. They don't understand the bumper stickers (like I saw in my company parking lot this week) that has a picture of Bush and a picture of Obama flanking the words "So what has changed?" They don't understand why people like Taylor Branch speak respectfully and affectionately (though also sharply and critically) about Bill Clinton.

To do that, you would have to be able to respect the person, his political vision, and what he was trying to accomplish for ordinary Americans in the face of the Movement Conservatives' height of power.

Doing that will get you unpurchased, real fast.


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.


Monday, August 31, 2009

A Deeply Sedimented Cultural Narrative

And this is just the lead in to the week's series on messaging - Krugman kicks down/fouls up.

Somerby goes after Krugman in an amazing post today. There is no doubt that the Incomparable One holds the Shrill One in high regard, so it matters greatly when Somerby uses Krugman as an example of what is wrong with liberal political discourse. Krugman, unlike the Blogger Boyz, has zero interest in being a pool boy at Versailles. He has a day job, after all. The errors he makes are interesting and illuminating because of what they say about the blind spots and ill-advised impulses on the left.

Somerby starts with Ted Kennedy, using Kennedy's death as a dash of ice water on the longing for Camelot:

Our guy was the most effective ever! And health care reform was his lifetime passion! Only we liberals would fail to see the oddness of these conjoined statements, in a month when we’re getting our clocks cleaned again in the matter of health care reform! This isn’t a criticism of Senator Kennedy, of course, This is a criticism of us.

But then, that’s the shape of modern politics. The other side gets the big wins. Our side gets the pleasing stories, in which we’re allowed to define ourselves as being both moral and smart. That’s one of the ways the world’s ruling classes buy off numb-nuts like us.

If we're so "smart", how come we keep getting our asses handed to us? Why can't we get our agendas enacted even when we hold legislative majorities? Somerby then goes into a long and detailed criticism of Krugman's latest article, picking up on themes he has been discussing with regards to Rick Perlstein last week. He's using these two thinkers in great part because these are two of the most perceptive analysts of Movement Conservatism around, people who have clearly demonstrated (Krugman with Conscience of a Liberal and Perlstein with Before the Storm and Nixonland) they get what that movement is and how it came to power.

What Bob zeros in on is the use of the term "crazies" (edited down - be sure to read it all. Some emphasis mine, some Somerby's):

According to Krugman, the right-wing fringe—Rick Perlstein’s “crazy” people, he is careful to say—have taken over the GOP. But does that story, told that way, really make much sense? Does it really make sense on the merits? Does it make any sense as a matter of politics?

Just think about what Krugman says there:

In Perlstein’s piece (click here), he explained who his “crazy” people were—the people around whom he chose to build his name-calling piece. ... Does it make sense to be told that people like these have somehow “taken over one of our two major parties?” Actually, no, it pretty much doesn’t—but that’s where Krugman starts!

Grassley and all those other players are vastly more culpable than the “crazies.” But in the past forty years, liberals have always loved to kick down at little people—at the people who simply aren’t smart enough to win the Bates Medal, the Nobel Prize. In our view, Krugman’s story—as told there—is quite weak-minded. But ever since the days of Nixon, “liberals” have loved to tell that story, thus harming progressive interests.

I read this and had to agree. Mockery of the have-littles has been a standard operating procedure of the Stevensonian mode of liberalism since, well, Stevenson.* What benefit can come to liberalism by being constantly on an intellectual and cultural offensive against working class Americans? Somewhere between nothing and less than zero. Somerby continues by describing the corporate embrace of conservative political measures to defeat the liberal gains of the New Deal. Their success, as both Krugman and Perlstein have documented, lay in the ability of the Movement Conservatives to leverage the arrogance and elitism endemic in the rising technocratic elite - the revolutionary saints. Somerby winds up and delivers a kock-out punch:

COOLICAN (5/15/08): Though it had been tried before, Perlstein writes, Nixon was the first to successfully exploit a devastating new narrative: the Democratic Party as enemy of the working man.

Perlstein says Nixon understood the anger and frustration of working-class people, the humiliation of being looked down upon by elitist, liberal betters. Why did Nixon understand this “deeply sedimented cultural narrative,” as Perlstein calls it? Because he’d faced it all his life.

In California, Ronald Reagan was also “successfully exploiting” that “devastating new narrative.” (For examples, read Perlstein’s Nixonland.) Endlessly, we thought of that devastating narrative in the past five days as we watched a string of spectacularly un-savvy liberals describe certain aspects of the past forty-seven years. (More on that next week.)

We “liberals!”We love to call the other side dumb! But has anyone ever been dumber than we are? Tomorrow, we’ll start a series about the crucial questions Perlstein was asked in the wake of his piece in the Post. Why are Democrats so bad at “messaging?” So bad at “pushing back?” Why is that Democrats and liberals keep getting defeated by “blatant and ridiculous falsehoods?”

Put it a slightly different way: If we had the most effective legislator, why can’t we get the cause of his lifetime passed? Part of the answer: We’re too busy assuring ourselves that those who defeat us are dumb.

Sound familiar? It is the alpha and omega of the Obama 2008 campaign, sneering at the socio-economic inferiors who they didn't need anymore to win the elections. Or, to quote Chris Bowers:
Out with Bubbas, up with Creatives: There should be a major cultural shift in the party, where the southern Dems and Liebercrat elite will be largely replaced by rising creative class types. Obama has all the markers of a creative class background, from his community organizing, to his Unitarianism, to being an academic, to living in Hyde Park to shopping at Whole Foods and drinking PBR. These will be the type of people running the Democratic Party now, and it will be a big cultural shift from the white working class focus of earlier decades. Given the demographics of the blogosphere, in all likelihood, this is a socioeconomic and cultural demographic into which you fit. Culturally, the Democratic Party will feel pretty normal to netroots types. It will consistently send out cultural signals designed to appeal primarily to the creative class instead of rich donors and the white working class.
Yup. Hope you creative types don't need health insurance.


*During one of Stevenson's presidential campaigns, allegedly, a supporter told him that he was sure to "get the vote of every thinking man" in the U.S., to which Stevenson is said to have replied, "Thank you, but I need a majority to win."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

New Government in Japan

The LDP is out, according to the BBC.

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) appears to have won a crushing victory. Their leader, Yukio Hatoyama, a political animal of the highest degree and the grandson of a former Prime Minister, has vowed to turn domestic policy more towards support of individual citizens and to be less corporatist and states that they will no longer ally so closely with the US.

It will be interesting to see if Mr. Hatoyama does bring change to the government or if it is only "change".

This development bears watching.


Station Fire

I had to post this image. It is on the home page of the LA Times right now, but will get changed out. Taken by Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times.

There wasn't a caption on the photo, but this is probably the Station fire bearing down on Acton. Two Los Angeles County firefighters were killed in a truck accident earlier today. The fire is climbing up Mount Wilson where most of the TV broadcast towers for the greater LA area are located, as well as an observatory.

Update - Here is an image of the fire on Mout Wilson. You can see the transmission towers:
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times / August 30, 2009)


Welcome to SoCal

Fun, sun and wildfires.

This is the view from Marina del Rey on the coast looking back at the Station Fire. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times / August 29, 2009) This photo is from the LA Times' web site photo gallery.

LA Times has the best general coverage since they are right in the middle of it and have a lot of practice covering this kind of disaster.

For those who like to track such things, here is a map of the fires, their anticipated paths, and the evacuation zones. The fires are burning in the foothills along the northern edge of the San Fernando Valley, almost due north of LA itself. It is a heavily populated area that backs onto wilderness areas. The terrain is a series of sharp, steep canyons that run for miles back into the hills and are packed with brush that hasn't burned in decades. This picture should give you an idea of the terrain and vegetation:

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times / August 30, 2009)
Firefighters defend a home on Canalda Drive in La CaƱada Flintridge.

The canyons act like funnels, bringing the fires straight down into the developed areas sitting at the mouths of the canyons.

The temperatures have been in triple digits with humidity almost zero. There's a little cooling today and tomorrow, but then temperatures are due to go back up again. The only saving grace at the moment is that we don't have Santa Ana wind conditions, which whips up the fires and makes them spread faster and more widely.

So far, San Diego county has not had any major fires break out, though there was a 1,000 acre blaze on Camp Pendleton at the north edge of the county. The company I work for provides IT infrastructure for the city and county (communications, portable data centers, mobile computing, command and control operations, etc.) when disasters hit, so we're all on alert until the rains come in November. We're keeping fingers crossed we don't have anything like the fires in 2007. A nice, quiet, low fire year would be just dandy, thankyouverymuch.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Why We Lose

The Incomparable One is writing a series on Why We Lose. The series starts with the August 25th post, and uses the health care debate as its focus. It is classic Somerby, with repetition and arch rhetoric, but there simply is no one else out there who does as thorough and meticulous a job of documenting the atrocities. He doesn't just claim; he quotes, he links, he builds the case and he will not give our side an inch when it comes to exposing Teh Dumb on parade.

Somerby identifies what he thinks is the most important question liberals have to answer, one that the pundits and political leaders on our side can't: How can a democratic society ever control the far right and its empty rhetoric? We see the same arguments being offered by the same hacks with the same level of insanity as was done a decade and more ago, and we still have no answer.

In the post of August 26th, Somerby dropped some of the repetition and got to the point (my emphasis):

In January, Obama suggested reseeding the National Mall—and that was turned into a toxic suggestion, one which had to be stripped from the stimulus package. In the same way, living will consultation—sorry, “death panels”—will now be stripped from health bills. And yet, we liberals still dream of the zipless debate—of the claim so clear and pure that it can’t be routed in some bizarre fashion. As we dream these dreamers’ dreams, we show that we still don’t understand the shape of our current predicament.
The zipless debate, like Jong's zipless fuck, is a fantasy of cleanliness, of over-awing the opposition through sheer brain power, of not having to cut deals or appeal to the material (physical, carnal) interests of the ordinary person. It is the fantasy of the boys in grad school to reshape the world into their own image just by being really, really smart. The problem is that they also live inside their fantasy world, imagining the world to be like a really cool, newly opened Whole Foods where people will of course shop and select only the most healthy, morally upright, selections, full of fiber and antioxidents.* We can have our political triumph by braining really hard and not have to exchange vital essenses with the hoi polloi.

Somerby laughs at this fantasy: "Can we talk? In years when no GOP congressman has been discovered sleeping with boys, it’s easy to defeat our proposals! " Why is that? Because unless extreme scandal drowns out the noise machine of the right, there is nothing that dares to compete with its bombast. Somerby then thinks about this situation, showing that you can be one of the really, really smart guys in grad school and not lose your ability to actually see the world in front of you. Agin, my emphasis:
To our ear, Simon and Henneberger were each describing a political system they can’t quite explain. One side gets to yell crazy things—and the other side is required to make intensely detailed presentations! And yet, the side which yells the crazy things is the side which constantly wins! It’s almost like a dream from Kafka—a dream our side can’t quite explain. Then too, we thought of a passage from Wittgenstein: “We feel as if we had to repair a torn spider’s web with our fingers.”

Our side tends to have a very hard time explaining that peculiar system—when we try to explain it at all. And yet, one thing is painfully clear: “It looks like the same thing is happening all over again,”as Henneberger said about the current drive for health reform. Indeed, we recently reread James Fallow’s famous and important Atlantic piece, “A Triumph of Misinformation,” about the way the Clinton health plan went down to defeat in 1994 (just click here).For all its fame, his famous piece could have been written today, about the latest such triumph we liberals have helped engineer.
Why are we trying to talk concepts when we are dealing with political survival? It's not that our side is so ethical or pure of motive. You only have to look at how quickly deals were cut to reward the merry banksters doing the Hanky Panky with the nation's wealth. We'll do high-minded, clean, behind closed doors, sophisticated financial fuck-them-over operations, no problemo!

It's the political battle for the support of the have-littles that they don't want to fight or do in such an inept and half-assed manner that you know they don't want to be there. This is tangled up in complicated ways with how the left conceptualizes who does and does not deserve the backing of the state to achieve justice and with a dream of technocratic, legalistic resolutions to the messy business of sorting out competing interests. We associate the visceral with the low, and jettison both policies and politicians that acknowledge how vulnerable we are.

The best and the brightest don't want to be identified with the losers.

I look forward to Somerby's analysis of messaging next week.


*As I do more and more cooking at home, both to economize and to enjoy my new kitchen, I become more aware of the way in which food snobbery and obesssion with body image maps very nicely onto the metaphors used by WFN to discuss politics. There is an unsettling voyuerism on the part of the Blogger Boyz (and not just them) when gazing at the body politic and imagining their relationship to it, how they want to handle it, what it should feel like, how it should move and behave in response to their desires. An intersection of body, gender, class and politics. They are actually considering putting sin taxes on "junk food" in California, punishing those who ingest lower order things. There's a book or two in there, somewhere.