Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The New Year. We're home with the RSI daughters watching Matthew McConaughey in Sahara. As always, McConaughey's depth and range as an actor is beyond praise. What a profound entertainment. Even better than Fool's Gold.

Mrs. RSI is in Florida with her mom and I took the girls to a party with lots of live music and good conversation with a tuba player.

The year 2008 was not a great year.

On top of the severe recession, the on-going American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Israel's attack on Gaza, our friend Nancy Peterson died from breast cancer.

But Mrs. RSI is in grad school, I'm on sabbatical and the RSI girls are thriving.

Plus, the world's a better place because of the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States. Whatever progress the incoming Obama administration can make, the world's a better place because the American right has been separated from the levers of power. As long as George Bush was in charge, the American right was the most dangerous source of instability in the world.

With Obama's election, that danger has abated and there's some hope for improvement.
Bobby Rush Plays the Thomas Card. Congressman Bobby Rush of Chicago was playing a race card yesterday when urging people to accept the Rod Blagojevich's nomination of Roland Burris for the Senate seat held by Barack Obama.
"I would ask you to not hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer. Roland Burris is worthy," Rush said.
But which race card was Bobby Rush playing. In mainstream political commentary, "the race card" is viewed as a racial reference that African-Americans unfairly use to gain advantage over whites. But that's ridiculous. What 250 years of slavery, another hundred years of segregation, and a couple generations of racial discrimination means is that America is practically drowning in race cards. So it's important to be specific about which race card Bobby Rush was playing.

John Kass of the Chicago Tribune claims that Rush was playing the Jesse Jackson/Al Sharpton race card.
Grown-ups have seen such theater before. The only things missing were cameo performances by those two prolific race card players, Al Sharpton and Chicago's own Rev. Jesse Jackson.
I'm sure people could find these kinds of references to lynching from Sharpton's involvement in the Tawana Brawley mess. But claiming that the rejection of the kind of ethically questionable and manipulative race play being made by Blagojevich is analogous to lynching doesn't sound like Jackson or anything Sharpton's said since he first ran for President.

Instead, Bobby Rush is sounding more like Clarence Thomas. Here's Thomas from his Senate confirmation hearing after his pathetic conduct toward Anita Hill was revealed.
"This is not an opportunity to talk about difficult matters privately or in a closed environment. This is a circus. It is a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, as far as I am concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity-blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that, unless you kow-tow to an old order this is what will happen to you, you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate, rather than hung from a tree."
That's one of the many conservative race cards. Conservatives also play "color-blindness," the Bell Curve, and a host of other race cards against African-Americans. "Barack the Magic Negro" is a race card that Rush Limbaugh particularly enjoyed playing. In the case of Clarence Thomas, the conservative idea is that liberals who engage in critical treatment or moral condemnation of African-American conservatives are doing the moral equivalent of a lynching. Bobby Rush and Roland Burris aren't conservatives, but Rush is doing essentially the same thing when he claims that liberal rejection of Roland Burris would be "lynching."

Playing a race card in support of a corrupt figure like Blagojevich is no surprise. How many pro-Blagojevich cards are out there? But it's not the kind of card that either Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton would play.
No Ceasefire, No Surprise.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Unsettled CW. Liberal bloggers like Glenn Greenwald and Digby like to stress the unity of the American political establishment or "the village" as Digby likes to call it.

But there could be some shifting going on in the establishment. The RNC's racist farce over "Barack the Magic Negro" is an indication that the Republican Party might not turn out to be a credible opposition to the incoming Obama administration.

There's so me signs that the leadership of Republican institutions might be worried about their credibility. For example, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has forced out two of their most vociferous neo-cons--Michael Ledeen and Reul Marc Gerecht. No institution that employs John Bolton, Charles Murray, and Newt Gingrich could be very credible in the final analysis.

But it appears that AEI is trying.

There's some signs of the repositioning of the Democrats in relation to the mainstream media as well.

The media might be softening its embargo of the left as well. On Face the Nation last Sunday, CBS invited Paul Krugman to provide critical perspective on Obama's stimulus package rather than any kind of conservative figure.

It appears that Democratic elites are getting fed up with media stupidity. Caroline Kennedy improved her stock with me by asking if her insipid New York Times interviewers had ever thought about writing for "women's magazines." Actually, Kennedy wasn't being fair to women's magazines which are generally superior to political journalism. She should have compared Times political correspondents to entertainment or sports reporters instead.

And today, Zbigniew Brzezinski actually referred to Joe Scarborough to Scarborough's face as "stunningly superficial" in discussing Israel and Hamas.

None of this is an indication of any kind of big structural shift, but it does appear that the conventional wisdom is fairly unsettled right now.

Israelis Consider French Proposal. It appears that Israel is considering a French proposal for a 48 hour cease-fire "to see if Palestinian militants will stop their rocket attacks on southern Israel . . . . Any offer would be coupled with a threat to send in ground troops if the rocket fire continues."

Who knows. The Israelis may decide that they've made their point about the invincibility of their military and accept.

But that doesn't seem likely.

French President Nikolas Sarkozy made the cease-fire proposal within the framework of the Quartet--a group of international powers trying to stabilize the Middle East. Incorporating the U. S., UN, EU, and Russia, the formation of the Quartet is yet another sign of the failure of the Bush foreign policy vision. Much of American policy during the early Bush years had been geared toward freeing the U. S. from the "constraints" of global institutions like the United Nations and the traditional NATO alliance with European countries.

But with the formation of the Quartet, it appears that the U. S. is involved in a new kind of global institution that will once again constrain American policy. Far from being the "new Roman empire," the U. S. is just a very large element in the global institutional picture.

John Bolton must be rolling over in his grave (not that he's actually dead).

The other important consideration here is that the U. S. is not the lead element in international political initiatives either.

That honor is going to the French.

Boxed in by its commitment to support Israel, the Bush administration does not have the interest or the will to actively pursue cease-fire proposals. That's making us secondary players in a region where we have something like 150,00 troops and the EU, UN, Russians, and everybody else has none.

Only the Bush administration is ineffective enough to turn such overwhelming military superiority into such pathetic diplomatic weakness.
No Surprise There. The federal government has announced that its committing 6 billion out of the TARP fund to support GMAC--the financial arm of General Motors.
The Treasury will purchase a $5 billion stake in GMAC and lend $1 billion to GM so the automaker can contribute to the lender’s reorganization as a bank holding company, according to a statement issued yesterday. The loan is in addition to $13.4 billion the Treasury agreed earlier this month to lend to GM and Chrysler LLC.

It's the logical thing to do. GMAC is a financial institution that's oriented toward making loans for people to purchase automobiles. They're a better bet for TARP funds than banks that want to buy other banks.

Monday, December 29, 2008

If the Anti-Bush Tide Turns. Like Matthew Dowd and Harriet Miers, Condoleeza Rice views George Bush more in terms of love than anything else. So, it's not much of a surprise that Condoleeza Rice is defending the Bush presidency by saying that "I think generations pretty soon are going to start to thank this president for what he's done. This generation will . . ."

Personally, I don't think Rice should hold her breath.

But Rice does raise an interesting question. Conventional historical wisdom rates George Bush as a presidential bottom feeder along with Buchanan, Pierce, and Hoover. How would we know when the tide of judgment is beginning to turn? What would be a sign that historians are starting to look at Bush more like Harry Truman and less like James Buchanan?

Would it be books by well-known conservative historians like Niall Ferguson? Probably not. Writers like Ferguson would come off as being biased towards Bush in the same way that Amity Schlaes' work on the Depression is biased against Roosevelt.

One measure of a turn toward Bush would be the reputation of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. The last generation of historians has stripped the Confederacy of its "Gone with the Wind" aura and the reputation of Jefferson Davis has suffered immeasurably. Just as Abraham Lincoln has been on a reputational escalator going up, Davis has been going down a very steep slope.

And deservedly so.

Besides being Southern by choice, George Bush has many of the same traits that animated the Confederates--an exaggerated sense of his own masculine prowess, a taste for showy aggression, a disdain for knowledge and investigation, and an intolerance for disagreement. Bush has also been a "rebel" against the Constitutional system of checks and balances, international law, regulation of the stock market, the environment, and worker's health.

If Jefferson Davis and the Confederates make a comeback, it's pretty likely that historians will look on George Bush with a kindly eye.

If not, Bush will keep getting what he deserves.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Israel: War Crime as the Only "Winning" Strategy. It's tempting to view Israel as starting a Friedmanesque war to make Hamas "Suck. On. This." But the Israelis aren't quite as stupid as American warmongers.

At least not yet.

Instead, the Israelis have a two point preference schedule in relation to Hamas. What Israel most prefers is to intimidate Hamas into acting as an agent of the Israeli government in the Gaza strip. That's what they think they have with Abbas and Fatah on the West Bank. But, the Israelis have not been able to accomplish this goal with Hamas. As a result, the Israelis moved to Plan B and have decided to attack Gaza with the dual aim of taking out the Hamas government infrastructure and collectively punishing the Palestinian population for its support of Hamas.

As Glenn Greenwald emphasizes, collective punishment is a war crime.

I don't see how the Israelis can succeed with this. It's easy to bomb government buildings, kill militants, and target prominent activists. If the Israelis launch a ground offensive, they'll probably capture a significant percentage of the Hamas leadership.

But so what? What's most likely to happen is that the Israelis will launch a ground assault that will destroy part of the Hamas political infrastructure with the rest of Hamas reasserting control as the Palestinians dig out of the rubble.

That can only be called victory if Israel acknowledges that the collective punishment of knocking out the government infrastructure, destroying the economy, and killing a lot of civilians was the main goal of the attack. In this sense, the Israelis might claim that they want to keep the Palestinians digging out of the rubble as a way to distract them from attacking Israel.

Call that the Grozny approach.

But if that's the case, the Israelis are just war criminals in the same way that the U. S. has been engaged in on-going war crimes in Iraq.

But it's still likely to be counter-productive. Robert Farley of Lawyers, Guns, and Money (and the Patterson School of Diplomacy at the University of Kentucky) argues that Hamas sought to trigger the Israeli attacks as a way for them to take over the West Bank from Fatah.

There's also the possibility that the Israelis could get bogged down in Gaza City the same way that they got bogged down in Lebanon during the 2006 war.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wrong Planet Rod. Indicted Illinois Governor made a big mistake in trying to defend himself during an interview to a Chicago television station.

"Look, if I'd have known people were listening, I probably wouldn't have said some of the things you say in private conversations . . . . But I think there's probably tens of millions of people across America who talk like that from time to time . . . ."

Blagojevich said the wiretap recordings show him working for the people of the state. "Even in this process, without saying too much, that was all about trying to end up with the right decision that could do the most things for the people of Illinois, and
when the full truth is told, you will see precisely that," Blagojevich said.

"If somehow that's impeachable, then I'm on the wrong planet and I'm living in the wrong place," he said.

I'm not sure that "tens of millions" of people "talk like that from time to time." But given that the prison population in the U. S. is 2.3 million, a couple of million of the people who "talk like that from time to time" are in jail. Of course, there's probably a lot of people who "talk like that" and still at large because of stringent policies against mass wiretapping.

As for Blagojevich's place of residence, I'm sure that impeachment is the least of Wrong Planet Rod's problems. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he found himself joining the 2.3 million people in custody within the next year of two.

To Be Fair to Michelle Malkin

Scoring one for post-partisanship, I think Michelle Malkin is right that the media is a lot more positive about Barack Obama's obsessive work-out regime than it was about George Bush's exercise fanaticism. According to Eli Saslow's ridiculously fawning article in the Washington Post:
Obama has gone to the gym, for about 90 minutes a day, for at least 48 days in a row. He always has treated exercise less as recreation than requirement, but his devotion has intensified during the past few months. Between workouts during his Hawaii vacation this week, he was photographed looking like the paradigm of a new kind of presidential fitness, one geared less toward preventing heart attacks than winning swimsuit competitions. The sun glinted off chiseled pectorals sculpted during four weightlifting sessions each week, and a body toned by regular treadmill runs and basketball games.
Compare to this characterization of George Bush by Jonathan Chait (quoted from Malkin):
"The (over)exercise of power." Recounting how President Bush ran 3.5 miles a day and preached more cross-training to a federal judge, Chait fumed, "Am I the only person who finds this disturbing? ... What I mean is the fact that Bush has an obsession with exercise that borders on the creepy."
I'm not all that impressed with Obama's workout routine either. But the exercise situation is different with Obama than it has been with Bush. George Bush was "The Decider," but he didn't seek out information let alone alternative sources of information. Bush also wasn't interested in the details of policy-making, never did much work in the evening, and was in bed by nine. In Bush's case, working out was a central focus of his life as a former alcoholic in the same way as A-A meetings. For Bush, being president seemed to be a distraction from his workout schedule.

At least that's how I remember joking about it.

If anything, Obama is even more of a workout fanatic than Bush. But for Obama, obsessive exercise seems to have become his chosen foothold in "normality" as his life has gotten weirder and weirder over the course of the last two years.

I remember reading about Michael Dukakis keeping his hand in "the normal world" by balancing his checkbook on the presidential campaign plane in 1988. In the same way, it looks like Obama's 7:30am workouts are a way to anchor himself in the normal world before he begins another his ten-hour workdays and evenings "talking to advisers and reading preparatory documents."

Still, 90 minutes a day of weights, cardio, and basketball is a heavy dose of workout narcissism for a president-elect who already gets an enormous amount of adulation. Obama should tone it down.
The Problem with Pakistan. There were a lot of news reports yesterday about Pakistan moving troops from the Afghanistan border to the Indian border. Is Pakistan shifting resources from the war on terror to a confrontation with India? Are they warning India and the United States to back off after the Mumbai attacks?

But the first question that needs to be asked about Pakistan is not "war on terror" vs "hostility to India?" The question is whether the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari controls the dispositions of the Pakistani Army in relation to either Afghanistan or India.

Unfortunately, the answer is probably not a big "yes."

The chances are also pretty good that pro-al Qaeda elements in Pakistan's intelligence services helped the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba plan the recent attacks on Mumbai.

In other words, Pakistan's government does not fully control either its military or its intelligence service. Likewise, Pakistan's government does not control the Western "Federally Administered Tribal Areas" or Northwest Frontier Province and faces terror campaigns and insurrection in several provinces.

According to President Zardari, "We have shortcomings. We need more help."

But it's probably more accurate to say that Pakistan is in the throes of "state failure." According to the "Pakistan Assessment."
A simple truth in vast regions of Pakistan today is that the state has withered away. A wide array of anti-state actors is currently engaged in varying degrees of violence and subversion in an extended swathe of territory. A cursory look at the map indicates that the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and Balochistan are witnessing large-scale violence and insurrection. Violence in parts of the Sindh, Punjab and Gilgit-Baltistan has also brought these areas under the security scanner. Islamabad’s writ is being challenged vigorously – violently or otherwise – in wide geographical areas, and on a multiplicity of issues. Well over half of the territory presently under Pakistan’s control, including Gilgit-Baltistan and ‘Azad Jammu & Kashmir’, has passed outside the realm of civil governance and is currently dominated essentially through military force.
Policy makers need to worry less about Pakistan in relation to Afghanistan and India and more about the possibility of Pakistan becoming a nuclear armed Somalia. Pakistan isn't that far from the question of whether there is going to be any kind of central government to succeed the Zardari government if it falls.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Perhaps the Republicans Need Black Friends. Leading Republicans seem to have a lot of problems with this "not being a racist" thing. Today, it was reported that Chip Saltsman, a candidate for chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC), distributed a Christmas CD to RNC members that included the song "Barack the Magic Negro."

The CD, called “We Hate the USA,” lampoons liberals with such songs as “John Edwards’ Poverty Tour,” “Wright place, wrong pastor,” “Love Client #9,” “Ivory and Ebony” and “The Star Spanglish banner.” Several of the track titles, including “Barack the Magic Negro,” are written in bold font.

The song, which debuted on Limbaugh’s show in late March 2007, latches onto an opinion column in the Los Angeles Times of the same title. That column, penned by cultural critic David Ehrenstein, argued that Obama could serve as a balm to whites who felt guilty about past treatment of African Americans.

There's a big disconnect here between Saltsman's smarts as a political operative and his ability to think about race and racism in the United States. According to sources, Chip Saltsman is a first-rate campaign manager and was described by Bill Frist as "a multi-talented superstar."

But Saltsman's response to the controversy over using "Barack the Magic Negro" as part of his campaign to become RNC chair is incredibly stupid.

Saltsman said he meant nothing untoward by forwarding what amounts to a joke more at Ehrenstein’s expense than at Obama’s. “Paul Shanklin is a long-time friend, and I think that RNC members have the good humor and good sense to recognize that his songs for the Rush Limbaugh show are light-hearted political parodies,” Saltsman said.

Given that it doesn't occur to Saltsman that he should care whether he's stigmatizing Barack Obama on the basis of race, I thought about recommending that Chiperino run these kinds of things by his black friends before he puts them out there.

But then it struck me that Chip Saltsman might not have any black friends and that not having any black friends is part of what's getting him into trouble.

The same might be the case with Republicans in general. Barack Obama got 96% of the black vote during the presidential election. Sure he was the first African-American nominee of a major political party. But Hillary would have done just as well with African-Americans if Obama had decided not to run. Likewise, there are no black Republican governors, Congressmen, or Senators, and there were only 36 black delegates at the 2008 Republican Convention (compared to 1087 black delegates at the Democratic Convention).

Outside of Shelby Steele and Michael Steele, there don't seem to be enough black Republicans to befriend top GOP figures like Chip Saltsman, steer them away from the use of racist symbolism, and help them develop some smarts about racial politics in our beloved country.

Perhaps the Republicans could start a "black friend" program to recruit African-Americans to help GOP presidential candidates, campaign managers, pollsters, consultants, and state party officials do a better job of presenting themselves to non-white populations.

Obviously, one could criticize this type of program as tokenism, but tokenism is a long if not an honorable tradition among white liberals. So, there's little justification for snobbery on the left.

More importantly, the Republicans have to start somewhere.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas To RSI Readers

The RSI family had a great Christmas. I hope yours did too.
Off-Her-Game Ann Coulter Whacks Kwanzaa. In her Christmas column today, Ann Coulter took a few whacks at Kwanzaa--the African-American oriented winter holiday. As a talented political comedian, Coulter gets in her usual insults, demeaning characterizations, and one liners. Here's a couple:
When Karenga (Dr. Maulana Karenga, the founder of Kwanza) was asked to distinguish Kawaida, the philosophy underlying Kwanzaa, from "classical Marxism," he essentially explained that under Kawaida, we also hate whites. While taking the "best of early Chinese and Cuban socialism" -- which one assumes would exclude the forced abortions, imprisonment of homosexuals and forced labor -- Kawaida practitioners believe one's racial identity "determines life conditions, life chances and self-understanding." There's an inclusive philosophy for you.
But Coulter is also off her game. Coulter's idea is that she can get in a few shots at white liberals and their African-American political allies by taking a comical blunderbuss to Kwanzaa. But she doesn't get there. In fact, Dr. Maulana Kerenga is not a well known or widely celebrated figure. So, ridiculing him doesn't get Coulter to bigger targets like Nancy Pelosi, Jesse Jackson, or Barack Obama. It's just another conservative rant against black people.

Coulter's sneering put-downs of Kwanzaa don't help either.
Kwanzaa itself is a nutty blend of schmaltzy '60s rhetoric, black racism and Marxism. Indeed, the seven "principles" of Kwanzaa praise collectivism in every possible arena of life -- economics, work, personality, even litter removal. ("Kuumba: Everyone should strive to improve the community and make it more beautiful.") It takes a village to raise a police snitch.
Like improving the community is a bad thing. Kwanzaa has the same schmaltzy good intentions, niceness, and helpfulness as Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. Whacking Kwanzaa as a Marxist aberration is the equivalent of taking a two by four to the Easter Bunny.

It ain't pretty.

But Coulter's been off her game ever since John McCain nailed down the Republican nomination Offended by McCain and wrong-footed by Obama (isn't everybody?), Coulter kept the one-liners flying but hasn't been sure how to attack her targets, what her conservatism has to say about the issues of the day, or how to advance the conservative cause.

Completely irrelevant during the presidential election, Coulter still hasn't found her post-election groove.
Bush Can't Quite . . . The Bush administration blunders on pardons as well. They just can't quite seem to get it right.

A Little Christmas Live-Blogging

Dot! Dot! Dot! At eight, the RSI family got the singing Santas and played them all to announce the advent of Christmas. Then, we opened presents. Girls got plenty of clothes and new adjustable chairs that they can bring into the living room. Mom got wine glasses and lots of stuff on nursing and Dad got the "usual" useful stuff. Uncle Charlie in Louisiana sent the whole family a bunch of Obama paraphernalia. Too bad Charlie doesn't live closer.

But the centerpiece of the day is watching that traditional Christmas classic Mama Mia.

Whoops! Now I know why NPR film reviewer David Edelstein didn't put Mama Mia in his top ten.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Are Banks the No. 1 Threat to Capitalism? Fareed Zakaria has an article out for Newsweek entitled "Can Obama Save Capitalism." But I'm beginning to wonder if capitalism can be saved, or at least capitalism as we know it.

This is what got me wondering. Talking Points Memo features a post from someone in the real estate business who claims that banks are not using TARP money to lend for development projects. He quotes one banker as telling him that the banks have decided to use TARP money for buying other banks rather than new lending or renewing old loans.

As a commercial real estate attorney, I'm deeply involved with the current complete freeze-up of the commercial lending markets. I have many clients who have sound business practices in the development of commercial real estate.

Suddenly, and coinciding with the Lehman/Goldman fiasco, the commercial lending markets completely disappeared. Not just a slow down, but a complete and total shut down. Loans for which there were commitments were suddenly pulled. Term loans (most in the development world are for 1-2 years at a time) were suddenly not available for renewal putting borrowers in immediate default, or the lender required severe principal reductions in order to for the borrower to renew - severe to the point of not possible.

I'm not talking about over-speculative developers here asking for a bail-out. I'm talking about fiscally responsible developers, on-time payors with pared down staffs, who wrongly believed that the TARP funds going to the major banks would be put into circulation in the credit markets for new loans and renewals, which are the life-blood of the real estate industry. One bank had the temerity to tell me on a conference call that they were using the TARP funds for acquiring other banks,
not for new loans or renewals. And here lies the problem with the Paulson/Bernacke/ Frank plan...they once again trusted the banks "to do the right thing", (a la Greenspan), without requiring that the TARP funds go right back into the lending stream through the conduit of the banks. I'm not socialist, but I sure would agree for a Bank of US to come out of this mess. This is happening today, and the warnings are clear, and the results will be catastrophic.

If that claim is true, it's very interesting. Perhaps most importantly, it means that banks have decided that their "normal" business is mergers and acquisitions rather than lending.

But why is that the case?

I can't help but believe that bank executives believe that "buying other banks" is more profitable, better for the health of their companies, or more conducive for big bonuses and promotions than lending money to businesses.

Why that's the case is hard to tell. Perhaps the profits from lending are low because of low interest rates? One could argue that commercial ventures don't look very safe right now. But why would acquiring new banks look safer? It must might be that lending money looks boring, stodgy, or extremely limited in comparison to buying and selling other companies.

Whatever the reason, the reluctance to lend poses problems for American capitalism. First, the reluctance to lend undermines the rationale for using TARP funds for financial bailouts. If financial institutions just don't want to lend money to commercial enterprises, they won't use TARP money to restart lending. As a result, there is no reason to give bailout money to large-scale financial institutions. The money would be better devoted to creating an alternative for the commercial loans, consumer loans, and housing loans that business needs to get back on track.

In this context, the logic of the situation is that the government should be willing to take on a lending role for the next few years. Perhaps the TPM poster's "socialist" idea of a Bank of the US is the only way to generate the credit mechanisms needed to keep American business afloat.

The next question is whether private institutions are capable of providing the financial instruments needed for American business to function and grow. Right now, the jury is probably out on that, but it may be that the Obama administration needs to reimpose the Glass-Steagle Act that mandated the separation of commercial banks that primarily engaged in lending from brokerage houses that primarily engaged in investment.

To the extent that banks view themselves primarily as investment institutions, they may not be very useful for the American economy. The Obama administration should be gearing its policies toward re-making commercial banks as lending institutions. Otherwise, the government is going to have to become the primary lending institution in this country.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Will Anyone Outside the Magic Circle Be Listening? The New York Times has an article on conservative radio talkers looking forward to Obama's inauguration as a sign that they can go "back on the offensive" after eight uncomfortable years of defending Bush. However, there's a good chance that nobody outside conservative circles will be listening. Conservative talker and columnist Michael Medved has concerns:
In an opinion piece for USA Today this month, the radio host Michael Medved said he cherished the notion “that the last time a young Democrat took over the White
House with gauzy visions of change, it produced a ‘Golden Age’ for right-wing talk,” referring to the presidency of Bill Clinton and the ascent of Rush Limbaugh, among others. But he expressed concern that talk shows have cultivated a “niche audience rather than the Republican mainstream.”
If conservative talk radio can't even appeal to the "Republican mainstream," they have little chance of having an impact on moderate and independent opinion and thus little chance of influencing broader political debate. Rush Limbaugh already knows how little he connects with moderates and independents.
What people don't realize is I'm doing McCain the biggest favor that could be done for him by staying out of this. If I endorsed him thoroughly, with passion, that would end the independents and moderates, 'cause they so despise me, and they so hate me.
During the heyday of the Bush administration, conservative talkers like Limbaugh and Sean Hannity coordinated their programs with the Bush administration, the Republican Party, and conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). The talk shows formulated Bush administration talking points in compelling ways, promoted the latest conservative ideas coming out of the think tanks, and came up with new kinds of attacks on the Democrats and liberals that would be re-circulated by the mainstream media.

But all of that's gone now. The Bush administration will be gone next month while the Republican Party and institutions like AEI haven't figured out what they're going to stand for in the post-Bush era. Conservative talk radio exists in its own bubble. It's a large bubble, but it appears that nobody's going to be listening outside the magic bubble.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Are Boys Really the Answer? Mrs. RSI and the girls are off skiing today. But Mrs. RSI was regretting that she didn't have boys by the time the girls got out the door.
Greenwald Onto Fitzgerald. In yesterday's post, Glenn Greenwald recommended that Patrick Fitzgerald be appointed as a special prosecutor for Bush administration crimes. I couldn't agree more and made the same suggestion here and in connection to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Don't Let Your Son Date the Governor's Daughter. The mother of Levi Johnston, the father of Brook Palin's soon to be born baby, was arrested in Wasilla, Alaska today on drug charges. You have to wonder if it's a meth case. Meth and OxyContin are the two big drugs in this area and practically all the drug busts now are for methamphetamine. I'd be surprised if the same wasn't the case for Wasilla (known as the "meth capital of Alaska"). Much like any feeling person would have to have sympathy for the desperation of meth, OxyContin, and crack addicts, it's hard not to feel for someone who's sunk so low in their humanity that they would either set up a meth lab or sell any of these drugs.

It will be interesting to see how Sherri Johnston's case unfolds. Sarah Palin is certainly seeming like a more interesting person as a result. In a more democratic society than the U. S., a healthy percentage of high public officials would be talented people who are only one step removed from the bottom. If Sarah Palin actually cared about the rest of the world to learn about the issues of the day, she'd be a model of a democratic with a small "d" public official.

As for Sherri Johnston, she's probably thinking that her son's dating the governor's daughter isn't such a hot thing right now.

Saturday Update: The drug involved was oxycontin.
Franken Takes the Lead. Al Franken has pulled ahead by 100-150 votes in Minnesota. If Franken ultimately wins, that will make 57 Democrats and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side of the aisle with 41 Republicans and Joe Lieberman on the other side.
"Our Caroline": The Democratic Sarah Palin. "Our Caroline" Kennedy embarked on a listening tour of Upstate New York to promote herself as the Kennedy legacy candidate to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate.

No points for originality there.

Doing a "listening tour" was Hillary's way of introducing herself to Upstate for her 2000 Senate campaign.

The locals weren't impressed either.

Reporters in Syracuse were emphatic in wanting to know exactly why she was qualified for the Senate:
But after meeting with Mayor Matt Driscoll, [Kennedy] ran into a buzz saw -- angry reporters who wanted her to do more talking and less listening. "But you've never held public office so what experience [do you have]?" one reporter asked.
Not realizing that they were talking to "Our Caroline," local reporters thought they were being stonewalled when Kennedy blathered about talking to the mayor "about my experience and also [learning] more about how Washington can help these communities."

Undaunted, Our Caroline had real talking points by the time she and her entourage reached Rochester.
"It's a process so I just hope everybody understands this is not a campaign, but I have lived a life committed to public service, wrote a book on the constitution, the importance of independent participation, raised my family committed to education in New York City . . . "
Just like Sarah Palin, Our Caroline deserves credit for being able to get out her talking points even if she doesn't have a clue beyond that. I wouldn't say that Caroline Kennedy has led a useless life. She did raise $71 mill from her friends for the New York City school system and write a book on the Constitution. I'm imagine she learned to appreciate the importance of the environment on her regular visits to the Hamptons as well.

But it's just not much for someone with Kennedy's family connections and background.

In fact, Caroline Kennedy strikes me as even less qualified for the Senate than Sarah Palin was for Vice-President. At least Palin had been a governor and mayor.

Of course, nobody can match Palin for ignorance.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Not Cutting the Mustard. Mustard isn't hard to cut at all, but Barack Obama still isn't cutting it on the Rick Warren invitation. Obama says that he is "a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans." If Obama was such a fierce advocate for LGBT equality, he have invited Rev. Gene Robinson, the gay Episcopal bishop from New Hampshire, to share the stage at the inauguration instead of Rick Warren. Likewise, Obama would use his inaugural address to come out in support of gay marriage and re-examine his own attitudes toward gays.

I want to emphasize that. However you "cut" it, the core of opposition to gay marriage is bigotry toward gay people. It's the belief that gay sex, gay love, and gay people are so far outside what is acceptable for human beings that their relationships must not be given the consecration of marriage. As a heterosexual, I can get married even if I am as far outside moral acceptability as serial killers, mass murderers, drug addicts, purveyors of pornography, sex tourists, tobacco lobbyists, Dick Cheney, or Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom. What opponents of gay marriage are saying to gay people is that being gay is worse than being a serial killer, mass murderer, etc. Hitler, Stalin, and Nero would have been recognized as having a right to marry but opponents of gay marriage do not recognize gay people as having an equal right. People like Rick Santorum are open about their bigotry when they compare gay marriage to incest and bestiality. The same is the case with Rick Warren who compared gay marriage to incest and polygamy in an interview with BeliefNet's Steve Waldman:
Warren dodged Waldman's question about whether he supported civil unions or domestic partnerships, answering instead, "I support full equal rights for everyone in America," adding that he only opposes a "redefinition" of marriage. He went on to say he's opposed to gay marriage the same way he is opposed to a brother and sister marrying (that would be incest), a man marrying a child (that would be statutory rape), or someone having multiple spouses (that would be polygamy). Pressed by Waldman, Warren said he considered those crimes equivalent to gay marriage.
However, all opponents of gay marriage assume that the most monstrous heterosexual imaginable is less repugnant than any gay person and therefore more deserving of the right to marry.

The denial of gay rights is just as much a travesty as slavery, segregation, the denial of legal rights to women, wife abuse, or rape. It's a different kind of travesty but a travesty all the same.

Barack Obama needs to examine the extent to which he's participating in this travesty.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The End of the Tunnel. I've finally reached the end of the tunnel for the fall semester. My grades are in, my office is cleaned out, and I've started outlining chapters for my sabbatical. It will be interesting to see whether I can carry on my blogging into the sabbatical. I was highly motivated to attack the Bush administration, the Republicans, and conservatives when I started Red State Impressions. But I'm not sure that I'm not sure I'll have the same motivation to defend the Obama administration. There was a famous incident in the making of Chinatown where Faye Dunaway asked about her motivation and Roman Polanski said something to the effect "you're getting paid." But I'm not getting paid to blog. So I need to find motivation.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dick Cheney--Admitted War Criminal and Monster

The War Criminal Protection Zone. Today, Dick Cheney confessed to being a war criminal on national television. Here, Cheney refers primarily to waterboarding

The vice president was unapologetic in his defense of the Bush administration's anti-terror policies, including the use of waterboarding . . . . Cheney said waterboarding was an appropriate means of getting information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

He was also asked whether he authorized the tactics used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. "I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do," Cheney said. "And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.

What makes Cheney such a monster is that he's so matter of fact about his involvement in waterboarding "program." The same is the case with all the crimes perpetrated by the guards and administrators at Guantanamo, the abuses that went on in the brigs off South Carolina, and extraordinary rendition.

But there's another dimension to the war criminality of Dick Cheney and the rest of the Bushies--the matter of fact way in which the news is received in the United States. Perhaps the best measure of our lack of response to the Bush administration's crimes is the fact that Cheney's announcement isn't really news. Rod Blagojecovich, Jesse Jackson jr., Michelle Obama's inauguration dress, Sean Avery's dating life--that news.

Dick Cheney's announcement isn't.

The major question about Cheney is whether American society so inoculated to the shocking and immoral that Cheney's confession about his war crimes has no effect. The idea is that American popular culture produces so many gruesome images of murder, rape, and other kinds of brutality that political torture no longer has the power to shock. How shocked can somebody be after they've seen a body run through a wood chipper as in Fargo? In fact, waterboarding quickly became a stock image as information about the Bush administration's torture practices emerged and isn't seen as any more shocking than serial killing or school shootings.

But I think it's the other way around. In my opinion, the Bush administration is like slavery in that Bush's crimes against humanity are such an enormous blow to our collective self-esteem that they can't be fully acknowledged. Consequently, the media and the public construct a kind protective space in which Bush's war crimes can be readily acknowledged by people like Cheney but given no symbolic resonance in terms of our moral judgments of the Bush administration, Dick Cheney, or the CIA and military people involved in carrying out the orders. Ultimately, the public doesn't have to come to any kind of judgment about itself or "America" either.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Give Caroline Kennedy the Republican Nomination

Nothing against Caroline Kennedy, but why should she be chosen as a U. S. Senator from New York? For someone with her advantages of wealth, education, and fame, Caroline Kennedy has done relatively little with her life. Having been born on home plate, Caroline Kennedy has spent much of her life devoted to decorating the club house. Her thin resume is limited to serving on various boards, raising money for the New York City School system, helping one of Rupert Murdoch's kids get into an exclusive school, and asking questions as co-chair of the VP vetting committee.

There are tens of thousands of Democrats in New York who have done better--lawyers, educators, business people, civic leaders, college presidents. And I don't just mean in cities like New York City either. My home town of Waverly in the Southern Tier has dozens of people who would be more qualified to be a Senator than Caroline.

Of course, the story would be completely different if Caroline Kennedy were a Republican. The New York Times article notes that she does a pretty decent job of stonewalling the press.
But in brief interviews during the Democratic National Convention, and on “Meet the Press” after she had helped Mr. Obama vet his potential running mates, Ms. Kennedy easily deflected the few serious questions she was asked.
That in itself would have been enough for the Republicans to consider Caroline Kennedy as vice-presidential or presidential timber. When McCain campaign manager Rick Davis first saw Sarah Palin on television, he was so impressed with her ability to stonewall that he promoted her for the VP nomination. If Caroline Kennedy was a Republican with Kennedy name recognition and real stonewalling chops, Davis would have nominated her for president.
Hell Semester III. It's almost over. Hopefully, there won't be another sequel.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

If the Shoe Fits, Throw It. Matthew Yglesias is a better man than I am. At least he can pretend to fake some outrage over the George Bush shoe-throwing incident in Baghdad. I can't even get that far.

What was Bush's Motive. What the hell is Bush doing in Baghdad anyway? Bush probably has some delusion that "success" in Iraq is going to be his legacy. But the fact that violence has gone down doesn't mean that Iraq is going to be the Canada of the Middle East anytime soon. If anything, Iraq is still closer to being the Somalia of the Middle East than anything else.

It's Worse Than They Know. Dick Cheney warned Senate Republicans against always being known as the Hoover party. But I've got some good news for the Republicans. They don't have to worry about that. The Hooverite rejection of the auto industry bailout is just one piece of the GOP puzzle. The Republicans will also be known as the party of incompetence, torture, war crimes, and religious bigotry against gay people.

Maybe Bush is lucky that he doesn't visit the United States that often.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Burning Down the Church. Sarah Palin's home church, the Wasilla Bible Church, was severely damaged by fire on Friday. I hope it wasn't politically motivated arson. Although Palin's ridiculous lack of qualifications to be vice-president made her look foolish during the campaign, I always respected the sincerity of her religious beliefs and hope her church is able to rebuild.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Good 5-17. The Los Angeles Clippers won a double-overtime game in Portland tonight to up their record to 5-17. But it's a good 5-17. The Clips have put together a strong starting five of Baron Davis and Eric Gordon at guard, Al Thornton at small forward, Zac Randolph at the power slot, and Chris Kaman at center. Randolph is a horse in the middle and has been playing well all year. In fact, all five starters are capable of scoring 20 on any given night. The Clips also have a chance at a defense identity because of Kaman and Marcus Camby.

Actually, lack of identity is the main reason why the Clippers are 5-17. They've been injury-prone since training camp and haven't had much of a chance to develop team cohesion with four new starters and a second-year player in the starting lineup.

There's also a big talent drop-off after the first six guys and the Clips have lost several games after leading at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

But Chris Kaman and Ricky Davis will be back after a couple of weeks and the Clippers have a good shot at moving up to .500 at the end of the year.

Altogether an interesting team.
True to Their Twisted Little Selves. One of the ironies of Hamlet is that the pathetic blunderer Polonius appears to give his son Laertes excellent advice:
This above all: to thine ownself be true
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

But the advice only has the appearance of wisdom. Someone should be true to themselves only if they are unlike Polonius and have a worthy self to be true too.

This is obviously the case with the rejection of the $14 billion automobile bailout where the Republicans are being true to their twisted, bitter little selves.
Welcome to My Dreams. Last night, my recently deceased grandmother Rheta West entered my dreams. After having dreamt at least once about her being lost, Rheta appeared for the first time in my dreams since she died 2 1/2 years ago.

My grandmother Rheta was the real deal. Being born and initially married into the farm life in Camptown, PA, she raised four kids as a single parent after being abandoned by her husband at the depth of the Depression.

Then, it all turned around.

Marrying a good-guy bricklayer named Wayne West after the war, Grandmother Rheta enjoyed a happy life of cooking, crafts, boating, gardening, and small business enterprises for the next 40 years. And she lived it well, She was great with her neighbors, grandkids, and husband. She was also generous and fair. When she got a big bucks inheritance, Rheta divided it about 18 different ways without even giving herself a share.

I don't know that I had ever dreamed about her before.

But . . . Welcome.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Conservatives and the Sixth Catastrophe. One way to think about the history of conservativism in the United States is in terms of recovering from the latest in a series of catastrophes.

Catastrophe #1. The Election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800 and the decline of federalism as a dominant political force. The Federalist political project of aligning with the British monarchy, confining power to a narrow elite, and limiting the impact of the majority within Republican institutions failed. Jeffersonian Democracy introduced the specter of popular government to American society.

Catastrophe #2. The Election of Andrew Jackson and advent of Jacksonian Democracy in 1828. By the 1820's, conservatives had successfully fought back against popular government and re-established their ascendancy. But the election of Andrew Jackson introduced popular government and forced conservatives to fight their way back for another 12 years before they decided to adopt a popular politics themselves during the 1840 presidential campaign.

Catastrophe #3. The Defeat of the Confederacy. By 1860, the defense of slavery against abolitionism had become a core theme among conservatives South and North. The vanquishing of the Confederacy raised the specter of equal rights for African-Americans and temporarily overthrew the racial hierarchy in the South. White supremacy would not be fully re-instated until the 1890's.

Catastrophe #4. The New Deal. The Roosevelt administration openly attacked wealth and privilege, made poverty a political issue, and brought labor unions into the highest levels of presidential politics. The New Deal also legitimated an activist and supervisory role for the federal government in the economy with Keynesian economics, regulatory agencies, steep progressive tax rates, socal security, and AFDC. And the New Deal approach didn't stop with the end of the Roosevelt era. The National Defense Highway System, the GI Bill, and increasing levels of federal involvement in education were fundamentally New Deal initiatives. Unlike other catastrophes, American conservatives have never recovered from the New Deal.

Catastrophe #5. The Civil Rights Movement and the 1960's. With the Civil Rights movement, the specter of equal rights for African-Americans became at least a partial reality as the South's system of racial segregation was overthrown. The elimination of segregation as a system of racial hierarchy then inspired women, gay people, and other groups to redouble their efforts to end various kinds of social and political disabilities. The social ferment of the 1960's also gave birth to a counter-culture movement that had a long-term impact on American attitudes toward sex, abortion, marriage, drug use, and other social mores. Conservatives have been working even harder to undo the legacy of the Sixties than they've been working to reverse the New Deal. But they have only had limited success.

Catastrophe #6. The Failure of the George W. Bush administration. The Bush administration was the first authentically conservative administration since the Coolidge years during the 1820's. The Bush administration's reputation for arrogance and incompetence, the bungling of the war in Iraq, and the current economic crisis have confronted conservatives with the possibility that the incoming Obama administration will be a catastrophe for conservatism on the order of the New Deal.
Happy RSI Children. Sometimes I wonder about the RSI children. Mrs. RSI is down with a migraine on top of an infected root in one of her teeth. But the law of unintended consequences applies to Mrs. RSI's various illnesses as well. A big migraine means no sax practice tonight for the RSI girls (both of whom play alto sax in school bands). Happiness reigns.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Really Long Sentence Please.
His career in shreds, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich clung defiantly to power Wednesday, ignoring a call to step down from President-elect Barack Obama and a warning that Senate Democrats will not let him appoint a new senator from the state.
I imagine Rod Blagojevich thinks he can leverage his defiant refusal to resign into an easy sentence.

But public outrage doesn't quite work that way.

As several criminal celebrities, wandering CEOs, and corrupt politicians could tell Blagojevich, public outrage can add a lot of years onto a prison sentence. Because of the general disgust, O. J. Simpson will be serving at least 9 years for "potentially" hurting people in his Vegas memorabilia grab. Jeff Skilling of Enron got 24 years for hiding his losses at Enron while Bernie Ebbers got 20 for fudging the books at WorldCom.

Blagojevich probably has a few days--maybe a week--to give up his office before public disgust adds 5-10 more years to his sentence.

Personally, I think Rod will get 15-20 out of his bargaining.

Celebrating the New GOP. Some ads are more significant than others. I think the Sarah Palin 2012 shirt with the red and blue moose is especially rich in symbolism. The only problem I see is that the Moose is standing. Isn't Palin famous for shooting down the hulking herbivores and cooking them up into mooseburgers, moose chili, and tasty moosebeque? It would be much more true to the Palin spirit if her shirt had a moose trophy rather than a live moose.
Perhaps the Republicans could really capture the Sarah Palin spirit by referring to themselves as the "Dead Moose Party." Perhaps the "Dead Moose Party" has a certain satirical ring to it, but the nickname does capture core Republican positions on the special value of rural life, guns, and the environment.
"Dead Moose" t-shirts anyone?
Any Racists on Your Christmas List? It's hard to be a white person and not know at least a couple. I have several racist relatives myself. Anyway, the right-wing magazine Human Events recommends that you send them The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War. If you order now, they'll also send you a white sheet with a hood at no extra cost.
"At Least He Kept Chile Safe from Bolivia?" Talk about misplaced priorities, a Chilean cardinal used his homily in honor of mass murderer Augusto Pinochet to criticize Madonna:

Madonna is causing "crazy enthusiasm" and "impure thoughts" on her first concert visit to Chile, a prominent retired cardinal complained on Wednesday, as he paused in a tribute to a late dictator to denounce the pop star.

Roman Catholic Cardinal Jorge Medina criticized the flamboyant singer during his homily at a Mass in honor of the late dictator Augusto Pinochet, who oversaw the deaths of some 3,200 dissidents during his 1973-1990 rule.

By the way, shouldn't the Catholic Church be catching some of the anger that's being directed at the Mormons over Prop 8. Certainly Catholicism is the greater evil in relation to gay rights.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Nailing Blagojevich. In a way, the attorney for Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich hit the nail on the head. What Blagojevic has been doing is "just politics." But that's why it's such a great thing that Blagojevic was arrested and faces significant jail time. In fact, it has become "just politics" for legislators, governors, and staff people to either do things or promise to do things in exchange for campaign contributions. Presidents give their big-time campaign contributors plum ambassadorships, politicians hold out promises of appointments to bundlers, and party leaders promote legislation with the expectation that those who benefit will contribute to their campaigns.

But that's why the arrest of Blagojevich is such a great thing. Much of what's become "just politics" is a crime. When politicians promote bills with the expectation that the beneficiaries will increase their campaign contributions, that's soliciting a bribe. When they talk with their staffs about how they're going to use legislation to put the squeeze on lobbyists, that's conspiracy. It's extortion when a politician use a threat to withdraw beneficial legislation or promote harmful legislation if someone doesn't make or increase campaign contributions. Likewise, all the discussions of these kinds of threats are conspiracies.

It's time that all of this kind of politics be treated for just what it is--a crime.

And that is just what Patrick Fitzgerald is doing.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Call Bush "Palinesque." Perhaps people like Karl Rove should just buy up a television network and devote programming entirely to the presidential legacy of George W. Bush.

Call it Bush Legacy Television--B-L-T for short.

In an interview with The Statesman, Rove puts on his Obama "post-partisan" cap and claims that the Bush people were surprised by the level of partisanship in Washington.

Rove, a hall-of-famer when it comes to partisan politics, says Bush was hampered by partisan politics magnified by the recount. Bush, the self-proclaimed "uniter," came to town after successfully having navigated the decidedly less partisan waters of Austin, where, according to Rove, he "got lulled" by six gubernatorial years of dealing with Texas Democrats who were generally willing to work with him.

"And here (Washington) it's still consumed by the '90s, by what Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich routinely said about each other from the rostrums and the focus that was created in this town in the afternoon headlines and the snappiest comments on the morning cable programs . . . "

Evidently George Bush hadn't been following the news since the 1960's and hadn't been familiar with all the fights over Watergate, Jimmy Carter, Reaganomics, or Bill Clinton's sex life.

And that's where Bush Legacy Television should start--with a show about what George Bush knew about American politics when he was elected president.

Call the show "Palinesque: George Bush's Legacy as the First Totally Clueless President. "
One Too Many. It had to happen sooner or later. Getting into the ring one too many times, Oscar De La Hoya took a beating from Manny Pacquiao.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Bill Ayers Lays an Egg. Maybe the New York Times is in more financial trouble than I knew. Today, they published an extremely lame op-ed by former Weatherman and Obama friend William Ayers. Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings has a good take-down of Ayers' various evasions and dissembling, but Ayers does an excellent job of humiliating himself as well. Taking himself to limits of self-parody, Ayers characterizes the Weather Underground as engaged in "extreme vandalism."

The Weather Underground crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense. Our effectiveness can be — and still is being — debated. We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war.
It's fair to say that the Weather Underground conveyed incompetence and immaturity more than "outrage." But that's not to say that some good did not come out of the whole Weatherman exercise. I can see Ayers as the real-life model for the Brad Pitt's portrayal of the ridiculously self-inflating character of Jeffrey Goines in 12 Monkeys. Like Ayers, Goines was engaged in "extreme" vandalism to make a political point. At least Goines was mentally ill--Bill Ayers just seems feckless.

One More Thing: Ayers' "extreme vandalism" reminds me of Jeff Goldstein's "outlaw" stance at the conservative blog Protein Wisdom. Maybe Ayers was the one who really wrote this post about changing the world through flatulence.
Founding the Republican Future. In a Friday op-ed, Peggy Noonan has what might appear to be a fair piece of advice for Obama-- He'd better prevent another major terrorist attack like 9-11. Referring to a recent report on the dangers of terrorists getting loose nukes, Noonan warns the Obama administration to take such reports seriously. "When Republicans say, in coming years, "At least Bush kept us safe," Democrats will not want tacked onto the end of that sentence, "unlike Obama."

The idea that "at least Bush kept us safe" has become the Republican mantra concerning the Bush administration. At a Republican Christmas gathering that Noonan visited,
[t]here was . . . considerable grousing about the Bush administration, but it was almost always followed by one sentence, and this is more or less what it was: "But he kept us safe." In the seven years since 9/11, there were no further attacks on American soil. This is an argument that's been around for a while but is newly re-emerging as the final argument for Mr. Bush . . .[T]he meme will likely linger. There's a rough justice with the American people. If a president presides over prosperity, whether he had anything to do with it or not, he gets the credit. If he has a recession, he gets the blame. The same with war, and terrorist attacks. We have not been attacked since 9/11. Someone—someones—did something right.
Noonan gets this wrong. The "at least Bush kept us safe" meme isn't going to die, but it's going to continue in the American media because the Republicans think they need it to continue. The American public certainly doesn't buy the idea that "Bush kept us safe." Otherwise, Bush's approval ratings would be in the 50's rather than the 20's and John McCain wouldn't have had to avoid the White House like the plague. I'd like to see Noonan can test her idea of rough justice. She can have Bush drop his social service protection, move to a city like Philadelphia and see how he's welcomed. Maybe he can drop into the bar where Atrios and his cronies hang out. Call me pessimistic, but I suspect he wouldn't be receiving a lot of congratulations for "keeping us safe."

However, the Republican Party's instinct seems to be that promoting Bush's legacy is the key to their future as a political party. And the idea that "Bush kept us safe" is the foundation on which they're going to try to rehabilitate the Bush administration and the Republican Party. The logic for the GOP is that the "fact" that "Bush kept us safe" justifies other "controversial" policies like the invasion of Iraq, Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, torture, and warrantless wiretapping as "actions that kept us safe." For the Republican Party, all of these actions are manifestations of core attitudes toward other countries, international law, and the "liberal values" that militate against the invasion of individual privacy, arbitrary imprisonment, and torture. Conservative Republicans have a profound commitment to swaggering belligerence toward other countries, disdain for international law, and the kind of psychological and physical brutality exercised on terrorist suspects at Guantanomo and other facilities. If they want to be able to advocate these core values in the future, the Republicans have to mount a defense of the Bush administration.

Otherwise, the Republican Party would have to change their core values and the Republicans have made it clear already that they reject that kind of change.

That's why the ideological struggle over the Bush legacy will be one of the key arenas of partisan politics over the next eight years.
The Right Pines for Bush. I've never been a big supporter of IQ testing and believe that "general intelligence" is a mythological concept. But I'm starting to think conservative writers should be forced to take intelligence tests before they're allowed to publish. In that way, conservatives would be saved the embarrassment of op-ed speculationg about a Jeb Bush run for the presidency. Kathryn Jean Lopez of the National Review Online has a not-so-secret longing for a Jeb Bush presidential candidacy.
Mind you, if the world were a different place, I might be writing you in two years explaining what a great presidential candidate Jeb Bush would be for the Republicans. But judging by today's political climate, that option seems far-fetched. Is that fair? Not really. Not only was Jeb Bush one of the most conservative governors -- the kind with real executive skill whom the GOP should be looking toward for leadership -- but one of the best, period.
"Bush"--the name must have the same magic for Republicans that Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King have for liberals. Sure, Lopez knows Jeb Bush running for president would be a bad idea, but she just can't shake the Bush fairy dust out of her eyes.

Fred Barnes doesn't even try. Mel Martinez has decided not to run for re-election, Barnes sees an opening for Bush to get into the presidential ring. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Barnes puts Jeb Bush up there with Saint Ronald Reagan.

But a Senate bid would signal he at least wants to keep the presidential option open. Bush can't afford to stay on the sidelines if he has any hope of being president. That's why a Senate race makes sense. As a senator, assuming he's elected, he would be a national figure. He would also have a few years to fill the one gap in his political experience: foreign policy.

It's true that Ronald Reagan hadn't held elective office for six years when he won the
Republican presidential nomination in 1980. But he was the leader of a movement. Bush doesn't have that status, though he is far closer to Reagan ideologically than almost any prominent Republican today and certainly more Reagan-like than his brother or father.

I understand the motive here. The conservative intelligentsia wants to avoid having Sarah Palin as the 2012 Republican nominee at all costs and the search is on for an alternative. However, pushing Jeb Bush is a sure sign that writers like Lopez and Barnes aren't smart enough to usefully contribute to the debate.

She knows that Jeb Bush candidacy would be a disaster for the Republican, but wouldn't it be a wonderful idea if he ran.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Maybe Gates Wasn't All That Excited About the Surge. One of the hard-core beliefs on the left is that conservative Republicans live in a fantasy world. I can't count the number of times war critics referred to Bush administration policy in Iraq as delusional.

Talk of Republicans being delusional died down during the election. But I'm wondering if that was premature. Max Boot, Kevin McCullough, and other conservative commentators take it as a matter of faith that President-elect Obama is not going to withdraw troops from Iraq on the sixteen-month schedule he advocated during the campaign.

According to Max Boot:
I have to admit that I am gobsmacked by these appointments , most of which could just as easily have come from a President McCain. (Jim Jones is an old friend of McCain's, and McCain almost certainly would have asked Gates to stay on as well.) This all but puts an end to the 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, the unconditional summits with dictators, and other foolishness that once emanated from the Obama campaign.
But perhaps it's the other way around. Maybe Gates and Jim Jones were never really on board with the Iraq War. Maybe Hillary Clinton didn't like trashing the Constitution all that much either.

Here's Secretary of Defense Bill Gates on Obama's withdrawal timetable:
Asked today if he considered himself “at odds” with Obama on the timetable, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that he “would subscribe to what the President-elect said yesterday in Chicago.” Pressed by reporters on the length of the time frame,” Gates said that Obama “framed it just right yesterday.”
Who knows! Maybe Gates just never agreed with the surge policy.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Britney Spears Effect. There's probably more literature on Britney Spears as a pop icon than I'd ever be able to read. But the Glamour cover and associated photo shoot serve as a reminder that Britney Spears is more of a model than anything else. But why is Britney Spears America's uber actor/singer/model? Why does she sell all the magazines. She can't act like Angelina Jolie and Scarlet Johannsen? She can't sing like Christina Aguilera. Britney doesn't have the self-promotional skills of Paris Hilton either.

I imagine that there's a certain technical dimension to the tabloid and glamour appeal of Britney Spears. Because Britney Spears was first promoted as a virgin role model, there was the question of when she would start having sex? Dating meant that readers could anticipate the break-up. Marriage significed a highly anticipated divorce.

And Britney Spears' experiences with dating, sex, marriage, and divorce always delivered big publicity, probably bigger than her promoters ever imagined.

But that's not all. For some reason or reasons, Britney Spears is the most compelling image in American society--more compelling than any other model, musician, actor, or politician. She has more of a grip on the American psyche than even Barack Obama.

Need to think on that one.

The Republican Way of Diversity

Mel Packs It In. It looks like Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida is giving up his role as a token hispanic in the Republican Party and not running for re-election in 2010. Maybe being a hispanic Republican isn't all that great a thing.

Jeb to the Rescue. Lucky for the Republicans that Jeb Bush is interested in Martinez' seat. It turns out that the Bush administration is set to pass a regulation that specifices "people who vacation in Kennebunkport, Maine" as a protected class. In that way, electing Jeb Bush would increase the diversity of the Senate even though he's male, white, and wealthy. It's a beautify thing.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Obama Without Definition. As I was thinking about Obama's nomination of Hillary as Secretary of State, I realized that the Obama administration can not be defined so far. Let me use Hillary as Secretary of State as an example. In a lot of ways, Hillary doesn't fit in foreign policy. Unlike Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright, Hillary doesn't manifest the uber sobriety and clipped diplomacy speak of the usual Secretary of State. But I don't think anyone can say how Hillary's open and public personality is going to project in terms of foreign policy, negotiations, handling various crises, and the like.

Both Obama and Hillary are hard to slot on any kind of liberal idealist/ realist/ neo-conservative foreign policy continuum. But what does that mean in practice? Do President and Secretary of State have some guiding liberal ideas that they're willing to use various kinds of foreign policy tools to achieve? Perhaps. But they might also have foreign policy goals that can be formulated in terms of all three foreign policy ideologies and would act in a way that was dependent on her goals? There's also a chance that Obama and Hillary view much of foreign policy as reactive and want to be able to draw from liberal, realist, and neo-con resources in flexible ways depending on the crisis at hand.

I'm fine with Obama being able to do two or three things at once in foreign policy. But it's hard to see a definite shape at this point.
From Columbine to Mumbai. The Wall Street Journal account makes the Mumbai terrorist attack seem like a very large scale version of Columbine. The terrorist attack on Mumbai did seem to involve the same "romance of killing" that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had at Columbine. It will be interesting to see if the Mumbai terrorists become saints for a world-wide murder cult in the same way that Harris and Klebold become role models for every school shooter in the U. S.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Notre Dame Conundrum. Southern California beat Notre Dame 38-3 yesterday.

But that was USC's first and second teamers.

No surprise there.

A more interesting question is whether Notre Dame have beaten the USC scout team that pretended to be Notre Dame during USC practices.

If Notre Dame couldn't have beaten the scout team, then USC really should have played its own Notre Dame team rather than Notre Dame's Notre Dame team on Saturday.

That way there would have been a "Notre Dame" team would have put up a better fight than the team coached by Charlie Weis.
Sympathy for Retail. After the death of a Walmart employee on Friday, this should be obvious. But it's important to be considerate of the people at Walmart, ToysRUs, and all the sporting goods stores, clothing stores, and mall stores during the Christmas season.

Being all Christmas-y to strangers for eight to ten hours a day is tough.

Listening to Christmas music the whole time is even tougher.
Dumber than Bush. George Bush has done and said many stupid things as President. That's no surprise because he did a lot of dumb things before president. But George Bush never topped this whopper from Thomas Friedman of the New York Times (via Greenwald).

And what they needed to see was American boys and girls going from house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying: which part of this sentence do you understand? You don't think we care about our open society? . . . .

Well, Suck. On. This. That, Charlie, was what this war was about.

That makes Tom Friedman even dumber than Bush.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ooh Boy! Jason Whitlock REALLY takes down ESPN. But come to think of it, he could have gone further. Sports was already the opiate of the masses in the early 1980's. With ESPN, it's more like sportscrack or sportsmeth.
Rubin's the Tip of the "Profit Growth" Iceberg. I don't blame critics for pouncing on Robert Rubin's Wall Street Journal defense of his conduct as a member of the Citigroup board. Given that Rubin was paid handsomely, his failure to see financial meltdown on the horizon was just that--failure. Instead of claiming that "no one saw it coming," Rubin should confess that he blew it.

While he's at it, Rubin should admit that his whole project of deregulating the financial sector was a disaster. Rubin was one of the most important figures behind the really bad ideas of tearing down the walls between banks and brokerage houses and protecting the derivative market from regulation. He should just admit that he's wrong and move on.

But contrary to all the commentary I've seen, I don't think deregulation is the ultimate cause of the financial meltdown.

Instead, the underlying cause is the demand for constant "profit growth" on the part of CEO's, Boards of Directors, institutional stockholders, the stock market in general, and the business media.

Rubin was a player here as well.
The Journal notes that Mr. Rubin was “deeply involved in a decision in late 2004 and early 2005 to take on more risk to boost flagging profit growth.”
"Flagging profit growth" is an interesting turn of phrase. A company can't just make profits, it has to continually increase its profits. The implication is that Citigroup was flagging because its profits were not increasing at as high a rate as those of its competitors. If companies are seeking continual profit growth, they will focus on new enterprises rather than mature enterprises where profits have levelled off. They'll take on more risk in their new enterprises because high levels of risk create opportunities for the high levels of profit demanded by the market. And they'll be more susceptible to initiatives that look like sure things but turn out to be gigantic Ponzi schemes.

Like all the financial instruments based on sub-prime mortgages.

We can flail Robert Rubin all we want, but financial constituencies have insisted on "profit growth" for well over a decade and the demand for more profits has had a distorting and ultimately extemely damaging impact on the American economy.

As a result, dialing down the demand for "profit growth" has to be an important element in restabilizing the economy.
Memo to Progressives: We Won. Huffington Post is featuring an article by Thomas Edsall entitled "Battle Royale: Center-Right Versus Center-Left In the Democratic Party."

But there's one problem.

There is no battle.

Obama's projected appointments of Hillary Clinton, Timothy Geithner, Eric Holder, and William Gates to cabinet posts has been met with some consternation in the liberal blogosphere.

But not all that much.

In fact, all of these figures now support progressive views on major policy questions. Hillary Clinton supports a schedule for withdrawing troops from Iraq. Holder strongly opposes torture and wants to close Guantanamo. Geithner seems to be on board with a $500-700 billion stimulus package that's almost big enough for Paul Krugman and Gates appears to be willing to tackle the defense contracting boondoggle.

Perhaps that's why Chris Bowers of Open Left is one of the few major liberal bloggers who is really dismayed by Obama's selections. Other like Josh Marshall and David Sirota are happy enough while Glenn Greenwald and Digby are unsurprised but not actually doing backflips.

What about me?

Count me among the happy campers. Like Sirota, I see Obama's appointments as putting political savvy behind a progressive agenda and I'm excited about the prospect of getting out of Iraq, closing Guantanamo, ending torture, and getting legislation passed to fight the recession, reform health care, and jump start energy policy.


But back to the lack of a battle.

There is no battle between center-right and center-left because there is no battle over Obama's core progressive policies.

Therein lies the story of the fall of Democratic neo-liberalism.

During the Clinton years and the early part of the Bush administration, the Democrats were dominated by a moderate "neo-liberal" faction that viewed liberals rather than Republicans as their primary opponents. Neo-liberals pushed NAFTA, welfare reform, and deregulation while toying with the idea of privatizing social security. They liked an aggressive foreign policy and were interested in experimenting with any kind of Republican idea that would stick it to organized labor, blacks, Hispanics, feminists, and liberals. Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Lawrence Summers, and probably Rahm Emanuel have all been in the neo-liberal camp. So have most of the major "liberal" pundits like Joe Klein, Michael Kinsley, and David Broder.

That's the main reason why it was so difficult to find liberal perspectives on television news shows. Most of the designated liberals hated liberalism.

But one of the great ironies of contemporary politics is that the Bush administration killed neo-liberalism. After eight years of Bush, most of the neo-liberal agenda is in ruins. Liberals were right about everything while the Republicans have revealed themselves as narrow ideologues and blustering incompetents. Environmentalism and gay rights are close to becoming common sense while foreign policy aggression, economic deregulation, and social security privatization have all been delegitimated. Free trade is taking a lot of hits and the whole idea of governing through "market mechanisms" is yesterday's news.

Because of the collapse of neo-liberalism, Bill and Hillary Clinton are war opponents, Joe Klein was a leading critic of John McCain, and neo-liberal holdouts like Joe Lieberman and Mark Penn became outcasts. There are still scattered remains, but neo-liberalism has pretty much disappeared as a political force within the Democratic Party.

And that's why there's no "battle royale" between the center-right and the center-left in the Democratic Party.

Progressives have already won the battle.

Friday, November 28, 2008

I'm With Natalie Portman. Apparently Natalie Portman doesn't understand celibacy.
SOME roles just don't suit Natalie Portman. At the junket for the film version of his "Doubt," playwright John Patrick Shanley was asked how Amy Adams won the role of an emotionally conflicted nun. "I'm trying to think of what the etiquette is on this," Shanley chuckled, blushing a bit. Urged on by a blogger for, he continued, "Well, we asked Natalie Portman, and Natalie was very interested but kept saying she had a problem. And we finally nailed down as to what the problem was. She basically said she didn't understand celibacy."
John Patrick Shanley seems to have found this to be a serious limitation on Natalie Portman's part. But I'm with Natalie. I have no idea why somebody would be voluntarily celibate and no understanding of why anybody would embrace a life of celibacy as a Catholic priest or a nun.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Prosecuting the Bushies: The Al Capone Approach. Over the last few days, there's considerable discussion about whether Bush administration officials should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity? My basic instincts are with what Attorney General Michael Mukasey calls the "relentless," "hostile," and "unforgiving" faction that advocates punishment. Illegal wiretapping, torture, and extraordinary rendition are not unlike treason in that they strike at the core of our country's existence as a democratic republic. The Bush administration officials involved in authorizing, justifying, and executing these policies should all be held accountable for these extremely serious crimes. The investigations into these crimes should be handled by Congress, the Justice Department, and some kind of extraordinary commission or investigative body.

BUT THERE'S ALSO THE REAL WORLD. The problem is that the Obama administration has no interest in pursuing prosecutions for criminal behavior in the Bush administration. It's not too hard to see their point. Prosecuting Bush administration officials for war crimes would seem like a partisan witch hunt to the Republicans and would end any chance for bi-partisan cooperation on addressing the current financial meltdown, ending the war in Iraq, adopting a system of university health care insurance, and developing an energy policy. It should be added that the bitter antagonisms stimulated by such prosecutions would probably detract from Obama's overall efforts to get his policies enacted and create difficult political problems for the Obama administration. I doubt the United States is capable of putting Dick Cheney in jail and delivering on health care reform at the same time. Most people rightly think that health care reform and energy policy are more important and would look sceptically on the Obama administration if they pursued the prosecution of Bush figures at the expense of important domestic political initiatives. Prosecuting Bush political figures might ultimately make it more likely that a Republican would be elected president in 2012 or 2016 and bring the torturers back into office.

THE AL CAPONE PERSPECTIVE. Three alternatives for dealing with Bush administration crimes against humanity are in the air. Option No. 1 is to have the Justice Department prosecute those suspected of criminal acts. The Obama people have already let it be known that they are uninterested in this. Option No. 2. is set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission along the South African model to bring all the information out into the public. The Obama people are interested in this option and I can agree with it if the Commission has an office of investigating agent with full legal powers. Option No. 3 is to hold Congressional hearings to undertake such investigations.

The reason I can support Options 2 and 3 is that these investigatory bodies become avenues for prosecutions if Bush administration officials either refuse to answer questions or fail to tell the truth to authorities. Personally, I'd like to see Patrick Fitzgerald (of prosecuting Scooter Libby fame) as the investigating agent for any Truth and Reconciliation Commission. If someone like Dick Cheney refused to testify or lied to the Commission, they could then be prosecuted and sentenced to prison for perjury or failure to cooperate. Various congressional committees could use their authority to have people prosecuted for "contempt of Congress" and perjury to the same effect.

Al Capone murdered lots of people but ended up going to jail for tax evasion. I'd like to see Bush administration officials go to jail for their crimes but wouldn't mind if Dick Cheney ended up in a prison jumpsuit for committing perjury either.