Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, September 29, 2008

Today's Random Wilde

One must have some occupation nowadays. If I hadn't my debts I shouldn't have anything to think about.

Ambivalent

Well, the Bailout proposal has failed -- and to much rejoicing across the Netroots. I'll admit I'm a tad more ambivalent about the outcome myself. I'd like to think that the crappy concessions Democrats made to get the usual lying Republican promises of support will now be junked and a more forcefully progressive and sensible and accountable proposal will be crafted. This even makes strategic sense as a move, since more progressive holdouts would like such a revised proposal and more reactionary holdouts would fear such a direction and might get on the bandwagon before their rich friends missed out on all the goodies. But, I fear, given the history here, the revised version will be far worse than the one the Netroots are cheering the defeat of, and that it will be Democrat who pay for the ways in which it is worse. Not to mention the possibility that this is a real crisis demanding a real solution the delay of a solution for which might prove hideously costly even though Idiot Boy Bush is one of the people saying so. Again, I'll admit I'm ambivalent. Shaken, not stirred. Here's Krugman. Here's Dean Baker. They both seem sensible and rather at odds, which matches my mood perfectly. A noxious cloud of finger-pointing on the part of Republicans jockeying for position in their desperate election-year end-gaming, not to mention a bit of hysterical crowing among otherwise reliable Netroots folks, is obscuring the landscape for the time being as far as I can see. We'll see what emerges next.

Catfish Stephenson Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive



For Failout Day... "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?" Lyrics by the great Yip Harburg.

Palin Quote Generator

Like the sound of the ocean, but with words..

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Surveying the Crime Scene

Krugman's assessment of the failout draft: "Not a good plan. But sufficiently not-awful, I think, to be above the line; and hopefully the whole thing can be fixed next year." Feels like the cheery assessments I hear from people I trust more generally. Details on the ground are still skittering deliriously, though, and we can surely expect it to get a little better -- or more likely, much worse -- before the dawn. Stay tuned.

"My Friends, I'm Pregnant"

SadlyNo! wonders what McCain's next zany campaign stunt may entail. With poll.

That Might Require Eye Contact

ThinkProgress: "McCain Calls For Bipartisan Cooperation On Financial Bailout, But Refuses To Talk With Democrats." Completely ridiculous.

Dave Winer Doesn't Care Anymore If Red Staters Hate Him

And tells you why you shouldn't either.

After the Bailouts: Preparing the Way for a New Deal 2.0

Thom Hartmann's alternative to the Bailout proposals on offer is, of course, what Atrios refers to as a "Pony Plan" -- an abstraction that isn't even remotely under practical consideration and so can contribute only marginally to the discussion of the merits and problems of the policy plans that actually are on offer, come what may. The point is well taken, especially when we contemplate just how much righteous energy and needed intelligence has been squandered over the last thirty years -- in the face of, first, the neoliberal and then, next, the neoconservative onslaught -- into abjectly useless third parties (yes, they are!) and online manifestos and precisely bullet-pointed proposals no legislators ever read and so on.

But it seems to me Hartmann's plan does indeed usefully point the way forward, and in a crucially clearheaded way, for the changed circumstances that will prevail if (once! I mean, once!) we win the White House with a progressive mandate and loudmouthed fighting liberals holding newly-elected feet to the fire and with the deeper majorities in both Houses to push real, sane, forward-looking solutions through next year and in the years to come.

Writes Hartmann:
We should [c]reate a [new] agency to fund the bailout, loan that agency the money from the treasury, and then have that agency tax Wall Street to pay us (the treasury) back. It’s been done before, and has several benefits. In the United Kingdom, for example, whenever you buy or sell a share of stock (or a credit swap or a derivative, or any other activity of that sort) you pay a small tax on the transaction.

We did the same thing here in the US from1914 to 1966 (and, before that, we did it to finance the Spanish American War and the Civil War). For us, this Securities Turnover Excise Tax (STET) was a revenue source. For example, if we were to instate a .25 percent STET (tax) on every stock, swap, derivative, or other trade today, it would produce –- in its first year -– around $150 billion in revenue. Wall Street would be generating the money to fund its own bailout. (For comparison, as best I can determine, the UK’s STET is .25 percent, and Taiwan just dropped theirs from.60 to .30 percent.)

But there are other benefits… John Maynard Keynes pointed out… such a securities transaction tax would have the effect of “mitigating the predominance of speculation over enterprise.” In other words, it would tamp down toxic speculation, while encouraging healthy investment. The reason is pretty straightforward:

When there’s no cost to trading, there’s no cost to gambling. The current system is like going to a casino where the house never takes anything; a gambler’s paradise. Without costs to the transaction, people of large means are encourage[d] to speculate –- for example, [to] buy a million shares of a particular stock over a day or two purely with the goal of driving up the stock’s price (because everybody else sees all the buying activity and thinks they should jump onto the bandwagon) so three days down the road they can sell all their stock at a profit and get out before it collapses as the result of their sale…. Investment, on the other hand, is what happens when people buy stock because they believe the company has an underlying value. They’re expecting the value will increase over time because the company has a good product or service and good management. Investment stabilizes markets, makes stock prices reflect real company values, and helps small investors securely build value over time….

Franklin D. Roosevelt, as part of the New Deal, put into place a series of rules to discourage speculation and promote investment, including maintaining -- and doubling -- the Securities Transaction Excise Tax… [I]mportant benefit[s] of immediately re-instituting a STET in the USA, [include] that it would raise enough money to bail out the banks and billionaires (and after that crisis is covered, could pay for a national healthcare system)… that it would encourage [sound] investment and calm down markets. Those are all strong benefits[.]

Hartmann makes a wonderfully clear and compelling case here. His account is all the stronger for the historical contextualization he provides for it -- for all of which you should follow the link up top and read the whole piece. I sure hope that proposals in this vein bubble up to the forefront of public consciousness when the time comes to create new financial institutions in a way that isn't beholden to the criminal desires of the Killer Clowns currently in power. More than just hope, progressives should simply do the work of repetition and reformulation online and elsewhere that produces this result ourselves.

But I do think it's quixotic and even a bit counterproductive to measure the current actually-offered proposals against this enormously sensible plan (which is not to say I am pleased by what I am hearing getting leaked about the current Bailout Plan that Dems have their hands in). I say this because even sensible and sympathetic Democrats are coping with an ideological universe of Republicans and Blue Dogs in an Election year the pragmatics of which are simply exerting different pressures than will the optics of a new Presidential mandate after a Change Election with Democrats thronging every layer of government and confronting vast challenges attributable -- not perfectly fairly -- to the defeated party and -- perfectly fairly -- to the corporate-militarist philosophy of the debased and debauched Reagan-Bush epoch.

I can imagine any number of righteous ripostes to this point, and sympathize with most of them, hell I've made most of them myself under different circumstances, but the question is not whether one directs radically democratic critiques against neoliberal and neoconservative policies, but where and when so to direct them to achieve the best most democratizing effects. It's a risky business to choose those wheres and whens, and I've often been wrong in my choices personally, but I do know that to refuse such choices in the name of ideological purity is to confuse moralism for politics.

I'm glad that Paulson's blank check got vetoed, and I'm glad to hear about the more Doddlike details of the plan afoot, but I still think this is all the beginning rather than the end of the financial catastrophes and that we will be revisiting these measures in months to come with Obama in the White House, with strong Democratic majorities in both Houses (again, I hope against hope for the coat-tails to get us to sixty in the Senate, implausible though that may look), with the example of European nationalizations and re-regulations and strongly progressive tax reforms before us, and with a vast popular resentment directed at irresponsible and predatory corporatists to nourish a New Deal 2.0 in the nick of time.

I'm not advocating keeping progressive powder dry -- that tired old tune that rationalizes Democratic corporate-militarist complicity without end -- but recommending that we get Democratic asses in seats of government and organize to hold their asses to the fire, and not confuse the different demands of those two equally necessary tasks in this moment, literally days before the Election that gives us our best, and possibly only, real chance to do what needs to be done to be equal to this historical challenge.

Fascism on the Rise in Italy Once More?

Just one more thing to worry about and keep track of, from the indispensably good folks at EuroTrib.

Sweat Equity

[via ABCNews, h/t James Hughes]
Launched last week, [Adam Boesel's] "human-powered" gym [Green Microgym in Portland] is one of few fitness centers in the world that runs on power generated by people working out... As members pedal on stationary bicycles, a small motor connected to the stations charges batteries that power the gym's television and stereo system… "Our goal is to someday create 100 percent of the electricity we use in the gym," Boesel said.

I've often wondered -- idly, I might add -- whether I could hook up a stationary bike in front of that big screen teevee that gives me so much environmentally unsustainable pleasure these days and feed it some of the extra energy it gorges on while stalling the accumulation of bellyflab that seems to attend those guilty pleasures (and considering some of the shows I watch on that teevee the pleasures are questionable in more ways than one). For now, it appears that the tradeoffs are a bit humbling:
"[A] person can make about a penny's worth of electricity an hour. So it's not a lot," said Michael Tagget, president of Henry Works, adding that on his or her own, an individual can create 50 to 100 watts of electricity. "But if 20, 30, 40 people are doing that in a gym, they can [create] all the electricity for entertainment systems. It's better than nothing and the feeling of accomplishing something is worthwhile[.]"

The Honey Bees Help Make Amor Mundi More Positive

To Know Know Know Her Is To Loath Loath Loath Her

Alaskans are rising up in ever greater numbers to protest against their oh so "beloved" and "popular" Governor (worst vetting evah). No doubt, these protestors are all witches lookin' to get hunted like moose in La Palin's opinion.



I like the guy whose sign said, "Hey, Governor Palin, I can see the end of your career from my house."

John McCain Needs To Be In A Therapist's Office More Than The Oval Office

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot from yesterday's post about the debate, Burr Deming wrote:
McCain was indeed transparently angry. I think it goes beyond the debate or even the campaign.

John McCain suffered unimaginably in service to the rest of us. When his sacrifices are denigrated or ignored by those who never endured such treatment, his anger is understandable. I believe this instance is more revealing than the debate.

Deming is definitely on to something here, and I must say that I found myself clicking several YouTube videos that were topically associated with the one he linked to himself, many of them highlighting moments in which McCain exhibited that incandescent temper we've all heard so much about. Such selections are inherently somewhat misleading, given the way they can so easily skew attention to what may well be nonrepresentative behavior (remember the Reverend Wright nontroversy?), so you should take all that stuff with a grain of salt if you start compulsively clicking through the links as I did myself.

But I still think it is important to take questions of temperament into consideration when one is contemplating a President, surely? I personally think that McCain's selection of the dangerously underqualified flabbergastingly undervetted Sarah Palin as his running mate was surreally misguided, clearly driven by idiotically short-term considerations of media coverage rather than the demands of the office -- demands all the more urgent when, face it, the candidate is as old and as ill as McCain seems to be, given his cancers. That should have been a game-ender for all but the most zealous ideologues, it seems to me, but who knows with right-wing types? Anyway, given the prominence of McCain's POW experience to his preferred self-promotional media narrative its relevance to these questions of his temperament is also relevant, as Deming seemed to be pointing out.

To put it bluntly, a President has a lot of work to do. If McCain's going to get spitting mad and petulant every time the "appropriate interval" fails to get set aside to genuflect to his unimaginable suffering, as Deming puts it, as a POW I think that tells us he has no business trying for the job. Honestly. I don't mean disrespect when I suggest that McCain may need to be in a therapist's office more than in the Oval Office if his rage is triggered by what he perceives by inadequate deference to his POW experience. Lots of good people who have suffered trauma could benefit from the help of a therapist before trying their hands at stressful and responsible occupations. McCain would have to do his job as President on behalf of the American people even under those circumstances when deference to his sacrifice is not offered to his satisfaction, circumstances which I would imagine to be commonplace in a world of outright foes and indifferent allies with whom we need to be diplomatic nonetheless.

I for one think the Democrats are far too deferential to and respectful of McCain given his implication in corruption from the Keating Five to Phil Gramm and Rick Davis and his terrifying warmongering and water-carrying for one of the worst Presidents in the history of this Nation, George W. Bush, the last eight years, and given the way such moments of respect get opportunistically taken up by the cynical Killer Clowns of "Movement Republicanism" in its Atwaterian/Rovian mode to prop up their candidate and blunt righteous critique, and given the way it diminishes the ability of Democrats to do the vitally necessary work of framing in a clear and mass-media-friendly way the crimes and errors and thefts of this ruinous Reagan generation of Movement Republican rule.

By the way, it isn't only POWs who suffer unimaginably in the service of the rest of us, but the Republicans who like endlessly to whine that McCain is getting disrespected when he's getting anything less than interminably fellated by the rest of us tend not to give much of a crap about the sacrifice of poor folks dying lingering painful deaths from treatable conditions while raising families and doing menial jobs all because we don't have decent healthcare in this country as McCain would see it to it remains the case, or folks dying because of exposure to toxic substances in underegulated products or underregulated industrial sites or from the dirty coal plants and nuclear waste sites or from the sinister munitions all of which McCain so palpably adores, or the soul-diminishing demands on the lives of truly independent journalists and public school teachers and dedicated social workers and civil rights attorneys working their whole lives without much in the way of pay or support or respect or recognition to keep this civilization going while we celebrate and reward instead the "enterprising spirit" of marauding assholes who appropriate the creativity, effort, energy of others to fill up the bottomless hole where their egos should be while empty-eyed Bush-McCain-Palin conservatives cheer them on.

I can indeed empathize with McCain's suffering -- I'm a liberal after all, not one of the damaged fear-and-hate-deranged ignoramuses who still vote Republican -- and you can be sure that I am eager to educate, agitate, and organize politically to ensure that our veterans are well treated and supported all of their lives for their sacrifice (something McCain pays lip service to but rarely actually votes for), all the while struggling to build a world in which such sacrifices are never demanded again of promising American women and men in the service of the deceptions and greed and ignorance of ruling elites -- as happened once to John McCain and as is happening to countless thousands now because of McCain and warmongers like him.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Ringo Starr Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

It's Hard to Be "Bipartisan" When You Can't Even Look Your Opponent in the Eye

Not once. Not in one hundred minutes of direct exchanges, with nobody up there on stage but the two of them. Was it fear, was it contempt, was it scarcely managed anger that kept McCain from offering up the most basic recognition of Obama in this moment of confrontation with the man who, even were he to lose the contest to come, is sure to win the sincere votes of countless millions of the Americans McCain is hoping to govern as President?

As a Democrat who has observed my Presidential candidates win debate after debate on issues and substance only to "lose" them within a couple of days in the endless pundit after-game of picking at facial tics and questions of tone and body language and "likeability" and the rest of that nonsense, I can say with confidence that although McCain deserved to be regarded as the loser of last night's debate on substance (Obama was fine, better than McCain certainly, though hardly meteoric if we're being honest about it), he was truly the loser of last night's debate on tonalities.

He was grumpy and stiff and blustery, a bit of a live wire, while Obama was unflappable, gracious, and seamlessly Presidential. After all the erratic conduct of the last two newscycles, McCain hardly could have wanted the contrast to play out as it did.



While those who were already in the tank for McCain were probably confirmed in their prejudices (much of Obama's base was likely a smidge less pleased, foolishly dreaming their candidate would throw knockout punches for their short term edification rather than consolidate his non-divisive brand and reassure foolishly spookable undecideds who are just beginning to pay real attention to this thing), my guess is that Obama lost nobody he had and gained more independents than he alienated, while assuring low-information undecideds in the mood for change in a palpably Change Election Year that the clear change candidate wasn't too risky after all.

On this date in 2004, the Electoral-Vote.com Projector, had Kerry at 234 electoral votes and Bush at 280 (some states were too close to call at that moment). The final numbers were 251 Kerry, 286 Bush. On this date, today, roughly a month out from Election Day the numbers are 286 Obama, 252 McCain. I don't expect the debates to nudge the numbers McCain's way, and the financial meltdown newscycle is hardly the ground McCain wants to be on. McCain is already starting to pay for the impulsive and ludicrously wrongheaded choice of unqualified unvetted Sarah Palin as his running mate. His stunts are backfiring and the underlying terrain is unforgiving to Republicans in a Change Election with unprecedently low approvals for the Killer Clown Administration McCain aided and abetted 90% of the time and with a media terrain that now contains just enough progressive alternatives to undermine the right wing monologue.

McCain biffed last night's opportunity to turn things around -- and calling himself a "Maverick" in public (how pathetic is that?) or mumbling "horseshit" (or whatever it was) under his breath when the young whippersnapper's turn to speak came up, certainly wasn't helping things. Indeed, these are the very details onto which we can expect the media heathers to seize most ferociously as they bury McCain in snarky peat fistful by fistful. This ain't my first time at the rodeo.

I expect Obama to win the Presidency in November, that is to say to win it handily enough that Republican disenfranchisement shenanigans and so on fail, at last, to skew the result and steal the thing under our noses. No, I'm not saying we should be complacent or fail to anticipate setbacks and outrageous mass-mediated faux-gaffes and faux-scandals and so on. But, certainly we should stop second guessing the almost flawlessly executed Obama campaign's broader gameplan at this point, stop fussing around the edges in a panic and providing soil in which idiotic counternarratives about democratic discontent can sprout like poisonous mushrooms.

Say what you want to, obviously, express your reactions as you will, register your worries about Obama's corporate-militarist ties or anti-corporate-militarist ire, but give the campaign its due: they have plenty of advice already and the advice they are listening to seems to me better overall than the advice being offered up in a panic or in a rage in the Comments sections of Netroots blogs as far as I can see. We should feel good about the way things are shaking down for once.

Indeed, Obama is doing so well it seems to me we should be directing our energies to supporting an Obama victory that might have the coat-tails to get us closer to the still implausible goal of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. After we have the numbers on our side at all the relevant layers, one hopes that even timorous Democrats will listen to their better angels and enact a progressive agenda equal to the scale of catastrophe brought about by thirty years of gathering corporate-militarist neoliberal/neoconservative movement politics in Washington. That's when truly progressive voices can mobilize their concerns about Obama's unacceptable coziness with corporate-militarism in a productive way. What's the point of muddying up the discourse now, if it won't get more progressive asses in legislative seats? It's too late to expect an Obama makeover on the campaign trail. Let circumstances transform him into FDR once he's made it to the White House and has a conducive Congress that will actually heed our barking when it comes to that.

If Obama wins, it will make history come what may, and we will be in a better world for the change we've made. If we direct a forceful critique of corporate-militarism from the Netroots to the majorities we have elected in the midst of this distress (many of whom have far more sympathy for such a critique than they have courage to act in accordance with its dictates) we will re-orient public discourse in the direction of sanity at last, and let us hope not too late. We must elect Obama first, and elect him in a way that delivers a mandate and legions of legislators available to enact its terms. Obama will be beholden to us, and the failures of the Killer Clowns will have set the table for a hearing for the progressive case precedented only by the Depression that opened the door for the New Deal and the Civil Rights struggle that opened the window for the Great Society. This is likely a once in a lifetime chance for change, and Obama has been right when he has said as much himself. Enough of us sense the stakes that the tension makes us a little crazy, especially when facile Republican stunts and ugly deceptions would make a mockery of the fraught realities we know we are contending with in this moment.

You can be sure, if McCain were to win, given all that has happened, given all that we confront, we will have squandered the promise of this moment in a way that frankly beggars description. Whatever McCain and Palin would demand of us, whatever they would take from us, whatever they would expose us to, it is scarcely likely they would even look us in the eye as they wreaked their havoc on our lives.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Truth on the Tee Vee?



"Don't make excuses for her! That was pathetic!"

Chaka Khan and Rufus Help Make Amor Mundi More Positive

Circumsupersized!

Sarah Silverman makes a case for Obama that might just win him Florida, and so, the Election. Amazingly great.

Are You Better Off in 2008 Than You Were in 2000?

[via Center for Economic and Policy Research]
In his closing remarks during the final presidential debate of 1980, Ronald Reagan famously asked the American people: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"

The table below updates Reagan's question by comparing the state of the economy in 2000 and 2008. We use 25 indicators of economic well-being and economic performance and find that 23 of the 25 indicators are worse in 2008 than they were in 2000.

Even if you already know all of this, I must say it is always rather stunning to tick down a list like this, one item after another, one turn of the screw after another, surveying the ongoing neoliberal confiscation and precarization of everyday citizens. Here's hoping more people see this and come to care about it than seem to care at the moment about whether or not a candidate knows how to bag a moose. Click the link for all the gory details.

Just to Put Things in Perspective

[via Washington Post]
[W]orld leaders declared what experts just two years ago considered virtually impossible: They believe the number of deaths caused by malaria can fall from more than 1 million annually to zero by 2015…. pledg[ing] on Thursday an unprecedented sum -- more than $3 billion -- for malaria programs.

I love that, "an unprecedented sum… $3 billion" …to save a million people a year from death by malaria! While we spend hundreds of billions bailing out Billionaires Behaving Badly or endlessly extending illegal, immoral, unpopular wars and occupations based on lies and benefiting nobody.

Silly Season on Steroids

Quite apart from McCain's terrible Bush-sequel policy positions for the country, there is a whole new layer of catastrophic impropriety in play here at this point. Were McCain to win the White House after pulling all of these ridiculous stunts -- most of which should have been frankly game-ending in any sane polity -- it pretty much ensures that Presidential campaigning from here on out would irresistibly be drawn to these now "proven" gimmicks, reducing the process to an ever more surreal circus out of which candidates with properly Presidential talents and temperaments could only occasionally and accidentally prevail, followed no doubt by next-day Buyer's Remorse and equally surreal Impeachment circuses.

It seems to me that under such conditions the Nixonian/Bushian Imperial Presidency, far from withering, would likely expand beyond our reckoning, going into mass-mediated Celebrity Culture variations on Rome's Bad Emperors. In light of this, Obama's steady messaging and cool, sane temperament on the stump, and even his conspicuous tendency toward inclusive pragmatism (which often worries and maddens me from a policy perspective, as a person whose politics are far to left of Obama as far as I can tell) all seem to answer the needs of this historical moment in America at a whole different level than the one addressed by the obvious superiority -- whatever their imperfections -- of his policy positions over McCain's on so many concrete issues. If Obama doesn't win the White House, I am seriously unsure whether the US will be a safe place for sane people to live in.

Blackberry Inventor Unveils Time Machine

Political Wire has a screen shot of a McCain ad in which he claims to have "Won" the debate which has not yet taken place. A couple of days ago, of course, he claimed to have "ended" his campaign while simply continuing to campaign. I expect him to deliver his Acceptance Speech tonight on the tee vee at this point.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I Can't Take Out the Garbage Because I Have to Go to Washington to Solve the Financial Crisis.

I can't teach tomorrow because I have to go to Washington to solve the FInancial Crisis.

I can't pick up toilet paper and dishwashing liquid on my way home tomorrow like I said I would because I have to go to Washington to solve the financial crisis.

I can't pay my bills this month because I have to go to Washington and solve the financial crisis.

Professor Carrico, I couldn't turn in my paper on time yesterday because I had to go to Washington and solve the financial crisis.

Sure, I'm not on the committee which is hammering out the policy details behind closed doors, sure, I've admitted I don't know much about economic policy anyway, sure, just a week ago I was denying that there was a crisis and handwaving that the fundamentals were all still strong, and, sure, since then I've corkscrewed my way through endlessly many logically incompatible positions on the Wall Street meltdown, sure, the whole crisis arose out of the idiotic Randroidal free-marketeer deregulatory fervor I was a cheerleader for myself as a matter of rhetoric through decades as a Washington insider, sure, the contours of the present crisis replay uncannily the Keating Five scandal that nearly ended my career back in the day, still I can't participate in the Presidential Debate I agreed to, even though Presidential Debates were not halted in the past by terrorist attacks on American ships at sea, Times Square, the Iranian Embassy and so on, all because I have to go to Washington, uninvited and without any clear official role, to solve the financial crisis.

I mean, really? McCain really tried to pull this stunt?

After pulling the flabbergastingly reckless disrespectful unserious Sarah Palin for VP stunt? After canceling the first day of his convention because of a hurricane?

What's next? Is he gonna whomp up enthusiasm in the wingnut base by pissing on stage at a town hall and saying "that's what I think of lie-bruls"? Showing his love of capital punishment by strangling an underage shoplifter with his bare hands? Declare he sees the face of Christ on his grilled cheese sandwich? Is he gonna declare that, if elected, he'll live in a glass box suspended from a crane over the Washington Mall for forty days and forty nights?

Speaking of forty days and forty nights, I honestly am not entirely sure I won't have been driven utterly insane before this Election Day.

That's Because the Question Answers Itself

[Marc Ambinder]
Sec. Paulson told congress yesterday that the plan was to spend roughly 50 billion a month[.]

Sen. Schumer asked: [W]hy not $150 billion then, and let the next administration do a re-evaluation in January?

No real answer.

Two Roads Diverged

I am getting a bit distressed to find people I count on for good sense strangely dividing between a "there is no crisis, it's a scam" narrative and a "they're exploiting their own crisis to exacerbate it" narrative.

Dionne Warwick Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive



How about some nice lovely… chairs?

Accentuate the Negative

As someone who is regularly castigated for being too "negative" in the moments when it seems to me I am being modestly realistic, and as someone who has noticed that privileged people seem quite capable of and even eager to feel "positive" about feasting and fiddling in the midst of ruin (and then demand we all feel the same), this piece in yesterday's New York Times by the great Barbara Ehrenreich was sweet music to my ears!
[A] much admired habit of mind should get its share of the blame [for the financial crisis]: the delusional optimism of mainstream, all-American, positive thinking.

[P]romoted by Oprah Winfrey… megachurch pastors and an endless flow of self-help best sellers, the idea is to firmly believe that you will get what you want… actually makes it happen. You will be able to pay that adjustable-rate mortgage or, at the other end of the transaction, turn thousands of bad mortgages into giga-profits if only you believe that you can.

Positive thinking is endemic to American culture -— from weight loss programs to cancer support groups -— and in the last two decades it has put down deep roots in the corporate world as well. Everyone knows that you won't get a job paying more than $15 an hour unless you're a "positive person," and no one becomes a chief executive by issuing warnings of possible disaster...

[B]usiness sections warn against "negativity" and advise the reader to be at all times upbeat, optimistic, brimming with confidence. It's a message companies relentlessly reinforced -- treating their white-collar employees to manic motivational speakers and revival-like motivational events, while sending the top guys off to exotic locales to get pumped by the likes of Tony Robbins and other success gurus. Those who failed to get with the program would be subjected to personal "coaching" or shown the door….

The once-sober finance industry was not immune…. [And w]ith the rise in executive compensation, bosses could have almost anything they wanted, just by expressing the desire. No one was psychologically prepared for hard times when they hit, because, according to the tenets of positive thinking, even to think of trouble is to bring it on….

When it comes to how we think, "negative" is not the only alternative to "positive." As the case histories of depressives show, consistent pessimism can be just as baseless and deluded as its opposite. The alternative to both is realism —- seeing the risks, having the courage to bear bad news and being prepared for famine as well as plenty. We ought to give it a try.

I would go even further and say that "positivity" is often a self-congratulatory gloss on a complacency tinged with outright cruelty, and enables a refusal to take any kind of responsibility for the consequences to others of one's actions.

To return by way of conclusion to the would-be thinkers I have regularly derided here as the Futurological Congress, I want to point out that "positive thinking" in the reckless heartless mode Ehrenreich nicely punctures in her piece seems to me to achieve something like its apotheosis in the go-getter fanaticism of superlative technocentricity, those curious pep rally sub(cult)ures of science-fiction and pop-futurist enthusiasm that cohere through a shared identification with the fantasized finale of technodevelopmental "transcension" into cyborg omni-predication, not to mention their no less shared sociopathic dis-identification with the diversity of actually existing human lifeways in the world they share and the stakeholder politics arising out of that diversity here and now. (Hence all the creepy libertopian and eugenicist politics that pop up so regularly among them to the embarrassment of the Robot Cult's marginally more PR savvy leadership cadre.)

It's interesting to note, for example, that Extropian Transhumanism's notorious (when anybody notices them at all) hell-yeah! brutalist assurance that its oddly Ayn Raelian "movement" (yes, they think of it as a "movement," poor things) would smash both death and taxes through sheer fanboy moxie has scarcely been dimmed by the apocalyptic dot.bomb that eviscerated the irrationally exuberant energy that birthed them in the 90s, nor by the serial catastrophes shepherded through to poisonous fruition by means of incessant free-marketeer handwaving by the Killer Clown Administration's mobster mouthpieces in nice suits, not to mention by the serial technodevelopmental disappointments on the immortality-pill, immersive virtual reality, thinking computers, nanobot cornucopia, shiny robot replacement bodies, colonizing the asteroid belt, and, hell, why not, flying car fronts. Still, they lecture "economic-illiterates" on the good sense of Milton Friedman (or his even more stridently anarcho-capitalist son) and Atlas Shrugged and The Bell Curve, or the like, and assure us that the Singularity is right around the corner, partying for Crypto-Anarchy like it's nineteen-ninety-nine.

If the current shit sandwich of neoliberal chickens coming to roost (Iraq Reconstruction, Katrina Reconstruction, Financial Meltdown) fails to puncture their shiny-eyed True Belief in market "spontaneous order" and supergeek-CEOs one suspects nothing ever will and that it might be kinder just to pat their heads and nod sweetly when they go on about "No Limits, Man!" and corral them away from sharp objects.

As usual, one is left thinking that the "anti-negativity types" who repudiate the very idea of limits are simply folks who want to party out of bounds and who feel sure there will always be other people around to clean up their messes for them.

How positive!

Representative Marcy Kaptur -- D, Ohio



More like this, please.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Dodd's Proposal

Probably as good as it's gonna get, and, given political exigencies, not flabbergastingly bad all told. Anybody want to pick at its scabs for me?

MundiMuster! No on California's Prop 8

Truth on the Tee Vee?

Futurological Recycling

[via Financial Times]

Why does this ecstatic exhalation from "Dave Evans, Cisco… futurologist" sound so eerily… familiar?
People think technology will change at a linear rate. But we're now getting into the phenomenon of large numbers doubling very fast. There's an avalanche of change on the way and it's going to be very disruptive.

One thing that has scarcely changed at all, let alone changed exponentially, is the tired PR song and dance of the corporate-militarist futurological congress, still handwaving after all these years about an exponentially accelerating acceleration of accelerating change out of which a game-changing Robot God is sure to pop out as a matter of course any day now.

"By 2010," promises Mr. Evans, "all the information on the internet will double every 11 hours. Ten years from now, it will double every 11 seconds."

Four words, guy: Garbage In. Garbage Out.

(And here's hoping financial collapse, or punitive post-US hegemonic global warmaking, or Peak Oil, or climate catastrophe, or, you know, inherent structural limitations in coding that swallow up promised productivity gains in complexity bottlenecks, don't put a crimp in all that sunny scenarizing.)

The headline for this particular regurgitation of these tired futurological chestnuts is, predictably enough, "Computers to be 'aware.'"

This claim is something of a surprise, really, given the lack of any figleaf of an insinuation of a whisper of a theory about non-biological intelligence in the piece. It doesn't exactly inspire confidence to be told that "[b]y 2050, there will be computers that have the processing power of all human brains on earth. That's a lot of brains working on a lot of problems." Actually, that's not remotely a lot of brains working on problems until you make a case that it is. A whole lot of weight is freighting the flimsy metaphorical conjuration of "processing power" here (again, an utterly commonplace futurological sleight of hand). Do we refer to the same sorts of things when we speak loosely of the "processing power" of a bright student as against that of our new laptop?

One wonders if the scare-quoting of "awareness" in the title (which for all I know is an editorial artifact) finally expresses more a reductionist doubt about the exhibition of this quality in squishy humans rather than confidence about its accomplishment in robotic non-humans just around the corner, after all. Both attitudes are common enough among superlative technocentric types once they get in a real singularitarian lather.

Come what may, we are left to wonder how ever more sophisticated calculators are actually presumably going to cash that check and start breezing and buzzing in a way only mushy organisms have managed hitherto. This isn't to say such an account is impossible, certainly, but only to point out that it is more commonplace to hear its assured reassertion in the face of an endless failure to materialize in fact than it is to hear much in the way of a justification for the assurance with which it is endlessly reasserted in spite of these failures from our brave futurists.

Hey, it's a short article and one can't rightly expect too much. But I must say that long acquaintance with the manifest foolishness of superlative technocentricity gives me little hope that much in the way of a respectable account would be forthcoming even in a much longer article than this one. Neither am I much surprised to find that even in so short an article as this we are still treated to the usual triumphalism and sociopathy that has made me so fond for so long of the brave boys of our futurological congress:

"Those that can't adapt will be crushed under the avalanche."

Oh, dear, you gotta love these guys, honestly, you really do.

All told, the article is a model of its kind, citing all the usual conventions of the genre, handwaving about technodevelopmental acceleration over the offering up of technoscientific substance, painting a picture of artificial intelligence on the horizon but with no account of what "intelligence" means here remotely on offer, the exhibition of certainty backed by nothing and aloof from innumerable and conspicuous predictive failures in the same vein to date, and concluding with an energetic declaration about a righteous humanity-bulldozing apocalypse proffered up in tonalities suggestive of incipient orgasm.

Punitive

Bush and Paulsen have indicated that they are not interested in a "punitive" bailout.

But there is absolutely no choice about that. A trillion dollars is real money, and shoveling it around involves real pain.

The question is who is punished, not whether somebody is punished.

Will everyday taxpayers who were already screwed by all this reckless misconduct be punished to bailout their abusers, or will the actual culprits be punished?

No doubt the "responsibility-first" "CEOs as risk-taking titans" "ain't no such thing as a free lunch" crowd will agree with the majority of Americans that it is the wrongdoers and not their victims who need to assume responsibility and pay the piper here, right? Right? They need to lose their golden parachutes and accept real regulation and oversight in the aftermath of this colossally failed ideologically-driven experiment in free-market fundamentalism.

These can't be grants we're talking about here, but need to provide actual equity to those of us who are giving up real money to save their sorry asses.

One hopes that a one-year home mortgage amnesty for everyday citizens and a real economic stimulus package subsidizing renewable energy projects and infrastructural repair projects is also part of the program. Paying for it with a special ten-year super tax on millionaires sounds like a fine idea to me, too.

No doubt the bankers and billionaires will declare such talk too punitive, a "deal breaker." But beggars can't be choosers, fellows.

Which is it? Are you begging for a handout as you face the prospect of utter meltdown? Or are you pigs lining up to gorge at the trough one last time before the electorate cuts of the gravy-spigot in November?

If it's the former, then shut up, take your medicine, and look grateful, because it's better than you deserve. If it's the latter, get out your hankies and weep for the good old days because we're all on to you.

Free Market Fairydust

[AP]
NEW YORK (AP) - Oil prices are spiking more than $25 a barrel as rising anxiety over the U.S. government's proposed bailout of the financial system batters the dollar… Light, sweet crude for October delivery was up $25.45 to $130.00 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Game Over

This is what McCain said LAST NIGHT on 60 Minutes. Not a week ago, not a month ago, not a year ago, not a decade ago... LAST NIGHT.

Army Unit to Deploy in October for Domestic Operations

[Headline via Democracy Now!]
Beginning in October, the Army plans to station an active unit inside the United States for the first time to serve as an on-call federal response in times of emergency. The 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team has spent thirty-five of the last sixty months in Iraq, but now the unit is training for domestic operations. The unit will soon be under the day-to-day control of US Army North, the Army service component of Northern Command. The Army Times reports this new mission marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to Northern Command. The paper says the Army unit may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control. The soldiers are learning to use so-called nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals and crowds.

One more step toward open dictatorship? And just in time for the November Elections.

MundiMuster! Take the Palin Poll -- UPDATED

PBS's excellent newsmagazine NOW is polling whether people regard Sarah Palin as competent for the Vice-Presidency online. Surreally enough, at the moment it indicates that more people think Palin qualified than not. If you disagree with that result, by all means take a second to follow the link and click the button that says so.

UPDATE!

Never mind! Thanks, Martin!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Krugmania!

The last line of a pithy Krugman blog-analysis of the crisis and the terrible proposed bailout goes like this: "Let’s not be railroaded into accepting an enormously expensive plan that doesn’t seem to address the real problem." Read the whole concise blog analysis to grasp the force of that final admonition. One hopes Nancy Pelosi will read it, too, before getting trapped on this deadly merry-go-round yet again.

More Than Words!

Obama and Pelosi are both promising "no blank check" in those exact words. If these are "only words" it will be a rank betrayal and unprecedented disaster for everything they stand for at their best (and an all too familiar capitulation of principle). They are saying the right things -- roughly -- but we need to remain focused, with our dialing fingers ready to express our disapproval of any wrong moves.

All the noise they are making about "executive compensation limits" makes me extremely nervous and skeptical for one thing -- since that particular pathology is a symptom of deeper problems but scarcely represents the most urgent issue demanding address here. In fact I worry that an emphasis on grotesquely disproportionate executive compensation might reveal a rather contemptuous misreading of progressive concerns about any unaccountable and ruinously inequitable bailout on the part of the Congressional Millionaires Club as in fact some sort of cartoonish mob resentment of a few high rollers with bad hairpieces.

I await tomorrow's moves with extreme nervousness, but also with a little more hope than I expected. Lots more people are saying lots more sensible things lots more clearly and forcefully to lots more sounds of support than I expected as all this mess began to unfold in earnest.

An Electorate Informed With Relevant Facts

Well, at least we can be sure that if one of the two major party candidates for President had previously been implicated in a national scandal in which concerned government regulators were shown to have been pressured to back off from policing a bank that was taking criminally reckless risks with investor assets leading to unprecedented disaster and finally to a total taxpayer-funded government bailout, well, certainly that would be something on everybody's lips. That could only be true, surely, especially if this were just six weeks before an election taking place as sweeping financial failures brought on by similar recklessness and corruption were inspiring calls for a historically unprecedented taxpayer bailout of the irresponsible major players involved in the form of a blank check to the tune of over a trillion dollars, a bailout that addresses few of the actual structural problems at hand, punishes none of the responsible and fraudulently enriched culprits involved, and essentially kidnaps the nation as a whole for a ruinous generation of austerity at a moment when that nation's law-abiding already-suffering everyday citizens need renewal and rebuilding else we all sink permanently into a backwater cesspool riven with class warfare and religious tensions...

William Greider Adds His Voice to the Failout Pushback

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

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

That's just the first two paragraphs. Follow the link up top to read the whole thing. You just can't fool all the people all the time. Somebody's got a piper to pay.

KLF and Tammy Wynette Help Make Amor Mundi More Positive



Back in my Atlanta clubbing epoch this would come on and fill the dance floor and we would all literally lose our minds with joy.

Senator Bernie Sanders Adds His Voice to the Failout Pushback

Needless to say, one doesn't want the swallowing up of sensible feel-good variations of what Atrios calls "pony plans" to render us oblivious or acquiescent in the face of the reckless marauding that actually takes place when the Congressional and Presidential Millionaires Clubs really get down to laying down the law, but the fact is that actually non-insane discussions of economic policy are finding their way to widespread mainstream audiences right now in consequence of this Wall Street debacle (and in consequence of the already ubiquitous Netroots, Air America, leftward-nudging MSNBC and other truly mass-mediated spaces actually now exist in which non-insanity can be expressed to a wide hearing in the first place), and this echo chamber -- think of it as a sanity-consolidating democratizing virtuous circle to countermand the divisive authoritarian vicious circle of Right Wing mass-mediated lies and hate speech -- really might just circumvent the worst destructive force of the corporate-militarist noise machines this time around, while planting who knows what in the way of future-flowering seedlings into American discourse.

[via Senator Sanders' Homepage]
The current financial crisis facing our country has been caused by the extreme right-wing economic policies pursued by the Bush administration. These policies… include[d] huge tax breaks for the rich, unfettered free trade and the wholesale deregulation of commerce….

While the middle class collapses, the richest people in this country have made out like bandits and have not had it so good since the 1920s. The top 0.1 percent now earn more money than the bottom 50 percent of Americans, and the top 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. The wealthiest 400 people in our country saw their wealth increase by $670 billion while Bush has been president. In the midst of all of this, Bush lowered taxes on the very rich so that they are paying lower income tax rates than teachers, police officers or nurses.

Now, having mismanaged the economy for eight years as well as having lied about our situation by continually insisting, “The fundamentals of our economy are strong,” the Bush administration, six weeks before an election, wants the middle class of this country to spend many hundreds of billions on a bailout. The wealthiest people, who have benefited from Bush’s policies and are in the best position to pay, are being asked for no sacrifice at all. This is absurd…

(1) The people who can best afford to pay and the people who have benefited most from Bush’s economic policies are the people who should provide the funds for the bailout… Specifically, to pay for the bailout, which is estimated to cost up to $1 trillion, the government should:
a) Impose a five-year, 10 percent surtax on income over $1 million a year for couples and over $500,000 for single taxpayers. That would raise more than $300 billion in revenue;

b) Ensure that assets purchased from banks are realistically discounted so companies are not rewarded for their risky behavior and taxpayers can recover the amount they paid for them; and

c) Require that taxpayers receive equity stakes in the bailed-out companies so that the assumption of risk is rewarded when companies’ stock goes up.

(2) There must be a major economic recovery package which puts Americans to work at decent wages. Among many other areas, we can create millions of jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and moving our country from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and sustainable energy….

(3) Legislation must be passed which undoes the damage caused by excessive de-regulation. That means reinstalling the regulatory firewalls that were ripped down in 1999. That means re-regulating the energy markets so that we never again see the rampant speculation in oil that helped drive up prices. That means regulating or abolishing various financial instruments that have created the enormous shadow banking system that is at the heart of the collapse of AIG and the financial services meltdown.

(4) We must end the danger posed by companies that are “too big too fail,” that is, companies whose failure would cause systemic harm to the U.S. economy. If a company is too big to fail, it is too big to exist. We need to determine which companies fall in this category and then break them up. Right now, for example, the Bank of America, the nation’s largest depository institution, has absorbed Countrywide, the nation’s largest mortgage lender, and Merrill Lynch, the nation’s largest brokerage house. We should not be trying to solve the current financial crisis by creating even larger, more powerful institutions. Their failure could cause even more harm to the entire economy.

Robert Reich Adds His Voice to the Failout Pushback

[via TPM]
The frame has been set, the dye cast. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, presumably representing the Bush administration but indirectly representing Wall Street, and Fed Chief Ben Bernanke, want a blank check from Congress for $700 billion or possibly a trillion dollars or more to take bad debt off Wall Street's balance sheets. Never before in the history of American capitalism has so much been asked of so many for (at least in the first instance) so few….

The public doesn't like a blank check. They think this whole bailout idea is nuts. They see fat cats on Wall Street who have raked in zillions for years, now extorting in effect $2,000 to $5,000 from every American family to make up for their own nonfeasance, malfeasance, greed, and just plain stupidity. Wall Street's request for a blank check comes at the same time most of the public is worried about their jobs and declining wages, and having enough money to pay for gas and food and health insurance, meet their car payments and mortgage payments, and save for their retirement and childrens' college education. And so the public is asking: Why should Wall Street get bailed out by me when I'm getting screwed?

So if you are a member of Congress, you just might be in a position to demand from Wall Street certain conditions in return for the blank check. My… nominees:
1. The government (i.e. taxpayers) gets an equity stake in every Wall Street financial company proportional to the amount of bad debt that company shoves onto the public….

2. Wall Street executives and directors of Wall Street firms relinquish their current stock options and this year's other forms of compensation, and agree to future compensation linked to a rolling five-year average of firm profitability…..

4. Wall Street firms agree to comply with new regulations over disclosure, capital requirements, conflicts of interest, and market manipulation….

Wall Streeters may not like these conditions. Well, you should tell them that the public doesn't like the idea of bailing out Wall Street. So if Wall Street doesn't accept these conditions, it doesn't get the blank check.

Reich isn't exactly a hero of mine, and I don't exactly agree with all of this, and I haven't quoted all the parts I actually agree with in what he has said, but I've zeroed in on what look to me some of the especially interesting bits. Follow the link to the whole piece.

Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You with the Bill

How brutally funny to find the crowd who crowed "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch" as a way of looting the collaborative accomplishments of a democratic civilization they were too stupid to understand or too selfish to enjoy as peers, now drunkenly swerving through the crumbling bombed-out ballroom they devastated so pointlessly and recklessly and wantonly and screaming for free lunch after free lunch, squealing for one more hot fix of the deadly junk they've squandered as the world around them goes to hell.

When I say this is brutally funny, I don't mean to suggest that the current guns-to-our-heads bailouts of Wall Street's crooks and liars is a matter of hypocrisy. This isn't a matter of rugged individualists changing their tune at the eleventh hour as the bills come due. The free marketeers have been demanding a free lunch all along, and demanding it in the name of foreswearing it, mistaking their looting-spree as spontaneous order, mistaking their thefts as personal accomplishments, mistaking their wealth-capture as individualism, mistaking their self-promotion and debt-ballooning as innovation, mistaking their lawlessness as self-interest, mistaking their exploitation as competition, mistaking their celebration of neglect and isolation as personal responsibility, and mistaking their cruelty as simply the way things are. Hypocrisy isn't the word for this.

I recommend you follow this link to watch Bill Moyers' interview David Cay Johnston, author of the book whose title also entitles this post. I read the book when it came out, but was reminded of its relevance to our current circumstances from a post by Paul Rosenberg this morning on OpenLeft (his post includes nice selections from the transcript of the Moyers interview).

Even knowing the libertopians as I do, I must say it is still rather flabbergasting to find that some of the more psychotically Randroidal and Friedmanian market fundamentalists in the full froth of their True Belief see in the current financial cataclysm the signs that we must slash at our own throats even more forcefully in the name of the Free Market Fairy.

To this benighted brigade of brigands it doesn't matter that the drumbeat of deregulation with end, lowering taxes without end, privatization without end, corporate welfare stealthed as Defense without end, and austerity and market discipline without end for everybody but the richest few was the self-styled "revolutionary" beat that drove us all to this place that gave us this devastation -- from Mr. Hayek's Mt. Pelerin minoritarian cabal bemoaning FDR's good-government triumphs, through to its stunning redemption of Goldwaterian extremity in the fiscal and moral disaster of popular Reaganism, through to its deep technocratic consolidation in Clintonian DLC corporate-militarism, and now in its utter consummation in the warmongering state-bloating anti-statist crony capitalism of the killer clown administration of George W. Bush -- nor does it matter that all this played out precisely as the ridiculed critics across the democratic left always said it would for precisely the reasons they said it would and in precisely the ways that they said it would.

Now across the cyberspatial sprawl the free marketeers whine and howl that it is because we did not deliver our hearts to the Free Market Fairy with devotions pure and full, that their market pieties have been besmirched by the hypocrisies of unworthies who sought only to exploit the system for their own gain, and on and on and on. Well, duh. What part of "greed is good" didn't you understand when you were repeating it a hundred times a day thinking it was the most devastating bon mot ever?

Already demonstrated as a complete failure by the Reagan years themselves, nevertheless the libertopian "theorists" enthused like lip-smacking locusts upon the post-Soviet polities after the Wall fell and before the inevitable mafiosi-archipelago crystallized, then glommed immediately thereafter onto crypto-anarchic cyberspace to spin their free marketeer fancies when that didn't pan out on the ground, and then off to the races in the Middle East when virtuality didn't bring the righteous revolution either, and when the free-market laboratory of Iraq under Libertopia Czar Bremer turned out to be yet another complete earthshattering disaster, hey, there was always post-Katrina New Orleans reconstruction to fuck up in the name of the free market faith, and now, just when that catastrophe started to get boring for the faithful, now a complete deregulated orgy of shit investments yield a Wall Street meltdown, a perfect occasion to steal another trillion and throw it at the latest complete failure of market ideology.

Where to next, True Believers? Is there more blood you can squeeze from this stone? Are you still so sure you know it all and that all those who oppose you are just ignorant of the relevant economics, overcome by our irrational biases as compared to your cool computer-like mastery of the facts at hand?

Look, honestly, how is a sensible progressive person to respond to such dot-eyed dead-ender types at this point when flaming shit is literally raining down around our ears upon the field of corporate-militarist scorched earth while they handwave still about how the free-market ideology that has brought this country to the literal brink of complete catastrophe is the only thing that will save us now but to say, simply, calmly, quietly, you know, fuck you all with a chain saw you unspeakably stupid sociopathic jackholes, or something to that effect?

Retire now before you do still more harm. Please. Learn to garden. Enjoy the pleasures of family life. Get a kitten. Read the great novelists of the nineteenth century. Volunteer to help needy people in your communities and discover what real dignity is about. And if you have become rich through your fraudulent ministrations on behalf of corporate-militarism, expect to be taxed to within an inch of your life while the people you fucked try to build a world worth living in here in the shattered aftermath of that looting and killing spree you obscenely denoted as "libertarian."

Just to make the contrary perspective clearer here at the end let me say a few things more. There simply is no purer devotion available to connect neoliberal market fundamentalism's simplistic axioms and pie charts to actual reality. "The Market" is a congeries of laws backed by force, by prices articulated by historical contingencies, by social and cultural norms, by infrastructural barriers and facilitations and so on, every single detail of which has historically been otherwise than it is now, could be otherwise now, and will be otherwise indefinitely often in the future. Treating this historically situated utterly contingent dynamism as a natural monolithic and as a practically personified Force in whose name you presume to speak like a gang of silk-skirted priests pimping the Word of God to the rubes for cash and tail, endlessly promising natural efficiencies, spontaneous orders, cheap pleasures, and political liberalizations that inevitably (except, you know, actually almost never) follow from market liberalizations and all the rest of your tired tattered puppet theater, all of that arrant nonsense has always been either a fraud enacted cynically on the vulnerable for personal gain, or a matter of facile faith among those too stupid to face complicated facts. The "violations" of your ideals that endlessly frustrate their realization are not violations but expressions of the actual underlying realities at hand. There is no purer implementation of free market ideology that will circumvent the actual disasters of corruption and exploitation and lawlessness that actually eventuate from every successful epoch of libertopian advocacy, the failures are the failures of the ideology not betrayals of it.

There are simply straightforwardly some services indispensable to democratic societies that cannot be provided except by governments attentive to the longer-term and beholden to the general welfare. The scene of informed nonduressed consent must be legitimate in a way that for-profit enterprise cannot ever be (to produce such legitimacy is not the proper function of for-profit enterprise), general welfare secures liberty through its indifference to short term or parochial advantage, and that means that providing basic healthcare, education, and income for citizens is not made more "efficient" through competitive provisions of services that exclude or undermine access of any citizen from that provision but violated in its essence by such expedients. Recourse to the law must be legitimate and equal and universal as well, else the basic function of democratic governance to provide nonviolent alternatives for the resolution of disputes will likewise fail. It is an indication of the most basic imaginable incomprehension to speak of profitability or competition in such matters.

Governments are differently accountable to the people than for-profit enterprises are, because, among other things, the taxation on which democratic government depends for its maintenance is yoked to representation by the people affected by its decisions. Fortunately, throughout long centuries of democratic experimentalism progressives have also hacked together some reasonably good breaks on the real vulnerabilities inhering in any institutional legitimation of coercion in states, like civilian control of the military, like repudiations of state secrets, like general welfare provisions to ensure consent is better insulated from duress, like bills of rights that are enormously difficult to undermine once they are constituted, like separations of powers that redirect the desire for personal power that might otherwise lead to consolidations of authority into the jealous self-policing of such consolidations from within the site of authority itself, and so on.

If you want to point out that here in the United States all of these breaks on authoritarian concentration have failed us since 2000 and seem on the brink of total failure in 2008, you can be quite sure that am alive to these facts. It remains to us to determine whether or not that failure achieves nightmarish totality here and now.

Elect Obama in November. Elect and support more, and better, democrats at every level of government now and in the years to come. And make your progressive opinions known loudly and often to those who would represent you, hold their feet to the fire, take back your democratic government from the corporatists the militarists and the theocrats.

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

More, And Better, Democrats!

Florida's Alan Grayson, Democrat, for Congress.



More like this, please! Support if you can, and in the best way you can.

Krugman Says "No Deal"

Not this time, crooks.
[L]ooking at the plan as leaked, I have to say no deal. Not unless Treasury explains, very clearly, why this is supposed to work, other than through having taxpayers pay premium prices for lousy assets….

[T]here’s nothing at all in the draft that says what happens next; although I do notice that there’s nothing in the plan requiring Treasury to pay a fair market price. So is the plan to pay premium prices to the most troubled institutions? Or is the hope that restoring liquidity will magically make the problem go away? ….

The Treasury plan… looks like an attempt to… convince creditors of troubled institutions that everything’s OK -- simply by buying assets off these institutions.

This will only work if the prices Treasury pays are much higher than current market prices; that, in turn, can only be true either if this is mainly a liquidity problem -- which seems doubtful -- or if Treasury is going to be paying a huge premium, in effect throwing taxpayers’ money at the financial world.

And there’s no quid pro quo here -- nothing that gives taxpayers a stake in the upside, nothing that ensures that the money is used to stabilize the system rather than reward the undeserving.

I hope I’m wrong about this. But let me say it again: Treasury needs to explain why this is supposed to work -- not try to panic Congress into giving it a blank check. Otherwise, no deal.

Is the rapidly gathering storm of progressive pushback going to stave off total catastrophic capitulation for once? Fool me once, shame on…

Slow Down

When a notorious and unrepentant crook says quick! quick! just sign here! you can read all the fine print later! we've got an emergency here! you damn well better slow down and read every line as though your life depended on it.

The Killer Clown Administration is on its way out, universally reviled, and they don't get to throw their weight around anymore unless we let them. Democrats need to come up with a more reasonable plan that holds the actual wrongdoers accountable and doesn't sell everyday citizens down the river and constrain our ability to provide healthcare and education for all Americans and rebuild our infrastructure and shift to renewables once we've kicked these worthless scoundrels out of town.

Even if it takes us an extra day or two to put something together and grasp the essentials that are actually in play. If we don't call the shots here and now we never will. The impact of Democratic victories in November is getting circumscribed right now, before your eyes, in this very moment.

We can't win then for losing now even if we win.

Try to understand what is happening here.

Shock and Awe All Over Again


They are just playing the same old games all over again, this time directed at innocent citizens here in their own country rather than directed at innocent civilians in a nation that posed no threat to us.

Even that isn't new, as Bush's FEMA demonstrated in New Orleans.

Billions upon billions upon billions thrown into these unspeakable wars of choice in the Middle East, a trillion and a half to these bailouts, and then they're going to whine about the profligacy of healthcare and education and infrastructure spending?

Don't fall for it. This is an organized gang of criminals stealing everything they can get their hands on under cover of a state of emergency they brought into being themselves.

We've all known they were capable of this, and they're doing it right before our eyes and in real time.

These are some of the worst people on earth, even the elegant ones in suits and signet rings. We won't be safe until they are all out of office and many of them are behind bars.

They probably realize that we understand this by now, and I honestly fear what happens next.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Atrios draws our attention to this line in the bailout proposal in particular:
Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

Yep, read that again. And again. And again.

This isn't funny.

They are literally baldly announcing that they mean to steal our money to give more money to the criminals who already stole from us to get rich, and they don't want to hear any lip from the likes of us about any of it, see?

Less With the Nicey Nice And Much More With the Effective



We Can Solve It has decided that We Can't Pretend We're at a Tea Party with These Petrochemical Fuckers. More like this and even blunter still, please.

Yeah, That'll Happen -- UPDATED

Dean Baker proposes "progressive principles" that should drive the response to the current financial crisis. Here's his wishlist. One can quibble about this or that principle, but it is more or less as sensible as one could manage given the actual stakeholders in play on the ground, and anyway it is far more fun simply to contemplate the distance between Baker's recommendations and the details of the actual proposal as they are leaking out at last today from the great adult diaper of the Village's Very Serious Committee to Save the World. Very confidence inspiring! A New Golden Age is upon us!

UPDATE! And this right after I had already scared myself silly with all the shock and awe analogy stuff in my most recent post...

Dean Baker has now commented on the actual bailout proposal in the comments section that followed his own recommendations. Read it and weep. Or sharpen your plow into a sword or whatever it is we are supposed to do on such occasions:
Folks,

the bailout proposal that Paulson has put forward is a blank check. It would outrageous if Congress approved it in its current form. This is the domestic equivalent of the Iraq war authorization.

The threat of financial collapse is analogous to the weapons of mass destruction. The markets will wait. Congress can give a proposal with real conditions and then it will be Bush's call if he wants to be responsible for collapsing the U.S. economy.

KC & the Sunshine Band Help Make Amor Mundi More Positive





uh huh uh huh

Feudalism Isn't the Same Thing As Socialism

I'm getting really tired of the smug way media people and pundits on the mainstream leftish side of things keep calling these bailout fantasies "socialism." I get it that it seems like an enjoyable "gotcha" way of putting things. People imagine that Republicans hear this and, ooh, it makes them so mad! Isn't that funny? But, honestly, who cares about that? This crisis is actually real, there are things happening here that will actually matter to millions of actual people's lives.

It has been the market fundamentalist Neoliberal law of the land since Carter's Fed Chair to facilitate the spreading or displacement or "socialization" of risks and costs of corporate enterprise, all the while hyper-privatizing the profits and benefits of that enterprise.

It would be completely insane to describe that state of affairs as "socialism." Yeah, the Reagan era, high water mark of United States socialism! Clintonian workfare and NAFTA crapola, American socialism triumphant!

Does anything mean anything to anybody? I mean, I know you have to make allowances. America's generalized Fox News consciousness is liable to declare as socialist anybody to the "left" of fascist dullard Sean Hannity at this point. Clearly, this is a term without much substantial meaning apart from its function as a schoolyard taunt in America. The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States would probably sound like socialism to millions in Sarah Palin's America, if they actually read it (one wishes they would also read the New Testament of that Bible they claim to cherish so much when they get in a "godly" lather over their war-making and money-making).

But people who do know better than this really need to take a little more care with these things, else ignorant people (many of whom have been exposed to little in the way of consistent sense in these matters, which is importantly the fault of people of sense) will just bulldoze ahead and off the cliff without a pause in their strides, without a second thought, without knowing any better what they are doing, taking everybody else with them.

I frankly doubt that there is likely ever to be much in the way of benefits or profits to arise out of this steaming pile of incredibly bad loans, but if any benefits or profits eventuated somehow from these bailouts and these benefits and profits were likewise to be "socialized" -- that is to say, distributed back as dividends to the taxpayers who are now expected to fund them -- then perhaps it would make marginally more sense to describe the emerging bailout consensus as "socialist," I guess, if we really had to.

But a better word for what happens when elite minorities privatize benefits and profits while socializing risks and costs is very old fashioned perfectly recognizable dumb-as-a-bag-of-hair feudalism. Feudalism isn't the same thing as socialism. Our "investor class," "creative class," CEO celebrities and congressional and broadcast-mediated millionaires clubs are simply a self-appointed ruthlessly self-interested and jealously self-protecting clutch of rather mediocre would-be aristocrats.

aka: The Village in Netrootspeak.

The Bailouts do not appear to me to be new in the least, but to represent a direct continuation, intensification, and amplification of the neoliberal policies that produced the crisis in response to which they are presumably being offered as a solution. Crappy loans backed by nothing but the desire of greedy assholes to exploit a lack of oversight or regulation to make short-term profits is not a "liquidity problem" but a problem of insolvency. The crap is real, it's hit the fan, and it is to indulge in the same ideological fantasizing that produced the problem to wave it away as a "liquidity problem." The mindset that views the current crisis as one of liquidity is precisely the neoliberal mindset that imagined the economy was strengthened when it was financialized in the first place and our productive capacity, our savings, our infrastructure all evaporated to be replaced by "branding capital" and "informational goods" and "loan packages."

All this liquidity is pissing down our backs and pretending it's raining. I know, I know, I'm not an economist, just another angry blogger, so there's no need to worry your pretty little heather heads about what I say.

By the way and way of conclusion, I mentioned a moment ago the swiftly emerging public "bailout consensus." Have you noticed that the pundits and policy makers seem to be growing more assured about this consensus, despite the fact that no more actual details are forthcoming about what problems it is really addressing, who is expected to implement it and how, and who ends up with all this money, under what conditions, and who pays for what and how?

This is always a wonderful sign for the everyday people who have to clean up after the messes of our betters.

It seems to me that all the pundits and media heathers and policy makers are just glomming onto a few magical phrases that have been repeated enough times at last to substitute in their brains for some kind of substance and get them off the hook of needing to understand anything that is actually going on for the moment.

And now I fully expect they will get in their circle and hold hands and pretend that all the people who have been wrong about everything and caused all these problems represent our saviors somehow (it must be those impeccably tailored suits) and they will ridicule anybody outside the circle who expresses any skepticism that can't be properly soundbited (soundbit?), thereby dictating the terms of available however inadequate reasonableness in precisely the same tonalities with which they once no doubt policed diversity in high school, ferreting out the "cool kids" from the uncool ones, flinging these unrebuttable content-free insinuations at them in a deflationary and perfectly effective effort at censorship of the sensible and any actually critical thinking at exactly the moment when we need it most desperately.

I think the Establishment, in the name of offering up solutions, is blowing a trillion dollars to kick the ball forward without solving anything. I think that trillion dollars is real, and its reality will take the form of you and your friends and your kids living with less freedom and less future and dying sooner and more painfully and more pointlessly than you otherwise would have.

I think that if you aren't angry about that, and if you don't see to it that you and better more sensible people working on behalf of your actual interests have more of a say in the public decisions that affect you, then you are a very foolish person indeed.

Right now, that means getting Obama into the White House and getting more Democrats into Congress and into State government, especially the handful of more progressive democrats who are emerging on the scene -- perhaps you will be among them yourselves? -- more and better democrats, holding democratic feet to the fire, pushing back against the corporatists militarists and theocrats and all their mudslinging and influence-peddling and money-grubbing and war-making and buck-passing and lawless looting.

I think things are unbelievably bad at the moment, much worse than even I feared they might be, and it is time to get as involved in the political process to turn the tide as you are able. Vote, but also contribute what you can, where you can. I am truly frightened for my country and for our future today.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The SadlyNo! Brain Trust Speaks For Me Today

[SadlyNo!]
[T]he stock market is rallying because stupid rich people won’t have to suffer any consequences for the shitty investments they’ve made over the past decade.

It’s times like these where I start getting pitchfork-and-torches angry. Make no mistake, this bailout plan will have a massive opportunity cost. National health care just became that much more difficult because we’re going to be spending $1 trillion to bail out a bunch of irresponsible Wall Street assholes.

The sheer amount of shit that the American taxpayer is about to devour cannot be calculated. Our choices boil down to: [one] Borrowing a crapload more money from the Chinese and adding God knows how much to our national debt. [two] Paying significantly higher taxes and getting precisely nothing in return except for the knowledge that rich people won’t feel bad about themselves.

It’s time to bring back the pillory stocks, my friends. I want Bush, Paulson, Cox, Bernanke and the heads of AIG, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Fannie and Freddie locked up for years on end so that we may hurl vegetables and feces at them to our hearts’ content. Because hey, if we’re going to be sacrificing our Social Security and our health insurance to save the Wizards of Wall Street, we might as well get something out of the deal.


Btw, the SadlyNo! Brain Trust also speaks hilarious truths when the topic turns to things transhumanistical and futurological and armyofdavidsological. Google it, endless mirth.

Bush-McCain-Palin's America



Smell the democracy, smell the freedom.

The Simple Answer to a Question Too Obvious to Ask in the First Place

Compare the proportion of millionaires in Congress to the proportion of millionaires in the general population (whose interests are presumably represented by the Congressional Millionaires Club) and you have the simple answer to a question too obvious to ask in the first place.

Literally Nothing Good Will Come of Any of This

[Found via TPM]
The Bush administration sketched out a multi-faceted effort on Friday to confront the worst U.S. financial crisis in decades, outlining a program that could cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars to buy up bad mortgages and other toxic debt. Relief washed over Wall Street with a surge of buying.

Anybody else hearing shrieking warning bells here? Let's see…
President Bush, flanked by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, acknowledged that the program will put a "significant amount of taxpayers' money on the line."

Everyday law-abiding people to be completely screwed? Check!
Markets unhinged by anxiety in recent months greeted the plan enthusiastically. The Dow Jones industrials shot up over 400 points and stayed in that territory into the afternoon. Global stock markets soared, too.

Rich misbehaving fucks to be completely let off the hook? Check!
The administration is asking Congress to give it sweeping new powers to execute the plan. Paulson said it "needs to be big enough to make a real difference and get to the heart of the problem."

Sweeping new powers demanded by the very people responsible for every mistake, deception, and crime at the root of the catastrophe at hand? Check!
Paulson gave few details….

Few actual details provided as to what we are actually agreeing to in the way of new costs, new rules, new powers, new reforms, new players, new responsibilities? Check!
but said he would work through the weekend with leaders of Congress from both parties to flesh out the program, the biggest proposed government intervention in financial markets since the Great Depression.

Democrats timidly hanging their heads and bleating like sheep while the Republicans literally turn everything to blood stained shit before our eyes? Check!

I give up.

Hercules and Love Affair Help Make Amor Mundi More Positive



Less 80s-Style Reaganism, More 80s-Style Danceclub Mess!

The Question On All Sensible Lips

Over at EuroTrib, the ever reasonable Jerome a Paris has a question:
After years of deregulation, of promotion of greed and assertion of the superiority of the market, and in particular of financial ma[rk]ets to decide how to run the economy, it appears -- nay, make that: it is now blatantly, in your face, obvious -- that none of this worked. Worse, the people [who] have mocked government throughout as wasteful, inefficient and incompetent are now counting on the very same government to bail them out from the hole they have dug.

What do we need to do to ensure that we NEVER EVER LISTEN TO THESE PEOPLE AGAIN?

My own answers: tax the living daylights out of the richest of the rich else they'll crystallize into a pernicious aristocracy every time, regulate conflicts of interest else corruption and fraud will happen every time, break up any for-profit enterprises that are too big to fail else they will crystallize into oligarchy every time, never allow anybody to profit from defense spending else militarism will eventually abolish democracy every time, and use the money you get from progressive taxation to provide basic guaranteed health, education, and income to enable everyday citizens to consent in an informed nonduressed way to the terms of their lives, and then just see to it that everybody everywhere truly has the vote and a chance at public office if they want it.

I suppose this means I think we probably will NEVER STOP LISTENING TO THESE PEOPLE EVER.