Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Next Housing Crisis

Given the fetishistic obsession with legality when it comes to Mexican gardeners (‘What part of ILLEGAL don’t you understand?’), a curious lawlessness rules the land in the arena of mortgage foreclosures as detailed in numerous articles recently. Turns out that the same get-rich-quick ethic that led subprime mortgage mills to churn out phony paperwork in the fee-creation-securitization-blow-up-the-world-economy process is again operative in the judicial sphere as tens of thousands of insolvent households are reduced to penury and homelessness.

A spate of reports now shows that the mad rush to cash in on the housing bubble led, not surprisingly, to sloppy procedures, including the all-important transfer of title. Since mortgages were being bundled into huge portfolios (bonds) and sliced up for ease of resale to gullible bond buyers, little care was taken with the costly and time-consuming process of placing the ownership of the mortgaged houses into the trusts, the shell companies that were the formal vehicles for the bond creation. Since the juicy fees were elsewhere (in churning out new mortgages as fast as possible), huge numbers of disputed properties now have dubious and easily challenged title claims.

Any lay observer who played Monopoly as a kid would assume that a court-supervised foreclosure procedure would require clear title to the property being seized just as you can't charge rent for Park Place without the little cardboard deed in your hand. But apparently through collusion between lawyers for foreclosure mills and the courts, that step has been largely ignored—up to now. Some major firms, including GMAC (the finance arm of General Motors) and today JPMorganChase, have halted foreclosures proceedings in some places while the extremely serious issues raised are studied.

What better example could we ask for of the collapse of a founding principle of our own capitalist economy? Has it not been the Republican/Tea Party wing of our polity that for decades has placed private property at the center of its ideological crusade? For them, taxes are a curse because what’s mine is mine—now suddenly the courts are incapable of assuring homeowners that they won’t be evicted based on concocted, fraudulent documents.

My casual reading of these accounts is that despite the banks’ and lawyers’ claims of a mere ‘technical lapse’, the mess could be gigantic as a few million desperate homeowners realize they can contest the foreclosers’ legal standing to prosecute them.

It would be ironic if, after all the failed efforts by the Obama Administration to halt the foreclosure avalanche, the housing finance system itself provided the ammunition to paralyze it. And the implications for the still crippled banking system are dire: how many more banks will teeter on the edge if they cannot even seize property from the bankrupted households? And will Rick Santelli stage a new hissy-fit if a million busted homeowners suddenly cannot be thrown onto the streets?

Postscript: anyone interested in this farce really must watch a couple minutes of this videotaped deposition of one of GMAC’s ‘robot signers’, the guy whom they hired to attest to the accuracy of something like 10,000 foreclosure proceedings a month. I was expecting some sleazy character in a suit who thought he wouldn’t get caught, but not this: someone hire him quick as an extra in their next biker movie.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Obama’s silly search for ‘bipartisan’ Middle East

Like Obama’s courtship of ‘moderate’ Republicans in the early months of his term (while they openly declared war on him), his attempt to play reasonable centrist with Israelis and Palestinians has now collapsed as any sixth grader could have foreseen.

The Israelis, correctly seeing that Obama is a bag of wind, ignored him and restarted their 40-plus-year campaign of colonization of seized territory. (We could add ‘illegal’ colonization as if anyone cared—concern for legality only applies to Mexican immigrants.) They confidently predicted that he was cajoling them from a position of weakness and would back down. And so he did.

Expert commentators lay out the fairly simple details of Obama’s useless advisers and the historical background, no need to repeat the obvious. But I am curious about what goes on in our president’s mind—did he really think that all this situation needed was some serious talk over after-dinner cordials?

Obama is said to be intellectually curious and fascinated by the pull and tug of ideas. That makes for a good college professor, but it’s not a substitute for political leadership where you have to be capable of telling people to sit down and shut up. It continues to amaze me that someone with that much power could look and act so helpless. Imagine what George Bush would have done with hefty majorities in both houses of Congress, an historic electoral mandate and a huge mess left by the outgoing party.

I am slowly coming to the conclusion that Obama is presiding over exactly the kind of march into polarized nuttiness that we were hoping he would prevent and that his weakness is empowering the lunatic fringe in ways that a right-wing regime could not do better. First the Republicans grab his nose and twist it; now Netan-Yahoo does the same. If we’re going to have a right-wing program anyway, why not have the right-wingers in charge of it?

Monday, 27 September 2010

The assassination consensus

Here’s the choice shaping up for November: proud assassins on the one hand and . . . proud assassins on the other.

At first glance the candidacy of Ilario Pantano, 39, [right] for a seat in the House of Representatives from North Carolina appears rather distasteful. After all, here’s a guy who blasted two unarmed Afghans he deemed to be advancing toward him in a ‘suspicious manner’, utilizing 60 bullets to dissuade them. The military thought that was excessive and charged him with murder but finally bought his story about self-defense even though Pantano had put a sign next to the dead men saying ‘No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy’. Mother would be proud.

Not surprisingly, the case became a cause celebre among the right-wing kooks who never met a (white) triggerman they didn’t like. So Pantano capitalized on his notoreity, wrote a book using the title of his brave feat of derring-do against unarmed civilians and now may become a Republican member of Congress.

And who is his opponent? Seven-term Mike McIntyre of the Obama-led Democratic party, the same Obama who just asked a federal court to reject a petition from one Nassar al-Aulaqi requesting that the U.S. please desist from its plan to murder his son.

Al-Aulaqi innocently thought that in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave one could get a court to decide whether the death penalty should be applied to a U.S. citizen (his son is one) rather than just have the head guy decide to lop your head off and send his goons to do it.

The individual is question is fair game as part of Obama’s ‘targeted killing’ program, a fancy name for legalizing death squads. Obama not only authorized this action, he challenged the court’s standing to hear the case on national security grounds.

I don’t know whether Al-Aulaqi’s son is a member of al-Qaeda, a dangerous bomb-thrower, a raving lunatic, or just a weird guy in a robe, and I don’t care. When the government decides it can off you without trial far from a battlefield and argues that you shouldn’t even be allowed into court to challenge the decision, we are taking yet another step toward a police state.

So Pantano doesn’t strike me as extreme at all, given the general consensus, just a bit more direct in his methods. We feel threatened, we see people we don’t trust, we murder them. What’s the problem? Pantano uses automatic weapons, Obama uses something more high-tech.

Meanwhile, my inbox is filling up with increasingly hysterical pleas from all sorts of do-gooder groups in greater or lesser thrall to the Democratic Party arguing that it is some sort of firewall of defense against total lunacy. When all sides agree that we should slaughter anything that moves because we can, so there, why should I favor one over the other?

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

No joy in ‘I told you so’

I am quite disturbed to say that my post last week on madman gubernatorial candidate Carl Palladino here in New York was far more prescient than I hoped. Today’s Daily News poll show this openly racist nut only 6 points behind Andrew Cuomo to preside over our fragile lives from Albany.

And this in liberal New York. Fox News must be doing a great job of providing the story line for the seething white masses whose desire to slap down the pols is clearly bubbling over.

Meanwhile, Obama had the nerve to call upon us to ‘wake up’ at his little too-little-too-late rally in Ohio. What have we been telling his stone-deaf team for a year?

Yves Smith nails it in her highly illuminating blog column, Naked Capitalism.

‘Past Presidents whose policies rankled special interests, such as Roosevelt, Johnson and Reagan, were tenacious and not ruffled by noise. Obama, by contrast, announces bold-sounding initiatives—and any real change will break eggs and alienate some parties—but then retreats. So he creates opponents yet fails to deliver for his allies’.

And just in case anyone thinks I am being unduly alarmist, here is one of the notorious videos Palladino circulated to his yuk-yuk buddies.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Democratic death-wish

As we approach the Democratic Donnybrook and prepare for the triumphant crowing of the nasty and mean-spirited, one yearns to unearth the reasons for the strange official immolation of the movement that coalesced behind Barack Obama two years ago. I was tempted to say ‘self-immolation’ since it is the familiar phrase, but that would be misleading. This is a social force that was dismantled from above, and that, it seems to me, is the phenomenon that compels our notice.

I was part of that movement in a way I had not been for decades and witnessed the enthusiasm awakened by the Obama campaign as it was acknowledged, thanked and dismissed once the deed was done. When people sought to find a way to throng into the ongoing fights—for things like financial system and health care reform, clean energy, peace-making and a dozen other pressing national and worldwide problems—I saw them acknowledged, thanked and dismissed. We had done our job, as far as the big boys were concerned, and now could go home and leave the rest to them.

How distinct is the right’s attitude toward its base of Christian fanatics! They, by contrast, were channeled into church-centered political groupings, their fires stoked by the panic du jour (pornography, abortion, sex ed, flag-burning, school prayer, gays, gay marriage, now Muslims), their operational capacity managed and developed by the many evangelical lobbying and mobilization entities like Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition. While their Republican masters may have disliked aspects of the preacher caucus, they relied upon it and knew better than to call them “fucking retards”, even in private—a lesson lost upon political genius Rahm Emanuel who will now preside over one of the worst electoral drubbings in recent history.

I am reminded, as usual, of the Chilean experience in which the democratic opposition to Pinochet’s dictatorship swept into power in 1990 and immediately jettisoned its own popular base while sucking up to the wealthy elites that until recently had cheered the secret police as it murdered their members. Emblematic of this shift was Socialist president Ricardo Lagos’s all-out efforts to bring Pinochet back from house arrest in England on the phony grounds of ill health.

Why do they do this? Obama himself provided a clue with his remarks at a recent fund-raiser for rich Democrats in Connecticut. According to reports, Obama twitted people like me for always ‘seeing the glass half-empty’, for failing to recognize his administration’s achievements in health insurance reform and financial services regulations. Obama echoed in milder terms the outburst from his spokesman Gibbs who said we all needed a drug test for criticizing them and comparing Obama’s record to W’s.

Gibbs doesn’t think people like Christine O’Donnell, the Republican-Wiccan candidate for the U.S. Senate from Delaware, needs a drug test, nor does Rahm think John Boehner is a “fucking retard”. Those are the people to engage with, to sit down at the table and hash out legislative details, to listen to respectfully while they question your birth certificate, shout you down in joint sessions of Congress and openly defy your attempts—and even your right—to govern.

Obama’s team has a colonized mentality that his one-time troops do not share. We are not beholden to the Republican minority and do not bear their vicious insults gladly. At a healthy distance, we actually see them much more clearly than the experts promoted beyond their Peter Principle level of incompetence into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We see their cynical opportunism, their willingness to junk the country’s economy, its constitutional traditions (and ‘values’) and its long-term viability for immediate gain. They are not all crude, racist demagogues, but many are, and the rest eagerly pander to them.

Obama, Gibbs and Rahm argue that they have done a great job, and if they are right, I have one question: why is the country turning against you? Isn’t part of being president and running the country the task of generating a convincing narrative and mobilizing support for your program?

Like traumatized wives of alcoholics, Obama’s team returns again and again to the illusion that this time, or next time at the latest, if I just try a little harder, offer a little more, cook the right dinner, find the right formula, my husband will approve and love me. Meanwhile, the defenseless children huddle in the background, fearing the next outburst and Daddy’s blows.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Not so fast

The crowing about the Tea Party lunatics winning nominations for major elective office is premature. I hope Kos and others are right that the victories of these frauds and wackos will deliver senate seats and governorships to the undeserving Democrats. But I would prefer not to hear so much triumphant optimism just yet.

The rise of a hominid like Carl Palladino to the candidacy of a major party for governor of New York would amuse in normal times. These are not. While the likelihood that a creepy perv like Palladino will get enough traction in coming weeks to pose a serious challenge to Andrew Cuomo is not great, there are enough disturbing tendencies afoot to give the sober pause.

Palladino has latched onto a message that is dangerously seductive—racism. He is utterly shameless about it and pounds away on it relentlessly without even trying to hide behind code words. He obviously struck a chord with many voters, which in itself is hardly remarkable—racism is very appealing. That’s why it is so common, and those of us who recognize its dangers know it must be identified quickly and its purveyors called out.

And that is where the establishment, led by the post-racial president, is making an historic error. Pretending that we are beyond all that and apparently terrified to even hint at the racist undertone of opposition obstructionism, Obama, his Democratic Party and most of the old-boy network think that Palladino-style demagoguery either is a useful cudgel to motivate their partisans or else will go away soon. They must look at Palladino’s ads like this one and think, Who can possible swallow that?

The answer is, A whole slew of unhappy, angry and resentful people unless they are provided a counter-narrative. I don’t hear one. When the racists attack an entire religion for its collective responsibility, where are the voices calling this what it is? Instead, Obama and our pathetic governor and Harry Reid and just about everyone else in the land pander to it by backpedaling on the bogus ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ issue. They pretend that if this building just moves down the street a few blocks, everyone will be happy.

But if the mosque really is offensive enough to be forced into hiding, then Muslims really are guilty, aren’t they? Sort of like how Jews shouldn’t come too near the Eucharist since, after all, they killed the Christ and make matzo bread with the blood of baptized infants. So why should anyone in Rochester or New Paltz reject Palladino’s attack line? After all, he is merely being more emphatic about what Obama and Reid concede is a reasonable view.

If there is not a determined, principled and unambiguous response, we will begin to see Palladino’s numbers—fueled by his limitless personal fortune—creep upward, and please don’t bother telling me that it’s impossible because the man is crazy. There is far too much historical precedent for entire societies flipping their collective lids to sustain that argument. It was not that long ago when we thought separate drinking fountains were normal, and yesterday’s Tea Baggers were up in arms over any suggestion that we should eliminate them.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Please disappear forever

One sign that people in our city have not completely lost their minds just yet is the crushing defeat of the unspeakably loathsome Pedro Espada, Jr., the state senate majority leader [sic].

His concession remarks were characteristically evil-minded and included a gratuitous slap at unions (this from a Democrat representing one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city--in which he does not live, preferring the tony suburbs of Westchester).

Espada blamed the new voting machines for confusing the elderly and reducing his vote totals. The guy should apply for a slot writing for Jon Stewart given that his opponent beat him by 35 points. Espada also railed against 'outsiders', ironic given that he pulled in tons of campaign cash from Manhattan real estate developers.

The removal of the poster child of Albany dysfunction gives us a glimmer of hope, but given the disappointments of the national stage, one dare not breathe sighs of relief too deeply. Nonetheless, just not having to look at this thug's face counts for a lot.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Still the sovereign people

It’s primary day in New York State, and the scene at my local precinct resembled something between a Laurel & Hardy routine and a sketch from SNL. When the first thing you hear upon entering the area is two election workers arguing with each other—loudly—it is not a good sign.

We have new voting machines now, another technological answer to a problem we didn’t know we had. First, you have to fill in the little noughts like on an SAT, then the whole sheet goes into a scanner and, we assume, records one’s vote. The ladies showing me how to do it kept insisting that I unfold the ballot face up until I rather too firmly reminded them that the ballot is supposed to be secret. No doubt their training focused on the mechanics of the process rather than the underlying concepts.

We have several races of interest here, including the Republican governor’s primary between a Wall Street sharpie (Lazio) and a furry creature last seen scurrying through the pages of a Victorian horror novel (Paladino). We’re rooting for the latter because it would be fun to watch a race between a moderately functional biped (Cuomo) and a misfire of the evolutionary process. Cuomo could possibly lose the general election by being discovered fondling little girls. Short of that, um, not likely.

In the local races there is the ongoing saga of a true scumbag mafioso fighting to stay in the state Senate (of which he is the president, no less) and, not incidentally, out of jail. Pedro Espada, Jr., is the perfect example of that type of ruthless, amoral political operative who can sometimes attract remarkable loyalty because he steals so much money that he can spread some of it around to his thugs and the merrily corruptible. A competent campaign to oust him from his Bronx seat is given a chance, but by no means a guarantee, of success.

The real horse race is the job Cuomo is leaving behind, that of state attorney general. In New York that means you can investigate and prosecute big banks, insurance companies and other Wall Street criminals, so it has long been a step to higher things as it was for Cuomo and the notorious Eliot Spitzer before him. My old state senator, Eric Schneiderman, is in the running and deserves to win if only for his relentless, extremely patient and successful campaign to overturn the horrible Rockefeller drug laws. His main opponent is a careerist hack who was a Republican most of her life and didn’t bother to vote until she was 37, i.e. after we had suffered through two terms with W.

Hardly anyone bothers to vote in primaries, so those of us who pay attention to these things have a greater than usual chance of actually influencing the outcome. I was kind of sorry for snapping at the precinct workers who were trying to be helpful, but living in a military dictatorship gives you a perspective on what it means when these exercises are either fixed or non-existent. I take the suffrage seriously and like to see it done right. Okay, so the system’s a wreck, but the alternatives are worse.

Monday, 13 September 2010

The Middle Ground on Racism

Out of the mouths of the syntactically challenged: Here is an illuminating statement on the fight over Park51, the lower Manhattan Islamic center/mosque.

‘Perhaps we might think of supporting those families on both sides of this issue as all of us are and maybe step back and try to devote a week of peace’. –David Paterson

Thus does our governor-of-record attempt to regain relevancy as the voice of centrist reason: let us all come together and find a compromise solution that will satisfy both sides, comprised of reasonable, well-intentioned people.

How exactly does one situate oneself on both sides of whether worshippers of a given faith should be excluded from a portion of real estate because their religion is offensive to others? How can one be against racism, exclusion and bias and still satisfy those who express and promote these ideas? [Answer: you can’t. Opposing racism will make racists unhappy.]

Paterson reflects the most dangerous aspect of this increasingly successful Murdoch-led campaign against Islam by buckling to prejudice—along with the bulk of his Democratic colleagues—under the guise of moderation and understanding.

Paterson continues to make a fool of himself by trumpeting his idea of a ‘compromise’ solution, namely, moving the Islamic facility somewhere else. He keeps insisting that someone is going to come talk to him about it and having to backtrack on his announcements of these phantom negotiations.

As I am a tiresome old nag, I will repeat the relevant historical parallel: how about a compromise between the well-meaning opponents of racial integration and those purists demanding that black people not be forced to sit in the back of the bus? Maybe a special section in the middle for ‘non-white passengers and those who love them’? That way, no one’s tender sensibilities will be offended—except, of course, those of the non-white passengers.

The grotesque spectacle over Koran-burning has obscured the more insidious seeds of ethnic and religious intolerance planted by Republican opportunists and their echo chamber. Opposition to the downtown mosque and general hostility to Islam is now a badge of patriotism for them, and those who just assembled on the Mall to imitate Martin Luther King see no irony in their quick assemblage of a new hate figure to replace uppity ‘Negroes’.

I biked down the Hudson River greenway last Thursday and observed the Jewish celebrants of their New Year ending their ritual at the waterway. Would anyone dare to suggest that a Jewish temple be blocked from a given site because that religion makes people uncomfortable?

Ironically, Paterson ended his recent comments on the mosque by encouraging New Yorkers to ‘take a break from debating the planned community center in honor of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana’. This just seconds after stating that ‘the opposition [to the mosque] was not just coming from bigotry, that in other words there were legitimate people who were upset by this’.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Let's be reasonable, now

The successful press against the Florida preacher threatening to burn Korans illustrates just how easy it would be to suppress the entire wave of Islamophobia if it didn’t serve the short-term political interests of the official wingnuts. The secretary of defense and a flood of other public figures denounced the creepy stunt even though a few diehards like Boehner couldn’t quite spit out the required phrases.

So there will be no inflammatory photos of Christian bonfires, but the more insidious campaign against the Islamic Center in downtown Manhattan will continue along with the whispering campaign against Obama as a closet Mohammadan—as if that were some sort of crime.

I notice that Gates and the rest did not ask Pastor Jones to please move his Koran burning indoors or do it discreetly away from the glare of the cameras. They weren’t requesting a ‘compromise’ solution that will enable everyone to indulge his or her prejudices—no, they were saying, This is wrong. Stop it.

It would be nice if people could apply the same criteria to the campaign against the Sufi mosque. The Koranic bonfire panic over, all the reasonable ‘centrist’ types now will continue to push for the Islamic community center to be moved a few yards away from the Twin Towers site or placed in some other borough, as if the existence of a religious monument could offend on Cortlandt Street but won’t over in Jackson Heights.

Meanwhile, the people of Gainesville, Florida, are up in arms to try to dissociate themselves from the religious hatred fanned by their local storefront hype-artist. Gee, isn’t it terrible that a whole group of people are being slandered just because of the actions of a few?

I’m not against all Gainesvillians even though they have rabid assholes in their midst that have caused me great pain. So here’s my compromise solution: they can still come visit New York, but out of respect for our suffering, they can only visit Brooklyn and Queens. I don’t want them in Manhattan because they remind me of 9/11/2010.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Moral Bankruptcy

Obama so frequently seems to lack the required determination and feistiness in the face of attacks on common sense that it is particularly depressing to be reminded when he does show some spunk:

Yes, indeed, when it comes to defending the worst crimes of the Bush era and reasserting the most extreme claims of security-based secrecy needs, to the detriment of the rule of law, our president is not at all hope-y or change-y, but in fact entirely status quo-y.

Obama’s Justice Department went all out to insist on the Bush-era claim that torture victims could not have their day in court because Important State Secrets were involved. That is to say, you and me are effing retards who haven’t gotten out of our pajamas, but John Yoo and Jay Bybee and the other criminals are reasonable fellows who must be protected at all costs.

I wish there were a little more interest in the issue of how the United States of America officially caused defenseless prisoners to be tortured, but for the moment it is yesterday’s news. So we don’t have to be reminded how the plaintiff in this case was shipped off to Morocco and had his genitals sliced with knives. Et cetera.

That said, I repeat for the hundredth time that this issue is NOT GOING AWAY. Someday—and I hope and expect to live long enough to see it—the entire country will shudder with shame at how far we descended into the moral abyss.

When that happens, and the bill is presented to the criminals responsible for turning us into Torture Nation, they will defend themselves by saying, Yes of course, we were wrong to jettison our country’s principles out of fear. . . . But don’t forget! the pressure to do so was so overwhelming that even that GREAT LIBERAL BARACK OBAMA covered up for it afterward. So we eager John Yoo’s and Jay Bybee’s just got swept away—whocouldanode what the consequences would be?

That’s the scenario I will be thinking about the next time I get a letter from some Democratic Party money machine asking for contributions to this or that Defender of Regular Folks against bad old Sarah Palin and her tea drinkers. I should part with my money for you guys??

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Muslim hatred fanned into an actual fire [updated]

Four days and counting before the Church of the Total Wackos in Gainesville, Florida, celebrates the Twin Towers attack by burning Korans.

I was waiting for someone to make the obvious observation that, for all the fetishistic talk about ‘supporting the troops’, these Christian crazies are about to put the grunts directly in harm’s way with their self-indulgent little stunt. Now General Petraeus himself has warned about the dangers of this gratuitous inflammation of religious sentiment among people who take their dogma extremely seriously.

Apparently, the Dove Outreach church is a two-bit storefront operation run by a smarmy entrepreneur like a million others in our gloriously tolerant land. No doubt the Becks and the Limbaughs will wash their hands of this event scheduled for the High Holy Days of September 11. Fill in their indignant responses here: We NEVER suggested [etc., etc.]

But not so fast. The campaign they drummed up against the Islamic Center/‘Ground Zero Mosque’ is now in overdrive with a recent New York Times poll announcing that a majority of local residents now oppose its construction. That’s interesting for those who care—I don’t. Nor do I care that in 1961 some percentage of white people in Birmingham, Alabama, were against sending their children to school with ‘Negroes’.

Of course, New Yorkers would never confess that their opposition reflects anything like crude prejudice--the very idea! Oh no, it’s all about being ‘sensitive’ to the relatives and ‘legitimate questions’ about the source of the funds and a lot of other bogus crap that no one would have thought of it it weren’t for the hate campaign itself. Somebody should dig up the old attacks on Martin Luther King and read how they also had nothing to do with race but rather his communist friends and all those annoying agitators from up north.

I regret that some kids from Nebraska are going to get shot up in Helmand province because these execrable bipeds are going to stage their little Hitler youth rally in on some backwoods shopping center parking lot and then bask in their 15 minutes of ignominious fame. But I suspect that it will take some sort of grotesque spectacle of this sort to generate the desperately needed backlash against the rising tide of idiocy sweeping the land.

This would be a good time to see our president lose a tad of his famous cool and share a few choice words about the impact of this madness on the soldiers he continues to send into the mountains of Afghanistan to face the enraged residents.

[Update with the ink barely set]: I particularly love the way self-proclaimed and -described liberals and moderates pile enthusiastically onto the racist mob. Here is the barely humanoid editor of The New Republic, once a magazine, now a screed-sheet inspired by the Israeli right, on how Muslims do not deserve the protections of the First Amendment.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Plus ca change. . .

I am among those who believed that Obama could learn from his mistakes and develop some political muscle, stop looking and sounding like a Jimmy Carter reincarnation, arrest the dangerously authoritarian tendencies afoot, jettison his consistently wrong economic advisers and rally what’s left of his troops for a comeback.

But there is nothing in the current environment that suggests I was right. Instead, Obama constantly recalls the presidential candidate who cast himself as post-racial, post-partisan and even post-conflict. His campaign call for national unity was sometimes inspiring boilerplate that one could enjoy while suspending reality for an hour. But now it looks as though he believed it was a magic wand, that this hold-hands-and-sing outlook really is his political strategy.

For example, who on earth can take seriously the latest round of ‘peace talks’ between the Israeli and Palestinian figureheads while spoilers on both sides easily can block any hint of progress? When an important rabbi calls for the Palestinians to be struck down by a plague from god and Hamas blows up a few settlers, does anyone give this exercise in fantasy even a monotheistic prayer? Why would Israel want to reward Obama, who can’t even successfully defend himself from a whispering campaign about being a secret Muslim, when they can simply wait out the clock on his term?

Many observers with more patience than I have taken apart Obama’s pointless and bland speech on the end of the Iraq debacle, but few have noted how downright offensive it was for him to excuse the Bushite neocons who started it. After nearly two years of vicious partisanship from his declared enemies, Obama’s continued peace offerings to the rabid right look insane, like a child’s sad pleadings to his abusive parents.

Meanwhile, Obama could not even clearly explain how the disastrous decision to conquer Iraq and not pay for it drove the country into its current recessionary hole, and his economic team predictably trots out the argument that ‘no one could have known’ how bad things were or how weak the stimulus package turned out to be. That’s just a lie because anyone who read the arguments at the time heard plenty of predictions that the stimulus—over which Obama was pilloried and the Tea Party rebellion generated anyway—was not sufficient to replace the demand wiped out by the financial panic of 2008. So we got the worst of all worlds: a weak, compromised non-solution that merely energized the social forces responsible for the original debacle.

On every front we see a neo-Reaganite program stealthily poisoning policy through the good offices of the Obama Administration—the bankrupting Bush tax cuts slowly accepted by the Democrats, Social Security falling under the axe-readying lens of Obama’s Catfood Commission, immigration policing jacked up to new heights while Mexicans are slaughtered by drug gangs in the desert, official assassination now a state consensus, a lost war in Afghanistan stretched out for fear of defeat, and on and on, making one wonder what good it did for us all to rise up against the plutocrats and warmongers in the first place.

If this is the best the Democrats can do, they may be doing more harm in power than out. At least during the dreary, depressing days of the Alfred E. Newman presidency, there was an opposition, weak-kneed and inconsistent, but opportunistic enough to slow down the march to disaster. What is there now? A broad underlying policy consensus down the wrong road while domestic racism with violent overtones is quietly encouraged by one side and dismissed as unimportant by the other. Under these conditions a mid-term Republican takeover of Congress will not be a new setback, merely a reflection of reality. They are running things now.