Character

September 11, 2010

It was a beautiful, crisp fall day just like this one when my car topped the first span of the Pulaski Skyway and I saw the thick plume of black smoke stretching across New York Bay from the World Trade Center.

Lots of pundits talked about 9/11 as the day everything would change. As it turned out, not everything changed, but enough did. George W. Bush was transformed from an ethically and politically compromised pretend-president, tainted by a contemptible Supreme Court decision and slated for ejection after four years of looting, into a delusional world conqueror who led America into a moral cesspool of torture, lies, and manipulation. The day’s death toll was awful, but the most terrible consequence of  Osama bin Laden’s scheme was to give a free hand to an ugly cohort that never should have been allowed near the levers of power in the first place.

It’s been said that crisis doesn’t shape character, but it does reveal character. Click here to see the character of our mass-market media revealed. Click here to see the character of the political opportunists who still exploit the disaster revealed.

Not everything changed on 9/11, but some things did. America turned into something tainted in the eyes of the world, a nakedly predatory country tolerant of blatant lies and willing to give free rein to its worst impulses. For a lot of evil people, 9/11 was just another political day. They have yet to pay any kind of price for their manipulations and deceit. In fact, some of them are poised to get back into power. Osama bin Laden, wherever he’s hidden away these days, must be having himself a good laugh over that one.

Daschle Days Are Here Again

September 3, 2010

So here we are, Labor Day just around the corner, midterm elections on the horizon. After a sweltering summer of bone-deep crazy, the Republicans have made it clear that if they regain power in Congress we can expect them to paralyze the government, conduct endless phony investigations into equally phony scandals, and pad the pockets of their cronies while the country continues its downward spiral.

So what are the Democrats in general, and President Obama in particular, proposing to do about this? Why do I feel that I’m witnessing a re-run of the Tom Daschle years, when the Senate leader let Republicans walk over him so many times that he should have had WELCOME tattooed on his forehead? Paul Krugman has some ideas about what they can to, you know, stave off the looming GOP disaster:

The actual lessons of 2009-2010, then, are that scare stories about stimulus are wrong, and that stimulus works when it is applied. But it wasn’t applied on a sufficient scale. And we need another round.

I know that getting that round is unlikely: Republicans and conservative Democrats won’t stand for it. And if, as expected, the G.O.P. wins big in November, this will be widely regarded as a vindication of the anti-stimulus position. Mr. Obama, we’ll be told, moved too far to the left, and his Keynesian economic doctrine was proved wrong.

But politics determines who has the power, not who has the truth. The economic theory behind the Obama stimulus has passed the test of recent events with flying colors; unfortunately, Mr. Obama, for whatever reason — yes, I’m aware that there were political constraints — initially offered a plan that was much too cautious given the scale of the economy’s problems.

So, as I said, here’s hoping that Mr. Obama goes big next week. If he does, he’ll have the facts on his side.

All true. However, Obama has had the facts on his side pretty much all the time. The facts supported single-payer healthcare. The facts supported the public option. The facts supported getting the hell out of Iraq and Afghanistan. The facts supported lots of sane, politically astute measures that would have pulled us back from the abyss we now stare into. Hell, the facts supported grabbing the Republicans and rubbing their long noses in the immense mess they created.

Obama had the facts. The Republicans had scare stories about socialism, death panels, and birth certificates. And now the Democrats are once again poised to pluck defeat from the jaws of victory.

Sure, I’ll vote for the Democrats in November. With Congress ready to become an even worse bedlam, it would be criminal to stay home. While teabaggers chase phantoms around the foot of the Washington Monument and Obama’s press secretary sneers at “the professional left,” I will do my bit to speak up for rationality and good policy.

But I sure do wish the guys with the power had been doing likewise these past months. When I pulled the lever for Obama I knew I was voting for a politician, not a messiah or a saint. But never in my wildest nightmares did I think I was voting for a younger version of Tom Daschle.

Mission Accomplished

September 1, 2010

President Obama’s visit to Fort Bliss just before his speech on the withdrawal of most (not all) troops from Iraq was gracious and dignified. As this Grey Lady editorial notes, it was a welcome change from the behavior of the repulsive little creep who launched the war:

President George W. Bush tried to make Iraq an invisible, seemingly cost-free war. He refused to attend soldiers’ funerals and hid their returning coffins from the public. So it was fitting that Mr. Obama, who has improved veterans’ health care and made the Pentagon budget more rational, paid tribute to them.

Of course, before going on to state the obvious about this contemptible war, the Times has to pause and give the hippies a smack over Vietnam: “One of the few rays of light in the conflict has been the distance America has come since Vietnam, when blameless soldiers were scorned for decisions made by politicians.”

We hardly ever hear about the antiwar protestors who were shot, or beaten to a pulp by hard-hat rioters, or attacked by cops with batons and tear gas. But these yarns about hippies spitting on soldiers, like the fairy tales about Americans still being held prisoner by the evil Vietnamese, will always be with us. They are a peerless mechanism of control, to be used for corralling and isolating dissent, and control was what the Iraq invasion was all about. Not the control of Saddam Hussein — he was already penned in. The control of power in America.

Many fine, patriotic Americans opposed the Iraq invasion right from the start, and I salute them, now and always. Some opposed it out of pacifism. As for myself, I didn’t oppose the war out of pacifism: I opposed it because I can smell a rat. The stench of fraud and lies was thick in the air well before the “shock and awe” spectacle started, and it only increased over the months and years. But “support the troops” was the catch-all response to any criticism, and it worked. The public, scared stupid by 9/11, mostly went along with it. The Democrats who should have been the loyal opposition were cowed. The press, which should have been telling the truth about what was going on, failed (with some honorable exceptions) in this most important task. What an appalling show.

As a military operation, the invasion of Iraq was worse than a fiasco, but it was never a true military operation. There was no casus belli, no real threat to be expunged. I see no reason to doubt that the Iraq invasion was, from the start, a politically motivated spectacle meant to shore up the credibility of George W. Bush and give the Republican Party the whip hand in dealing with the Democrats. It certainly wasn’t meant to go on this long: I’m sure most of the war whores expected it to be done and dusted as quickly as the Nineties romp presided over by the president’s dad, only this time the political capital wouldn’t go to waste.

That’s not the way it turned out, of course, as is shown by the scorecard: some 4,400 Americans dead, another 35,000 wounded, and at least 100,000 Iraqis dead. But that “Mission Accomplished” banner turns out to have been quite correct. George W. Bush, whose presidency was made possible by only Supreme Court justices voting from the bench, got to play Caesar and win himself a second term in an office he didn’t deserve in the first place. The GOP got endless congressional clown shows with ink-stained fingers, and the freedom to turn the economies of the U.S. and Iraq into vast hog troughs of crony capitalism.

And none of the crooks who participated in this awe-inspiring scam has suffered for it. Bush, whose middle name should forever be “Waterboard,” will grow old with his millions. An entire administration that deserved to be led away in shackles for fouling  America’s good name and destroying its economy has not even been subjected to the mild inconvenience of a serious investigation.

Gracious and dignified behavior is not the proper response to what Bush and his cronies did to this country. They used America like a cheap hooker, and they got away with it. So give the hippies their due: they saw something was wrong, and they did something about it. For all the uglies, real or imagined, that might be laid at the feet of the Sixties protestors, they stood up and demanded answers to their questions. All this generation can do is avert its eyes, twiddle its  thumbs, and say “Let’s just move on, okay?”

Mission accomplished.

Race to the Bottom

August 31, 2010

The sad, shabby tale of how Gov. Christie and his administration screwed up the state’s application for the federal Race to the Top educational funding program, as covered by Rachel Maddow:

You gotta love that bit about how the mistake was made because that RTTT application was just so goshdarn big. Remember those first months after George Waterboard Bush’s invasion of Iraq, when those weapons of mass destruction remained stubbornly invisible to the eye? That’s when the wingers started telling us that Iraq was the size of California, and gosh, there were so many places to hide those weapons. The moral of this story is, conservatives just can’t handle big jobs.

Sorry to say, I have to agree with Charles Stile’s view that this story doesn’t have what it takes to damage Christie’s long-term prospects as the GOP’s adipose Great White Hope. I mean, it’s not like incompetence and lying have been barriers to advancement for anyone else in the conservative fold.

Seaside Lowlifes

August 10, 2010

This video clip speaks for itself.  Every season, those Seaside Heights boardwalk stalls always manage to outdo themselves in sleaze. It’s rather appropriate that the lil’ redneck got a funnel and hose for a prize. I doubt he’ll stick the hose where it will do him any good. If you go to the YouTube page, check out the right-wing comment-scat.

The turning point

August 7, 2010

Why couldn’t Bill Clinton have offered to pay for dry-cleaning? Why couldn’t Al Gore have chosen a less weaselly vice-presidential candidate? Why couldn’t George W. Bush have been eating a bigger pretzel?

And why couldn’t President Obama have used his early popularity and strength to push through a bigger stimulus package? Something that would have not simply reduced job losses, but spurred job growth? I have my complaints about Obama, but I know a McCain administration — blinkered, clueless, wedded to corrupt conservative economic dogma — would have presided over a near-total economic collapse and another Great Depression.

Joshua Marshall sees the inadequate stimulus as the key error of the Obama administration, one likely to give the Republicans a chance to increase their power in Congress. Frank Rich has his own take on this in an excellent NYRB piece:

Yet it’s hard not to wonder if much more would have been accomplished, both substantively and politically, had Obama’s economic principals, Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers, been more open to ideas not of their own authorship and more capable of playing with others, including a public that still hardly knows either of them. Obama “apparently never considered appointing a banker or Fed governor from outside the East Coast who knew finance but was less connected to the policies that caused the crisis,” Alter writes. The homogenous team he chose “all knew one another and all looked at the world through nearly identical eyes.” Once in place in Washington, they would all underestimate the threat of rising unemployment, be blindsided by the populist anger rising outside the capital, and even fail to predict the no-brainer popularity of the “cash for clunkers” program. Their paramount group-think lapse—their inability “to think more boldly about creating jobs fast”—still haunts the administration. A White House job summit didn’t materialize until December 2009, nearly a year too late.

The Promise depicts a carelessness and dysfunctionality in the economic team that at times matches that revealed by Rolling Stone in the military and civilian leadership of the team managing the Afghanistan war. Geithner’s inexplicable serial income tax delinquencies, as elucidated by Alter, should have disqualified him for Treasury secretary just as Stanley McChrystal’s role in the Pentagon’s political coverup of Pat Tillman’s friendly fire death should have barred him from the top military job in Afghanistan. Summers’s Machiavellian efforts to minimize or outright exclude the input of ostensible administration economic players like Paul Volcker, Austan Goolsbee, and Christina Romer seem to have engaged his energies as much as the policy issues at hand.

In April 2009, at Obama’s insistence, a group of economists that Summers had blocked from the Oval Office, including Volcker, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, and Alan Blinder, was invited to a White House dinner. That colloquy has been cited ever since by White House aides in response to complaints that the administration’s economic circle is too insular. The dinner was a one-off, however, and the liberal economists’ ideas about tougher financial reform and a more ambitious stimulus package have languished.

Obama may have entered the White House with the intention of assembling a Lincolnesque “team of rivals,” but Summers subverted that notion by making himself chief packager and gatekeeper for any dissenting arguments about economic policy—all, he claimed, to spare the President from meeting with “long-winded people.” Lincoln’s “team of rivals” reported directly to Lincoln, but, as one source told Alter, Summers so skewed the process in this White House that it was like “a team of rivals reporting to Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s prideful secretary of war.” Even Warren Buffett, a supporter who had spoken to Obama weekly during the fall of 2008, “found himself mysteriously out of touch with the new president” once he took office.

Obama was now imprisoned within the cozy Summers-Geithner group “and it would be increasingly difficult for him to see beyond its borders.” This “disconnection from the world,” Alter concludes, was not due to ideology or the clout of special interests but was instead “the malign consequence of the American love of expertise, which, with the help of citadels of the meritocracy, had moved from a mere culture to something approaching a cult.” For all Obama’s skepticism of cant, he was “in thrall to the idea that with enough analysis, there was a ‘right answer’ to everything. But a right answer for whom?”

For whom? Come November, we may get our answer: For the Republicans. And that will mean the end of any chance of averting a longer, deeper recession. With its squalid cynicism and nihilistic program of doing everything it can to stall the recovery and whip up populist anger in order to regain power, the GOP has become an active menace to this democratic society. The sheer level of craziness and sleaze may be enough to alienate the voters. But that’s a mighty slender reed to hang our hopes on.

That it should come to this, after plenty of warnings, simply astonishes me.

What Taibbi Said

July 30, 2010

David “Babbling” Brooks doesn’t want us to criticize the looters and pillagers over at Goldman Sachs because . . . well, because their fee fees will be hurt and they might just decide to sit on their hard-stolen money and not use it to improve things for the peons — i.e., us — who huddle beneath their banquet tables, waiting for crumbs to trickle down.

Quite a mess, that column. Fortunately, here’s Matt Taibbi with a mop and bucket. Take it away.

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