Monday, 29 November 2010

Open diplomacy

Juan Cole has the best line on the Wikileaks avalanche: Now that the government has decided all our e-mails and telephone calls are fair game, he says, it can hardly complain if we return the favor by reading theirs! HAHAHAHA.

That said, I think the leakers could have approached the revelations differently and set up a better line of defense from what we can anticipate will be a ferocious counter-assault. That would be to do the hard, slogging donkey-work of poring over the documents and writing up the significant findings themselves rather than just dumping the raw sewage onto the Internet. Of course, this is like asking my aunt to have a pair of cojones—Wikileaks is not a traditional journalistic enterprise, and they have chosen this course.

I fear, however, that the end result may be further attempts to chill the worthy cause of official de-pantsing and whistle-blowing, which the Obama Administration seems to hate worse than being de-friended by Mitch McConnell. How long will we have to wait for some sort of Draconian new federal law condemning Wikileaks-type behavior with public stoning?

Or worse. There have been no shortage of calls for Mr Assange to be handled extra-judicially, and no one can argue that the precedents are lacking.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Citizens, arise

The euro is dead, but no European pol wants to trigger the unraveling by stating this uncomfortable truth. Therefore, European workers, students and pensioners will be saddled with endless austerity plans to enable the bosses to extend and pretend until eventually the entire Ponzi scheme of bailouts and faux accounting collapses, maybe three, maybe five years from now.

Unless. . . unless the people take matters into their own hands. Demonstrations so far have been rather pro forma, the sorts of rhetorical set pieces with placards that the French and Spanish unions are so good at. But there is a big demonstration coming up in Ireland, of all places, and there are signs it will not be business as usual.

In a by-election in the Republic Thursday, the ruling party was crushed in a race for a once-safe seat with a swing of 30 points.

By comparison, many U.S. states in this month’s Republican sweep saw a swing of less than 10. This suggests a political earthquake.

An uprising at a time of discredited leadership can rattle the ruling elites and unleash a chain reaction. How long will Europeans permit the banker class and its captured multi-state apparatus to impoverish them?

And smug observers from this side of the sea ought to wipe that smile off. Our banks are propped up on artificial life support to no lesser degree, and popular resentment equally seething.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Is the euro toast?

One does not have to be particularly versed in economics to see signs of panic among the continent’s finance ministers and PMs, whose default position always, always, always is to insist, Things are fine!

Last night I caught the Irish bloke in charge of his country’s finances (who would want THAT job just now?) standing at a podium somewhere and running through a list of the great achievements of the Irish economy in recent days. What great material for a revived Monty Python Comedy Hour. You had to pinch yourself to recall that this is a country that has just handed over its fiscal and monetary sovereignty to a committee from Brussels. A country that has been forced by its bank sector folly to introduce a package of austerity measures that will wreck an entire generation’s futures, led by a governing party about to experience its worst drubbing in history.

‘Growth has been in positive territory over the last six months, outperforming our earlier expectations’, droned the minister, or something equally absurd and meaningless.

These creepy fellows whose lives revolve around power develop a brutish, hectoring tone that must be required for parliamentary debate or cable interviews where you can’t cede the tiniest point or dare to sound nuanced. But it doesn’t work well when the walls are collapsing behind you, sort of like ‘Comical Ali’, Saddam’s spokesman during the Baghdad war saying that the Iraqi forces were on the verge of a great triumph while the Americans could be seen driving up in tanks over his left shoulder.

The pattern is Europe this year has been deny, deny, deny (everything is fine, no bailouts are needed); switch briefly to a reality-based discourse while the bailouts are being cooked up; then deny, deny, deny once again. Bankers are like Vatican bureaucrats, it seems, the pope is never ill, only dead. Economies are never imploding, except when the masses must save their local millionaires by turning over their life savings.

So far the pattern has included Greece and Ireland, but the who’s-next list grows apace: there’s Portugal, the favored candidate, then Spain, but whoa! now little Belgium is in the line-up, too. It’s like a cracked Agatha Christie with lots of corpses, ‘25 Little EU Indians’, but with whodunit announced in the opening credits.

One particularly amusing side note is that the two Irish behemoth banks were given a clean bill of health in the summer ‘stress tests’, just in time to be rescued by measures like the clawback of a full pound in the Irish minimum wage and the elimination of tens of thousands of state jobs. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Ours are also officially robust if perhaps breathing a tad heavily. Inspires confidence.

The Europeans’ pain stems from the same disease as the one we suffer, a bloated finance sector that has captured the commanding heights not only of the economy itself but a large chunk of the political apparatus as well. Under these conditions permanent, acute mendaciousness is inevitable, and all the talk that the ‘euro is sound’ is white noise for the credulous. They emit soothing phrases, but no one knows what will happen next except that the super-rich will not be made to pay.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

AIDS world rewired

The announcement Tuesday that pre-sex pills probably block HIV infection has the AIDS world, of which I am a part, in a second tizzy. The first one occurred in July at the big biennial AIDS powwow in Austria, and the implications of this double revelation are myriad and not yet entirely clear.

I unscientifically call them ‘pre-sex pills’ for clarity’s sake, but that’s in essence what they are: you ingest a low dose of the same medication that people who are already HIV-infected have to take, and voila, the nasty little virus doesn’t stick no matter kind of pelvic partnership you are down with (the study, called iPrEx enrolled gay men, mostly in Peru and Ecuador).

There are 8 million caveats for specialists to scratch their armpits over, but the operative concept is exactly the same as that shown to work in the South African vaginal microbicide study unveiled in Vienna this summer. In that case, women inserted a gel laced with an AIDS medication before and after having sex, and that also brought the anticipated number of new HIV infections way down.

The problem, as always, is human behavior. In both cases, even under the optimum conditions provided by research environments, an enormous percentage of study participants simply didn’t use the products as directed and obtained a correspondingly lower level of protection. This should surprise no one familiar with the tribulations involved in convincing people highly at risk for infection to use condoms. One would think that something as easy as popping a pill would generate greater adherence to the protocol, but it didn’t.

On the other hand, if people were not predictably non-compliant with life-saving advice, none of these research studies could ever obtain evidence. After all, a certain number of people have to engage in unprotected sex to produce the minimum numbers necessary for comparison’s sake. It’s a paradox of the research world that while vigilant protection of the welfare of human subjects is strictly enforced, the underlying assumption of any of these trials is that some people will take the risks you’re telling them to avoid so that the exposure arm and the placebo arm will produce measurable differences. If they don’t, the whole exercise is a waste of time.

That generates further complication because now that the pre-sex pill and gel techniques look awfully promising, how does one proceed with research at all? Some people argue that enrolling people NOW in placebo trials, given the apparent efficacy of the pre-exposure prophylaxis approach, is unethical. Others counter that the test results aren’t strong enough and that further confirmation is necessary before anyone can confidently recommend vaginal gels, rectal microbicides or pre-whoopy pill-popping.

Furthermore, any introduction of a new technique might also weaken the already unsteady condom-use practices of a large swath of the population. We might push people into an uncertain alternative causing them to ditch a proven, albeit uncomfortable, safety device, thus increasing rather than lowering their risk. How ethical is that?

The ethics and prevention debates, important as they are, remind me that such discussions, now carried on in remote, academic circles like mine, were once the province of whole communities. Gay men especially but lots of other people too once sat around thinking of what to do about the dangers out there and how to obtain sexual satisfaction despite them. That’s pretty much dead, from what I can tell.

I saw my doctor yesterday for the annual poke-and-prod session, and he remains indignant about the new cases of HIV infection he sees regularly in his practice. I have the feeling that he isn’t shy about telling patients what he thinks they should do, and it’s good that he raises the issues that many doctors would rather avoid.

But one thing I have learned about people’s sexual and other health-related behavior is that they hate to hear lectures about it, even—and especially—when the advice provided is crucial to their well-being. We’re a long way from figuring out how to resuscitate the kinds of horizontal, friend-to-friend, or barstool-to-barstool conversations that enabled the reimagining of sexual habits and practices that occurred in the 1980s.

The furiously reactionary opposition to that conversation raised by the Catholic and evangelical right was successful in driving it underground and crushing it. No lame, latecomer reversal from a pope is going to undo that damage.

[update P.S.] Here is what candidate Barack Obama said about AIDS in 2007:

‘I'll expand the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief by $1 billion a year in new money over the next five years so we can reach more people’.

Instead, the Obama Administration has flat-lined funding and allowed 4,000 people in the U.S. to be forced onto AIDS drugs waiting lists. I know, I know, there was an economic crisis and a huge deficit. But that did not stop O from pandering to the Republicans he had just crushed electorally by offering them billion-dollar tax giveaways to attract a vote or two here and there--which he never got anyway.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Repeat after me: Spain is not Ireland, Portugal is not Spain

A satirical piece on one of the finance/econ blogs the other day went through a whole list of these inane geography lessons trotted out to reassure bond markets that Country X will not fall apart like Greece, that Ireland is not Portugal, Spain is not Italy and Bangladesh is not Tuvalu.

The point is that despite the second domino (Ireland) falling yesterday after weeks of pious promises to the contrary, all the central banker poo-bahs are rushing to promise that the Euro zone is in fact not buckling but rather that things are fully ‘under control’. When a prominent finance ministry official intones phrases like, ‘The Euro is not in danger’, you know that the opposite is true.

Ireland may be not Greece, but perhaps it should aspire to reach that category. Instead, the Emerald Isle looks depressingly like 1970s Zambia or soon will once the ECB and the IMF get through with it. Remember the bad old days when African, Asian and Latin American countries would get slammed by the suits from Foggy Bottom and have to impoverish whole generations to pay off their debts to first-world banks? When Chicago-educated Friedmanites would swarm into town to give the powerless lessons in monetarism and how to do things right, the way we do them up in Thoroughly Modern America?

Now Ireland is being handed a bunch of money in exchange for hocking future generations to the needs of the reckless banking class, exactly as occurred here. It’s amazing how consistent these guys are: the cancerous, overblown financial sector runs rampant and drives the ship of state onto the rocks, and yet they’re the ones who get into the lifeboats while the rest of us dog-paddle our way to shore—or don’t.

Welcome to the new world order where globalization now enables everyone to have the Zambian experience. If Greek, Portugese and Irish consumers can be put on cat food diets, are the rest of us far behind? Long before today’s anticipated denouement with the Irish handing over the keys to French and German bankers, the bond tyrants had set their eyes on Portugal and Spain. But some experts say none of the Eurozone countries are really safe because their capital markets are interlinked, and the exposures will reverberate in Frankfurt and London if any country should simply declare itself unable to pay up.

Argentina was warned off this course in the early 2000s and had to default anyway, which was extremely painful. But as subsequent events have shown, it was not the deadly Armageddon all the wealthy experts said it would be, and the country bounced back quite nicely once it got the debt monkey off its back.

The Irish populace seems far too supine at this point to do much more than throw the current helmsmen out of office when what they need to do is storm down to the parliament buildings and eat these guys’ lunches, for starters. But if the bank-friendly rearrangements continue throughout the continent, how long will the social peace remain? And who will be targeted? The right? The left? Bankers? Politicians? Immigrants? Jews? No one can anticipate with confidence any one outcome if this slow-motion train wreck continues.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Guantánamo-ForeclosureGate connection

ForeclosureGate continues to refuse to go away despite the best efforts of the bankers and their shills in the business cable universe. The deadbeat-borrowers-who-just-want-free-rent meme is wearing awfully thin under the pressure of reality as evidenced in last week’s hearings on the topic on Capitol Hill. No doubt the impact of hundreds of thousands of cases of foreclosure abuse as the banks and servicers continue to defraud the nation’s middle and not-so-middle classes of their earnings is filtering upward even into the parallel universe of our legislative branch.

Nonetheless, the assembled solons at last week's Senate hearings expressed an eerie detachment from the ongoing looting and its fundamental causes. The oddest exchange arose from one senator, Johanns of Nebraska, who, upon hearing that people with loan modifications are being railroaded into perjury-laden bank proceedings, repeatedly moaned, ‘That’s not right’, like an earnest Midwestern Sunday School teacher before a classroom of sixth-grade farm girls. Johann’s exchange is at 1:02 of the hearing linked above on C-SPAN’s video library (a great resource BTW—imagine what fun I.F. Stone would have had with it).

Johann and other senators, like Utah fossil Robert Bennett (ousted by Tea Partiers who decided he’s a dangerous liberal), were shocked, shocked, to discover that banks put their short-term profit-gouging before fairness to customers or even to preserving their ‘brand’. Bennett marveled that no smart owner would do that because it will undermine their client base and ruin their business in the long run.

Really? These deluded seniors apparently think we’re still living in 1950s America where good old Jerry is the bank officer handing out mortgages, and he’ll look after things to make sure they’re all right.

The legal services lawyer, who inserted some uncomfortable case histories into the discussion, didn’t do her side much good with her Central Casting imitation of a shrill social worker, but a legal expert from Georgetown struck just the right note of relentless refuge in the facts, which can be summarized as follows:

-Mortgage delinquencies are mushrooming, and not all of them can be fixed since people have lost jobs and income. But a lot of them could be if it were not for the juicy fees that can still be stripped from the losers’ assets by mortgage servicing firms.

-While the banks and thug reporters in the business media furiously attempt to paint the whole situation as technical slip-ups that the penniless want to exploit to delay the inevitable, many, many supposed remods are going down because banks refuse to stop the simultaneous foreclosure process and systematically trick desperate families. (Senator Tester of Montana referred to the flood of complaints of this nature that his office is getting from a state with fewer than a million inhabitants.)

-Robo-signers and other abuses of the legal system are not rare accidents but are required since the banks and issuers of mortgage-backed bonds failed to follow explicitly detailed legal procedures in establishing the bond trusts. This was done to speed up the process and generate more and faster profits. Now, the bankers want the feds to come to their rescue once again as in 2008 arguing that they are essential to the nation’s fine economic recovery—the one we all continue to search for under rocks.

What is not revealed in the hearing is the nefarious role of Treasury outlined at length by Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism: that the Obama Administration is attempting to ignore the scandal because its number one and perhaps sole priority is pumping cash into the illiquid—or maybe insolvent—banking system. If a few poor slobs get crushed under the wheels, that’s a small price for the other guy to pay. Since that worked so well for Obama so far, we should just keep up the good work, is the apparent philosophy at Treasury where most of the architects of the situation can be assumed to be eagerly awaiting the chance to jump to lucrative banking jobs once Obama crashes out fully.

My contribution to the discussion of this ongoing collapse of the rule of law in the property courts is that it exactly parallels the other one initiated by Bush and sustained by Obama’s collusion and the hearty and full-throated support of the majority of the American people. I refer to the destroying of habeas corpus and the entire panoply of extra-judicial assassination, impunity for torture, obstruction of justice and wholesale spying. The latest round of testicle-grabbing by TSA is only the latest manifestation, and if someone does not revolt pretty soon, we will promptly get to see exactly what it means to hand over to the state the tools it needs to get its way under any and all circumstances.

Perhaps the 1.3 billion Chinese would like to give us some lessons on how that feels since they’ll soon be in charge anyway.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Nourishment for antisemitic tropes

Preferring or appearing to prefer a foreign nation state’s interests above one’s own is a recipe for persecution as Communist Party sympathizers learned during the witch hunts of the McCarthy era. In the emergencies of the Depression and the war against the Nazis when the Soviet Union was a key ally, the CP and its members could be seen as dubious or alien but more eccentric than dangerous.

Once times changed, however, and the Russkies became the threat against a backdrop of Armageddon, the party’s slavish obeisance to the line being handed down from on high in the Soviet Union became its Achilles’ heel, and the Rosenberg espionage trial was a not exactly surprising outcome. Opportunities always exist for a campaign against any group that can be painted as a domestic fifth column, and if you appear to express loyalty to a country other than the one you live in, you provide the demagogues with ammunition.

All of which makes the current posture of most of our political class towards the Middle East so reckless in terms of its impact on the well-being of American Jews. Now that the Israeli state openly uses its relatively small tail to wag the American dog, it is irresponsible for the incoming Republican lords and their Democratic colluders to place or appear to place that foreign state’s interests above those of the good old US of A.

Eric Cantor, the incoming House majority leader, recently announced that ‘the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration’. That is fairly standard boilerplate, but raised eyebrows for its timing, coming after Cantor met with Israeli PM Netan-yahoo and making him look like the Republicans would line up with a foreign state against the head of their own government.

Cantor is also pushing the bright idea of shielding future U.S. largesse to Israel by peeling it out of the category of ‘foreign aid’ so that the much-anticipated assault on government spending by his party can never affect this special foreign country. That is, while Cantor and Co. are arguing that we Americans cannot afford schools, hospitals, roads or investment for ourselves, taxpayers will still bear the burden of providing these nice things to people half a world away. Forever.

The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), an agency of the European Union, once described a long-standing antisemitic stereotype—‘accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations’. Given this extremely dangerous history, why are our leaders playing with fire?

For now, things are all fine on the antisemitism front, and aside from a few random loonies, no one is advocating hostility toward Jews or spouting, in the EUMC’s words, ‘mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews’—unlike, say, the things you hear about Arabs, Muslims or Mexicans these days.

But that can change, and the role of countries here and there can and undoubtedly will shift and mutate as has occurred throughout human history. If, one day in the remote future, the interests of the Israeli state diverge from our own in palpable and concrete ways, can it possibly be good for the Jewish population of the U.S. that the unbalanced Christian majority has witnessed generations of special treatment of a country profoundly identified with a domestic religious minority?

One cannot be overly alarmed by the sight of U.S. politicians scrambling to shovel expensive favors to Israel. But our leaders’ vision of the future seems to be shortening by the day as if we were in an Einsteinian space capsule hurtling at near the speed of light away from our beleaguered planet. Facile pandering to the political demands of the moment can have nasty consequences, and someone should remind Cantor that in elevating the needs and wishes of an alien state above the allegedly perfidious occupant of the White House, he is sowing the seeds of an extremely toxic plant.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Obama’s collapse—and ours

Teabaggers and their friends may chortle with glee over the rough handling Obama’s getting in Korea, but they would be well advised to cut the gloating short. Our president seems constitutionally averse to looking decisive and taking charge, but underneath his personal shortcomings is the country’s strategic foolishness budding into full flower.

Trotsky argued in his history of the Russian revolution that the appearance of Czar Nicholas II just as the Russian monarchy was about to collapse was not a coincidence. He is devastating about the incompetence of the czar, but he insists that it was no accident that a dizzyingly clueless bumbler who had no idea how to react to the upheaval occurring under his feet would arise just at that time.
Trotsky said the centuries of isolation and backwardness of the regime made it incapable of producing a leader that would know what to do to save itself, a tendency that finally manifested in simple biology.

Amid the general astonishment at how faithfully Obama is carrying out the bidding of the people we recently threw out of office is plenty of evidence that our governing elite is another kind of Romanov dynasty unable to discover the tools to address its own dysfunction. And it’s the big guys who are going to have to come up with something after the masses mobilized in all innocence and naivete in 2008 to elect an unknown and an outsider who looked like a fresh face who might have a new idea or two. We see how that turned out, and whether it’s a personality failing of Obama himself or something structural that clipped his wings from the start is intellectually interesting but in the long run irrelevant.

It’s actually kind of wonderful to see Obama breeze into the big Seoul summit and be treated like a tag-along kid brother by the Asians and the Europeans both. We need a trade pact with South Korea—oops, not ready yet. Let’s all gang up on the Chinese and make them pump up their currency—um, nope. There should be more fiscal stimulus to boost aggregate demand—actually, no there shouldn’t.

Despite all the hang-wringing about the new flavor at the Capitol Hill Baskin-Robbins, I am inclined to cheer the president’s weakness on the world front as likely to constrict his chances of pummeling us with more ‘bipartisan’ disasters like tax cuts and Social Security privatization. At this point gridlock looks pretty attractive compared to the kinds of Blue Dog-Republican deals that Clinton enjoyed so much, like the wonderful free-trade agreement with Mexico or Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

‘Should be a scandal’

Pretty amazing that the only thing W can think of to regret upon reviewing his presidency is a bad photo-op from the window of Air Force One.

Bush said it made him look out of touch to be seen observing the Katrina aftermath from the sky. Note that he’s not sad about his actual performance in helping people escape death or getting them food and water afterward, just the image problem.

Bush also said he was stung by Kanye West’s refreshingly blunt statement that the president ‘doesn’t care about black people’ in the middle of New Orleans’ martyrdom. It’s hard to remember now that the Fox News mafia didn’t jump on that statement all that much because it was so hard to refute.

But even West is backing down now, which is another disturbing sign of the times.

Meanwhile, no one at all even gives a shit that Bush placidly admits now that he authorized torturing defenseless prisoners during his reign. Given that Obama and the Democrats refused to go after them for it, why shouldn’t he? And the lamestream media—so concerned about the ethics of Keith Olberman’s campaign donation—has no interest in that ‘old story’.

On the economic front, the supposed experts at the Federal Reserve had a big powwow to debate whether their latest monetary measures, called ‘quantitative easing’, will resuscitate inflation. Inflation??!! At a time when essentially one-sixth of the workforce is out of a job, and bank accounts are paying 0.2 percent interest, that’s what the poobahs in Washington are worried about?

As this dumbfounded economist opines, the fact that they are having that discussion at all should be a scandal. That it is not tells us that the ruling elite is entering some sort of black hole/parallel universe that bodes very ill for the land (to plagiarize Tony Judt).

Strike while the iron is hot

January 2009: huge Democratic majorities, a hot new president who came out of nowhere to crush the old guard, a fired-up popular movement dominated by youth. Anything is possible, right?

So what do we get? A two-year plea to the losers to please come inside while the Yes We Can movement is systematically jettisoned. No movement on Guantánmo, no action on Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (despite the military’s readiness to give it away), no face-down of the banker-criminals, a double-down extension of the Afghanistan war. A half-hearted stimulus with no direct jobs-production component and the health insurance rewrite from hell.

The iron is now cold, and behold, whaddaya know? Now that the danger is passed, the old creeps are rushing back on stage with all their worst ideas. The new Marine Corps head wants to preserve DA/DT after all, and Lindsey Graham thinks it would be nice to bomb the shit out of Iran. Time to give the super-rich new tax breaks and restart the privatize Social Security campaign so that Wall Street can loot that too. (Obama: I’m open to all ideas from my Republican friends—even totally fucked ones.)

The Bush-era agenda is about to come surging back as if those guys were still in charge, which thanks to Obama, they sort of are. But the circumstances are in some ways worse given that the loonies from that debacle now don’t have to take responsibility for anything that goes wrong and can just snipe from the sidelines.

The most ominous development is the talk about ratcheting up the rhetoric against Iran, starting with David Broder at the Washington Post, who said that threatening yet another war would be a great way for Obama to restore his standing.

(I strongly recommend this article on it describing how the Republicans could induce Obama to do their dirty work—it makes all too much sense.) Graham’s endorsement turns yesterday’s wacky into today’s normal, and Obama is so reluctant to say no to the powerful that he is unlikely to quash the talk, thus enabling more of it.

Unless there is a change of climate at the White House—which would signal the existence of an Obama heretofore unseen—the next two years could outdo late Bush in awfulness. Obama has to turn things around by showing he’s not afraid of actually exercising the power that his office awards him. If he’s not capable of that, he shouldn’t have run for it in the first place.

Incidentally, I love the fact that Graham spoke of ‘neutering’ the Iranian regime—this from a guy threatened last year by rumors in his own camp that he is a closet case. No better way to tamp those down than to look butcher than a Marine platoon—from the safety of a fancy office in Washington, of course.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Beyond blue and red

During his campaign President Obama eloquently preached about superseding the false barriers of race, religion, color and party identification in the pursuit of common national goals. Just one problem with that: there is no agreement on what our national goals actually are, and so the barriers of race, religion, etc., etc., are not so false after all.

That was never clearer than this week with the openly racist Tea Party vying with old-line Republican godfathers to see who could display more pettiness of spirit. The overwhelming impression is that of a political system kidnapped by the forces of bullying entitlement and guarded by armies of lumpen enforcers who stand by ready to crush dissent.

Meanwhile, fully intimidated Democratic party hacks huddle disconsolate in a distant corner and spit at their erstwhile constituencies—unions, blacks, women, gays, immigrants, the poor, the sick, the vulnerable. In fact, the sorry state of what purport to be the humane political forces is far more disturbing than the ugliness of the elitist demagogues.

Obama is the principal engineer of this kneecapping of our side, never so well expressed as at his $30,000-a-plate Greenwich fundraiser in which he caricatured the ‘professional left’ that always sees the glass half-empty. ‘And gosh, we haven’t yet brought about world peace,’ mocked the guy we put into office. By contrast, the Republicans, who don’t see the glass at all (and if they did, would stick it in his eye), are welcomed in eager pursuit of ‘bipartisanship’.

But in one sense, Obama the campaigner is right—we are moving toward a social consensus in a number of areas. No one seems much worried any more about wars (including the two we continue to pursue); global warming is either a hoax or no big deal; and racism is over except for those resentful minorities who continue to dislike white people. Although agreement on these topics is not yet universal, the public debate on them is pretty much dead. Certainly ever fewer Democrats would risk an attack from Fox by raising them.

Those topics off the table, things do get much simpler: TAXES, GOVERNMENT, SPENDING, TERRORISM = BAD. Markets (while not quite as convincingly virtuous as before) = GOOD and certainly better than SOCIALISM/OBAMACARE. And to summarize, UNITED STATES = STILL THE GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, just temporarily hijacked by a Kenyan tribe.

What will the future bring to a nation so enveloped in its comforting illusions and daily less inclined to entertain doubts about them? When the inevitable terrorist strike on an American city actually succeeds, how quickly will our remaining civil protections be jettisoned—by Obama himself?

Given the extant consensus, I am comfortably detached from any regret over the oscillations of electoral contention such as those that occurred on Tuesday. The nation proceeds upon its downward trajectory; we pursue the Reaganite will-o-the-wisp, to ‘feel good about America’ once again; and evidence to the contrary is not to be admitted. Cultural anthropology is set to make a comeback.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Vote! . . . while you can!

As Joan Rivers says, the great thing about anal sex is you can do your ironing or answer your e-mail on your Blackberry.

This year, you can also vote because no matter where you put your X, you will also feel very clearly that you are getting a certain kind of massage at the same time.

Far from me to criticize, I guess a lot of people like it, more than you would think.

As for the choices in the voting booth, I have nothing much to add after Marc Cooper and Robert Kuttner channeled my inner thoughts one by one. I concur that tomorrow is going to be a massacre with the only bright side being that the feckless Democrats richly deserve the shellacking for failing to seize a historic moment that comes around once in a generation.

Imagine what we could be rallying about if they had stood up to the banks, done the right thing on Guantánamo, abolished Don’t Ask and actually done half the things they say they believe in.

But that would be a parallel universe, and instead we have to live in this one where people pour into the streets to promote . . . sanity.

How lame.