September 30, 2008


As I said yesterday, our courageous right-wing has uncovered conclusive evidence proving that our current trouble is the fault of the Darkies and the Joos.

I also pointed out how it's also obviously the fault of the Homos—but that we just didn't know yet exactly how they did it. Well, now we do!

In a September 25th blog post titled 'The Nation Will Right Itself If It Fixes Sex', Christian Civil League of Maine Executive Director Michael Heath writes that the financial crisis facing Wall Street is a symptom of America's sinful sexual culture, including the acceptance of gay unions...

Heath goes on to list policy changes that would make God "crack a smile," including: End abortion rights and defund non-profit groups supporting it, amend state constitutions to ban gay marriage and eliminate domestic partnerships and civil unions for gay and lesbian couples...

COMING SOON: Why the witches—ie, all women except my mother, and I've got my suspicions about her—are to blame too.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:38 PM | Comments (12)


William Greider:

The political bedlam in Washington is as real as it gets...

In all of elected Washington, representatives are closest to the people and they know a vote for this outrageous measure is going to end the careers of some colleagues--maybe many of them. This time, the dissenters can claim principle and say they are voting with the folks, while also voting to save their own hides.

It adds another deep shock to the system, both in politics and economics, but what an invigorating moment for democracy.

David Cay Johnston:

Whether you favor the $700 billion bailout or not, the House vote today should make you cheer--loudly.


Because the majority vote against it shows that Washington is not entirely in the service of the political donor class, by which I mean Wall Street and the corporations who rely on it for their financing.

Dean Baker:

[T]he public refused to send their tax dollars to Wall Street banks run by incompetent bankers, and they insisted that their representatives in Congress listen to their wishes.

While the editorialists are busy denouncing members of Congress for surrendering to the vulgar masses, it's a good time to quickly check the score card. The United States is in a recession and facing the worst financial crisis in almost 80 years because the folks currently in charge were out to lunch.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:26 PM | Comments (21)

New Tomdispatch


We Have the Money
If Only We Didn't Waste It on the Defense Budget

By Chalmers Johnson

There has been much moaning, air-sucking, and outrage about the $700 billion that the U.S. government is thinking of throwing away on rich New York bankers who have been ripping us off for the past few years and then letting greed drive their businesses into a variety of ditches. In fact, we dole out similar amounts of money every year in the form of payoffs to the armed services, the military-industrial complex, and powerful senators and representatives allied with the Pentagon.

On Wednesday, September 24th, right in the middle of the fight over billions of taxpayer dollars slated to bail out Wall Street, the House of Representatives passed a $612 billion defense authorization bill for 2009 without a murmur of public protest or any meaningful press comment at all. (The New York Times gave the matter only three short paragraphs buried in a story about another appropriations measure.)

The defense bill includes $68.6 billion to pursue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is only a down-payment on the full yearly cost of these wars. (The rest will be raised through future supplementary bills.) It also included a 3.9% pay raise for military personnel, and $5 billion in pork-barrel projects not even requested by the administration or the secretary of defense. It also fully funds the Pentagon's request for a radar site in the Czech Republic, a hare-brained scheme sure to infuriate the Russians just as much as a Russian missile base in Cuba once infuriated us. The whole bill passed by a vote of 392-39 and will fly through the Senate, where a similar bill has already been approved. And no one will even think to mention it in the same breath with the discussion of bailout funds for dying investment banks and the like.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:20 PM | Comments (5)

John Caruso Is Funny


Oh, so funny.

(For a small dose of optimism, go here.)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:36 AM | Comments (4)

September 29, 2008

We Have Apprehended The Culprits!

My fellow Americans, I have good news. After an intense investigation, our courageous right-wing has discovered who's to blame for our current catastrophe.

It's who we suspected all along!!!!!

1. The Darkies

2. The Bleeding Heart Liberals, AKA The Joos

3. The Homos (pending)

4. Witches (pending)

Rick Perlstein has more.

UPDATE: After interrogation, the suspects have also admitted to using their sorcery to poison the town well.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:17 PM | Comments (24)

Abraham Lincoln Speaks Out On Public Money And Banks

This is Abraham Lincoln, then an Illinois state representative, speaking in the legislature on January 11, 1837. He's referring to a dispute between private shareholders of the Illinois State Bank:

It is an old maxim and a very sound one, that he that dances should always pay the fiddler. Now, sir, in the present case, if any gentlemen, whose money is a burden to them, choose to lead off a dance, I am decidedly opposed to the people's money being used to pay the fiddler...all this to settle a question in which the people have no interest, and about which they care nothing. These capitalists generally act harmoniously, and in concert, to fleece the people, and now, that they have got into a quarrel with themselves, we are called upon to appropriate the people's money to settle the quarrel.

Lincoln's speech was given just as one of the greatest speculative bubbles in US history was bursting. This was followed by the Panic of 1837, which led to a six-year contraction described by Milton Friedman as "the only depression on record comparable in severity and scope to the Great Depression."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:23 AM | Comments (17)

Nir Rosen On Lebanon

Nir Rosen has a new article out about Lebanon's (latest) descent into chaos, as usual aided and abetted by the US:

Omar and his friends followed the fatwas of scholars associated with al Qa’eda.

Omar’s sitting room was a shrine to jihad: he had a large collection of ammunition shells and grenades on display in a cabinet and framed pictures of the September 11 attacks – the Twin Towers aflame and a smouldering Pentagon – greeted visitors near the doorway. When his little boy wandered in, Omar asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, and the child, grinning, said “a mujahid!”...

I visited often in the spring and summer. Omar was never without his 9mm Glock pistol; it was always in his hand, his lap, or next to him on the table. The gun was another symbol of the spread of the Iraq war – like many Glocks I had seen in Lebanon, it had been smuggled into the country after being issued by the Americans to the Iraqi security forces.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:39 AM | Comments (1)

September 28, 2008

Insane From The Beginning

Stutts economist Robert Schiller has been warning about the US housing bubble since 2003. In his recent book The Subprime Solution: How Today's Global Financial Crisis Happened, and What to Do about It, he quotes the first line of a 1932 book with another long title, The Great American Land Bubble: The Amazing Story Of Land-Grabbing, Speculations, and Booms from Colonial Days to the Present Time. It's this:

America, from its inception, was a speculation.

Bizarre speculative bubbles have happened all over the world throughout history, so I don't know whether Americans are actually more vulnerable than other humans to this kind of mass psychosis. But it certainly seems like it.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:15 PM | Comments (4)

Thanks, Stanislav Petrov

Twenty-five years ago this weekend, people all over the world woke up and went about their lives, unaware that human civilization had just been saved from nuclear armageddon by Stanislav Petrov.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:49 PM | Comments (3)

Blancs Bonnets et Bonnets Blancs

By: Bernard Chazelle

That's what the French Communists used to call the other parties, which for them were indistinguishable.

I don't mean to rehash the obvious, but couldn't Obama at least pretend?

What struck me most about Friday's debate is how McCain and Obama agreed on virtually everything and made no bones about it. The only drink in town is cola, so let's debate whether it should be Pepsi or Coke.

About Russia, Obama said

I think Senator McCain and I agree for the most part on these issues.

Democracy in action. In case we didn't get the point, Obama added:

And to countries like Georgia and the Ukraine, I think we have to insist that they are free to join NATO.

Perhaps Obama could have pointed out that the large majority of Ukrainians do not want to join NATO. Or maybe he could explain to Americans why some day their sons and daughters may have to die, contractually, to save Tbilisi.

We have seen Afghanistan worsen, deteriorate. We need more troops there.

We wind down in Iraq so we can double down in Afghanistan, the ultimate unwinnable war.

Obama called Venezuela a "rogue state." A rogue state???

Then he called the Republican Guard of Iran a terrorist organization. Too bad Iran has no such thing. Hint: it's revolutionary. (I only imagine the reaction if Sarah Palin had made that blunder.) Of course McCain has been making the same mistake but he has the excuse of being senile. Anyway, Kyl-Lieberman is just another time the US shot itself in the foot, and it's sweet to know that Obama approves.

Obama as Reagan:

I actually believe that we need missile defense, because of Iran and North Korea

On torture:

I give Senator McCain great credit on the torture issue

Ah yes the "torture issue"... like early this year when McCain voted to make sure the CIA could engage in "beatings, electric or temperature shocks, forced nudity, mock executions, and the use of dogs."

Just today Obama told us he is fine with the $700 billion handout to the Masters of the Universe.

And so I wait, with bated breath, to see if Pepsi shall triumph over Coke.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 02:47 PM | Comments (32)

September 27, 2008

Clueless at the Top

By: Bernard Chazelle

To watch a bunch of economists predict the future is the perfect definition of a waste of time. Unless, that is, Nouriel Roubini is a panelist. The guy has been amazing. Not only he got his predictions right but his diagnosis, too. (Housing recession, sub-prime lending crisis trickling up the lending food chain, credit crunch and not just illiquidity, etc.) And he's done that against much of the establishment.

In this Jan 2007 WEF forum, world-class economists are being asked to forecast the next 18 months (which takes us almost to today). They are so optimistic that after their short presentation the moderator says almost in desperation:

Everyone sees nothing but blue skies ahead!

Then Roubini is asked to speak. Housing recession getting worse; credit crunch in mortgage market; hard landing ahead; lasting growth recession if not worse; spillover into consumption as people use their homes as ATM machines; etc.

The panel gangs up against him by telling him politely that he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. There is Laura Tyson, former Clinton NEC chair, and Jacob Frenkel telling us all is well. Frenkel is the current vice-chairman of ... AIG!

I attach the video in case you're interested, but if I were you I'd skip. But do check out this classic by Bird and Fortune: oldie but....

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 06:00 PM | Comments (9)


Nouriel Roubini:"Why the Treasury TARP Bailout is Flawed" (free sign-up required)

Paul Krugman: "Tricky Bailout Politics"

Dean Baker: "Bailout Conditions: Ending Welfare As We Know It"

Brad DeLong: "Time Not for a Bailout, but for a Nationalization"

Bill King: "An Alternative Plan for Fixing Credit & Housing"

Larry Grafstein and Jim Millstein: "Bailing Upward: Why Congress needs to suck it up and act—and then go even further"

TrueMajority: Pictures and video from Thursday's 251 anti-bailout rallies

Posted at 03:28 PM | Comments (3)

Funnier Than Sad? Or...Sadder Than Funny?

This is former evangelist Ted Haggard in the documentary Constantine's Sword. It was filmed when he was still pastor of the New Life megachurch in Colorado Springs, before he admitted to visiting a male prostitute and using meth.

As you'll see, Haggard might as well be wearing a t-shirt reading "I AM A HORRIBLY TORMENTED CLOSETED GAY MAN." In a way it's funny, especially since his church was a leader in the right-wing culture wars. But it's also incredibly sad. You want to go back in time and find 12 year-old Teddy Haggard, and tell him he's perfectly fine and worthy of love exactly as he is.

I generally don't get too worked up when people are discriminated against as adults, since I figure they've got the inner resources to deal with it. But I do find it upsetting to imagine the ways humanity's various bigotries wound and twist children. Poor Teddy. Truly god only knows what was done to him.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:52 AM | Comments (14)

September 26, 2008

New Group Blub

Our esteemed colleagues Jonathan Versen, Rob Payne, and Bob in Pacifica have created a group blub, Dead Horse. Recent recommendation: Bob on the way the American Heritage definition of fascism underwent an odd shift between their 1975 and 1993 editions.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:20 PM | Comments (5)

A Question About History

How have things turned out before when the President, Treasury Secretary, Federal Reserve Chairman, and a leading presidential contender all scream in public constantly about how we're on the verge of a giant financial meltdown? Really well, right?

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:42 AM | Comments (4)


Nouriel Roubini: "A 10 Step Plan to Resolve the Financial Crisis" (free sign up required)

Ian Welsh: "Why the Rest of the World Isn't Helping with the Bailout"

Glenn Hurowitz: "The Next Bull Market is Green"

Jerome a Paris: "Here's an idea: a National Investment Bank"

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:36 AM | Comments (4)

The Dems Rescue Wall Street

By: Bernard Chazelle

Paulson is a genius. Maybe, after all, he does deserve the half-billion bucks (not a typo) he's got stashed under his pillow. The man was head of Goldman Sachs yesterday and head of Treasury today. That means he is DOUBLY responsible for the financial meltdown of the century. And he is a Republican.

So, obviously, his biggest fans would have to be... Democratic Congressional leaders.

At the same time, [Barney] Frank, a strong Paulson ally, feels the secretary is being undercut in front of the president.“McCain and the House Republicans are undercutting the Paulson plan."
“This is the presidential campaign of John McCain undermining what Hank Paulson tells us is essential for the country.”

And to tell you how strongly the Dems feel about what's essential for the country,

Democratic leaders have warned that they will want at least a healthy Republican showing of 80 to 100 votes if they are going to ask their members to vote with the president.

Makes sense; if you're a Democrat, why in the world would you be in favor of anything that Republicans don't love?

What was it again about lesser evil?

(Not to belittle the Dems' spectacular achievements on Iraq, FISA, campaign finance, Patriot Act, etc.)

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 10:45 AM | Comments (9)

Another Perspective

In these days of economic turmoil, it's good see our lawmakers are reasoning with maturity and clarity:

"According to one GOP lawmaker, some House Republicans are saying privately that they'd rather "let the markets crash" than sign on to a massive bailout.

"For the sake of the altar of the free market system, do you accept a Great Depression?" the member asked."

I'd suggest asking a different but related question: for the sake of the altar of the free market system, do you accept a mob of 40 year-old former doctors and lawyers coming to John Boehner's house and cutting off his nuts with pruning shears?


—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:38 AM | Comments (12)

September 25, 2008

Just How Vicious, Greedy And Stupid Are We?

Jonah Goldberg posts this email from a reader:


I’m in my 40s. My IRAs and 401Ks are in the toilet and will take years to recover. We still have a ways to go on the DJIA before it approaches post-9/11, but I have faith we can get down there without much effort. Between me and my wife and 2 kids, we are on the hook for $40k for the bailout...

Based on this, I would wonder what planet we were living on if I heard McCain or Obama Friday night waxing poetic about reengaging North Korea to re-give up their nuclear ambitions, who was for the surge before the other guy was against it, or what to do about Iran, or Georgia or Chavez for that matter. My tolerance for these crackpots is nil. My tolerance for questions about what are now abstractions is even less. Our adversaries are creating additional crisis and are engaged in a defacto war already. Cancel the debate and earn your paycheck as a US Senator first. Secure the financial system. As to the foreign policy—the zeitgeist could be turning away from nuance and a lot more people could be ready to kick a little tail. The mood is changing and people are ticked. We don’t have an enemy like we had on 9/12 in this case, but I pity the next tin-pot that pushes a little too hard.

And then Goldberg updates the post with another email in response:

Amen! Amen! Amen!

Sometimes I think I’m alone and then I see an entry like this and I think – Thank God.

Holy crap. It's at moments like this I fervently pray I'm correct that America is too fat for fascism. But even if we are, we're not too fat for Timothy McVeigh X 10, particularly with a black-Arab-Muslim president.

Speaking of which: I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess both of Goldberg's confused, angry monkeys are white.

(via Cunning Realist)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:07 PM | Comments (20)

A Rich Harvest For Industrious Skull Farmers

Here's witch-hunting preacher Thomas Muthee praying over Sarah Palin in 2005 (video below, starting about 7:30):

MUTHEE: When we talk about transformation of a community, we are talking about God invading seven areas in our society...When we talk about transformation of a society, a community, it’s where we see God’s Kingdom infiltrate, influence seven areas in our society.

Number one is the spiritual aspect of our society...

[T]he second area whereby God wants to penetrate in our society is in the economic area....It is high time that we have top Christian businessmen, businesswomen, bankers...If you look at the Israelites, you know, that’s how they won. And that’s how they are, even today...

[T]he third area, it’s in the area of politics...I’m asking you today, we are asking you as the body of Christ in this valley, make a way for Sara...Make her way my God. Bring finances her way, even in the campaign in the name of Jesus...We want righteousness in this state. We want righteousness in this nation....We come in the hindrance of the enemy, standing in her way to there. In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus! Every form of witchcraft, it will be rebuked in the name of Jesus.

This is from the Church of the Subgenius' High Weirdness by Mail. It was published in 1988, when Sarah Palin was 24:

The kooks are our future. The average fifth-grader these days doesn't know whether Japan is a state or a city; wonders what happens when you get to the "edge" of the United States on a map...and even believes that the government is there to protect him!

The years to come promise incredibly fertile fields for the sowing of superstition, cultism, and pseudoscience; they'll grow so fast we'll wonder if there had ever really been an Age of Reason.

Make no mistake, it shall be a rich harvest for industrious Skull Farmers of every creed; the brains of the all-too-willing are out there, ripening...millions of potential vegetables just waiting to be plucked, shucked, and hauled off to market.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:28 PM | Comments (6)

What To Do Today

• Find an action near you saying NO to the Bush bailout.

• Read and sign Bernie Sanders' petition. Sanders' views on this are nothing radical—just basic common sense. Hence he is twelve million miles outside acceptable political discourse.

• Call your Senators and Representative at (202) 224-3121 and tell them to say NO to any plan without the strongest possible protections for taxpayers and homeowners. Don't be afraid to tell them how angry you are. Ian Welsh is reading the tealeaves and suspects Barney Frank may have already cut a deal with Bush, selling us all out. But if so, it may still be possible to stop it if members, both Democrats and Republicans, keep hearing (as they have for the past few days) how many of their constituents are extremely pissed off.

• Read Billmon's post from Tuesday about the dire possibilities the US economy now faces. The collapse of the housing bubble would be troublesome by itself, but probably not catastrophic. The danger is that it comes on top of our gigantic foreign debt, itself exacerbated by the trillion-dollar Iraq war and ever-higher oil prices. Getting out of this will require a type of enlightened worldwide leadership (and followership) that humans have displayed approximately zero times in history.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:00 AM | Comments (15)

September 24, 2008

Call On Me! Call On Me!

I know the answer!

The New York Times explains here how Sweden dealt with the early nineties collapse of a real estate bubble very similar to ours, but wonders why we're not following their advice:

Sweden took a different course than the one now being proposed by the United States Treasury. And Swedish officials say there are lessons from their own nightmare that Washington may be missing.

Sweden did not just bail out its financial institutions by having the government take over the bad debts. It extracted pounds of flesh from bank shareholders before writing checks. Banks had to write down losses and issue warrants to the government...

The tumultuous events of the last few weeks have produced a lot of tight-lipped nods in Stockholm. Mr. Lundgren even made the rounds in New York in early September, explaining what the country did in the early 1990s.

A few American commentators have proposed that the United States government extract equity from banks as a price for their rescue. But it does not seem to be under serious consideration yet in the Bush administration or Congress.

The reason is not quite clear.

The reason is actually very clear: Sweden is a first world democracy, where the people at the top feel a sense of responsibility to the rest of society, and the rest of society has the power to hold them accountable. The United States is more and more like a third world kleptocracy, where the people in charge have no interest other than looting the country, and no one has the power to stop them.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:35 AM | Comments (14)

September 23, 2008

Paulson's Plan Explained

By: Bernard Chazelle

Me, big banker going bankrupt! Hey, taxpayer, wanna buy my shitpile? Sure, how much is it worth? 80 cents to the dollar! Yeah, right, that crap is worth 10 cents to the dollar. I say 80! I say 10! I say 80! I say 10!

Paulson: Quiet children. I say we determine the price by asking a neutral, objective, trustworthy expert, like, say, another big banker going bankrupt! So what do you say, other big banker going bankrupt? How much is it worth? I say 90 cents to the dollar!

Congressional Chorus: That's a deal!

Pelosi, Frank, and the rest busy writing 700 billion checks: "How do you spell 90?"

Paulson: "N.I.N.E.T.Y.N.I.N.E."

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 03:55 PM | Comments (6)

*Fingers Crossed*

Whatever happens with the Wall Street bailout, I hope the recipients will take $30 million and endow a Hank Paulson Chair in Free Enterprise at AEI. Then the person in that position can spend the next forty years writing op-eds and going on TV telling us how if we just deregulate Wall Street it will make us all rich! rich! rich!

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:50 PM | Comments (5)

Phasing In the Audacity

By: Bernard Chazelle

The financial interventions of the past two weeks could end up costing the US taxpayer more than $1 trillion. Will it have consequences on President Obama's programs?

“Does that mean that I can do everything that I've called for in this campaign right away?” Obama said. “Probably not. I think we're going to have to phase it in."

Everything he's called for! Wow, the whole, full empty set!

This crisis is a godsend for Obama. Not only that'll help him get elected, but then his entire presidency can become a giant "phase-in." He can phase in the sick, the poor, and the guy who lost his home. Let's hope he can phase in the rain, too, so no one gets too wet in Tent City.

Funny how Wall Street never gets phased in.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 10:55 AM | Comments (20)

September 22, 2008

New Tomdispatch


The Evolution of John McCain
Why He Picked Sarah Palin, Carbon Queen

By Chip Ward

Despite the media feeding frenzy, we still may be asking ourselves, "Just who exactly is Sarah Palin?" Mixed in with the Davy-Crockett-meets-SuperMom vignettes -- all those moose hunting, ice fishing, snowmobiling, baby-juggling, and hockey-momming moments -- we've also learned that she doesn't care much for her former brother-in-law and wasn't afraid to use her office to go after his job as a state trooper; that she was for the "bridge to nowhere" before she was against it; that she's against earmarks unless they benefit her constituents; that she can deliver a snappy wisecracking speech, thinks banning books in libraries is okay, considers herself a pit bull with lipstick, and above all else, wants to drill the ever-lovin' daylights out of every corner of her home state (which John McCain's handlers have somehow translated into being against Big Oil, since she insisted on a marginally bigger cut of the profits for Alaskans).

Oh, and -- not that this is very important to Americans or the planet -- she now thinks that global warming might possibly be human-made… sorta… though she didn't before, despite the fact that the state she governs is on the frontline of climate change. And, of course, she's a classic right-wing, fundamentalist Christian: against abortion -- check; against same-sex marriage -- check; against stem-cell research -- check; favors teaching Creationism in public schools -- check.

It's that last item, her willingness to put Creationism up against the teaching of evolutionary science in the classroom on a he-says-she-says basis, that's far more revealing of just who our new Republican vice presidential candidate is than we generally assume. It deserves the long, hard look that it hasn't yet gotten. Most Democrats and progressives tend to think of the teaching of Creationism as a mere sidebar item on their agenda of political don't-likes, but it's not. Sarah Palin's bias towards Creationism is a window into her political soul and a measure of John McCain's hypocrisy.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:24 PM | Comments (17)

In Shocking Systemic Failure, Ivy Graduate Does Something Useful With Life

As we know, the purpose of a Stutts education is to gain a patina of culture and erudition before you head off to Wall Street to destroy the world economy. Yet to the embarrassment of everyone at Stutts, Jason Aramburu '07 has somehow escaped and started Ecovolve, a company that aims to optimize the production of biochar and energy via biomass. A worthwhile interview with Aramburu is available at Biopact.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 03:15 PM | Comments (2)


Write and call your representative and senators plus Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid this morning and tell them to tell the Bush administration NO on their proposed $700 billion handout to Wall Street. Congress obviously can propose a much better plan of its own, but the first thing to do is kill this monstrosity.

Congress main line
(202) 224-3121

Write your representative

Write your senators

Nancy Pelosi
(202) 225-0100
Write Pelosi (corrected)

Harry Reid
(202) 224-3542
Write Reid

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:30 AM | Comments (25)

September 21, 2008

Zero-Sum Game

By: Bernard Chazelle

One of the many privileges of my line of work is that I get to do much of it while walking, alone, by a beautiful lake. I usually take a pen and a piece of paper but I rarely use them. Calculations are a tiny part of doing math.

Today, I saw a man fishing. A woman walked by and asked him, "Any luck?" He replied, "No." Then a fish swam by and asked the other fish, "Any luck?" They replied, "Yes."

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 05:26 PM | Comments (15)

The Timing of a Comic Genius

By: Bernard Chazelle

No, not Lenny Bruce, John McCain. Just hot off the press, McCain's latest opus on health care:

Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.

The last decade in banking has produced.... a nationalized banking system. Does that mean a few years of McCain would produce a nationalized health care system?

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 02:13 PM | Comments (11)

Upside To The Bailout

With all the gloom and doom about giving Hank Paulson $700 billion to hand out to his friends, with no oversight of any kind, it's easy to miss the upside to the bailout.

For instance:

1. An early proposal that would have allowed Wall Street executives to literally eat 100 million Americans has been discarded as "politically unfeasible."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:46 PM | Comments (6)

September 20, 2008

The Greatest

By: Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 07:27 PM | Comments (7)

Greider: "Bailout Plan A Historic Swindle"


Financial-market wise guys, who had been seized with fear, are suddenly drunk with hope. They are rallying explosively because they think they have successfully stampeded Washington into accepting the Wall Street Journal solution to the crisis: dump it all on the taxpayers. That is the meaning of the massive bailout Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has shopped around Congress. It would relieve the major banks and investment firms of their mountainous rotten assets and make the public swallow their losses--many hundreds of billions, maybe much more. What's not to like if you are a financial titan threatened with extinction?

If Wall Street gets away with this, it will represent an historic swindle of the American public--all sugar for the villains, lasting pain and damage for the victims. My advice to Washington politicians: Stop, take a deep breath and examine what you are being told to do by so-called "responsible opinion." If this deal succeeds, I predict it will become a transforming event in American politics--exposing the deep deformities in our democracy and launching a tidal wave of righteous anger and popular rebellion. As I have been saying for several months, this crisis has the potential to bring down one or both political parties, take your choice.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:23 AM | Comments (14)

September 19, 2008

McCain: Let’s Make Health Care More Like Banking

One of Paul Krugman's readers sent him this quote from a recent article "by" John McCain called "Better Health Care at Lower Cost for Every American" (pdf):

Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.

The only way McCain could be doing more to help Obama win is if he went on stage for the first debate next Friday, pulled a kitten out of his pocket, and bit off its head. Yet despite McCain's assistance, I still have faith the Democrats may manage to pull this out of the fire at the last second and lose.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:31 PM | Comments (11)

True Majority Cordially Invites You To Spend Next Friday In Hell On Earth

You can RSVP here. And it's free, so while I think this is a very hard choice, we think the price is worth it.


—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 03:24 PM | Comments (20)

Good Call!

Alan Greenspan was knighted by the Queen of England in 2002. Here's the citation announced at the time by the British Treasury:

The award is in recognition of his outstanding contribution to global economic stability and the benefit...realized from the wisdom and skill with which he has led the U.S. Federal Reserve Board.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:06 AM | Comments (18)

September 18, 2008

International Picking Up Garbage On The Beach Day

My sister wants you to know this Saturday is International Coastal Cleanup Day, which she describes as "the most fun day of the year." It's sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy, though you can also sign up to volunteer if you live near a large lake or river.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:39 PM | Comments (0)

The Rule Of Thumb

There's a rule of thumb for American politics that will never steer you wrong: if the U.S. political class and D.C. press corps worship a political figure and squeak endlessly about how he's a Brave Man of Honor and Wisdom and Accomplishment, that political figure is one of the most dangerous lying scumbags on earth.

What's interesting about this period of history is how reality has simultaneously overtaken the PR campaigns of the Brave Men from each branch of US society.

Military: Colin Powell, the Trustworthy Truthtelling Honorable Gentleman, turns out to be the kind of guy who lies us into a giant meatgrinder war that will cost $3 trillion.

Economic: Alan Greenspan, the Financial Maestro of Prosperous Perspicacity, turns out to be the kind of guy who causes the meltdown of the entire world financial system.

Political: John McCain, the Veteran Maverick Straighttalker Courage-Dude, turns out to be the kind of guy who cannot describe the color of the sky without lying and wants to blow up the world.

I wonder if there's a single member of Washington society who will ever see this pattern in their judgment. Probably not, unless the remaining Brave Men screw things up so badly that we're conquered by Belize.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:34 PM | Comments (30)

New Tomdispatch


Wall Street and Washington
How the Rules of the Game Have Changed

By Steve Fraser

What is Washington to do as the financial system collapses? Clearly, stark differences in approach as well as in public policy have already emerged. Bail-out Bear Stearns and pump up the brokerage and investment business with new lines of credit. Nationalize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on the backs of the taxpayer -- but let Lehman drown. Tell the financial community to save itself, after which Bank of America salutes and buys Merrill Lynch. Then, the Fed gets cold feet and decides it can't let an institution the size of the insurance giant AIG go under as well. Washington is left staring into the abyss. The old rules no longer apply...

During the nineteenth century, Washington was generally happy to do favors for Wall Street financiers. Railroad tycoons, who often used those railroads as vehicles of extravagant speculation, enjoyed subsidies, tax exemptions, loans, and a whole smorgasbord of financial fringe benefits supplied by pliable Congressmen and Senators (not to mention armadas of state and local officials)...

By early in the twentieth century, however, the savage anarchy of the financial marketplace had been at least partially domesticated under the reign of the greatest financier of them all, J.P. Morgan. Ever since the panic of 1907, the legend of Morgan's heroics in single-handedly stopping a meltdown that threatened to become worldwide, the iron discipline he imposed on more timorous bankers, has been told and re-told each time an analogous implosion looms.

Indeed, last week's news carried its fair share of 1907-Morgan stories, trailing in their wake an implicit wistfulness. They all asked, in effect: Where is the old boy when we need him?

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:59 AM | Comments (1)

September 17, 2008

Bird II: "Loverman" and "Summertime"

By: Bernard Chazelle

One day, Bird was walking on Broadway with 50 cents in his pocket, his entire fortune. He bumped into a blind beggar playing the accordion. "Can you play 'All the Things You Are'?" The accordionist said yes and obliged. Bird turned to his friend and say "Whoa, he can play the chords!" He dropped 25 cents into the man's bowl and walked on. Half-an-hour later, Bird walked back and heard the same music again: he dropped his last 25 cents.

Nat Hentoff likes to tell this anecdote. Once, at a bar, Bird insisted on playing country music on the jukebox. He had no patience with the jibes of other jazzmen present that these were the corniest of sounds. "No," Bird insisted, "they're telling stories that are real to them. I want to hear what they're saying. I want to hear their stories."

He heard the stories. And he told them, too. Bird always thought of his music as story telling.

Charlie Parker felt deeply about racism and the exploitation of his music that went with it. When Babs Gonzales tried to get him off drugs, he snapped:

"Wait until everybody gets rich off your style and you don't have any bread, then lecture me about drugs."

Yet he did all he could to keep Red Rodney, a Jewish white trumpeter from Philly, off heroin. He failed. When he toured in the South with Rodney, a true friend, he had him pass off as a black albino to get around the ban on mixed-race bands. He'd boss him around on stage ostentatiously, "Come on, boy, get me my horn," clearly enjoying the reverse racial stereotype. When Bird moved to California, he was met with incomprehension: "They all hate my music." He ended up in a mental institution.

Bird's music is like Mozart played in fast-forward. Bird's ability to say so much in so little time is unmatched. In a one-minute solo, he gives you enough musical ideas to build the foundation of a whole symphony. But Bird won't come to you. You have to come to him. But once you do, I guarantee you, you won't let go.

Bird's tone is fabulous, and very unique. He's one of the easiest jazz instrumentalists to recognize. The man really was a tenor sax player who happened to play alto. He used an unplayable reed (much like Stevie Ray Vaughn set his guitar to be virtually unplayable by anyone unwilling to bleed for it). Perhaps only the trumpeter Clifford Brown could match his intense warmth. Bird was first and foremost a bluesman. Unlike, say, John Coltrane, who could outblues anyone but was not a blues musician at heart, Bird's bebop's innovations were all rooted in the Kansas-City blues of his youth.

I included two pieces that Bird aficionados love to hate.

On Lover Man, Bird can barely play, so devastating is his withdrawal from heroin. He misses his intro and barely makes it through. That same night he set fire to his hotel room and ended up spending 6 months at Camarillo State Hospital's psychiatric ward. Bird never forgave his producer for releasing this session. But I agree with Charles Mingus that it is one the most poignant pieces of music ever recorded.

Summertime is part of the "Charlie Parker with Strings" recordings that the producer Norman Granz agreed to put together to commercialize Bird's music. It's the sort of sell-out music that snobs and purists despise. I love it, partly for an anecdotal reason. Bird kept referring to this session as one of the happiest moments of his life. His dream was to be Wynton Marsalis. While he had to endure the "You boys" and enter hotels through the kitchen door, Bird craved respectability. His secret ambition was to go to Paris to study composition. His ultimate fantasy was to have dinner with Stravinsky and Picasso. Playing "With Strings" was the closest he ever got to it. Some of the tunes were recorded at Carnegie Hall. Some of the musicians included members of the Boston Symphony. The whole gig was his idea, not Granz's. It gave Bird his fondest musical memories.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 06:58 PM | Comments (11)

Blougger Health

Somehow I missed all of this while it was happening: Teresa Nielsen Hayden had a heart attack last week, but is now out of the hospital and already posting again. Teresa, please get well soon.

You likely know Brian Beutler of the Media Consortium was shot in Washington back in July during an attempted robbery. He's expected to make a full recovery, and as he does, he's started posting again at his site. Stop by and say hello.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:04 PM | Comments (0)


I don't know how to live in a universe where Democrats run competent ads about genuine life-and-death issues. What kind of food do people eat in this dimension?

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:00 PM | Comments (45)

September 16, 2008

New Tomdispatch

Video of Tariq Ali discussing this piece is underneath the excerpt.


The American War Moves to Pakistan
Bush's War Widens Dangerously

By Tariq Ali

The decision to make public a presidential order of last July authorizing American strikes inside Pakistan without seeking the approval of the Pakistani government ends a long debate within, and on the periphery of, the Bush administration. Senator Barack Obama, aware of this ongoing debate during his own long battle with Hillary Clinton, tried to outflank her by supporting a policy of U.S. strikes into Pakistan. Senator John McCain and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin have now echoed this view and so it has become, by consensus, official U.S. policy.

Its effects on Pakistan could be catastrophic, creating a severe crisis within the army and in the country at large. The overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are opposed to the U.S. presence in the region, viewing it as the most serious threat to peace.

Why, then, has the U.S. decided to destabilize a crucial ally? Within Pakistan, some analysts argue that this is a carefully coordinated move to weaken the Pakistani state yet further by creating a crisis that extends way beyond the badlands on the frontier with Afghanistan. Its ultimate aim, they claim, would be the extraction of the Pakistani military's nuclear fangs. If this were the case, it would imply that Washington was indeed determined to break up the Pakistani state, since the country would very simply not survive a disaster on that scale.

In my view, however, the expansion of the war relates far more to the Bush administration's disastrous occupation in Afghanistan. It is hardly a secret that the regime of President Hamid Karzai is becoming more isolated with each passing day, as Taliban guerrillas move ever closer to Kabul.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 03:01 PM | Comments (5)

Greg Mankiw Is Funny!

Greg Mankiw is an ultra-fancy economics professor at Harvard who teaches a famous introductory class there. Here's what he wrote on his blog yesterday:

Today is the first day of Harvard's academic year, and the first day of a new year of ec 10. I will give the introductory lecture at noon.

I would like to thank all my friends on Wall Street for doing so much to spark interest in economic issues. You have gone beyond the call of duty, and your timing could not have been better.

Ha ha ha! That's quite droll!

But here's what Professor Mankiw is too funny to mention: he was Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers from 2003-2005, during some of the prime years of the housing bubble's inflation. Thus there are probably fewer than five people on earth who had more power to get things under control. Yet not only did Mankiw do nothing whatsoever, when I interviewed him for an article in 2005 (after he left the White House and returned to Harvard), he become extremely agitated at the notion that a housing bubble even existed.

Hence, he should get a large, large chunk of the credit for managing to "spark interest in economic issues." I guess he's just too modest to bring it up!

ALSO: I'm going to go out on a limb and guess there's a connection between Mankiw's White House performance on the housing bubble and the impressive number of "friends on Wall Street" he possesses.

AND: Besides being so funny, Mankiw is a hero to the oppressed.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:18 AM | Comments (9)

September 15, 2008

The Tyranny of the Ironical Voice

By: Bernard Chazelle

I was listening to NPR in the car today and they aired brief excerpts from an old interview of David Foster Wallace, the novelist who killed himself yesterday. I wish I could impress you with a penetrating analysis of "Infinite Jest," but I'll admit I haven't read the book.

By coincidence, I'd just been thinking I'd like to write a post on humor as soon as I can find the time (a post likely to meet with the same approval from the crowds as the one on western music received).

Wallace made a fascinating observation, not about humor per se but about a certain post-modern attitude that I've witnessed again and again. (I paraphrase.)

My biggest fear today is how to talk about anything that means anything without sounding cliche or uncool or unhip. There's an absolute terror that goes along with it. If the greatest sin in the past was obscenity, the greatest sin today is to appear naive, so somebody can give you that extra cool smile and devastate you with that one line that puts a hole in your sad balloon.

David Foster Wallace, by the way, sounded like quite an extraordinary human being. There was more intelligence in that 10 minute conversation than I've heard on the radio in decades.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 08:47 PM | Comments (22)

Barack Obama: How Hard Should He Be Punched?

If Obama somehow manages to beat the odds and lose this election, I plan to go to one of his subsequent public appearances and punch him in the face.

Such a punching is richly deserved for his repeated statements like this:

The situation with Lehman Brothers and other financial institutions is the latest in a wave of crises that are generating enormous uncertainty about the future of our financial markets...

The challenges facing our financial system today are more evidence that too many folks in Washington and on Wall Street weren’t minding the store. Eight years of policies that have shredded consumer protections, loosened oversight and regulation, and encouraged outsized bonuses to CEOs while ignoring middle-class Americans have brought us to the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression.

I certainly don’t fault Senator McCain for these problems, but I do fault the economic philosophy he subscribes to. It’s a philosophy we’ve had for the last eight years – one that says we should give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else.

Uh huh.

[BARACK OBAMA and JOE BIDEN walk onstage to loud applause]

OBAMA: Yes, I'm running for president, and we're witnessing the greatest financial implosion since the Great Depression. But I want to be absolutely clear about one thing: my opponent bears no responsibility.

BIDEN: Also, John McCain is a maverick POW and the greatest American who's ever lived! MCCAIN-PALIN 08!!!

I understand that Obama has higher priorities than winning—keeping his biggest financial backers happy, remaining a member of The Club that he's scratched and clawed his way into, etc. But you'd think he'd have enough of an ego that, despite all that, he'd still want to be president. Apparently not.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:53 AM | Comments (62)

New Tomdispatch

This is part two of a three-part series by Frida Berrigan on the Pentagon's corporatization. Part one is here.


Military Industrial Complex 2.0
Cubicle Mercenaries, Subcontracting Warriors, and Other Phenomena of a Privatizing Pentagon

By Frida Berrigan

Seven years into George W. Bush's Global War on Terror, the Pentagon is embroiled in two big wars, a potentially explosive war of words with Tehran, and numerous smaller conflicts – and it is leaning ever more heavily on private military contractors to get by.

Once upon a time, soldiers did more than pick up a gun. They picked up trash. They cut hair and delivered mail. They fixed airplanes and inflated truck tires.

Not anymore. All of those tasks are now the responsibility of private military corporations. In the service of the Pentagon, their employees also man computers, write software code, create integrating systems, train technicians, manufacture and service high-tech weapons, market munitions, and interpret satellite images.

People in ties or heels, not berets or fatigues, today translate documents, collect intelligence, interpret for soldiers and interrogators, approve contracts, draft reports to Congress, and provide oversight for other private contractors. They also fill prescriptions, fit prosthetics, and arrange for physical therapy and psychiatric care. Top to bottom, the Pentagon's war machine is no longer just driven by, but staffed by, corporations.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:22 AM | Comments (4)

September 14, 2008

Rick Perlstein Pokes Through The Sludge

Rick Perlstein reviews a memoir by Terry McAuliffe—Bill Clinton's golfing buddy, former chairman of the Democratic party, and friend to billionaires everywhere—here.

It's even more horrifying than you'd assume. Given the people who run the party, it's amazing there are any elected Democratic officials anywhere in America.

MORE: It turns out McAuliffe may run for Governor of Virginia in 2009. Any Virginians reading this might look into the two Democrats already in the race, Brian Moran and Creigh Deeds. I don't know anything about them, but it would be hard for them to be worse than McAuliffe unless they plan to reinstitute feudalism.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 03:44 PM | Comments (12)

A Competition We Always Win

By: Bernard Chazelle

Yes, we all have our disagreements about the Middle East. You say it needs more of this. I say it requires more of that. And the debate goes on. But there is one thing on which we surely all agree: what the region needs right now, urgently and desperately, is more weapons!

Thank God someone was listening in Washington!

From tanks, helicopters and fighter jets to missiles, remotely piloted aircraft and even warships, the Department of Defense has agreed so far this fiscal year to sell or transfer more than $32 billion in weapons and other military equipment to foreign governments, compared with $12 billion in 2005. [...] The trend, which started in 2006, is most pronounced in the Middle East...

The NYT calls it

"one of President Bush's most lasting legacies..."

Most lasting, indeed. I bet in 200 years kids will still have their limbs blown up because of a Bush legacy buried in the sand of a Lebanese beach.

But Mr. Lemkin, of the Pentagon, said that with so many nations now willing to sell advanced weapons systems, the United States could not afford to be too restrictive in its own sales.

“Would you rather they bought the weapons and aircraft from other countries?” he said. “Because they will.”

Damn right! And when you knock on that door to tell mom that her son was killed in action, wouldn't you relish the chance to add these soothings words: "But ma'am, be proud, his brains were blown out by a US-made cluster bomb, none of that Chinese shit, you know!"

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 10:23 AM | Comments (11)

September 13, 2008

Michael Kinsley Furious At Americans For Believing The Wrong Lies

There is nothing funnier than corporate liberals getting angry when lots of Americans believe the right-wing's lies.

For instance: Michael Kinsley is really mad at everyone for falling for all the lies told by McCain!

Why Do Lies Prevail?
by Michael Kinsley

[T]he routine acceptance of obvious lies now corrodes our politics...

In a democracy, obvious lies and obvious liars should be self-defeating. Why aren’t they?

Of course, it IS terrifying how many people believe the right's craziest lies. But it's a little hard to take from Kinsley, who's spent his entire life trying to make Americans believe his own, preferred lies.

There are his economic lies. For instance, Kinsley will tell you: "free trade" is great!

Wow, that's persuasive! Just be sure not to notice that EVERY BITE OF FOOD Michael Kinsley has eaten for the past thirty years has been paid for by massive government-enforced protectionism, in the form of copyrights. (And it's not just that he's a writer. He's also married to a woman who used to run Bill Gates' foundation.)

And then there are his foreign policy lies. For example, Kinsley wants you to know: the Downing Street Memo didn't record Richard Dearlove, the head of British intelligence, reporting back to Tony Blair on the views of "actual administration decision-makers." It could have been just "mood and gossip of 'Washington,'" meaning "the usual freelance chatterboxes."

Huh, I never thought of it that way! I will be sure to ignore the in-depth reporting about how Dearlove was actually talking about his meeting with George Tenet and others at CIA headquarters...just as anyone would assume if they possessed a BRAIN LARGER THAN A WALNUT.

That's just a sampling, of course. I will document all of the rest of Kinsley's lies as soon as God grants me an extra lifetime.

So: the widespread acceptance of the right's lies is an extremely serious problem. But they will always be believed if the only other thing people are presented with are Kinsley's lies. Hence, if you're worried about all the knuckleheads who believe Obama's a Muslim, Michael Kinsley is your deadliest enemy.

PLUS: The Washington Post, which has lied to the people of Ohio for 100 years, is furious that Ohioans believe the wrong lies about Obama. The New York Times, which has lied to the people of Egypt for 100 years, is furious that Egyptians believe the wrong lies about 9/11.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:08 PM | Comments (23)

September 12, 2008

Dear Nature: Please Don't Kill All Of Us

I visited Galveston a few years ago for a wedding. It's amazing anyone lives there—it's just a long sand bar a mile wide and two inches above sea level. (See for yourself.) While there, I could easily imagine how 6,000 people were killed in the Hurricane of 1900.

It's frightening to think there's anyone who hasn't left, especially because it's too late now to drive across the long bridge to the mainland. This is a picture from a few hours ago; if I'm reading the sign correctly, I walked along the seawall right here. I am mentally urging the person standing there to run away.


—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:47 PM | Comments (4)

Scott Horton Debates Some Guy

My ebuddy Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio recently debated right-wing "terrorism" "expert" Harvey Kushner at Texas A&M. According to Kusher, the invasion of Iraq was "an experiment."

The video starts automatically below the fold.

I've spoken to Scott on Antiwar Radio twice: once about George Tenet and once about William Kristol.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:36 PM | Comments (13)

Our Control Of Hollywood Is About To End

I (along with thousands of others, I assume) just received this email:

From: Jeff Hunt <***>
Sent: Friday, September 12, 2008 8:24:18 AM
Subject: You've controlled Hollywood long enough...

We’re taking it back.

I'm guessing this will be a comedic success on par with the 1951 Soviet romp, "Abot And Costollo Meet The Bloody-Handed Capitalist Warlords."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:47 AM | Comments (6)

September 11, 2008

The Class Struggle

This is an interesting observation by former Bush speechwriter David Frum about Nicole Wallace. Wallace was previously a Bush apparatchik, and is now an apparatchik in the McCain campaign:

Did you happen to see this clip featuring Jay Carney of Time and Nicole Wallace of the McCain campaign? If not, do please click here—it's very short. Carney asks when Palin will take questions from the press. Wallace dismisses the idea. "Who cares?" she answers.

So here's why I care.

A question I am often asked when I give talks or lectures is: Why did the Bush communication effort end so badly?...

My answer is that the ultimate failure was encoded into the initial success. The president's communication team—of which Nicole Wallace was an important part—shared the same disdain of "elites" that permeates so much of my pro-Palin correspondence. It was not just the media elite that they disregarded. (Who could blame them for that?) It was the policy elite too. When the president wished to advocate, eg a tax cut, he did not argue his case before the Detroit Economic Club or send a surrogate to Jackson Hole. He made a rally speech before cheering supporters. That made for effective soundbites and exciting images. But it abdicated any effort to make an argument that could convince people who were not predisposed to be convinced.

It's always tempting to assume the Bushistas, when behind closed doors, sip champagne and wear monocles while sharing a hearty laugh over the rubes falling yet again for their attacks on "the elites." After all, they ARE the elites. But to large degree, their anger is quite honestly felt. Here's why:

To the extent any genuine class war takes place in US politics, it's not between top-hat wearing industrialists and the proles. That's much too one-sided to be a war. Instead, the war is between the truly rich and upper middle class technocrats—ie, doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc.

Both the truly rich and the technocrats possess power, but it comes from different sources. The truly rich have the money. The technocrats have the credentials and specialized skills that make society run.

In most industrialized countries, the rich and the technocrats have made peace with each other. The rich accept they must share some power with the technocrats, while the technocrats accept the rich will always be the senior partners. In return, the rich get a well functioning society, while the technocrats get a big share of the good stuff themselves. And the two groups are united against sharing with the remaining 80% of society.

But as America has gotten less and less middle class, the power of the technocrats has eroded. At the same time, the rich have begun to bitterly resent that technocrats have ANY power.

You could see this phenomenon in purified form in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Saddam's moron son Uday would go to meetings with Iraqi scientists and wave his gold-plated gun around and scream at them for not enriching uranium fast enough. And Uday had the same kind of contempt for book-learnin' displayed by George H.W. Bush's moron son W. Meanwhile, the Iraqi scientists thought Uday was a dangerous cretin. If they could have, they definitely would have joined MoveOn.

We're not at Iraq levels yet, but US society is beginning to take on something of that flavor. The truly rich are so used to instant gratification that they're consumed with fury when the technocrats inform them reality won't grant them their every desire. Rather than accepting they can't transform the entire mideast into a society that worships Tax Cut Jesus, the rich blame the technocrats for purposefully obstructing their cunning plan.

What's happening now is the technocracy is organizing itself to fight back. MoveOn, the Obama campaign, blogland—that's the technocracy in action. But the only way they'll win is by allying themselves to the 80% of Americans who have essentially no power. And technocrats can almost never bring themselves to identify downward. (I didn't get a PhD in mechanical engineering so I'd have to join no union!) Meanwhile, the 80% can smell the fact that many technocrats do have contempt for them and have no intention of sharing real power—making the 80% vulnerable to rhetorical attacks on the technocratic elite.

But in any case, the resentment Nicole Wallace & co. feel towards "elites" is no act. They hate and fear any form of power that's not money.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:45 PM | Comments (27)

"Desolation Row"

By: Bernard Chazelle

One day, I decided that Dylan's lyrics were not really about life, death, love, and the absurdity of the human condition. They were really about the circus. Then everything made sense.

The circus is in town...
And the Good Samaritan, he's dressing.
He's getting ready for the show.
He's going to the carnival tonight
On Desolation Row.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 07:54 PM | Comments (4)

Whistleblower Documents McCain Abuse Of Power

Matt Stoller:

A whistleblower is coming forth against John and Cindy McCain, and the picture he is painting is not a pretty one. You've probably heard about Cindy McCain stealing prescription drugs from her charity in the 1990s. Today, Tom Gosinski, her former employee and a close friend of the McCain's, came out on the record about the entire sordid episode. And it appears that McCain used his Senate staff and resources to cover up Cindy's drug use, and potentially to prevent the Drug Enforcement Agency from investigating his wife's theft of illegal prescription drugs. John McCain certainly used his political connections to begin a campaign of intimidation against Gosinski, because at the time - this was after the Keating 5 scandal - another major scandal would have derailed his career. Gosinski stayed quiet out of fear until today; a recent fight with cancer has strengthened his resolve. As he told me today, if he can beat cancer, he can go on the record regarding how the McCain's do business.

Raw Story has more.

John Avarosis looks at the way a Washington Post interview with Gosinski somehow disappeared.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:02 PM | Comments (2)

Today Is The Seventh Anniversary Of An Enormous Opportunity

Time to rerun this.

Seven years ago today I would never believed it possible that Bush could fail to catch bin Laden, yet (1) get reelected and (2) maybe even get a Republican successor elected this year. It's a testament to the right's near-total control of our political system. They do good work.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:23 AM | Comments (13)

September 10, 2008

Oh, If Only Multimillionaires With Their Own TV Programs Had The Opportunity To Communicate With America

David Letterman unleashed an impressive jeremiad about global warming on Monday night. Of course, since it's illegal to discuss reality on American TV, he'll be in jail soon.

But while I appreciated most of what he said, one part was extremely irritating: the way he blames our situation on a lack of "leadership," and then looks everywhere but at himself. It's reminiscent of Katie Couric describing how distressed she was, as host of the Today Show, that the march toward war with Iraq wasn't being "properly challenged by the right people."

If only there were someone who could go on national television and question this madness! But who?!?!

LETTERMAN: I'll tell you why it's too late. We've had no leadership. Let's say this began in 1980. We've had no leadership. Nobody in the White House. No Republican, no Democrat. Nobody has stepped forward. We haven't had leadership. Nobody has come forth.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:36 AM | Comments (28)

September 09, 2008

Charlie Parker I: "Hot House"

By: Bernard Chazelle

America has produced many geniuses, none greater than Charlie (Bird) Parker. Nobody plays bebop today, just as no one speaks Latin, but Bird and his associates wrote the grammar of modern jazz. What you hear today in any jazz club is what bebop begat, its progeny.

Downbeat Magazine, a prominent jazz publication with a long, storied, racist tradition, awarded Bird and Dizzy Gillespie their annual trophies for 1951.

"You boys got anything more to say?"

Funny the "boys" have yet to utter a single word when they are asked if they have more to say. Ain't too sure how people talked in the 50s but I bet Isaac Stern was never addressed as "You boy" by a conductor at Carnegie Hall. This relentless lack of respect literally killed Charlie Parker, who shared with the likes of Mozart and Proust the inner certainty that he was a genius, yet one never satisfied with his work. Like Mozart, he was blessed with a phenomenal musical memory. He would read a long, complex score only once and memorize every chord change. The only musician on earth Charlie Parker could not outplay was his idol and mentor, Art Tatum.

"Hot House" is based on a Cole Porter chord progression. (Many bebop tunes were inspired by Broadway musicals.) It adheres to the classical format of the genre. First, you've got the unison head (0:50-1:28): a signature bebop device that (IMHO) must have been invented to dull your mind before the amazing solo hits you on the head! (Mozart himself was no stranger to these borderline-manipulative games of contrast.) Note how the pianist, Dick Hyman, completes Diz's unresolved ending at 2:50. That's a beautiful jazz tradition that you rarely (never?) see in classical music.

Beginning at 3:30, the drummer and the horns "trade fours" (ie, they all take turns playing 4 bars). Jazz was always terribly competitive. Ruthlessly so. Bird, no precocious prodigy, paid his dues the hard way. Basie's drummer, Jo Jones, nearly decapitated him after he'd screwed up a double-timing transition. "I'll be back," muttered Bird to himself, "I'll teach these cats." He did. As they say in the Midwest, if you can make it in Kansas City, you can make it anywhere.

Behind the magic chemistry between Bird and Diz lay an intense rivalry. Next to the self-indulgent, irresponsible genius that was Bird, Dizzy Gillespie was the calm, mature leader (as well as a nonpareil virtuoso). Trading fours in bebop was always understood as a dialogue... or a wrestling match. Pay attention closely and you'll see how each musician responds to the previous one, or even to the one before that. There is a hot unmoderated debate going on, of the kind you won't see in this election season.

The drummer, Charlie Smith, borrows techniques pioneered by Kenny Clarke and Max Roach. He uses the ride and hi-hat (the cymbaly thingies) to mark the tempo while the bass drum is used for accents (eg, dropping "bombs") and his snare (the little table in front of him) "chatters" along. Bebop's use of chord substitutions was a radical departure from the swing era, but never forget that the true revolution in bebop was rhythmic, not harmonic.

Around the time this video was recorded, Bird's daughter, Pree, was born. Two years later, she was dead of pneumonia. Her death sent him into a tailspin from which he never recovered. One botched suicide attempt and many shots of Scotch and heroin later, Charlie Parker died at the New York home of Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter (an amazing woman I hope to blog about some day). He was 34.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 06:37 PM | Comments (8)

When You Die In The Nuclear Fireball, The Most Important Thing To Remember Is That Jeffrey Goldberg Bears No Responsbility

The New York Times gave Jeffrey Goldberg space today to make this critical point:

The next president must do one thing, and one thing only, if he is to be judged a success: He must prevent Al Qaeda, or a Qaeda imitator, from gaining control of a nuclear device and detonating it in America...

Many proliferation experts I have spoken to judge the chance of such a detonation to be as high as 50 percent in the next 10 years...

We live, seven years after 9/11, in the age of the super-empowered, eschatologically minded terrorist. He is motivated by revolutionary and theological concerns rather than by nationalist grievances...

Thank goodness we know that—no matter what Al Qaeda says—they're not motivated by nationalist grievances. Because if they were, people who'd advocated the invasion of Iraq, like Jeffrey Goldberg, would certainly have increased the possibility we'll get nuked.

And that's not the end to the good news. As Goldberg says, our "paramount goal" is "pre-emption," so we're obviously going to have to invade lots more countries. If Arabs or Muslims did have nationalist grievances, then this would raise the chances of nuclear terrorism even higher than they are now. But since they're motivated purely by their bizarre sand-religion, we can kill as many of them as necessary without increasing the risk to ourselves.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:06 PM | Comments (15)

September 08, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Prison Inmate

By: Bernard Chazelle

Last Wednesday, like every Wednesday, my wife, a historian, drove to a prison for male juvenile offenders, where she volunteers to teach. She arrived there to find the place in "lockdown." The reason: a 19-year-old inmate had hung himself.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 08:57 PM | Comments (8)

Actual Change We Could Actually Believe In

Whatever the problems with Barack Obama, his mother seems to have been a pretty rockin' woman. Certainly the only way humanity will survive the 21st century is if enough people change their worldview to hers, as described in Dreams From My Father:

With the help of his brother-in-law, [Obama's stepfather] landed a new job in the government relations office of an American oil company [in Indonesia]. We moved to a house in a better neighborhood; a car replaced the motorcycle; a television and hi-fi replaced the crocodiles and Tata, the ape; Lolo could sign for our dinners at a company club. Sometimes I would overhear him and my mother arguing in their bedroom, usually about her refusal to attend his company dinner parties, where American businessmen from Texas and Louisiana would slap Lolo’s back and boast about the palms they had greased to obtain the new offshore drilling rights, while their wives complained to my mother about the quality of Indonesian help. He would ask her how it would look for him to go alone, and remind her that these were her own people, and my mother’s voice would rise to almost a shout:

They are not my people.

And here's Israeli activist Nurit Peled expressing exactly the same perspective while describing what happened after her daughter was killed in a Jerusalem suicide bombing:

When my little girl was killed, a reporter asked me how I was willing to accept condolences from the other side. I replied without hesitation that I refused it: When representatives of Netanyahu's government came to offer their condolences I took my leave and would not sit with them. For me, the other side, the enemy, is not the Palestinian people. For me the struggle is not between Palestinians and Israelis, nor between Jews and Arabs. The fight is between those who seek peace and those who seek war. My people are those who seek peace. My sisters are the bereaved mothers, Israeli and Palestinian, who live in Israel and in Gaza and in the refugee camps. My brothers are the fathers who try to defend their children from the cruel occupation, and are, as I was, unsuccessful in doing so. Although we were born into a different history and speak different tongues there is more that unites us than that which divides us.

This concept also appears in illustrated form here. (Note that the people with this perspective in this third example are again women.)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:30 PM | Comments (25)

New Tomdispatch


Who Lost Iraq?
Is the Maliki Government Jumping Off the American Ship of State?

By Michael Schwartz

As the Bush administration was entering office in 2000, Donald Rumsfeld exuberantly expressed its grandiose ambitions for Middle East domination, telling a National Security Council meeting: "Imagine what the region would look like without Saddam and with a regime that's aligned with U.S. interests. It would change everything in the region and beyond."

A few weeks later, Bush speechwriter David Frum offered an even more exuberant version of the same vision to the New York Times Magazine: "An American-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and the replacement of the radical Baathist dictatorship with a new government more closely aligned with the United States, would put America more wholly in charge of the region than any power since the Ottomans, or maybe even the Romans."

From the moment on May 1, 2003, when the President declared "major combat operations… ended" on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, such exuberant administration statements have repeatedly been deflated by events on the ground. Left unsaid through all the twists and turns in Iraq has been this: Whatever their disappointments, administration officials never actually gave up on their grandiose ambitions. Through thick and thin, Washington has sought to install a regime "aligned with U.S. interests" -- a government ready to cooperate in establishing the United States as the predominant power in the Middle East.

Recently, with significantly lower levels of violence in Iraq extending into a second year, Washington insiders have begun crediting themselves with -- finally -- a winning strategy (a claim neatly punctured by Juan Cole, among other Middle East experts). In this context, actual Bush policy aims have, once again, emerged more clearly, but so has the administration's striking and continual failure to implement them -- thanks to the Iraqis.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:52 PM | Comments (2)

September 07, 2008

Prepare to dare or prepare to despair

Cross-posted from A Lovely Promise

Email conversation with Thomas Nephew about the Million Doors for Peace effort got me to pull together some thoughts I've only let myself reflect on briefly over the last few months.

There's been a divide among antiwar activists -- between those who are serious about ending the occupation of Iraq and those who’d like to do that but only if it doesn’t cost Democrats politically. Depending on the size of the Democratic majorities in Congress, and assuming an Obama administration, that divide might be less important in 2009 than it's been for the last two years.

Given that Voters for Peace (the coalition organizing Million Doors) includes both tendencies, it's an encouraging sign that their petition calls for a faster and firmer wrapup in Iraq than even the Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq, not to mention the probably-never "conditional engagement" plan of Colin Kahl and company, who have Obama's ear. If the Responsible Plan were the strongest demand on the Obama administration, then we'd end up with something closer to permanent bases and endless occupation. With Voters for Peace mobilizing a million petition signers this winter for something stronger, the Responsible Plan backers in Congress should be able to position their policy (accurately) as the centrist choice.

There’s a whole constellation of issues just ahead of us in which this dynamic plays out, where an insufficiently vigorous presence on the "radical" end of the spectrum could result in blown opportunities that haunt us for the next decade or more.

Health care: Health Care for America Now has more than a little in common with Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (see 'divide' above). I accept that there's an imperative for Dems to pass something that concretely provides access to affordable health insurance for everyone. I also accept the political impossibility of legislating the private insurers out of the medical market in the next Congress. So I grasp the incrementalist strategy, whose goal is to get a public insurance pool into whatever's passed as the thin end of the wedge that could lead eventually to an all-public plan.

What I don’t buy is that single-payer advocates should just fold into the HCAN campaign rather than mobilizing to create the serious threat of a stronger plan from which the HCAN public-pool proposal can be urged as the compromise retreat. If HCAN’s is the starting position, then we’ll end up with less than that. In this case, anything less would mean foreclosing the chance for public health care for another generation.

Impeachment right away: Only a small minority of the American public -- even of informed, activist liberals -- understands that the Constitution provides for impeachment of officials after they've left office, not just for sitting presidents. Yet post-power impeachment hearings are the single best way to uncover just what lawbreaking was done. Not only do impeachment investigations have much stronger testimony-extracting powers than regular Congressional hearings, but post-term impeachment is much less easily characterized as a "partisan witch hunt" because it's removed from an electoral landscape.

Other excuses will be will be thrown up by compromised, fearful, lazy, and/or power-loving Democrats. The two most common are "we don't want to be seen as vindictive" and "impeachment would be a distraction from the vital work we have to get done".

The best answer to ‘vindictive’ is that this is about restoring the Constitution, pruning back these dangerously expanded executive powers that no one -- including "our" people -- should have. That’s the opposite of vindictive.

We’re going to get the ‘distraction’ line not only from politicians but from our allies, every organized progressive constituency desperate to get issues addressed by Congress after eight (or 28) years in the desert. Yet if the impeachment investigations are put off for even a year, we’ll run right up against the midterms, and by 2011 the presidential campaign will have begun. So if hearings don't begin in 2009, it’s hard to see how they could get going before 2013 -– by which time the "ancient history" charge will have more effect. So it could be 2009 or never.

We cannot wait. If there’s no serious domestic move toward accountability for torture, for which impeachment hearings are among the most practical and plausibly effective forum, then within a year there will be international legal interventions. The politics and optics of that are terrible, for anyone who cares about achieving a systemic rooting-out and reversal of this country's policy of torture. Legal threats from outside the country risk creating an effect of rallying around the old regime (however incredible such a thing seems now), and not only among Republicans. The most secure footing for international law will be created by Americans ourselves restoring the rule of law in the United States.

Likewise, only actual exposure of what went on with domestic spying under Bush-Cheney can light a big enough fire under Congress to get them to roll back the legislation that enables it, and only impeachment hearings seem to me to have the testimony-inducing force to get that exposure.

Impeachment is the key to reversing the damage of the last eight years, not simply papering it over. The time to organize for demanding it is not after the election, but now.

(The mechanics to accomplish this are for another post. Please don't wait for that; share thoughts and suggestions in comments.)

—Nell Lancaster

Posted at 07:39 PM | Comments (30)

An Accurate Prediction

I remember hearing Ian Frazier, humor writer and baby boomer, say this on the radio in 1990: "Just wait until members of my generation get into the White House. America will never know what hit it."

He's sure, uh, gone 2 for 2 on that one.

Also: read this piece by Frazier. It's one of the funniest things ever.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:43 PM | Comments (3)

This Perfect World

The older I get, the more sure I am that I've been assigned to the wrong planet. Just for instance: I don't even breath oxygen.

Moreover, it literally never occurred to me that homo sapiens did things like those mentioned in this 1992 Sports Illustrated article:

For a decade the cherubic 30-year-old had made a sporadic living as a hit man hired to destroy expensive horses and ponies, usually so their owners could collect on lucrative life-insurance policies. But no owner had ever ordered Burns to dispose of a horse by breaking one of its legs—that is, by causing a trauma so severe that a veterinarian would be forced to put the animal down with a lethal injection.

Burns's preferred method of killing horses was electrocution. It had been so ever since the day in 1982 when, he says, the late James Druck, an Ocala, Fla., attorney who represented insurance companies, paid him to kill the brilliant show jumper Henry the Hawk, on whose life Druck had taken out a $150,000 life-insurance policy. In fact, says Burns, Druck personally taught him how to rig the wires to electrocute Henry the Hawk: how to slice an extension cord down the middle into two strands of wire; how to attach a pair of alligator clips to the bare end of each wire; and how to attach the clips to the horse—one to its ear, the other to its rectum. All he had to do then, says Burns, was plug the cord into a standard wall socket. And step back.

I only found out about it recently because it was mentioned in stories about John Edwards' squeeze, Rielle Hunter. It turns out she's the daughter of James Druck. She was a show jumper, and Henry the Hawk was her horse—something which understandably put a crimp in their father-daughter relationship.

Also: I think this allusion of this post's title is very clever, and would like someone to understand it and then compliment me on it.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:58 PM | Comments (8)

September 06, 2008

"History Could Be Swallowed Up So Completely"

In his memoir Dreams From My Father, Barack Obama describes the three years he lived in Indonesia during the late sixties after his mother married his stepfather Lolo. This was immediately after the Indonesian military staged a quasi-coup and carried out one of the biggest bloodbaths of the 20th century.

No one knows precisely how the US was involved in the coup itself and the subsequent massacres. However, several things are clear. The US despised Sukarno, the president whom the coup pushed out, because he kept Indonesia in the Non-Aligned Movement and was one of the NAM's main leaders. Likewise, the US loved Suharto—the Indonesian general who seized power from Sukarno and subsequently ruled the country for 30 years—because he did exactly what we told him to. And there's testimony and documentation that the US provided lists of people for the military to kill, as well as various kinds of assistance while they were doing the killing. As James Reston of the New York Times wrote (approvingly) in 1966:

Washington is being careful not to claim any credit for this change...but this does not mean that Washington had nothing to do with it. There was a great deal more contact between the anti-Communist forces in that country and at least one very high official in Washington before and during the Indonesian massacre than is generally realized. General Suharto's forces, at times severely short of food and munitions, have been getting aid from here through various third countries, and it is doubtful if the [Suharto] coup would ever have been attempted without the American show of strength in Vietnam or been sustained without the clandestine aid it has received indirectly from here.

Beyond that, it's still murky forty years later. And even this basic history is essentially unknown in America, since it reflects on us so badly. (For instance, see this story about a New York Times reporter; interestingly, he started his career as an assistant to James Reston.)

So all in all, this is the kind of thing would-be presidents of the United States don't talk about. Thus, it's truly surprising that in his book Obama both (1) provides the history honestly, and (2) discusses how societies forget this kind of thing on purpose, and describes how this is a basic, terrifying aspect of power. According to Obama, "history could be swallowed up so completely, the same way the rich and loamy earth could soak up the rivers of blood."

Was Obama right about this? Well, according to Google, there is literally just one specific reference anywhere online to his writing about the coup.

In any case, here's the most relevant stuff, although the whole Indonesia chapter is well worth reading. And if you want to hear Obama actually say "Even the smart guys at the Agency had lost count," I've also posted an mp3 of the highlights.


When we passed a row of big houses with high hedges and sentry posts, my mother said something I couldn’t entirely make out, something about the government and a man named Sukarno.

“Who’s Sukarno?” I shouted from the backseat, but Lolo [Obama's stepfather] appeared not to hear me...

[My mother] had expected it to be difficult, this new life of hers. Before leaving Hawaii, she had tried to learn all she could about Indonesia: the population, fifth in the world, with hundreds of tribes and dialects; the history of colonialism, first the Dutch for over three centuries, then the Japanese during the war, seeking control over vast stores of oil, metal, and timber; the fight for independence after the war and the emergence of a freedom fighter named Sukarno as the country’s first president. Sukarno had recently been replaced, but all the reports said it had been a bloodless coup, and that the people supported the change. Sukarno had grown corrupt, they said; he was a demagogue, totalitarian, too comfortable with the Communists...

She found herself a job right away teaching English to Indonesian businessmen at the American embassy, part of the U.S. foreign aid package to developing countries. The money helped but didn’t relieve her loneliness. The Indonesian businessmen weren’t much interested in the niceties of the English language, and several made passes at her. The Americans were mostly older men, careerists in the State Department, the occasional economist or journalist who would mysteriously disappear for months at a time, their affiliation or function in the embassy never quite clear. Some of them were caricatures of the ugly American, prone to making jokes about Indonesians until they found out that she was married to one, and then they would try to play it off—Don’t take Jim too seriously, the heat’s gotten to him, how’s your son by the way, fine, fine boy.

These men knew the country, though, or parts of it anyway, the closets where the skeletons were buried. Over lunch or casual conversation they would share with her things she couldn’t learn in the published news reports. They explained how Sukarno had frayed badly the nerves of a U.S. government already obsessed with the march of communism through Indochina, what with his nationalist rhetoric and his politics of nonalignment—he was as bad as Lumumba or Nasser, only worse, given Indonesia’s strategic importance. Word was that the CIA had played a part in the coup, although nobody knew for sure. More certain was the fact that after the coup the military had swept the countryside for supposed Communist sympathizers. The death toll was anybody’s guess: a few hundred thousand, maybe; half a million. Even the smart guys at the Agency had lost count.

Innuendo, half-whispered asides; that’s how she found out that we had arrived in Djakarta less than a year after one of the more brutal and swift campaigns of suppression in modern times. The idea frightened her, the notion that history could be swallowed up so completely, the same way the rich and loamy earth could soak up the rivers of blood that had once coursed through the streets; the way people could continue about their business beneath giant posters of the new president as if nothing had happened, a nation busy developing itself. As her circle of Indonesian friends widened, a few of them would be willing to tell her other stories-about the corruption that pervaded government agencies, the shakedowns by police and the military, entire industries carved out for the president’s family and entourage. And with each new story, she would go to Lolo in private and ask him: “Is it true?”

He would never say. The more she asked, the more steadfast he became in his good-natured silence...

Power. The word fixed in my mother’s mind like a curse. In America, it had generally remained hidden from view until you dug beneath the surface of things; until you visited an Indian reservation or spoke to a black person whose trust you had earned. But here power was undisguised, indiscriminate, naked, always fresh in the memory. Power had taken Lolo and yanked him back into line just when he thought he’d escaped, making him feel its weight, letting him know that his life wasn’t his own. That’s how things were; you couldn’t change it, you could just live by the rules, so simple once you learned them. And so Lolo had made his peace with power, learned the wisdom of forgetting...

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:14 AM | Comments (40)

September 05, 2008

"Power Was Taking Her Son"

The New Republic is the worst magazine ever created by human beings. And yet they do sometimes publish worthwhile journalism. Life is complicated!

Anyway, I highly recommend a new article by John Judis about Barack Obama and why he ditched community organizing to go into elective politics.

It's all well, well worth reading. But I was particularly struck by this:

In late October 1987, Barack Obama and Jerry Kellman took a weekend off from their jobs as community organizers in Chicago and traveled to a conference on social justice and the black church at Harvard...

At the time, Obama had just learned from his African half-sister what had happened to Barack Obama Sr., who abandoned him when he was two years old. After receiving his master's degree in economics from Harvard, the elder Obama had returned to Kenya, where he became a high-ranking government official. But, when he criticized Kenya's increasingly corrupt and authoritarian government, he lost his job and had to live from hand to mouth, depending on the goodwill of relatives while drinking heavily. Obama told Kellman that he feared ending up destitute and unhappy like his dad. "He wanted to marry and have children, and to have a stable income," Kellman recalls.

I noticed this because of the contrast with Obama's Indonesian stepfather Lolo, whom Obama describes in his memoir. Lolo, like Obama's father, had met Obama's mother at the University of Hawaii. And like Obama's father, he'd wanted to play a role in his country's post-colonialism independence. But he was forced to return to Indonesia after the 1965 coup by Suharto, and was lucky to survive.

And so unlike Obama's father, he eventually decided he couldn't fight the power: he got a job with an American oil company and deflected any attempts by Obama's mother to discuss the coup. (Interestingly, Obama honestly describes what happened, including the CIA's involvement and the post-coup massacre of "a few hundred thousand, maybe...half a million.")

Here's how Obama puts it in his book:

"Men take advantage of weakness in other men," [Lolo told Obama]. "They’re just like countries in that way. The strong man takes the weak man’s land. He makes the weak man work in his fields. If the weak man’s woman is pretty, the strong man will take her.” He paused to take another sip of water, then asked, “Which would you rather be?”

I didn’t answer, and Lolo squinted up at the sky. “Better to be strong,” he said finally, rising to his feet. “If you can’t be strong, be clever and make peace with someone who’s strong. But always better to be strong yourself. Always.” ...

Power. The word fixed in my mother’s mind like a curse. In America, it had generally remained hidden from view until you dug beneath the surface of things; until you visited an Indian reservation or spoke to a black person whose trust you had earned. But here power was undisguised, indiscriminate, naked, always fresh in the memory. Power had taken Lolo and yanked him back into line just when he thought he’d escaped, making him feel its weight, letting him know that his life wasn’t his own. That’s how things were; you couldn’t change it, you could just live by the rules, so simple once you learned them. And so Lolo had made his peace with power, learned the wisdom of forgetting...

She remembered what Lolo had told her once when her constant questioning had finally touched a nerve. “Guilt is a luxury only foreigners can afford,” he had said. “Like saying whatever pops into your head.” She didn’t know what it was like to lose everything, to wake up and feel her belly eating itself. She didn’t know how crowded and treacherous the path to security could be. Without absolute concentration, one could easily slip, tumble backward...

She looked out the window now and saw that Lolo and I had moved on, the grass flattened where the two of us had been. The sight made her shudder slightly, and she rose to her feet, filled with a sudden panic.

Power was taking her son.

Of course, it would be unusual enough if Obama's mother had written that herself. But the fact he wrote it in her voice makes it all the more bizarrely Shakespearean to see him today, on the threshold of becoming President of the United States.

Moreover, he's going to have an adviser who's literally named Power. Apparently we're living in an especially unsubtle Charles Dickens novel.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:51 PM | Comments (15)

September 04, 2008

Rupert Murdoch Has Some Fascinating Theories On Eugenics He'd Like To Share With Us All

Vanity Fair just ran a long, extremely boring profile of Rupert Murdoch. But there is one good part:

[Murdoch]’s not quite a liberal. He remains a militant free-marketeer and is still pro-war (grudgingly, he’s retreated a bit). And there was the moment, one afternoon, when over a glass of his favorite coconut water (meant to increase electrolytes) he was propounding the genetic theory that the basic problem of the Muslim people was that they married their cousins.

You'd think the billionaires who run this planet couldn't possibly be this stupid. But you'd be wrong! When you're in charge of the world, you need to come up with some justification for it. And there is no justification. So inevitably you end up living inside The Great Gatsby:

“Civilization’s going to pieces,” broke out Tom violently. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read The Rise of the Coloured Empires by this man Goddard?...The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be––will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved...This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us who are the dominant race to watch out or these other races will have control of things...This idea is that we’re Nordics...and we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilization––oh, science and art and all that. Do you see?”

There was something pathetic in his concentration, as if his complacency, more acute than of old, was not enough to him anymore.

WE'RE VERY LUCKY: As has happened so many times before in history, the people with stuff we want to take turn out to be AWFUL. So there's really no reason for us to feel bad about it, what with their flawed genetics and all.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:33 PM | Comments (14)

American Hezbollah

Rudy Giuliani last night:

GIULIANI: For four days in Denver, the Democrats were afraid to use the term “Islamic terrorism.” I imagine they believe it is politically incorrect to say it. I think they believe they will insult someone. Please tell me, who they are insulting if they say, “Islamic terrorism.” They are insulting terrorists!

With just a few words changed, this would sound exactly like the hardest of Hezbollah's hardliners:

For four days in Beirut, the National Liberals were afraid to use the term “Jewish terrorism.” I imagine they believe it is politically incorrect to say it. I think they believe they will insult someone. Please tell me, who they are insulting if they say, “Jewish terrorism.” They are insulting terrorists!

However, there are important difference between the situations. One is we've systematized and institutionalized our propaganda, so that anything along those lines from Hezbollah would be picked up by groups like MEMRI. As far as I know, the Arab world hasn't degraded itself to quite that degree yet.

EARLIER: Republicans and Hezbollah hit on a winning electoral strategy.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:12 AM | Comments (12)

New Tomdispatch


Going on an Imperial Bender
How the U.S. Garrisons the Planet and Doesn't Even Notice

By Tom Engelhardt

Here it is, as simply as I can put it: In the course of any year, there must be relatively few countries on this planet on which U.S. soldiers do not set foot, whether with guns blazing, humanitarian aid in hand, or just for a friendly visit. In startling numbers of countries, our soldiers not only arrive, but stay interminably, if not indefinitely. Sometimes they live on military bases built to the tune of billions of dollars that amount to sizeable American towns (with accompanying amenities), sometimes on stripped down forward operating bases that may not even have showers. When those troops don't stay, often American equipment does -- carefully stored for further use at tiny "cooperative security locations," known informally as "lily pads" (from which U.S. troops, like so many frogs, could assumedly leap quickly into a region in crisis).

At the height of the Roman Empire, the Romans had an estimated 37 major military bases scattered around their dominions. At the height of the British Empire, the British had 36 of them planetwide. Depending on just who you listen to and how you count, we have hundreds of bases. According to Pentagon records, in fact, there are 761 active military "sites" abroad.

The fact is: We garrison the planet north to south, east to west, and even on the seven seas, thanks to our various fleets and our massive aircraft carriers which, with 5,000-6,000 personnel aboard -- that is, the population of an American town -- are functionally floating bases.

And here's the other half of that simple truth: We don't care to know about it. We, the American people, aided and abetted by our politicians, the Pentagon, and the mainstream media, are knee-deep in base denial.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:08 AM | Comments (12)

September 03, 2008

Human Beings: Why I Like Them

You'd imagine that political "professionals" could, when they're miked and sitting in a TV studio, refrain from saying things that would be highly embarrassing if the whole world heard them. When it comes to Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy, you would be wrong. And of course you'd also be wrong when it comes to Jesse Jackson.

This is something I find genuinely winning about human beings: even when it's clearly in our best interests, we just CAN'T SHUT UP. Want to find out how the death squads of El Salvador worked? Go ask one of the generals who ran them for an interview, and he'll tell you about it with great pride and in excruciating detail. Want to know how the Bush administration put together their fraudulent case for war? Just wait a few years, go to a party with Karl Rove, and pretend to be interested. He won't be able to help himself.

We would be a much less likable species if we had any kind of self-control.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:05 PM | Comments (12)

Conventional Clampdown

Cross-posted with additional links and editing from A Lovely Promise

I watched more of the Democratic convention than I've done since 1972, on the blessedly unfiltered C-SPAN. But I didn't see much coverage, online or off, of what was happening outside the hall in the streets.

Before the Denver convention got going, we were given a look at the chilling warehouse (video) in which the security forces planned to hold people they arrested. But how many people ended up there, and what took place?

As has become sadly routine, a big area around the convention hall was sealed off to the uncredentialed, and protest was supposed to be channeled into a distant, penned-in "Free Speech" area. Helicopters droned above, and the police were out in force, in riot gear.

Iraq Veterans Against the War did the most effective job of challenging that b.s. The march they led was covered surprisingly well by the Denver Post. I'm a little ticked off that none of the bloggers who went to the convention reported on it (none that I saw, anyway; correction invited).

Clearly, the cops were spoiling for a fight. At one event, they slammed a CodePink member to the ground (video); CP's suing. And they responded to non-permitted demos with preemptive gusto: A second Post article provides the account of a mass arrest, in which the police pepper-sprayed more than a hundred people out of one area, then pinned them in for two hours before hauling them off to the warehouse. There, those arrested weren't allowed to make phone calls unless they pled guilty to charges, and weren't given access to lawyers, despite teams of ACLU and National Lawyers Guild attorneys waiting at the site for the purpose.

That was the worst of Denver, which was bad enough.

The Twin Cities clampdown over the Labor Day weekend was pure Minority Report.

Combined forces of the Ramsey County Sherrif's Dept., the FBI, and the ATF launched raids on the Convergence Center and four houses in residential neighborhoods. They surrounded the buildings, came in with guns drawn, cuffed everyone, and seized laptops, cell phones, cameras, and literature. They stopped three IWitness video volunteers who were biking in from the airport and took their equipment. They commandeered an environmental group's bus and left everyone riding in it on the highway. They forced everyone in another house outdoors at two in the morning while they tore apart a vehicle parked nearby, "looking for explosives." Many were detained, but only a few arrested; they were charged with conspiracy to riot. Shades of Chicago!

Undaunted, a fine collection of groups hit the streets peacefully as planned Monday; see if the pics don't warm your heart as much as they did mine. However, there were also a hundred or so roamers, many masked, who left a wake of broken windows, smashed-up cop cars, and street-blocking debris. Arrests are already at 284, so the provocateurs are accomplishing their mission: legitimize the arrest of anyone else on the street. Amy Goodman and two Democracy Now crew members were arrested and sprung, as was an AP photographer. Charges have been much heavier than in Denver: 130 felonies along with hundreds of misdemeanors.

John Emerson has the portal for links.

All of these tactics were already being deployed against the anti-corp-globalization protestors in 2000 and early 2001, especially in Miami and D.C. But since then, the "war on terra" has brought a massive buildup of paramilitary equipment, spying capabilities, and Fusion Centers that amplify the power of a podunk sheriff by uniting it with the federal arsenal. The war mentality has both multiplied the weapons at their disposal and normalized this kind of military operation on our city streets. Department of "Homeland Security" grants of $50 million to each convention city guarantee the display of force.

The counter-terror targets: us. We commit conspiracy to riot by planning to assemble. Sure, you might insist it will be peaceable, but the security forces' infiltrators have a different story to tell. And look: guys in masks smashing stuff, proving it's just like they say.

Off we go.

Update Wednesday 1:30 pm from an email by Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice:

Over the past few days, the heavily armed and extremely large police presence in St. Paul has intimidated, harrassed and provoked people; and, in a number of instances, the police have escalated situations when they used excessive force. They have used pepper spray, including spraying at least one person just inches from her face as she was held down on the ground by several police officers. They have freely swung their extra long night sticks, pushed people around, rode horses and bicycles up against peacefully gathered groups, and surrounded people simply walking down the streets. On Tuesday evening, they used tear gas on a small group of protesters in downtown St. Paul. ... On Tuesday afternoon, they literally pulled the plug and turned off the electricity at a permitted outdoor concert. The timing of this led to a situation where hundreds of understandably angry people ended up joining a march being led by the Poor Peoples Campaign for Economic Human Rights, a march that organizers were insisting be nonviolent. In other words, the police set up a dynamic that could have turned ugly, but the skill of the organizers kept things calm and focused.

—Nell Lancaster

Posted at 01:30 PM | Comments (18)

September 02, 2008

New Tomdispatch


Putin's Ruthless Gambit
The Bush Administration Falters in a Geopolitical Chess Match

By Michael T. Klare

Many Western analysts have chosen to interpret the recent fighting in the Caucasus as the onset of a new Cold War, with a small pro-Western democracy bravely resisting a brutal reincarnation of Stalin's jack-booted Soviet Union. Others have viewed it a throwback to the age-old ethnic politics of southeastern Europe, with assorted minorities using contemporary border disputes to settle ancient scores.

Neither of these explanations is accurate. To fully grasp the recent upheavals in the Caucasus, it is necessary to view the conflict as but a minor skirmish in a far more significant geopolitical struggle between Moscow and Washington over the energy riches of the Caspian Sea basin -- with former Russian President (now Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin emerging as the reigning Grand Master of geostrategic chess and the Bush team turning out to be middling amateurs, at best.

The ultimate prize in this contest is control over the flow of oil and natural gas from the energy-rich Caspian basin to eager markets in Europe and Asia. According to the most recent tally by oil giant BP, the Caspian's leading energy producers, all former "socialist republics" of the Soviet Union -- notably Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- together possess approximately 48 billion barrels in proven oil reserves (roughly equivalent to those left in the U.S. and Canada) and 268 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (essentially equivalent to what Saudi Arabia possesses).

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:45 AM | Comments (2)