November 30, 2008

George Monbiot Is A Dirty Plagiarizing Bastard

By: John Caruso of The Distant Ocean

When I saw Obama's encouraging statements about global warming I said to a friend, hey, it's great to hear him saying that he takes this threat seriously.  All he needs to do now is time travel back to 1992, when the approach he's outlined would have been exactly what was needed to save the planet from the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Now, I assumed these remarks were private, but apparently George Monbiot was either lurking in a darkened corner or has developed some sort of remote mind-scanning device, because here's what he wrote just a few days later:

Barack Obama’s speech to the US climate summit last week was an astonishing development. It shows that, in this respect at least, there really is a prospect of profound political change in America. But while he described a workable plan for dealing with the problem perceived by the Earth Summit of 1992, the measures he proposes are now hopelessly out of date. The science has moved on. The events the Earth Summit and the Kyoto process were supposed to have prevented are already beginning. Thanks to the wrecking tactics of Bush the elder, Clinton (and Gore) and Bush the younger, steady, sensible programmes of the kind that Obama proposes are now irrelevant.

I find it especially sneaky how Monbiot tried to disguise his theft by expanding on my dinner conversation at great length, adding a wealth of informed and carefully-sourced commentary.  All very impressive, George, but just who do you think you're fooling?  Not me, that's who.

Brazen copycat Monbiot goes on to observe:

The trajectory both Barack Obama and Gordon Brown have proposed - an 80% cut by 2050 - means reducing emissions by an average of 2% a year. This programme, the figures in the Tyndall paper suggest, is likely to commit the world to at least four or five degrees of warming, which means the likely collapse of human civilisation across much of the planet. Is this acceptable?

No, George, it's not.  And you know what else isn't acceptable?  That you're living high on the hog from the wads of cash you're collecting for the article you shamelessly cribbed from my offhand comment, and I'm not going to see a penny of it.

FURTHERMORE: This isn't the first time I've felt the sting of Monbiot's pilfering.

—John Caruso

Posted at 04:28 PM | Comments (7)

November 29, 2008

Wicked Or Merely Stupid?

This is from a New York Times interview with Jamie Galbraith:

Do you find it odd that so few economists foresaw the current credit disaster?
Some did. The person with the most serious claim for seeing it coming is Dean Baker, the Washington economist. I saw it coming in general terms.

But there are at least 15,000 professional economists in this country, and you’re saying only two or three of them foresaw the mortgage crisis?
Ten or 12 would be closer than two or three.

What does that say about the field of economics, which claims to be a science?
It’s an enormous blot on the reputation of the profession. There are thousands of economists. Most of them teach. And most of them teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless.

Here's the Wall Street Journal, writing about Robert Rubin:

Under fire for his role in the near-collapse of Citigroup Inc., Robert Rubin said its problems were due to the buckling financial system, not its own mistakes, and that his role was peripheral to the bank's main operations even though he was one of its highest-paid officials.

"Nobody was prepared for this," Mr. Rubin said in an interview. He cited former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan as another example of someone whose reputation has been unfairly damaged by the crisis.

Noam Chomsky:

[T]he commissars, the secular priesthood, the state ideologists...I think it is an extremely corrupt group. I think this is also the group that is the most subject to effective indoctrination, tends to have the least understanding of what is happening in the world, in fact, tends to have a sort of institutionalized stupidity.

Mark Twain:

Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.

George Orwell:

Whether the British ruling class are wicked or merely stupid is one of the most difficult questions of our time.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:11 PM | Comments (19)

Terror in Mumbai Leaves 102 Children Dead

By: Bernard Chazelle

The world was shocked to learn that a 3-day terrorist rampage in Mumbai has claimed the lives of 102 young children. Indian authorities admitted to being powerless:

"It's much easier to save Westerners and Indian businessmen. That's what we're trained to do. Home-grown terrorism aimed at children is impossible to eradicate. We just have to get used to it and move on."

"It's a shame," said the acclaimed journalist Thomas L. Friedman, but "you have to take the bad with the good. On the bright side, the Taj and the Oberoi have just reopened for business, and I bet their veggie samosas are still dynamite."

The terrorist killers who took 102 innocent lives, all under the age of 1, have been identified. They are called malnutrition, dysentery, and respiratory infections. Indian authorities expect more deadly attacks in the days ahead. About 700 children are born every day in Mumbai: 34 of them will die in their first year -- only 2 of them if they lived in France. "Which only shows," said Friedman, "that India is 17 times flatter than France."

Globalization has worked wonders for India: child mortality is on the rise and still higher than in that other economic powerhouse: Bangladesh. Despite economic growth averaging 9%, four in every 10 children in India are malnourished.

Child malnourishment in India is higher than in Ethiopia and well above the African average of 28%.

But the golf courses have never been greener.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 12:06 PM | Comments (64)

November 28, 2008

A Christmas Peril

peril.jpgAfter selling over a million copies of his parodies of Harry Potter and the Narnia books, Mike Gerber is now giving the business to Charles Dickens in A Christmas Peril.

What happened AFTER A Christmas Carol? Did Ebenezer Scrooge's new, manic charitableness soon become irritating? Is it just heartwarming crippled children who'd ask for money from a reformed Scrooge? And what does the international proletarian revolution have to do with all this?

All these questions and more are answered in A Christmas Peril. I highly recommend it as a holiday gift for anyone you know, including yourself, who likes world-class comic writing.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:57 PM | Comments (0)

November 26, 2008

Keeping The Serfs In Line

By: John Caruso of The Distant Ocean

I appreciate the New York Times for its invaluable service in educating us about the way elites see the world.  For instance, here's an informative (albeit incomplete) delineation of their political spectrum:

Now, his reported selections for two of the major positions in his cabinet — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state and Timothy F. Geithner as secretary of the Treasury — suggest that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues.

So it goes from clear-headed "pragmatists" on the center-right to unreasonable "ideologues" on the ostensible left (meaning those who at least partially share the viewpoints of the vast majority of Americans, and should therefore be ignored).  Doesn't that make things clearer?

And last Friday the Times told us all we need to know about one of Obama's key upcoming appointments with an article titled "For Treasury, Geithner Said to Be Choice; Wall St. Cheers."  A few hours later, apparently realizing they were giving away the game a bit too much, they dropped the highly instructive "Wall St. Cheers"—though you can still see it on the Internets*.

The Times always has its ideological agenda, of course, but it's rare to see it so baldly displayed as it has been over the past few weeks.  It's not hard to understand why: while addled Obama supporters feel they should give him a grace period, the Times realizes that the time to enforce ideological discipline is right now, before the die is cast.  By the time Obama's leftmost supporters get around to  criticizing him in earnest (hey, I'm an optimist), it'll be too late.

* And a day later they revamped it entirely to "Fed Official is Said to be Choice for Treasury," which is neither as illuminating nor as amusingly awkward as the original.

— John Caruso

Posted at 02:10 AM | Comments (16)

November 25, 2008

Schumann's Etude Symphonique 11 (3 versions)

By: Bernard Chazelle

Samson Francois was an extraordinary pianist. His treatment of Debussy and Ravel was a marvel of intelligence and sensitivity. He was a "localist," insisting that every musical phrase had to be its own conclusion. He was the nearest thing to Thelonious Monk a classical pianist ever was. (I know many deride Monk's playing but then many praise Kenny G's. That's the world we live in.)

Not sure I've heard the Etude 11 sound so eerily magical before. Disclaimer: Francois was a good friend of my uncle's, so I may be biased. I never met him though but I heard many stories about what a colorful character he was. He went through a serious anti-Romantic phase to focus on the early-century French repertoire. He eventually returned to Chopin, his early love, and the German Romantics. Asked why, he replied that it took him many years to discover that Chopin was, like Mozart and Debussy, a great melodist. (This is an interesting comment because Debussy is thought of primarily as a harmonist).

The YouTube video has two more versions: one by Alexis Weissenberg, which might have been all right if only he hadn't been so anxious to make his dentist's appointment. While Francois makes you hear a composer, Weissenberg makes you hear a pianist. Francois would probably have advised him to play the piano, not with two hands, but with 10 fingers. Ivo Pogorelich signs off with a thoughtful, interesting interpretation. I report. You decide.

The Etudes Symphoniques are lab experiments. If the phrasing sounds, at times, quirky it's because it is. Schumann died insane and his music rarely reflects mental serenity (another Monk parallel). In the Etudes, it's the composer, not the performer, doing the studying, as he tries out new rhythms, new colors, new counterpoints. Samson Francois plays like a chef who adds more and more ingredients to the pot and then dips his finger into it and licks it. Yummy, yep, that stuff tastes pretty good. Now let's add the green onions and see what happens. His control of dynamics is remarkable. Really helps you appreciate what a dazzling variety of veggies Schumann liked to put in his soup.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 08:25 PM | Comments (7)

The Dog That Didn't Bark In The Night

Cross-post by Nell of A Lovely Promise

As the disappointments with the new regime come thick and fast, it would be tedious to list them all. But one is worth mentioning, since as an offense of omission it might escape notice.

President-elect Obama just made public the choices for his administration's "economic team." What sort of signal does it send that a Secretary of Labor was not among them?

Capital seems more than adequately represented.

—Nell Lancaster

Posted at 01:37 AM | Comments (13)

November 23, 2008

Outstanding Work By Memory Hole

Google News results for "Rashid Rauf": 1,753

Google News results for "Rashid Rauf Suskind": 0

Here's what just happened to Rashid Rauf:

A terrorist suspect linked to the 2006 attempt to blow up aircraft flying from London’s Heathrow airport was killed on Saturday in a US attack in the remote Pakistani-Afghan border region...

Mr Rauf was arrested in Pakistan in 2006 shortly after a plot to blow up aircraft flying from Heathrow to North America was discovered at the last moment, preventing what could have been the biggest terrorist event since the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001.

Here's what happened to Rashid Rauf in 2006:

President Bush meddled with Scotland Yard's investigation into the liquid bomb plotters to boost his ratings, a book on US policy claims.

British police were forced to arrest suspects before they were convinced they had enough evidence to get convictions, according to author Ron Suskind.

Their hand was forced when the White House deliberately exposed the conspiracy - so Bush could show al-Qaeda was still a threat.

He was facing midterm elections and suffering from poor poll ratings.

And Suskind alleges Bush was unhappy that British detectives and MI5 wanted more time to gather evidence against the plotters...

Suskind alleges British police had to move because Rashid Rauf, 28, believed to have been a key plotter, was arrested in Pakistan under pressure from the CIA.

When Rauf, from Birmingham, was picked up, British counter terrorism officials allegedly "screamed bloody murder" and "threw ashtrays".

Rauf then "escaped" from Pakistani custody in 2007.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: not just a movie, a way of life for every media outlet on earth.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:55 PM | Comments (5)

Learn How to Dance the "Kiss-Up/Kick-Down" with Anthony Cordesman

By: Bernard Chazelle

Today's New York Times squeezes Maureen Dowd right between Donald Rumsfeld and Ahmad Chalabi. Precious. Sulking in the corner, meanwhile, poor little Tom Friedman is in full meltdown mode. Mr America-Ueber-Alles seems not so Ueber anymore. But then, if my wife's $2 billion fortune was down to one nickel and two pennies, I too might be singing the Mustache-of-Wisdom blues. So I'll leave Tommy alone until his Prozac kicks in, and instead turn to my buddy Tony Cordy's op-ed. For some mysterious reason that surely has something to do with his monstrously jutting jaw, Cordesman is always referred to as the "Highly Respected Military Expert/Scholar/Analyst Anthony Cordesman." OK, let's see what the respect is all about:

Cordesman writes today:

Moreover, the best case for the Iraq war means coming to grips with the legacy of the worst secretary of defense in American history, Donald Rumsfeld.

Rummy, of course, is retired. Back when Cordesman was sweating over whether Rummy would invite him to his Xmas party at the Pentagon, this is what the Highly Respected Military Scholar had to write about the worst-ever SecDef:

"Frankly he [Rumsfeld] has done about as well as anybody can in the military sense", said Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

For a larger sample of Cordesmanian kiss-up moves, click here and here.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 04:22 PM | Comments (4)

November 22, 2008

Perle Was Right and You Were Wrong!

By: Bernard Chazelle

The great Richard Perle, the man known as "Baghdad Dick" in the gilded halls of AEI and as "The Dick" everywhere else, ventured this prediction in 2003:

“And a year from now, I'll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush.”

Well, well, today you sneer and jeer no more, you freedom haters! The Dick was dead right.

Iraqis could not contain their excitement yesterday as the old central Baghdad square was renamed after George W. Bush in a highly emotional ceremony. Following an ancient Iraqi tradition, an effigy of President Bush was held upside down as a show of respect and then burned to the ground. Collective jubilation reached its peak as the assembled masses broke into Iraq's new national anthem, "Bush the Babylonian Burning Man." Throngs of admirers were then allowed to show their gratitude by banging on Bush's head with their shoes. When the effigy fell head first into the crowds, adoring fans got a chance to pelt it with their own plastic water bottles and spit on it with their own saliva -- what a scholar at the Heritage Foundation has already dubbed "The Great Spit of Freedom." Thousands of grateful Iraqis held up giant signs that read "Death to America," obviously an innocent misspelling of the words "Our American Hero!"


Bush the Babylonian Burning Man

(Photo via

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 04:25 PM | Comments (15)

November 21, 2008

For a Mere 30 Billion Bucks, Here Is What You Get!

By: Bernard Chazelle

Every 4 years the best and the brightest in the US Intelligence community get together and peek into their $30 billion crystal ball to tell us what's coming. OK, they missed the fall of the Shah, they missed the demise of the Soviet Union, they missed the Internet bubble, they missed the credit crunch crisis, they missed the electoral success of Hamas, they missed the rise of Putin, Saddam's WMD were a slam dunk, but, never mind, this time they REALLY REALLY get it right! Check this out -- this is not a spoof: these are genuine quotes.

Excerpts from Global Trends 2025 by National Intelligence Council:

Canada will be spared several serious North-American climate-related developments -- intense hurricanes.

What? No more intense hurricanes in Saskatoon???

A terrorist use of a nuclear weapon would graphically demonstrate the danger of nuclear weapons.

Any moron could say that a terrorist use of a nuclear weapon would demonstrate the danger of nuclear weapons. What makes you a US Intelligence analyst is the most deliciously felicitous addition of the adverb graphically.

The Middle East will remain a geopolitically significant region in 2025 based on the importance of oil to the world economy.

This sounds like drivel but it's not: it's a nasty swipe at Barbados! (CIA humor)

No history of the past 100 years can be told without delving into the roles and thinking of such leaders as Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, or Mao Zedong.

Wait! What about Gerald Ford? (I've been told that, because of budgetary constraints, the report hopes to double as a history textbook for 2nd graders.)

With high [oil] prices, major exporters such as Russia and Iran would have the financial resources to increase their national power.

A sustained plunge in oil prices would have significant implications for countries relying on robust oil revenues to balance the budget or buid up domestic investment.

Or, as that famous spook, Charlie Brown, used to say, "I'd rather be rich and healthy than poor and sick."

To be a US Intelligence analyst requires the ability to write English as a second language:

The views of Western Europeans appear to be buoyed to the extent that the United States, its key allies, NATO, and the EU deepen practical multilateral approaches to international problems.

While you deepen your practical multilateral approaches, consider this interesting discrepancy between this report and its predecessor. Today we're told:

A global multipolar world is emerging with the rise of China, India, and others. The US is one among many global actors who manage problems.

But 4 years ago, the prediction was:

The 2020 Report projects continued US dominance, positing that most major powers have forsaken the idea of balancing the US.

So how can we trust these clowns if they contradict themselves every 4 years? Now they got me all worried about hurricanes in Saskatoon...

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 06:10 PM | Comments (22)

November 20, 2008

Toward A Brighter Future

Judge Patricia Wald, former chief judge for the D.C. Court of Appeals and jurist on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, writing in the new report "Guantánamo and Its Aftermath" (pdf):

There are bound to be casualties when any nation veers from its domestic and international obligations to uphold human rights and international humanitarian law. Those casualties are etched on the minds and bodies of many of the 62 former detainees interviewed for this report, many of whom suffered infinite variations on physical and mental abuse, including intimidation, stress positions, enforced nudity, sexual humiliation, and interference with religious practices. Indeed, I was struck by the similarity between the abuse they suffered and the abuse we found inflicted upon Bosnian Muslim prisoners in Serbian camps when I sat as a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, a U.N. court fully supported by the United States. The officials and guards in charge of those prison camps and the civilian leaders who sanctioned their establishment were prosecuted—often by former U.S. government and military lawyers serving with the tribunal—for war crimes, crimes against humanity and, in extreme cases, genocide.

From an AP story, June 30, 2001:

The dramatic decision to deliver Milosevic to the tribunal in defiance of an order by the Yugoslav Constitututional Court staying any extradition threatened to plunge the Balkan country into a political crisis.

Milosevic's successor, Vojislav Kostunica, denounced the handover as ''illegal and unconstitutional.'' Others accused Serb Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who spearheaded the decision, of ''treason'' and knuckling under U.S. pressure....

President Bush praised Yugoslavia for handing over Milosevic, saying the move showed the Balkan nation wants to turn away from ''its tragic past and toward a brighter future.''

U.S. officials said the administration planned to make a pledge in the range of about $100 million for a Yugoslav assistance package, to be discussed Friday in Brussels at a conference of international aid donors.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed the handover as ''a thoroughly good thing.''

The full statement by Bush, available on the White House website:

I applaud today’s transfer of indicted war criminal Slobodan Milosevic to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. This very important step by the leaders in Belgrade ensures that Milosevic can finally be tried for his war crimes and crimes against humanity. During various visits by Yugoslav authorities to Washington, they pledged that Yugoslavia was committed to cooperating with the Tribunal. Milosevic’s transfer is a strong sign of that commitment. We are confident that the government of Yugoslavia will continue down the path of cooperation with the Tribunal.

The transfer of Milosevic to the Hague is an unequivocal message to those persons who brought such tragedy and brutality to the Balkans that they will be held accountable for their crimes. Milosevic’s transfer further signals the commitment of the new leadership in Belgrade to turn Yugoslavia away from its tragic past and toward a brighter future as a full member of the community of European democracies.

The United States stands ready to assist the people of Yugoslavia as they continue to take the difficult steps to advance its democratic and economic reform.

(Suggested by Glenn Greenwald's reference here: "there were early statement from the Bush White House in 2001 about how critical it was to prosecute these Yugoslav leaders for war crimes...")

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:29 PM | Comments (4)

God Damn The God Damn Liberal Media

This is from Scott Horton's new article in Harper's on creating some kind of accountability for the torture conducted by the Bush administration (subscription required):

[I]n a 2006 radio interview, Dick Cheney said simply that the use of waterboarding to obtain intelligence was a “no-brainer.”

Cheney at the time declined to refer to this practice as torture, preferring instead to describe it as “robust interrogation,” and that reluctance has been echoed in the press. I myself was twice warned by PBS producers, in advance of appearances on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, that I could use the word “torture” in the abstract but that I was to refrain from applying it to the administration’s policies. And after an interview with CNN in which I spoke of the administration’s torture policy, I was told by the producer, “That’s okay for CNN International, but we can’t use it on the domestic feed.”

As always, the question remains: why is the major US media so incredibly left-wing?

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:38 PM | Comments (7)

The New York Times, Still White House Dictation Office

By: Bernard Chazelle

To enlarge the Nov 15 summit in Washington from the G7 to the G20 was the bright idea of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia. True to form, Bush had no clue what Rudd was talking about:

After the President [Bush] explained the pressure from Europe for a G7-brokered action on supporting the credit sector and reforming regulation, Rudd immediately insisted the G20 was the solution.

Rudd was then stunned to hear Bush say: "What's the G20?"

This is how the New York Times explained the decision to convene the G20:

American officials said it was Mr. Bush’s idea to expand the guest list to 20 countries, rather than the usual gathering of 7 or 8.

As ATR readers will no doubt notice, this sentence contains not one but two errors.

— Bernard Chazelle

ADDED BY JON: This is good stuff:

Australia's opposition Liberal party has leapt on the reports, claiming it could damage Australia's ties with the US.

Malcolm Turnbull, the leader of the Liberal party, described the situation as a “remarkable diplomatic gaffe” and called for Mr Rudd to apologise for embarrassing the American president.

Alexander Downer, the former Foreign Minister who served in John Howard's government, called for an investigation into the alleged leak, saying it could damage relations between the two countries.

One nice thing about living in the United States is that our dickheads are actually in charge of things, rather than filling the role of subsidiary dickheads who follow yapping in the wake of the alpha dickheads.

People like Tony Blair, John Howard, Malcolm Turnbull and Alexander Downer would surely prefer to be giving the orders themselves. But for them, the next best thing to giving orders is taking orders. The critical thing is that orders are being given and obeyed.

Posted at 05:52 PM | Comments (5)

November 19, 2008

Barry, You'll Find A Little Something Extra In Your Paycheck This Week: Your Complete And Utter Humiliation

I'm sure it's nice to work for the New York Times and get the excellent health insurance, the good pension, the snazzy company windbreaker, and so on. On the other hand, they require that you publicly humiliate yourself on a regular basis.

Take Barry Gewen, an editor for the New York Times Book Review. Apparently it was his turn in the chute this week, because here's what he wrote while explaining why Harvard shouldn't give a journalistic prize in I.F. Stone's name:

[I]t might have elected to name its medal after another American journalist who ran an important magazine of his own for a while, who was a paragon of the “independence, integrity, courage and indefatigability” that the Nieman Foundation claims to value, who could, it is true, make political and cultural mistakes (the price of his independence), but who never was seduced by totalitarianism. He saw the truth more clearly than I. F. Stone ever did, and seems to me a more appropriate model for young journalists. (He was a better writer too.) His name is Dwight Macdonald.

What Gewen obviously knows but feels he must omit is that Macdonald spent time as an editor of the magazine Encounter—which was funded by the CIA. (Macdonald later said he was unaware of this, although you had to have been pretty dense not to figure it out.) Say what you want about I.F. Stone, but there's no evidence he was ever funded by the KGB.

How incredibly embarrassing to have to pretend to be a moron in order to keep your job. I couldn't do it, but I guess Barry Gewen has a higher tolerance for degradation than most people.

AND: Please decapitate me if I ever begin something like this:

Like millions of others, I have long been troubled by the philosopher Martin Heidegger’s political associations...

Right. "Like millions of others, I have often reached down and begun to vigorously stroke Barry Gewen's wang..."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:52 PM | Comments (15)

November 18, 2008

A Modest Proposal

By: Bernard Chazelle

I read the news today. It's grim.

Some 691,000 children went hungry in America sometime in 2007, while close to one in eight Americans struggled to feed themselves adequately even before this year’s sharp economic downturn.

11.9 million adults and children went hungry at some point. That figure has grown by more than 40 percent since 2000.

Meanwhile, a few weeks ago:

Barack Obama today pledged to increase US troops in Afghanistan by a third if he becomes president, sending 10,000 more to reinforce the 33,000 already there.

Excellent! But where do we find the troops? And how do we feed the hungry children?

Wait, my cell phone's ringing; "Oh, Larry Summers, what a nice surprise. Glad you called. Look, I've got this dilemma. You see.... so what d'ya think?" "Simple? You say it's simple. Oh you mean... really? Wow, Brilliant, man! That's what I call 'broad thinking,' not to be confused with, you know, 'broad's thinking.' Hahahahahaha! Yeah, yeah, I know, it's your joke. Relax. Anyway, thanks for the tip."

He is right. Larry is always right. He's an economist. He says, draft all the hungry children into the Army, feed them twinkies, and then dispatch them to the Helmand province on a Children's Crusade to convert the heathens to the One True Western God. It worked great in the 13th century. Took care of Islam and poverty, so I say we try it again.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 08:59 PM | Comments (21)

The White Man's Burden Seems Particularly Heavy Today

Andrew McCarthy of National Review:

For the United States in Iraq, nothing is ever be blunt, the Iraqis remain ingrates.

Henry Morton Stanley:

The blacks give an immense amount of trouble; they are too ungrateful to suit my fancy.

(Title recycled from here. McCarthy via.)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:20 PM | Comments (10)

November 17, 2008

The Tables Have Turned

Definitely read this Newsweek article by Rick Perlstein about the election as seen from Watts. This part is especially interesting:

The corner of 116th and Avalon, where it all started, is quiet now, unmarked, virtually unmarkable: it's hard to imagine its placid beige and sky-blue stucco bungalows as the epicenter of anything. It takes five minutes for anyone to pass by—a clutch of cute kids, escorted by a crossing guard, on their way to school. It's where they're heading that history is being made now. The line at the polling station closest to 1965's ground zero is longer than anyone can ever remember.

Seventy-seven-year-old Maurice Banks has been here since 6 a.m. He remembers the riot—"every bit of it." He didn't really disapprove. "People fought for things when things needed to be changed. It was a rebellion." Unbidden, he adds: "Right now, you don't need to fight for it. You're gonna have somebody that's going to fight for you. Someone you can trust."

Get ready to learn an important lesson about life, Mr. Banks: those at the very top of society can betray you even if they look just like you. I know you don't believe it, sir, but this is something our people have learned through hundreds of years of bitter experience. Our time here has schooled us in what truly matters in this world.

Wow. This feels great! Maybe soon the only roles white people will be able to get in movies will be as the de-sexed voice of ancient, homespun wisdom!

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:37 PM | Comments (13)

November 14, 2008

Suck. On. This.

Schadenfreude has never been so, so sweet:

It would be easy to dismiss today’s rant (however spot-on it might be) by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman as yet another ideological tirade against the U.S. automobile industry. But based on the bad news coming out of shopping-mall owner General Growth Properties [GGP], it is no wonder Friedman is feeling crankier than usual. That’s because the author’s wife, Ann (née Bucksbaum), is an heir to the General Growth fortune. In the past year, the couple—who live in an 11,400-square-foot mansion in Bethesda, Maryland—have watched helplessly as General Growth stock has fallen 99 percent, from a high of $51 to a recent 35 cents a share. The assorted Bucksbaum family trusts, once worth a combined $3.6 billion, are now worth less than $25 million.

If you click through to this chart, you'll see the drop has actually been even more precipitous than described above. GPP was trading at $27.55 the week of September 8th. It's now at $0.44. Thus, it's lost 98% of its value in the past two months.


—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:03 PM | Comments (20)

The Art of Diplomacy

By: Bernard Chazelle

Kaiser Sarkoko, aka President Nicolas Sarkozy, saved our Georgian buddy Saak-the-Bootlicker from being hanged “by the balls.”

With Russian tanks only 30 miles from Tbilisi on August 12, Mr Sarkozy told Mr Putin that the world would not accept the overthrow of Georgia’s Government. According to Mr Levitte, the Russian seemed unconcerned by international reaction. “I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls,” Mr Putin declared.

Mr Sarkozy thought he had misheard. “Hang him?” — he asked. “Why not?” Mr Putin replied. “The Americans hanged Saddam Hussein.”

Mr Sarkozy, using the familiar tu, tried to reason with him: “Yes but do you want to end up like Bush?” Mr Putin was briefly lost for words, then said: “Ah — you have scored a point there.”

via tdd

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 08:51 PM | Comments (7)

November 13, 2008


Perhaps you remember the quote from 1984 at the end of Fahrenheit 911:

It's not a matter of whether the war is not real or if it is. Victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won. It is meant to be continuous...The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects. And its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia but to keep the very structure of society intact.

This is, of course, how countries often function; for instance, the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War. But I used to believe this resulted from instinctual decisions—as opposed to conscious ones—by leaders.

I'm coming to believe I was wrong about this. Check out this extremely striking quote that (as far as I can tell) is barely known. I found it in an obscure book called Harry Truman and the War Scare of 1948, and it's only been cited online a few times in teeny outlets. It's taken from a November 19, 1947 memo from Clark Clifford to Harry Truman; Clifford was Truman's White House Counsel, and he wrote this at the point at which the Cold War was just starting to heat up:

There is considerable political advantage to the Administration in its battle with the Kremlin. The worse things get, up to a fairly certain point—real danger of imminent war—the more is there a sense of crisis. In times of crisis, the American citizen tends to back up his President.

Sure, there was a downside—the risk of worldwide thermonuclear war. But I think we can all agree that's more than outweighed by somewhat higher approval ratings for the people who rule us.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:00 PM | Comments (13)

New Tomdispatch


Don't Let Barack Obama Break Your Heart
Why Americans Shouldn't Go Home

By Tom Engelhardt

On the day that Americans turned out in near record numbers to vote, a record was set halfway around the world. In Afghanistan, a U.S. Air Force strike wiped out about 40 people in a wedding party. This represented at least the sixth wedding party eradicated by American air power in Afghanistan and Iraq since December 2001.

American planes have, in fact, taken out two brides in the last seven months. And don't try to bury your dead or mark their deaths ceremonially either, because funerals have been hit as well. Mind you, those planes, which have conducted 31% more air strikes in Afghanistan in support of U.S. troops this year, and the missile-armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) now making almost daily strikes across the border in Pakistan, remain part of George W. Bush's Air Force, but only until January 21, 2009. Then, they -- and all the brides and grooms of Afghanistan and in the Pakistani borderlands who care to have something more than the smallest of private weddings -- officially become the property of President Barack Obama.

That's a sobering thought. He is, in fact, inheriting from the Bush administration a widening war in the region, as well as an exceedingly tenuous situation in devastated, still thoroughly factionalized, sectarian, and increasingly Iranian-influenced Iraq. There, the U.S. is, in actuality, increasingly friendless and ever less powerful. The last allies from the infamous "coalition of the willing" are now rushing for the door. The South Koreans, Hungarians, and Bulgarians -- I'll bet you didn't even know the latter two had a few troops left in Iraq -- are going home this year; the rump British force in the south will probably be out by next summer.

The Iraqis are beginning to truly go their own way (or, more accurately, ways); and yet, in January, when Barack Obama enters office, there will still be more American troops in Iraq than there were in April 2003 when Baghdad fell. Winning an election with an antiwar label, Obama has promised -- kinda -- to end the American war there and bring the troops -- sorta, mostly -- home. But even after his planned 16-month withdrawal of U.S. "combat brigades," which may not be welcomed by his commanders in the field, including former Iraq commander, now Centcom Commander David Petraeus, there are still plenty of combative non-combat forces, which will be labeled "residual" and left behind to fight "al-Qaeda." Then, there are all those "advisors" still there to train Iraqi forces, the guards for the giant bases the Bush administration built in the country, the many thousands of armed private security contractors from companies like Blackwater, and of course, the 1,000 "diplomats" who are to staff the newly opened U.S. embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone, possibly the largest embassy on the planet. Hmmmm.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:53 PM | Comments (5)

"Freedom from Humiliation Is Never to Be Made Contingent on Any Norm of Conduct"

By: Bernard Chazelle

Thus spake this ATR blogger in his effort to define the just society. Freedom from humiliation is the first requirement of a decent society.

I never watch TV so I am obviously the perfect person to pass judgment on American Idol. I caught a glimpse of it once when I was stuck in a hotel somewhere and the only alternative was the Shopping Channel. That one furtive glimpse gave me a peek into a nether world of appalling vulgarity. There you had a posse of prima donnas and washed-up rock stars (aka, "the judges") gratuitously insulting a young woman about her looks, her clothes, her hair, her smile, and, oh yes, her limited singing abilities. It was mortifying and I wondered what kind of sick, debased culture promotes humiliation as a public spectacle. What's the difference between American Idol and Deep Throat? One is an obscene display of nauseating vulgarity; the other is just a porn flick.

OK, perhaps I caught the TV show on a bad day. After reading this, I wonder.

A Paula Abdul fan, who was publicly humiliated during an audition for American Idol, has been found dead outside the talent show judge’s home.

Paula Goodspeed, who was mocked for wearing braces on her teeth on the hit TV programme, died of a suspected drug overdose on Tuesday evening, in a car parked next to Ms Abdul’s gated mansion in Sherman Oaks.

And some guy named Simon Cowell, UK-born winner of the American Asshole contest, had this to say to the young lady:

"I don’t think any artist on Earth could sing with that much metal in their mouth anyway," said Cowell. "You have so much metal in your mouth, it’s like a bridge!... How did she get through the metal detector? It must have gone crazy."

Haha, what a humorous fellow that Cowell.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 08:57 PM | Comments (20)

November 12, 2008

So Long, Mitch Mitchell

By: Bernard Chazelle

Besides perhaps Keith Moon, it's hard to think of anyone who did as much as Mitch Mitchell to raise the standards of rock drumming. He passed away today at the age of 61.

The "Hendrix sound" was at heart an intricate dance between Jimi's guitar and Mitch's drums. The bassist Noel Redding often seemed overwhelmed. Hendrix's lead mixed in rhythm playing more than any rock guitarist I can think of. (He learned his trade playing rhythm for Little Richard.) Mitch Mitchell played with the sort of contagious exuberance that makes you want to learn drums. And many boomers drove their parents nuts as a result by banging on their snares for hours on end pretending to be MM. (At least the electric guitar has a volume control.)

"Like a Rolling Stone" at the Monterey Pop Festival. No one could play Dylan better than Hendrix.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 07:59 PM | Comments (8)


Michael Hanlon:

Susan Rice has taken a hit or two among conservative pundits of late...

It is important that Senator Obama hear from centrists on Iraq, and Susan [Rice] may not be such a person on that subject.

But beyond that concern, I would argue that Rice is formidable. She is indeed a progressive, but she is not an ideologue as some assert...

It would be more than fair during any confirmation hearings for Congress to press Dr. Rice on her views about Iraq. But her critics should be careful about assuming that her views on that subject translate into a broader worldview or ideology with which they must take issue.

Susan Rice, left-wing radical, expressing her views on Iraq:

"I think he [then Secretary of State Colin Powell] has proved that Iraq has these weapons and is hiding them, and I don't think many informed people doubted that." (NPR, Feb. 6, 2003)

"We need to be ready for the possibility that the attack against the U.S. could come in some form against the homeland, not necessarily on the battlefield against our forces. And I think there, too, is an area where the American people need to be better prepared by our leadership. ... It's clear that Iraq poses a major threat. It's clear that its weapons of mass destruction need to be dealt with forcefully, and that's the path we're on. I think the question becomes whether we can keep the diplomatic balls in the air and not drop any, even as we move forward, as we must, on the military side." (NPR, Dec. 20, 2002)

"I think the United States government has been clear since the first Bush administration about the threat that Iraq and Saddam Hussein poses. The United States policy has been regime change for many, many years, going well back into the Clinton administration. So it's a question of timing and tactics...We do not necessarily need a further Council resolution before we can enforce this and previous resolutions." (NPR, Nov. 11, 2002)

(Hanlon via)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:24 PM | Comments (8)

All the Propaganda That's Fit to Print

By: Bernard Chazelle

The New York Times editorial, August 11, 2008:

There is no imaginable excuse for Russia’s invasion of Georgia. The United States and its European allies must tell Mr. Putin in the clearest possible terms that such aggression will not be tolerated.

No imaginable excuse? Russian aggression? Let's see what this blog had to say on the matter.

A Tiny Revolution, August 17, 2008:

Let's be clear about one thing: Russia did not attack; Georgia did. Yes, Russia has been destabilizing a region that, incidentally, wants nothing to do with Georgia [...] But is that an excuse for unleashing a massive, sustained barrage of rockets in the middle of the night on a civilian population?

Three months later, the Times makes a U-turn and adopts the official ATR line.

The New York Times, November 6, 2008:

Georgia’s inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm. Neither Georgia nor its Western allies have as yet provided conclusive evidence that Russia was invading the country [before Georgia's attack].

For the record, Russia has now withdrawn all of its troops from uncontested Georgian territory.

The Independent, November 12, 2008:

The US and UK left the impression that Russia was the guilty party [...] The journalists [including some from the NYT] travelled to the region separately and by different routes. They spoke to different people. But their findings are consistent: Georgia launched an indiscriminate military assault on South Ossetia's main town, Tskhinvali. The hospital was among the buildings attacked; doctors were injured even as they operated [...] What has now transpired, however, is that the US and Britain had no excuse for not knowing how the war began. They were briefed by the OSCE monitors at a very early stage, and those monitors included two highly experienced former British Army officers.

Let's go back to the Times editorial:

Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, foolishly and tragically baited the Russians — or even more foolishly fell into Moscow’s trap — when he sent his army into the separatist enclave of South Ossetia last week.

Indeed, just as Hitler fell into Warsaw's trap when he sent his army into Poland and bin Laden fell into Washington's trap when he sent airplanes into the World Trade Center.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 10:28 AM | Comments (13)

November 11, 2008

November 11

By: Bernard Chazelle


— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 10:27 AM | Comments (10)

Our "Woefully Inadequate Grasp Of History"

I'm deeply impressed by the ability of our Ministry of Truth to continuously generate false history on the fly. They do good work.

Their latest masterpiece is the Terrifying True Tale of How the Early Clinton Administration Was Crippled by Liberals. You see, Bill Clinton began his presidency by giving into his wild-eyed leftist instincts. But the wise American people rejected his class warfare! They punished him and the Democrats by giving control of congress to Republicans in the 1994 midterm elections. So Clinton sobered up and governed from the center. Obama better not repeat Clinton's mistakes by giving into the left! The End.

In reality, of course, Clinton knuckled under to the center right—much of which was located within the Democratic party—from the very beginning. Following their advice, he went all out to pass NAFTA, then failed to pass universal health care. People who'd been desperate in 1992 saw no economic improvement by 1994. And with the low 45% voter turnout in the midterms, the Democrats lost control of Congress (mostly via the defeat of center right Democrats).

Here's an especially fine example of the Terrifying True Tale, by John Heilemann in New York Magazine. Heilemann deserves extra credit for berating people who remember history for not remembering history:

It’s not surprising that Summers should emerge as the transition’s first real flashpoint. With the economy in tatters, Treasury is almost certain to be the first cabinet post that Obama fills...

The easy, no-drama call for Obama would simply be to bypass Summers in favor of Geithner, a younger man and a fresher face and thus a more vibrant symbol of the change Obama has promised. But tapping Summers would have advantages—not despite but precisely because of the opposition he has stirred up. Obama never really had a Sister Souljah moment during his campaign, and staging one now might serve him well. Picking Summers would send a powerful message that Obama isn’t going to let himself be pushed around, as Clinton was, by the various factions on the left during his transition. That merit matters to him more than ideology or identity politics...

Indeed, several sources in the Obamasphere tell me Emanuel’s installment is meant to send a crystalline message to congressional liberals: that the president-elect has no intention of allowing them to set the agenda, let alone roll him as an earlier generation of Capitol Hill pooh-bahs did to Clinton in 1993 and 1994...

[F]or Obamaphiles, it fuels the anxiety that the regimes of the new boss and the old boss will end up resembling one another all too much...The problems with complaining about the supposed Clintonification of the Obama administration are many. The first and more glaring is that it reflects a woefully inadequate grasp of history...

Back in 1992, when Clinton was being "pushed around by various factions on the left," his pick for Treasury Secretary was Lloyd Bentsen.

ROLLED: Here's an interview with Kevin Phillips from December, 1994:

Clinton came in. I'm not certain what he meant and how sincere his intentions were, but he ran against Washington and he came to Washington and he got rolled...

In part, he was self-rolled. He set himself up in different ways. It's difficult to believe that he was 100 percent sincere in his outsider claims, because as soon as you start to see his modus operandi with all these Arkansas fat cats, it becomes clear that his way of dealing with things in Arkansas was to be part of the lobbyist crowd, to get contributions from the CEOs, and to basically work with them. In the context of Arkansas, he would have been slightly left of center, I suppose, but not in any way that he couldn't work with Walton and Tyson and the whole crowd. He did. And Hillary was on the boards of some of those companies. So, we shouldn't have believed it. He talked the talk, but he didn't walk the walk.

When he came to Washington, who did he sign up? Lloyd Cutler, Ron Brown, Vernon Jordan, Mickey Kantor—obviously not people who were enemies of the lobbying establishment.

Then, when he did the tax and budget package, the administration made deal after deal after deal with lobbyists. They did the same thing on NAFTA. So basically, they legitimatized interest group politics by the way they behaved as well as the way he dealt with the insiders almost from the start.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:47 AM | Comments (16)

November 10, 2008

New Tomdispatch


Obama's Toughest Challenge
America's Energy Crunch Comes Home

By Michael T. Klare

Of all the challenges facing President Barack Obama next January, none is likely to prove as daunting, or important to the future of this nation, as that of energy. After all, energy policy -- so totally mishandled by the outgoing Bush-Cheney administration -- figures in each of the other major challenges facing the new president, including the economy, the environment, foreign policy, and our Middle Eastern wars. Most of all, it will prove a monumental challenge because the United States faces an energy crisis of unprecedented magnitude that is getting worse by the day.

The U.S. needs energy -- lots of it. Day in and day out, this country, with only 5% of the world's population, consumes one quarter of the world's total energy supply. About 40% of our energy comes from oil: some 20 million barrels, or 840 million gallons a day. Another 23% comes from coal, and a like percentage from natural gas. Providing all this energy to American consumers and businesses, even in an economic downturn, remains a Herculean task, and will only grow more so in the years ahead. Addressing the environmental consequences of consuming fossil fuels at such levels, all emitting climate-altering greenhouse gases, only makes this equation more intimidating.

As President Obama faces our energy problem, he will have to address three overarching challenges:

1. The United States relies excessively on oil to supply its energy needs at a time when the future availability of petroleum is increasingly in question.

2. Our most abundant domestic source of fuel, coal, is the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases when consumed in the current manner.

3. No other source of energy, including natural gas, nuclear power, biofuels, wind power, and solar power is currently capable of supplanting our oil and coal consumption, even if a decision is made to reduce their importance in our energy mix.

This, then, is the essence of Obama's energy dilemma. Let's take a closer look at each of its key components.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:21 PM | Comments (4)

November 09, 2008

No One Knows

Kelley asks:

Can Bush pardon himself and his administration for crimes he may be accused of later? If not, isn't it better to wait until he is out of office to accuse him?

Coincidentally, I just finished writing something about this. No one knows the answer to the first part of the first question; no president has ever pardoned himself, although Nixon considered it. And the teeny number of constitutional scholars who are experts on the pardon power are divided about whether a president can do so. (However, everyone agrees that even if a president pardoned himself, he could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice for the pardon.)

However, Bush can and almost certainly will pardon many other members of his administration for crimes of which they have not yet been accused. Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes Nixon may have committed during his presidency, even though Nixon hadn't been indicted for anything.

In the real world, it's extremely unlikely Bush will attempt to pardon himself, because the uproar would be so great. He might even face the one constitutional power that trumps the pardon power: impeachment. Presidents cannot issue pardons for impeachable offenses. And government officials in fact can be impeached after leaving office, as happened to the Secretary of War during the Grant administration.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:29 PM | Comments (28)

Staring In Slack-Jawed Horror At Michael Kinsley

I spent much of the last Democratic presidency staring in slack-jawed horror at Michael Kinsley. I was afraid those days were gone forever! So, I'm pleased to have the chance to do so again at the dawn of the Obama administration.

What's so shocking about Kinsley is that he's not an inherently stupid man. Yet he consistently writes things so bizarrely obtuse it's like he'd just had an anvil dropped on his head. It really goes to show the complete intellectual self-castration required to run in his levels of US society.

Here's one of his greatest hits from the past, written in 1996 just after a Valujet flight had crashed in Florida:

[T]here is no reason every airline should meet the same level of safety. In fact, it makes perfect sense for discount airlines to be less safe than traditional full-price carriers. This is no excuse for negligence and rule-breaking. But if the rules don't recognize that some people, quite rationally, will wish to buy less safety for less money, they are doing the flying public a disservice.

Right. And the 110 people who died on that flight got the information on which to "quite rationally" base their, exactly? Via the popular Valujet slogan, "We cut back on inspections—and pass the savings along to you!"?

But that may have been surpassed by Kinsley's column yesterday in defense of Larry Summers:

Opponents of Lawrence Summers for a second turn as Treasury secretary have, of course, brought up his 1991 memo as chief economist of the World Bank, in which he wrote that poor countries need more pollution, not less. The memo was obviously meant to stimulate thinking and not to be implemented as policy. But it also was undeniably correct. Summers's main point was that life and health are worth less in poor countries than in rich ones...Of course this shouldn't be true, but it undeniably is true, and rejecting the idea of poor countries earning a little cash by "buying" pollution from rich ones will do nothing to make it less true...

Every economic transaction has two sides. When you deny a rich country the opportunity to unload some toxic waste on a poor one, you are also denying that poor country the opportunity to get paid for taking the toxic waste. And by forbidding this deal, you are putting off the day when the poor country will no longer need to make deals like this.

In his notorious memo, Summers was doing his job and doing it well: thinking outside the box about how to help the poor countries that are supposed to be the World Bank's constituency.

Of course, anyone who hasn't had an anvil dropped on his head understands the problem here: the benefits and costs in such situations DON'T ALL GO TO THE SAME PEOPLE. Imagine the US exports its dangerous mercury industry to Zimbabwe, where life is cheap. The profits from the mercury factory go to the factory owners, whereas all the mercury-poisoning deaths go to the factory's workers and those who drink nearby water.

Moreover, the factory's owners could well ALL LIVE OUTSIDE THE COUNTRY. And in third world countries, governments rarely have the power to keep profits within their borders. So Zimbabwe overall could easily end up with costs far greater than any benefits.

Kinsley certainly is willing to do a lot for his employers. For his sake, and ours, I just hope they don't require him to wet his pants on national TV.

ALSO: If Summers' memo was "undeniably correct," why shouldn't it be implemented as policy?

AND: In 2001 I had an interview with Chris Rock to work on an HBO show that never happened. At one point I described the Summers memo, and Rock's face twisted into a memorable grimace of disgust. It would be interesting to discuss with him now what he thinks about Summers being a prominent Obama adviser.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:25 AM | Comments (28)

November 08, 2008

Obama Won Because America is No Longer White Enough

By: Bernard Chazelle

Barack Obama did not win the presidency because white voters have discovered racial tolerance but because there just ain't enough of them any more.

43% of whites voted for Obama and 55% for McCain. A mere 34 percent of white Protestants voted for Obama, while 65 percent went with McCain. In other words, if only whites could vote, Obama would have lost in a landslide.

Eight years ago, 42% of whites voted for Gore and 54% for Bush: virtually no change! Despite an economy in ruins and the worst president in US history, Obama made virtually no headway among whites. Now contrast this with Bill Clinton. Although running against a war-winning incumbent in only a mild economic downturn, Clinton split the white vote 50-50, whereas Obama lost it decisively. With the Perot distortion almost gone in '96, Clinton again split the white vote almost evenly.

All nonwhite groups and Latinos voted for Obama by huge margins: Blacks (95%), Asians (62%), and Latinos (67%). Obama's gains among nonwhites coincided with a shrinking of the white electorate. Here are the percentages:

Clinton-Bush: 83%
Gore-Bush: 81%
Kerry-Bush: 77%
Obama-McCain: 74%

Samuel Huntington's nightmare is becoming reality. A nonwhite won because there were not enough whites to stop him. At long last.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 02:34 PM | Comments (42)

A Question

Has anyone been talking about starting to put donations for Obama's 2012 run in escrow, to be released upon the accomplishment of certain goals—eg, on Iraq, health care, energy, etc.?

It would take a ton of effort and wrangling to set up. And I haven't thought it through at all, particularly the various legalities involved. Just off the top of my head, I think you'd have to set up a vote on whether he'd succeeded and the money could be released. I'd also guess you'd might have to require each person to specify a second choice organization for the money to go if Obama fails, so they wouldn't just get it back and be able send it to the campaign anyway.

(See also this post by Micah Sifry about what's going to happen to MyBarackObama and its tools.)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:38 PM | Comments (9)

Keep On Screaming About Larry Summers

The deal appears not yet done to make Larry Summer Secretary of the Treasury. So if you haven't already, go sign this OpenLeft petition opposing him, for delivery to Obama's transition director John Podesta. Lots of people screaming outside may strengthen the people who apparently oppose him inside:

Barack Obama has been close to naming Larry Summers as the next Secretary of the Treasury, but the appointment is being held up by opposition to the brilliant but controversial economist...

The discrepancy here suggests that behind the scenes, there is a powerful argument going on as to who is best for this job. Summers is brash and blunt, and he has quite a few detractors.

Meanwhile, Dean Baker describes Summers' contribution to our current catastrophe, and asks:

Given this record of failure, the question is how can Larry Summers still be considered for the top economic position in the Obama administration? This would be like appointing the arsonist who burned down the city as the new fire commissioner. We like to tell our children that success is rewarded and that failure is punished. But if Larry Summers ends up as Treasury secretary, what are we supposed to tell the children?

Finally, here's another reason to dislike Larry Summers. This one is only for connoisseurs.

In 2000, when Summers was Treasury Secretary, he made a very specific claim: that from 1980-2000, developing countries had "moved to the market and seen rapid growth in income."

The problem is this simply wasn't true. The countries that had most "moved to the market" had had far worse income growth from 1980-2000 compared to 1960-1980. Soon afterward Summers was asked about this at a think tank event, and he used all his brilliance to tap dance around for five minutes without answering the question.

The relevant excerpt is below, and the entire transcript of the exchange is here.

Q: My question has two parts. First of all, I want to--in the New York Times you were quoted as saying, "When history books are written 200 years from now, the last two decades of the 20th century, I am convinced that the end of the Cold War will be the second story. The first story will be about the appearance of emerging markets and about the fact that developing countries, where more than 3 billion live, have moved to the market and seen rapid growth in income."

First, were you quoted correctly? And if so, what exactly did you mean by this?

According to the World Bank, Latin America grew between 1960 and '80--it grew 73 percent before the Washington Consensus. After 1980, during the period that you say it saw rapid growth, it was 5.6 percent.

Moreover, in Africa, per capita income grew at 34.3 percent from '60 to '80. Since '80, per capita income in Africa has fallen by 23 percent.

Some emerging markets, such as China and South Korea, have grown rapidly over the past 20 years, but then they did this in the previous 20 years as well and in the case have largely disregarded the Washington Consensus. Could you reconcile these statistics?

Sec. Summers: Thank you for your question. I was quoted correctly, and we'll only know 200 years from know whether I was exactly right in what I said about the history books 200 years from now.

But I think it's important for us all to recognize as we think about the global development effort, and as we think about the events of the past few days, that with all of the problems, with all of the disappointments, with all of the things that can be improved--and I'll say something about them in a moment, and I am choosing my words carefully now--the last two decades have seen more progress in improving the human condition globally than any two-decade period in human history. That that is there in the most concrete manifestations of the things that are most important to people: the fraction of their children who die before the age of five, the fraction of their children who learn to read, the fraction of children who lose their mother due to dread disease, the fraction of young girls around the world who are forced into child prostitution. The societies have been transformed in ways that people thought almost inconceivable two decades ago.

This room was, in the late 1970s, the site of more than one discussion of the--what was seen by many of those who participated--as the near-certainty of mass famine throughout Asia and the developing world during the 1990s. That did not happen. That progress is a reflection of many, many things; surely, the most important is the success of the countries themselves in pursuing economic policies that liberated the economic energy of their people and allowed growth to take place, but it is also a success of the movements towards greater global integration that have taken place during this period and it is a success of the global institutions that have been a part of all of that.

Does growth in developing countries need to be more equitable, more human-centered, more focused on health and education? Absolutely, it does. Do the institutions need to be much more transparent and accountable? Absolutely, they do. Do their programs need to be more sensitive to the people who live in villages and involve greater degrees of popular participation? Absolutely.

But let us all remember that there has been no substantial success in raising people's incomes and living standards without contact and resources from the rest of the world and that that is something that requires revenues from exports or foreign investment, or international foreign assistance, and that, if we are going to have progress, we have to find a way to have those things and to make it work for people. I hope I have addressed the concerns that were reflected in your question.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:18 PM | Comments (16)

November 07, 2008

New Tomdispatch


A Great Day, Nine Years, Three or Four Centuries
The Jubilant Birth of the Obama Era

By Rebecca Solnit

Citizenship is a passionate joy at times, and this is one of those times. You can feel it. Tuesday the world changed. It was a great day. Monday it rained hard for the first time this season and on Election Day, everything in San Francisco was washed clean. I went on a long run past several polling places up in the hills around my home and saw lines of working people waiting to vote and contented-looking citizens walking around with their "I Voted" stickers in the sun and mud.

People have again found one of their -- our -- most buried and powerful desires: to make a better world together. I ran across an online collection of photographs of people crying in public, so moved by what is happening in this country, and I cried a little myself last weekend and choked up again when my local paper ran a story on a woman who'd crossed the country 40 years ago for Martin Luther King's funeral and left her polling place Tuesday singing hallelujah, amazed like so many older people that she'd lived to see the day.

You can argue against Barack Obama. I would myself, on the grounds that electoral politics are inherently flawed, corrosive, disempowering. My leftist friends, already cranky about him, warn me that I will be disappointed, but I'm not sure I will, because my expectations are realistic. I love his style, but he's not my messiah.

Who he is is so much better than we had any right to expect in a country left to the jackals for so long, even if he's just a pretty gifted liberal Democrat with an uncanny ability to see beyond the binaries and describe what might lie there.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:24 AM | Comments (25)

November 06, 2008

Just Foreign Policy Letter To Obama

Just Foreign Policy has a useful sign-on letter to Obama, telling him to withdraw from Iraq and establish diplomacy with Iran. There are also an assortment of other issues you can add, including our relations with Venezuela and Cuba.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 03:27 PM | Comments (7)

No To Larry Summers For Treasury Secretary

OpenLeft has set up a petition to John Podesta and Michael Strautmanis of the Obama transition team calling on Obama not to appoint Larry Summers as Treasury Secretary. As they describe, there are many reasons Summers would be an horrendous (although funny!) choice.

MORE: Don't miss this chummy note from Summers to Ken Lay when Summers became Treasury Secretary. Note the handwritten PS: "I'll keep my eye on power deregulation and energy market infrastructure issues."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:15 PM | Comments (11)

New Tomdispatch


The George W. Bush Story

By Tom Engelhardt

They may have been the most disastrous dreamers, the most reckless gamblers, and the most vigorous imperial hucksters and grifters in our history. Selling was their passion. And they were classic American salesmen -- if you're talking about underwater land in Florida, or the Brooklyn Bridge, or three-card monte, or bizarre visions of Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicles armed with chemical and biological weaponry let loose over the U.S., or Saddam Hussein's mushroom clouds rising over American cities, or a full-scale reordering of the Middle East to our taste, or simply eternal global dominance.

When historians look back, it will be far clearer that the "commander-in-chief" of a "wartime" country and his top officials were focused, first and foremost, not on the shifting "central theaters" of the Global War on Terror, but on the theater that mattered most to them -- the "home front" where they spent inordinate amounts of time selling the American people a bill of goods. Of his timing in ramping up a campaign to invade Iraq in September 2002, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card infamously explained: "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."


From a White House where "victory strategies" meant purely for domestic consumption poured out, to the Pentagon where bevies of generals, admirals, and other high officers were constantly being mustered, not to lead armies but to lead public opinion, their selling focus was total. They were always releasing "new product."

And don't forget their own set of soaring inside-the-Beltway fantasies. After all, if a salesman is going to sell you some defective product, it always helps if he can sell himself on it first. And on this score, they were world champs.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:40 AM | Comments (5)

November 05, 2008

From The Desk Of Larry Summers

So Obama may bring Larry Summers back as Treasury Secretary:

Many think the Treasury Department secretary is the biggest concern, and the most frequently mentioned names are former Clinton administration Treasury boss Larry Summers and a former deputy of Summers', Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

This seems like a good time to post a humor piece Mike Gerber and I wrote about Larry Summers that appeared in the New Yorker in 1999, back when he became Treasury Secretary. It's about an episode from his past that's almost completely forgotten now, but remains hilariously horrifying.

Here's a thumbnail pop-up of the page. A text-only version's below the fold.

• • •


by Michael Gerber and Jonathan Schwarz
The New Yorker
July 12, 1999

"Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Less Developed Countries]?... A given amount of health-impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost... I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that."

-- December, 1991 memo from Larry Summers, then chief economist for the World Bank, as reported in the New York Times

TO: All
FROM: Larry Summers, Secretary of the Treasury
DATE: July 31, 1999

Thanks for your warm welcome last Friday. I must admit that I hate karaoke, but Bob Rubin's version of "Stone Free" is something I'll remember for a long time. ; )

To start the flow, here's a brainstorm I had this morning: just between you and me, shouldn't Treasury be encouraging pharmaceutical companies to test their RISKIEST new products on the people of the Third World? Sure, the domestic prison population is a good half step, especially when the subjects can't read well enough to understand the release form. But even some crank-head who killed his girlfriend over a lottery ticket is going to get out one day, and have some job dealing fro-yo at the mall. Then he'll be pulling down the American minimum wage, money that a Hmong tribesman wouldn't make if he lived to be a thousand. So it would be much more economically efficient to dose Zapatistas and Kashmiri yak herders with Merck's newest anti- baldness/impotence/prostate enlargement cream. Squirt it from cropdusters, or just dump it in the water supply. Frankly, these people's lives are so awful that even horrible side effects would be an improvement. We should face up to that.

TO: All
FROM: Larry Summers
DATE: January 14, 2000

Just between you and me, wouldn't it make more economic sense if companies doing business in Less Developed Countries could BUY their workers' rights? Like, the right to strike? Or to criticize the company? Or to go to the bathroom? Right now these people make so little money that they (or their parents) would be glad to accept a small lump sum, in return for which they would give up their right not to be chained to the machinery. They wouldn't even miss it... The companies would get an orderly workforce legally forbidden from doing anything BUT work, and their employees would get perhaps US$5.00. Both sides benefit! This is what free trade is all about, and we should face up to that!

TO: All
FROM: Larry
DATE: May 20, 2000

Just between you and me, there's only one way we're ever going to colonize the moon: Third World labor. Lots of it. And let's face it, there's going to be an INCREDIBLE rate of mortality, especially if we use that cheap, shoddy material for the spacesuits (see my previous memo, "Cutting Corners in Outer Space"). On the good side, life expectancy in the LDCs is already pitifully low, particularly now that enormous loads of toxic waste have been dumped there. "Listen, Champ, you're going to be dying soon anyway, so why not do it on the moon, with some money in your pocket!" We'd get so many applicants that we'd have to run some kind of lottery, possibly on the Internet. (Al Gore loves this angle.)

Also, I know you just started facing up to this Moon idea, but I just had a brainstorm about what to do with all those extra children in Ireland.

Posted at 02:19 PM | Comments (14)

Looking Forward To It

This is from a recent profile of Seymour Hersh:

[H]e is hopeful that Obama will pull it off, and if he does, for Hersh this will be a starting gun. 'You cannot believe how many people have told me to call them on 20 January [the date of the next president's inauguration],' he says, with relish. '[They say:] "You wanna know about abuses and violations? Call me then."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:17 AM | Comments (13)

Thank You Jeebus

I just got home. I'm going to take a few days off from thinking about everything horrible I know about the US political system. After all, there will be years available for that.

So, in my current Up With People spirit, here are two of the best things ever said by Thomas Jefferson.

First, this is from a 1798 letter from Jefferson about the passage of the repressive Alien & Sedition Acts:

[The 1798 political situation] is not new. It is the old practice of despots to use a part of the people to keep the rest in order, and those who have once got an ascendency and possessed themselves of all the resources of the nation, their revenues and offices, have immense means for retaining their advantages. But our present situation is not a natural one. The body of our countrymen is substantially republican through every part of the Union...

A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to it's true principles. It is true that in the mean time we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war & long oppressions of enormous public debt...If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, & then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are the stake. Better luck, therefore, to us all...

And this is from an 1823 letter from Jefferson to John Adams, three years before they both died. Note Jefferson's emphasis on the importance of the printing press, and consider how he likely would have said exactly the same thing about the internet. I'd argue that we've taken a 185 year detour since the second letter—Jefferson never envisioned the centralization of power that would be made possible by TV and radio—but the internet has put us back on this road.

The generation which commences a revolution rarely compleats it. Habituated from their infancy to passive submission of body and mind to their kings and priests... their ignorance and bigotry make them instruments often, in the hands of the Bonapartes and Iturbides to defeat their own rights and purposes. This is the present situation of Europe and Spanish America. but it is not desperate.

The light which has been shed on mankind by the art of printing has eminently changed the condition of the world. as yet that light has dawned on the midling classes only of the men of Europe. The kings and the rabble of equal ignorance, have not yet recieved it's rays; but it continues to spread. And, while printing is preserved, it can no more recede than the sun return on his course.

A first attempt to recover the right of self-government may fail, so may a 2d. a 3d. &c. but as a younger, and more instructed race comes on, the sentiment become more and more intuitive, and a 4th. a 5th. Or some subsequent one of the ever renewed attempts will ultimately succeed... all will attain representative government... to attain all this however rivers of blood must yet flow, & years of desolation pass over, yet the object is worth rivers of blood, and years of desolation. For what inheritance, so valuable, can man leave to his posterity?... You and I shall look down from another world on these glorious atchievements to man, which will add to the joys even of heaven.

Ironically, of course, John Adams had been responsible for the Alien & Sedition Acts 25 years previously.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:52 AM | Comments (5)

November 04, 2008

Why I Will Vote for Barack Obama

By: Bernard Chazelle

If Clinton was a triangulator, then Obama is a tetrahedralizer, ie, he does it in 3D. Not even Dick Morris could get Ken "cakewalk" Adelman, Scott McClellan, Colin Powell, and on his boss's side. Obama owes his entry into national politics to Holy Joe, the patron saint of Big Insurance, yet "that one" excites throngs of admirers on his left. Why? Is it his promise to expand the war in Afghanistan? Or his plan to increase the size of the army by 90,000? Or his coddling of terrorists (yes, I mean the health insurance lobbyists)? Or is it his pro-wiretap vote? Or his pro-death penalty stand? Or his tax cuts for all but quarter-millionaires? Or his willful neglect of the poor, a class of subhumans unworthy of even a passing mention in his campaign?

Rarely has the word 'change' been so devoid of content. Obama's agenda is Republicanism minus the insanity.

True, McCain offers his rival the advantage of running against a certified lunatic, a cranky coot even nuttier than Bush. With Joe Lieberman at State, John Bolton at DoD, and John Yoo in SupremeLand, every day of a McCain-Palin administration would be Halloween in America: Trick or Shriek...

So is that it? A pathetic Republican opposition with a titanic ability to spot an iceberg in the dark and smash right into it? If you thought you had terminal cancer and the doctor said it's only pneumonia, you too might start screaming "Yes I Can." But there's more to it. Obamania is no pneumonia: it comes with genuine mass appeal. The Illinois senator seems a nice, decent, refreshingly sane individual with -- never hurts -- the perfect family. In fact, he may well be the most intelligent, thoughtful, nuanced, reflective president this country has ever had. (Not that, founding fathers aside, the competition is particularly stiff.) And the guy can write, too. The contrast with Bush is off the charts. Kind of nice to know that at the next G8 summit our president won't be, as usual, the thickest numbskull in the room. (Berlusconi can now claim that title for himself.)

Like you, I find the prospect of a black president exhilarating. But this white man also finds the exhilaration tainted. "We enslaved you for 200 years, but, hey, no hard feelings, right?" The concept that white America could draw even an ounce of pride from choosing a charismatic mixed-race man over a crotchety nursing-home warrior is disturbing enough. But the Obama model of upward mobility hardly offers a realistic path for African-Americans, unless you think black babies ought to be raised by white families and kept away from the black community until their 20th birthday, while making sure they have no slaves in their ancestry. That said, Obama is an astonishing American success story. The US is still good at spotting talent, something it would have been easy to forget after these last 8 years.

But this miraculous story should not make us miss the forest for the trees. The reality is that racial segregation is back to the levels of the sixties and that black poverty has been on a steady increase for the past quarter-century. White Obamania is a cheap thrill, much cheaper than actually doing something about America's blighted neighborhoods. Obama's promise of a tax cut for everyone was code for "Fear not, white man, I won't do a thing for the Hood." We all got the message. Does a black president mean the problem can be solved or the problem has been solved? Glenn Loury isn't the only one to worry about the answer. Plus, one can only savor the uncanny timing of a black presidency. By next summer no doubt the backlash will be in full swing. Cornel West:

"The empire is in decline, the culture is in decay, the democracy is in trouble, financial markets near collapse. It's almost Biblical. And you can imagine what the black brothers and sisters in the barbershops and beauty salons say: 'Right when the thing is about to go under, they hand it over to the black man.'"

Yes, but there is another side to the story. The enthusiasm in the black community for an Obama presidency is wide, heartfelt, and poignant. Symbols matter. So does pride. Sonny Stitt was driving with his buddies through a ritzy white neighborhood: "Man, these people have everything!" "No, they don't," replied Stitt. "They don't have Charlie Parker." The little black kid who gets suspicious looks from whites in the department store will perhaps remember who gets to fly Air Force One and, at that moment, draw strength from it. Maybe I am being naive, but it's not for me to tell. Gary Younge:

My wife, who is African American, shared my reservations about Obama, but saw things differently. She remembers the thrill of being a young girl when the black Democrat Harold Washington was elected in her hometown, Chicago. She liked him because her parents liked him. She could see it was important, but she didn't know why.

"My dad grew up being told a black person couldn't be a pilot, and my son is growing up knowing that a black person can be president," she said. "It's not that racism is gone, it's just that it's not about the idea that all black people are excluded on the basis of their race from any part of society or any particular job. That was the racism my parents grew up with."

This sentiment deserves respect. I'll show mine today by voting for Barack Obama. I'll try not to feel too good about it, for I've done nothing to deserve that feeling -- I'll try humility instead. And I'll go on hoping, against all hope, that President Obama will make us a better people.

And if he loses... I'm taking the Statue of Liberty back to Paris.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 11:20 AM | Comments (80)

Vote Non-Screaming About Socialism

I assume someone must have edited together a video with this material already, but I haven't seen it. This is from Woody Allen's monologue at the beginning of Annie Hall:

ALLEN: I’m not worried about aging.

I’m balding slightly on top. I guess that’s the worst you can say about me. I think I’m going to get better as I get older. I think I’m gonna be the balding, virile type. As opposed to, say, the distinguished gray.

Unless I’m neither of those two. Unless I’m one of those guys with saliva dribbling out of his mouth who wanders into a cafeteria with a shopping bag, screaming about socialism.

John McCain, age 72:

I think his plans are redistribution of the wealth. He said it himself, "We need to spread the wealth around."...That's one of the tenets of socialism.
Fox interview

You see, [Obama] believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that help us all make more of it. Joe, in his plainspoken way, said this sounded a lot like socialism.
Radio address

At least in Europe, the Socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives.
Radio address

My advice is, vote today for one of your non-screaming alternatives.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:45 AM | Comments (4)

November 03, 2008

American Landslide

One of the strangest things about US politics is how tiny differences in voting percentages turn into huge differences in party control, and then into gigantic differences in media narratives about Who We Are As A Nation.

For instance, in 2006, the Democrats took back Congress by improving their percentage of the popular vote total 5.4% over 2004, to 53.6%. This was supposedly such a gigantic repudiation of the Bush administration that they kicked out Donald Rumsfeld.

And in 1984, Ronald Reagan won with 58.8%. This was considered an enormous landslide and demonstrated America was deeply conservative. Yet imagine if the election had been decided by just ten voters: all Mondale would have had to do was persuade one of them to vote for him, and he would have been president.

Similarly, it's unlikely Obama will win tomorrow by more than 10% in the popular vote. Thus, all McCain needs to do between now and then is persuade one voter in 20 to vote for him, and Sarah Palin will be Vice President.

Meanwhile, this is the system we use to decide which person gets the opportunity to destroy human civilization. Perhaps we could invent something better.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:02 PM | Comments (16)

H.L. Mencken Explains Economists

To the credit of Robert Shiller, an economics professor at Stutts, he warned for years of the housing bubble and its likely consequences. However, based on his New York Times op-ed yesterday, he still struggles with perceiving the obvious elsewhere:

Why do professional economists always seem to find that concerns with bubbles are overblown or unsubstantiated? I have wondered about this for years, and still do not quite have an answer.

Everything worth saying about this was said almost ninety years ago, in H.L. Mencken's famous essay "The Dismal Science":

[T]o what extent is political economy, as professors expound and practice it, a free science, in the sense that mathematics and physiology are free sciences?...

Their colleagues of archeology may be reasonably called free, and their colleagues of bacteriology, and those of Latin grammar and sidereal astronomy, and those of many another science and mystery, but when one comes to the faculty of political economy one finds that freedom as plainly conditioned, though perhaps not as openly, as in the faculty of theology. And for a plain reason. Political economy, so to speak, hits the employers of the professors where they live. It deals, not with ideas that affect those employers only occasionally or only indirectly or only as ideas, but with ideas that have an imminent and continuous influence upon their personal welfare and security, and that affect profoundly the very foundations of that social and economic structure upon which their whole existence is based. It is, in brief, the science of the ways and means whereby they have come to such estate, and maintain themselves in such estate, that they are able to hire and boss professors...

One remembers, for example, the trial, condemnation and execution of Prof. Dr. Scott Nearing at the University of Pennsylvania...Nearing was not thrown out of the University of Pennsylvania, angrily and ignominiously, because he was honestly wrong, or because his errors made him incompetent to prepare sophomores for their examinations; he was thrown out because his efforts to get at the truth disturbed the security and equanimity of the rich ignoranti who happened to control the university...he was thrown out because he was not safe and sane and orthodox. Had his aberration gone in the other direction, had he defended child labor as ardently as he denounced it and denounced the minimum wage as ardently as he defended it, then he would have been quite secure in his post...

Now consider the case of the professors of economics, near and far, who have not been thrown out. Who will say that the lesson of the Nearing débêcle has been lost upon them? Who will say that the potency of the wealthy men who command our universities—or most of them—has not stuck in their minds?...It seems to me that these considerations are enough to cast a glow of suspicion over the whole of American political economy...over practically every one of them there stands a board of trustees with its legs in the stock-market and its eyes on the established order, and that board is ever alert for heresy in the science of its being, and has ready means of punishing it, and a hearty enthusiasm for the business...every last pedagogue must be well aware of it.

An interesting thing about Stutts is that professors, in order to mingle successfully at parties, must simultaneously (1) have enough cultural literacy to know who social critics like H.L. Mencken were, and (2) never read anything by them.

The text of the essay doesn't seem to be online anywhere. So to assist Google, I'll put the whole thing below the fold.

"The Dismal Science"
by H.L. Mencken

EVERY man, as the Psalmist says, to his own poison, or poisons, as the case may be. One of mine, following hard after theology, is political economy. What! Political economy, that dismal science? Well, why not? Its dismalness is largely a delusion, due to the fact that its chief ornaments, at least in our own day, are university professors. The professor must be an obscurantist or he is nothing; he has a special and unmatchable talent for dullness; his central aim is not to expose the truth clearly, but to exhibit his profundity, his esotericity—in brief, to stagger sophomores and other professors. The notion that German is a gnarled and unintelligible language arises out of the circumstance that it is so much written by professors. It took a rebel member of the clan, swinging to the antipodes in his unearthly treason, to prove its explicitness, its resiliency, it downright beauty. But Nietzsches are few, and so German remains soggy, and political economy continues to be swathed in dullness. As I say, however, that dullness is only superficial. There is no more engrossing book in the English language than Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations"; surely the eighteenth century produced nothing that can be read with greater ease to-day. Nor is there any inherent reason why even the most technical divisions of its subject should have gathered cobwebs with the passing of the years. Taxation, for example, is eternally lively; it concerns nine-tenths of us more directly than either smallpox or golf, and has just as much drama in it; moreover, it has been mellowed and made gay by as many gaudy, preposterous theories. As for foreign ex change, it is almost as romantic as young love, and quite as resistent to formulæ. Do the professors make an autopsy of it? Then read the occasional treatises of some professor of it who is not a professor, say, Garet Garrett or John Moody.

Unluckily, Garretts and Moodys are almost as rare as Nietzsches, and so the amateur of such things must be content to wrestle with the professors, seeking the violet of human interest beneath the avalanche of their graceless parts of speech. A hard business, I daresay, to one not practiced, and to its hardness there is added the disquiet of a doubt. That doubt does not concern itself with the doctrine preached, at least not directly. There may be in it nothing intrinsically dubious; on the contrary, it may appear as sound as the binomial theorem, as well supported as the dogma of infant damnation. But all the time a troubling question keeps afloat in the air, and that is briefly this: What would happen to the learned professors if they took the other side? In other words, to what extent is political economy, as professors expound and practice it, a free science, in the sense that mathematics and physiology are free sciences? At what place, if any, is speculation pulled up by a rule that beyond lies treason, anarchy and disaster? These questions, I hope I need not add, are not inspired by any heterodoxy in my own black heart. I am, in many fields, a flouter of the accepted revelation and hence immoral, but the field of economics is not one of them. Here, indeed, I know of no man who is more orthodox than I am. I believe that the present organization of society, as bad as it is, is better than any other that has ever been proposed. I reject all the sure cures in current agitation, from government ownership to the single tax. I am in favor of free competition in all human enterprises, and to the utmost limit. I admire successful scoundrels, and shrink from Socialists as I shrink from Methodists. But all the same, the afore said doubt pursues me when I plow through the solemn disproofs and expositions of the learned professors of economics, and that doubt will not down. It is not logical or evidential, but purely psycho logical. And what it is grounded on is an unshakable belief that no man's opinion is worth a hoot, however well supported and maintained, so long as he is not absolutely free, if the spirit moves him, to support and maintain the exactly contrary opinion. In brief, human reason is a weak and paltry thing so long as it is not wholly free reason. The fact lies in its very nature, and is revealed by its entire history. A man may be perfectly honest in a contention, and he may be astute and persuasive in maintaining it, but the moment the slightest compulsion to maintain it is laid upon him, the moment the slightest external re ward goes with his partisanship or the slightest penalty with its abandonment, then' there appears a defect in his ratiocination that is more deep-seated than any error in fact and more destructive than any conscious and deliberate bias. He may seek the truth and the truth only, and bring up his highest talents and diligence to the business, but always there is a specter behind his chair, a warning in his ear. Always it is safer and more hygienic for him to think one way than to think another way, and in that bald fact there is excuse enough to hold his whole chain of syllogisms in suspicion. He may be earnest, he may be honest, but he is not free, and if he is not free, he is not anything.

Well, are the reverend professors of economics free? With the highest respect, I presume to question it. Their colleagues of archeology may be reasonably called free, and their colleagues of bacteriology, and those of Latin grammar and sidereal astronomy, and those of many another science and mystery, but when one comes to the faculty of political economy one finds that freedom as plainly conditioned, though perhaps not as openly, as in the faculty of theology. And for a plain reason. Political economy, so to speak, hits the employers of the professors where they live. It deals, not with ideas that affect those employers only occasionally or only indirectly or only as ideas, but with ideas that have an imminent and continuous influence upon their personal welfare and security, and that affect profoundly the very foundations of that social and economic structure upon which their whole existence is based. It is, in brief, the science of the ways and means whereby they have come to such estate, and maintain themselves in such estate, that they are able to hire and boss professors. It is the boat in which they sail down perilous waters—and they must needs yell, or be more or less than human, when it is rocked. Now and then that yell duly resounds in the groves of learning. One remembers, for example, the trial, condemnation and execution of Prof. Dr. Scott Nearing at the University of Pennsyl vania, a seminary that is highly typical, both in its staff and in its control. Nearing, I have no doubt, was wrong in his notions—honestly, perhaps, but still wrong. In so far as I heard them stated at the time, they seemed to me to be hollow and of no validity. He has since discharged them from the chautauquan stump, and at the usual hinds. They have been chiefly accepted and celebrated by men I regard as asses. But Nearing was not thrown out of the University of Pennsylvania, angrily and ignominiously, because he was honestly wrong, or because his errors made him incompetent to prepare sophomores for their examinations; he was thrown out because his efforts to get at the truth disturbed the security and equanimity of the rich ignoranti who happened to control the university, and because the academic slaves and satellites of these shopmen were restive under his competition for the attention of the student-body. In three words, he was thrown out because he was not safe and sane and orthodox. Had his aberration gone in the other direction, had he defended child labor as ardently as he denounced it and denounced the minimum wage as ardently as he defended it, then he would have been quite as secure in his post, for all his cavorting in the newspapers, as Chancellor Day was at Syracuse.

Now consider the case of the professors of economics, near and far, who have not been thrown out. Who will say that the lesson of the Nearing débêcle has been lost upon them? Who will say that the potency of the wealthy men who command our universities—or most of them—has not stuck in their minds? And who will say that, with this sticking remembered, their arguments against Nearing's so-called ideas are as worthy of confidence and respect as they would be if they were quite free to go over to Nearing's side without damage? Who, indeed, will give them full credit, even when they are right, so long as they are hamstrung, nose-ringed and tied up in gilded pens? It seems to me that these considerations are enough to cast a glow of suspicion over the whole of American political economy, at least in so far as it comes from college economists. And, in the main, it has that source, for, barring a few brilliant journalists, all our economists of any repute are professors. Many of them are able men, and most of them are undoubtedly honest men, as honesty goes in the world, but over practically every one of them there stands a board of trustees with its legs in the stock-market and its eyes on the established order, and that board is ever alert for heresy in the science of its being, and has ready means of punish ing it, and a hearty enthusiasm for the business. Not every professor, perhaps, may be sent straight to the block, as Nearing was, but there are plenty of pillories and guardhouses on the way, and every last pedagogue must be well aware of it.

Political economy, in so far as it is a science at all, was not pumped up and embellished by any such academic clients and ticket-of-leave men. It was put on its legs by inquirers who were not only safe from all dousing in the campus pump, but who were also free from the mental timorousness and conformity which go inevitably with school-teaching—in brief, by men of the world, accustomed to its free air, its hospitality to originality and plain speaking. Adam Smith, true enough, was once a professor, but he threw up his chair to go to Paris, and there he met, not more professors, but all the current enemies of professors—the Nearings and Henry Georges and Karl Marxes of the time. And the book that he wrote was not orthodox, but revolutionary. Consider the others of that bulk and beam: Bentham, Ricardo, Mill and their like. Bentham held no post at the mercy of bankers and tripesellers; he was a man of independent means, a lawyer and politician, and a heretic in general practice. It is impossible to imagine such a man occupying a chair at Harvard or Princeton. He had a hand in too many pies: he was too rebellious and contumacious: he had too little respect for authority, either academic or worldly. Moreover, his mind was too wide for a professor; he could never remain safely in a groove; the whole field of social organization invited his inquiries and experiments. Ricardo? Another man of easy means and great worldly experience—by academic standards, not even educated. To-day, I daresay, such meager diplomas as he could show would not suffice to get him an instructor's berth in a freshwater seminary in Iowa. As for Mill, he was so well grounded by his father that he knew more, at eighteen, than any of the universities could teach him, and his life thereafter was the exact antithesis of that of a cloistered pedagogue. Moreover, he was a heretic in religion and probably violated the Mann act of those days—an offense almost as heinous, in a college professor of economics, as giving three cheers for Prince Kropotkin.

I might lengthen the list, but humanely refrain. The point is that these early English economists were all perfectly free men, with complete liberty to tell the truth as they saw it, regardless of its orthodoxy or lack of orthodoxy. I do not say that the typical American economist of to-day is not as honest, nor even that he is not as diligent and competent, but I do say that he is not as free—that penalties would come upon him for stating ideas that Smith or Ricard or Bentham or Mill, had he so desired, would have been free to state without damage. And in that menace there is an ineradicable criticism of the ideas that he does state, and it lingers even when they are plausible and are accepted. In France and Germany, where the universities and colleges are controlled by the state, the practical effect of such pressure has been frequently demonstrated. In the former country the violent debate over social and economic problems during the quarter century before the war produced a long list of professors cashiered for heterodoxy, headed by the names of Jean Jaures and Gustave Herve. In Germany it needed no Nietzsche to point out the deadening produced by this state control. Germany, in fact, got out of it an entirely new species of economist—the state Socialist who flirted with radicalism with one eye and kept the other upon his chair, his salary and his pension.

The Nearing case and the rebellions of various pedagogues elsewhere show that we in America stand within the shadow of a somewhat similar danger. In economics, as in the other sciences, we are probably producing men who are as good as those on view in any other country. They are not to be surpassed for learning and originality, and there is no reason to believe that they lack honesty and courage. But honesty and courage, as men go in the world, are after all merely relative values. There comes a point at which even the most honest man considers consequences, and even the most courageous looks before he leaps. The difficulty lies in establishing the position of that point. So long as it is in doubt, there will remain, too, the other doubt that I have described. I rise in meeting, I repeat, not as a radical, but as one of the most hunkerous of the orthodox. I can imagine nothing more dubious in fact and wobbly in logic than some of the doctrines that amateur economists, chiefly Socialists, have set afloat in this country during the past dozen years. I have even gone to the trouble of writing a book against them; my convictions and instincts are all on the other side. But I should be a great deal more comfortable in those convictions and instincts if I were convinced that the learned professors were really in full and absolute possession of academic freedom—if I could imagine them taking the other tack now and then without damnation to their jobs, their lecture dates, their book sales and their hides.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:25 AM | Comments (11)

November 02, 2008

Dismal Scientists for a Dismal Science

By: Bernard Chazelle

Economists are notoriously unable to predict anything but the past. Why? Yale Professor Robert Shiller, an exception to this rule, explains:

Why do professional economists always seem to find that concerns with bubbles are overblown or unsubstantiated? [..] It seems that concerns about professional stature may blind [them] to the possibility that we are witnessing a market bubble. People compete for stature, and the ideas often just tag along.

Translation: "They'll sell their mother to be on CNN."

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 05:00 PM | Comments (13)

What The Fucking Fuck?

America is. fucking. crazy.

If you do nothing else today, read this outstanding New York Times article about how five Wisconsin school boards somehow lost $200 million investing in insanely risky international financial instruments created by an German bank based in Dublin.

The St. Louis investment bank that sold this to the Wisconsin school boards, collecting a fee of $1.2 million in the process, is called Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. For a good time, read the "Statement of Commitment" on their website:

To our clients—individual, institutional, corporate, and municipal, our commitment is to listen and consistently deliver innovative financial solutions. Putting the welfare of clients and community first, we strive to be the advisor of choice in the industry. Pursuit of excellence and a desire to exceed clients' expectations are the values that empower our Company to achieve this status.

Well, they certainly managed to exceed their clients' expectations.

When did America become this kind of country? Where little midwestern school boards think it's a fine idea to use their money allocated for scissors, paste and teacher pensions for speculating in the international bond insurance market? And where all the most prestigious colleges send a third of their graduating classes to Wall Street so they can learn how to fleece these little school boards most effectively?

It's horrifying. Fortunately, the current financial panic will eventually force the New York Times to eliminate this type of high-quality reporting. So while such catastrophes will continue to occur, at least we won't have to hear about it.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:03 AM | Comments (19)

November 01, 2008

Our Creepy America

Good to see Joe Biden is enthusiastically embracing the creepy US political tradition of calling the president "our" commander-in-chief:

"Ladies and gentlemen, we need to move past the politics of division and attack," the Democratic vice-presidential nominee told a crowd of 2000 in Kettering. "Over the past week, Republicans have gone way over the top in my view, calling Barack Obama every name in the book, and it probably will get worse in the next three and a half to four days...after next Tuesday, the very critics he has now and the rest of America will be calling him something else—they will be calling him the 44th president of the United States of America, our commander in chief Barack Obama!"

Previous thoughts on this are available from Garry Wills, Jim Henley, Digby, and Glenn Greenwald.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:47 PM | Comments (12)


There's a great deal to admire about Jonathan Demme, both as a movie director and a person. But this, from the commentary track to his documentary Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains, is a big disappointment:

DEMME: I always find this part of the film almost heartbreakingly moving in a way, because the whole idea of leaders, the leader of Israel, the leader of an Arab nation, the leader of America, sitting down, and all they're talking about is this peace that they have dared believe in. It makes you wonder, can this ever happen again? Will there ever be leadership like these three men, who are willing to dare to go that far? And of course it's tragic that both Begin and Sadat were assassinated by people from their own country in the years following this encounter. And Begin himself had done such a turnaround in the presence of a Carter and the presence of a Sadat, he was able to draw upon his belief in humanity and peace...

It's distressing, though understandable, that Demme doesn't understand the reality of the Camp David Accords. They were much more a matter of moving Egypt out of the Soviet Union's imperial orbit, and into ours, than lasting peace in the region. (Hint: four years later Begin invaded Lebanon.)

But it's really bad news that Demme mixes up Menachem Begin, who left power in 1983, with Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995. Man from Plains is all about Carter's book tour for Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. And the difference between Begin and Rabin is such basic information about this subject that Demme really shouldn't have made the movie without knowing it. (His producer Neda Armian is also on the commentary track, so she apparently didn't know either.)


LET'S GET BACK TO CRITICIZING PEOPLE I DON'T LIKE: A much more serious example of this kind of thing appears in Kenneth Pollack's book The Threatening Storm. Pollack twice refers to the 1982 "assassination" of Israeli ambassador to the U.K. Shlomo Argov:

[I]n June 1982, Iraq would instigate the assassination of Israel's ambassador to Great Britain to try to spark the long-expected Israeli invasion of Lebanon that Saddam hoped would create a new Arab-Israeli war that would somehow convince Iran to cease combat operations against Iraq...
Iraq orchestrated the assassination of Shlomo Argov, the Israeli ambassador to Great Britain. Iraq's motives are illuminating...[Saddam] ordered the killing of Argov because the right-wing government of Menachem Begin had made it clear that another terrorist attack would prompt it to invade Lebanon to clear out the PLO presence there.

Pollack clearly doesn't know Argov survived this assassination attempt (and in fact was still alive when The Threatening Storm came out). This is slightly more obscure information than the difference between Begin and Rabin, but not much more. And it's certainly something any "expert" on the mideast should know like their own name. Getting it wrong is like referring to "Israel's 1000-mile long southern border with Lebanon."

Of course, no one cares about Pollack's embarrassing mistake, because he was calling for war! war! war! In fact, as far as I can tell with Google and Nexis, none of the dozens of glowing reviews of his book even mentioned this. In the reviewers' defense, though, few of them probably read it.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:24 PM | Comments (12)

New Tomdispatch


Expanding War, Contracting Meaning
The Next President and the Global War on Terror

By Andrew J. Bacevich

A week ago, I had a long conversation with a four-star U.S. military officer who, until his recent retirement, had played a central role in directing the global war on terror. I asked him: what exactly is the strategy that guides the Bush administration's conduct of this war? His dismaying, if not exactly surprising, answer: there is none.

President Bush will bequeath to his successor the ultimate self-licking ice cream cone. To defense contractors, lobbyists, think-tankers, ambitious military officers, the hosts of Sunday morning talk shows, and the Douglas Feith-like creatures who maneuver to become players in the ultimate power game, the Global War on Terror is a boon, an enterprise redolent with opportunity and promising to extend decades into the future.

Yet, to a considerable extent, that very enterprise has become a fiction, a gimmicky phrase employed to lend an appearance of cohesion to a panoply of activities that, in reality, are contradictory, counterproductive, or at the very least beside the point. In this sense, the global war on terror relates to terrorism precisely as the war on drugs relates to drug abuse and dependence: declaring a state of permanent "war" sustains the pretense of actually dealing with a serious problem, even as policymakers pay lip-service to the problem's actual sources. The war on drugs is a very expensive fraud. So, too, is the Global War on Terror.

Anyone intent on identifying some unifying idea that explains U.S. actions, military and otherwise, across the Greater Middle East is in for a disappointment...

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:45 AM | Comments (10)