The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Thursday, January 31, 2008

Shhhh! John McCain is making sense.

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the virtual earth. I haven't even been moping around because of Edwards' departure from the race. I was going to write up another encomium yesterday, but the blogs were so flooded with totally sweet odes to his campaign that I didn't feel the need to chime in.

Plus, it's been a really busy week. Which I never enjoy too much when it involves work and doing my taxes and stuff. Yes! I filed my returns in January! And it's possibly the first time-- ever-- that I didn't lazily file for an extension.

Moving on. The big thing about McCain's candidacy that baffles me, and pretty much every other rational person who follows politics, is why he's earned so much contempt from the right. In a lot of ways, he's the most conservative guy in the race. From this tidbit, though, it appears that the major complaint against McCain is that he's not a dyed-in-the-wool plutocrat.

When the Wall Street Journal reports that Republicans are in danger of losing support in the Florida Panhandle, you know trouble is brewing for the GOP. How the World Works spent its high school years in northern Florida, and the Panhandle is as rock-ribbed a slice of conservative deep South as you will find in either adjoining Alabama or Mississippi.

"A toxic brew of economic anxiety, a deepening housing slump, skyrocketing home insurance, strained schools and the lingering effects of recent hurricanes have spawned a gloomy mood in Florida," writes the Journal's Corey Dade.

But do Republican opinion-makers understand this? Watching the bloggers at the National Review's "The Corner" during Wednesday's Republican debate, you couldn't ignore the feeling that the right-wing elite simply don't understand the mess they're in, or why Sen. John McCain has been winning primaries.

Witness one representative comment:

Yeah, Senator, That's the Problem [Andy McCarthy]

McCain: "There are some greedy people on Wall Street who need to be punished."

Is he our guy, or what?

Trust me, the sarcasm there is so thick you couldn't push through it in a turbo-powered Humvee.

For the despairing folks at the National Review, McCain's threat to punish the greedy is proof of his GOP-values-betraying pro-big government proclivities.

Here's hoping he keeps reminding people about his wacko foreign policy ideas and total ignorance of matters economic.

Monday, January 28, 2008

sdrawkcaB dlroW ehT

Kinda strange, isn't it? Or-- when you put it in the grand tapestry woven in this nation since the Second Gilded Age began-- maybe it's just the same old crap. From Abu Ghraib to Enron (let's go ahead and throw in Iran-Contra, New Orleans' crumbling levees, and the 80's Savings & Loan scandal) and now the credit crunch, it's always a great time to screw up when you're atop the pyramid [scheme].

Under the stewardship of Dow Kim and Thomas G. Maheras, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup built positions in subprime-related securities that led to $34 billion in write-downs last year. The debacle cost chief executives their jobs and brought two of the world’s premier financial institutions to their knees.

In any other industry, Mr. Kim and Mr. Maheras would be pariahs. But in the looking-glass world of Wall Street, they — and others like them — are hot properties. The two executives are well on their way to reviving their careers, even as global markets shudder at the prospect that Merrill and Citigroup may report further subprime losses in the coming months. . .

The quick comebacks of these executives stand in stark contrast to the plight of the hundreds of investment bankers who have received pink slips in the last two weeks. They also illuminate a peculiar aspect of Wall Street’s own version of a class divide. Senior movers and shakers often land on their feet, no matter how egregious the losses tied to them. The industry rank and file, however, from mergers-and-acquisitions bankers at Bank of America to sales executives in Citigroup’s hedge-fund servicing business, see their jobs eliminated despite being far removed from the subprime crisis.

Just thought I'd help get the week off to a wretched start, ya know?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Our Man Edwards

This week has made me a bit sad. The Clintons are taking a pasting in the blogosphere for their shady campaign tactics, and reinforcing my cynical view that we've got to sink much, much lower economically and morally as a nation before we see any significant change.

And, of course, John Edwards has pretty much been written off by the media. Here's hoping that he makes a strong showing in South Carolina-- or that Obama, at least, has woken up to the fact that being a Blue Dog Democrat just ain't cutting it these days.

So I might dip into my meager bank account and cough up another small donation to Edwards. I suspect we won't see him as president, but I have great respect for his dedication to social justice, a society that actively works to minimize the number of economic have-nots our corporatist nation spits out by the millions, and a more participatory republic in which the voice of the people drowns out the rattling coins of industry.

John Edwards has run a principled campaign. He talks about poverty even though poor people can afford to give him little money and turn out to vote at low rates, especially in primaries. His "Back Home, Back Roads Barnstorm" campaign this week took him by bus from one small, rural area of South Carolina to the next, even though small cities like Lancaster, Seneca and Greenwood are not nearly as vote-rich as Greenville, Columbia or Charleston. Whatever else might be said of him, if Edwards suffers a crushing, third-place defeat on Saturday, nobody can say he abandoned his core campaign themes or target audiences. One could argue that his rhetoric, his stance on the issues, has slowed Clinton and Obama's rush to the center, has increased their focus on economic issues. . .

Colorfully nicknamed political advisors Dave "Mudcat" Saunders and former Georgia Rep. Ben "Cooter" Jones are traveling with Edwards in the final days before Saturday's do-or-die primary. In Bennettsville, Jones drew a comparison between the sitcom that made him famous and the current campaign. "I wish the world were like Hazzard County," said Jones, who starred in the popular "Dukes of Hazzard" during the late 1970s and early 1980s. "Because the good guys always won, nobody got hurt, and the Duke brothers always made the right moral choice."

If only Edwards' path to the White House were so simple and formulaic. Given the economic situation in the country and the power of Edwards' campaign themes -- delivered as they are by an articulate, attractive, Southern son who ably employs emotional stories of uninsured or displaced Americans to humanize his message -- why haven't more rank-and-file Democrats rallied behind Edwards?

That's the sad question whose answer has eluded me for months now. And one that looks to haunt me for some time to come.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

For Sale: Leadership of Global Superpower

Hopefuls should be ready to spend a minimum of $10 million. Creepy, messianistic autocrats preferred. Ability to lie with straight face a must.

Associated Press, January 8, 2007:

Republican Mitt Romney and 400 of his strongest supporters raised over $6.5 million on Monday in a glitzy fundraising blitz aimed not only at financing his fledgling presidential campaign, but also scaring off potential rivals and putting existing ones on notice…

Romney himself said later that contributing any of his personal wealth to the campaign “would be akin to a nightmare,” but he said he reserved the right to do so should circumstances warrant.

Washington Post, January 22, 2008:

[Romney] has told supporters he will supplement individual donations with a sizable investment from his personal fortune. He lent his campaign $17 million from January to September of 2007, and some in his camp say they expect him to spend $40 million to $50 million on his effort to secure the nomination.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

This whole "economy" thing is starting to make me a little nervous

I'm just trying to figure out how scared I should get, is all.

[T]he hyperlinked global markets of the 21st century measure a Fed chairman by his rate cuts, not his über-rational reasoning. And when you shock the world with an emergency three-quarters of a percentage point cut in the Fed Funds rate that is larger than anything the U.S. has seen in 23 years, your image as Mr. Calm is bound to take a beating. Wasn't he telling us just a few months ago that the housing bust was "contained"?

Well, that's pretty scary. But no reason to panic, right?

Given the clear connection between Tuesday's rate cut and global market turmoil, it is hard to avoid at least one conclusion. Bernanke has proven, once and for all, that juicing the stock market is now considered Job No. 1 for the Federal Reserve Bank. The material effects of rate cuts do not show up in economic growth statistics for months or even years after their enactment. By making an emergency "inter-meeting" cut a mere eight days before its regularly scheduled meeting, Bernanke is conducting economic policy in order to appease market psychology. The fragile psyches of Wall Street traders who played such a pivotal role in creating this mess by romping through the derivatives wonderland, are now in control of government strategy.

Does this mean that my horrible fear of a "stimulus package" that bails out the greedy bastards responsible for this meltdown are as well-founded as I'm thinkin' they are? Hardly a surprise, but pretty frightening.

How bad can it get? Economist Nouriel Roubini, who has been preaching doom for years, declares that the oncoming "recession will be ugly, deep and severe, much more severe than the mild 8-month recessions in 1990-91 and 2001." Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, observes that the housing bust "is creating the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression and might well lead to the most serious recession since World War II."

Such rhetoric seems to belong to a different universe than that which the Federal Reserve inhabits: Its statement, explaining its actions Tuesday morning, was far more constrained, attributing its action to "a weakening of the economic outlook and increasing downside risks to growth." And Treasury Secretary Paulson did his best to give the bad news a positive spin, arguing that what the Fed's rate cut "shows to this country and the rest of the world is that our central bank is nimble and is able to move quickly to respond to market conditions. That should be a confidence builder.''

Well, that's not terribly encouraging, but at least some people are still keeping their cool.

At a White House briefing for reporters, press secretary Dana Perino confined her comments to noting that the White House did not comment on Fed rate cuts or market fluctuations, but that the "the president's advisers are advising him that they are not forecasting a recession."

Never mind. We're screwed.


I don't remember who the comedian was, but the bit was a good one. Say a friend is visiting your town and gets lost. Calling you for directions, your friend says he's on Martin Luther King Boulevard. Your response, in any city in America, is going to be the same: "Get the hell away from there, now!" Funny, but sad.

Much less amusing is the attempt by "conservative intellectuals" to rewrite King's legacy-- and their own racism. We still see some of the latter, as when Jonah Goldberg recently mused on the likelihood that Barack Obama would (I think this is what he was trying to say, anyway) win a general election out of white fear that blacks would go collectively insane and burn down the continent.

But Rick Perlstein wrote a pretty sweet essay about MLK's awesomeness that seems like a nice thing to post today.

When Martin Luther King was buried in Atlanta, the live television coverage lasted seven and a half hours. President Johnson announced a national day of mourning: "Together, a nation united and a nation caring and a nation concerned and a nation that thinks more of the nation's interests than we do of any individual self-interest or political interest--that nation can and shall and will overcome." Richard Nixon called King "a great leader--a man determined that the American Negro should win his rightful place alongside all others in our nation." Even one of King's most beastly political enemies, Mississippi Representative William Colmer, chairman of the House rules committee, honored the president's call to unity by terming the murder "a dastardly act."

Others demurred. South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond wrote his constituents, "[W]e are now witnessing the whirlwind sowed years ago when some preachers and teachers began telling people that each man could be his own judge in his own case." Another, even more prominent conservative said it was just the sort of "great tragedy that began when we began compromising with law and order, and people started choosing which laws they'd break."

That was Ronald Reagan, the governor of California, arguing that King had it coming. King was the man who taught people they could choose which laws they'd break--in his soaring exegesis on St. Thomas Aquinas from that Birmingham jail in 1963: "Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. ... Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong."

That's not what you hear from conservatives today, of course. What you get now are convoluted and fantastical tributes arguing that, properly understood, Martin Luther King was actually one of them--or would have been, had he lived. But, if we are going to have a holiday to honor history, we might as well honor history. We might as well recover the true story. Conservatives--both Democrats and Republicans--hated King's doctrines. Hating them was one of the litmus tests of conservatism.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

"I've got it! Let's try cutting taxes!"

The fact that Fearless Leader announced that his plan for fighting a recession was to give more money to billionaires is considered to merit a headline in any publication more sophisitcated than Highlights for Children is sad.

On the positive side, Ben Bernanke, who's suddenly under the national microscope, demonstrated that he's not stupid enough to believe supply-side nonsense.

A number of analysts have raised the possibility that fiscal policy actions might usefully complement monetary policy in supporting economic growth over the next year or so. I agree that fiscal action could be helpful in principle, as fiscal and monetary stimulus together may provide broader support for the economy than monetary policy actions alone. But the design and implementation of the fiscal program are critically important. A fiscal initiative at this juncture could prove quite counterproductive, if (for example) it provided economic stimulus at the wrong time or compromised fiscal discipline in the longer term.

To be useful, a fiscal stimulus package should be implemented quickly and structured so that its effects on aggregate spending are felt as much as possible within the next twelve months or so. Stimulus that comes too late will not help support economic activity in the near term, and it could be actively destabilizing if it comes at a time when growth is already improving. Thus, fiscal measures that involve long lead times or result in additional economic activity only over a protracted period, whatever their intrinsic merits might be, will not provide stimulus when it is most needed. Any fiscal package should also be efficient, in the sense of maximizing the amount of near-term stimulus per dollar of increased federal expenditure or lost revenue. Finally, any program should be explicitly temporary, both to avoid unwanted stimulus beyond the near-term horizon and, importantly, to preclude an increase in the federal government's structural budget deficit. As I have discussed on other occasions, the nation faces daunting long-run budget challenges associated with an aging population, rising health-care costs, and other factors. A fiscal program that increased the structural budget deficit would only make confronting those challenges more difficult.

The terrible thing about it is that this is all A) painfully obvious, and B) the antithesis of everything the Republican party has been working to force on the public for the last two decades.

The disaster that keeps on disastering

Funny how the administration screwed up Afghanistan so badly that the Taliban are asserting control over large swaths of land again. And how the country is producing record crops of opium poppies. But pitch-black irony is just never quite enough for today's GOP. No, they have to frost that black irony cupcake with Satan's toejam.

Well! Here is some good news for the "free markets solve everything!" crowd!

Iraqi farmers, desperate to make ends meet while simultaneously facing escalating fuel and fertilizer costs, as well as cheap imported fruits and vegetables, have taken to growing opium poppies. Poppy cultivation is spreading rapidly all across Iraq, but is especially prevalent in Diyala province, where local police and security forces are so preoccupied with the ethnic conflicts among the residents of the region, as well as a tenacious insurgency that brings the war and it's associated chaos home - suffice it to say that the drug trade is low on their list of priorities.

Put one more hashmark in the "Law of Unintended Consequences" column, I guess.

The shift to opium cultivation by Iraqis is a very recent development. The first fields, underwritten by Afghani smugglers who supplied the lucrative markets in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, were discovered less than a year ago near Diwaniya in the south, but the practice has now spread to the lush orchards of Diyala, north of Baghdad. A local agricultural engineer identified as M S al-Azawi said that the local farmers received no government support, and turned to opium production as an effort to offset high production costs and low sale prices.

Consider this my personal plea to the entire Republican party: please, do something, anything before the 2008 elections that doesn't waste mountains of cash, completely backfire, or involve criminal activity. Note that I used "or" there-- I'll settle for just one. Please?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


I'd really like to find the piece I read earlier this week about the story of Iranian threats against an American warship that just didn't add up. It also mentioned one GOP presidential hopeful who said he thought the incident was being blown out of proportion, and people were oh, being a bit premature in talking about war. The other hopefuls immediately recognized this level-headed piece of analysis for what it really was: the perfect opportunity to act like complete shitheads. "I would've bombed 'em." "Well I would've invaded." Oh, yeah? Well I would've glassed the hemisphere!" Which is roughly the Republican equivalent of choosing your street gang's leader by picking the one who screams loudest and jumps on the highest piece of furniture when a mouse walks in the room.

At any rate, the story of provocative, aggressive action on the part of the Iranians doesn't hold water-- and this account has the usual hallmarks of the same White House spin ladled to the same press stenographers.

Gareth Porter, a journalist who previously broke a story regarding a secret Iranian peace overture to the Bush Administration in 2006, writing for the Asia Times states that the event was hyped up into a major incident after the original press release described the event as somewhat routine and did not refer to any threat to "explode" US ships or any similar confrontation. . . .

The fact that several mainstream reports then emerged at the same time all carrying almost identical accounts of the incident, including the details of threats to explode vessels and dropping white boxes, can be traced back to a press briefing by a top Pentagon official in charge of media relations, Porter divulges.

He identifies Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman's off the record comments to journalists as the catalyst for the ensuing pandemonium. Porter states that Whitman hadn't wished to be identified as the source:

In an apparent slip-up, however, an Associated Press story that morning cited Whitman as the source for the statement that US ships were about to fire when the Iranian boats turned and moved away - a part of the story that other correspondents had attributed to an unnamed Pentagon official.

Three days later, at the height of the hype, the Pentagon released a video of the incident into which had been inserted audio of a strange voice threatening to "explode" the US vessel.

Special thanks for the link go out to fruitylips-- thunderlips. I meant thunderlips. I did.

Special Bulletin

My fellow citizens, clearly, the day is upon us when we must, regrettably, relinquish some of our cherished personal liberties in favor of peace, strength, and security. An enemy threatens the United States from within-- seeks to undermine the values we hold most dear simply because of their blind hatred of our freedom and liberty. This scourge of justice has infiltrated the highest levels of our government in a despicable attempt to wreak havoc that we simply cannot sit idly by and watch, though these instruments of darkness would throw our freedoms back in our face with contempt and derision, pleading for the free speech and tolerance that they would deny us at the first opportunity.

That is why I am signing into law, with the heaviest of hearts but the clearest of consciences, the Republican Internment Act of 2008.

Just be glad you're not this guy

Michigan? I had two reactions: I keep hoping different candidates win, and the fact that Romney now has two firsts and two seconds under his belt is significant. As Kevin Drum put it last night, may the bloodletting continue.

But the story I wanted to mention has been at the top of the page at Salon all day. When the headline mentioned Lee Siegel, my first thought was "Who?" The word blogofascism brought it all back, though. The douchebaggery, the pompous rants on utterly insignificant aspects of daily life-- in hell, the forces of ultimate darkness might replace observational humor with the tedious sanctimony of Siegel's 'observational outrage.' It's just as hackneyed and unfunny as the stereotypical airline food routine, but it also inspires clinical depression and a profound sense of helplessness.

I think the most unfortunate part of the whole thing is how desperate he is to convince anyone who'll listen that society is being ripped apart by black-hearted fiends who do things like misrepresent themselves in online forums in order to spread disinformation and strife. You know, except when he does it. I'm not sure if it's the fascinating end-is-nigh tone of his goofy diatribes, the incredible he-can't-be-serious spectacle of watching someone caught in flagrante dilecto insisting for literally years that "that whole dressed like a French maid in an alley while trading crack for sex with an underage hooker thing" was a prank. ("What's the matter? Don't you get it?!?")

Or maybe it's just the schadenfreude buzz I get from seeing pomposity and hypocrisy get the ignore-the-man-behind-the-curtain treatment. Go ahead and have a helping. It's delicious.

According to Wikipedia (an institution he despises), Siegel has been book critic for the Nation, art critic for Slate, staff writer for Talk and Harper's magazines, contributing writer for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, senior editor at the New Republic ... on and on he goes, a culture unto himself, weighing in on all things great and small. He has even managed to have an opinion about baseball caps, which -- I never knew this -- signify "a lazily defiant casualness ... a hopelessness about the possibility of originality ever to fly in the face of hierarchy."

Siegel's Olympian perch began to sag a little in September 2006 when, stung by anonymous reactions to his New Republic culture blog, he decided to pose as a reader himself under the handle "sprezzatura." Slamming all his detractors ("immature, abusive sheep") and dousing the blogmaster with incense ("Siegel is brave, brilliant, and wittier than [Jon] Stewart will ever be ... You couldn't tie Siegel's shoelaces"), author and sock puppet were quickly sniffed out by other readers. Siegel was suspended, and his blog was cast into the ether.

Which brings us to his book on how the Internet is denying us the high-minded genius sprezz... errrr, Lee Siegel.

And to do it in the guise of public service. Those anonymous assassins, it turns out, weren't just hurting Siegel (and, he reminds us, his mother), they were ripping holes in our cultural fabric. The subtitle of Siegel's book is "Being Human in the Age of the Mob," and it's worth noting the Burkean scowl of that "mob." Siegel may have liberal credentials, but he is making, at bottom, a conservative argument: in favor of gatekeepers and cultural elites, against the cacophony of untrammeled opinion.

In the same way that Edmund Burke regarded the guillotine in the Place de la Révolution, Siegel regards Gawker and YouTube. And when he writes that "the Internet is possibly the most radical transformation of private and public life in the history of humankind," he doesn't mean "radical" in a nice way (any more than Burke did). Bad times are a-brewing. The "borders of truth" are eroding. Knowledge is "devalued into information." Americans are producing, not enjoying, their own leisure. Our interior lives are being "packaged like merchandise," and "the sources of critical detachment are drying up, as book supplements disappear from newspapers and what passes for critical thinking in the more intellectually lively magazines gives way to the Internet's emphasis on cuteness, novelty, buzz, and pursuit of the 'viral.'"

See? I told you it was tasty stuff. And if anyone comes across defenses of Siegel's unintentionally silly noodlings that aren't from "conservative intellectuals," please let me know. Seriously, cuteness, novelty, and buzz? Apparently Siegel was never a child and fell to earth in a meteor. Or otherwise missed the Pet Rock, Smurfs, Troll Dolls, Rubik's Cube, Pac-Man, the Slink, Hello Kitty and about a zillion other fads from the last thirty years or so. Or maybe he's just decided that the imminence of the collapse of Western civilization has an inversely proportional relationship to society's respect for Lee Siegel.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

In the words of Marcia Brady....

"Something suddenly came up." Yep, I've gotten pretty busy here, so today will be postless. Sorry, folks. But y'all come back now, ya hear?

Monday, January 14, 2008

This tale of efficiency brought to you by the Imaginary Free Market

With additional support from the Meritocracy Council.

When I saw the headline Millions Lose Homes, Lender CEO Gets $88 Million, I had no idea this story would be such a worthy example (you know, in a dark, hellish, eternal-nightmare-of-the-soul sort of way) of everything that's wrong with our corporatist system.

Angelo Mozilo, the co-founder and public face of troubled mortgage giant Countrywide, is eligible for tens if not hundreds of millions in compensation and perks on the sale of the company to Bank of America.

During calendar 2006, the latest period available for review in Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Mozilo took home $48.1 million in compensation. An early analysis of SEC filings by the Los Angeles Times suggests he could get upward of $115 million when he leaves after the sale is complete, despite the fact that the company tanked during the recent subprime mortgage crisis.

In December, Countrywide reported a record number of foreclosures and delinquencies in its loan portfolio. The value of shares has fallen more than 84 percent since mid-May of last year.

I'll bet you can see where I'm going with this. It's been the long, sad story of the mortgage/credit mess we're still walking blithely into in this country. And the preferred business model of revered executive minds like Ken Lay or Dennis Kozlowski. It's exactly the same model promoted by one of my undergraduate business professors-- the most reviled individual in the department, at least by students, for being a complete prick and damn proud of it, thank you very much.

Fitting that his company is being picked up by Bank of America, issuer of credit cards to people carefully selected for their ability to be debt slaves for decades to come.

You know, if I were to enumerate the many ways in which this article gives the lie to the entire myth of GOP economic policies, I'd lose my entire day. Read it, be outraged, pass it around. The lesson I take away is this: the Republican definition of a free, open, and competitive market is one in which the wealthy are able to restrict, close, and manipulate the market to provide themselves with impossibly large sums of money, airtight job security, and a Soviet-era guarantee that even failure will bring a personal windfall if you know the right people. All you have to do is deprive as many less-wealthy people as you can of money, job security, a future of possibility, and preferably health care and a home.

Okay. So the guy with decades of experience walked right into a moneymaking scheme that anyone with half a brain could have told him would mean an inevitable day of reckoning. At least, in spite of his carefully constructed safety net, he'll be leaving the company in shame and disgrace, right?

The company will retain Mozilo as a consultant. Mozilo is obligated to make himself available for a specified period of time each month through December 2011 and at the rate of $400,000 per year.

The most average newspaper article of the year

Somewhere, anyway. It isn't that the article is amazing on its own merits, but it leaped out at me for being surprisingly fact-filled and objective. So it stands head and shoulders above most lazy campaign coverage we see, but in a more mature time and place, I'd like to think that this qualifies as simply a normal, run-of-the-mill, everyday, quotidian, perfectly average newspaper article.

The coalition of fiscal conservatives, national security conservatives, anti-tax activists and social conservatives that rallied behind Reagan in 1980 and has defined the Republican Party ever since is coming apart at the seams heading into the 2008 election.

All the men running for the party's presidential nomination invoke Reagan's name repeatedly. But all of them offend at least one wing of the party enough that they'd find it difficult, and perhaps impossible, to pull the disparate elements of the old coalition together.

The thing that gets me is why they feel obliged to employ euphemism when reporting on candidates' more questionable actions and ideas. There's no mention of McCain's fervent (or simply insane) support of the Iraq disaster, and Rudy Giuliani's tawdry-- and very public-- personal life "falls short of Christian conservative ideals." But I admit that a little unnecessary discretion is far preferable to countless hours of inane cable coverage of cigarette-smoking, expensive haircuts, or wardrobe choices.

And if anyone can explain the baffling bit about GOP support for Clinton at the end, I'd be grateful.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Election season is law-breakin' season down at the megachurch

Sure, pastors are people, too. And asking someone to completely divorce (or annul) their politics in front of the congregation is probably too much to ask. But using your tax-exempt status to create a national network of election-year activists is just plain wrong. Oh, and illegal.

Today the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), a religious right watchdog group, asked the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate a non-profit organization behind funding the Texas Restoration Project, which sponsored "Pastors' Policy Briefings" featuring Texas Governor Rick Perry (when he was running for office), and which are being replicated in other states, where they have featured Mike Huckabee as a speaker.

The TFN revelations are a major development in uncovering the money behind the Texas Restoration Project; until today, the funding behind the group remained cloaked in secrecy, despite its efforts to influence the election in Texas.

TFN charges that a 501(c)(3) organization set up in 2005, the Niemoller Foundation, provided the funding for the Texas Restoration Project. The Niemoller Foundation's 2005 tax return shows that it received funding from James Leininger, a major financial backer of the religious right who hosted a fundraiser for Huckabee last month; Bo Pilgrim, founder of the Pilgrims' Pride poultry processor whose nephew Buddy Pilgrim hosted a fundraiser for Huckabee in November; and Bob J. Perry, a big funder of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. TFN asked the IRS to investigate whether the organization violated its tax-exempt status by engaging in partisan electioneering.

As I've reported in The FundamentaList, Huckabee has spoken at at least two "Pastors' Policy Briefings," sponsored by the Iowa Renewal Project and the South Carolina Renewal Project. These briefings, which have also taken place in other states, have featured Newt Gingrich riffing on his book, Rediscovering God in America; David Barton, a former Texas GOP co-chair and Republican National Committee consultant who fancies himself a historian but is better described as a historical revisionist anxious to peddle the "Christian nation" mythology; Huckabee backer Tim LaHaye; and Laurence White, a Texas minister who organized the Texas Restoration Project and served on the board of the Niemoller Foundation.

A call to the Niemoller Foundation phone number turned out to be the number for an insurance firm in Houston, whose general counsel, Andrew Adams, is on the Niemoller board. Adams did not immediately return the call. According to the insurance firm's Web site, Adams is a member of White's church.

One other note: a man who publicly professes to believe that men and dinosaurs hung out together is probably not your best bet for leader of a global superpower.

Hopefully the last word on "Liberal Fascism"

The Prospect follows up their excellent review shredding Goldberg's goofy screed by catching him accidentally(?) telling the truth. And a funny interpretation. I apologize if linking to a post that links to other posts is too "meta," but I couldn't resist.

Jesus' General shares this Jonah Goldberg gem from a recent NPR interview:

Jonah Goldberg: The benefit of Bush’s compassionate conservatism [in 2000] was that it was majorly a marketing slogan…

Alex Chadwick: You mean you’re worried Mike Huckabee might actually mean it?

Goldberg: Yes, that’s what I’m terrified of.

Sadly, No! interprets this in light of Goldberg's statement that "populism is a useful and healthy passion when aimed at the liberal elite."

In other words: it’s cool to rile up the idiot vote by telling them that liberals want to ban Christmas, but helping them pay for their kids’ health care goes way, way over the line. Religion, in Jonah’s world, truly is the Cheetos bag of the masses.

Indeed, this tracks pretty well with former White House official David Kuo's experience, as described in his book Tempting Faith: Conservative elites openly scorn the working-class evangelicals whose fears they crassly manipulate in order to implement their pro-rich agenda.

"Majorly"?!? Yes, he's one serious intellectual. But that's about as close to an admission that his goal is to implement the "Big Lie" strategy of furthering his own authoritarian dreams.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Twisteroos. And spankings for narcissistic pundits.

What a day in the blogosphere, eh? Personally, I like Kevin Drum's coverage of last night's results. It's a lot less snide than others in chiding the press, but also makes a lot of salient points. Particularly on the electability of McCain:

It's true that matchup polls show McCain doing well against Hillary, but honestly, does anybody think those polls are even remotely meaningful nine months before the election? I don't.

There are two things that keep me from being worried about a Clinton vs. McCain matchup. The first is that this simply looks to be a Democratic year. Tick off the reasons: Americans don't like to keep a single political party in the White House for more than eight years (it's only happened once in the postwar era). The war in Iraq is unpopular. The economy is sinking. The 9/11 effect has worn off. Conservatives are tired and plainly lack new ideas.

Second, I don't think McCain is nearly as attractive a candidate as a lot of people think. Again, tick off the reasons: He's 72 years old. He's a dead-ender for the war. (Do you think "a million years in Iraq" will play well with moderates in November?) A lot of his independent cred has been shredded over the past couple of years. He'll get evangelical votes, but he won't get their enthusiastic support, the way George Bush did. Ditto for nativist votes. He's got a long, very conservative voting record that's never really been exposed to a national audience. The Keating Five scandal will get revisited. Press ardor for McCain will likely diminish as his campaign becomes less open, as it's bound to do.

That all makes sense to me, with the exception of the press continuing to ignore facts in favor of narrative.

But my main disappointment with the outcome is that Edwards didn't manage another second-place finish. Already ignored by a press corps obsessed with the Clintons and the erstwhile Horatio Alger story of Obama, this is probably going to be a serious blow to his campaign. On the other hand, if upcoming primaries result in a few more Obama-Edwards headlines, I won't be shedding any tears. Several bloggers and columnists ahve noted a sudden uptick in Obama's use of words like "progressive" and talking about the struggling middle class. Hopefully it wasn't just calculated to siphon votes from Edwards, and the inane DLC notion of an ever-more-conservative America is in the toilet.

Hopefully I'll find myself able to get back to more serious topics soon. But it's always nice to take at least a wee vacation from terrifying tales of credit card and mortgage woes, looming recession at a time of unprecedented fiscal insecurity, a new low for the US health care system, a dim Defense Department forecast on Iraq-- you know, that sort of thing. Have a lovely evening!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Something tangentially related to New Hampshire!

Tying in with a post from yesterday and my rant du jour of the day, here's Rudy Giuliani de-linking a loaded term from its grave, historical significance. Only the outcome is that he's losing all his credibility and making it harder for fellow authoritarians to transform fear and tragedy into political power. Keep up the self-parody, Rudy!

"[Hillary's "emotional moment"] is not something I would judge anybody on one way or the other. And the reality is, if you look at me -- Sept. 11, the funerals, the memorial services, there were times in which it was just impossible not to feel ... the emotion."

(Video at the link. And early reports indicate that primary voting in a certain New England state is, like Iowa, very high. Always a good thing.)

Nothing about New Hampshire!

I was going to break my word right out of the gate, but I think yesterday's posts conveyed how frustrated and disheartened I am by the way this (monumentally important) presidential election is being treated like an episode of..... Saved by the Bell, maybe. Instead, I'm going to bring up something that I find even more troubling, but in a different sort of way.

Revisionism, or (to use one of the author's words that was new to me) revanchism, has become one of the central tactics of American conservatism. But as scary as it is to see Holocaust deniers present absurdities as thoughtful scholarship, and as sad as it is to see global warming deniers pass off their ignorance as intellectual honesty, leading conservative voices have no trouble whatsoever presenting lies as fact. To wit:

The title [of Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism] alone is enough to indicate its thoroughgoing incoherence: of all the things we know about fascism and the traits that comprise it, one of the few things that historians will readily agree upon is its overwhelming antiliberalism. One might as well write about anti-Semitic neoconservatism, or Ptolemaic quantum theory, or strength in ignorance. Goldberg isn't content to simply create an oxymoron; this entire enterprise, in fact, is classic Newspeak.

Indeed, Goldberg even makes some use of Orwell, noting that the author of 1984 once dismissed the misuse of "fascism" as meaning "something not desirable." Of course, Orwell was railing against the loss of the word's meaning, while Goldberg, conversely, revels in it -- he refers to Orwell's critique as his "definition of fascism."

It's more than just "lying." It's a breathtaking misrepresentation of reality, an attempt to hoodwink an entire nation into believing that up is down, and a fraud of epic proportions made worse by its malicious intent. And it wouldn't be complete without the sick irony that it is exactly what it professes to oppose. But we're also given a bonus sick irony at no extra charge (but only if you drink the Flavor-Aid, so act now!). What is presented as fearless truth-telling serves the purpose of obfuscating the truth by de-linking these loaded, overused terms from their grave and all too real historical significance. And using Orwell to do it, no less.

More astonishing is the reaction of Goldberg's boosters (have a look at some discussions of the book on Amazon's site, where it ranks in the top 100 sellers). The baffling arguments they make to support what they want to believe are just as nonsensical-- and as obstinately, defiantly, and proudly misinformed as they could be. But that's covered in the review as well:

More to the point, perhaps, is that discussing fascism's "intellectual foundations" is a nonsensical enterprise in the face of the consensus historical understanding that anti-intellectualism is an essential trait of fascism, a fact that Goldberg briefly acknowledges without assessing its impact on his thesis. As Umberto Eco put it, the fascist insistence on action for its own sake means that "it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation." In this worldview, the instincts of the fascist leader are always superior to the logic and reason of puling intellectuals. (. . .)

Liberal Fascism is like a number of other recent attempts at historical revisionism by popular right-wing pundits -- including, notably, Michelle Malkin's attempt to justify the Japanese-American internment in her book In Defense of Internment, and Ann Coulter's attempt to rehabilitate McCarthy's reputation in her book Treason -- in that it employs the same historical methodology used by Holocaust deniers and other right-wing revanchists: namely, it selects a narrow band of often unrepresentative facts, distorts their meaning, and simultaneously elides and ignores whole mountains of contravening evidence and broader context. These are simply theses in search of support, not anything like serious history.

What goes missing from Goldberg's account of fascism is that, while he describes nearly every kind of liberal enterprise or ideology as representing American fascism, he wipes from the pages of history the fact that there have been fascists operating within the nation's culture for the better part of the past century.

Yup. It's an excellent piece on a dangerous recent trend in American politics. And a scenario that's played out countless times in human history.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The "Memory Hole" President

Sigh. It's been an incredibly annoying week already in campaign coverage. But it would be interesting to understand the chicken-or-egg issue of bounces, comebacks, and all that other stuff. The MSM has been playing drama queen all along, and while early primary wins are obviously going to fuel interest in and support for candidates, it's tough to imagine how much of that is generated by breathless pseudo-journalistic pipe dreams (e.g., "He's like a black JFK!" or "He's from Arkansas-- and he's a comeback kid, too!"). But instead of going off on a tear, I'll just say that nothing's changed in the loathsome role of major news outlets in covering presidential campaigns.

On the Republican side, the press has been a bit more fickle than usual. They wrote McCain off pretty early in favor of Giuliani and his now-infamous "[Noun] [verb] 9/11" strategy. Of course, he turned out to be an authoritarian crook. Romney was treated pretty well for a while there, but doesn't seem to be getting much press at all these days-- much less effusive, hero-worship press. Fred Thompson got some great press until he started appearing in public. Huckabee makes for great copy, but still doesn't seem to be taken very seriously in terms of policy (and thank heaven for that, from the asinine "flat tax" to his complete lack of even basic foreign policy knowledge).

Most recently, John McCain is getting a big second look-- and astonishingly positive press, considering how nuts he appears to be. Then there's the fact that his foreign policy appears to be based largely on the American public being pretty stupid and having no attention span. Clueless, arrogant, and condescending. No wonder Lieberman likes him so much.

According to presidential candidate John McCain, only the handling of the Iraq war was a mistake -- not the war itself.

"It's not American presence that bothers the American people, it's American causalities," said McCain in an interview with Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet The Press" on Sunday. (. . .)

"What I believe we can achieve is a reduction in casualties to the point where the Iraqis are doing the fighting and dying [and] we're supporting them," McCain said.

He said it would be "hard to say" how many U.S. troops would need to stay in Iraq, but assured that they would be "out of harm's way."

When Russert asked him if, like Bush, McCain would have supported the Iraq war even if no weapons of mass destruction were believed present in Iraq, McCain seemed to dismiss the question as irrelevant.

"If frogs had wings ... we can talk about lots of hypotheticals," he said. "The point is if we had done it right, you and I wouldn't even be discussing it now."

Strange, given that McCain's entire premise is a hypothetical. Even stranger, his opinion of "doing it right" is apparently "admitting Iraq was the enemy of Iran, Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda, had no WMDs, and no connection with 9/11-- but invading them anyway." And he's the one heaping scorn on those who question his batshit crazy ideas.

'Daily Howler' is already taken, right?

I'm finding it difficult to write posts these days. I'm sure part of it is vacation hangover, but the real culprit is the primaries. Trying to express anything substantive about them is practically impossible-- something that's obvious with a glance at pretty much any progressive blog. The campaign coverage is devoid of substance, the press is devoted not to informing the public but in creating their lazy narratives and gossiping about candidates' spouses. And, as always, it pretty much plays out in the MSM as feckless Democrat versus tough, serious Republican. Only this time, it isn't going all that well on the GOP side since all the candidates are frightening or nutty in some very tangible way.

Glenn Greenwald found a way to cover all of that, and add a cherry of racism on top, in his discussion of prominent conservative leaders' and the successes of Barack Obama.

Over at National Review, Jonah Goldberg has a "theory" about what might help Obama win in the general election. After noting that Obama will be "the first serious mainstream black contender for the White House," Goldberg warns (emphasis added):

I think it's worth imagining a certain scenario. Imagine the Democrats do rally around Obama. Imagine the media invests as heavily in him as I think we all know they will if he's the nominee -- and then imagine he loses. I seriously think certain segments of American political life will become completely unhinged. I can imagine the fear of this social unraveling actually aiding Obama enormously in 2008.

I wonder: in Jonah Goldberg's "imagination," which (ahem) "certain segments" of the American population exactly will "become completely unhinged" if Obama loses and thereby spawn "social unraveling"? And who are the people who are going so deeply to fear this "social unraveling" that they vote for Obama just in order to keep those "certain segments" in line and well-behaved?

This actually fits a couple of Republican maxims: A) If they accuse you of it (the whole "liberal PC thought police" routine), they're doing it themselves, and B) the more outrage they express, the more accurate the accusation. Oh, and it's unfathomably retarded. And yes, outraged Republicans, it's hopelessly racist. The dog-whistle racism isn't fooling anyone, no matter what David Brooks would like to think.

He also touches on one of the most under-reported stories of the decade-- the oppressed, white, Christian males flown from D.C. to Florida to deny people the right to have their votes counted in 2000. Which, if memory serves, much of the MSM presented as "regular folks" expressing such a surprising amount of angry indignation that they must be onto something valid.

One thing about Greenwald's post: it has a thousand comments! And I hate to even look at them. Not just because there's going to be plenty of outrage from the aforementioned picked-on, powerless white Christian males (and Michelle Malkin), but because there will undoubtedly be a fair amount of chomping-on-the-bait silliness from liberal commenters. No, I can't bear to look. But I'm sure I will at some point. Sigh.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Obligatory Iowa Post

Following up on yesterday's post theft, I'm going to, uhhhh..... steal another post. I wasn't surprised that Huckabee won, I'm glad that Giuliani did so poorly (and has managed to pretty much destroy GOP pimping of 9/11 single-handedly), and it was nice to see Edwards take second. The popular prediction seems to be that it was victory or the end for him in Iowa, but I'm inclined to think that a victory over either Obama or Clinton would mean more coverage for his campaign, and as I'm pretty sure I mentioned before, a lot of dyed-in-the-wool conservatives I know actually admitted to liking Edwards. And preferring him to most of the GOP contenders. Even though he's the most liberal of the top-tier candidates!

It's been interesting to observe the anti-Huckabee fury coming from corporatists, supply-siders, etc., and I welcome any divisiveness in that famed Republican party discipline. "He doesn't detest to detest non-millionaires" is about the best thing I can say about him, and wouldn't you know that's exactly what the WSJ crew hates about the guy.

Anyway, I liked what Kevin Drum had to say about the results:

I still think Obama had a helluva victory last night and is now the likely (though far from certain) Democratic nominee, while Huckabee also had a helluva victory but seems highly unlikely to be the eventual Republican nominee.

So who will be? I don't know, but after watching this I sure hope it isn't John McCain. What an imperialist! Then again, I also hope it won't be Rudy Giuliani. What a lunatic! And not Huckabee of course. What an empty Bible-thumping suit! But not Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson either. What a couple of image mongers! Can I root for them all to lose?

And congratulations to Obama. I prefer Edwards as more genuinely progressive, and in no small part because of his efforts to get corporate cash out of politics (it's already screwed uped broadcasting, credit card and mortgage debt, student loans, CAFE standards, and presents huge obstacles for action on global warming, health care reform, etc.), but I certainly don't have any axe to grind with Obama. I'm just generally uncomfortable with 'unknown quantity' candidates.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

OK if I DON'T check the news for a while?

I'm not looking forward to the results in Iowa, and somehow the presidential campaign as a whole just keeps getting more unsettling. Without saying too much about it myself, I'll just steal a post from Scott Lemieux at the Prospect that sounds like I could've written it. Except for the stuff about Romney. I suspect that his Mormonism and obvious artificiality (it's all about convincing insincerity with the GOP rank and file) are bigger hurdles than a lot of fellow liberals believe. On the Republican side, I'll be rooting for a surprise win by Incitatus.

In addition to Tom [Schaller], I see that Josh Marshall -- who, like me, had written off McCain's candidacy long ago -- now sees McCain as the favorite. Depressingly, I think this is right. Certainly, I agree with Josh that the GOP is now an effective two-man race between McCain and Romney, and you have to think that McCain has a good shot (although I also agree that Romney really shouldn't be written off; he will be more acceptable to a lot of conservatives than McCain.) For reasons that Matt explains here, a McCain win would be very bad for the Dems: despite his moderate reputation he's a fiscal and cultural reactionary with nutty foreign policy views, he has the best chance of winning of any major GOP candidate, and a McCain candidacy (especially if he's matched up against Clinton or Edwards) would result in an anti-Democratic media bloodbath comparable to 2000. I'm definitely cheering for Romney tonight...

After a zillion of these stories, I've officially run out of clever titles.

Not that we need any more examples of the social Darwinism of Federalist Society-style conservatism or this administration's inability to do anything unironic-- I'd be thrilled to have far fewer-- but here we go again.

As expected, California has wasted no time in starting off the new year with a challenge to the the EPA's recent Clean Air Act waiver denial, filing a petition for review in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today. The lawsuit has been joined by fifteen other states or state agencies. In his statement on the case, California Attorney General Jerry Brown emphatically dismissed the December 19 letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that marks EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson's formal denial of the petition:

"The denial letter was shocking in its incoherence and utter failure to provide legal justification for the administrator's unprecedented action," California Attorney General Brown said. "The EPA has done nothing at the national level to curb greenhouse gases and now it has wrongfully and illegally blocked California's landmark tailpipe emissions standards, despite the fact that sixteen states have moved to adopt them."

"The Tapes," BushCo Style

If it seems like this administration is determined to repeat every error of the last five or so Republican administrations-- only tenfold-- it's because that's exactly what they're accomplishing. I realize it's way too early to start comparing the destroyed interrogation tapes with Nixon's famous silent stretches, but at least it represents another (typically slim) chance to see justice served when it comes to this administration's crimes.

It looks like the CIA's torture-tape scandal has hit the big time.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed an outside prosecutor Wednesday to lead a criminal investigation into the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes.

The CIA acknowledged last month that it destroyed videos of officers using tough interrogation methods while questioning two al-Qaida suspects. The acknowledgment sparked a congressional inquiry and a preliminary investigation by Justice.

"The Department's National Security Division has recommended, and I have concluded, that there is a basis for initiating a criminal investigation of this matter, and I have taken steps to begin that investigation," Mukasey said in a statement released Wednesday.

Overseeing the case will be John Durham, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, and a former colleague of Kevin O'Connor, the current #3 official in Mukasey's Justice Department.

It's often difficult to know for sure how independent a prosecutor is going to be, but the AP notes that Durham has "a reputation as one of the nation's most relentless prosecutors," which he earned "as an outside prosecutor overseeing an investigation into the FBI's use of mob informants in Boston and helped send several Connecticut public officials to prison."

That doesn't appear to be p.r. spin; Paul Kiel posted his c.v. and it certainly looks like he's a credible, veteran prosecutor.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Jus' Reg'lar Fokes

THEN: When a Glamor correspondent asked Governor Bush what he thought about the Taliban, he just shrugged his shoulders, bemused. It took a bit of prompting from the journalist ("discrimination against women in Afghanistan") for Bush to rouse himself: Taliban in Afghanistan! Absolutely. Reprisals. I thought you were talking about some rock group.

NOW: Huckabee came under fire in early December when, in response to a reporter’s question about the Iran report, Huckabee said he wasn’t aware of it. Huckabee’s lack of familiarity with the National Intelligence Estimate — a report that showed Iran had discontinued its nuclear program — provided fuel for his critics who said he was a lightweight on foreign policy.

“The whole perception was based on an ambush question on the NIE report,” Huckabee said in an interview Monday with the Quad-City Times. “From there, it was like, ‘Wow.’ That was released at 10 o’clock in the morning. At 5:30 in the afternoon, somebody says, ‘Have you read the report?’ Maybe I should’ve said, ‘Have you read the report?’ President Bush didn’t read it for four years; I don’t know why I should read it in four hours.”

While I'm confident Bush was telling the truth when he mistook the Taliban for a band, Huckabee has seen fit to lie about his own ignorance of current events. The report was headline news for several days before Huckabee was "ambushed" with the question. His Bush-style quip defending his ignorance, however, is quite honest:

“The point I’m trying to make is that, on the campaign trail, nobody’s going to be able, if they’ve been campaigning as hard as we have been, to keep up with every single thing, from what happened to Britney last night to who won ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ ”

Translation: "In this day and age, pretending to be fit for high office is a full-time charade. Especially for an idiot."

I'm not sure whether I should be more frightened by the fact that imbeciles are considered top-tier candidates for the Republican nomination these days, that they're so gleefully indifferent to their own stupidity... or that they actually win elections. (Or at least come close enough to steal them.)

Business as Usual

I'm back, I had a nice vacation, and all that stuff. And wouldn't you know that not much has changed in the intervening two weeks.

BushCo is still BushCo-- as witnessed by a recent signing statement. In just one stroke of the pen, the White House has managed to defy the unanimous will of Congress, demonstrate that they couldn't care less about 'federalism,' and also don't think much of free market capitalism.

The bill, which passed both houses of Congress unanimously, makes it easier for mutual funds and private pension fund managers to sell their investments and allows states to prohibit debt financing for companies that do business in Sudan. It also requires companies seeking contracts with the federal government to certify that they are not doing business in Sudan. . .

But the administration has expressed reservations about the bill, and Mr. Bush’s signature was accompanied by a proviso known as a signing statement, in which he said he was reserving the authority to overrule state and local divestment decisions if they conflicted with foreign policy. The statement said the measure “risks being interpreted as insulating” state and local divestment actions from federal oversight.

The NYT article also makes a baffling claim: "Mr. Bush has long sought an effective way to press Sudan to end the violence in Darfur." Technically true, since it only claims he's seeking a way to get Sudan to do something, but it suggests that he's actually doing something. Aside from pay lip service to some ideal he actually couldn't care less about (like federalism, free market capitalism, etc.).