Saturday, September 27, 2008

Darwin's Dangerous Idea (by Phila)

One of the mantras of climate inactivism is that polar bears will simply adapt to climate change. The fact that this theory is usually advanced by people who question the reality of climate change and the utility of polar bears should give you some idea of how sincere it is.

At any rate, it looks as though polar bears are indeed adapting:
Scientists have noticed increasing reports of starving Arctic polar bears attacking and feeding on one another in recent years. In one documented 2004 incident in northern Alaska, a male bear broke into a female's den and killed her.
Starving bears will occasionally attack humans, too. The inactivist response is straightforward: if this is how polar bears are going to behave, why shouldn't they die out? The possibility that they might adapt to the loss of their natural prey and habitat means they shouldn't be protected; the fact that they try to adapt suggests that we're better off without them.

It's funny how the basic concepts of evolution inspire pious horror from social conservatives when they're taught in schools, and shouts of "amen!" when they're used to justify nudging some inconvenient species into extinction. The besetting sin of "Darwinism" is supposed to be its amorality; meanwhile, the idea that polar bears have value in themselves, either as created beings or as members of a fragile ecosystem that we don't fully understand, is cast aside as quasi-religious sentimentalism at best. They attack evolution as a justification of eugenics, and then embrace eugenics as a justification of economic and foreign policy. Like Jesus Christ, Social Darwinism must be martyred in order to triumph.

Curiously, it's the evolutionary viewpoint that tends to provide the moral seriousness here: you won't find too many biologists who contemplate the loss of large or small species without fear and trembling; their eye is on the sparrow, as the saying is. This, I suspect, is the only aspect of evolutionary science that right-wing ideologues truly view as "dangerous."

Read and Copy (by Phila)

Be it known:
The Bush administration has overturned a 22-year-old policy and now allows customs agents to seize, read and copy documents from travelers at airports and borders without suspicion of wrongdoing, civil rights lawyers in San Francisco said Tuesday in releasing records obtained in a lawsuit.
There's not much I can -- or should have to -- say about that. What I find really interesting here is the evolution of this practice.
[T]hose policies were first enacted by President Ronald Reagan's administration in 1986, in response to lawsuits by U.S. citizens who were questioned and searched after returning from Nicaragua. President Bill Clinton's administration refined the policies in 2000 but made no major changes, Sinnar said.
In other words, these policies had their origins in the political harassment of US citizens, at least some of whom were undoubtedly providing humanitarian aid to a country whose democratically elected government was under attack by the Reagan administration, on the grounds that it posed an existential threat (Nicaragua, you'll recall, was only "two days' driving time from Harlingen, Texas").

Clinton left the policies more or less intact. Now, Bush has expanded them. Previously, there had to be "reasonable" grounds for seizing and copying documents. Now, it's simply a matter of autocratic whim. This is a good example -- if we needed another -- of how Democratic administrations postpone, rather than reverse, the slide into authoritarianism. It's conceivable that Obama will reject these powers, and dismantle them. It's even more conceivable that he won't, which ought to (but probably won't) give conservatives pause for thought.

You can read the FOIA documents on these policies here.

Bitch magazine and the feminist press (by Skylanda)

Nearly ten summers ago, I was taking - of all things - a 101 level chemistry class at a junior college in San Francisco. I struck up a conversation with the gal on the lab bench across from me, and over some foggy lunches and breaks between cram sessions, we talked about all kinds things political and passionately personal. One day, she brought me a magazine and told me she thought I’d like it, should give it a read.

The magazine was Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture. I was intrigued. I read her two back issues cover to cover. I started buying it on the newsstands when my meager budget allowed. Though the rhetoric was familiar (and sometimes off-base, and sometimes trite…ya know, like any other publication out there), it put to print opinions that I’d had myself, thoughts that I should have had, and insights that I never would have come up with on my own.

I didn’t agree with every writer published in their pages, and one time I disagreed enough to fire off a snappy reply to the email address listed under the letters-to-the-editor section. One of the editors herself wrote me back and we proceeded to engage in five or six back-and-forth emails debating the topic at hand (which concerned - I kid you not - whether the infamous lesbian kiss on Ally McBeal was a step toward or away from adequate, accurate representation of lesbians on primetime). At the end of our exchange, though we animatedly disagreed, she told me she liked my style and asked if I would be interested in writing for them some time? And so Bitch magazine became the first media venue to ever put my name in print. In the intervening near-decade, I was a regular contributor until the demands of work put a crimp in my minimally-paid extra-curricular activities.

I bring this up now not to flash my somewhat dubious qualifications around now that echinde has given me a space as a regular contributor here, but because Bitch is going through a rough patch these days. There’s all the usual stressors on small independent press - low advertising revenues, the flailing fluctuations in income when one issue does not sell as well as the last, a markedly biased increase in postal rates for bulk mailers a few months back - and then there’s the stress of putting out a progressive, incisive feminist mag four times a year while maintaining the editorial cojones to turn down advertising not in line with the mission of the publication. On September 15th the editors ran a home-spun video to plead their case that if they didn’t come up with the cash flow to publish the next issue, the previous would be the last.

The outpouring from readers - new and established - in cash and subscriptions pushed them over their goal in just three days. The fairly spectacular feat of having gathered up some $55,000 in donations in the span of a few days - a few days that coincides with the virtual collapse of the nation’s banking industry and its reverberating effects at home - speaks volumes to the value that a large (and fairly poorly-funded) group of people place on independent press in an era of media consolidation.

Along with the plea for a cash infusion (hey, if the banking industry can call on the masses for a cash hit every so and again, why not a feminist press?), they also opened up threads to take suggestions on how best to proceed in the days ahead. Continue to rely on donations when sales are thin? Change over to an online-only format? Close the doors forever next time the cash flow closes in around them?

Many suggest the middle solution - quit the print business altogether, go to an online-only format to cut costs and maybe even save a few trees. Others decried the lost of yet another indie print magazine (check out the video for a litany of independent magazines that have left the shelves forever in the last year), arguing that online venues are dimes per dozens, and the print format lends a (literal) weightiness to the publication that would evaporate with an internet-only incarnation.

Not that I’m biased or anything, but I gotta agree with the latter. With the advent of teh internetz, it is easy to dismiss print publications as wasteful, needlessly expensive, passe. But the fact remains that this is critique is offered up - often unasked for - only for struggling, progressive indie press. You don’t hear Cosmo, Vogue, Seventeen, or The Economist pressured by readers to junk their newsstand editions for purely electronic versions.

But there’s more to it than that. Independent print media fills a necessary and irreplaceable niche that the internet cannot mimic. It gives corporeal form to the unique and rarely-published views - a form that sits on coffee tables, gets passed around dorms, gets picked up and read again a year later when you dig out the mess of papers accumulated on your desk and find a great issue you’d forgotten about. It plays in the world of the big boys - not the every-page-is-an-open-mike-night world of bloggery and chat rooms (not to dis my very fine host and her excellent blog!), but the world where things get translated on paper that lasts beyond the next crash of a server, or the next time the mag can’t pay the bills to their online host. Print and online media complement each other well, but it is inexcusable that print become the sole domain of the mainstream and the powerful - something that has become alarmingly possible as indie magazines have failed in droves these last couple of years.

And another thing: I suspect that I was not the only young, ambitious gal with a keyboard and a penchant for lengthy commentary on all matters practical and arcane that Bitch started out in the published world. Independent print venues offer openings and vital experience that pave the way for young (or otherwise burgeoning) writers with diverse views to get their name down, get some experience, find their confidence in the craft of the written voice. Without Bitch, I never would have learned the arts of the published word, things like respecting word limits, working with editors whose creative vision might not be identical to your own, and producing creative material under deadline (haha, I can hear the editors laughing, she hasn’t quite mastered that one yet!). I can’t imagine any other venue that would have put my name on feature-length articles on the faith in my skills gained solely from a few letters back and forth to the editor.

So Bitch has pulled through the financial grinder this time - the next issue will go to press on December 1st. But the long-time sustainability of one of the last standing grrlzines (which started as black-and-white, hand-folded photocopies) is still in question. If it’s a venue or a viewpoint that intrigues you - or one that you would like to see stay strong into the future - consider throwing them a couple dollars, or buying a subscription and seeing what they have to say in the coming months. It’s an investment well worth your dimes and dollars.

Cross-posted from my blog Loose Chicks Sink Ships.

From My Notebook by Anthony McCarthy

Just wanted to say that this is not most definitely NOT what I had in mind

When I said that faith in the social sciences didn’t provide the left with as firm a foundation as history and learning from experience I didn’t expect to read this a few days later:

Peter Michaelson: Think Economics is Bad -- Take a Look at Psychology

Just one example of modern psychology's disservice involves its marginalization of Sigmund Freud. He discovered that we all experience everyday situations through the dynamics of transference, projection, identification, displacement, defenses, and denial. These factors influence our capacity for self-regulation of behaviors and emotions, and also affect to what degree we're being rational or irrational. Thanks to modern psychology's refusal to accept the importance and the truth of these psychological tenets, only a small minority of Americans can see and understand the operations of these dynamics in themselves. This limits our intelligence and hinders our evolution.

Counting the eclipse of Freud and his more cockamamy ideas as a very positive development, I want to make it clear that I’d never advocate a return to that mythology. What it would do to women, lesbians and gay men alone would be a complete disaster. Two words, Woody Allen. Enough said.

Field Guide To Total Jerks: a series, perhaps.

1. People over the age of 12 who make “Kids on the short bus,” “jokes” are being total jerks. “Adults” who say those kinds of things are bigger jerks than teen jerks who might grow up someday.

The smug 30 something guy who said it yesterday within the hearing of a disabled child came about as close to getting my fist in his mouth as anyone has in forty years.

If The Republicans Use The Impending Collapse

as a political tool, Democrats in the House and Senate should put it in their laps and let the thing go. We can't give up the next four years anymore, we've been giving up terms of office to this kind of blackmail for too long. If McCain and his fellow political gamesters don't explicitly, publicly and loudly sign on, let them take the blame for the consequences.

Debate Commentary. Sort of

I watched the first presidential debate last night (it's after midnight as I type this), the one McCain almost canceled, the one he was supposed to be strongest in because of his foreign policy expertise. Those were the expectations, then: That McCain would have an easier time with this debate than the following ones but that he had been throwing odd temper tantrums all the preceding week and it wasn't quite clear what that meant for his preparedness.

The substance of the debates was not terrible, actually, because the questions were substantial. Obama's answers were considerably better on the economic questions, though both candidates failed to realize that anyone who proposes cutting public spending when a major depression looms should probably be hung and quartered, never mind that most people don't understand how important NOT to cut public spending is in such a situation. To give you a simple example: Suppose that we do get a major recession and that lots of people lose their jobs. Is that the time to cut back on unemployment benefits, hmh? And how would cutting back those benefits affect the ability of people to go on consuming that some other workers could keep their jobs longer?

On other economic questions Obama showed very good preparedness (including pointing out that the high U.S. corporate tax rates don't mean that U.S. firms pay unusually high taxes, rather the reverse, because of all those loop holes the tax laws have, many of them voted in by McCain). McCain was mostly into talking about earmarks, a problem for sure, but not one which is driving any of the evil engines in this economic crisis. So Obama won the economics section in substance.

Now who won the foreign policy section is something that I sort of missed, because I started watching all that other crap. Remember the 2004 debates? And the post-debate debates about who won? And how we were suddenly told that Bush did really well in them because he turned up and looked prezdential? Even though Kerry was much better prepared, he came across as boring.

So I tried to see how people might actually rate this debate on the prezdential measure, and to me that measure appears to be very much a silverback measure of aggression and putdowns and taking hold of the debate without actually grabbing the other guy's throat. And on those grounds I thought McCain did better: He interrupted more, he yelled more, he belittled Obama a lot, he used lots of soundbites which had little to do with the topic under discussion. That seemed to be how the winner was determined in 2004. That was how prezdential was determined then.

I'm happy to say that I seem to be wrong (at the time of writing this, anyway). The rules for deciding on how one wins these debates have changed (or I never got them right in the first place) and most Independents (the crucial focus market here) thought that Obama did better. I'm very glad to hear that, because he certainly was better on the substance in the questions I paid attention to. A lot better.

Friday, September 26, 2008

"The Hammer of God" (by Suzie)

       Looking for analysis of the debate, I stumbled upon an NYT review of this tour by Malleus, an Italian trio whose posters depict naked women as deviant and demons.
While obviously raising a collective middle finger to both the gallery system and such concerns as “the politics of representation and gender,” Malleus has such a facility with graphic styles and cultural references that it far transcends the usual limitations of commercial art.
       In other words, it's OK to make money off sexism if male critics like the art. I wonder what Capt. Hammer might say. 

Please Welcome

Skylanda! Many of you remember her excellent guest blogging series on various aspects of the health care system. I'm very happy to tell you that Skylanda will join Suzie, Phila, Anthony McCarthy and myself as a more regular feature on this blog. Well, as regular as her hectic work schedule allows. Be prepared for a post from her in the near future and other posts later on, usually towards the end of the week. Welcome, Skylanda!

This is also a good time for me to express my gratitude and appreciation of the rest of the gang: Suzie, Phila and Anthony McCarthy, all sharp and original thinkers, good writers and careful researchers. I'm truly blessed to have them write here, especially given what I pay them for it. Heh.

Caring for the underdog (by Suzie)

          At night, as my Chihuahua sleeps at my feet, I sometimes steal a peek at Chihuahuas on the Web. I came across this photo of LeClaire Bissell, M.D., a founding member of Chihuahua Rescue and Transport. She died last month.
          What a fascinating woman she was! She pushed for women's rights and LGBT rights. She pioneered the humane treatment of drug and alcohol addiction, especially among women. The Florida Commission on the Status of Women honored her, and she won the Elizabeth Blackwell Award for her contributions to women and medicine.  She rescued injured wildlife. And she was a big supporter of Democrats, including Hillary Clinton for president, according to donation reports. "Her answering machine said, 'If you’re a Democrat, you may leave a message.' ”
           Here's more from the Island Reporter: “I think the most extraordinary thing about LeClair was that she did things because they needed to be done,” said Kate Gooderham, who knew LeClair from the local National Women’s Political Caucus. “No limelight, no applause, no kudos — she saw a need and filled it. I really admired her dedication to her beliefs. She truly put her ‘time, her treasury and her talent’ into the things she cared about.” 
          May women like this inspire us all.

Bloggers vs. journalists (by Suzie)

           A friend sent me a 2006 review by Emily McMackin of the book “Infamous Scribbers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism” by Eric Burns.
Taking his title from George Washington, who complained during his presidency of being “buffeted in the public prints by a set of infamous scribblers,” Burns explores an era in which opinion ruled newspapers, and journalists didn’t hesitate to use crude language, baseless accusations or character attacks as weapons to make their cases.
          Sounds a lot like some bloggers and TV commentators today.
          It amuses me that journalists and bloggers snipe at each other because they have much in common. For starters, it’s not bloggers vs. the media. Any blogger who hopes to reach a lot of people is part of the mass media (but often not the MSM, or mainstream media.) There are a lot of journalists and former journalists, like me, who blog, and I’m sure some bloggers would be happy to be hired by the MSM. (I’m waiting to be hired by the FSM.)
         Speaking of hiring, one difference between bloggers and journalists is the latter generally works for someone else and gets paid, while most bloggers do not. As employees, journalists may go against their own judgment to do their boss’s bidding. Rarely would a boss say: “I hate this politician and I want you to go after her." Usually, it’s more along the lines of: You’re working on a story you think is really interesting, but the publisher hits a pothole, and so, you get pulled off your story to write something on potholes. Or, you’d like to spend months investigating a story, but your boss needs to fill the paper, and so, you spend your days on stuff you consider less important.
        The influence can be subtle. You may get praised for one story, but get criticized – or simply get less praise – for another story. Journalists who want to keep their jobs or get ahead look for ways to please their bosses. Some of these same influences affect bloggers. Bloggers may want to drive traffic to their sites. They may want to please their regular readers, other bloggers, people who might give them a job, their Aunt Bess, whomever. A guest blogger may want to please her host.
        Another difference between bloggers and journalists is that the latter get training specific to the profession. Some of us took journalism classes in college or got a degree in journalism. (I have the coveted BJ degree – a bachelor’s of journalism, not science or arts. And yes, there were jokes aplenty.) But many others did not get training in school; they got their training on the job, as do bloggers, for the most part.
        Some journalists have expertise in other areas, such as science or economics, but rarely can they match the expertise of a blogger who comes from that field. 
        Journalism has all sorts of rules and theory, from objectivity to direct quotation. But this information isn’t secret. Bloggers are welcome to learn, use or discard what they want.
       Journalists complain that bloggers make no attempt at fairness. But bloggers are similar to columnists, commentators, editorial writers and others in the MSM whose job is to express opinions. In return, bloggers complain about bias in journalism. Some biases are expected. If a commentator is supposed to provide a Republican viewpoint, you can expect him to be biased in that regard. If he's not hired to be biased against women, then there's a problem. To me, that's the bigger problem: people who think they're being fair, and are unaware of their biases. 
       In journalism, attempts at fairness often amount to quoting people with different opinions. As a character in Absence of Malice said: “You don't write the truth. You write what people say.” (Then bloggers comment on it.)
       Journalists complain about bad writing on blogs, and vice versa. Journalists complain about the lack of editing on blogs, but editing in journalism seems to be getting worse, as staffs shrink.
      Bloggers criticize journalists for acting like a pack and writing the same crap over and over, with little insight or investigation. Journalists say the same thing about bloggers. Actually, it’s a problem for all of us. Let’s say a newspaper publishes a story that is incorrect or distorted. The Associated Press spreads it throughout the MSM. Then a bunch of bloggers have at it. They ay cut through the B.S., or contribute to it.
       I think the best thing about blogs is the increase in ideas, opinions and experiences. In many ways, bloggers reflect the earlier days of newspapers before the rise of monopolies, corporate ownership and the myth of objectivity. People who might not otherwise be heard can now express themselves online.
         Nevertheless, people with time, money, education, writing skills, etc., are going to have an advantage. And, for some unknown reason, white male bloggers get a lot of attention.
         I discussed this on Magda’s Speak Freely radio blog, and she brought up crowdsourcing in journalism. This runs the gamut of a newspaper asking readers to submit their favorite cookie recipes to TPM asking readers to sift through government documents. As the MSM cuts staff, it seeks more information, writing and photography from people who don’t work for it. And some of those people are writing blogs.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Just wow:

In a panicked atmosphere and amid flaring tempers, Democrats and some Republicans announced before the White House meeting that they had the outline of an agreement, but GOP leaders refused to sign off on it. Liberal and conservative interest groups railed against the bailout, while business groups insisted that Congress pass the plan with all speed, warning that tight credit already is sharply slowing business activity.

At the White House, Republican leader John Boehner expressed misgivings about the plan, and McCain would not commit to supporting it, people from both parties who were briefed on the exchange told the Associated Press. In the Roosevelt Room after the session, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson literally bent down on one knee as he pleaded with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi not to withdraw her party's support for the package over what Pelosi derided as a Republican betrayal, according to the New York Times.

There is little doubt among economists that a recession has begun. The question is how deep and long it will be, and that depends on whether the bailout plan, if it passes Congress, works. Another possibility is a long stagnation like Japan's "lost decade" of the 1990s, which followed a similar real estate market collapse in that country.

Either way, the nation faces what Berkeley economist Barry Eichengreen, an expert in financial panics, calls unavoidable consequences.

These could include big budget deficits, higher taxes to service that debt, higher interest rates and more-strictly regulated banks that will lend more cautiously. "We've had a decade of relatively successful economic growth and have been living beyond our means," Eichengreen said. "Now we'll have a decade of the opposite. It's payback time."

Maybe credit markets would recover on their own, as some believe, or maybe they wouldn't. But few in Washington really want to find out.

On the other hand, few in Washington want to be the ones who authorized the bailout, especially on their own. Remember that the people who gave us the initial rude draft proposal are from the Bush administration. Now the Republicans in the House pretend to have nothing to do with those people.

Here's another story about the same events.

Deep Thought For The Day - Again

When what you really want is a huge slice of a cake aptly named "Chocolate Orgasm" a tiny bowl of fat-free yogurt with fresh blueberries Will. Not. Do.

Caribou Ken

If Sarah Palin was a male governor from Alaska, do you think that she would be treated the same way she has? Would this imaginary Sam Palin be taken to task for his ignorance on foreign politics (coughGiulianicough) or for his weird fundie ideas (coughHuckabeecough)? Would Sam Palin be called Caribou Ken after the penisless boyfriend of the Barbie doll?

These are not comfortable questions for a liberal goddess to ask, especially given Palin's bad platform and the way she is being used by McCain for nefarious ends. Indeed, both the Democratic presidential primaries and the presidential campaigns have been unpleasant moments for me, because I had underestimated the amount of free-wheeling and jokey sexism that still prevails in this country and because I see the term "sexism" itself cheapened and mutating into something that has no meaning at all.

So who are we to thank for these odd gifts, us feminists? There's lots of thanks to go around, layers and layers of sexism, if you wish, and it's extremely difficult to look at the mess and point a finger at one point to say: "There!" Extremely difficult and also frightening, because my attempts to follow the chains lead me to point my finger at all sorts of people I otherwise value. Including some feminists.

Sigh. This is not a pleasant writing assignment.

Let's start from today and Sarah Palin. She is a woman, the governor of Alaska, an ex-beauty queen and a very right-wing Republican who likes to hunt and wants Alaska turned into a gigantic oil refinery. There are many reasons why McCain might have wanted to have her as his vice-presidential candidate, including the fact that McCain is sorta boring and Obama is not, but the major reasons she was picked was a) to satisfy the right-wing base of the party (which does not love McCain) and to take advantage of the lack of women in the final Democratic ticket. Had Obama picked a female vice-presidential candidate McCain would probably not have done so. I understand the political games being played here, including the idea that McCain can pick up votes from women who wanted to see a female vice-presidential candidate.

Was McCain's choice a sexist one? What does "sexism" mean in this context? If it means that he might think of women as all the same and that any one woman could be picked for his ticket to appeal to that mass of womanhood, yes, I think that his choice was sexist. I doubt that the imaginary Sam Palin would have been on McCain's ticket.

If, on the other hand, "sexism" means something like the assumption that no woman can ever rule over men then McCain is obviously not sexist.

Let's remove one layer from this argument and ask a slightly different question: Did McCain want to benefit from the societal sexism with his vice-presidential choice? Here the answer must be a resounding YES. Oh, yes. Imagine the riches of that choice! It's really quite masterful, the pun intended. The choice offers liberals and progressives a very narrow space in which to attack Palin without attacking her on grounds which will uncomfortably echo in many women's minds as something they, too, have experienced in their own lives.

As an example, take the argument that Palin is unqualified to be the vice-president. She may well be unqualified, depending on the terms one uses to define the necessary qualifications. But then "unqualified" is the usual excuse women get when they don't get promoted or when they don't get a raise. If a firm is accused of sex discrimination what do you think they use as their defense? The woman was unqualified or a bad worker. Yet McCain chose someone who cannot be allowed to give interviews because she is not ready to give them yet.

That's a double-whammy, my friends. If Palin succeeds in getting McCain elected, great. If Palin fails to get McCain elected, all the Republican anti-woman people can point out how terrible the idea of picking (randomly picking, mind you) a woman in the first place was. And all the time the liberals and progressives and feminists, even, are hammering away at Palin as unqualified, as a bad mother and so on.

It's enough to drive a goddess to drink. Then add to that the idea of Palin as MILF (a mother I'd like to fuck). The idea is to pick a woman partly on her looks because it might give McCain the votes of men who think through that narrow head only and because the idea to have a pretty woman in the office is not uncommon among the old school sexists. Well, all that is sexist, true.

But so is the response to that trick from the other side of the political aisle. Too many progressives and liberals think that talking about Palin's body is the way to attack the Republican ticket. Yet, once again, many women have had their bodies loudly discussed while walking down the street and even poked by those assessors of female charms. Sometimes those experiences are scary enough to create triggers which can later be pressed by the lightest of sexist jokes...

The bottom layer in all these layers of sexism is naturally based on actual societal sexism. Sarah Palin is only the second female vice-presidential candidate in the United States and anything that is being said about her will be filtered through that fact, whether intended or not. Hence the possible damage to all women when she is kept hidden from the press (women are easily-wilted flowers even when they kill wolves from helicopters) and the often expressed idea in the media that Biden must treat her with kid gloves lest he be accused of sexism. But of course the reverse options would offer equal scope for sexist interpretations.

Now do you see why I hate writing about this particular topic?

The New Bailout Deal

All bipartisan! Love it. Here's the gist of the changes from the initial monster draft:

Those principles will include improved oversight of the program, as well as a plan to phase in the $700 billion investment in stages, while still assuring the administration a virtual free hand for at least the first $350 billion.

There is a greater emphasis on efforts not just to relieve Wall Street firms of their bad debts but also to help homeowners threatened by foreclosure. Companies that benefit from the plan would be expected to limit pay and severance packages for their executives, and community banks are expected to benefit from a new $3 billion tax break as a result of their stock losses in the government takeover of the two mortgage finance giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

So it's not as bad as the first kidnappers' demand. They only get half of what they asked for with no strings attached and they have to work a little harder to hide the golden parachutes for their CEOs. And to throw out a few crumbs to the homeowners who are going to lose their houses.

But on the whole the deal worked very nicely for the financial markets. Yes, I know that I should write about how great it is that the deal was changed at all, and it probably was because ordinary people of all stripes said very clearly and loudly that they would not be mugged by highway robbers, even if the latter wore Prada. So take that as written. I'm not ready to make nice.

Price Discovery

This is fun stuff. Paul Krugman writes on his blog about the newest reason for the suggested bailout: Price Discovery:

A sneaking suspicion

So now the whole rationale for the plan is "price discovery": we're going to throw lots of taxpayer funds into the pot because that will let us find the true values of troubled assets, which are higher than the fire sale prices out there, and so balance sheet will improve, confidence will return, etc, etc..

So I just did a Nexis search trying to find out when Paulson and Bernanke started talking about price discovery, which we're now told are at the core of the plan's logic. And the answer is …


I can't find any use of the term, or even a hint of the argument, until yesterday's Senate hearings.

One possible explanation. It wasn't until yesterday that they realized that it would actually be necessary to explain themselves.

High finances are not my field of expertise, so I may be very wrong about all this, but I thought the markets are all about values as set by the markets, not by some horrible government bureaucrat. So it looks like the plan was to pay more for the assets than they are currently worth. We'd be the ones paying that "more."

Do read the rest of Krugman's post. Heh.

Out Of Touch

I turned the radio on and happened to catch the exhortations of a past CEO of General Electric. He was so very adamant! We must save the markets now! Before it is too late! And never mind all that other stuff! Main Street (the ordinary chumps) has been in bed with Wall Street (the rich) for centuries and the sexually transmitted diseases are shared. So there! Pay up, chumps.

That's my translation of what he said. But how very out-of-touch the rich are with the rest of us. Humility is not a concept that is in fashion among the rich, I guess.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

And Here Is David Letterman

On McCain canceling his appearance at Letterman's show because of the financial markets crashing. There's a video n all. (Including some rather nasty sexism and ageism; one of the lovely gifts of the 2008 presidential campaigns.)

Not sure how canceling the first presidential debate (which McCain also wants to do) or the campaign or hiding your vice-presidential candidate is helpful for the management of the financial crisis, because McCain is not exactly an economics genius (as he himself has admitted). The financial gnomes can work on the crisis while McCain does other stuff. Well, they could if the will to work was there.

Today's Immensely Deep Thought

In fact, some of the most basic details, including the $700 billion figure Treasury would use to buy up bad debt, are fuzzy.

"It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number."


Once Upon A Time: Free Market Fairy Tales

Once upon a time all markets were unregulated and we lived in paradise. Any dairy farmer could sell you milk without horrible government regulations. If the milk had some water added to it, well, the farmer needed to make a living, and watered milk went much further. So did flour with sand added to it to make it heavier when the price for flour was by pound. And of course the scales the sellers used to weigh their products were their scales.

Now why did I call all this a paradise? Because there were very few markets in those days, most people grew what they ate on their own land, and those who did not learned over time to tell the honest farmers from the dishonest ones and the latter couldn't make a living from adulterated produce for very long. Their names were known to everybody and people soon learned not to buy from strangers who passed through the villages on market days.

Or perhaps I called it a paradise because the people got together pretty fast and decided that unregulated markets were not a very good thing, after all, that at least the scales used for measuring should be provided by some unbiased party, that their accuracy should be measured and maintained, and that those who watered the milk they sold or added sand to the flour they sold should then be tarred and feathered themselves?

So it goes. Over time the nature of markets changed, but those early lessons about the dangers of completely unregulated markets were not totally forgotten, and when they were deaths here and there reminded us of the need for some oversight and some rules. Indeed, it was pretty obvious to most thinking people that the widening distance between the seller and the buyer and the increasing complexity of the products that were being traded required regulation and oversight more than ye-olde-worlde village market days. The latter had more information about the sellers, the buyers and the products, after all, and less scope for a truly callous criminal to harm people.

Such a nice and soothing fairy tale I'm telling here. Boring enough to put you all to sleep. Sadly, such boringness was not to be for ever. One day the forces of free market capitalism rose up again, full of injured fury over the lost opportunities that millstone of regulations around their necks had caused, and this time people HAD forgotten about the reasons for oversight and rules. Or enough people had forgotten about them, because the rules and oversight had worked to make the markets relatively safe places to trade in.

So here they ride to war, the free marketeers. It is about thirty years ago, and you can read about the reasons for markets to be free, everywhere. Chile, Argentina and so on, all are going to be saved from the evil grasp of the government. Later Ronald Reagan rises as the leader of the troops, so fatherly and handsome, ready to squash the evil government before it has had time to "help" you. And Americans listen to him and look around and don't see adulterated pet food or fish with mercury or any other great hazard to their daily lives and they decide that Reagan is right. Who needs a disgusting government, anyway?

Not the financial markets, that's for sure. They're the ones who are taking all the big risks and they deserve the rewards, too. Time for some personal responsibility, my friends! Time for an ownership economy!

What comes next? The Bubble Eras, my charming and discerning readers. First the high tech bubble, then the housing bubble and the war bubble. They were like soap bubbles, so beautiful and iridescent in the affluent and calm sunlight of the nineties. No government dared to breathe too hard on them, of course, because they would burst and the trick was to make them burst only with the next administration. But the markets were mostly free! Just for you and me! Mmm.

And here we are again: Once upon a time (now) the markets are free and unregulated again, luxuriating in all that space to make things better for one and for all. Sure, infant formulas have melamine in them in China (because melamine registers as nitrogen in measuring devices and nitrogen is used as a cheaper proxy measure of protein and infant formulas must have protein to give a good price for the makers). Sure, the financial markets are largely trading in the big shitpile. Sure, various food items recently on the markets gave people salmonella or killed pets. But all that is just an obvious and necessary by-product of the important jobs unregulated markets do. Besides, don't the markets self-correct once enough deaths take place? They do.

So what is the moral of this little fairy tale?

Rep. Marcy Kaptur Gets It

Via Avedon at Eschaton. Make sure to watch Kaptur's proposal at the end:

Two comments of mine: First, cast your minds back to the time when the bankruptcy reform bill was debated. Isn't it interesting how differently people in financial trouble are treated when they are rich? Second, we need a real and unbiased discussion about what needs to be done and when. I believe that something will have to be done now that the financial markets have been allowed to grow so large that their demise will tear through all our safety nets, but that something is not what we have been told so far by the Bush administration.

Snake-Eye Observations

1. How I feel about what I write (its importance or how much it took out of me to write or the passion I felt) and how the writing itself then lives or not after its birth seem to have no real relationship with each other. Frequently some throw-away comment turns out to be important and equally frequently something I've slaved over for days drops like a stone into a sullen pond. It's very weird and of no interest to anyone but another blogger, probably. Still, I probably should have written about the importance of female role-models in more explicit terms than I did in that polling post below.

2. The American system of political campaigns hones and sharpens the candidates, true, but only into being good campaigners. That has nothing to do with how well they later govern as we have learned during the last eight years. And so much of that system is truly laughable: Consider the comment I recently heard that Palin will do fine in the debates because expectations about her are low. So if one student in a college class is expected to fail but manages to pull C-level work in a test and another student is expected to get an A and does that, we are now to decide that the student with the C is the best in the class?

3. If it indeed is true that people don't vote on the basis of issues but on the basis of how they'd like a candidate in bed or by the bar counter or at the barbeque, well, I'm afraid that democracy then doesn't have quite the advantages it has been assumed to have. Or rather, we should select a double set of presidents, one for the looks and feel-good stuff and another for the actual work. The latter person could even be smart!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

From My Tinfoil Helmet Files

Some of you have asked what makes the financial crisis a "crisis" and why is it so important to react to it RIGHTNOW, and those really are very good questions. The crisis has been brewing for some time and will go on for some time longer, so picking any particular point as the time when all the old-white-guy bankers are dusted out and brought to enunciate on the seriousness of the situation is intriguing.

I wouldn't be surprised if this is the real reason for the crisis: Only few weeks are left for the market to benefit from the realm of the current president, George Bush, and there is still money in the government coffers (or at least unfilled IOU slips). So it's urgent to get in if you want to scavenge on this corpse of the United States of America.

That may be tinfoilery or it may just be the truth.

I've been listening to mainstream news organizations on the financial crisis today (while gouging out rot from a post on my porch; suggestions for fixing the post without replacing it most welcome), and the other side has my full admiration: They are all organized, with people sent to every single studio to tell us how this is not the time to feel envious of the golden parachutes or to worry about ethics because while we do that the SKYISFALLING!

Thank goddess for Paul Krugman, because without him our side would not get much of a hearing. Too bad we can't clone him.

P.S. For those who are being told that the crisis was the fault of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, read this.
P.P.S. This is fun, too:

One of the giant mortgage companies at the heart of the credit crisis paid $15,000 a month from the end of 2005 through last month to a firm owned by Senator John McCain's campaign manager, according to two people with direct knowledge of the arrangement.

The disclosure undercuts a statement by Mr. McCain on Sunday night that the campaign manager, Rick Davis, had had no involvement with the company for the last several years.

*whistles nonchalantly*

Women Being Polled!

Wow. This newish poll, called "Every Woman Counts", by Lifetime, asks women about their opinions on the two presidential candidates and their running mates. Picking Sarah Palin helped McCain among women:

Understanding Women and What is Most Important to Them: In Lifetime's late July Every Woman Counts poll, Barack Obama handily beat John McCain 52% to 18% with 11% volunteering "neither" to this question. Just six weeks later, and with the addition of Sarah Palin to the Republican ticket, McCain/Palin has dramatically reversed those fortunes, now in a virtual tie with Obama/Biden, 44%-42%.

What's really interesting about that quote is the July results. Note how the Democrats can put up a guy against a Republican guy and still lead by 30 points in how well the campaigns understand women's issues. If I was a Republican strategist I'd do some very serious self-analysis there, though of course all Republican strategists now think that the trick is just to put a really fundie chick on the ticket as the vice.

There is a different reading of the impact Palin has had, and that's the reading many feminists avoided making during the primaries: Appearances do matter.

That's not meant to imply that any woman, however inexperienced and unskilled is OK to nominate because then all stupid women will rush to vote for any old sexist. That's not the kind of appearances I'm talking about, but the other kind, the kind which points out that there has never been a female vice president in this country, that very few faces in the positions of power look like the faces women see in their mirrors early in the morning while harriedly combing their hair right before taking the kids to daycare or school before dashing off to that dead-end pink-collar job. For women like this Palin is a breath of fresh air.

Of course most of them don't know what Palin really stands for, that she wouldn't allow abortion even in the case of rape, that she's really all fundie and no feminism, that she would not help the lives of those women at that mirror to become easier at all, rather the reverse, what with the Supreme Court appointments she might make if McCain was elected and then died or became incapacitated. But she looks a little like lots of women in this country, and that does matter, you know, on a deeply psychological level. It's hard not to think that someone like that would not see things the way you do, that she wouldn't be fighting for you. She wouldn't, of course, alas.

Reading the New York Times Boyz

Paul Krugman has a good column on the Paulson proposal, called "Cash for Trash."

David Brooks has a funny column about the coming new era of the benevolent old-white-guy dictators in the government, the ones who are going to save us and our money. He just loves the idea of unelected dictators of that type and pines back to the olden times:

Once, there was a financial elite in this country. During the first two-thirds of the 20th century, middle-aged men with names like Mellon and McCloy led Wall Street firms, corporate boards and white-shoe law firms and occasionally emerged to serve in government.


So we have arrived at one of those moments. The global financial turmoil has pulled nearly everybody out of their normal ideological categories. The pressure of reality has compelled new thinking about the relationship between government and the economy. And lo and behold, a new center and a new establishment is emerging.

The Paulson rescue plan is one chapter. But there will be others. Over the next few years, the U.S. will have to climb out from under mountainous piles of debt. Many predict a long, gray recession. The country will not turn to free-market supply-siders. Nor will it turn to left-wing populists. It will turn to the safe heads from the investment banks. For Republicans, people like Paulson. For Democrats, the guiding lights will be those establishment figures who advised Barack Obama last week — including Volcker, Robert Rubin and Warren Buffett.

Just beautiful. I especially enjoyed that "it will turn to the safe heads from the investment banks." So funny, so very funny.

The whole column is most interesting to read, because Brooks seems to be re-branding himself as someone who can write from both sides of his mouth and because of those unintentional glimpses into his desires for a safe daddy lap.

Did Brooks ever strike you as someone who wants to dum down America? I could never quite understand my visceral dislike of his writings and blamed most of that on Brooks' often-expressed contempt towards women as a species, but now I think I might also hate his strenuous attempts at making stupidity seem worth striving to.

Monday, September 22, 2008

And Just For The Fun Of It

You can watch this old interview with Phil Gramm, one of the great geniuses behind our current financial problems. Atrios very aptly calls these problems "the shitpile."

Better Proposals

The Republican draft for the Great Bailout appears to have spawned a reaction from the Democrats with some better ideas:

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank said lawmakers and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson narrowed their differences on a $700 billion plan to buy bad investments and they agreed the U.S. should get equity in the participating companies.

Lawmakers ``made it clear'' the U.S. should get stock warrants ``so that if the company becomes profitable, we get more than the general share for taking these risks,'' Frank told reporters today in Washington. Paulson agreed as both sides narrowed differences over the plan, Frank said on Bloomberg Television.


Frank and Dodd have proposed changes that include strengthening foreclosure-prevention efforts, curbing executive pay for companies that need the U.S. to buy their assets and expanding oversight of the Treasury program. Paulson has opposed limits on executive pay, Frank said in the television interview.

The Treasury proposal gave Paulson ``much too much authority,'' Frank said. ``We have restored the notion of judicial review and accountability.''

"Too much authority" means total and complete and utter authority. I'm not sure why people don't call it what it was. A New York Times article on the initial draft also avoids pointing out the simple facts that we would have made Paulson a dictator in his realm if we had gone along the initial draft:

Both presidential nominees, who face the prospect of inheriting an enormous new program, said there had to be more oversight of the Treasury Department than the Bush administration had proposed.

The Bush administration had proposed ZERO oversight. Let's not forget that.

Still, I'm glad to see some real progress happening. Or I hope that it's real progress. One part of me thinks that the draft had those totally unacceptable bits about no laws allowed for the very reason that people would get up in arms about them and then any compromise would seem like a victory, while in reality the industry and its cronies got exactly what they wanted. The Republicans play that game a lot.

Boiling Angry

As you may have noticed I have a slight anger problem right now. I don't quite have the energy to make my anger smash through all this crap and to fix things, but I have plenty enough anger to turn my eyes into laser weapons which melt, burn or shrivel everything they touch.

Anger is an emotion, of course, and it's only at our peril that we ignore the messages of our emotions or emotions themselves. There are whole books written or to be written about how emotions are being manipulated, how certain emotions are bad for you and how certain emotions are culturally unimportant (especially all girly emotions such as love or pity or empathy or compassion). Anger is not one of those despicable emotions, true, probably because it's viewed as a manly virtue or vice, and as long as you don't get a heart attack from your anger you're all good to go. At least to Wall Street where anger will be called benign aggression and where it will net you billions, if you are angry enough, I guess. All those big teeth...

It's always worth studying our own strong emotions (though not necessarily when they happen), and I did do one of those all-systems checks when I first started feeling that crystal-clear razor-sharp yet red-burning anger over the initial draft for bailing out the financial markets. Am I angry about something completely different, really? No. Am I angry about the mindless gods of greed and stupidity? A little. Am I angry at having to pay more taxes for this while not getting any of the benefits? A little.

None of this explained the level of my anger or the way it feels extremely purified. The real reason for that rare type of anger was elsewhere: Something very fundamental to me was being threatened, one of my non-negotiable values was endangered. The very idea of democracy and the government of the people by the people was treated as a farce in a three-page draft which included the proposal to erect a minor god (whom nobody may criticize or oversee) to spend our money for us in ways which we would not be told about to benefit whomever that minor god wanted to benefit without any negative repercussions whatsoever. And in all this one of the big stumbling stones had to do with how many billions the culprits of the crisis could get to take home to the Cayman Islands. Because it was still those guys who had all the power and if we (the schmucks) didn't like this situation, well, wait and see how much worse they could make it for us.

That's where the nest of my anger was, though it was also fattened and feathered by the odd upside-down ethical principles the deal employed, where the culprits got saved and the innocent got bashed and the screens behind which all this took place.

I always get angry at unfairness, I guess, and at the end of democracy as we know it. Well, not always . My anger seems to need fairly concrete triggers to truly flare up. I can be intellectually angry at the loss of our civil liberties but to hammer home the level of contempt this administration has for us required this particular example for me. I'm not proud of that, by the way.

The reason for all this navel-gazing is that I suspect many of you have similar anger feelings, perhaps even caused by similar reasoning, and you might want to take care of yourselves while the anger burns bright. It's a powerful feeling, and powerful feelings are exhausting to the body and the mind, unless given the space and the movement they need, unless steered into the right direction and allowed to exit in a natural way.

Writing and calling your Congress critters is excellent for this anger work. Writing newspapers and political organizations is also excellent. Sending money to organizations which fight for your values is great if you can afford it. Talking about the issues can help if you pick the others carefully. Standing up for what you believe in is what the anger is meant for, I think.

If you still find too much unfocused anger use it to do physical chores which you have postponed. Focus on letting the anger leave as energy (just letting it, no forcing). Go for brisk walks or a run or dance to some very lively music. Last but not least, breathe. Especially exhale.

Gallows Humor

Here ya go:

US President George W. Bush on Monday warned lawmakers wary of his 700-billion-dollar debt bailout scheme that "failure to act would have broad consequences" for the battered US economy

Meanwhile, in other news:

Bush's overall approval rating fell to 19 percent, from 30 percent last month, with 76 percent disapproving.

The "battered economy" and the approval ratings of the guy who prepared the batter are not unrelated. I do feel as if we are Chinese dumplings ready to be dropped into the sizzling oil.

On Financial Executives' Compensation Packages

The Wall Street banksters want to keep the very large executive compensation packages. Remember the Lehman Brothers and how the firm disappeared last week? Do you know what happened to its executives? This:

Last week Barclays paid $1.75 billion to buy Lehman's North American investment banking and capital markets business. It emerged over the weekend that Barclays had agreed to pay $2.5 billion in bonuses to Lehman bankers in the United States in a move that has angered stricken staff in London.

Two and a half billion in bonuses, for the people who were running the firm when it exploded. Isn't that something? Did the secretaries and janitors get anything?

What is the rationale behind the financial executives needing as much money as some small countries have in their budgets?

The usual one is this: Really smart and clever financial managers are an incredibly rare talent. In fact, there are so few of them that all the firms are bidding for the same few individuals and the only way to get a really good executive is by buying him (it's almost always "him") for billions and billions. Otherwise the firms will end up having to hire some ordinary schmuck with just a few PhDs and a few decades' experience and that would never do.

This rationale has been employed for quite a while. So what did the industry get for the high executive compensation? The crashing market, it seems to me. IF this particular talent that created the crash really is so very rare we can all thank our chosen divinity for its rarity.

In short, this is all utter crap.

Long-Term Cures

The financial markets are like a patient who keeps turning up at the ER, waiting to be patched and to be sent back to the streets to do whatever made that person so sick in the first place. Yes, the patch-up is necessary, but it will not be enough. This patient also needs long-term medication and behavioral changes. If those are not instituted we will just end up in this very same situation again and again until the final crash kills the market.

From another point of view, the real illness in the financial markets may be diagnosed as greed-induced lack of trust. To cure this illness we need to return trust and harness greed within some suitable limits. Here are my very simple and basic suggestions about how to achieve this.

First, create proper regulations for the financial markets. The free-marketeers have been telling us for decades that regulations are evil, that they suffocate the adventurous and creative spirit of the markets and that they shouldn't be enforced. And the government listened and stored these words in its heart (if it has one) and Phil Gramm made sure that the regulations no longer stifled anyone. Then of course a market which deals in fortune-telling and guesses and imperfect information and leveraging and pure adrenalin went crazy. Imagine, for a moment, what a baseball game would look like if the umpires were not allowed to say anything at all, and imagine then how the game would change ( would there be hired killers to shoot the pitchers of the other team?) and you can see why the stock market needs regulations (rules) and regulators (umpires). Of course, the stock markets matter much more than baseball games, but you get the point.

Second, stop ignoring the anti-trust regulations. Stop letting one fish eat up all the other fish, stop that enormous bubble-fish taking over the whole market. There are several reasons for enforcing the anti-trust rules which we still have in the books. They range from the nastiness of having just one firm to buy from and the power this gives to that one firm to charge a lot to the present crisis where some firms are so large that we have to bail them out even when they don't deserve such a bailout at all. There are many different economic models, true, but none of them advocate monopolies or oligopolies in all the crucial industries, yet that's the way the Republicans have steered the markets.

Third, make sure that the bailing out doesn't reward those who are major culprits in causing the crisis. Make sure that the authors of the crisis get full credit for it (Phil Gramm, I'm looking at you), that all those conservative thinkers who created it get forever remembered for creating it.

It will not be possible to fix the crisis in a fair way, a way which would not punish the innocent or reward the guilty, and neither will it be possible to fix it without a lot of pain. But at least we can use the opportunity to make sure that future crises will take longer than a few decades to appear and we can make sure that those who advocated the relaxing of all the protective rules and regulations get that reputation eternally attached to their names. Why? Not only because of the sweetness of revenge. The main reason for that is something called "learning from experience" or just "learning", and if we let others obfuscate the real causes of the crisis we are not going to learn what is necessary.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Hour of Development (by Phila)

The Billings Gazette strikes a blow for Historical Perspective with an account of the discovery of the Alberta tar sands:
A hundred years later, in 1889, the chronicler of a government expedition to the region remarked prophetically: "That this region is stored with a substance of great economic value is beyond all doubt, and, when the hour of development comes, it will, I believe, prove to be one of the wonders of northern Canada."
The point of the article, as far as I can tell, is to inform us that whereas people formely didn't know what to do with tar sands, they're now extracting (low-grade) oil from them (at a staggering cost). Thus does humanity move from barbarism to enlightenment.

The best thing about the article is that it's neutral. You won't find any mention here of the industry's staggering water and natural gas usage, nor of its huge toxic tailings ponds, nor of its massive subsidies, nor of its outsized CO2 emissions, nor of the strain it puts on local infrastructure. Instead, it sticks to the cold hard facts: there's oil, of a sort, in them thar tar sands, and we intend to get at it, especially now that real oil has become so expensive.

In the real world, things aren't quite so straightforward. First off, the dismal credit market seems to be hobbling the industry:
Until recently, banks and other investors have been eagerly pouring their dollars into Alberta's vast oil sands, the world's second-biggest reserves behind Saudi Arabia's trove....

"There's a whole mix of projects - some of them candidly wouldn't make it even with a very high oil price," said Peter Tertzakian, chief energy economist at ARC Financial, a Calgary-based private-equity firm. "The cost of capital going up combined with the price of oil going down makes it more likely that already weak supply expectations (for non-Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) aren't going to be met. Is this going to be a problem? Yes."
At the same time, the costs of extraction are skyrocketing:
Petro-Canada, the country's second largest refiner, estimated costs to develop its Fort Hills oil- sands project in Alberta, Canada, have increased by 50 percent since a memorandum in June 2007.
With that in mind, here's Mark Hoskins, senior partner at investment advisors Holden & Partners, on a new report that attempts to quantify the financial risks of investment in tar sands:
The recent banking crisis has shown how the financial markets can totally misjudge both the risks and values inherent in company balance sheets. Oil companies depend on oil reserves for their market values. BP and Shell are two of our most trusted UK stocks, but it is a shocking fact that 30% of Shell's oil reserves are in tar sands.
Obligatory election-related note: Just before she was selected as McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin awarded TransCanada PipeLines Ltd. a license to build a 1,715-mile natural gas pipeline from Alaska to Alberta, along with $500 million in taxpayer-provided seed money (which I'm sure they're happy to get, given their troubles with Lehman Bros.).

Deep Thought For The Day

We are all banksters* now, partly courtesy of this guy:

Though without any other power than that of check writing.
No corner office, no gently braised nightingales' tongues in mellow port wine, no multiple houses, no oversight powers. But we do have the responsibility to write checks.
*I saw this term on Eschaton, I think. It's very delicious.

A Satisfactory Class of Residents (by Phila)

Whatever woes we may be facing here in America, we can rest easier knowing that home values in Baghdad are going up, thanks to sectarian strife:
[T]he motives behind many real estate deals cast a shadow over efforts to reconcile Shi'ites and Sunni Arabs, whose desire to live in exclusive sectarian enclaves is a major driver behind the resurgent property market, realtors say.

Now, for example, Shi'ites who fled the Baghdad district of Karkh want to live with their co-religionists in Rusafa, one realtor said. Given that Rusafa is roughly half the size of Karkh, property prices there have risen with demand.
Maybe we can learn something from these bitter, angry people. Granted, there's a glut of homes on the market right now, but perhaps we could solve that problem by making them more...exclusive.

Ron Paul's followers have shown the way by building Paulville, a gated community "containing 100% Ron Paul supporters," as well as "people that live by the ideals of freedom and liberty" (and therefore wish to isolate themselves geographically from all heterodoxy and dissent). Why not explicitly rebrand some of our moribund developments as refuges for bowhunters, young-earth creationists, fans of Insane Clown Posse, believers in men's rights, Obamabots, McCainiacs, or what have you? Developers could let people live in these little fiefdoms for little or no cost, initially — which would help to empty out our tent cities — and put them to work building walls, digging moats, and manning barricades, which would increase exclusivity and, logically, property values.

Skeptics should be aware that this idea has a good track record right here in the USA. After the Panic of 1893, the market for suburban real estate all but dried up. A visionary investment house bucked this trend by building a residential development called Roland Park outside Baltimore, on which they imposed firm but fair restrictive covenants that ensured "a satisfactory class of residents" (to the consternation of "a Jew named Walters," among other prospective buyers). Thanks to this exclusivity, as Robert M. Fogelson explains in his book Bourgeois Nightmares: Suburbia, 1870-1930, "the Roland Park Company weathered a financial panic, a chronic dearth of capital, and a sluggish real estate market."

A new era of racially, religiously, sexually, and politically restrictive covenants could be just the shot in the arm this country needs. Divided, we will stand!

Before Going Back To The Campaign by Anthony McCarthy

I have myself quite cheerfully been both a country-music fan and a feminist for years – if Camille Paglia is the cosmos, so am I. When some fellow feminist doesn’t like my music (How could you not like “You are just another sticky wheel on the grocery cart of life”?), I have always felt free to say, in my politically correct feminist fashion, “Fuck off.”
Molly Ivins, I Am The Cosmos; Mother Jones, October 1991

The ways that smart people think that get them into trouble has always been interesting to me. Being politically on the far left of the scale, the political aspects of that have been the major focus of my writing. It’s not the ideals or even much of the analysis of the left that are wrong, as this weeks collapse of the financial fairy tale castle again proves. So the failure to convince an effective majority of the population isn’t due to just being wrong. Our agenda is democratic, egalitarian, promotes the common good and saves the biological basis of life. That of our political opponents does the opposite.

It being essential to save our species and almost certainly life on our planet, our political success, the left, actually taking power and making laws and policy and CHANGING the ways we defeat ourselves, is the most important issue there is. A good part of our problem is that pretending is often easier and more pleasant than facing the unpleasant truth. But the truth will out in the end. We are at the time of reckoning in every way. Taking your own advice is a way to foster confidence that you might be on to something. So the left should face the facts of its past failure too.
It was through trying to figure out that problem that the inadequacy of how we look at the world came to assume a greater importance. A faith in the efficaciousness of the behavioral and social sciences and the melding of those with genetics is endemic to the left. I’d guess that those have largely replaced liberal religion, Marxist theory, and even basic liberal civics in a large part of how leftists back up their ideas. George Lakoff’s present influence is symptomatic of that faith. Looking at it in as generous a light as possible shows mixed or inconclusive results. The scientifically vetted and clearly meat-headed “General Betryaus” idea was no rip roaring success. I don’t think the results flowing from that sector have been very useful politically. They haven’t led to our having a better chance of winning elections.

The latter day successors of social Darwinism not only do that, they knock the legs out from under the basic agenda of the left. We can’t be right about even the possibility of democracy and equality if any form of biological determinism is true. When you look at their absurd research methods and the amount of myth you have to swallow whole to believe they’re right tends to leaving them behind and wading into life without the leaden life preserver of their dogmas. I’ve tried to bring up instances when determinism has been politically important to what happens and the inevitable disasters that result. Democratic politics is all about results, making things better. Nothing that doesn’t have that result is politically valid.

The predictable responses of the fans of Dawkins et al has been that they are politically liberal. I’m not entirely sold on their liberalism but, as I’ve said about some leftists, they can just as easily be our own worst enemies. Quite frankly, I don’t feel very good about someone who opposes a return of sodomy laws if they undermine the very concepts of equality and freedom that led to their being abandoned in real life. There is a reason that these guys are popular with Andrew Sullivan and David Brooks.

Having rejected the methods used in the social sciences you get left with those most unscientific but probably more successful political methods, noticing things and consulting the hard lessons of experience. Those unfashionable methods, I am fully convinced, are as good as we are ever going to have.

I very strongly suspect that the mania for free markets in the society at large got its biggest boost with Milton Friedman’s load of garbage shown on PBS* a number of years ago. Those possessing a certificate of higher education in the United States depend a lot on what is shown on TV for its common received wisdom outside of their specialty. We’re not as far removed from the plebs as we like to think. And, as a group, we aren’t notably more industrious about continuing education. Once an idea is lodged in our collection of bromides and aphorisms, replacing them for others isn’t very easy.

With the series of disasters following the path Friedman and his allies have brought us, why that isn’t seen as the equivalent of economic Lysenkoism is an interesting question. I’m at a loss to understand why anyone would have kept their faith after the S&L crisis of the 90s, never mind having the same ideology that led to that being the predominant one persist to cause the disaster we are in today. Harry and Louise seem to have needed more than one jolt of experience to wise up. I think part of that is the same kind of faith in anything with the trappings of science. You have to remember that in a lot of universities that economics is taken as one of the social sciences. It’s been pointed out by others here that a lot of economists seem to believe themselves to be biological scientists these days.


We The People are a motley and scruffy lot. Democratic politics can’t attempt a basic scrubbing of the necks and ears of the electorate. You can’t attempt to completely eradicate and “correct” basic beliefs that you don’t like, certainly not in the time frame that we’ve got to work with in an election cycle. The attempt carries a guarantee to produce a self-defeating backlash. You are not going to “end faith” in God, the wearing of synthetics or even an addiction to forms of entertainment you find annoying. Leftists need to grow up and face that the electorate as it is now is what we’ve got to work with. Our politicians, the real ones who get elected, face that basic fact every single day, they have to or they get out of politics. Leftists political impotence has in no small part been due to the insistence of many of the loudest that facing this most basic fact of democracy, is a form of selling out.

Another of the big problems of the left is the instance that our politicians be, if anything, even more correct than we would like the electorate to be. Having just pointed out that it is the far from surgically clean electorate that gets to choose who is a real politician, instead of a pretend politician, expecting this of our elected officials is about the stupidest attitude we maintain.

There is no politician in our history who did more of what the left wanted than Lyndon Johnson during his presidency. He also did quite a bit which was among the worst a president has done.

As an aside, I think if he hadn’t listened to some of the product of our most prestigious universities, he might have avoided a lot of the worst. He would have probably been re-elected in 1968.

Lyndon Johnson was a rude, crude, bigoted, sexist, unscrupulous and ruthless and rather conservative politician. As Hillary Clinton pointed out during the campaign, he also delivered those laws that are the highest achievement of our democracy to date. His legacy is that which has been under constant attack for the past forty years. If he had gotten us out of the Vietnam War he might have been able to count on the left supporting him. We’ll never know. Someone like him, today, couldn’t get elected with the support of the left.

Nancy Pelosi is the actual high water mark for the left in out entire history to date. Her record as Speaker has had to deal with the real effective limits on what she can do. She doesn’t have the power to keep the Republicans and conservative Democrats from blocking the moderate and liberal wings of the Democratic Party. The majority she has to work with is small and often unstable. I believe she is doing as much as she possibly can under the real limits of her power. That she has to watch out for attacks from the left is a problem but she’s got larger problems she has to deal with.

One of the responses to the posts I did here last weekend asked “ .... how do we push the Dems leftward? And how do we punish them when they move right”? Well, the left has tried to inflict punishment on Democrats. The abandonment of Democrats in 1968 for Eugene McCarthy (no relation worth mentioning), clean Gene in countless other presidential farces, Barry Commoner’s candidacy in 1980 (still got my pin), Nader in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008, Lord knows how many others in between and in races for lower office, all of those have been attempts to “punish Democrats” for not doing what we want. It is an idea that has been given the test of time and has failed, failed absolutely and in the worst possible way.

Unfortunately, the attempt to punish Democrats in that way has, more often than not, led to Republicans taking office and doing a hell of a lot worse than what Democrats were guilty of. And it has led to the marginalization of the left within the Democratic Party. Republicans have used the power they got from those elections to free broadcast media of fairness and equal time provisions, silencing the left, allowing the rise of right-wing hate talk radio and TV and the further marginalization of the left in the general culture. When you look at the record and find that much failure an idea should also join the Lysenko list of political futility.

The part of the left that has taken that most the superficially gratifying road of getting even isn’t large enough to make the threat effective. We’d have to be able to prove our ability to decisively deliver electoral victory, in the first place, to do that.

Our future depends on making effective coalitions, with those we like, with those we don’t especially like. That’s the only way that the left is going to exercise any kind of political influence for the foreseeable future. The road of leftist puritanism leads to nowhere. The other road might be “ahead but much too slow” but at least it leads somewhere worth trying. Maybe I’ll see you there.

* I seem to recall PBS put it on in “response” to the series by Galbraith on the history of economics. For anyone who missed the Galbraith, it paralleled his wonderfully entertaining book “Money”.