Thursday, October 30, 2008

Jerry's diggin' for that prison-guard cash to help fund his gubernatorial run...

...and it looks like he got it!

From Daniel Abrahamson at HuffPo

The California prison guards' union -- one of the state's richest and most reviled special-interest groups -- is funding a multi-million-dollar attack on Proposition 5, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act. The prison guards' newest ally is Jerry Brown, attorney general and former governor of California.

Prop. 5 is a modest and sensible reform of California's corrections system that promises to reduce the state's bloated prison population and, in the process, cut state spending by billions of dollars. The measure is supported by a wide-range of treatment professionals, good-government types and former high-ranking corrections and law enforcement officials.

The prison guards, however, oppose Prop. 5. They don't like the math. Fewer prisoners will mean fewer jobs and less overtime pay for prison guards. Today we released a new ad that will be running throughout the state that shows how the prison guards are sabotaging California's future for their own self interest.

Prop. 5 would also forestall massive new prison construction. For taxpayers, that means saving $2.5 billion for each new prison that is no longer needed. For the guards, however, fewer prisons will mean less staff to run them -- and possibly fewer new dues-paying members in the future. This is bad news for a union with burgeoning membership that boasts higher annual take-home pay than the governor. To put it bluntly, the prison guards' union is built on the backs of human beings in cages.

A.G. Jerry Brown's role in all this is the most perplexing. He is either taking progressives for granted or figures they'll give him a pass for cozying up to the prison guards and fighting a measure that offers drug treatment and a second chance to young people, nonviolent offenders and prisoners.

Since I am a co-author of Prop. 5, Jerry contacted me a couple of weeks back. Said he wanted to talk about Proposition 5. He called me on my cell phone while I was participating in a panel discussion about California's prison crisis sponsored by U.C. Berkeley. I decided to duck out of the symposium. Months earlier, I had reached out to Jerry to discuss the details of Prop. 5, but those calls went unreturned. I figured that, if Jerry Brown was now ready to talk about Prop. 5, that would be a good use of my time.

"OK," I say, "let's talk." Turns out, Jerry doesn't want to chat about public policy. He wants to vent. He lectures me for five minutes about how, when he's governor, he'll solve the state's decades-old prison crisis in his first month in office. He neglects to mention that the roots of the prison crisis date back to his first stint as governor.

Jerry pounces: "Prop. 5 is anti-democratic," he complains. I tell him that that's an odd attack, particularly when Prop. 5 creates an independent citizen's oversight commission, appointed by the legislature and governor, to bring transparency and change to the state's prison system. And what could be more democratic than a voter initiative?

Jerry switches tack. He argues that Prop. 5 deprives him -- and by "him" it is clear Jerry means the next governor of California -- of too much power over prisons. I ask him whether he's actually read Prop. 5. No response. I note that Prop. 5 in fact allows the governor to appoint two officials to head up the state's prison and parole agency, not just the one allowed under current law. The governor also gets to appoint more than half the members of new oversight panels that, in turn, must run public hearings, take public comment and publish audits and reports on their activities. These panels provide new levels of transparency and accountability for prisons and for treatment programs statewide.

Jerry gets flustered. His angry pit-bull persona dissolves into more of a wet pug. "But the drug court judges oppose you," he stammers. "True," I respond. "But their opposition, like the prosecutors and prison guards, is ideological, not evidence-based." I continue, "All of the state's leading drug treatment and medical professionals -- the folks who know the most about delivering substance abuse and mental health services to this population -- support Prop. 5." Also, recalling Jerry's "anti-democratic" blast earlier, I note that the drug court judges voted to oppose Prop. 5 when their partners in the treatment community were out of the room.

Jerry wants off the phone. "Okay. Listen. This thing is complicated," he says. "I need you to walk me through Prop. 5, line by line, so I can understand what you are doing here."

"Great," I say. "How about we talk later today or tonight, right after this prison symposium is over. I can meet you or go over it by phone." Jerry gives me his mobile number.

Later that evening, I call Jerry. No response.

I call Jerry more than a dozen times over the next week, not only on the cell number he gave me, but also on two other numbers I have for him. I call every morning and every afternoon. I leave messages. Jerry has my home, office and wife's cell phone numbers. He knows what time I pick up and drop off my son at kindergarten. Still no word from Jerry. I'm starting to think the facts don't matter, despite his entreaty to grapple with the details of Prop. 5.

Two weeks later, Jerry accidentally answers his cell phone while getting in his car to go to Sacramento. It's me. "Let's talk," I say. Jerry sounds bummed that he forgot to check caller ID. He says, "Can't talk now. I'll call you tonight at home." I say, "Great. No hour is too late." I give him my numbers again.

Jerry doesn't call.

But Jerry was working the phones, after all. He's done a press conference for No on 5. He's inserted himself into the campaign, courtesy of the prison guards. They are now listed as among the largest contributors to "Jerry Brown 2010." Their biggest gift to date: $825,000 worth of TV time starting this week for No-on-5 ads starring Jerry.

If those ads help Jerry, he'll move one step closer to becoming CEO of one of the largest, most expensive and worst-performing penal colonies in the world. History suggests that in 2010 he will need some help with his prison problems. I don't trust him to make the right call.

Daniel Abrahamson is the Director of Legal Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance Network and co-author of Prop. 5

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Palin Tells Dobson That 'Prayer Warriors' Should Ask God to Intervene in U.S. Election for GOP

By Blue Texan, Firedoglake


In an interview posted online Wednesday, Sarah Palin told Dr. James Dobson of "Focus on the Family" that she is confident God will do "the right thing for America" on Nov. 4.


She also thanked her supporters -- including Dobson, who said he and his wife were asking "for God’s intervention" on election day -- for their prayers of support.

"It is that intercession that is so needed," she said. "And so greatly appreciated. And I can feel it too, Dr. Dobson. I can feel the power of prayer, and that strength that is provided through our prayer warriors across this nation. And I so appreciate it."

From this we can deduce that:

  1. Sarah Palin believes God personally chooses our Presidents and Vice Presidents.
  2. Sarah Palin believes that God should choose her as Vice President.
  3. Sarah Palin believes that without God's intervention she will lose.
  4. AlterNet is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by its writers are their own.

    Blue Texan is a regular contributing blogger for FireDogLake.

    © 2008 Firedoglake All rights reserved.
    View this story online at:

Monday, October 20, 2008

ACORN, Rightwing Media and Election "Fraud"

Anthony DiMaggio: The Scandal That Never Was

The massive attention surrounding ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) is as indicative of Republican and media racism as it is their class prejudice. Much of this attention centers on John McCain's attacks on the organization, which were voiced during the third Presidential debate. McCain warned viewers that ACORN, which has endorsed Obama, is "on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history," and "may be destroying the fabric of democracy." Those are pretty vigilant claims for someone with no evidence.

I can't say I'm surprised that the Republicans have taken to demonizing ACORN. I have been a long supporter of the group in light of their strong support for the living wage movement. Considering that ACORN is a progressive-left, Obama affiliated organization, it was only a matter of time before it became a major focus of conservative hate. ACORN has recently made the news, due to reports that it employed a number of canvassers who registered voters, while using fabricated information and fake names such as "Micky Mouse" or "Brad Pitt," amongst others.

In danger of losing its eight year hold on the Presidency, the Republican Party has become increasingly desperate in its attacks on poor and minority groups, who have registered in increasingly large numbers this election year. The attacks on ACORN must be understood within the context of this enfranchisement of dispossessed groups. John Danforth, a Republican McCain ally and former senator, has publicly pressured Obama about his "special responsibility to rein in ACORN," while VP candidate Sarah Palin decries "the Left-wing activist group ACORN [that] is now under investigation for voter registration fraud in a number of battleground states. We can't allow leftist groups like ACORN to steal this election." Palin's remarks are extremely revealing in light of the increased registration of the poor. Empowerment of poor minority voters certainly does constitute a threat to the Republican's class war against the masses of Americans. It's easy to see why Palin, McCain, and company see ACORN's efforts as theft – considering that the country's "legitimate" voting pool is expected to be restricted to the affluent, disproportionately white minorities who benefit from the Republican Party's class war (any others who vote must be duped into supporting this class war against themselves).

Republican attacks on ACORN have been followed by vigilant action. The FBI is now investigating ACORN and has raided its offices to try and find information of alleged fraud. Republicans in Ohio have appealed to the Supreme Court (unsuccessfully) to grant them the power to comb through registered voter rolls, with the possibility of purging voters (remember Florida in 2000?) whose information that includes mismatches between information provided by the registrants and information held by Ohio's 88 counties. Although such mismatches are often either arbitrary or the result of faulty record keeping by the state, this hasn't stopped Republicans from seeking power to throw registered voters off the rolls.

Media discussions of ACORN have predictably followed the talking points issued by Republican Party leaders to Fox News and right-wing radio, and the rhetoric of the McCain-Palin team. Attention has been massive, with over sixty stories alone on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC emphasizing the ACORN controversy in the two days following the third Presidential debate. The uniformity of conservative attacks on ACORN has been rather impressive, although hardly intellectual or informative. The editors at the Washington Times lambasted ACORN for being "either co-opted by an outside group bent on committing massive voter fraud to rig this election," or as "itself intent on" committing fraud. "Mr. Obama, whose campaign paid ACORN $800,000 to register voters during the primary, should be saddled with the burden of proof and take the lead in addressing the allegations." Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer draws attention to "Barack Obama's long-standing relationship with the left-wing vote-fraud specialist ACORN" (Obama had worked with the group in a voter registration drive when he was a Chicago community organizer, and his campaign reportedly provided the group with money for a "get-out-the-vote" campaign). Radio personalities such as Rush Limbaugh, Dennis Prager, and Michael Medved and Fox News commentators such as Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity have relentlessly emphasized the ACORN issue in their programs.

Presumably, the right-wing foot soldiers in the media, who couldn't have cared less what ACORN was doing months ago let alone describe what the acronym stood for, have now become independent experts on the organization's negligence and duplicity in destroying democracy. There's only one problem with this narrative – none of it's true.

When interviewed on Fox News' Hannity and Colmes, Court TV news anchor Jami Floyd claimed that "John McCain would support ACORN. Wouldn't anybody support an effort to get more voters to the polls? That's what America is about. That's what we fought our revolution for. Representation, right? That's what we're about." Floyd fundamentally misunderstands what's at stake in this election. The right-wing hate machine hasn't gone after ACORN because of a voting scandal (which never existed) but because of the threat poor voters pose to business dominance of government. While the faith of new voters in Obama is probably misplaced (he has not promised to promote a new social welfare state the likes of the New Deal or Great Society), support for Obama nonetheless constitutes a major threat to Republican dominance of government. It is this threat of bringing millions of poor into the political process (ACORN registered 1.3 million poor and minority voters for the 2008 election) that is really driving recent attacks.

If readers are still unconvinced, consider the following: No evidence was ever presented that ACORN leaders intended to register voters using false information. Establishing such intent is the first requisite for demonstrating voter fraud. As the New York Times reports, the charges against ACORN are "wildly overblown" and intended, rather, to "hobble ACORN's [registration] efforts." While the group admits that some canvassers did hand in false names, those accounted for less than 1 percent of the total gathered. ACORN thoroughly reviews the voter information it gathers, flagging any cases that seem suspicious. ACORN has admitted to firing any canvassers who were found to submit faulty voter information. ACORN representatives also call those who have registered with them, in order to verify the information they've collected. If any of the cases turn up questionable information, ACORN attaches a warning card to that case as it submits the forms to the states within which it operates.

The real problem, often times, appears to have been with the states and Republican partisans themselves, rather than with ACORN. Most of the faulty forms that have fed attention to the "scandal" were only condemned by political leaders because ACORN warned them about the individual cases, not due to the investigative diligence of Republican lawmakers or right-wing media pundits. One wouldn't know this from reading media accounts. Neoconservatives such as Charles Krauthammer condemn ACORN itself for "voter registration fraud" in states like Nevada. What Krauthammer conveniently neglects to mention is that Nevada Secretary of State Bob Walsh's orders to raid ACORN's Las Vegas office took place only after the state ignored ACORN's pleas that it investigate possibly fraudulent voter registrations. The account of the fiasco below, provided by ACORN representative Bertha Lewis, is worth reading. In an October press release, Lewis explained that:

"Over the past year, ACORN has worked hard to help over 80,000 people in Clark County [Nevada] register to vote. As part of our nonpartisan voter registration program, we have reviewed all the applications submitted by our canvassers. When we have identified suspicious applications, we have separated them out and flagged them for election officials. We have zero tolerance for fraudulent registrations. We immediately dismiss employees we suspect of submitting fraudulent registrations. For the past 10 months, any time ACORN has identified a potentially fraudulent application, we turn that application into election officials separately and offer to provide election officials with the information they would need to pursue an investigation or prosecution of the individual. Election officials routinely ignored this information and failed to act."

The Republican Party and right-wing media's attack on ACORN is motivated primarily by their fear of electoral defeat, and their contempt for poor, minority voters who will help usher in that defeat. Sadly, the Obama campaign failed to condemn this racist hate movement by distancing itself from ACORN in the third debate. It should be applauding the group for its important and necessary work in registering disenfranchised voters. At a time when Obama leads in the polls by 6.5-7% over McCain, he should feel empowered to take on racism and class biased directed at those who're simply exercising their basic, democratic right to vote. This may be asking too much, sadly, from Democratic leaders who would rather pander to the affluent than stand up for the disadvantaged.

Anthony DiMaggio teaches Politics of the Developing World and American Government at Illinois State University. His book, Mass Media, Mass Propaganda: Examining American News in the "War on Terror" will be released in paperback this December. He may be reached at:

Palin crucufied on SNL. She let it happen.

No fan myself, I still couldn't believe the McCain campaign allowed Governor Palin to participate in this sketch. Not only was it bad, it was a direct personal assault.

It also shows a decided lack of judgment on the part of the Governor Palin, John McCain and the campaign staff, who seem to want McCain to lose badly.

Colin Powell Slams McCain After Endorsing Obama

By Steve Benen, Washington Monthly

After his "Meet the Press" appearance, during which he endorsed Barack Obama, Colin Powell stopped to answer reporters' questions outside the studio. As it happens, his remarks were nearly as interesting after the program as they were during.

Powell was asked about the relentless negativity of the McCain campaign, and Powell made no effort to hide his disappointment. Perhaps most importantly, Powell noted that the constant right-wing efforts to a) falsely label Obama as a Muslim; and b) make "Muslim" some kind of slur, not only undermines national unity, but also damages America's standing in the world. "Those types of images going out on Al Jazeera are killing us around the world," Powell said.

He went on to express his disgust for Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) neo-McCarthyism. "We have got to stop this kind of nonsense," Powell said, "pull ourselves together, and remember that our great strength is in our unity and in our diversity."

Tying it all together, Powell concluded, "We can't judge our people and hold our elections on that kind of basis. Yes, that kind of negativity troubled me. And the constant shifting of the argument, I was troubled a couple of weeks ago when in the middle of the crisis the campaign said, 'We're going to go negative,' and they announced it. 'We're going to go negative and attack his character through Bill Ayers.' And now I guess the message this week is we're going to call him a socialist. Mr. Obama is now a socialist, because he dares to suggest that maybe we ought to look at the tax structure that we have. Taxes are always a redistribution of money. Most of the taxes that are redistributed go back to those who pay them, in roads and airports and hospitals and schools. And taxes are necessary for the common good. And there's nothing wrong with examining what our tax structure is or who should be paying more or who should be paying less, and for us to say that makes you a socialist is an unfortunate characterization that isn't accurate."

Powell has gotten a good look at what's become of his Republican Party, and he really doesn't like what he sees.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Democracy Now! hosts third party candidate commentary on final McCain/Obama "debate"

Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader - presidential candidates virtually ignored by the corporate media - are invited to comment upon the final "debate" between senators Obama and McCain.

Poke the above link thingy for the stream.

Re: Capitalism commits suicide

Dear campers,
This is not the usual minor collapse of free-market theology rectifiable by a simple media-generated confusion of the populace with unimaginable numbers and scenarios while the architects of the latest economic rape reap ever more. Capitalism has finally destroyed itself . The International Monetary Fund has warned of "systemic meltdown". This is the end of corporate capitalism in so many ways.

The captains will be reaping the shit out of the system before they're slapped on the wrist in public. They will certainly get what's rightfully theirs, true-believer capitalistas to the end. Their continuing rape of the masses is already recently documented history.

I mentioned a new New Deal in my last malediction but have just downloaded Mike Davis's interview regarding why this isn't a relevant solution in this age so I'm going to listen. Realize that whatever solution is actually implemented, it will be called the New New Deal - guaranteed. We are obsessed with labels.

With barely restrained glee, tempered by fear and sympathy for the poor,

(a letter that I recently sent to Dad)
PS - I'll get back to you after the Mike Davis interview.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Can Obama See the Grand Canyon?

This essay put words to what I've been feeling for a month now regarding the collapse of corporate capitalism. This from Mike Davis via

On Presidential Blindness and Economic Catastrophe
By Mike Davis

Let me begin, very obliquely, with the Grand Canyon and the paradox of trying to see beyond cultural or historical precedent.

The first European to look into the depths of the great gorge was the conquistador Garcia Lopez de Cardenas in 1540. He was horrified by the sight and quickly retreated from the South Rim. More than three centuries passed before Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers led the second major expedition to the rim. Like Garcia Lopez, he recorded an "awe that was almost painful to behold." Ives's expedition included a well-known German artist, but his sketch of the Canyon was wildly distorted, almost hysterical.

Neither the conquistadors nor the Army engineers, in other words, could make sense of what they saw; they were simply overwhelmed by unexpected revelation. In a fundamental sense, they were blind because they lacked the concepts necessary to organize a coherent vision of an utterly new landscape.

Accurate portrayal of the Canyon only arrived a generation later when the Colorado River became the obsession of the one-armed Civil War hero John Wesley Powell and his celebrated teams of geologists and artists. They were like Victorian astronauts reconnoitering another planet. It took years of brilliant fieldwork to construct a conceptual framework for taking in the canyon. With "deep time" added as the critical dimension, it was finally possible for raw perception to be transformed into consistent vision.

The result of their work, The Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District, published in 1882, is illustrated by masterpieces of draftsmanship that, as Powell's biographer Wallace Stegner once pointed out, "are more accurate than any photograph." That is because they reproduce details of stratigraphy usually obscured in camera images. When we visit one of the famous viewpoints today, most of us are oblivious to how profoundly our eyes have been trained by these iconic images or how much we have been influenced by the idea, popularized by Powell, of the Canyon as a museum of geological time.

But why am I talking about geology? Because, like the Grand Canyon's first explorers, we are looking into an unprecedented abyss of economic and social turmoil that confounds our previous perceptions of historical risk. Our vertigo is intensified by our ignorance of the depth of the crisis or any sense of how far we might ultimately fall.

Weimar Returns in Limbaughland

Let me confess that, as an aging socialist, I suddenly find myself like the Jehovah's Witness who opens his window to see the stars actually falling out of the sky. Although I've been studying Marxist crisis theory for decades, I never believed I'd actually live to see financial capitalism commit suicide. Or hear the International Monetary Fund warn of imminent "systemic meltdown."

Thus, my initial reaction to Wall Street's infamous 777.7 point plunge a few weeks ago was a very sixties retro elation. "Right on, Karl!" I shouted. "Eat your derivatives and die, Wall Street swine!" Like the Grand Canyon, the fall of the banks can be a terrifying but sublime spectacle.

But the real culprits, of course, are not being trundled off to the guillotine; they're gently floating to earth in golden parachutes. The rest of us may be trapped on the burning plane without a pilot, but the despicable Richard Fuld, who used Lehman Brothers to loot pension funds and retirement accounts, merely sulks on his yacht.

Out in the stucco deserts of Limbaughland, moreover, fear is already being distilled into a good ol' boy version of the "stab in the back" myth that rallied the ruined German petite bourgeoisie to the swastika. If you listen to the rage on commute AM, you'll know that ‘socialism' has already taken a lien on America, Barack Hussein Obama is terrorism's Manchurian candidate, the collapse of Wall Street was caused by elderly black people with Fannie Mae loans, and ACORN in its voter registration drives has long been padding the voting rolls with illegal brown hordes.

In other times, Sarah Palin's imitation of Father Charles Coughlin -- the priest who preached an American Reich in the 1930s -- in drag might be hilarious camp, but with the American way of life in sudden freefall, the specter of star-spangled fascism doesn't seem quite so far-fetched. The Right may lose the election, but it already possesses a sinister, historically-proven blueprint for rapid recovery.

Progressives have no time to waste. In the face of a new depression that promises folks from Wasilla to Timbuktu an unknown world of pain, how do we reconstruct our understanding of the globalized economy? To what extent can we look to either Obama or any of the Democrats to help us analyze the crisis and then act effectively to resolve it?

Is Obama FDR?

If the Nashville "town hall" debate is any guide, we will soon have another blind president. Neither candidate had the guts or information to answer the simple questions posed by the anxious audience: What will happen to our jobs? How bad will it get? What urgent steps should be taken?

Instead, the candidates stuck like flypaper to their obsolete talking points. McCain's only surprise was yet another innovation in deceit: a mortgage relief plan that would reward banks and investors without necessarily saving homeowners.

Obama recited his four-point program, infinitely better in principle than his opponent's preferential option for the rich, but abstract and lacking in detail. It remains more a rhetorical promise than the blueprint for the actual machinery of reform. He made only passing reference to the next phase of the crisis: the slump of the real economy and likely mass unemployment on a scale not seen for 70 years.

With baffling courtesy to the Bush administration, he failed to highlight any of the other weak links in the economic system: the dangerous overhang of credit-default swap obligations left over from the fall of Lehman Brothers; the trillion-dollar black hole of consumer credit-card debt that may threaten the solvency of JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America; the implacable decline of General Motors and the American auto industry; the crumbling foundations of municipal and state finance; the massacre of tech equity and venture capital in Silicon Valley; and, most unexpectedly, sudden fissures in the financial solidity of even General Electric.

In addition, both Obama and his vice presidential partner Joe Biden, in their support for Secretary of the Treasury Paulson's plan, avoid any discussion of the inevitable result of cataclysmic restructuring and government bailouts: not "socialism," but ultra-capitalism -- one that is likely to concentrate control of credit in a few leviathan banks, controlled in large part by sovereign wealth funds but subsidized by generations of public debt and domestic austerity.

Never have so many ordinary Americans been nailed to a cross of gold (or derivatives), yet Obama is the most mild-mannered William Jennings Bryan imaginable. Unlike Sarah Palin who masticates the phrase "the working class" with defiant glee, he hews to a party line that acknowledges only the needs of an amorphous "middle class" living on a largely mythical "Main Street."

If we are especially concerned about the fate of the poor or unemployed, we are left to read between the lines, with no help from his talking points that espouse clean coal technology, nuclear power, and a bigger military, but elide the urgency of a renewed war on poverty as championed by John Edwards in his tragically self-destructed primary campaign. But perhaps inside the cautious candidate is a man whose humane passions transcend his own nearsighted centrist campaign. As a close friend, exasperated by my chronic pessimism, chided me the other day, "don't be so unfair. FDR didn't have a nuts and bolts program either in 1933. Nobody did."

What Franklin D. Roosevelt did possess in that year of breadlines and bank failures, according to my friend, was enormous empathy for the common people and a willingness to experiment with government intervention, even in the face of the monolithic hostility of the wealthy classes. In this view, Obama is's re-imagining of our 32nd president: calm, strong, deeply in touch with ordinary needs, and willing to accept the advice of the country's best and brightest.

The Death of Keynesianism

But even if we concede to the Illinois senator a truly Rooseveltian or, even better, Lincolnian strength of character, this hopeful analogy is flawed in at least three principal ways:

First, we can't rely on the Great Depression as analog to the current crisis, nor upon the New Deal as the template for its solution. Certainly, there is a great deal of déjà vu in the frantic attempts to quiet panic and reassure the public that the worst has passed. Many of Paulson's statements, indeed, could have been directly plagiarized from Herbert Hoover's Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, and both presidential campaigns are frantically cribbing heroic rhetoric from the early New Deal. But just as the business press has been insisting for years, this is not the Old American Economy, but an entirely new-fangled contraption built from outsourced parts and supercharged by instantaneous world markets in everything from dollars and defaults to hog bellies and disaster futures.

We are seeing the consequences of a perverse restructuring that began with the presidency of Ronald Reagan and which has inverted the national income shares of manufacturing (21% in 1980; 12% in 2005) and those of financial services (15% in 1980; 21% in 2005). In 1930, the factories may have been shuttered but the machinery was still intact; it hadn't been auctioned off at five cents on the dollar to China.

On the other hand, we shouldn't disparage the miracles of contemporary market technology. Casino capitalism has proven its mettle by transmitting the deadly virus of Wall Street at unprecedented velocity to every financial center on the planet. What took three years at the beginning of the 1930s -- that is, the full globalization of the crisis -- has taken only three weeks this time around. God help us, if, as seems to be happening, unemployment tops the levees at anything like the same speed.

Second, Obama won't inherit Roosevelt's ultimate situational advantage -- having emergent tools of state intervention and demand management (later to be called "Keynesianism") empowered by an epochal uprising of industrial workers in the world's most productive factories.

If you've been watching the sad parade of economic gurus on McNeil-Lehrer, you know that the intellectual shelves in Washington are now almost bare. Neither major party retains more than a few enigmatic shards of policy traditions different from the neo-liberal consensus on trade and privatization. Indeed, posturing pseudo-populists aside, it is unclear whether anyone inside the Beltway, including Obama's economic advisors, can think clearly beyond the indoctrinated mindset of Goldman Sachs, the source of the two most prominent secretaries of the treasury over the last decade.

Keynes, now suddenly mourned, is actually quite dead. More importantly, the New Deal did not arise spontaneously from the goodwill or imagination of the White House. On the contrary, the social contract for the post-1935 Second New Deal was a complex, adaptive response to the greatest working-class movement in our history, in a period when powerful third parties still roamed the political landscape and Marxism exercised extraordinary influence on American intellectual life.

Even with the greatest optimism of the will, it is difficult to imagine the American labor movement recovering from defeat as dramatically as it did in 1934-1937. The decisive difference is structural rather than ideological. (Indeed, today's union movement is much more progressive than the decrepit, nativist American Federation of Labor in 1930.) The power of labor within a Walmart-ized service economy is simply more dispersed and difficult to mobilize than in the era of giant urban-industrial concentrations and ubiquitous factory neighborhoods.

Is War the Answer?

The third problem with the New Deal analogy is perhaps the most important. Military Keynesianism is no longer an available deus ex machina. Let me explain.

In 1933, when FDR was inaugurated, the United States was in full retreat from foreign entanglements, and there was little controversy about bringing a few hundred Marines home from the occupations of Haiti and Nicaragua. It took two years of world war, the defeat of France, and the near collapse of England to finally win a majority in Congress for rearmament, but when war production finally started up in late 1940 it became a huge engine for the reemployment of the American work force, the real cure for the depressed job markets of the 1930s. Subsequently, American world power and full employment would align in a way that won the loyalty of several generations of working-class voters.

Today, of course, the situation is radically different. A bigger Pentagon budget no longer creates hundreds of thousands of stable factory jobs, since significant parts of its weapons production is now actually outsourced, and the ideological link between high-wage employment and intervention -- good jobs and Old Glory on a foreign shore -- while hardly extinct is structurally weaker than at any time since the early 1940s. Even in the new military (largely a hereditary caste of poor whites, blacks, and Latinos) demoralization is reaching the stage of active discontent and opening up new spaces for alternative ideas.

Although both candidates have endorsed programs, including expansion of Army and Marine combat strength, missile defense (aka "Star Wars"), and an intensified war in Afghanistan, that will enlarge the military-industrial complex, none of this will replenish the supply of decent jobs nor prime a broken national pump. However, in the midst of a deep slump, what a huge military budget can do is obliterate the modest but essential reforms that make up Obama's plans for healthcare, alternative energy, and education.

In other words, Rooseveltian guns and butter have become a contradiction in terms, which means that the Obama campaign is engineering a catastrophic collision between its national security priorities and its domestic policy goals.

The Fate of Obama-ism

Why don't such smart people see the Grand Canyon?

Maybe they do, in which case deception is truly the mother's milk of American politics; or perhaps Obama has become the reluctant prisoner, intellectually as well as politically, of Clintonism: that is say, of a culturally permissive neo-liberalism whose New Deal rhetoric masks the policy spirit of Richard Nixon.

It's worth asking, for instance, what in the actual substance of his foreign policy agenda differentiates the Democratic candidate from the radioactive legacy of the Bush Doctrine? Yes, he would close Guantanamo, talk to the Iranians, and thrill hearts in Europe. He also promises to renew the Global War on Terror (in much the same way that Bush senior and Clinton sustained the core policies of Reaganism, albeit with a "more human face").

In case anyone has missed the debates, let me remind you that the Democratic candidate has chained himself, come hell or high water, to a global strategy in which "victory" in the Middle East (and Central Asia) remains the chief premise of foreign policy, with the Iraqi-style nation-building hubris of Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz repackaged as a "realist" faith in global "stabilization."

True, the enormity of the economic crisis may compel President Obama to renege on some of candidate Obama's ringing promises to support an idiotic missile defense system or provocative NATO memberships for Georgia and Ukraine. Nonetheless, as he emphasizes in almost every speech and in each debate, defeating the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, together with a robust defense of Israel, constitute the keystone of his national security agenda.

Under huge pressure from Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats alike to cut the budget and reduce the exponential increase in the national debt, what choices would President Obama be forced to make early in his administration? More than likely comprehensive health-care will be whittled down to a barebones plan, "alternative energy" will simply mean the fraud of "clean coal," and anything that remains in the Treasury, after Wall Street's finished its looting spree, will buy bombs to pulverize more Pashtun villages, ensuring yet more generations of embittered mujahideen and jihadis.

Am I unduly cynical? Perhaps, but I lived through the Lyndon Johnson years and watched the War on Poverty, the last true New Deal program, destroyed to pay for slaughter in Vietnam.

It is bitterly ironic, but, I suppose, historically predictable that a presidential campaign millions of voters have supported for its promise to end the war in Iraq has now mortgaged itself to a "tougher than McCain" escalation of a hopeless conflict in Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal frontier. In the best of outcomes, the Democrats will merely trade one brutal, losing war for another. In the worst case, their failed policies may set the stage for the return of Cheney and Rove, or their even more sinister avatars.

Mike Davis is the author of In Praise of Barbarians: Essays Against Empire (Haymarket Books, 2008) and Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb (Verso, 2007). He is currently working on a book about cities, poverty, and global change. You can listen to a podcast of Davis discussing why the New Deal isn't relevant as a solution today by clicking here.

Copyright 2008 Mike Davis

Friday, October 10, 2008

The End Of The Economy

by Christopher Ketcham

The good news for economy – I use the word in its old, perhaps archaic, sense – keeps on coming, but we are told the current “economic” crisis is a tragedy for the nation’s living standards. Far from it. First of all, let’s define economy. What we are hopefully entering is a period of real economy, which means conserving, scaling down, simplifying, saving, spending prudently and wisely and only for the things that one needs. A decent meal of greens and simple protein (I suggest beans and rice and spinach), good drink (Budweiser works wonders), clothes and shoes that last and can be mended for the long haul (try old military surplus and paratrooper boots), shelter that is modest and affordable but functional and not a credit scam. Having a beautiful wife or girlfriend who doesn’t like to wear clothing also helps.

But everywhere the consensus trance holds that a slow-down of consumption signals the End Time, the shuttering of hope, chance, freedom. Look no further than how the New York Times spins it from the usual gibberishing oracles: “The last few days have devastated the American consumer,” says retail consultant Walter Loeb. Americans, avers Loeb, “all feel poor.” Really? So too we are meant to believe that “when consumers get concerned about…their country, they need entertainment,” per the wisdom of the Entertainment Merchants Association. So too is it “amazing how much even these 10-year-old girls are aware that something is going on,” the chairman and chief executive of Tween Brands tells us, who has been traveling the country to “listen to moms and little girls.” And what does the CEO hear? “Mom is saying, ‘I can’t afford that.’”

Tragic, darkness at noon, a nightmare I tell you. The reporters in the mainstream press, as dimly discerning as dreamers who know nothing but the dream from which they can’t awake, escort us through the envisaged circles of hell of this “unaffordable” world. The benefits of the descent are manifold but tacitly unrecognized: the malls no longer trap rats with credit cards, the casinos no longer suck blood from the arms of degenerates, the lousy restaurants no longer make you nauseous for $100 a plate (gasp – the Times reports that the ungrateful citizens are eating at home!), the retailers no longer ask you to throw away perfectly good shoes, the jewelers no longer sell to serious adults the silly shiny trinkets meant for the pleasure of cretins, the auto dealerships no longer peddle cars half as efficient as last year’s model, the cellphone hawkers no longer sell the I3869Zed Super-Iphone to burn out the brains and tire the ears, the home builders no longer slap-dab junk homes in exurban fields meant for farms that can sustain something we once called the future.

Nor, according to the New York Times, will the new blah-blah Super-Blah be available, because of the contracting “economy,” and the other new blahs from Blah Inc., and many other new blahs that Blah Investments recommends – because the consumer just won’t make the penny scream, won’t play the game. The game, of course, is predicated on being an infantilized weirdo, a grasping entitled half-fetus on two legs with a college degree crying “awn it awn it” from inside the womb of cash, cycling through the drooled suggestions of the marketeers as if our “freedom” depends on how much money we can waste rather than how much we need to survive.

Like I said, recession is all good news, and not just for our brains and souls, but for the planet and the real chance for Americans to survive in some kind of non-debased, non-infantilized, non-crap-inundated form – a race of fully matured and, dare I say, noble creatures. Every time I hear the New York Times lamenting that the average American refuses to open his billfold for bullshit, I envision less metal in the junkyard, less garbage in the scow, less forest turned into the Times, less pollution in the skies and water, less stupidity in the shape of owning more. I also envision a resurgence of cobblers mending the soles of shoes – cobblers who I can’t seem to find anymore in these fair United States to fix up my boots.

If it’s true that consumer spending now accounts for two-thirds of the American “economy” – god help us – then there’s nothing economic about it, as defined above. In other words, if it doesn’t economize, then the “economy” is not worth maintaining.

Christopher Ketcham writes for GQ, Harper’s, and many other magazines. Contact him at

Monday, October 06, 2008


Sam Smith

Contrary to her Joe Six Pack, hockey mom hokum, Sarah Palin proved in her debate with Joe Biden that she would fit in extremely well in Washington - albeit at an enormous price to the rest of the country.

The secret to this adaptation would be her extraordinary, joyful and utterly remorseless prevarication and perseveration, two hallmarks of contemporary capital pathology.

Her lying was astounding - not merely in the number of misstatements of facts she peddled - but the context in which she dissembled. For example, much of what she argued was based on the premise that she represented the middle class while Biden was a member of the elite. The senator was too polite to point out that, at best estimates, her net worth is at least six times that of Biden.

The really good liar doesn't settle for mere manufactured numbers and events, but creates a whole imaginary ecology in which the lies can blossom. Richard Nixon, for example, was a liar, but he never acquired the sort of manic affection for the act that one finds in Palin.

It is as if she regards life as one big Home Shopping Network on which she is the attractive, buoyant host peddling John McCain or whatever else she has in stock that day.

Even more impressive, however, is her perseveration. I first came across this phenomenon while describing someone to a psychiatrist friend. "It sounds like he's a higher functioning autistic. . . has Asperger's Syndrome."

"What's that?" I asked. And in his description he included the prevalence of repetitive or non-responsive answers in human exchanges.

"My god," I replied, "That's the Sunday morning talk shows."

Suddenly decades of reporting Washington made sense. I had started out when politicians tended to be not all that well educated and over half the reporters in the country only had a high school education, but most were highly socially intelligent. Now the place is overflowing with highly educated individuals who can't relate their data to what was actually going on in the world and when you press them on it, give Aspergerian repetitive or non responsive answers. Or pass $700 billion bailout bills without any real notion of what they are up to.

Yet in the debate, Sarah Palin put all the Washington perseverators to shame thanks to two special qualities. She applied the fundamentalist principal of rapture over reality to everything she said and she turned what is more typically a defect promoting inaction and passivity into a vigorous act of aggression, even joyously telling the moderator at one point that she wasn't going to forced into giving actual answers to the questions being asked. What we got was our first vice presidential candidate ever to speak in tongues.

Consider a few definitions of perseveration:

- Perseveration is the uncontrollable repetition of a particular response, such as a word, phrase, or gesture, despite the absence or cessation of a stimulus. . . Meaningless or pointless repetition of words, phrases, ideas, or actions.

- If an issue has been fully explored and discussed to a point of resolution it is not uncommon for something to trigger the re-investigation of the matter. This can happen at any time during a conversation.

Those with Asperger's syndrome also display a form of perseveration in that they focus on one or a number of narrow interests.

- The inability of ceasing a particular action can range in type. In any of the cases, the individual enters or continues a train of thought that is narrowly focused; in a sense, having tunnel vision. This focus could be on anything from a simple idea to a complex problem. Even if the original problem solving strategy is not the working, the person may not be able to change planes of thinking, suggesting a disability in abstract reasoning.

- A person with perseveration may actually enjoy the repetitive activities he or she is engaging in. The term obsession or compulsion is used when such activities become both undesirable actions and unstoppable.

Now a few examples directly from Dana Milbank's recap of the debate:

- This week, Sarah Palin gave a curious rationale for her candidacy. "It's time," the Republican vice presidential nominee said, "that normal Joe Six-Pack American is finally represented in the position of vice presidency.". . .

- "Let's commit ourselves just everyday American people, Joe Six-Pack, hockey moms across the nation," she proposed when asked about the mortgage crisis.

- "I want to go back to the energy plan," she said when asked about the federal bailout plan.

- "I want to talk about, again, my record on energy," she said when asked about bankruptcy.

- Biden grew frustrated. "If you notice, Gwen, the governor did not answer the question." Replied Sarah Six-Pack: "I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people."

- At other times, her answers defied comprehension, as when Ifill asked about her trigger for using nuclear weapons. "Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be-all, end-all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet, so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period," she answered.

- "Oh yeah, it's so obvious I'm a Washington outsider," she said with a shy grin when Ifill asked about putting troops in Darfur. "And someone just not used to the way you guys operate."

- Asked about the possibility that she would assume the presidency if the president died in office, she found herself saying, "I think we need a little bit of reality from Wasilla Main Street there, brought to Washington, D.C."

- When backed into uncomfortable terrain, such as defending the Bush administration's economic record, she exploded into cliche and non sequitur: "Say it ain't so, Joe. There you go again pointing backwards again. . . . Now doggone it, let's look ahead." Before finishing her answer, she mentioned her "brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here's a shout-out to all those third-graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watching the debate." . . . "Everybody gets extra credit tonight," the moderator assured Sarah Six-Pack. "We're going to move on to the next question."

There are treatments prescribed for this sort of problem, but significantly absent from all the prescriptions is election to high office.

Remember: A heartbeat away from the White House

This woman belongs to a sect of Christian fundamentalists known as Dominionists. They are, simply put, theocratic fascists whose fevered imaginations conjure up horrible death and destruction for their perceived enemies - the "unsaved". An indispensable book about them is Chris Hedges's American Fascists, which I highly recommend.

This woman is far more dangerous than most of the media will allow themselves to say or even imagine.

She is obviously self-obsessed and dangerously narcissistic. She never speaks about the future (she believes that we are in The End of Days). Her eyes betray an arctic coldness.

She fully and without question believes in The Rapture and Final Armageddon.

She will have the nuclear codes.

That said, watch this:

Palin: Another Sociopath

This via Alternet's Peek
By Jill Hussein C., Brilliant at Breakfast

A number of people noticed how, at her debate with Joe Biden the other night, Sarah Palin didn't so much as gaze over at Biden with a look of feigned sympathy when Biden alluded to his own sons' stay in the hospital after the death of his wife and daughter soon after his election to the Senate. Hilzoy wrote about it here. Nice Greek Boy wrote about it too. Simple human decency and kindness warranted some kind of a response. You can bet that if Sarah Palin was recounting a personal tragedy, however obliquely, Biden would have found something comforting to say.

The more I watch Tina Fey play Sarah Palin, the more I begin to realize that no matter how spot-on Fey is, she never really quite captures the cold, hard core at the center of Sarah Palin. Because Fey has a warmth, a light in her eyes that Sarah Palin just doesn't have.

Dr. Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited, describes pathological narcissism as:

a pattern of thinking and behaving in adolescence and adulthood, which involves infatuation and obsession with one's self to the exclusion of others. It manifests in the chronic pursuit of personal gratification and attention (narcissistic supply), in social dominance and personal ambition, bragging, insensitivity to others, lack of empathy and/or excessive dependence on others to meet his/her responsibilities in daily living and thinking.

Palin's bizarre non-response to Biden's indirect reference to his own experience was jarring coming from someone who presents herself as a paragon of apple pie and American motherhood.

It's always treacherous, especially these days, to ascribe nefarious motives to a woman's ambition, motives that are not questioned when they are attributed to a man. Frank Rich wrote about this ambition today:

But there’s a steady unnerving undertone to Palin’s utterances, a consistent message of hubristic self-confidence and hyper-ambition. She wants to be president, she thinks she can be president, she thinks she will be president. And perhaps soon. She often sounds like someone who sees herself as half-a-heartbeat away from the presidency. Or who is seen that way by her own camp, the hard-right G.O.P. base that never liked McCain anyway and views him as, at best, a White House place holder.

This was first apparent when Palin extolled a “small town” vice president as a hero in her convention speech — and cited not one of the many Republican vice presidents who fit that bill but, bizarrely, Harry Truman, a Democrat who succeeded a president who died in office. A few weeks later came Charlie Gibson’s question about whether she thought she was “experienced enough” and “ready” when McCain invited her to join his ticket. Palin replied that she didn’t “hesitate” and didn’t “even blink” — a response that seemed jarring for its lack of any human modesty, even false modesty.

In the last of her Couric interview installments on Thursday, Palin was asked which vice president had most impressed her, and after paying tribute to Geraldine Ferraro, she chose “George Bush Sr.” Her criterion: she most admires vice presidents “who have gone on to the presidency.” Hours later, at the debate, she offered a discordant contrast to Biden when asked by Gwen Ifill how they would each govern “if the worst happened” and the president died in office. After Biden spoke of somber continuity, Palin was weirdly flip and chipper, eager to say that as a “maverick” she’d go her own way.

But the debate’s most telling passage arrived when Biden welled up in recounting his days as a single father after his first wife and one of his children were killed in a car crash. Palin’s perky response — she immediately started selling McCain as a “consummate maverick” again — was as emotionally disconnected as Michael Dukakis’s notoriously cerebral answer to the hypothetical 1988 debate question about his wife being “raped and murdered.” If, as some feel, Obama is cool, Palin is ice cold. She didn’t even acknowledge Biden’s devastating personal history.

After the debate, Republicans who had been bailing on Palin rushed back to the fold. They know her relentless ambition is the only hope for saving a ticket headed by a warrior who is out of juice and out of ideas. So what if she is preposterously unprepared to run the country in the midst of its greatest economic crisis in 70 years? She looks and sounds like a winner.

I'm quite sure that the Usual Suspects on both the right and the left will be shrieking about Rich's sexism in painting her ambition as being sexist and part of a double standard.

But there's something about Palin's speeches and interviews that I've found unnerving, and this morning I finally realized what it is.

She never, ever talks about the future.


One would think that the mother of four children, including an infant, and the soon-to-be-grandmother of another infant, would use her "hockey mom" persona to frame her ticket's agenda as creating a better world for her children. Barack Obama does it when he talks about his daughters. Joe Biden does it when he talks about his grandchildren. Even Hillary Clinton, a woman who Sarah Palin makes look like Mamie Eisenhower by comparison, did it. Sarah Palin doesn't. And I think I know why.

It's because Sarah Palin doesn't believe there is a future.

Philip Munger at Progressive Alaska recounts a conversation he had with Palin in 1977:
In June 1997, both Palin and I had responsibilities at the graduation ceremony of a small group of Wasilla area home schoolers. I directed the Mat-Su College Community Band, which played music, and she gave the commencement address. It was held at her church, the Wasilla Assembly of God.

Palin had recently become Wasilla mayor, beating her earliest mentor, John Stein, the then-incumbent mayor. A large part of her campaign had been to enlist fundamentalist Christian groups, and invoke evangelical buzzwords into her talks and literature.

As the ceremony concluded, I bumped into her in a hall away from other people. I congratulated her on her victory, and took her aside to ask about her faith. Among other things, she declared that she was a young earth creationist, accepting both that the world was about 6,000-plus years old, and that humans and dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time.

I asked how she felt about the second coming and the end times. She responded that she fully believed that the signs of Jesus returning soon "during MY lifetime," were obvious. "I can see that, maybe you can't - but it guides me every day."

Our next discussion about religion was after she had switched to the less strict Wasilla Bible Church. She was speaking at, I was performing bugle, at a Veterans ceremony between Wasilla and Palmer. At this time, people were beginning to encourage her to run for Governor.

Once again, we found ourselves being able to talk privately. I reminded her of the earlier conversation, asking her if her views had changed. She was no longer "necessarily" a young earth creationist, she told me. But she strongly reiterated her belief that "The Lord is coming soon." I was trying to get her to tell me what she felt the signs were, when she had to move on.

Think of the cold, dead look in Sarah Palin's eyes. Think of her bizarre non-response to Joe Biden's tragedy. Now watch about 4:15 into this video:

...when Palin says about Biden's current wife, "I know you're passionate about education, with your wife being a teacher for thirty years, and God bless her, her reward is in heaven, right?"

Go back and watch this video again. Then think about how a mother of four never once on the stump talks about her children's future.

Now imagine that John McCain is elected and dies of a stroke while in office. And this woman now has the nuclear codes.

Then ask yourself, and your friends, just how important a passing acquaintance with William Ayers is when the alternative is a pathological narcissist who's also a believer in the Left Behind model of the apocalypse.

Jill Hussein C. blogs at Brilliant at Breakfast.

AlterNet is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by its writers are their own.

© 2008 Brilliant at Breakfast All rights reserved.
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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Why Conservatives Led the Fight Against the Bailout Deal

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet

On Monday, the Bush administration's massive Wall Street bailout went down to a narrow defeat in the House. After the 228-205 vote, markets crashed, and the usual partisan finger-pointing followed. According to the Washington Post, Speaker Nancy Pelosi "maintained that Democrats 'delivered on our side of the bargain' by getting 60 percent of House Democrats to support a bill that was built around the Bush administration's proposal, whereas 67 percent of House Republicans voted against it."

At first glance, it may appear that the 133 House Republicans who broke with their party's leadership did so out of principle -- that they bravely stood up against a massive cash transfer to those most responsible for precipitating the financial crisis in the first place. They appeared to be gambling a lot in taking that principled position, despite the fact that the bailout had drawn fire from across the political spectrum. The conventional wisdom, after all, has gelled around the idea that only an unprecedented cash infusion into the ailing banking system will stave off a potential Next Great Depression. The message many rebellious conservatives sent was that it takes courage to roll the dice with the world's economy six weeks before an election, even if the public was deeply skeptical of the measure (the reality is that almost none of the lawmakers who face tight races this fall voted for the bailout, fearing a backlash from voters; Congress is not known for courage or principle on the eve of an election).

And there's no question that the bill they and 95 of their Democratic colleagues killed was an extremely bad one, even if some token nods to "Main Street" had been added to help it go down lawmakers' throats more smoothly. Democrats abandoned a key provision -- one vehemently opposed by lenders -- to allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages that are in the process of foreclosure, and they accepted only token limits on executive compensation for companies that would be rescued under the plan (PDF). Worst of all was a vaguely worded provision that might have allowed the Treasury to buy up bad paper at the price at which it was originally booked, rather than at those securities' largely unknowable but deeply diminished current value. That would have essentially given a small investor class an opportunity to recover its losses at the expense of the American taxpayer (and future taxpayers, as the bailout would be financed through debt).

But a deeper look reveals another picture of the legislative fight that has occupied Washington since George W. Bush first proposed the bailout. Unlike most House Democrats, who voted against the bill in an attempt to send the plan back to the drawing board to get a deal that might better protect taxpayers and homeowners, House conservatives torpedoed the measure in order to advance their own alternative "bailout," one that's an ideologically motivated back door to bailing out Wall Street without doing anything for Main Street.

The plan is notably light on detail, even for campaign season, when politicians are loath to discuss the fine points of any proposal. But based on what can be gleaned from media reports, the heart of the "alternative" scheme is for the government to sell insurance for securities based on bad loans, rather than buy up the paper directly. Supposedly, the premiums would be high enough to assure that Joe and Jane taxpayer don't get fleeced.

On its face, that idea seems both fiscally sound and decidedly conservative, in the traditional sense of the word.

But remember what the immediate problem we face is all about. The financial industry is weighed down by an enormous "shit pile" of bad paper -- mortgage-backed securities, complex derivatives and insurance-like instruments that were supposed to make all these "creative" investment vehicles somewhat sound. That shit pile, impossible to value accurately, is threatening the whole economy, as lenders hunker down and hold onto their cash reserves in an attempt to ride out the storm of foreclosures, and that's making it tough for businesses and consumers to get credit they need to expand their operations or buy new gizmos.

That's not a situation that lends itself to a government-backed insurance policy. If the premiums aren't deeply subsidized by the American public, they'll be out of reach of troubled banks by definition -- after all, if they had enough cash to cover their bad debts, which will ultimately be the job of the insurer (that's you, me and the people we know), then they wouldn't find themselves on the brink of collapse to begin with. That means the government would still end up effectively buying up the banks' worthless paper piece by piece as the underlying assets on which that paper is written go belly-up. Think of it as the government selling fire insurance for houses that are already ablaze.

So the point was not to spare the taxpayer the expense of Wall Street's shit pile. By offering an alternative plan, House conservatives abandoned a negotiating process that was, at heart, about trying to modify the disastrous Bush-Paulson plan so that it didn't just bail out the financial sector's movers and shakers without getting some concessions for working America.

The other two tenets of the alternative plan are worse still.

In keeping with the tradition of a party that has one policy solution to all economic ills -- cutting taxes on the wealthy -- the conservatives who bucked their leaders also suggested cutting capital gains taxes, even if only on a temporary basis. It's a triumph of ideology over common sense. We've seen stock markets tanking, as investors flee like rats from a sinking ship, seeking safer ground in commodities, which have gone through the roof (oil prices have been moderated somewhat by expectations of a long slowdown that would cut demand). A tax holiday on capital gains would only encourage those investors with steely nerves (and gains) who are staying in the market to join the herd, getting out while it's tax-free to do so. That can only send the already sky-high prices for food, energy and everything else even higher into the stratosphere. Ordinary working people would end up paying on both sides of the deal -- getting soaked for Wall Street's Reckless Lending Insurance and then paying through the nose to put food on the table.

Adding insult to injury is the third leg of the "alternative" bailout plan: more deregulation of the financial sector.

That's nothing short of breathtaking in its audacity. It was a lax regulatory environment that brought us to the verge of collapse in the first place. Exotic security-backed loans -- loans that didn't conform to the standards in place for banks that held deposits, including subprime loans, mortgages given to people who misstated their income and loans with heavy prepayment penalties and huge balloon payments -- are, as one would expect, faring far worse than the kinds of traditional loans that are regulated by the Federal Housing Authority or backed by Fannie Mae. Regulations passed by Congress only three months ago, as the depth of the meltdown had become clear, made "coercing a real estate appraiser to misstate a home's value" and "making a loan without regard to borrowers' ability to repay the loan from income and assets other than the home's value" a no-no; if similar commonsense regulations had been in place over the past decade, the run-up of the real estate market wouldn't have been as frenzied, and we wouldn't see the skyrocketing number of foreclosures we're witnessing today.

Again, none of this is to suggest that Americans should shed a tear for the demise of the compromise deal struck between Treasury Secretary Paulson and the Bush administration -- it was a bad deal that deserved to go down in flames. But it's also becoming increasingly evident that some sort of intervention is necessary to prevent the crisis from spreading through the entire global economy. Rather than pugnaciously cling to a failed ideology by heaping lucre on the wealthiest in the hope that it trickles down to the rest of us, Congress should be going back to the drawing board and coming up with a bailout plan rooted in a modicum of economic justice.

The House conservatives who have proven to be such a fly in the ointment are trying to go the other way -- cooking up a plan that will only deepen Main Street's pain in the name of saving it from Wall Street's predations.

Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.

© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

Tina Fey returns again to SNL to skewer Sarah Palin

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Invasion of the Sea-Smurfs
By Amy Goodman

A little-noticed story surfaced a couple of weeks ago in the Army Times newspaper about the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team. “Beginning Oct. 1 for 12 months,” reported Army Times staff writer Gina Cavallaro, “the 1st BCT will be under the day-to-day control of U.S. Army North, the Army service component of Northern Command, as an on-call federal response force for natural or manmade emergencies and disasters, including terrorist attacks.” Disturbingly, she writes that “they may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control” as well.

The force will be called the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive Consequence Management Response Force. Its acronym, CCMRF, is pronounced “sea-smurf.” These “sea-smurfs,” Cavallaro reports, have “spent 35 of the last 60 months in Iraq patrolling in full battle rattle,” in a combat zone, and now will spend their 20-month “dwell time”—time troops are required to spend to “reset and regenerate after a deployment”—armed and ready to hit the U.S. streets.

The Army Times piece includes a correction stating that the forces would not use nonlethal weaponry domestically. I called Air Force Lt. Col. Jamie Goodpaster, a public-affairs officer for Northern Command. She told me that the overall mission was humanitarian, to save lives and help communities recover from catastrophic events. Nevertheless, the military forces would have weapons on-site, “containerized,” she said—that is, stored in containers—including both lethal and so-called nonlethal weapons. They would have mostly wheeled vehicles, but would also, she said, have access to tanks. She said that any decision to use weapons would be made at a higher level, perhaps at the secretary-of-defense level.

Talk of trouble on U.S. streets is omnipresent now, with the juxtaposition of Wall Street and Main Street. The financial crisis we face remains obscure to most people; titans of business and government officials assure us that the financial system is “on the brink,” that a massive bailout is necessary, immediately, to prevent a disaster. Conservative and progressive members of Congress, at the insistence of constituents, blocked the initial plan. If the economy does collapse, if people can’t go down to the bank to withdraw their savings, or get cash from an ATM, there may be serious “civil unrest,” and the “sea-smurfs” may be called upon sooner than we imagine to assist with “crowd control.”

The political and financial establishments seem completely galled that people would actually oppose their massive bailout, which rewards financiers for gambling. Normal people worry about paying their bills, buying groceries and gas, and paying rent or a mortgage in increasingly uncertain times. No one ever offers to bail them out. Wall Street’s house of cards has collapsed, and the rich bankers are getting little sympathy from working people.

That’s where the sea-smurfs come in. Officially formed to respond to major disasters, like a nuclear or biological attack, this combat brigade falls under the U.S. Northern Command, a military structure formed on Oct, 1, 2002, to “provide command and control of Department of Defense homeland defense efforts.” Military participation in domestic operations was originally outlawed with the Posse Comitatus Act in 1878. The John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007, however, included a section that allowed the president to deploy the armed forces to “restore public order” or to suppress “any insurrection.” While a later bill repealed this, President Bush attached a signing statement that he did not feel bound by the repeal.

We are in a time of increasing economic disparity, with the largest gap between rich and poor of any wealthy industrialized country. We are witnessing a crackdown on dissent, most recently with $100 million spent on “security” at the Democratic and Republican national conventions. The massive paramilitary police forces deployed at the RNC in St. Paul, Minn., were complete overkill, discouraging protests and conducting mass arrests (National Guard troops just back from Fallujah were there). The arrest there of almost 50 journalists (myself included) showed a clear escalation in attempting to control the message (akin to the ban on photos of flag-draped coffins of soldiers). There are two ongoing, unpopular wars that are costing lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. Nobel-winning economist Joe Stiglitz estimates that Iraq alone will cost more than $3 trillion.

In December 2001, in the midst of restricted access to bank accounts due to a financial crisis, respectable, middle-class Argentines rose up, took to the streets, smashed bank windows and ultimately forced the government out of power, despite a massive police crackdown and a failed attempt to control the media. Here in the U.S., with the prospect of a complete failure of our financial system, the people have spoken and do not want an unprecedented act of corporate welfare. We don’t know how close the system is to collapse, nor do we know how close the people are to taking to the streets. The creation of an active-duty military force, the sea-smurfs, that could be used to suppress public protest here at home is a very bad sign.

Denis Moynihan contributed to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in North America.

© 2008 Amy Goodman

Distributed by King Features Syndicate

Will Wall Street's Meltdown Turn America Into a Police State?

This is one of the articles that actually tells it true. The illegitimate Bush administration has engineered the largest transfer of public wealth into private hands in history. It would seem the rogue government has plans for quelling citizen uprisings as well.--Pete

By Scott Thill, AlterNet

"Raw capitalism is dead." -- Henry Paulson, U.S. Treasury secretary

"Can't we just all go out and say things are OK?" -- President Bush, to congressional leaders during bailout negotiations

I'm not much of an Army Times reader, but after reading that a brigade was shipping from Iraq in October to serve as "an on-call federal response force for natural or manmade emergencies and disasters, including terrorist attacks" in the homeland right before the election, my antennae perked up. Same as they did when I read that an electoral college doomsday scenario exists in which Dick Cheney casts the deciding vote that gives McCain-Palin the White House.

That is, if Cheney and Bush don't take it for themselves. That may sound like fantasy, but don't kill the messenger. They are all strands of the Gordian knot the Bush administration has tied around the neck of the American people for the last two presidential terms, best represented today by the failed bailout of banks, brokers and other complicit parties that have since jacked the American people out of trillions. And while the Army Times revelation or election doomsday may turn out to be paranoia rather than prescience, the evidence just isn't there.

Like I said: antennae.

They've come in handy as bullshit detectors since Bush stole the election from a flat-footed Al Gore and set about engineering the greatest transfer of public wealth into private hands in American history. If you factor in Monday's failed takeover, as well as the $5 trillion the American people now owe thanks to the "bailout" of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, not to mention the continuing hyper-expensive occupation of Iraq and so on, our citizenry is now so far in the hole that it's pointless griping about numbers. If you want one, use the figure put forth by Dennis Kucinich: half a quadrillion dollars. We have evolved past the point of economic or geopolitical reality and entered a phase of pure concept.

And all vectors of that phase point toward the conclusion that the proverbial shit has totally hit the fan -- head on, and all over again.

Meet the New Rome, Same as the Old Rome

"Franklin Roosevelt had to save capitalism from itself," Los Angeles Times business editor Tom Petruno told me as Washington Mutual and Wachovia became the latest banking dominoes to fall. "Is history repeating?"

Indeed, it is, as one could tell from the repetitive usage of loaded terms and phrases like "Great Depression," "meltdown," "apocalypse," "Armageddon" and more to describe the just-on-time cratering of the American economy. After the strange bedfellows in both parties torpedoed Bush, Bernanke and Paulson's so-called bailout, more than $1 trillion of market value in American equities disappeared in a single day. The Dow Jones average set a record for quickest suicide dive in a single day. Other indexes sunk to multiyear lows, wiping out years of value, and stocks across the board went negative like Ann Coulter. In fact, the only major stock that actually advanced on Monday was Campbell Soup.

Can there be a more fitting metaphor for the American economy stuck beneath the Bush administration's thumb?

But the reruns, and their loaded terminology, are merging: Bush himself is just another iteration of the infamous "New World Order" instituted by his father while trying to, what else, convince the American public that it needed to go to war against Saddam Hussein. The revisionism is transparent, befitting a government that cares nothing of what its people actually think. Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" recently juxtaposed Bush's address on the financial cataclysm with his pre-invasion speech in 2003 and found -- surprise! -- they were exactly the same.

This is a long way of saying that this particularly frightening crux of historical geopolitics, fascism and environmental calamity has been a long time coming. Failing banks? Deregulation. Endless war? Homeland security. Total information awareness? Transparent government. Bankrupt economy? The fundamentals are strong.

"Here's my question," Petruno adds. "If this is remembered as Black September, will that end up being too gentle a reference to what actually happened to the American financial system this month? It is beyond comprehension for people who have been on Wall Street their entire lives. I can only imagine how absolutely stunned the American public must be. Stunned, and very afraid."

It should be. From a military brigade armed for action in the homeland in blatant transgression of Posse Comitatus to what ex-hedge funder and financial personality Jim Cramer recently called "financial terrorism," the United States is pushing forward back.

To start with, the bailout was obvious theft, but our situation is more precarious than you think. The hyperreal credit default swap market, which few understand although it is estimated to involve tens if not hundreds of global trillions, is faltering under the weight of its own Ponzi origins. The scenario significantly worsens once you factor in the given that countries like China and others who have denominated their loans in dollars are shouldering our exploding debt, along with oil-soaked sovereign wealth funds from nations whose civil liberties records suck ass. As I wrote last year on this clusterfuck, if the Chinese call in our debts and oil-producing countries decide to peg their petrodollars to the euro, you can more or less kiss the dollar goodbye. Which means the last thing you'll need to worry about is your stocks, retirement or credit cards. You will instead worry whether or not the cash you have on hand will be worth anything at all. That is the loaded gun that bankers, brokers and the White House is holding to the public's head, as I write. That trillion erased on Monday, as well as the trillions that have been lost and will be lost in the coming months, was nothing more than a hostage situation engineered by the Bush administration, the Federal Reserve and their partners in crime in finance, insurance and real estate business.

They don't call that sector FIRE for nothing. Fire destroys everything and leaves little in its catastrophic wake. Which raises the question: What's left to burn?

"I think our economic situation can get much worse," argues Danny Schechter, the veteran producer and author whose 2006 indie documentary "In Debt We Trust" covered this volatile territory long before CNN would. "Jobless claims are already at a seven-year high, but the government is worried about the reaction from Asia. We are living on other countries' money, and when that spigot gets cut off, we will be in deeper doo-doo. Part of the reason for the scale of the bailout is to show Asia and sovereign wealth funds that we will protect their interests."

But for how long? The Bush administration and Congress' disdain for the American people has been painfully obvious, so it's hard to believe they will call from sky-high Dubai to see how we are doing after making off with almost all of our money.

"It's a high-stakes gamble, which is why Paulson tried to do it quickly in a climate of shock and crisis," Shechter says. "He knew that the longer it takes, the more opposition it will attract. This plan, if eventually passed, will pre-empt the next president from doing anything about it, because there will be no money. They are wrecking the government by wrecking the economy first."

That shock doctrine, as Naomi Klein explained in her brilliant book of the same name, has foisted this same kind of disaster capitalism on country after country over the last century. Klein's book is littered with democracies that slept their way through coups and takeovers, entranced by one simulation or another. The United States was plugged into a matrix that onetime White House press secretary Ari Fleischer described as "an American way of life," adding without deceit that "it should be the goal of policy makers to protect the American way of life."

By destroying it? Mission accomplished.

"This is the September of surprise," Schechter concluded, "not a war on Iran but on America."

Civil War, the Rerun?

So, what's the next step for the shoe yet to drop? Perhaps the Army Times has the clues:

(The brigade) may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, or CBRNE, attack. ... The 1st BCT's soldiers also will learn how to use "the first ever nonlethal package that the Army has fielded," 1st BCT commander Col. Roger Cloutier said, referring to crowd and traffic control equipment and nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals without killing them.

Like every move the Bush administration has ever made, from the Patriot Act to the occupation of Iraq and down to bankrupting the American economy, this maneuver is a solution in search of a problem that it seems destined to create. Look around you. Housing is over. Stocks are nosediving. The banks are gone. War is ceaseless. Civil liberties are disappearing. Nerds at the Federal Reserve and the Treasury are taking hostages. It is madness.

And mad people have a tendency to infect everyone around them. The difference is that when you go mad ... well, that's the question mark: What will happen?

Ask the late Iman Morales, who went crazy in Brooklyn on a ledge 10 feet above ground and was illegally tasered by New York police officers, eventually falling to his death, immobilized. A perfect metaphor for our economy, sure, but it's also the type of literal shock we might be awaiting, as the November election creeps nearer and shit begins to hit the fan with ferocity. Many of us so-called alternative journos are not conspiracy nuts, but realists. We look at galvanizing leaders like Barack Obama, America's next president, and compare his impact to that of Lincoln, Kennedy or King -- without forgetting that all three were eventually assassinated. We are the type of realists who live through two Bush presidents, both of whom configured a New World Order, with and without the approval of the American people and the world at large. The type of realists that notice that after 9/11, we couldn't fly to Vegas, but Osama bin Laden's family was flown out of the country on government charter.

And here is what we see today: Crowds protesting in the streets, the people's money wiped out thanks to the Bush administration's latest economic shock and awe. An army brigade matter-of-factly betraying Posse Comitatus for the purpose of crowd control. The public trust and wealth almost robbed cleanly with congressional approval.

In other words, we see another unfolding coup, which is to say, a rerun. And there is no telling what the future may hold, or whether or not we are connecting vectors that should remain solitary. But our math has worked just fine in the past -- better than Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson's math, that's for sure.

And we'd love to be wrong about what's coming. But unfortunately that isn't up to us, and it never has been: It's up to the Bush administration. And it has never failed to let us down.

Scott Thill runs the online mag His writing has appeared on Salon, XLR8R, All Music Guide, Wired and others.
© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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From Empire to Democracy

Let's not waste $700bn on a bail-out, but use 'big government' for what it's best at - shaping a society that is fair and peaceable.

This current financial crisis is a major way-station on the way to the collapse of the American empire. The first important sign was 9/11, with the most heavily-armed nation in the world shown to be vulnerable to a handful of hijackers.

And now, another sign: both major parties rushing to get an agreement to spend $700bn of taxpayers' money to pour down the drain of huge financial institutions which are notable for two characteristics: incompetence and greed.

There is a much better solution to the current financial crisis. But it requires discarding what has been conventional "wisdom" for too long: that government intervention in the economy ("big government") must be avoided like the plague, because the "free market" will guide the economy towards growth and justice.

Let's face a historical truth: we have never had a "free market", we have always had government intervention in the economy, and indeed that intervention has been welcomed by the captains of finance and industry. They had no quarrel with "big government" when it served their needs.

It started way back, when the founding fathers met in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft the constitution. The first big bail-out was the decision of the new government to redeem for full value the almost worthless bonds held by speculators. And this role of big government, supporting the interests of the business classes, continued all through the nation's history.

The rationale for taking $700bn from the taxpayers to subsidise huge financial institutions is that somehow that wealth will trickle down to the people who need it. This has never worked.

The alternative is simple and powerful. Take that huge sum of money and give it directly to the people who need it. Let the government declare a moratorium on foreclosures and give aid to homeowners to help them pay off their mortgages. Create a federal jobs programme to guarantee work to people who want and need jobs and for whom "the free market" has not come through.

We have a historic and successful precedent. Roosevelt's New Deal put millions of people to work, rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, and, defying the cries of "socialism", established social security. That can be carried further, with "health security" - free health care - for all.

All that will take more than $700bn. But the money is there. In the $600bn for the military budget, once we decide we will no longer be a war-making nation. And in the swollen bank accounts of the super-rich, by taxing vigorously both their income and their wealth.

When the cry goes up, whether from Republicans or Democrats, that this must not be done because it is "big government", the citizenry should just laugh. And then agitate and organise on behalf of what the Declaration of Independence promised: that it is the responsibility of government to ensure the equal right of all to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".

Only such a bold approach can save the nation - not as an empire, but as a democracy.


Howard Zinn is a historian, playwright, and social activist. He is author of many books, including A POWER GOVERNMENTS CANNOT SUPPRESS, published by City Lights Books.

From: Z Space - The Spirit Of Resistance Lives