Saturday, February 21, 2009

Glenn Beck Denies

that he's organizing a militia even though he's forecasting "depression and revolution."

Obama's Budget--A Sliver of Progressive Taxation

It looks like taxation is going to be a little more progressive under President Obama.
While the budget would keep the breaks that benefit middle-income families, it would eliminate them for wealthy taxpayers, defined as families earning more than $250,000 a year. Those tax breaks would be permitted to expire on schedule in 2011. That means the top tax rate would rise from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, the tax on capital gains would jump to 20 percent from 15 percent for wealthy filers and the tax on estates worth more than $3.5 million would be maintained at the current rate of 45 percent.

Fortunately, there aren't any wealthy people left to pay these top tax rates--at least according to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).

The American Right: Back To Terrorism?

Today, firebrand Alan Keyes was calling Barack Obama a "radical communist," claiming Obama had "usurped the presidency," and holding up the specter of "chaos, confusion and civil war."

Does this mean that the right is going back to forming militias, fighting it out with the FBI, and bombing federal buildings a la Timothy McVeigh?

In other words, are the right going back to terrorism?

White Supremacy Made Jefferson Davis Stupid

There's never been much comment on the stupidity of white racism--how white supremacy leads racists to see nothing but stereotypes when they encounter African-Americans, how racists are willfully blind to the complex humanity of others.

One example of racist stupidity was Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy. Viewing his slave coachman, William Jackson, as "a piece of furniture," Davis apparently thought nothing of talking about Confederate plans in Jackson's presence.

"Because of his role as a menial servant, he simply was ignored . . . So Jefferson Davis would hold conversations with military and Confederate civilian officials in his presence.

[Ken] Dagler has written extensively on the issue for the CIA's Center for the Study of Intelligence .

In late 1861, Jackson fled across enemy lines and was immediately debriefed by Union soldiers. Dagler said Jackson provided information about supply routes and military strategy.

"In Jackson's case, what he did was ... present some of the current issues that were affecting the Confederacy that you could not read about in the local press that was being passed back and forth across local lines. He actually had some feel for the issues of supply problems," Dagler said.

Dagler goes on to comment on the often prodigious memories of the African-Americans who spied for the Union during the Civil War.

If they had been smart enough to recognize the intelligence of the black people around them, the Confederates might have done better.

Of course, if they had been smart enough not to be such determined racists, the Confederates wouldn't have seceded in the first place.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bank Nationalization Might Be Looming

In a series of posts, Talking Points Media reports that sentiment is shifting toward nationalization banks like Citibank and Bank of America.

Perhaps, but I beg to differ on one point.

Josh Marshall is convinced that any bank nationalization by the Obama administration would be short and sweet like Sweden.

But, right now there is no private sector roadmap for financing the $14 trillion dollar economy in the U.S. Before last September, private sector financing of the economy was built at least partly out of leveraged buy outs, CDO's, and the market for credit default swaps.

It's largely agreed that these approaches to private sector financial operations have failed disastrously.

The question is whether the private sector can develop viable alternatives.

And nobody knows the answer to that yet.

If the NY Post Doesn't Like Al Sharpton,

they shouldn't run racist depictions of black people. In the case of the now famous cartoon of the cops shooting the maniac chimp and commenting about rewriting the stimulus package, the cartoon is racist on two grounds. First, it associates Barack Obama with the pervasive stereotype of black people as "monkeys" or "chimps." Second, it represents blacks as targets of official violence and conveys a sense of being "shot by the police" as something natural for black people.

What does this have to do with Al Sharpton?

Since he acquitted himself well in his two presidential campaigns, Al Sharpton has become a go-to person and media arbiter on issues of racism. Sharpton himself had a highly questionable involvement in the Tawana Brawley case, but his strong media presence, articulateness, and smarts and definiteness about racism all combine to make him an ideally "controversial" spokesperson from the media point of view for the "black" or the "politically correct" side of the Don Imus, NY Post, and other controversies.

What makes Sharpton ideal from the mainstream media point of view is that he just oozes sleaze into the television screen and thus allows the media to project a prejudicial view of black people while representing the "black side."

But Sharpton also acts to overcome the effect of that prejudicial projection by representing the "black side" in a smart and articulate that drives the point home about racism.

Conservatives univerally despise Sharpton and conservative outlets like the NY Post consider him to be an enemy. But the best thing the NY Post can do to end Sharpton's career as a "racism arbiter" is to stop being putting out racist stuff like the chimp cartoon.

It's that simple.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Some Honest Discussion of Race

Eric Holder wants some honest talk about race. So, I thought I'd offer up up some comments about my perspective on race in the United States.

In my case, talking honestly means have the courage of my optimism and idealism.

I believe that the fundamental racial issue in the United States is the need for people to "embrace" each other across racial lines.

It's not enough to "tolerate" other people. The political theorist Wendy Brown is very much correct in arguing that toleration is just the willingness to be around people that you can still stigmatize as the "other," the "inferior," the "sick people," or the "oppressor." What is needed is for people to value, enjoy, and be interested in the people "across the lines." I'm a white, rural, heterosexual, and middle-aged guy. I should be able to reletavize my own whiteness and enjoy the whiteness, blackness, hispanicness, gayness, and heterosexuality of others.

And I try to do so.

I should also follow the example of Gandhi and seek to recognize the blackness, hispanicness, gayness within myself.

People internalize other cultures as they come into contact with them and we should embrace that internalization. In the United States, white people and black people have internalized a great deal of each other's patterns even as they've stigmatized each other.

We should embrace the "other within" as well as without.

That is precisely what I've internalized from my reading in African-American thought over the last fifteen years--the writing of Boston King, David Walker, Frederick Douglass, W.E. B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, and others.

And I couldn't understand my own identity is I didn't understand that these authors are not only the African-American heritage. They're also part of my heritage.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The America Harvard Didn't Ruin

Kevin Hassett argues in a fun article for Bloomberg that "Harvard Narcissists with MBA's" killed Wall Street.
When Wall Street was run by people randomly selected from the population, it was able to survive everything. After the best and brightest took over, it died the first time real-estate prices dropped 20 percent. Are the two facts related? In other words, did Harvard kill Wall Street?
Well, there was plenty of Harvard and other Ivy Leaguers.
The statistics are striking. Back in the 1970s, it was typical for about 5 percent of Harvard graduates to work in the financial sector, according to a recent study by Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz. By the 1990s, that number was 15 percent. It probably climbed since then.
And the narcissism of the MBA types was plenty destructive.

What do you get from an MBA? One recent study found that MBAs acquire an enormous amount of self-confidence during their graduate education. They learn to believe that they are the best and the brightest.

This narcissism has a real career impact. Psychologists at Ohio State University studied the behavior of 153 MBA students, who were put in groups of four and asked to orchestrate a large financial transaction on behalf of an imaginary company. The psychologists observed that the students who had the strongest narcissistic traits were most likely to emerge as leaders.

According to Amy Brunell, the lead author, the results of the study had large implications for real-world settings, because “narcissistic leaders tend to have volatile and risky decision- making performance and can be ineffective and potentially destructive leaders.”

But if "Harvard narcissists with MBA's" were ruining Wall Street, that means they weren't ruining the rest of society.

If Hassett is right about the destructive narcissism emanating from Harvard, there were dozens of fields that did better because the Ivy's weren't so involved. Politics, education, the arts, medicine, engineering, architecture, urban planning, international organization, and diplomacy would have all been better off because the "best and the brightest" weren't that involved.

Wall Street might be dead, but American society as a whole would have been a gainer.

Maybe it's a good thing the Ivy's are so hostile to the military.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Kristen's Guns

What's Sen. Kristen Gillibrand going to do with the guns she was keeping under her bed--shoot the monsters lurking in her closet.

Wait a minute!

Gillibrand put the guns somewhere else "for security purposes" now the big secret of their location has been revealed.

Now Gillibrand's monsters can return to their natural habitat.

Talking About Chris Brown

As the father of two daughters, I would say without hesitation that Chris Brown is at the dead bottom of the my vision of the human scumpile--worse than Dick Cheney and George Bush, al-Qaida in Iraq, or even the Blackwater (Oops, I mean Xe) mercenaries.

That's what Brown gets after biting, choking, and threatening to kill his girlfriend, pop star Rihanna. Talk about role modeling, Brown's a pop star himself and you have to wonder what kind of example he's setting for Kentucky guys desperate to prove their manhood

In other words, the kind of guys who could end up dating my daughters.


I did take the opportunity to talk with Miss Teen RSI about the fact that the guys who pose the most dangers to women are husbands, boyfriends, friends, and acquaintances.

But it makes me all the more disgusted with assholes like Chris Brown that I have to talk with my daughters about the dangers of being beaten and sexually assaulted.

Which reminds me--who's going to be the first commentator to say it was "her fault."

Stimulus Battle Over Despite Sniping

According to HuffPost, the battle over the stimulus package is in John Paul Jones territory. The politicians have "not yet begun to fight" as the Obama administration and the Republicans line up to fight over the impact of the stimulus legislation.

President Obama's advisers are betting that the historic legislation he will sign tomorrow will bear fruit quickly, and they plan to do everything they can to highlight evidence of it creating the jobs he has promised. That public relations effort kicks off tomorrow as a two-day swing through the West begins.

But the Republican Party has made its own bet: that the stimulus package that Democrats rushed through Congress will have been deemed a failure by the time the 2010 elections arrive, leading voters to rebuke Obama and reward the GOP with much-needed victories.

Of course, the parties will keep fighting. That's what the Republicans and the Democrats do and there's actually no way they can stop fighting with 24 hour news reporting, partisan blogs like this one, and more than 16 years of the permanent campaign under their belts.

But Obama has already won the battle. What lies ahead is only the usual sniping.

The idea that the stimulus package has to be a big success or the Dems will lose in 2010 is mistaken. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Obama is on a long leash with the public and is given considerable benefit of the doubt. The bottom line is that a majority trusts Barack Obama as the best leader for the current economic crisis and President Obama confirmed that trust through his conduct during the battle over the stimulus legislation.

Obama needed to prove that he could "get things done." After the election, Obama and his people kept saying that they needed a $750 billion economic stimulus package.

They ended up with a $789 billion package. That's "getting things done."

Obama needed to show that he wasn't engaged in the same old partisan bickering. And that's exactly what he did. In meeting with conservative columnists, going to Capital Hill to listen with Republican lawmakers, and adjusting the package to meet Republican demands over spending on things like contraception, Obama "changed the tone." That's why 81% of voters viewed Obama as acting in a bipartisan way in a CBS poll.

The fact that Republicans did not accept the gesture was seen as their problem and that's why "disapproval" ratings for the Republican leadership are between 50% and 62%.

Most important of all, Obama needed to prove that he's a "strong leader." Here, he has the GOP Republicans to thank. By pushing so hard against the stimulus package, the Republicans teed up an opportunity for Obama to get tough with them and that's exactly what Obama did when he denounced the "same tired ideas and worn ideas" in his speech to the House Democrats.

The outcome of the stimulus battle was a clear victory for President Obama. He emerged as a "strong leader" who "gets things done" while carrying through on his promises of "reaching out to Republicans." The public had considerable confidence in Obama's leadership ability with 3/4ths of voters rating him as a strong and decisive leader back in December. In this context, Obama's performance during the stimulus battle "justified their trust."

Obama and the Democrats were already in a strong position to make further gains in 2010 and the stimulus battle showed that they could play a strong hand well. If the Republicans want to keep up, they'll have to do more than play to their shrinking base.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Needed: Space Trash Entrepreneurs

In today's column, Thomas Friedman gets all gushy about a couple of American women--Caroline Howe and Alexis Ringwald--he met at a conference in New Delhi who were driving a solar-powered car around India.
Howe and Ringwald thought the best way to do that might be a climate solutions road tour, using modified electric cars from India’s Reva Electric Car Company, whose C.E.O. Ringwald knew. Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 5, they drove the cars on a 2,100-mile trip from Chennai to New Delhi, stopping in 15 cities and dozens of villages, training Indian students to start their own climate action programs and filming 20 videos of India’s top home-grown energy innovations. They also brought along a solar-powered band, plus a luggage truck that ran on plant oil extracted from catropha and pongamia, plants locally grown on wasteland. A Bollywood dance group joined at different stops and a Czech who learned about their trip on YouTube hopped on with his truck that ran on vegetable-oil waste.
Good for Howe and Ringwald.

And cudos to Friedman for writing about the conference instead of basing his entire column on the cab ride from the airport.

Now Friedman can turn his attention to the 12,000 pieces of space junk--old satellites and other man-made space refuse--circling the earth.

There must be an entrepreneur out there somewhere with an idea for cleaning it up.

The Workingmen's Movement.--No. 1

As some readers might know, I'm currently working on the chapter on the Workingmen's movement for my manuscript on the cultural change in Philadelphia between 1785 and 1850. I thought I would occasionally quote some material from the Mechanics Free Press that bears on contemporary political debates.

Aug 29, 1829.

From an "Address" by the Standing Committee of the Republican Political Association of Working Men of the City of Philadelphia

"To promote the happiness of the laboring man, to secure to him the possession of that wealth he so abundantly creates, has been no more the object of our legislators, than it has of the legislators of China, of Russia, or of England.”

Into Deep Red Territory

There's a lot of talk about the Republican Party becoming a regional party based in the South.

But it's actually worse than that.

The Republicans don't dominate any region the way that the Democrats dominate New England, the Middle Atlantic States, or the industrial Midwest. The GOP is strong in the Great Plains wheat belt where it's tough to see a Democratic presidential candidate doing well in Oklahoma, Kansas, or South Dakota. But McCain lost the Omaha electoral vote in Nebraska and came close to losing North Dakota. The Republicans are also losing ground in the Mountain States where Idaho and Utah are still safe states, but Colorado and Montana went for Obama.

The Republicans are strongest in the Old Confederate states, but are far from being dominant over the whole South. Obama won Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida, and Georgia was in toss-up status almost until the end. That means that South Carolina was the only safe state for the Republicans in what might be called the "Atlantic South."

Where the Republicans really dominate is in the "Deep, Deep" Southern sub-region of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana where the hangover from the segregation era is still strong.

Perhaps one idea of the strength of the "segregation hangover" comes from reports (via the African-American Political Pundit) on the death of Billey Joe Johnson, a highly recruited football player.

Johnson, age 17, died from a shotgun wound at a traffic stop by local police officers outside the town of Lucedale in George County, Mississippi on Dec. 8, 2008. The police claim that Johnson shot himself while the police officer was returning to his car to run a license check.

The George County Sheriff’s Department claims that on that fateful morning, Billey Joe attempted to break into the home of an on-again, off-again girlfriend in the nearby city of Lucedale. According to the sheriff’s department, he left the scene and ran a red light at 5:34 a.m. After a 1½-mile pursuit, Billey Joe got out of his truck, met sheriff’s deputy Joe Sullivan and handed over his license. Then Billey Joe returned to his truck, put a 12-gauge shotgun he used to target deer to his head and committed suicide. It was 5:40 a.m.
Perhaps the police story will eventually pan out after all the investigations. But it doesn't look like there's any more chance of Billey Joe Johnson committing suicide than there was of Steve Biko bashing his head against the wall in his prison cell in South Africa.

Certainly Johnson's father doesn't buy the story and he's keeping the truck his son was driving in the hope that it will provide evidence--“They must have tortured my baby,” he says.

Neither is the NAACP which claims to have determined that the death was not suicide.

Oh yeah, Johnson's girlfriend was white.

According to one of Johnson's friends, there was some racial hostility over Johnson's relationship.

“It’s George County, it’s a little Southern town,” said Bradley, who is white. “You’ve got a bunch of racist people down here. You have people who hated on them because it was black and white.”
It's not just that George County is racist, it's the likelihood of that racism exploding into official murder when a young black man crosses many of the lines bounding in his behavior within a white supremacist community.

This is the kind of place where the Republicans domination has retreated as the Republicans are increasingly driven out of the cities and suburbs. McCain beat Obama 82.5 to 16.4 in George County. McCain had huge margins in nearby counties as well.

In "Deep, Deep South" areas like George County, Republican politics is closely connected to racial oppression. One of my brothers-in-law lives in Breau Bridge, LA along the Gulf Coast and claimed that whites there maintained such a climate of fear that there wasn't a single Obama sign in town even though almost half the population was black.

It will be interesting to see if anything comes up in the state investigations.