Thursday, 30 October 2008

End of an ERA

Today's New York Times provides a reminder of just what is coming to a welcome end with the collapse of the 30-year culture war launched in 1980 by Saint Ronald and soon to be buried by Winky and Wrinkly.

In an article entitled "Women Buying Health Policies Pay a Penalty," we learn how the private market for insurance--the same one John McCain wants to force us into by taxing employee benefits--systematically discriminates against females, even discounting the added costs of pregnancy.

This is exactly the sort of practice that would have become unconstitutional had the long-forgotten Equal Rights Amendment become the law of the land as it almost did during the 1970s. Instead, insurance companies, fearing the implications, poured cash into the mass movement against the ERA via myriad think tanks and front groups that convinced conservative Christian women that free-loving and -thinking feminists somehow threatened their way of life.

Coming off the post-sixties reaction against sexual emancipation, the 'pro-family' crowd, led by shrill but clever operators like Phyllis Schlafly and the well-known evangelo-politicians like Falwell, Robertson, Dodson and Bauer, joined up with the corporate elite to shift the debate to fetal well-being and the 'values' agenda and away from simple fairness and equality. It is a testament to their success that no one under 30 even knows what the ERA was or that the party of Sarah Palin pulled out all the stops to suppress legal recognition that women and men should be treated equally.

As the public discussion of how to finance healthcare develops and deepens in the Obama Administration, we should see about resuscitating this recent history and educating young women and men of all ages about the economics of inequality and who benefited from decades of female impoverishment.

I believe the political shift about to occur reflects a much deeper movement in our society that has proceeded despite the ossified official crew in charge. Women are living different lives than those blocked out for them in the 1960s and in the 1980s for that matter, and basic feminist beliefs are as much a part of Sarah Palin's world as of Tina Fey's, despite the Bible-thumping and the shocked woo-wooing at gay marriage and all the rest of it.

No woman today thinks it's fair to be charged a 'vagina tax' for her health insurance. Now that McGovernites and Reaganites alike are being pushed off the stage in our wheelchairs, this anachronism--and many others like it--are likely to become the focus of our politics, rather than mindless polemics from yesteryear.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Relax, people

Something is afoot in our culture when the opponents of gay marriage find themselves forced to fall back on the argument that they are the truly tolerant ones. The San Diego Union-Tribune has side-by-side YES/NO guest editorials today on Proposition 8, the attempt to roll back the right to same-sex matrimony established by the California Supreme Court earlier this year.

Steven D. Smith, a local law school professor writing for the anti-gay marriage position, acknowledges that 'gays and lesbians are human beings as fully citizens and as equal in dignity and worth as their straight neighbors.' Not only that, says Smith, they 'have often been the victims of senseless prejudice, discrimination and violence.'

Whoa, this is the anti-gay column!? Not quite the tone we got used to hearing since the 1980s when the Reagan revolution brought out the slashing attacks on 'perverts, cross-dressers and sickos' who deserved to get AIDS and die accompanied by lurid film footage from San Francisco gay pride marches or investigative reports on S&M clubs.

This galloping back-pedal from anything associated with Republicans or George Bush makes it easy to forget how viciously partisan and hateful their tenure in power has been. No wonder Obama's message of unity and fair-dealing, which sounded so lame and defeatist in the John Kerry version four years ago or throughout the Clinton years for that matter, now resonates so strongly.

However, the shift remains hard to acknowledge especially among its immediate beneficiaries. I am attending a professional conference this week and last night at a delightful dinner with colleagues and former classmates I took the opportunity to ask everyone around the table who is going to win on November 4 and by how much. By the way, I did this last year at Thanksgiving and found that not one single person (out of 20) felt the national pulse accurately enough to guess that Barack Obama would be the Democratic nominee.

I think last night's unscientific poll results are equally off base. Of the eight people present two were convinced that McCain will win (one by fraud), four crossed their fingers nervously and said Obama would pull it out by a hair, one gave him a more comfortable margin of five points and only one said it would be a cakewalk with a margin of nine.

That last opinion is mine. I have never been more convinced that the electorate is about to sweep away the past 30 years in a way that may well stun all of us. Not one of the pillars of the Republican worldview remains fully intact. Abortion is no longer a deal-breaker for Democratic candidates given the many other pressing issues on people's minds. Gay marriage is a total non-starter. National security has been neutralized by Republican incompetence and lies. Even the lower-taxes diatribe has little appeal after Bush's role in presiding over a ballooning federal deficit and creeping economic collapse.

Our society urgently needs and wants something brand new, and luckily our system is viable enough to make way for it. That change is almost guaranteed to be a disappointment in some ways, but next Tuesday's statement of the will of the people most definitely will not.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Original Sin

The Todd/Fox News scandal of the attack-that-wasn't is another reminder of humanoid fondness for viewing the world through the prism of race or ethnicity or religion, anything to divvy people up into Us and Them. The popularity of this approach is so consistent across time and place that one despairs of any long-term peaceable coexistence except as an occasional lapse in the underlying biped bloody-mindedness.

At best, we seem to manage a sort of wary tolerance that can be sustained in modestly prosperous times. But any upheaval brings out the long knives.

The sudden explosion and abrupt implosion of the poor-little-white-girl-attacked-by-big-scary-black story reminds me of these habits of mind. The recurrence to this racist tack by our beleaguered ruling elite, while indescribably loathesome, is also depressingly predictable.

Not content with just pumping up the dubious tale and letting it work its poisonous way into the minds of voters, Fox TV explicitly tied the incident to Barack Obama because his and the now-phantom attacker's color were roughly the same. The word for this is "racism." But it usually works.

However, if we step back for a moment from the whirling typhoon of sewage being spewed out by McCain and Palin, we see that a similar logic obtains in trouble spots everywhere. A sobering corrective recently published in the London Review of Books on Georgia traced the troubles there in part to the post-independence chauvinism and Georgian triumphalism of the leadership of that erstwhile Soviet state, which is home to large ethnic minorities. But since Georgia is a U.S. ally, this history has been suppressed--even by the Obama camp.

This type of blunder is a terrific formula for disintegration and, often, warfare along ethnic lines. As indeed occurred. A similar case is Sri Lanka where the first post-colonial government set up the majority Sinhalese (themselves) as the ruling class and merrily excluded Tamil-speaking northerners from a share. The result was a civil war that brought with it the invention of suicide bombing.

If fact, you see the references to similar strategic hara-kiri everywhere; Serbian suppression of Albanian autonomy in Kosovo; Hungarian hubris during the Hapsburg period; Darfur; Rwanda; Iraqi ethnic cleansing. The list goes on.

But it would be hard to argue that the guys in charge of each of these cases are just gigantic creeps. Their consistency suggests that more sober voices are likely to be drowned out by the nationalist demagogues.

So what is to be done? Are all human societies condemned periodically to repeat this cycle of stupidity and self-immolation? It's a fascinating question, and I have no ready reply. But it is pretty clear that as a species we should recognize this inborn tendency and try our best to build some sort of check into our polity to avoid it, then relentlessly educate future generations to guard against a beast that they, like all of us, apparently carry deep within.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Wild ride coming - grab your butt

I saved some time last night to listen to the full Nouriel Roubini talk posted on and the Bloomberg site. Roubini is the New York University economist who was laughed off for years when he warned that a major financial crisis was brewing.

While the insufferable cable-news economic experts insist that now we’ve absolutely, finally reached bottom and it’s time to get back into the stock market, Roubini continues to be pessimistic while patiently waiting for events to catch up to him.

So guess what Roubini says is coming next? At about the 26-minute mark in the lengthy presentation, he drops this bombshell:

Financial markets are becoming completely dysfunctional. . . . The policy-makers are running out of options. . . . It’s a free-fall. There is no liquidity in the system. Everybody is dumping assets. . . . It’s going to get uglier, much worse in the weeks and months ahead. . . .

We’re reaching a situation of sheer panic . . . . They’re going to dump everything. . . . I’ll not be surprised if in the next few weeks the U.S. is going to be forced to close down the stock market because of panic and distressed selling.

Well, there you have it: while John McCain frantically tries to paint his opponent as a bomb-thrower, and Sarah Palin goes shopping at Saks, the entire world economy teeters on the brink.

BTW, someone had a good line on McCain a few days ago: He’s decided he’d rather be president than be John McCain. But that suggests he’s lost a soul of some sort that he has been keeping on ice in the broom closet.

John Dinges at Huffington suggests that he was always an immoral prick. Here’s Dinges’ scoop on McCain’s sympathetic private audience with Pinochet during the worst days of fascist repression in Chile.

So much for no-preconditions sit-downs with dictators.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Beyond words

I received an email from a friend just now under the heading “Truly Vile”. She was referring to the latest flyer from the Republican National Committee:

The front headline reads "TERRORIST". Inside, around the picture of Barack Obama, are two captions: WHY SHOULD WE CARE WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY? and below BARACK OBAMA. NOT WHO YOU THINK HE IS.

This is how the porcine white elite flails back in desperation to defend its decades-long feed at the public trough.

These are the true anti-Americans. These are the true turncoats.
These are the unrepentant descendants of the Confederacy, the seat of their domination. These are the individuals who would drag the nation into an orgy of slaughter to defend its privileges, just as their ancestors defended chattel slavery.


Tuesday, 21 October 2008

God Bless America!

So now, thanks to the Associated Press, we know what the Arctic Lady means when she talks about being ‘pro-America.’ Or how she manages to raise five children and have a high-pressure career.

She gets the state to pay for it. Kind of odd given her distaste for ‘socialism.’

Or maybe it isn’t socialism when L’Alaska, c’est moi.

How else are we to understand this self-righteous bag of snark as she parades around the country whining about taxes and poor, suffering Joe the Plumber while simultaneously dipping into the public treasury to subsidize her daughters’ travel and their stays in fancy hotels on ‘official business’ everywhere from Philadelphia to Fairbanks.

Good thing Palin was uninterested in foreign affairs after all! Otherwise, Willow and Bristol would have turned up with Mom at the Kazakstan Grand Hotel and the Royal Glacial Arms in Tierra del Fuego.

After all, if the state didn’t blink at paying Palin $17,000 in per diem expenses for her to stay in her suburban home instead of doing her job in the state capital at Juneau, why not spring for plane tickets to Moscow to introduce the girls to Putin’s grandchildren as well?

This, finally, is the face of the Republican Party of today: a staggering troupe of political vampires rehashing the tropes of the last 40 years while using the public trust to scoop up cash with both mitts.

What a disgrace.

Would it be too much to ask that the televised blather-class take this screaming hypocrisy and wrap it around Palin’s carcass for the next two weeks, every time she or her increasingly despicable running mate mention the words ‘taxes’, ‘greed’ or ‘corruption’?

Monday, 20 October 2008

Looking beyond the finish line

I am mercifully spared much exposure to cable TV squawking, but when traveling for work I do get a dose and can confirm that it is, in fact, poison of a very vulgar grade. I am now recovering from the toxic blast emitted by the Grand Champions of the Commonplace on CNN headed by the Lord High Blatherer himself, Wolf Blitzer.

Wolfie’s hot-shot political team are going on at truly interminable length about the possible impact of this phrase or that gesture or McCain’s retooled message or some other perfect irrelevancy, all in that tone of aggressive breathlessness as if they had just rushed back from having sex with Brad Pitt.

I do not believe anything will change the outcome of the November 4 election, barring a real October surprise. But there is still some suspense in the magnitude of the relief we will experience and thus its long-term impact.

I saw a website with someone’s fantasy election-night map with a swath of blue cutting through the heartland from Montana to Missouri and, further east, down to North Carolina, even Georgia. I hang out in the South a lot, and while God isn’t likely to indulge us to that extent, it does seem that white southerners are kicking and screaming a lot like they did during the die-hard segregationist days displayed on the video loops in the civil rights museums from Birmingham to Memphis.

The 1964 election showed the racist South how isolated it was with the tiny enclave of a half-dozen former slave states joining Arizona in Goldwater’s column. It bounced back soon enough thanks to the Nixon-Reagan appeal to their wounded pride, but meanwhile the color bar and Jim Crow were history.

Forty-four years later it is all too obvious how thin that change was and how easy to replace with a more insidious version of social separation and discrimination. But despite my age and cynicism, it seems just possible we might soon be revisiting our racial divide in new and creative ways. No doubt Confederate flags will be waved in all directions in the process, but as we learned once already, furious minorities can’t always hold back the tide of history.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Seven years late and $2 trillion short

Now is a good time to recall the emphatic browbeating administered by Colin Powell as he stood before the world and lied in our faces about Iraq, hammering home the series of false talking points cooked up for him by Dick Cheney’s neocon cabal.

He sounded a lot like John McCain does now—scowling nastily into the cameras about his vastly superior knowledge of world affairs and the use of military force.

Powell, like McCain, doesn’t give a flying whoop about non-Americans despite their membership in the ‘pro-life’ party. McCain sang a song about dropping bombs on Iranians and thought he was cute. Powell famously scoffed when asked whether he had second thoughts as he massacred retreating Iraqi soldiers along the Highway of Death after the first Gulf war was essentially over.

Neither one of them would have blinked an eye over the thousands they slaughtered had the latest war gone their way. Carnage doesn’t bother them—just defeat.

Powell, who might have slowed down the march to war by resigning or simply refusing to peddle us a load of crap, now sees Obama as key to restoring U.S. strength and influence squandered by his incompetent buddies. Doh.

I don’t think Obama needed any help from this washed-up element, but why shouldn’t Powell pile onto the bandwagon now that the race is over? It’s a free country.

But let’s not lose sight of his consistent position on the side of the powerful whoever they may be. Nor that when he really needed to make a statement, he took the fall for war criminals.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

What if . . .

The vicious, last-ditch attacks on Obama’s character make me wonder what the race would look like today if Hillary Clinton had been the nominee and Bill the surrogate-in-chief. We think reactionary road rage is intense now—that pair would have turned it a brilliant, fiery orange. The chatterers, you may have already forgotten, insisted that Hillary was the ‘safe’ candidate, that only she could appeal to lunch-pail Pete and only she had the fighting spirit and ruthlessness to slug it out in a war of attrition for the soft middle of ‘hard-working Americans, white Americans,’ in her own dainty phrase.

Can we imagine what the character-assassination machinery now mobilized by McCain would be doing with the Billarys? If it can gun up a wall of sound with flimsy pretexts like Bill Ayers and the Reverend Wright, how much more mileage would they have extracted from Whitewater, Travelgate and the world-famous Clintonian weenie?

How many new, post-2000 girlfriends would we be hearing about? How many replays of Clinton’s famous lie to prosecutors? How much distasteful recollection of the semen-stained dress and the interminable impeachment campaign that he dragged out to keep their joint career afloat?

How much more would McCain’s ‘Country First’ slogan resonate if the narcissistic Clintons were his adversaries rather than Obama? How would war-heroics play as a contrast to the ambitious senator from New York and her non-veteran husband? How eager would the change-seeking voters be to return the well-known pair to the spotlight?

What would the Republicans be doing with Bill’s role in a future White House? How easily would they dismantle the novelty of a First Female Chief Executive and replace it with a disturbing series of questions about a Co-Presidency?

How would the Democrats have emerged from the Wall Street collapse if their candidate’s husband had placed his signature on the repeal of Glass-Steagal? How much would voters blame both parties equally and cast an eye for a dissident or ‘maverick’ who looked independent from the bad old consensus ways?

No one knows, of course, because we can never be sure of what would have happened had what happened not have happened. But I suspect we would not be about to stage a plebiscite on Republican misrule but heading down Memory Lane with Hil and Bill.

In any case, it’s worth asking to remind ourselves—yet again—that the expertise du jour served up by our wankers-in-residence is just fallible, fashionable opinionating.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

McCain v. Obama 3

I have a terrible confession to make: I watched the entire debate without the sound.

It was wonderful.

The automatic script function clued me in to the content, but after Round 2 I had heard enough.

Traveling today but promise to digest all the commentary and add my two-cents-worth when all the fine nutrients are absorbed.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Beyond Nov. 4

If we had a parliamentary system, Ralph Nader would still be a national treasure. His few minutes on The News Hour, the only entity with the grace to recognize that he’s on the ballot in 45 states, showed that despite the annoying word-torrent and the shagginess that comes from five decades in the political wilderness, Nader has ideas that deserve a hearing, especially in times like these. Given the massive debacle produced by the Republicans with plenty of Democratic enabling, the guy should get a tad of respect for being right all along. Whether he’s lost his moorings this year is another story.

My PBS channel also had a fascinating two-hour, double political bio on the two main candidates, remarkable mostly for its success in maintaining a non-partisan tone. The time-honored public broadcasting style of avoiding an identifiable position would be pointless and treacly any other time, but in the polemical heat of these last weeks, it actually felt refreshing.

McCain comes across with his dignity salvaged and trapped by the exigencies of his creepy, extremist base—to which, to his lasting shame, he then pandered to serve his personal ambition. (Country First!) Obama looks less airy and more bare-knuckled, a side I suspect will be seen by foreign leaders fairly soon.

As the suspense fades on the outcome, attention now may and should turn to the Republican attempts to subvert the voting process in any way possible, including this demented strategy in Ohio of accusing ACORN under the anti-Mafia RICO statute. Ohio’s appellate court also threw into doubt the suffrage of 600,000 newly registered voters based on some trumped-up Rovian accusations. Let’s hope for a reaction against these tendencies reminiscent of the segregated South that aren’t likely to go away just because of one cycle of electoral losses.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Only the numbers are in doubt

I can now crow about being right in late September when I stated that the ground was crumbling beneath the feet of the Republican candidate. Of course, that was before the shocks from Wall Street and the overall sense of uncertainty and fear—NOT related to terrorism—that seized the entire country. Nonetheless, I believe the shift had already occurred, and it surprises me to hear worried reports from friends and acquaintances that Obama may yet be kept from the White House and that we will not celebrate at long last.

No, he won’t. Yes, we will.

The only issue in doubt is whether the victory will be modest, whether a sea of underpopulated red states will make the map look fairly evenly split; or the decisive shift to the Democrats and the Obamanian vision will accelerate into a crushing humiliation.

Given the trainwreck of the McCain campaign and the ongoing debacle of the Sarah Palin experiment—who has confirmed all our worst suspicions of her incompetence and shown her snarky, nasty side to boot—I tilt toward the latter prognosis.

Florida is now a solidly blue state in the polling maps. (Florida!) Colorado too. North Dakota, Montana and even Georgia are in play. Missouri is about to tilt aquamarine. Virginia looks to be in the bag, and North Carolina follows closely behind. West Virginia’s polling line, with McCain on top and Obama below, now looks like a flying arrow heading eastward, about to converge at the tip.

Will the race tighten again? Will there be a ‘Bradley effect’? Will McCain find his footing in the last debate? Will Sarah Palin speak in tongues?

Who gives a shit? Only the appearance of Jesus Christ in fiery robes could save the flailing, arrogant McCain’s sorry behind at this point . . . if then. The two of them are about to say adios to history, and I hope they suffer a lot.

Monday, 13 October 2008

[chant] The viscounts! united! will never be defeated!

If there were any lingering doubts that we are now living in a surrealist film, here comes the news from Great Britain that the Labor government’s proposal to suspend habeas corpus and hold ‘terrorist’ suspects for 42 days without charges is now dust because the House of Lords kaboshed it by a vote of 309 to 118.

Gordon Brown, head of the Labor Party I remind you, was holding out for the measure after failing to resuscitate the remains of King John and getting him to annul the Magna Carta.

The Guardian points out that the rejection of the government’s play for more Star Chamber powers was crushing:

“The scale of the rebellion will be seen as a huge victory for civil liberties campaigners and will have made [Home Secretary Jacqui] Smith wary of trying to force the measure through the Commons again.”

The government already has the power to detain suspects for 28 days. This was a ‘compromise’ solution after Tony Blair failed to convince his Labor-heavy Parliament of the need for a 90-day detention period. So the steady dismantling of civil liberties has not ceased, only slowed down a bit.

It’s nice to think that the fox-hunting and sherry set are not swayed by their browbeaters screaming that imminent terrorist attacks can only be avoided by imitating the Soviet Union (which did indeed avoid them). And this in a country that had its capital city’s subway system blown up and 50 people killed. We should be so lucky as to have a sector of the ruling elite as jealous of personal liberties and not shy about defending them.

American exceptionalism

I spent the weekend in the company of old-timers and their children from the Chile solidarity movement of the 1970s and ‘80s, and it was a reminder of how the radical rightward shift of our political culture has altered public discourse on warmaking today.

Back in the post-Vietnam war period when U.S. intervention in Latin America became an issue, we still were capable of understanding policy debates in terms of a given action’s impact on human beings, even if they were not citizens of the United States. We could generate a movement against U.S. support for Latin dictatorships because Pinochet, Videla, the Brazilian fascists and the Salvadoran death squads roamed the streets disappearing their own citizens and institutionalizing torture.

That mattered back then.

Now, by contrast, the Iraq ‘surge’ campaign is touted as a big success largely because American casualties are down and secondarily because fewer bombs are going off and massacring fewer of those Iraqis still living in their country. It is a statement of appallingly racist cheek to declare this to be proof of our winning ways after the horrors Bush put that population through, 4 million of whom continue to languish in destitute exile in Syria, Jordan and anywhere else they could escape to.

I remember my unease when the design for the Vietnam war memorial on the Mall was unveiled in the early 1980s, where Maya Lin’s mournful structure stirred the fury of militarists. They hated the idea of showing all 56,000 names of the American dead because war, to their minds, should only be about triumphant sacrifice and glorious heroism.

Despite my sympathy for Lin, there seemed to me an actor missing in the monument’s statement of what had happened in Vietnam: the Vietnamese. Perhaps 2 million of them had also died, but that salient fact never came up. The debate was only about how we should understand American suffering.

The legacy is that today John McCain can denounce ex-Weatherman Bill Ayers for placing bombs that ‘killed innocent people,’ and no one laughs in his face. His own actions in strafing populated areas from on high are considered the height of heroic self-sacrifice.

Had any foreign soldiers ever dared to fly over Pittsburgh and drop bombs on us, the McCainites would be the first to insist on torturing them. This irony, like so many others, is utterly lost on the citizens of my nation-state.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Rovian ontology

When the history of the Bush debacle is written, close attention should and no doubt will be paid to the famous anonymous phrase, probably from Karl Rove, about news coverage. You will not report on reality and inform the public, he told a reporter. Instead, the new regime would determine reality and inform the news media what it was.

This perspective grew out of the success of the Rovian electoral strategy in which he figured out the strong point of the enemy (he didn’t have mere adversaries) and simply repeated that the opposite was, in fact, true.

For example, when Kerry’s war record threatened to score against Bush’s non-service and adolescent drunken binges, the Bushites invented Swift Boat and persecuted Dan Rather who dared to raise inconvenient allegations. The facts did not matter because power had replaced them in the time-honored tradition of Pravda and Radio Zimbabwe.

Torturing defenseless prisoners was the best strategy because Dick Cheney said so, and anyone questioning the approach was hounded out of office or browbeaten into silence. No one could get a hearing on the long-term cost of the policy. We say it works, so it does. Dissent is treasonous. Do you dare to endanger American lives?

Worries about the financial markets were treated the same way—we have rewritten the rules and will now earn vast sums forever and keep them all, too. There are no dangers in doing so because we are in charge and have so determined. Greenspan seconds.

Now Bush, a deer in Wall Street’s glaring headlights, stumbles before the cameras to intone the old chants. But suddenly the facts do not lend themselves to careful PR massage; numbers are funny that way. His stubborn political autism, once so useful, now appears demented. His spinmeisters, like Saddam Hussein’s spokesman Comical Ali, cannot pretend that all is well as bankers and hedge fund managers scamper like terrified Republican Guards and head for the desert.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Trust me

From Naked Capitalism:

“Over the last two weeks, we have said that central bank liquidity measures had become counterproductive. Throwing more liquidity at banks made it more viable for them to depend on monetary authorities and not rely on private sources for funding, and in turn extend credit to them.”

Ergo, they sit back, protect their own balance sheets and make no loans, exactly the opposite of the intended effect.

“One contributing factor not mentioned in many of today's media reports is that today [Thursday] is the settlement day for Lehman credit default swaps. The auctions are expected to produce losses to protection writers of 80 to 85 cents on every dollar of guarantee provided. Banks are believed to be hanging on to cash both to pay for their own settlement and out of fear that their counterparties may take irreperable damage in the Lehman settlement process. There may be some relief if the financial community passes this test, but with another big settlement, WaMu, later this month, banks are still likely to remain on high alert.” [emphasis added]

This suggests that Treasury’s panicky rush to hit the markets every dawn with a new scheme du jour is backfiring. One wonders how many Roman candles Paulson has left in his quiver.

In any case, it is surely one of the grand ironies of the moment that the keys to survival from the current debacle are credibility and believability—exactly what the Bush regime has systematically set out to destroy in the hubristic belief that the powerful have no need of same.

And by the way. . .

If you take an interest in who’s likely to become president, you can’t help notice what is going on in Virginia, Nevada and Missouri, where people’s votes actually count. It’s a sad curiosity that the existence of the antiquated Electoral College not only isn’t a campaign issue but doesn’t even cross our minds.

The experience of the presidential election that one has here in New York where the broadcast silence is deafening is starkly different from the barrage of attention, albeit mostly stupid voter harassment, going on in Ohio or New Mexico. Being a solidly blue state, no one really gives a crap how we vote, whether we move our behinds to the polls at all or what the undecideds among us are thinking.

We don’t get to canvass door-to-door or meet our neighbors; no one asks us to put a campaign sign in our yard (if we had yards); and the battle of the lapel buttons never really got underway.

We have no campaign headquarters except the one on Broadway that organizes trips to neighboring Pennsylvania or telephoning parties to people in other swing states. In short, we don’t really feel we have much say in the election at all, and it’s got to have a slightly alienating effect.

Someone should resuscitate the idea that the founding fathers faced somewhat different circumstances in 1787 when they presided over an agrarian society of four million with institutionalized slavery and limited suffrage even for white men, that times have changed and this rickety and unfair system should be abolished.

After all, if we had a real democracy, George W. Bush would never have become president in the first place.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Change at last and damn expensive

Herbert Hoover must have been a fairly intelligent man from the accounts of his early career and only entered history as a buffoon because the commonplaces and clich├ęs of his era suddenly became absurd. George W. Bush, on the other hand, started out as a buffoon and is now morphing into a cariacature of a satire of a bad joke.

Only an utterly tone-deaf and, I repeat, autistic humanoid could possibly have emitted the phrase ‘just fine’ in referring to the U.S. economy on October 6, 2008, even as a long-term prediction. But W did so and not only will feel no regret, an emotion starkly absent from his composition, but will sleep soundly tonight and awake at cock’s crow refreshed.

With the Republican Party trapped inside its own turgid fantasy world, we should have anticipated the unveiling of a prankster like Palin, who any day now will appear in a harlequin hat with a dozen hanging bells to be plinked in tune as she expresses each of her dozen concepts. Five-year-olds will soon be able to squawk along with her memorized talking points.

However, 800-point drops in the Dow Jones can be bracing even for those weaned on Saint Ronald and Morning in America. Feels more like late afternoon just now, and the polls are beginning to tell some remarkable tales. A friend sent me a tidy list: Washington Post/ABC: Obama by six in Ohio, 51 to 45. [From The Washington Post]:

Wall Street Journal/NBC: Obama by six nationally, 49-43. Ditto CNN: Obama 53, McCain 45, which adds, “Only 24% of those polled approve of President Bush’s job performance, an all-time low for a CNN survey.”

PPP: North Carolina, Obama by 50-44.

Suffolk: Obama by 51-39 in Virginia, compared to a dead heat 10 days ago.

New Hampshire (SurveyUSA): Obama by 53-40.

And for dessert the imminent humiliation of the horrible, loathesome, repugnant and not nice Sen. Saxby Shameless—er, Chambliss of Georgia, now barely ahead of his challenger, 46-44. Chambliss, a true Rovian disciple who should be placed in stocks and assaulted with putrid vegetables, was the creep who bin Laden-baited triple amputee Max Cleland.

About time. It only took collapse.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Henry Paulson: Balloon Man

From the BBC showing the relative sizes of the recent bailouts as a proportion of the UK and US economies:

I have a pony in this race [Updated]

It is hard to believe that roaming around the streets with campaign literature and knocking on strangers’ doors influences elections, but smart and experienced people have determined that it does.

Below is what my day in Pennsylvania taught me. Some demographics:

Bucks County borders New Jersey and is adjacent to Philadelphia. It is post-industrial and still suffering from the collapse of the steel industry. However, there are plenty of prosperous neighborhoods around, one of which I drew for my canvassing. It was a classic upper-middle-class bedroom community with the ubiquitous SUVs in the driveway and where three-car garages are not unusual. Although the accents and household decorations reflected fairly recent immigration—Polish, Russian, Jewish, Italian, Irish, Greek, even Indian—this was not an ethnic enclave. The only thing these folks have in common is money.

Lessons learned:

(1) Sarah Palin is the gift that keeps on giving. While the Arctic Lady may have energized hardcore Republicans who think McCain is an unreliable conservative, she massacred his strength in the middle range who liked the old, independent McCain. We met two couples who were sympathetic to Geezer but had no use for Winky Babe. Out of 50 households, perhaps a total of 150 votes, swinging four to Obama (or a total of eight) adds up to something like a six-point flip in the most Republican neighborhood within miles. To make up for that she would have to motivate support for the ticket from two or three households that otherwise would have sat it out.

2 There are still plenty of undecideds out there. It’s hard to imagine that people could have lived through the last 18 months and still have no opinion, but it’s not unusual. One gentleman mowing his lawn who lives with three other registered voters said he couldn’t say how they might be leaning because the topic hadn’t come up. My question: what DOES come up around that breakfast table?

3 The Obama camp is highly organized and very excited. When we pulled up in our chartered bus from New York around 10 o’clock, a cheerful mob of 300 people were already in line to get their canvassing packets and instructions. People who had come out to work for Kerry in 2004 said they never saw more than a few dozen at this same headquarters. The difference, I believe, is that these folks are not only appalled at Bush but actually like Obama. The operation was smooth, and the atmosphere light and tight—another contrast from four years ago.

Two anecdotes: one family immediately said we shouldn’t waste our time with them because George Bush had caused them to cease being Republicans. Godspeed.

Another working mother said her husband was a Republican but that she and her daughter had announced that if he planned to continue living there, he’d better vote for Obama. (He will.) Their best friends down the street, who supported Bush twice, are wavering.

Conclusion: I spent hours roaming around what should be one of the friendliest environments in the state for a Republican candidate and was treated with unfailing cordiality. There were plenty of McCain signs in the yards, but nearly as many Obamas. A small but important block of voters is still looking at the issues; several mentioned they were planning to watch the remaining debates.

Thus concludes my civic duty until Nov 4.

[Update] A strange phenomenon has been occurring with the polls: for the second time in a week there is a run-up in Obama’s numbers so huge as to challenge credibility. First it was Quinnipiac giving him a 15-point lead in Pennsylvania, 8 in Florida and 8 in Ohio. Now the Minneapolis Star-Tribune has him up by 55 to 37 in that state, compared to a dead heat a month ago. Cue pundit head-shaking.

There are two possible explanations: either some polls are not done well and are getting extremely inaccurate results, or there is a massive shift in voter sentiment taking place. We shall see!

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Money placed at or near mouth

The act of appointing myself to a platform such as this one and showcasing my opinions as holy relics reminds me that talk is cheap. I say things are screwed up as all hell a lot—sometimes it’s not enough.

So in a few hours I will head south to a Philadelphia suburb to canvass door-to-door for Barack Obama. The last time I did this was exactly 40 years ago in northern Virginia when Hubert Humphrey became the first Democrat in over 100 years to lose that state to Richard ‘Southern Strategy’ Nixon. I was on the losing side then and pretty much ever since and this time gleefully anticipate joining the winners at long, very long, last.

It will be tiring and often aggravating work, no doubt, but that’s nothing compared to the psychological effort involved in dredging up faith in my fellow bipeds yet again at this hoary age after so much direct evidence of their hopelessness. But I can handle most anything as long as my co-workers don’t start telling me about all the wondrous acts the Democrats will perform once they gain elected office. That gullible I ain’t because I saw them up close and personal during my years reporting from Capitol Hill.

No, it is not fondness for the ‘opposition’ party that moves me but cautious belief in the strange phenomenon of Mr Obama himself. Somehow, our system has permitted this voice of sanity to emerge and potentially to subvert its most glaringly dangerous and inhumane tendencies. There’s no guarantee, but he is an authentic version of what the rabid ultras have been painting themselves as since the Saint Ronald years: an outsider.

That’s the one (and only) thing I share with the undecideds, a sense that we really don’t know what Barack Obama will be like in power. Precisely, Watson. Unlike the entirely predictable Hillary, who is a competent weathervane but would lead us nowhere risky or new, I see Obama as having the insight to seek to reverse our current course and the political skill to accomplish it.

At the same time, I know that this Saturday excursion is essentially for me. Pennsylvania seems to be in the bag barring a major shakeup, and the measly 20 or 25 people I might influence in my wanderings through the streets of Middle America won’t in themselves make any difference.

But I need to feel that I did my part, that I put my spoon in and stirred along with other people who have suffered through the misrule of these criminals. I promise to report fully on what I see and hear later in the weekend.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Will it/does it matter?

While professional entrails-analysts pick over the body language of Biden v. Palin and determine whether or not the people still undecided after 18 relentless months of presidential campaigning are tilting slightly this way or that as they are blown by the autumn zephyrs, Reality threatens to set in elsewhere, to wit:

It is now clear that the US financial system—and even the system of financing of the corporate sector—is now in cardiac arrest and at a risk of a systemic financial meltdown. I don’t use these words lightly. . . This cannot continue for more than a few days.

Thus wrote Nouriel Roubini a few hours ago, one of the few people pessimistic enough to have grasped where the economy was heading. He related what is occurring among his financier friends:

LIBOR bid only, no offer, i.e. the London headquarters that fixes interest rates for the entire world registers NO CREDIT ACTIVITY.

Little or no commercial paper issuance, so companies dependent on lines of credit (that is, all of them) are without access to long- or short-term cash at any price. When their current loans come due, they will default, resulting in even less available capital.

Brokers are not dealing with each other; banks are not lending to each other.

So whether or not we think Biden ‘won’ or Sarah Palin ‘beat expectations,’ or whether her glasses are cool or her stance too aggressive or if Biden choked up at the right moment or who more convincingly repeated that we could pay fewer taxes and still have everything we want—after all is said and done, we may all be donning barrels and heading for the soup kitchens.

Maybe it is just another Henny Penny faux-panic, but there was something about the debased level of political discourse on display last night that made me want to live under Philosopher-Kings for a while.

Now that Bail-Out: The Sequel has won a PG rating from the House of Representatives, we will see if Roubini’s fears are justified.