I see little if anything to quibble with in Ezra Klein's WaPo piece where he suggests that the President's decision to "go public" in his criticism of Republican Congressional leaders for their refusal to include tax increases (any tax increases at all) as part of their price to agree to expand "the debt ceiling," which now seems to have some kind of a consensus deadline of early August before "really bad things happen," means, ineluctably, that "the negotiations have failed."
Ezra notes that the hang-up seems to be the President's demand for around $400 billion in tax increases (against the $2 trillion in spending reductions already agreed to). The usual suspects are trotting out the "class warfare" rhetoric on the one hand and the "private jet" rhetoric on the other. And Ezra notes that neither "side" is really seeking to do much more now than pitch blame for failure to the other side, when the excrement hits the air circulating device... in about a month or so, if that far out.
No one is, of course, thinking about the consequences themselves... only about their political pitch (to raise campaign funds!) Of course, for "the consequences" of fiscal irresponsibility, we need look no further than the birthplace of democracy, where austerity votes and riots seem to coexist symbiotically. We seem to think that our ready access to low-quality starchy foods and anti-depressant medication will keep our overweight and unhealthy population from revolting in the face of similar indignities and austerities to be foist upon our nation by our financial overlords... maybe so... or maybe not.
If I had to guess at an outcome, it would be that Team Obama will try to recast its waving of a white flag as "statesmanship", and politely beg Messrs. Boehner, Cantor, McConnell, Kyl et al. to come back to the White House, and then the President and his party can capitulate to an all-spending-cut scenario for a debt-ceiling enlargement... the same way this White House seems to have apparently capitulated on so many other things that the President (and his financial supporters/future employers) actually really wanted, but his nominal electoral base regarded as anathema (such as an extension of the Bush tax cuts, tax cuts in lieu of stimulus, Guantanamo, no "public option" or enlargement of Medicare, "state secrets," endless wars, and more Bush tax cuts).
But that's only a guess (largely predicated on the truism that "nothing ever happens in August.") The fact is, members of our political class (and its senior partner, the financial class) are really recklessly indifferent to the plight of the peasants (and the peasants are defined as just about anyone with a family net worth of less than ten million dollars or so)... recklessly indifferent enough to trigger a financial catastrophe akin to the aftermath of Lehman in 2008, magnified to some as yet unknown power (given that the world's financial and economic fundamentals are worse in every department since 2008). Short term financial thinking and business practices now meet up with short term political thinking... I'm also going to guess (with somewhat more confidence than my other guess) that, whether it happens this year, or next, we're going to get that 2008 financial meltdown redux, followed by a lengthy and unpleasant shake-out period.
The most interesting part of this "process piece" by the Grey Lady concerning the political passage in New York of legislation recognizing same-sex marriage is not the fact [as I briefly discussed with Lindsay, who, amusingly is a member of the same CSA as I] that the one politician who really deserves credit for taking genuine political risk to advance the issue is David Paterson... and he isn't even mentioned in the Times piece. Oh yes... the interesting thing... the article does mention that one of the key hedge fund managers who wrote one of the key checks to make this issue palatable to Republicans was none other than my college classmate Daniel Loeb... where have I heard that name before? Oh yes... he was Barack's friend... who read Barack's personal letter to the assembled members of my college reunion class.
Black, white, red, blue, pink, rainbow... what matters in this country is and seemingly always will be... GREEN. Sorry Al Gore... not that kind of green.
But I come here neither to praise nor to bury the politicians and political operatives of New York... but to recognize this little item (and let's not make too much of it; it is largely symbolic as those desiring same sex marriage in New York previously needed only to take a train ride to nearby Greenwich, CT to be married, and New York would already recognize such a marriage) which is nonetheless a very exciting development, which moves the needle on human dignity forward just a little, even as so many other things are going retrograde at the same time. For our all-too-rare-given-that-we-live-here Broadway evening this "pride weekend," finding ourselves abruptly shut out of the "TKTS" discount window, Mrs. TD and I quickly ducked in to the nearest Broadway drag show, Priscilla Queen of the Desert. One would have hoped for a shout-out to New York, given, you know... But it was fun nonetheless, especially for fans (like me!) of late 70's high disco, even if still a bit too "heart-warming" for me, who remembered the edge of the original film.
Well, no matter. New York is now the sixth, and by far the largest, of the American states (seven jurisidictions counting D.C.) to recognize same sex marriage. My friend Candace, of course, always tells us that "hope dies last," and maybe she (and Studs!) are right, and amidst the vast darkness of it all, the human spirit yearning for freedom and dignity will win out in the end. This weekend, at least, maybe such a spirit will even win over my own dour countenance.
This has been... "Hope dies last."
To paraphrase the late great Mahatma Gandhi, my view on free market capitalism in the United States is that I think it would be an excellent idea (instead of the rigged and crony "capitalims" we "enjoy" now.) Case in point: CNBC reports that the 500 largest U.S. corporations are sitting on a record $800 billion in cash and cash equivalents and they just won't hire, even as they literally earn zero or negative real returns on their cash. Some groups of shareholders are pressing for increased dividends so that they at least can make use of the cash, if corporate American managers fear for their very bonuses.
Of course, I have an idea... but this is crazy talk, of course. That, boys and girls, is to create a tax incentive for these businesses (we can make clear that "small business," to wit, corporations not in the S&P 500, for example, is exempt). Such an incentive might impose an excise tax of, say, 100% on cash or cash equivalents in corporations with such cash on hand (above some enumerated level, say, above 2/3 of the median of cash on hand amongst the S&P 500) that have laid off American workers or outsourced American jobs, with 100% credit against that excise tax for new American jobs created. Of course, I would also impose an additional tax penalty, say, 100%, on corporations that chose to retain their cash, not hire American workers, but pay their senior management bonuses out of that cash. Politically, of course, these would have to be called something other than "taxes"... say, "cash user fees?"
Because we know that, even at the cost of the very continued fiscal viability of this nation, we JUST. CAN'T. RAISE. TAXES. (Especially on our beloved rich). Because buying key members of the legislature... is "capitalism in action." Which as we know, is better than that awful socialism. When we read that "socialist" countries' stock markets have outperformed the USA (since the sainted Ronald Reagan unleashed
thievery capitalism once and for all, back in the 1980's), being Americans, we say "facts? FACTS? We don't NEED no stinkin' FACTS!" (spit!)
America, f&^% yeah!
This has been... "Capitalism in action."
This Slate piece by Dahlia Lithwick pretty much sums up my own feelings towards the Supreme Court's (5-4... surprise, surprise) decision in Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, in which it, quite literally, ruled that Wal-Mart was just too darned big to sue- just the sheer size of the entity and the vast numbers of individual store managers making independent store decisions all of which just magically ended up discriminating against women-- was sufficient to justify continuing a practice that has resulted in over 2/3 of the behemoth's employees being women, but less than 1/3 of managers. Discrimination, you say? Pish posh says Justice Scalia (and 5 of the Court's 6 men, the highest he-man woman haters' club in the land).
But let's stop looking at this through the liberal/conservative prism, shall we, and look at this for what it is. The courts exist as a branch of government for the very purpose of "individual" adjudications in individual disputes, be they civil or criminal. It's just that, like, you know, Wal-Mart personnel decisions, they trend in certain ways. A poor swarthy person (unless they are, of course suing another poor swarthy person)... is simply at a disadvantage-- and the statistics will bear that out (especially in criminal cases and sentencings even moreso). At least one researcher has dubbed this fact of American life "the new Jim Crow."
But I digress: my point is simply that the courts exist, just as the other two branches of government exist, to support the interests of the powerful, which in this country, alas, means rich, white, and male. (Preferably all three, though the "rich" part is most important, followed by the white, followed by the male.) And the courts are no different (uppity courts, such as the lower courts in the Dukes case occasionally forget their place, and higher courts make sure the status remains quo). I have quipped more than once that the courts are a branch of government devoted to telling us that the interests of the rich/powerful are lawful and just, and they mean it because they tell us while wearing priestly black robes delivered in buildings constructed to remind one of Greek and Roman temples. And the individual anomolous result does not change the trend, which is that the well-heeled will, as a statistical matter, get better results from the court system, just as they will from every other system in a society that makes no bones about its valuation of money and property above human life (and everything that entails). And btw... this fact of life is true in courts whose members are largely Democrats, or Republicans... it's all baked into the system.
Yes, it's easy enough to see the Dukes case through the left/right prism (women should be in the kitchen and earning less than men, and class action lawyers contribute to Democrats disproportionately and hence must be stopped, etc.)... but I keep trying to remind you that's a suckers' game: it breaks down when you see alleged Democrats doing double back-flips to advance Republican talking points... but it all makes sense in the "rich/powerful vs. the peons and rubes" dynamic that is a somewhat stronger explanation for... how our society (and especially its government) operates.
And so... here we are again. No one votes for Wal-Mart. Yes, millions upon millions shop there, often as the behemoth has driven out virtually all competitors for miles around... but no one votes for Wal-Mart and its practices, even though that one corporation literally rules the lives of its hundreds of thousands of [all non-union] employees (and presumably millions more around the world working in its supply chain) and to a lesser extent its millions of customers, and the communities it
infests inhabits. But this is how it is: we are a society devoted to "them what has, gets" and the occasionally (or systematically) abusive (or unlawful... or outrageous) practices of America's company store simply do not concern its Holy Arbiters of Law.
Take yourselves out, folks. Figure out a way not to support this monster. Admittedly, here in NYC, which, along with Vermont, I believe, are the largest venues that have kept Wal-Monster out, it's easier here... but try to find a way. Better yet, try to grow and cook your own food, do your own repair work (or get favors from your friends and loved ones), and otherwise, try to reduce money's looming presence in your own life. Not easy... but nonetheless essential. Because the rules just don't apply to corporate behemoths, sayeth the government the behemoths have purchased for themselves. We can't win that game-- best not to play it.
This has been... "Too big to nail."
L'Affaire Weiner seemingly comes to an end, thereby requiring the American media to run around to find another excuse not to cover the impending Greek default, the fallout of which may now have led to massive fallout in Italy and Spain... ignore the tagline of this post ["the war between liberals and conservatives is a false divide and conquer dog and pony show"] at your extreme peril.
Yes, as I walked through the streets of Brooklyn to retrieve my week's produce share from my local CSA this morning (food security first, boys and girls... that reminds me... I need to check on my vegetables up on the roof...), I pondered the seeming disconnects between what's important and what gets our media's attention... in virtually all directions. A little less than three years ago, the nation's focus was on the seemingly critical, but in fact pretty-much-meaningless Presidential election... which created a sufficient diversion of attention all around so that tectonic-scale financial legardemain was played on us all, as trillions in ill-advised financial bets that should have been borne by the super-affluent private players responsible were instead shifted onto the backs of taxpayers everywhere, resulting in "the need" for massive fiscal austerity measures from governments around the world, at the precise time when "the free market" is in d[e]ep- re[ce]ssion... well, misery all around, eh?
Best talk about Anthony Weiner... because, the thing is... all rational measures and observations would tell you that we're heading right into another perfect storm of financial disaster-- this time, the culprit likely to be not private failures like Lehman Bros., Bear Sterns, etc., but by sovereign debt defaults, led, of course by Greece [is the word, is the word, is the word...], but quite possibly followed by the United States, whose Congress has suddenly [quite literally] got religion... and so seemingly wants to trigger a financial event of Biblical proportions, apparently (although the smart money says Goldman Sachs would prefer if Uncle didn't default, thanks.) The irony being... a default by the United States might make sense, in some sick way, anyway. Because we're NOT going to get our fiscal or overall economic house in order using conventional means...
But why talk about any of this, when we can worry about next year's meaningless "Presidential election"... and Anthony Weiner's crotch? That way, we don't also have to think about the implications of environmental calamity from climate change and other by-products of our industrial way of life, rapid resource depletion, the fact that our population is insanely unhealthy at the precise moment austerity measures will dramatically reduce public health availability, the stretched supply lines of our ability to even feed ourselves, dramatic reductions in available water threatened even more by "fracking" and shale-oil extraction and ethanol and other stupid ideas... when the absolute smartest thing we could do right now is NOTHING, and let the financial system collapse and allow levels of industrialism to decline to a more sustainable equilibrium so that when things settle, we actually have pieces to pick up... etc. Anyway, much better we have business as usual so the same morons can be reelected, get their big bonuses this year, etc., etc. Lather, rinse, repeat. Say... anybody seen Weiner?
This has been... "Weapons of mass distraction."
We'll "jump off" with this hit-piece on Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), the "R" seemingly for "religious nut" as Perry once again invites other governors to a revival meeting with a gay-bashing group. The Think Progress piece notes occasions where Perry riffs on the Old Testament (apparently the Pharaoh's Dream story) and otherwise suggest that current economic misery is "God's plan" and the rest of us shouldn't be too dependent on the government (and he's doing his part by trying to slash Texas's) and of course, misery lets us be "closer to God" or "God's plan" or thereabouts.
Well then. I observed the other day as I got up, got the little one off to school, fed the kitty cats (and emptied their litter box), climbed up to the roof to water the vegetables, jogged around the neighborhood, showered, packed my lunch (which I had cooked the evening before) and then walked over the Brooklyn Bridge... to work that I, someone who once campaigned for and then voted for the Libertarians (and one of the reviled Koch Brothers was probably on the ballot)... but in my middle age have come to realize that unbridled capitalism is just another synonym for "law of the jungle" where the powerful run things for their own benefit, with no semblance of "fair play," or even "decency"... have pretty much realized that European-style socialism (see also Canada, Australia, Japan), while flawed, of course, is a damned site better than allowing 90-plus per cent of the population to work in effective peonage, without dignity or hope, while a few well-connected insiders (barely 1% of the population if that) literally suck out the marrow of life from our economy, and indeed, our planet, all while lauding themselves as "entrepreneurs"and "value creators"... as if they could win so much as a game of solitaire without cheating, let alone honestly achieve their vaunted and oversized lifestyles and incomes on their own.
Where was I? Oh yes... I was going to say something about the American "rugged individualist" persona. We all know it's utter horsesh**, of course... as Hillary tells us, "it takes a village" (or in her case, The Village)... and none of us (save, maybe the occasional mountain man/woman, or remote hermits like the Unibomber) can really function absent a (functioning) society. And a functioning society, alas, needs government services, like public health, sanitation, education, environmental protection, and pretty much all the things we will be losing amidst austerities now imposed on us by our betters as the economy slows to a crawl (and glossed with religious overtones by the Rick Perry's of the world). And this sort of misery has a way of becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy, as underemployed people become more underemployed, a slow economy accelerates down, and so forth.
But I was talking about the rugged individualist myth (we'll note that the American West [including large parts of Texas], home of that myth, amounts to the biggest "welfare queen" region of them all, with its near total dependence on federal water projects just to be able to live, federal highway projects to get there, defense spending to make a living, etc., etc.), I was actually trying to do this at the "atomic" level, that is to say, at the level of the societal atom, the individual man or woman.
You see, the average American gets up bleary-eyed after staying up too long watching television, having eaten a high-fat meal probably prepared in a fast-food restaurant (but which was apparently inexpensive at least), and perhaps having had a beer or two, after a most unsatisfying day at the service job (assuming he or she even has a job), hopping in the car to drive over the now pitted roads and highways to the next unsatisfying day at the job... which may be sufficiently stressful as to generate an illness, or which a quick trip to the doc will result in a prescription or two (hopefully paid for by the company health plan)... where was I going?
I was trying to make a point about "self-reliance." We're not self-reliant: we're Americans. At a basic level, while collectively we rail against teh excesses of "the nanny state"... we nonetheless expect the world to be our mother, and not in a Mother Earth or Gaia sense, but in the "clean up after ourselves" sense. I was trying to describe my morning (and the activities are starting to become sufficiently ingrained as to become unconscious habits) not to highlight my personal virtue (which should be obvious to you all by this point!), but to demonstrate it's numerous elements of self-reliance, even if they are largely symbolic. Our American existences are perilously close to those of the dormant Earthlings in the brilliant film Wall-E, where people are totally dependent on the mechanisms they have constructed, and the individual human is fat, lethargic, forever dependent, forever talking on some personal electronic device and sucking down a Big Gulp, and being wheeled around. Tres charmant, non?
And so... we are dependent on others to select and cook our food for us, notwithstanding the fact that they will do so in the most expeditious (read: cheap and probably unhealthy) manner, and that this will probably make us overweight (along with taking the car everywhere, rather than walking or bicycling), which will make us sick and have to go to the physician, who will not counsel us to improve our lifestyle other than cursorily, but will prescribe for us the latest bad-ass wonder drug or two or three, which we will gladly overpay for because it's on our prescription plan, and we'll work at our mindless job, come home and watch our mindless programming, perhaps spend a few hours of idle time electronically "talking" to others similarly situated... lather, rinse, repeat, not thinking for one moment about the fact that NONE OF THIS is "individualism" of any kind, but wholly dependent on an energy-intensive infrastructure to keep it going. Yes-- we live our lives UNCONSCIOUSLY. Only not being conscious of what's going on in our lives would ever let Americans fantasize that "rugged individualism" of any kind was remotely possible, or that any of us could even survive a full 24 hours without some kind of "governmental intervention."
But there we are. Forgetting that "the system" is wholly created, and "natural law" has nothing to do with any of it, we are freed up to fantasize about "rugged individualism" and "if only government would get off our backs." Fine. Let's start removing services, Governor Perry. We'll start with the police, and your security team... let's see how long you last. Chump. Thing is: he is ultimately correct. We'll all have to learn to deal with less government-- not because it's God's plan (God has nothing to do with any of this, of course), but because there's just going to be less government. The insistence that our beloved super-rich (the darlings!) cannot be made to pay taxes (notwithstanding they benefit more from government and the system than everyone else combined) means that as the beloved super-rich suck more and more life-blood from the rest of us, there will just be less from the rest of us to tax, and governmental services will contract as we go to permanent austerity.
Which means... as I keep trying to tell you... that we'll just have to look out for ourselves. Government won't... because it largely won't be able to. It'd be nice if Gov. Perry observed that "God helps those who help themselves." He didn't... so I will. Consciousness, people. Zombies may like brains... but not because they have any themselves. This has been... "Accidental truths."
I'm going to leave it to the readers (those few, if any, I have left) to try to come up with a "rational world" solution to the problem raised by Ron Brownstein in this observant piece noting that younger workers can't get their careers started... and older ones can't get theirs ended! Obviously, I'm going to suggest my own below. Spoiler alert: it involves not taxing the rich and increasing the Pentagon budget...
The obvious usual response that
not American rational societies have come up with is a variety of things Americans have come to call "socialism" (a term which doesn't include Medicare or any other government programs that benefit White people), such as publicly paid higher education (so that younger people aren't saddled by debt), universal affordable health care (so that all people needn't fear destitution through the simple misfortune of having themselves or members of their family contracting an expensive illness), livable minimum wages and relative job security protections to ensure that the productive years are adequately compensated, and a guaranteed and secure retirement so that older workers need not fear becoming burdens on their families or otherwise becoming destitute if they don't work until they drop, thereby freeing up opportunities for younger workers.
Of that list, we Americans have self-funded higher education that has resulted in a cumulative national student debt that exceeds credit card debt, medical debt is a major factor in the overwhelming majority of personal bankruptcies, real wages have gone nowhere for decades (and most workers in the United States are subject to the law-of-the-jungle "protections" of "employment at will"... we won't even talk about some measures of unemployment that are now in Depression era range), and, of course, most people now believe Social Security is pretty much doomed (and the Democratic President insisting that Social Security, the only solvent government program we have, is nonetheless in a crisis, and engaging the affectionately named cat-food-commission led by Pete "I've Devoted My Life to Destroying Social Security" Peterson to propose destroying what's left of it... hasn't helped much).
Anyway... forget the obvious responses. They involve spending money on things that aren't the military, and collecting that money by means that include imposing taxes on our precious rich people. No... can't do either of those. (Why, that would be crazy talk, like believing that swarthy people suspected of evil-doing should get due process of law, or that people should eat well and take care of themselves rather than live any crappy lifestyle they want and expect a bloated and pharmaceutical driven "health care" system to bail them out, and other insane bat-sh** like that.)
What we can do is borrow money from China (or, failing that,
print it have the Federal Reserve engage in "quantitative easing") and of course, increase Defense spending. And so... I propose to solve everything at once, at the mere cost of... well..., we just can't worry about that, when we're talking about our precious bodily fluids national security, can we now?
Yes, obviously, I''m talking about beefing up the Pentagon. I propose an immedate implementation of a universal national two-year service requirement, starting, of course, in September the year in which kids graduate high school (or the year they turn 18, if they don't graduate high school... stay in school, kids!) For sticklers for pacifism, there would be a "civilian service" option (teach in the South Bronx, dig wells on Indian reservations, etc.), though, it being run by the Pentagon, there would be many incentives to man-up and join a uniformed service. And after two years of some kind of useful service, we would have a cadre of 20 year olds actually qualified to do something. Plus, they'd save up some money for college or technical training (just as they do now in our all-volunteer military), and they'd be eligible for lifetime free V.A.-sponsored medical treatment (knock it all you want-- did I mention it's free? I just gave you universal government paid health care while you weren't looking...). We could also have the rudiments of a military pension for those who like their service enough to stay with it a while... and of course, we'd defer the entire working population from the competitive work force for at least two years (plus whatever education was pursued).
Of course, since everyone (not physically and/or mentally disabled) would have devoted part of their lives to national service, we would have more people with a stake in what our government is up to-- including national leaders who might think about the implications of sending Goldman Sachs executives' children into potentially thorny situations should we continue the present imperial course we are on. And the best part is that there's also lots of actual useful work that can be performed-- work shoring up a collapsing infrastructure, beefing up education and health care, maybe even getting everyone in the country to start growing their own victory gardens (national security begins with food security...) with a new cadre of young, energetic uniformed and civilian personnel on the job (I've already made one such proposal), securing the borders and so forth. Heck, maybe they can help rebuild the towns that are sure to be leveled by tornadoes or hurricanes or drowned in floods and so forth, as good old global warming increases storm magnitudes (while getting to deny global warming at the very same time they're cleaning up after it!!!)
Look: I understand that this is a massive (and presumably expensive) government program... but it won't be paid for by taxing the rich, and it will increase the Defense budget. It's a winner, I tell you. This has been... "More easy answers to stupid questions."
In the legal career I spend much of my life-energy exchanging for money, one of my (all-too-numerous) pet-expressions is "I can defend against clever and dishonest. I can defend against evil. I can even defend against crazy. But neither I, nor anyone, can defend against stupid." And this, boys and girls, is why I am so bearish on our collective future as Americans (though, as individuals, if you and I watch out for ourselves and ignore the idiocy of those around us, we might just make it through).
Case in point: the endless Anthony "Eponymous" Weiner story. Congressman Weiner is a LOSER. If he weren't a chicken-sh** LOSER, he would be Mayor of New York, right now, instead of cowering in fear of Mike Bloomberg's money, the same way he and the rest of his party cower in fear of losing corporate money from political donors, fully 100% enabling the corporate-kleptocracy to run this country (and planet) for their own benefit. That's the only Anthony Weiner story I'm willing to talk about.
Honestly-- the man (and his party) lack the integrity, let alone the entertainment value, of Sarah Palin, who has devoted her life to performance art.
Meanwhile, of all people, John Boehner is making sense on Libya, even if the President don't need no stinkin' War Powers Act resolution. Operation Indepedent Libya is working beautifully: long-time friend of Big Oil Moammar Qaddafi gets to hold on to those parts of Libya he likes, and dumps those ingrate a**holes in Benghazi and those parts of Libya he's just as happy to be rid of, and the American taxpayer gets to pay for this arrangement... as usual. It's win-win-- for Qaddafi, Exxon, Halliburton and Goldman Sachs... we the taxpayers lose... but what else is new?
But don't just assume that just because he makes some sense on Libya, John Boehner isn't willing to play chicken with the rest of us... he is. I've said this one before: the Obama Administration's simultaneous extension of the Bush-era tax cuts without a simultaneous increase of the debt ceiling was a blatant act of political malpractice.
It's all a distraction from, oh, the fact that the last ten years have seen worse real-terms wage "growth" (and, taking out the tippy top wage earners and leaving the other 98, 99% of us, real wages have presumably seriously declined) ever... well, at least worse than the Great Depression. Of course... we're in a "recovery." Just keep clicking your heals together and say "there's no place like... something or other..." Because if you actually focused on things like that (and the environmental and energy and moral and legal and fiscal and food and water and health and education and infrastructure and imperial crises we are simultaneously staring right at)... you might miss out on some Congressman's next lewd tweet. I'm telling you: grow your food- and learn how to cook it, fix that bicycle, get to work without your car, etc... ignore the rest of this inanity... I mean it, man...
This has been... "Tragedies, farces, falls of empires, etc."