Oct 19, 2008

October 19, 2008: Colin Powell Steps Up, Acts of Courage and Vision, Spontaneous Combustion

This morning, on NBC's “Meet the Press,” with Tom Brokaw, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, perhaps America's most famous military leader and statesman calmly and quietly told his American audience that he will vote for Barack Obama for President of the United States. Professing great admiration and friendship for John McCain the Secretary quietly and convincingly explained what led him to cross party lines and tell the country that he will vote Democratic in this year's presidential contest.

First, when questioned, he said it was not race that led him to this decision. “If that were the case”, Powell said, “I'd have endorsed Mr. Obama months ago”. Speaking with Brokaw, Powell related having met with both candidates several times over the last year. What really moved him, he said, was the conduct of both candidates during the current financial crisis, as well as the tone of both the McCain campaign and the Republican party, which he accused of moving further to the political right and out of the American mainstream. Citing the McCain fixation on the Bill Ayer's connections which, he said, was near demagoguery, the Secretary evidenced a growing unease in the company of the Rovian Rescumlicans. Powell has always been a decent, albeit sometimes not the best informed, man. A genuine giant in Republican circles, often mentioned as a possible Vice Presidential candidate, who has nevertheless felt betrayed by what one of his aides described as the “cabal” that had taken over the party in the wake of the Bush victory.
Today he made a break, perhaps not a complete break with the party, but a break nonetheless. Cracks are opening in the Republican ruling coalition as the ground shakes beneath them.

Powell said that it was doubtful that he would openly campaign for Obama in the short time remaining before the election. But his endorsement will be felt nonetheless, particularly in Virginia, South Carolina and Florida where huge populations of military and former military families reside. His voice will add gravitas to the Obama candidacy among those yet undecided and especially in pivotal swing states. Colin Powell as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff emerged well over a decade ago during the First Gulf War as America's foremost military authority. It was his critique of the Rumsfeld's handling of the Second Gulf War that McCain quickly adopted producing changes in military command and what is now known as the “Surge”. Powell is one of those “transformative” figures, one of the bridges as it were, between the races. One of the first black men to emerge at the highest levels of the military and move into top governmental positions as national security advisor and Secretary of State. The phenomenon that is the Obama candidacy owes a great debt to men like Colin Powell. In a speech this morning Obama said that he is honored and deeply humbled by the endorsement he received today. The McCain campaign said it was not surprised. It shouldn't have been, Powell was simply exercising yet another act of statesmanship in a career filled with such acts of courage and vision.

The end of the week, now nearly a mere two weeks before the election, the Obama campaign has seen bedrock Republican spokesman move to join the Obama Nation.
The Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and now General Colin Powell. Yesterday, in the swing state of Missouri, the Obama forces held a rally beneath the great Arch. Over 100,000 people gathered, 90,000 at the event and a reported 10,000 waiting to get in, to come, see and hear, Barack Obama's vision of where he would lead us in these troubled times. Many, on the periphery, could neither see nor hear the candidate but came to the event and stayed nevertheless because they wanted to demonstrate their support. Meanwhile it was reported this morning that the campaign had raised over 150 million dollars in the month of September. This is approaching near spontaneous combustion reminiscent of the “prairie fire” that swept this nation in the latter 19th and early 20th century with the Grange and Greenback movements. The ground is shaking, a fire is raging and all that the good Marshall can do now is wrap his arms around “Joe the Plumber” and hang on for dear life.

October 18, 2008: The Tribune Comes Out, He is Ready, New Alliances Being Born

The “Tribune is proud to endorse him”, crowed the Chicago Tribune at week's end as it endorsed Barack Obama for President of the United States. Citing it's Republican roots and noting that the Tribune's first “great leader” Joseph Medill was a founder of the GOP, the Tribune broke it's 161 year tradition and for the first time endorsed a Democratic candidate for president of the United States.

Writing that “On Dec. 6, 2006, this page encouraged Obama to join the presidential campaign. We wrote that he would celebrate our common values instead of exaggerate our differences. We said he would raise the tone of the campaign. We said his intellectual depth would sharpen policy debate. In the ensuing 22 months he has done just that”...

The editors continued: “Many Americans say they're uneasy about Obama. He's pretty new to them...We can provide some assurance. We have known Obama since he entered politics a dozen years ago. We have watched him, worked with him, argued with him as he rose from an effective state senator; to an aspiring U.S. Senator to the Democratic Party's nominee for president....We have tremendous confidence in his intellectual rigor, his moral compass, and his ability to make sound, thoughtful, careful decisions. He is ready.” (1)

This is quite a statement from a journal that predates the Civil War. An early and ardent supporter of Lincoln, the Tribune has remained solidly Republican ever since, endorsing only Republicans or in the case of Horace Greeley in 1872 and Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, Republicans who were running as independents against corrupt or ineffective incumbents. Greeley, the Tribune pointed out, was later adopted by the Democrats. Nevertheless the Tribune has been a dependable Republican rag. It even endorsed Hoover, Wilke, and Dewey over FDR, Nixon over Kennedy in 1960,Goldwater over Johnson in 1964, even Eisenhower over Illinois native Adlai Stevenson in both 1952 and 1956 so predictably Republican has been the Tribune. Not this year, not this time. This year, says the Chicago Tribune, the paper is proud to add the name of Barack Obama beside that of Abraham Lincoln in the long list of men it has endorsed for President of the United States. On word of the Tribune's unprecedented action came news that the Los Angeles Times has likewise endorsed the young Jedi. Like the Tribune, the Times have also been a foghorn of the political right, and predictably Republican. To say that these endorsements are remarkable is an understatement. The ground beneath the political landscape is shaking, new coalitions are being formed, new alliances are being born.


1. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chi-08endorsements-htmlstory,0,5602186.htmlstor

October 16, 2008: Say It Ain't so Joe, The Marshall and the Guttersnipe, Paper Doll World

In last night's final Presidential debate, the good Marshall of Tombstone brought up an encounter last Sunday between an Ohio plumber named Joe and Barack at an Obama rally in Toledo. Seizing upon the brief encounter McCain tried desperately—mentioning poor Joe some 21 times during the ninety minutes—to make the Ohio Republican the leitmotif of his latest effort to liberally smear vast quantities of lipstick on a quite ugly Republican pig.

To hear the good Marshall relate Joe's plight, the hapless plumber has been working doggedly long hours of overtime in order to get his slice of the American Pie. As McCain described the encounter the erstwhile plumber, working long hours for a number of years, now makes enough money to purchase his boss' business, but would be prevented from entering the “ownership” class—becoming one of the “elect” as it were-- by Obama's alleged confiscatory tax scheme. After a brief chat, the good Marshall quoted Obama as ending the conversation by saying that we need to “spread the wealth around”.

Joe the Plumber has become, virtually overnight, America's latest celebrity with news satellite trucks parked in his yard. The “everyman” of the Republican campaign has now taken to holding impromptu news conferences and interviews holding forth on reactionary politics and likening Obama to Sammy Davis Jr. He has become the rage of the reactionary Rescumlican talk-show circuit. But, as they say, does he wash?

The first indications emerged from the post-debate polling done by CBS in which 54% of those watching judged Obama, about 35% thought it was a tie, and the predictable 25% or so who judged McCain the winner. For all the talk about the hapless Joe, McCain's numbers nudged not a bit. America remained unconvinced.

Moreover, things began to quickly unravel as the media began to focus attention on this latest Republican ruse. Keith Olbermann reported on his “Countdown” program tonight that Joe was not in the tax bracket, that is does not make over a quarter of a million dollars a year, and would not be subject to increased taxation under the Obama plan. Furthermore, Joe was making only $40,000 a year and would fare much better under the Obama plan. In addition there were no plans for Joe to purchase the business which in any case did not make a profit of over a quarter of a million dollars, in fact it was less than half that. Lastly poor Joe has no plumber's license. He is an “independent” contractor, one who works for a “general” contractor but as an independent laborer. A 1099 employee as they say in the tax business. One who works by the day, with no benefits and, because his “employer” is not required to pay withholding taxes, finds himself one of the hundreds of thousands of such folks who owe back taxes. In fact Joe the Plumber is no plumber at all. He is simply a day laborer with no rights and no protection. Why this man votes Republican is anyone's guess; why he should act as a rescumlican shill is an even greater puzzle. Nevertheless there he stood on a bright Toledo Sunday coaxing from the Democratic nominee a pledge to “spread the wealth around a little”.

During the debate Obama retorted that he meant sharing some of Warren Buffet's wealth and giving it to people like Joe the Plumber, but McCain would not be deterred from his single-minded effort to smear mass quantities of red lipstick. Here it was in bold relief, the party of privilege pretending to defend the aspirations of the “common man”.

Alas, for the hapless Marshall, the Republican understanding of the “common man” is a rather shallow one, reduced to caricatures and misrepresentations. Here was a boldface admission by the conservatives that their ideal “common man” is a white, deeply suspicious, angry, middle-age male on the cusp of “making it” but held back by the demands of the great “undeserving”. The party of Darwin in microcosm. It can be heard in the adjectives they choose to describe him, “Reagan Republicans” conjuring up Macolm county Michigan, a Detroit suburb that swung Republican in the great white 'backlash' of 1966 and has remained so since, but has nevertheless been forever identified as “Reagan Country”; the “angry white male” and “white working-class voters” that one hears Patrick Buchanan continually refer to—hardworking, play-by-the-rules, male (by inference) deserving whites on the make. These are the wheat in the Republican grist, all others are chaff.

It is perhaps laudable that the Republican Party occasionally rediscovers at least some remnants of the once great late American Middle Class, albeit a narrow one. But the condescension is palpable. “Joe the Plumber”, a mere caricature of the millions who strive to make it in these United States, is transformed in the mind of the Guttersnipe into 'Joe Six-Pack' and his “Hockey-Mom” wife. “Joe Six-Pack” is a derogatory term used by many of the “New Left” back in the sixties to describe the beer guzzling hard-hat who could not bring himself to raise his eyes about the rim of his beer can to see what was happening in the world around him. “Hockey-Mom” is a derivative of the old “Soccer-Mom” given currency by rescumlicans in the 1990's to describe middle-aged stay-at-home mothers whose sole function in life was to chauffer their kids around and run errands all day. The Marshall and the Guttersnipe have reduced this campaign to nothing other than lip-service, to mere characterizations, when they deign to address the legitimate needs of the struggling American. For the Marshall and the Guttersnipe, the world is peopled by mere two-dimensional cut-out characters. When they hold a mirror up before America, the country sees a mere characterization of itself in the reflection; not a photograph but a cartoon. A paper-doll world for a paper-doll boy and girl.

“Come back when you grow up girl
You’re still living in a paper doll world
Living ain't easy, loving's twice as tough
Come back baby, when you grow up”
---Bobby Vee, “Come Back When You Grow Up Girl”

Oct 12, 2008

October 12, 2008: A Day at Houseman Field, The Belly of the Beast, Up on the Stage.

Forty years ago, at about this time, I joined several members of the College Democrats and attended a George Wallace rally at Houseman Field in Grand Rapids. We went as protesters. I recall that it was a bright sunny morning but the mood was anything but cheerful. At one end of the field was erected a platform upon which a country music group entertained the crowd as we entered. After brief introductions, which included former Detroit Tigers star pitcher Frank Lary, the old hate-monger was duly introduced.

Wallace, a former pugilist, was a short, squat man with deep sunken eyes and countenance that betrayed a deep suspicion of anything that smacked of urbanity. His was not a message of tolerance. Delivering his standard stump speech in which he would ridicule the “pointy-headed intellectuals” and condemn the “brief-case totin' bureaucrats” and threatening to run over any protester who would dare lie down in front of his vehicle, Wallace worked the crowd into quite a lather. We played our part, holding signs saying “If you liked Hitler, You'll love Wallace” and shouting “Seig Heil” at what we thought were appropriate moments as we protested what we thought were fascist undercurrents in the Wallace campaign. I was struck by a coin thrown in our general direction by one of the faithful. It was great theatre, but in the end Michigan went for Hubert Humphrey.

I had thought that I had seen the worst side of American Politics. I had been to the belly of the beast and survived to tell of the experience. I find now that I have not. My wife showed me a clip on Youtube in which people gathering before a McCain-Palin rally were questioned about what they thought of Barack Obama. The tape is frightening.

What it reveals is that the Marshall needs to do very little to rile the crowd for the assembled have already been spoon-fed so much misinformation—so much slime—the internet hate mongers, Fox Noise, the Republican National Committee and the McCain campaign itself-- that they arrive fully intending to demonstrate, in ways that the Wallace people were not, to vent their fear and rage. On this tape one finds recorded the group assemble, mostly if not entirely white, fully convinced that the Democratic Nominee is a Muslim, has terrorist ties, and is as one man put it “a one man terror cell”. In the eyes of these people the nominee of a major political party, in fact the party that has fought for the interests of such people for most of the last century, has somehow been transformed into an alien, indeed an enemy of the state. Under these circumstances it doesn't take much convincing to get these people to believe the rescumlican screed, in fact it takes no convincing at all.

During the week a middle aged man took the microphone at one of McCain's rallies and shaking with anger in his voice protested that McCain had not taken it to Obama in their last encounter. McCain, in response, assured the assembled that in the last debate he would finally summon the courage to bring up these charges to Obama's face. By Friday, things were getting out of hand. In a rally at Minneapolis McCain, already warned by Senator Norm Coleman, who is now fighting to hold his seat against the up-and-coming Al Franken, to tone down the rhetoric took to the stage and held yet another of his famous “town hall” meetings. The problem with these affairs is that a microphone is given to the audience and given the nature of those attracted and the opinions they have been fed to believe, the result was predictable. A young firefighter told the Senator that he feared raising his as yet unborn child in an Obama nation. With a look of resignation in his face the good Marshall told his follower, to a chorus of boos from the crowd, that Obama is a decent man, a family man, and that he had nothing to fear from an Obama presidency. Moments later a woman informed the Senator that she had been reading, without mentioning the source, that Obama was an Arab. Again the good Marshall made a correction, seizing the microphone and telling the audience that Obama was not an Arab and that the only thing separating the two of them are serious disagreements over fundamental policy and views of governance, again to the disapproval of those in attendance.

It struck me as I watched these images flash before me that this was a new low in American political discourse. With the possible exception of Joe McCarthy, nowhere in American political history can one find the vilification of one's political opponents at such a visceral level. To be sure McCarthy made his charges of treason, but McCarthy focused on bureaucrats and citizens both inside and outside government. The Rovian rescumlicans make charges of treason and trucking with the enemy not only in the political arena but in the very contest for the highest office in the land. At Houseman Field, all those years ago, I never heard George Wallace or his followers shout “Traitor”or Kill Him”. George Wallace, forever remembered as the voice of intolerance and hate, never brought our political discourse so low. Forty years ago it was those of us at the edge of the crowd that lowered political discourse. Today its the ones up on the stage.


Google youtube, then McCain then McCain-Palin mob.

October 11, 2008: A Lotta Nerve, Losing Ugly, What A Drag It Is To See You

“You got a lotta nerve
to say you are my friend
when I was down
you just stood there grinnin'

You got a lotta nerve
to say you got a helpin' hand to lend
you just want to be
on the side that's winnin' ----Bob Dylan “Positively 4th Street” (1)

“My friends”, the old Marshall of Tombstone says before he issues yet another savage attack on an honorable man. It is said of McCain that he addresses all of his adversaries with this disclaimer. The words are spoken with a tight-lipped smile and often through clenched teeth. The tone is ironic and full of sarcasm, but is always a prelude to a statement dismissive of either his opponent, the matter at hand, or both. The pattern is so pronounced that his real friends recoil at its use preferring instead to be referred to as his enemy or not at all. There is a certain disingenuous quality about his use of the term. It isn't simply that John McCain comes across as a grumpy old man it is that when he tries to enamor himself with his audience by addressing them as “My Friends” a certain chill goes down the spine. Those assembled think that perhaps the good Marshall has confused them with his North Vietnamese captors.

In any case it is the penultimate irony that the good Marshall should, at this late date in the campaign, now find himself in a position wherein he must address those of middling means as his friends. For nearly thirty years McCain stood grinnin' as the middle class was savaged by the public policies of his party. Now that he finds himself about to be hoisted on his own petard, he suddenly has an epiphany discovering at a time in life well past retirement that something has gone terribly wrong;; perhaps that his conservative “principles” weren't principles at all but mere window dressing for greed; that all those platitudes pronounced with such conviction at the conventions and the 'rubber-chicken' circuit were, in the end, simply lipstick on a pig.

The problem that is John McCain is that he is arguably the most ethically challenged member of the United States Senate. Yes, the Senators of Louisiana and Idaho have had their sexual malfunctions but they can be relied upon to vote the party line and stand for good old pachyderm principles however misguided they be. The Marshall, on the other hand, is driven by blind ambition and will resort to unlimited political expediency in an effort to achieve what his father and grandfather could not—become “commander-in-chief”.

To achieve the ultimate prize the good Marshall must be on the side that's winnin'. To that end, McCain early joined the Republican party, aligning himself with the politically and economically well placed. Blaming the Democrats for “losing” Vietnam, he joined up with the Republicans becoming an eager water carrier for the well-heeled K-Street lobbyists and the military defense contractors. No sooner had he warmed his newly won congressional seat then he set about selling himself to Charles Keating (2) and other moguls of the financial industry. Today his entire campaign is run by lobbyists, men who are still on the payroll of their respective companies and who regularly conduct business from the bus of the “Straight-Talk Express”. From the moment he stepped into the political arena John McCain was a wholly owned subsidiary of K-Street.

Epiphany always, it seems, comes to desperate men in moments of desperation. Dukkakis and the Clinton's always discovered the “unwashed” when clear defeat was on the horizon. So it is now with the good Marshall as he tells us with a straight face that he now has a helpin' hand to lend. McCain displayed a lot of nerve in the debate last week. Between clenched teeth and prefacing his proposal with the inevitable “my friends”, the Marshall of Tombstone unveiled a 300 billion dollar plan to buy up bad mortgages. Like the selection of the the Guttersnipe as his running mate, and his “withdrawal” from the campaign to confront the financial crisis, this was yet another attempt to reset the clock and put himself and Obama back on the starting blocks. It didn't wash, post-debate polling showed Obama the clear winner and winning independents by 15 points, 54-39.

By the end of the week it was back to the old Rovian tactics of smear and fear. In an unprecedented spectacle would-be First Lady Cindy McCain took to the stump smearing the differences between the Democratic nominee and her husband. Calling attention to her own son's service, she accused Obama of not protecting her child saying that if the Democrat were to, if only briefly, stand in her shoes, he would feel a chill run down his spine. The chill, however, is running down the collective spines of the entire Republican ticket. By week's end some polls, Gallup and Newsweek among them, had Obama up by 11 points, roughly 52-41% nationally. With Republican fortunes dropping faster than the Dow Jones Industrials, so desperate had it become for the McCain camp that Indiana is fast becoming a contested state. With a bit more than three weeks left before the election the Republicans are losing and losing ugly.

The McCain's own more mansions than John can literally count. Cindy, it has been reported, spends as much as a quarter million dollars a month on credit card purchases. They find themselves now representing the party of wealth, the stock-jobbers who have systematically gutted the American industrial and commercial base; the party of corruption and greed. Now as the Republican ticket stands before us seeking a new lease on the White House, they have once again reverted to the politics of smear and fear.
“It won't work, not this time...” says Barack Obama.

As we watch the sorry exhibition that are Cindy and Sarah and John, I'm once again reminded of the words of Bob Dylan:

“I wish that for just one time
you could stand inside my shoes
and just for that one moment
I could be you

Yes, I wish that for just one time
you could stand inside my shoes
you'd know what a drag it is
to see you.”




October 10, 2008: Guttersnipe in Heels, Cowardice at High Noon, A Sheep in Sheep's Clothing.

Enter the guttersnipe. Announcing that the “gloves are off and the heels are on”, Sarah Palin took to the hustings in an erstwhile attempt to assassinate the character of the Democratic nominee for President of the United States. It seems that the Jedi had made the acquaintance of one Bill Ayers, one of the founders of the “Weathermen” or “Weather Underground”, an off-shoot of the 60's group “Students for a Democratic Society” or SDS. The Weathermen got their name, it is held, from Bob Dylan's line “you don't need the weather man to know which way the wind blows”, and became a more radical and violent exponent of resistance to the Vietnam war. Ayers, it is held, was involved in plans to bomb government buildings back in the late 60's or early 70's, but by the time he met Obama he had become a Professor at the University of Illinois and was serving as a board member on a charity run by the Annanburg family, staunch Republicans who had earned high level appointments from none other than Ronald Reagan himself.

It was on this conservative board that Obama met Ayers who, he understood, had by this time become rehabilitated. Nonetheless the Resumlicans, led by their newest howler the guttersnipe in heels, have attempted to paint a disturbing picture of the Democratic nominee as somehow threatening. Palin was out on the stump screeching that Obama “thinks nothing of palling around with terrorists”, with “people who would hurt America”.

The strategy is straightforward enough. Chris Matthews of MSNBC has caught on to it: “Connect the dots” he said, the use of Obama's middle name “Hussein” as McCain and Palin are introduced, link him with the “weather underground” and label him dangerous, investigate his contributors and charge that he is getting money from “Arab” sources. Already a flourishing internet campaign alleging that Obama is secretly a Muslim has been doing its worst for months. Seen Hannity has given these charges national accreditation. Building on this the Rescumlicans are working to “swift-boat” Obama into a 'One-man sleeper cell'. Playing 'all-Ayers-all-the-time', and doing her best imitation of Ann Coulter, the guttersnipe in heels has been addressing rancorous rallies in which the undertone has become increasingly hateful, dangerous and violent. Shouts of “traitor” and “kill him” and “terrorist” come from the crowd as the two Republican nominees spew their rescumlican screed.

“why did you throw the jack of hearts away
why did you throw the jack of hearts away?
It was the only card in the deck
that I had left to play” ----The Doors “Hyacinth House”

The awful truth is that the good Marshall cannot bring himself to throw away the only card in the deck that he has left to play: the race card. By painting Obama as an “Arab”, an “African-Arab” if you will, by alluding to imaginary “terrorist” connections, and a “foreign religion” the “Straight-talk Express” can avoid the charge of conducting a racist campaign as it has been traditionally understood in these United States by conducting an untraditional racist campaign. The Marshall and his minions were made to understand, in the wake of Obama's European Tour that the charge that he was presumptuous in appearing presidential to enthusiastic European crowds—crowds larger than JFK or what is worse to the political wrong Ronnie Reagan himself—were quickly decoded by a discerning electorate as a simple code word for “uppity”. Similarly the angry old curmudgeon, and author of the Nixonian Code Words, Pat Buchanan was quickly called down by a black woman for his use of the word “exotic” when describing Obama. “What is that, a substitute for the “N” word?” he was asked. No, the rescumlicans discovered, these tactics simply won't do. Another strategy must be employed. And so it was deemed that they would tar the Democratic Nominee with associations to our current enemies by any means necessary. The old code words simply won't do, new code words are necessary.

This week saw not only the guttersnipe bring political discourse down to the level of her expectations, but his wife Cindy excoriate Obama for voting against funding for the troops. Citing her own son's service “ol sin savagely criticized Obama for voting against funding for the Iraq war that did not include a time line of withdrawal forgetting to mention that her husband likewise voted “against” the troops when funding included such a time line. But in an unprecedented act by a potential First Lady, Cindy McCain joined the chorus as the rescumlican slime machine went about the business of ginning up the base.

But, alas, during this week's debate with Obama, the good Marshall would bring none of this up. For ninety minutes he squared off with the Jedi and not once were these charges brought up demonstrating that the good Marshall would rather hide behind the skirts of his wife and his running mate, as they do the “heavy lifting” of the campaign. No, it seems, the good Marshall of Tombstone has not the courage of his convictions and when he faced his adversary in the middle of main street he simply “Quayled”. “A sheep in sheep's clothing”, Winston Churchill had once derisively referred to a political opponent; perhaps none dare call it cowardice.

October 9, 2008: The Party of Darwin, Wall Street Meltdown, Promise of a New Deal

It is one of the delicious ironies of history that the political party most at war with Darwin should, in the end, embrace a bastard form of “Darwinism”. The 'free market' ideology, it is held, recognizes the 'fittest' and rewards them accordingly and, if they should falter in the face of fortune, it is right and proper to come to their aid given that they have demonstrated themselves to be the 'most deserving' among us. It is for this reason that conservatives have been at once so loathe to intervene on behalf of those afflicted and so quick to aid of the comfortable.

It is good, perhaps, that greed has its representation, for not in our lifetime have the comfortable been so afflicted. Yesterday an article in “MSN Money” graphically charted the Wall Street Meltdown. Since October 9, 2007 the Dow Jones Industrial Average had lost 33.3% of its value; the Standard and Poor's 500 index was down 36.35%; the Standard and Poor 100 down 35.10%. The emerging financial emergency has become global in scope as is evident by the 41.83% decline in Japan's Nikkei index since October 11, 2007; the 31.58% decline of the British FTSE 100 since October 12, 2007; and the decline of the German DAX index of 33.76% in the same period.(1) Not since the 1930's have the markets given so much ground. So serious is this that the U.S. Markets alone have lost well over 8 trillion dollars, including over 2 trillion in pension and retirement funds. Nevertheless as we watch the savings of a generation evaporate before our eyes greed continues to win out. This week saw the collapse of Wachovia Bank (known down here as “walk over ya”) and a nasty fight emerge between Citigroup and Wells Fargo Bank over the stinking carcass. This crisis, we are told, is the result of a “liquidity” problem in which banks do not have enough money to lend to other banks or to put out on loans threatening to shut down the economy. Indeed there is emerging anecdotal evidence that this is occurring. Caterpillar Tractor has experienced cash flow problems, Bill Heard, one of the oldest and largest auto dealerships in the Southeast, in business since 1908, closed its doors because it couldn't finance its floor plan, Neptune irrigation in Chicago has gone belly up for the same reason. Yet Wells Fargo could come up with two billion to purchase the failing Wachovia, and Citigroup found 15 Billion to make a counteroffer.

I remember many years ago watching Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) as the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee defend Bill Gates' “right to a monopoly”, not understanding that if someone has a monopoly then he “owns” the market. If the market is “owned”, that is it has been “cornered” as we used to say, then it cannot be free. To own the market is to eliminate competition by definition. A market free of competition is no free market at all. Hatch, and his ilk, driven as they are by the ideological imperative, cannot see the implicit contradiction. What disturbs many of us on the outside is watching those “most select”, the very “fittest” as it were, swallow whole their former competitors as they use this crisis to further concentrate wealth and power. This not only gives lie to the myth of the “free market” in that insofar as the market forces are allowed to run free the result is that capital continues to reconfigure itself into fewer hands, but those involved in executing the final coup de grace do so in the sure knowledge that government will come to their rescue should they fail.

We have seen ample evidence of this in our recent past, under the aegis of nominally “conservative” stewardship. The S&L bailout in the late 80's in the wake of Reagan's suspension of rules restricting S&L real estate investments and the ensuing lax supervision of the industry. The Chrysler bailout in the late 70's, and now the bailout of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, AIG, and now the entire investment sector of the American economy with this 700 billion dollar “rescue” package passed last week and signed into law by that great “conservative” 'Ol Two-Cows himself. You see these institutions are too big to let them fail. To let the “free market” forces hand these scoundrels their just reward would devastate the rest of the economy.

Indeed Kevin Phillips, in his latest work “Bad Money” makes precisely this point. The investment sector, which composed roughly 7 percent of the national economy in 1960, now comprises nearly a quarter of the Gross National Product.(2) Banking and investments now comprise nearly a quarter of the national economy. For this reason, and this reason alone, a broad consensus was quickly reached to rescue the industry from it's own greed and folly; to save these bankers from themselves.

But deep fissures lie beneath the surface. Three weeks ago after waiting until as mother would say, “the last dog is hung”, the Bush administration sent Treasury Secretary Paulson before the cameras to tell the nation that we were in dire straights. The sub-prime mess had created such a credit problem that the entire economy was due to shut down if Congress did not act immediately. Presenting the Congress with a three page plan, essentially giving the Secretary unlimited control over a 700 billion dollar appropriation, Congress balked. Early that week the Democrats worked with the White House to place oversight and regulatory authority and introduce a modicum of transparency into the measure. Then the Good Marshall of Tombstone announced that he was “suspending” his campaign and marched on Washington playing his best Gary Cooper in “High Noon”. 'Ol Two-Cows, smelling a rat, announced that he would hold a meeting with both presidential candidates which would include congressional leadership, Treasury and Budget officials, and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. At this meeting, held late in the week, McCain sat silent as Obama rigorously questioned those attending on the nature and scope of the problem and the proposed remedies, finally asking John if he had anything to add. The good Marshall would have us believe that he descended upon Washington and shook things up negotiating in the process a better deal for the people. Indeed it was otherwise.

What had in fact transpired was telling. Obama was given authority by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to speak for the Democrats. McCain arrived speaking only for himself and his campaign. What the crisis revealed was not only the erratic behavior of the senator from Arizona but the deep fissures of the Republican Party. The White House and the Republican caucus in the Senate approved the measure. House Republicans, the product of Newt Gingrich's recruiting efforts and his “contract on America”, held their ideological line and voted the measure down. Democrats told the White House that they would support the measure only if a majority of the minority party would sign on. It didn't happen and all of the Marshall’s men could not convince the ideologically pure House Republicans to do otherwise. McCain left town leaving congressional leaders to iron out the final product.

The country was not impressed and the stock market went South. Eventually the measure passed, the Marshall voting for it but imploring the president to veto the measure nonetheless. Here we had McCain begging 'Ol Two-Cows to save him from himself.

Deep fissures like beneath the surface and the ground moves beneath the foundations of the republic threatening as it does the ruling coalition and promising a new deal.



2. Phillips, Kevin. “Bad Money Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and The
Global Crisis of American Capitalism”. 2008, The Penguin Group, Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York. 239 pages.

Oct 5, 2008

October 5, 2008: Politics of Desperation, Lipstick on a Pig, An empty Blouse

The good Marshall of Tombstone set the country a titter with his nomination of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for the Vice Presidency. It was an act of political desperation in the wake of Barack Obama's triumphal performance days earlier in Denver in which after securing the Democratic nomination he led the party from the convention hall to what once was called “Mile High” stadium to deliver an acceptance speech before and audience of 85,000. The speech was a masterpiece, conveying hope and promise in these troubling times. Falling in the polls by nearly 7 points, McCain knew he had to have a “game changer”. He chose Sarah Palin. In so doing, the Marshall of Tombstone attempted to put a populist veneer on the politics of greed. Lipstick on a pig.

Last week saw the much heralded debate between Palin and the Democratic nominee for Vice President, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware. Biden brought to the debate the experience of 30 years in the Senate, including chairmanships of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees. Palin brings 18 months as governor of Alaska during which time she has embroiled herself in an abuse of power fracas involving a former brother-in-law. She now stands as the only candidate for national office in the history of the United States to stand for election while under supenoae. The debate began amicably enough when she greeted the senator on stage and asked if she could call him Joe. Thats where civility ended. During the ensuing 90 minutes the governor rambled on reciting apparently well memorized “talking points” of the Republican National Committee-- none of which were true-- and playing the guttersnipe. Finally, near the end, she boldly announced that she would answer only questions she wanted to answer in the way she wanted to answer them, in effect telling the moderator and the audience that they could collectively go to hell.

Later Kieth Olbermann in his “Countdown” program on MSNBC, pointed out that debates, if they serve any purpose at all, are meant to throw the candidates into situations that most closely resemble governing. Situations wherein they have no control over the subject matter nor the order in which they appear. Palin steadfastly refused to follow the format, suggesting an unease with reality as it usually presents itself.

Much was made of the governor in the days following the Republican convention. She was experienced they said, she was poised they said, she was ready they said. But for the first time in our national experience a candidate for Vice President was kept from the media and the talk circuit, even kept off the Sunday morning talk shows after the first Presidential debate between Obama and McCain. McCain campaign aids descended upon the Palin group and threw a protective ring around her, shielding her from the public and limiting her exposure to well orchestrated photo-ops and campaign rallies. Finally a few interviews were authorized, most notably with Charles Gibson and Katie Curic, in which our worst fears were made manifest. She was rambling, repetitive, unfocused, sounding very much like the Dana Garvey's savaging of Pappy Bush in the late 80's endlessly repeating “stay the course, a thousand points of light”....Her performance was laughable were it not so painful to watch. Accordingly her standing in the polls plummeted. By debate time several influential conservatives, including writers at the National Review were calling for her to do the right thing and resign from the ticket.

By Tuesday night the whole world was watching, Nearly 70 million Americans tuned in to see if she would self-destruct on national television. Such is the nature of American politics, a truly blood sport. The issue by Thursday night was not whether she would win but whether she would survive. Armed with several talking points which, as the contest dragged on, became endlessly repeated, Palin managed to lay against the ropes and let the clock run out. By debate's end, fewer than a quarter of independent voters thought she had the right stuff.

Though her performance was unremarkable it was nevertheless telling for the points she kept reiterating were not only the same shopworn cliche's that Reagan had used so well but several hostile jabs at the stock jobbers on Wall Street. This, of course, did not translate itself into a full-throated call for re-regulation, on the contrary. But the spectacle of a Republican openly criticizing Wall Street was, nevertheless, worth the price of admission. More laughable was her steadfast criticism of “Washington insiders” and “Elites” as she was punching her ticket of admission.

The spectacle that has become Sarah Palin, however, says more about the Good Marshall than it does about the erstwhile candidate. The correct choice would have been Willard “Mitt” Romney. Romney had earned a spot on the ticket having challenged McCain and winning several states. More importantly he would have brought Michigan into the Republican column and perhaps put Massachusetts into play. But McCain did not have the courage to stand up to the Bible-thumping howlers on the political right who view Mormonism as a cult and, therefore, find Romney unpalatable. He could have chosen Lieberman and created a 'national unity' ticket much as Lincoln had done by choosing the Democrat Andrew Johnson of Tennessee to run with him in 1864. Instead he chose Palin, a bone to the political Right which on balance might bring him three votes in the electoral college. By picking Palin the good Marshall demonstrated that he would prefer an empty blouse over substance, a vessel into which one can pour as much bull shit as one person can hold. In this she resembles 'Ol Two-Cows. The difference is that she apparently doesn't hold it very well.

Meanwhile the McCain camp announced as the world focused on the debate that they were pulling out of Michigan.

October 4, 2008: Social Darwinism, Selfishness as the Highest Charity, The Right to Starve

A Polish rose by any other name is still a dandelion” ---Quotations of Chairman Joe

In the American political tradition, both modern American liberalism and modern American conservatism trace their roots back to the nineteenth century European liberalism rooted in the economic philosophies of Smith, Malthus, Ricardo, Stuart and Mill. Indeed so great was the influence of Smith that Darwin “confessed that his model for natural selection had been Smith's concept of Market competition; so men were just retracing Darwin's steps when they brought biological 'laws' back into the world of economics to create 'Social Darwinism'”. (1)(2)

Social Darwinism had become the rage by the late nineteenth century. Writers like William Graham Sumner took lessons from Smith but more importantly Malthus and Darwin to lay the basis for economic theory that John Kenneth Galbraith would later refer to as the “grim science”. If evolution was the law of nature then, they reasoned, “automatic progress was to be expected in man's economic activity” as well. (1) Garry Wills' summarized it this way: “If one progresses by survival of the fittest, then, as a consequence, the less fit do not survive. If the race is never finally won, at least some competitors are forever eliminated. Malthus made this clear when he said that, since the Invisible Hand (3) provides the maximum food intended by Nature and Nature's God (Malthus was a clergyman), it was the will of nature that population in excess of this divine provender should starve (if it were allowed to come into the world)”. (4) “This cruel consistency” led by degrees to the belief that the worst thing you could do was help your fellow man. Charity becomes, to these 'enlightened' souls, an abject form of evil. To feed the huddled masses would lead to further overpopulation and suffering, better—more humane—in the mind of Malthus was to let them starve. It isn't simply that the race goes to the strongest but that the survival of the 'less fit' threatens progress itself. The very concept of Charity as it had been passed through the ages by our religious institutions was stood on its head. Grown men of property and standing were known to publicly proclaim that selfishness was the highest form of charity.

The toxic mix of nineteenth century economics, biology and sociology served to give a 'scientific' veneer to greed translating itself into what Mark Twain labeled the “Guilded Age” dominated by what Ida Tarbell called the “Robber Barons”. It took over a half century of reform to right the ship.

The modern ear has no tolerance for the din of such nonsense. What is left of Social Darwinism still reverberates down through the twentieth century in the writings of Ayn Rand and in the bedrock assumptions of Milton Friedman and Bill Buckley but rarely do they give it open expression. Instead new forms must be assumed, a more progressive pose must be struck in order to appeal to modern man. To that end modern conservatives use 'liberation' terminology in order to mask the true nature of their creed. To 'liberate' the markets from harmful regulation that is, to these lights, both inefficient because it restricts the free movement of the market but also immoral because it empowers the 'less fit'. Empowering the 'less fit' means threatening progress itself. To threaten progress is to threaten the 'social good' or, in the words of the founders, the 'general welfare'. In the pretzel logic of moder conservatism the welfare state thereby threatens the general welfare. This logic extends beyond the commodities markets to embrace the labor markets, investment markets as well as the markets of political and social ideas and beliefs. It is through such mental gymnastics that conservatives can draw distinctions between the deserving and undeserving poor but cannot bring the same standards to the rich. The rich, you see, are by definition deserving. It is a modern mutation of “Social Darwinism” that drives the conservative to reduce all human interaction to market functions and to resist any subsequent regulation on any such market. To introduce fetters on intercourse is said to deny freedom. What they mean of course is that to impose restraints—civility if you will—is to deny the victor his presumed right to rape not only his fellow man but mother nature in the bargain. It is also to deny the vanquished his right to starve.


1.Wills, Garry. “Nixon Agonistes, The Crisis of the Self-Made Man”
Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston 1970. page 548.

2.For an enlightening discussion of the origins of modern conservative and
liberal thought as it pertains to nineteenth century liberalism see Garry Wills'
“Nixon Agonistes” a deeply penetrating analysis of Richard Nixon and his time

3.The operation of the market at which a purchase price is reached through the
impersonal forces of supply and demand is held by Smith and others to be
the most rational and efficient means to allocate resources in a given society.
Smith held that these forces acted as like an “invisible hand” in the marketplace.
Later wits confused the Invisible Hand with Providence forever transforming classical Liberalism, that is modern conservatism, into a theology.

October 3, 2008: Every Man a King, The Stalking Horse, Making Democracy Aristocratic

“Not only the poorest mechanic, but the man who lives upon common charity, nay the common beggars in the streets...court a set of admirers, and plume themselves on that superiority which they have, or fancy they have, over some others...When a wretch could no longer attract the notice of a man, woman or child, he must be respectable in the eyes of his dog. 'Who will love me then?' was the pathetic reply of one, who starved himself to feed his mastiff, to a charitable passenger who advised him to kill or sell the animal.”----John Adams. (1)

Every man, John Adams claimed, needs to be held in esteem and, by extension, to lord over someone else. “Even the American democrat, Adams reasoned, would rather rule over an inferior than dispossess a superior. His passion is for supremacy, not equality, and so long as he is assured an audience of lessors, he will be content with his lowly status”. Indeed as Corey Robin has pointed out the promise of American life, the American Dream if you will, was not an egalitarian society nor, necessarily, a meritocracy. Rather the promise of the American dream was “to rule over another person” or in Huey Long's memorable turn of phrase, “Every Man a King”. (1)

The problem for American conservatives is how, in a democratic society, does one make privilege palatable? The solution, answers Robin, is not to “defend the ancien regime of king, priest and lord. Nor have they appealed to antimodern arguments of tradition and history.(2) Instead, they have surrounded an array of old regimes—in the family, the factory, and the field—with fences and gates as they descant on mobility and innovation, freedom and the future. More importantly, they moved to give it a veneer of democracy.

“It took the American slaveholder to grasp the power of this insight. The best way to protect their class, the masters, realized, was to democratize it...to that end, Southern politicians attempted to pass legislation and provide tax breaks to ensure that every white man owned at least one slave ...so invested would he be in his mastery that he'd work to keep all others in their place”. (1)

But such dynamics were not novel to the South. The Virginian George Fitzhugh (1806-1881) argued in 1857 that all men desired to live without work, and that America was witnessing a form of wage slavery emerging in the capitalist North much more inhumane that what existed in the Antebellum South,(3) in effect reiterating from yet another perspective Adams' thesis. A man must be about the business of distinguishing himself; a man “on the make” to become in time a king (by living without work) of his own domain. The acquisition of wealth whether by slaveholder or tycoon became the ultimate act of self-definition “through which the 'uncommon' man—who could be anybody—distinguished himself from the 'undifferentiated mass'. To amass wealth was not only to exercise freedom through material means but also a way of lording oneself over others.” (1)

Whether under the ancient regime of slavery or the emerging new world order of capitalist 'free' enterprise, Americans and westerners generally have consistently embraced political philosophies that have rooted themselves, whatever their stated ideals, upon assumed inequality. The problem, for the modern democratic state, is how do you accommodate a form of vassalage (wage slaves in Fitzhugh's memorable definition), in a free society? After all if the purpose of a 'free' society is to allow—indeed encourage—exaggerated concentrations of wealth and power then there must follow a society of relatively few lords and many vassals. Again let us return to Robin for some insight: “In 'Conservative Thought,' an unjustly neglected essay from 1927, Karl Mannheim argued that conservatives have never been wild about the idea of freedom. It threatens the submission of subordinate to inferior. Because freedom in the lingua franca of modern politics, however, they have had 'a sound enough instinct not to attack' it. Instead they have made freedom the stalking horse of inequality, and inequality the stalking horse of submission. Men are naturally unequal, they argue. Freedom requires that they be allowed to develop their unequal gifts. A free society must be an unequal society, composed of radically distinct and hierarchical particulars.” (1) This leads, by short steps, to the war of 'liberation' against trade unionism in order to free the worker to negotiate alone with his 'lord' as one would confront the almighty on judgment day. It liberates consumers of protection to negotiate alone with his banker over interest rates on his home, auto, or credit card. It 'liberates' the community of protection so that the individual is left to sue the corporate conglomerate to stop the pumping of poisons into his water supply or the ground he stands on. It 'liberates' one to be free to become an 'associate' instead of an employee; it liberates 'privilege' by making democracy aristocratic.

1.As quoted by Corey Robin, “Out of Place” The Nation June 23, 2008 pg 26.

2.Earlier in the history of the republic, John C. Calhoun, U.S. Senator from South
Carolina and Vice President under Andrew Jackson, would defend slavery using
ancient historical precedents and tradition in an effort to found a republic on blatant principles of political inequality. Such arguments are foreign to the
modern ear and are not used in polite political discourse. Accordingly the conservative must be about the business of constructing a 'populist' veneer
with which to cover his defense of privilege

3. Fitzhugh, George. “Cannibals All! Or Slaves Without Masters”, in Baritz, Loren “Sources of the American Mind” Vol. 1. John Wiley & Sons Inc., New York, New York. 1966. pp 373-378.

Oct 4, 2008

October 2, 2008: A Question of Will, Exile on Main Street, Victims of Property and Standing

Once, when writing about his youth, political columnist George F. Will described growing up in the plains of central Illinois. His friends, he said sadly, were St. Louis Cardinals fans, and grew up to be happy and liberal. Will tells us that he became an ardent Chicago Cubs fan and grew to be, in his words, “bitter and conservative”. Baseball can do that to a man.

There are two subjects about which George F. Will writes passionately and convincingly. The first is poverty in the South Side of Chicago and the second is the Cubs. While his remedies about the insufferable conditions that plague both his major interests remain suspect, his description of their plight is deeply moving. No one in America writes as lucidly as Will about what it is to grow up in Chicago's tenements. No one in America writes as lucidly as Will about the “lovable losers” who have not been champions of baseball since well before they took up residence at Wrigley Field. Over a quarter century ago Will wrote about the hapless Cubs sounding very much like a boy writing about a drunken or absent father; a boy bonded with his 'hero' but nevertheless brought to the awful reality that Dad had not accepted the responsibilities of adulthood. There is something about naming a team after an immature animal, he opined. Think about it: Bronco's, strong, fast; Boilermakers, huge manly biceps; Lions and Bears, fast, strong, ferocious: Cubs, warm, friendly, playful. Chicagoans regularly and lovingly refer to the Cubs as the “Baby Bears” and they have lived up to that moniker.

It has now been a century since the Cubs were last champions of their sport. A lot has come and gone in the interregnum. Many years later Will would write bitterly by counting the number of Presidential administrations since the last Cubs' championship and pointing out that there have been two world wars, a Great Depression, and numberless other events marking the intervening years, finally proposing a one game season so that the Cubs would never finish any more than one game out of first place.

To be a Chicago sports fan in general, and a Cubs' fan in particular, carries with it a weight of significance transcending sports. The word “Fan” is, of course, a contraction of the word “fanatic”. To be a true fanatic one must hold that the object in question—be that his beloved Cubs or conservative political philosophy—embodies untarnished “goodness”. It follows then that one's opponents therefore represent the forces of “evil”, all that is bad and sullied about the world. To be, therefore, a Chicago sports fan one must at a tender age come to grips with the awful reality that the forces of “Evil” almost always prevail. A persecution complex emerges hardening over time into a bedrock conservatism. George Will became, in his own words, “conservative and bitter.”

You're out of time my baby
my poor discarded baby
'cause baby, baby, baby, you're out of time” -- The Rolling Stones “Out of Time” (1)

Corey Robin in an essay entitled “Out of Place” quotes the opening statement of Ronald Story and Bruce Laurie's “The Rise of Conservatism in America, 1945-2000” that 'the central story of American politics since World War II is the emergence of the conservative movement'. “Yet”, writes Robin, “for some reason Will still feels that the travails of his political kinsmen are insufficiently appreciated and recognized”. Robin continues: “Will is not the first conservative to believe himself an exile in his own country. A sense of exclusion has haunted conservatism from the beginning when emegres fled the French Revolution and Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre took up their cause. Born in the shadow of loss—of property, standing, memory, inheritance, a place in the sun—conservatism remains a gathering of fugitives. (2) Buckley and his cohorts saw themselves at “out of place” with their badge of exclusion making them just about the “hottest thing in town” (2)

“Plato's guardians were wise”, writes Robin, “Aquinas's king was good; Hobbes's sovereign was, well, sovereign. But the best defense of monarchy that Maistre could muster in “Considerations on France” (1787) was that his aspiring king had attended the 'terrible school of adversity”. Similarly Edmund Burke in his “Reflections on the Revolution in France” (1790) would describe Marie Antoinette “dragged 'almost naked' by 'the furies of hell' from her bedroom in Versailles and marched to 'a Bastille for kings' in Paris'. “Marie Antoinette”, Robin continues, “ was a particular kind of loser, a person with everything who finds herself utterly and at once dispossessed. Burke saw in her fall an archetype of classical tragedy, the great person laid low by fortune. But in tragedy, the most any hero can achieve is an understanding of his fate: the wheel of time cannot be reversed; suffering cannot be undone. Conservatives, however, are not content with illumination or wisdom. They want restoration.” (2)

What we have here, according to Robin, is the truly “bizarre” nature of modern Conservatism: a ruling class that for the first time rests its claim to power upon its sense of victimhood asking “us not to obey them but to feel sorry for them—or to obey them because we feel sorry for them.” Whereas other political movements must persuade “the disenfranchised that they have rights and power”, the modern conservative poses a novel justification: “they are aggrieved and entitled—aggrieved because entitled—and already convinced of the righteousness of their cause and the inevitability of its triumph. They can play victim and victor with a conviction and dexterity the subaltern can only imagine, making them formidable claimants on our allegiance and affection.” (2)

This, in large measure, explains the tone of our national political conventions. For the most part, red meat to the party faithful aside, the Democratic conventions offer visions of hope with Obama leading his convention into a packed outdoor arena and an audience of 85,000 telling the country that we are in this together. The Republicans echoing the pattern of Goldwater and Buchanan gathered in the confines of a Minneapolis arena to grouse about what has been taken and what they fear is about to be taken from them. It was an exercise in the politics of bitterness, the politics of victimhood. At no time did they speak to the economic crises facing the working and middle classes; instead embracing novel ways to continue the business of unraveling the New Deal. No the conservative conscience knows neither intelligence nor compassion; to embrace either would simply impede the restoration.

There are many roads that lead to the miserable place called the Republican Party. Some have been laid low by fortune and find themselves backsliding into the indistinguishable masses and are embittered by the experience. Victims of property and standing. Others, with far less pretensions, simply embraced the wrong team.



2. Robin, Corey. “Out of Place” The Nation June 23, 2008 pages 25-33