Archive for the 'politics' Category

And The Morbid Signs Multiply

I found myself befuddled after being drawn, more than willingly, into a political discussion with an old friend. At one point I was accused of advocating “Socialiam” (gasp!), and I let the comment go unchallenged. Later I drafted the reply below. The reply that remains and will remain unsent.

I do rankle at the use of the word “Socialism” as a pejorative term to cover any political, economic or social viewpoint left of free-market Republican capitalism. If millions of people say something absurd, it remains absurd. To get a term like “socialism” even relatively right, one needn’t wade through all 455 pages of Edmund Wilson’s “ToThe Finland Station” (Doubleday Anchor edition). I would recommend anyone seeking precision simply to go on Wikipedia, punch in “Socialism” and see what you get.

Barak Obama and the Democratic Party are not socialists, not even close, and as I see it, more the shame. To characterize him and his party in that way only further diminishes an already deteriorating level of public discourse. Despite my active dislike for the previous administration, I never would have referred to Dubya and his cohort as “Fascists,” probably the closest analogue for those now labeling Obama and the Democrats, Socialists.

Like the citing of the scriptures, every talking or writing head seems to be quoting Orwell to their own ends (me too). But Orwell was unequivocal in his contempt for the didactic abuse of language. And now we’ve reached the point where some fucking Tea-Party moron in Denver can describe a program to encourage the downtown use of bicycles as the work of “socialist revolutionaries.” I would say that’s a reasonable measure how far down the slippery slope of stupidity and madness this country has traveled in just the past few decades. In the words of old Simon Dedalus, “Jesus wept and Christ knows why.”

The actual reason stopping me from sending my friend any of the above lies in the even deeper truth spoken and sung by David Byrne (no relation) “Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.”

John Brown’s Body

imagesDriving through cold rain and heavy traffic to pick up some lunch, I overtook an old barge of a car waddling along doing about twenty-five in what was a forty-five zone. A disheveled early 1980s station wagon, its flashers were on and its read-end was plastered with “Right to Life” stickers. As a card-carrying subscriber to The New Yorker and the NYRB, my opinions can be largely predictable. I shook my head as I sped past the crawling low- end heap and what I reflexively assumed was its yahoo driver.

Given all of the above, I am caught between a willingness to doubt all, my own opinions included, and the dangers of doubt’s smug certainties. While I remain instinctively predisposed to support a woman’s right to choose, I have no illusions about the reality of what an abortion entails. Having become of late a doting grandfather probably also undercuts the clarity of any absolute position on so volatile an issue. Moreover, I suspect that my antipathy to so many of the Pro-Life advocates and their fanaticism is reaction based upon style, upon reasonableness, upon taste. The not-so-easily dismissed truth that enters my mind is the fact that even the worst of assholes are not of necessity, wrong.

To state the obvious, one shouldn’t judge the merits of a case by the nature, behavior or even the stupidity of its adherents. A self-styled Left Libertarian, a leveler of sorts, I like to believe that where I feel compelled to choose sides, I do so after having listened to what’s being offered. And even when genuinely convinced that a position on an issue is the work of what Mencken would have called “serfs, goose-steppers and poltroons,” my conclusions are too often tempered by reference to Cromwell’s words to the Church of Scotland in 1650, “I beseech in the bowels of Christ think it possible you may be mistaken.”

images-1In coming to grips with an issue as disturbing as abortion, the most powerful touchstone against any kind of certainty could be the case of John Brown, the anti-slavery John Brown of Russell Banks’ novel “Cloudsplitter,” the absolute fanatic Pottawatomie Brown, the unrepentant murderer Osawatomie Brown. Deemed a deranged psychotic by most of his fellow Americans and executed by his government, poor, mad John Brown, in his time and in his place, just may have been the only sane man in The United States of America. His example is one to give pause to received, hasty or unexamined opinions.

Status Quo Ante Bellum?

images-1It’s easy to forget the shallow Cold War triumphalism, particularly from the American Right, that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now with free-market economies worldwide in disarray, the words of Juan Goytisolo’s 1993 novel, The Marx Family Saga echo with prescience. 

“…you wanted to show how at the very moment when communism was being buried and the system was bankrupt, when [Marx]’s doctrines had really been discredited and the whole world was submitting either willingly or of necessity to the harsh law, but law all the same, of monetarism and the free market, the so-called leap forward was simultaneously a leap backward, things had returned to their point of departure…four-fifths of the world lived in dire poverty, millions of children were staving to death in the midst of saurian or reptile indifference, encouraged by its victories and the death of its enemy the capitalism that ruled over Europe and America was still, as its most lucid critics admitted, savagely destructive, based on immediate profit-taking and the jettisoning of civic responsibilities, and while aggressive nationalism, inter-ethnic struggles and racial cleansing spread from the underdeveloped world into the heartlands of Europe, you were all witness in your impotence to the waste of absurd military budgets, to the pillaging of nations and entire continents, to the systematic devastation of the planet, its polluted seas and sickly forests!” 

For the above quote, thanks to Terry Pitts and his blog site Vertigo: Collecting & Reading W. G. Sebald at

A Succinct Explication

There seems to be a concerted effort on the part of many of those complicit in the current economic debacle, they and their political running dogs, to shift the blame off and onto the impersonal forces of market dynamics, or to the government’s “irresponsible” encouragement of home-ownership or to the well-documented sleaze of Bill Clinton. Forget about it. 

The following is the final paragraph in a lengthy piece that appears in the February 12, 2009, edition of The New York Review of Books titled, “How We Were Ruined & What We Can Do,” by Jeff Madrick, editor of Challenge Magazine, Visiting Professor at Cooper Union, and Senior Fellow at the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at The New School. 

“This is, as many economists now concur, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Financial market participants created a financial bubble of tragic proportions in pursuit of personal gain. But the deeper cause was a determination among people with political and economic power to minimize the use of government to oversee the financial markets and to guard against natural excess. If solutions are to be found, the nation requires robust and pragmatic use of government, free of laissez-faire cant and undue influence from the vested interests that have irresponsibly controlled the economy for too long.” 

Couldn’t say it better myself. I did try; See The Compost Heap, “Whadda I Know About Economics?”  Posted July 28, 2008. Apparently just enough.

Another Crisis For Another Old Order

images-1In the 1920s, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed “the business of America is business.” The stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression took some of the wind out of that one.

With the so-called Reagan Revolution, the aggressive business agendas of pre-Depression America once again asserted their hold on the country. Over the past three decades business ceased to be a subset, if even a major subset of the national purpose, but became the underlying if unstated rationale for the existence of America. We were no longer a community, no longer a commonwealth or even a polity. We were a nation of consumers, market-targets and sheep to be fleeced. And, it was everyone for themselves.

The stock market boom of the 1990s, the housing bubble and the introduction of 401K retirement accounts turned ordinary working people into the equivalent of financial groupies. Tens of millions of Americans with any money at all to invest feared being left behind when the great Wall Street gravy train began to roll. But in the national frenzy for gain, a few fundamental economic principles somehow got lost:

Index-based mutual funds were only as stable as the market itself.

The gospel that “in the long-run,” the market ultimately rights itself ignores Keynes’ sharp observation that “in the long run we are all dead.”

And finally, the absolute touchstone of investment prudence; never put any money into equities you can’t afford to lose.

The national economy went through the looking glass into credit and investment   instruments of near-infinite complexity while an instantaneous process of globalization led to overnight, overseas  outsourcings of most of the nation’s industrial production. Inside a speculative bubble, and a gluttonous consumption of third-world goods (China), the economic health of the supposedly mightiest nation on earth became so jittery that trivial things like the level of Holiday shopping or a slowdown in the surreal values of housing could cause panics. This year, the shoe finally dropped.

Arthur M. Schelsinger, Jr, titled the first volume of his “The Age of Roosevelt,” “The Crisis of the Old Order, 1919-1933.” The Obama election and the economic collapse that contributed to that victory will, I hope, lead to a new crisis of the old order, the now old order that ran things from 1980 – 2008. The sanguine, irresponsibility of the Reagan/Bush ideological approach to government oversight of the economy (an utterly un-conservative philosophy holding that the beast of human economic self interest could be kept tame without serious regulation), and let’s not forget the two Clinton terms where the only ideology was (no pun) “naked” opportunism, led to the mad dance of greed that preceded the current debacle.

The  “old order,” the plutocracy of our own time; the sharpies, the MBAs, the piggish CEOs, lobbyists, the system-gamers have had their day at the trough. My hopes for an Obama administration go beyond the GOP’s much-feared spectres of “Socialism.” I think something even stronger is on order. My own modest proposals would include a bracing dose of class warfare with the application of near-confiscatory tax rates at the country’s stratospheric levels of wealth. Think of it as a way of a rebalancing of the national equity, a way of repealing the outrageous upward transfers of money to the rich during the obscene national barbeque of past twenty-five years.

During the campaign, Obama himself said something like, “Lets’ spread some of the wealth around.” That sounds like a great idea, whose time, I hope has finally come.  

It’s All Over Now Baby Red

jsm_photo_4I seem not to have been alone in using the word “gracious” to describe John McCain’s concession speech Tuesday evening following Barack Obama’s presidential win.

John McCain is a good guy. Given his Party baggage and the mess of the past eight years, he probably could not have won, no matter. I’d like to believe that had he won, he would have ditched the yahoos and reverted to type, governing in accordance with his record of independent principles and his evident sense of decency.

He never really had a chance. The overwhelming public sense of having had “enough” of the same old shit was reflected in the telling if cruel spoofs like Bill Mahar’s “Oh Grandpa!” and Tina Fey’s slightly more benign Palin takes. The post-election crowd  Tuesday night at McCain campaign headquarters in Phoenix told the final tale of the GOP; the all-white faces of privilege and reaction, the country-club crowd and their subservient help. In a country where at least one quarter of the population is now non-white, no national political party catering to racial entitlement is going to win, not without rigging the system. Don’t think they won’t try.

The die-hard states, those parts of the late Confederacy once characterized by H.L. Mencken as “the nether regions of the republic where the peasantry still sleeps with the cows” may persist in their voluntary role as the foot soldiers of what Bill Moyers calls the racist and “Reptilian” Right. But they appear to have forfeited any role in what will become the national political dialogue.

The great reactionary experiment proclaimed by Barry Goldwater and put in practice nearly three decades ago by Reagan has finally run its course, right into the ground. The past eight years of non-governance by the company of fools, scoundrels and mindless ideologues brought to D.C. by Dubya has irrevocably fouled the Republican nest.  It’s over and good riddance. Hope and faith renewed; turn the page and carry on.

The Spell Is Broken!

Flyers 6 – Devils 3 

Tonight, for the first time in over four years, the Philadelphia Flyers got a win in a Devils building. The win was also the Flyer’s first win, seven games into their 2008-2009 season. 

Could it have been that, to appease the Hockey Gods for his presumption in le affaire Palin, Ed Snider had to make a private vow of atonement. That on November 4, he would cast his vote for Barak Obama?

Hey, two points are two points.

The Curse Of “The Hockey Mom”

The Philadelphia Flyers face off tonight against the New Jersey Devils. While anything can happen, the Devils are 5-1-0, and the Flyers are 0-3-3. That’s ten points for the Devils and three for Philly, a bit of an imbalance.

The source of the Flyers inability to win a game so far in the season just might be found in the hubris, if not the arrogance, of the team’s owner, Ed Snider. Ed, “a hockey guy,” is also a millionaire, and probably like most millionaires he’s a guy who is used to getting what he wants, and possibly believing that what he wants is what everybody wants. 

At the Flyers opening game, Mr. Ed invited one of the vice-presidential candidates to drop the puck. Did he offer the invitation to the vice-presidential candidate from Flyers country, the adjacent state of Delaware? No he did not. He invited the candidate who hails from far-away Alaska, and who coincidentally represents the political party of Ed’s choice.

Hey it’s his team. He can do whatever he wants. And while Sarah Palin’s credentials as a self-professed “Hockey Mom” might count as an excuse, it does represent an infusion of partisan politics into the so-called non-political arena of NHL hockey. As I recall, there was a candidate for president four years ago who actually played ice hockey. John Kerry. Not from Ed’s political party, Kerry received no such invitation. Not what one would call level ice, eh? 

Like the curse of Billy Penn’s statue on other Philadelphia teams, the Flyers could be playing encumbered by the curse of Sarah Palin. Maybe the 0-3-3 is the price Mr. Ed is willing to pay to make his political point. Maybe the Flyers will win tonight against the Devils and end this self-inflicted jinx. Then again, maybe not. No matter, I’ll be watching.

Whadda I Know About Economics?

It seems that the American financial system and perhaps the entire U.S. economy could be headed toward a meltdown in the magnitude of the Great Depression. How the hell  could this be happening? There is a word for it. That word is greed, a greed unchecked by any concern of the public good; criminal, outlaw greed. 

Who are the culprits? Let’s start with Ronald Reagan. Move from there to Newt Gingrich and his “Contract With America’s Rich.” From there move back to the faceless economic and political theorists of the American Right. Collectively the vision of this gang was to emasculate government oversight of the economy. Hey they succeeded! Now we’ll all be paying the price of that ignorance and ideological recklessness. 

First, let’s remember that all that dough, those huge amounts of it, did not simply go missing. Very little of it just disappeared. Not at all. It was skimmed off the system by the sharp operators over the past three decades and migrated – To the slippery accountants, lawyers and lobbyists, to the MBA fixers, to the oily friends of Bubba Bill, the Bushes and the likes of Jack Abramoff, the dealers and fixers, the New Paradigm shysters, suits and scam artists who were given free reign to game the system to the disadvantage of the rest of us. The business sections of most daily newspapers now read like the police blotter of an inner city; indictments, fraud, scams perpetrated or abetted by the leading financial institutions of the nation; major banks, brokerage firms, predatory credit card companies.  Enron was not unique or isolated, and tax cuts for the rich were just not enough. The former Washington Post columnist William Grieder chose the biblical word “usury” to describe the massive shifts in wealth away from the have-nots and into the pockets of the already haves. Woody Guthrie’s line from the thirties fits well the situation of this new century, “some men rob you with a mask and gun, some with a fountain pen (read laptop).” 

Visit any of the choice, second and third-home, waterfront/golf course McMansion regions anywhere in the country. You can calculate the extent of the ill-distributed gains. Drive the roads of the “better “ suburbs and count the plethora of over-the-top luxury cars. All this in a time of increasing numbers of poor and working poor Americans. Universal health care? We can’t afford universal health care! Ask yourself how did all of this narrowly distributed new wealth come about?  Just hard work I suppose. Think about CEO compensation, and recall if you will, that little creep who waltzed away from the NYSE with a sweetheart severance deal of a mere $179 million. The national Ponzi scheme that’s marked the past several decades of the American economy is beginning to look like the fowl or foul bird come home to roost. Too late now to whitewash the walls. 

Whadda I know about economics? Not much. But I remember former Philadelphia Daily News columnist Pete Dexter writing of the attempts by utility company executives to explain the 1979 Three Mile Island meltdown. When challenged about his lack of nuclear expertise, Dexter wrote, “I don’t know anything about nuclear technology, but I know a lot about bullshit. And that’s what this is, Bullshit.” 

After the Bear Stearns bailout, the imminent rescues of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and now several major banks going go belly up, I listen to the words of Dubya, of Bernake and Paulson and like Pete Dexter, I think I know what I’m hearing. Stay tuned!

Warning, Adult Content (Political)

“I know a guy who’s kinda confused; got muscles in his head never been used…” John Prine

Thinking about guys like that, I try to figure out why people believe the stuff they say they believe. It’s a difficult task and the difficulty seems to arise from the confusion between feeling and thinking. I try and do my best to keep the two separate, not that my efforts in that area have been marked with anything like success. From some of the coded racial and political comments I hear and from the so-called “funny” emails I receive, I begin to understand that there are a lot of people who don’t even try to make that kind of a distinction. They feel strongly about all sorts of things but there doesn’t seem to be much of a connection between their thinking and their feeling. In fact, I get the feeling, if that’s the right word, that there isn’t a lot of thinking taking place.

I read once that all politics are personal. That Lenin’s brother was hung by the Czar and that Giap’s wife died in a French prison are but extreme examples of the axiom. Closer to home perhaps, the motivations that lead toward the uglier forms of social and political belief would seem to lie in the lesser disappointments of life, the little humiliations of class, income or achievement. A broken heart or a never forgotten rejection, just might account for a lot of the misogyny in this world. And a dissatisfaction with one’s own position or face, as Mister Dylan once put it, could account for much of the attraction to racist, sexist and extreme political positions. There’s also no discounting the masturbatory pleasures of patriotism on the cheap; waving the flag and letting somebody else’s kids do your fighting for you. Senators John McCain and Jim Webb excepted. Continue reading ‘Warning, Adult Content (Political)’