Saturday, March 29, 2008

Fox Populi

There was a difference I noticed the constant replaying of the Wright videos between the major cable news outlets. On Fox, they were intended not only as fodder for sensationalism (as they mostly were on MSNBC and CNN), but also to advance the Movement Conservative agenda, which is Fox News’ purpose as a network. Tear down Obama to make him more beatable in November.

Fox (and wider, movement conservatism generally) almost always uses signifiers of the cultural and political conflicts of the 1960s when they are trying to discredit the political left in general, and Democrats in particular.

Thus, the Wright controversy was used to subtly indicate that Obama is some sort of ’60s radical Black Separatist character. This is, of course, absurd; any cursory glance at Obama’s actions and rhetoric shows none of the animating principles or world view of 60’s style leftism. (If anyone doubts this, look up an actual ’60s-era speech by, say, Huey Newton or H. Rap Brown on youtube, and then pull up any speech ever made by Barack Obama. See the resemblance? Neither do I.)

It is, however, useful to outfits like Fox News, and other propaganda arms of movement conservatism, in that it inspires fear in working class whites (of their caricatured enemy: the sissified, latte-sipping, morally snooty coastal upper-class liberal, who want to give their job to a black man and then lecture them, in patronizing tones, about their racism).

Movement Conservatism (Fox News, talk radio, etc.) uses a kind of cultural populism to motivate ground troops. (One of Hillary's most heinous offenses this primary season has been to play this game herself. grrr...)

The Democrats’ greatest strategic error since 1972 has been to allow Republicans to get away with this, mostly by turning their back on their own traditional brand of populism, which was economic in character.

Truman used to talk openly and unabashedly about how the Democrats were “the party of the common man” while the Republicans were “the rich man’s party.” And not just Truman; decrying the economic elites was commonplace among Democrats, once upon a time: Roosevelt talked about the "malefactors of great wealth" and the corrupt titans of Wall Street. As a Democrat, I would love it if the Democrats would start talking like that again. Obama’s background as a community organizer gives me reason to hope that he will be able to revive the economic populism that was a large part of Democratic Party electoral success after 1932.

Here's a snippet of FDR's Rendezvous With Destiny speech, to show you what I mean:

Throughout the nation, opportunity was limited by monopoly. Individual initiative was crushed in the cogs of a great machine. The field open for free business was more and more restricted. Private enterprise, indeed, became too private. It became privileged enterprise, not free enterprise.

An old English judge once said: "Necessitous men are not free men." Liberty requires opportunity to make a living - a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.

For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor - other people's lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.

Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of government. The collapse of 1929 showed up the despotism for what it was. The election of 1932 was the people's mandate to end it. Under that mandate it is being ended.

The royalists of the economic order have conceded that political freedom was the business of the government, but they have maintained that economic slavery was nobody's business. They granted that the government could protect the citizen in his right to vote, but they denied that the government could do anything to protect the citizen in his right to work and his right to live.


And from his Second Inaugural Address:

We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics. Out of the collapse of a prosperity whose builders boasted their practicality has come the conviction that in the long run economic morality pays. We are beginning to wipe out the line that divides the practical from the ideal; and in so doing we are fashioning an instrument of unimagined power for the establishment of a morally better world.

Friday, March 28, 2008

War and its Consequences

To me, the most devastating thing about war is the spiritual devastation wrought in its participants - the soldiers themselves.

You cannot simultaneously love a man (in the Agapē sense) and kill him; a precondition of being able to kill a man is that you must dehumanize him first. Acknowledge the brotherhood in him, and you are incapable of really harming him.

The thing is, a deeper part of you is intrinsically incapable of denying the brotherhood of the “enemy” and thus recognizes the appalling nature of what you have done: you have wounded or killed your brother.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way

The right wing’s whole narrative that “the treasonous liberals want to pull out of Iraq just when we’re on the verge of final victory!!!!11!1!" strikes me as just crass, disingenuous posturing: doing pre-spin on the inevitable withdrawal that must, given the math and the deteriorating state of our military, take place.

So, let’s get real. Using the right’s own (in my view, hubris-addled) metrics, let’s define “achieving victory in Iraq” as:

* Violence reduced to, at a minimum, Pre-March-2003 levels;
* A stable, secular, united central government in Baghdad;
* Infrastructure and services (power, water, food distribution, sewage treatment, etc.) exceeding standards that obtained in pre-war Iraq.

…thus providing the example of prosperous freedom that would be (highly debatably…) attractive to Arab populations living under dictatorships in the region.

How could the United States (and, given the level of support the United States could realistically expect from the rest of the world, it would be virtually the United States alone doing this) get there from here? What would it really, actually take to completely pacify Iraq? (Note that I’m just going to discard any considerations of the morality of the enterprise here, and argue from a position of cold, amoral pragmatism.)

Step one is troops. Lots and lots and LOTS of troops. Bush’s “surge” is comically inadequate to the task. You’d have to absolutely flood the non-Kurdish parts of Iraq with American troops, who could clear of insurgents, and then seal off to weapons smuggling, the whole of Iraq, village by village, city by city, region by region. You’d also have to effectively seal off, or at least monitor in fine-grained, very intrusive detail, the borders of the country, especially the ones with Syria and Iran - to the point that a ball-point pen couldn’t enter the country without American say-so.

This means anywhere from tens to hundreds of thousands of combat troops…in each large city in Iraq. Baghdad alone would probably need something in the neighborhood of 200,000 troops, just for the city itself. Plus, every road into Baghdad (and every other city in Iraq) would need to be under 24-hour patrols and surveillance, to prevent insurgents and weapons from moving from place to place. Not to mention saturating every border crossing of any size with American troops, and regular, pervasive patrols of every mile of the border.

The entire population would need to be disarmed: the military would need to just say something like, “you have six weeks to turn in any weaponry. Any Iraqi civilian found to be in possession of a weapon after that time will be presumed to be an insurgent, and will be subject to imprisonment.”

In other words, the American Military would need to effectively run Iraq in the short- to mid-term. The total American forces in the country at any moment would probably total somewhere between one and two million troops.

Step two: Once the violence was quelled (and, with sufficient troops, there is virtually no doubt it would be): “turn the lights back on.”

Prime targets of insurgents are electrical lines, to keep the population uncomfortable and inconvenienced, and thus resentful. So, rebuilding existing generating capacity, building new capacity as needed, and then putting power stations, and every mile of power line, under 24-hour guard, is essential to undermining support for the insurgents.

Next, restore basic services: Water, sewage, garbage collection.

Garbage collection especially would improve quality of life life measurably for the population, in a highly visible way, and would almost certainly be rewarded with lots of goodwill. Garbage collectors are prime targets of insurgents, because garbage piles by the side of the road make good hiding places for IEDs.

Step 3: Send the vast, vast majority of the American contractors in Iraq home, and hire Iraqi companies for all future rebuilding projects, and pay them in dollars. Iraqi unemployment is pervasive, and unemployed men (especially former Iraqi Army soldiers) are ripe for recruiting by insurgents. Employing them would dry up this particular resource for insurgents, and also give Iraqis a sense of ownership of the projects they would be building. Even people not involved directly in building schools, post offices, etc., would see them being built, and have a clear sense that everyday life is getting incrementally better.

All this would, of course, be hideously expensive - hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars, every year. There would probably also be another sharp spike in American casualties, but the insurgency would probably hugely diminish in the face of pervasive American troops, so the spike would be significant but temporary.

Of course, some of those casualties would be draftees, because summoning the level of troops required for all this would require a draft (and a big one) without question: a level of mobilization not seen since World War II. I expect the war fetishists at Little Green Footballs would get awfully quiet if they were faced with the prospect of having to actually, you know, risk their own worthless necks fighting in the war they masturbate to.

Once some semblance of stability was achieved, some sort of conference amongst the various factions in Iraq could probably hammer out an agreement that would be acceptable to all parties, or at least one that everyone would be equally dissatisfied with.

This whole project would all take a level of consensus in the United States that clearly does not obtain. A large majority of Americans oppose the occupation as it is currently being conducted. If large numbers of their children were being drafted for, and their taxes raised to pay for, an even bigger occupation, Washington D.C. would undoubtedly be overrun with citizens chasing their congressmen and senators around with torches and pitchforks.

And, it may not even work: what happens if Americans start withdrawing troops, and violence increases? What then?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Forbidden Populism

A Diarist at Daily Kos who goes by the handle ToqueDeville posted today on why populism (especially economic populism) is anathema to the powers that be. Money graf:

We can attribute the sensationalization of Reverend Wright, or the propping up of Hillary's faltering chances as keeping the race alive for ratings. Maybe that's all it is. But the systemic pattern of occluding our candidates messages every time the message involves corporate power, or anything that even resembles populism, is not about ratings. General Electric didn't buy a TV network to provide a platform for the common folk to redress their grievances. GE and Time Warner are direct beneficiaries of the very corruption in Washington CNN and NBC don't want to talk about.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What dday Said...

A Blogger named dday over at Hullabaloo speaks the unvarnished truth:

We've essentially in the Bush era set up a kind of corporate Marxism, where risk is socialized, but where wealth is privatized. And the middle class, in this case homeowners, are the only ones who ever feel any pain.

Ben Bernanke believes that he can save the economy by managing and financing the ultimate downfall of these financial institutions. Which is fine to a point, because the alternative is a massive meltdown of the entire system. But let's call it exactly what it is. And let's no longer allow the other side to say things like "let the market make its own decisions," because they only believe that when they're not affected. This is a selective bailout, and it's government intervention into the markets to save them. Because they currently are non-functional and unregulated. It doesn't have to be this way, but under a laissez-faire system it's inevitable.

Can't wait for some Wall Street honcho or BushCo official to go on about welfare queens or big government programs...

Speaking of speeches...

A speech by FDR that may, sadly, become apropos given the ongoing financial collapse:

Throughout the nation, opportunity was limited by monopoly. Individual initiative was crushed in the cogs of a great machine. The field open for free business was more and more restricted. Private enterprise, indeed, became too private. It became privileged enterprise, not free enterprise.

An old English judge once said: "Necessitous men are not free men." Liberty requires opportunity to make a living - a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.

For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor - other people's lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.

Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of government. The collapse of 1929 showed up the despotism for what it was. The election of 1932 was the people's mandate to end it. Under that mandate it is being ended.

The royalists of the economic order have conceded that political freedom was the business of the government, but they have maintained that economic slavery was nobody's business. They granted that the government could protect the citizen in his right to vote, but they denied that the government could do anything to protect the citizen in his right to work and his right to live.

Obama's Speech in Philadelphia

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Oh, Snap!

The Text of a memo sent out by the Clinton campaign, as annotated by the Obama Camp, whose responses appear in brackets[]:


To: Interested Parties

From: Clinton Campaign

Date: Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Re: Keystone Test: Obama Losing Ground [Get ready for a good one.]



The path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue goes through Pennsylvania so if Barack Obama can't win there, how will he win the general election?



[Answer: I suppose by holding obviously Democratic states like California and New York, and beating McCain in swing states like Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Virginia and Wisconsin where Clinton lost to Obama by mostly crushing margins. But good question.]



After setbacks in Ohio and Texas, Barack Obama needs to demonstrate that he can win the state of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is the last state with more than 15 electoral votes on the primary calendar and Barack Obama has lost six of the seven other largest states so far - every state except his home state of Illinois.



[If you define "setback" as netting enough delegates out of our 20-plus-point wins in Mississippi and Wyoming to completely erase any delegate advantage the Clinton campaign earned out of March 4th, then yeah, we feel pretty setback.]



Pennsylvania is of particular importance, along with Ohio, Florida and Michigan, because it is dominated by the swing voters who are critical to a Democratic victory in November. No Democrat has won the presidency without winning Pennsylvania since 1948. And no candidate has won the Democratic nomination without winning Pennsylvania since 1972.



[What the Clinton campaign secretly means: PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE FACT THAT WE'VE LOST 14 OF THE LAST 17 CONTESTS AND SAID THAT MICHIGAN AND FLORIDA WOULDN'T COUNT FOR ANYTHING. Also, we're still trying to wrap our minds around the amazing coincidence that the only "important" states in the nominating process are the ones that Clinton won.]



But the Obama campaign has just announced that it is turning its attention away from Pennsylvania.



[Huh?]



This is not a strategy that can beat John McCain in November.



[I don't think Clinton's strategy of losing in state after state after promising more of the same politics is working all that well either.]



In the last two weeks, Barack Obama has lost ground among men, women, Democrats, independents and Republicans - all of which point to a candidacy past its prime.



["A candidacy past its prime." These guys kill me.]



For example, just a few weeks ago, Barack Obama won 68% of men in Virginia, 67% in Wisconsin and 62% in Maryland. He won 60% of Virginia women and 55% of Maryland women. He won 62% of independents in Maryland, 64% in Wisconsin and 69% in Virginia. Obama won 59% of Democrats in Maryland, 53% in Wisconsin and 62% in Virginia. And among Republicans, Obama won 72% in both Virginia and Wisconsin.



But now Obama's support has dropped among all these groups.



[That's true, if you don't count all the winning we've been up to. As it turns out, it's difficult to maintain 40-point demographic advantages, even over Clinton]



In Mississippi, he won only 25% of Republicans and barely half of independents. In Ohio, he won only 48% of men, 41% of women and 42% of Democrats. In Texas, he won only 49% of independents and 46% of Democrats. And in Rhode Island, Obama won just 33% of women and 37% of Democrats.



[I'm sympathetic to their attempt to parse crushing defeats. And I'm sure Rush Limbaugh's full-throated endorsement of Clinton didn't make any difference. Right]



Why are so many voters turning away from Barack Obama in state after state?



[You mean besides the fact that we're ahead in votes, states won and delegates?]



In the last few weeks, questions have arisen about Obama's readiness to be president. In Virginia, 56% of Democratic primary voters said Obama was most qualified to be commander-in-chief. That number fell to 37% in Ohio, 35% in Rhode Island and 39% in Texas.



[Only the Clinton campaign could cherry pick states like this. But in contrast to their logic, in the most recent contest of Mississippi, voters said that Obama was more qualified to be commander in chief than Clinton by a margin of 55-42.]



So the late deciders - those making up their minds in the last days before the election - have been shifting to Hillary Clinton. Among those who made their decision in the last three days, Obama won 55% in Virginia and 53% in Wisconsin, but only 43% in Mississippi, 40% in Ohio, 39% in Texas and 37% in Rhode Island.



[If only there were enough late deciders for the Clinton campaign to actually be ahead, they would really be on to something.] Note from The Hopeful Populist: Ouch!



If Barack Obama cannot reverse his downward spiral with a big win in Pennsylvania, he cannot possibly be competitive against John McCain in November.



[If they are defining downward spiral as a series of events in which the Clinton campaign has lost more votes, lost more contests and lost more delegates to us - I guess we will have to suffer this horribly painful slide all the way to the nomination and then on to the White House.]



[Thanks for the laughs guys. This was great.]

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Toast

I think it's fair to say at this point that, unless Obama has an Elliott Spitzer-style meltdown, Hillary is pretty much finished for this year.

I personally think she's a better candidate than is reflected by her advisers (though she did hire them...).

This just wasn't her year. I just hope she doesn't damage the Party too much before she sucks it up and does the right thing. Unless she scorches too much earth, she'll be formidable in 2016.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Obama Takes Mississippi

Nets called this one early:

Hoooookaaaay...

Maggie Williams, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, is now suggesting that Obama is...wait for it...playing the race card by objecting to Geraldine Ferraro's race baiting comments. Next Up: Hillary herself claims that Obama, by denying her the nomination, is actually displaying hatred toward black people.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Obama Responds to Hillary's Silliness

"With all due respect, I’ve won twice as many states as Sen. Clinton. I’ve won more of the popular vote than Sen. Clinton. I have more delegates than Sen. Clinton."


Obama on Torture

CNN:

"We need a Commander in Chief who has never wavered on whether or not it is acceptable for America to torture, because it is never acceptable,” said Obama. “While I have consistently opposed torture, in the course of this primary campaign Hillary Clinton has flip-flopped from her past position of tolerating torture. …

“When I am president, the American people and the world will be able to trust that I will outlaw torture, because unlike Senator Clinton I have never made an exception for torture and I never will."

Geraldine Ferraro: Obama Winning Because He's Black

The Clinton campaign is setting some sort of record for tone-deaf cluelessness. Geraldine Ferraro, today:


"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," she continued. "And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."


That is just...that is just...there are no words.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

This Just In...

Via TPM, it appears that Hillary may go after Obama's pledged delegates. Hillary, just...let it go. It wasn't your year.

The Affordability Crisis

Here in the Bay Area, the relationship between the median price of a house, and the median salary, broke off their relationship a long time ago, and are no longer on speaking terms: I make a decent living ($19 per hour, more or less) and can only afford a studio apartment in Berkeley ($920 per month) that is practically smaller than my 20-year-old Toyota.

I'll believe the housing/credit/consequences-of-greed crisis is over when the median Bay Area salary can afford the median Bay Area non-swindle"creative" mortgage, and not one minute before. I think it will be a long wait.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Thought of the Day...

When Thomas Friedman says, "The World is Flat" what he means is, "Expect a pay cut before you're fired."

Friday, March 07, 2008

Uh Oh...

If oil gets anywhere near $200 per barrel as predicted by Goldman Sachs, our current oil-driven lifestyle will be impossible - not inconvenienced, not "more difficult," but as a matter of practical economics, impossible.

$200-a-barrel oil means gasoline will cost around 8 bucks a gallon. Suburb dwellers with 30-mile-each-way commutes will have 20 dollar-a-day gasoline bills, and that's assuming they drive an economy car. If they drive an SUV, more like 50 bucks a day.

"Well, they can take public transit," you counter?

What public transit? Again, consider this as a practical matter: you would have to - instantly - build light rail out to all those low-density 'burbs, and/or increase bus capacity by several hundred percent - and if it's buses, fares would go up regardless (diesel won't be any cheaper than gas, remember.)

Yeah, good luck with that.

There will be all sorts of other chaos. Wal-Mart, for example, would very quickly fail on a massive scale in a world of really expensive fuels. Rather than deliver from a network of distribution warehouses supplied by local production, Wal-Mart uses the concept of a "warehouse on wheels", i.e., fleets of diesel powered semi trucks going straight from the port-of-entry to the local Wal-Mart super center. Suddenly-expensive diesel powering those trucks (not to mention the fuel oil powering the container ships bringing all the produced-by-Chinese-slaves crap they sell) would mean big price increases on the store shelves, erasing Wal-Mart's predatory pricing advantage, and meaning that local stores suddenly would be competitively priced, and thus would bleed enough business from Walmart that they would no longer be economical to run.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Michigan Dems May Run a Do-Over Caucus

This would be bad news indeed for Clinton: Obama would almost certainly crush her, especially because it would be a caucus.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Why Hillary needs to lose in 2008

She has definitely crossed the line:

I'm a sucker for this sort of thing...

Found this on Craigslist, and just had to post it...

This is one of the kindest things I've ever experienced. I have no way to know who sent it, but there is a kind soul working in the dead letter office of the US postal service. Our 14 year old dog, Abbey, died last month. The day after she died, my 4 year old daughter Meredith was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey. She asked if we could write a letter to God so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her. I told her that I thought we could so she dictated these words:

Dear God, Will you please take care of my dog? She died yesterday and is with you in heaven. I miss her very much. I am happy that you let me have her as my dog even though she got sick. I hope you will play with her. She likes to play with balls and to swim. I am sending a picture of her so when you see her you will know that she is my dog. I really miss her.

Love, Meredith.


We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey and Meredith and addressed it to God/Heaven. We put our return address on it. Then Meredith pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope because she said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to heaven. That afternoon she dropped it into the letter box at the post office. A few days later, she asked if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her that I thought He had.

Yesterday, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch addressed, 'To Meredith' in an unfamiliar hand. Meredith opened it. Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers called, 'When a Pet Dies.' Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God in its opened envelope. On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey & Meredith and this note:

Dear Meredith,

Abbey arrived safely in heaven. Having the picture was a big help. I recognized Abbey right away. Abbey isn't sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me just like it stays in your heart. Abbey loved being your dog. Since we don't need our bodies in heaven, I don't have any pockets to keep your picture in, so I am sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and have something to remember Abbey by. Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping you write it and sending it to me. What a wonderful mother you have. I picked her especially for you. I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much. By the way, I am wherever there is love.

Love, God

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Tikkun Olam

Via Kid Oakland (whose excellent essay can be found here), Josh Keller offers some observations about the deeper possibilities offered by Barack Obama.

But going to the Obama rally in Austin made me think differently about what it means to be an observant Jew and the type of politics that represent our values more generally. The following is a blurb from the Nation. I am using the blurb because I couldn't remember the speech word for word and this seems to jive with my own recollection.

Obama ended by recalling, as he often does, Martin Luther King Jr.'s prophecy that "the arc of the moral universe...bends towards justice." Yet as his speech reached a crescendo, there was a palpable sense that he believed, perhaps more than ever before, in his own message. "Here's the thing, young people, it doesn't bend on its own, it bends because you put your hand on that arc and you bend it in the direction of justice," Obama boomed. "Think about all the power that's represented here in all of you.... If you all grab that arc, then I have no doubt, I have absolutely no doubt, that regardless of what happens in this presidential year and regardless of what happens in this campaign, America will transform itself."

This obviously has strong biblical meaning, and rooted in Judaism. It corresponds to the idea of Tikkun Olam (to repair the world) and that g-d's will is revealed through human spirit and action. And this is what Jews celebrate on Pesach every year. It also has deep roots in the African American churches, who saw the story of Exodus as speaking deeply to them.



So in simple words, this movement can represent a new politics in America, but also a return to ancient views of justice.