Friday, January 30, 2009

EFCA and "Bipartisan" government

"Republicans and big business are going all out to stop the Employee Free Choice Act. How will labor respond?"

Right. And I suppose my question here is whether Obama and Co. will seek a 'bipartisan' (read: pro-business tainted) approach to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Is Obama going to listen to the 'ideas' of the Republican Caucus's union-busting morons before throwing in support for a bill to pass it? Does he want an EFCA that reflects the support of 80 senators rather than 60? Let me say, emphatically, that I do NOT want to see such a bill. The extent to which Republicans might support an EFCA bill is precisely the extent to which it would have anti-labor provisions that would dilute the effectiveness of it as law. The Republican congress of the early postWar years did not seek bipartisanship as such as their goal: they waged concerted class war and rammed-through the Hartley-Taft anti-union bill to roll back the gains that labor had made in the 30s with the Wagner Act.

The EFCA is a VERY contentious issue for Capital (and consequently, most conservatives). They are aware of the stakes, and will do anything in their power to destabilize an effort to pass the EFCA. They've already begun their media war. The VP of the US Chamber of Commerce has already announced that the passage of the bill would be 'armageddon' and that he would do everything in his power to fight it tooth and nail.

But, you might say, this shouldn't matter. The US Chamber of Commerce doesn't vote on the bill directly. The Republicans do not have the votes to even filibuster the bill (after Franken is seated and assuming at least Liberman or one Republican breaks camp). Haha. Were it only that simple. A lot of details remain to be seen. But one thing is for sure (and here I agree with the ISO): active non-electoral struggle will be necessary for the bill to get the support it needs to pass. Labor will have to give this push its all, because frankly there hasn't been an opening for this kind of legal change in more than three decades. Although we could certainly argue about whether Clinton could have passed it in his first 100 days in 1993... he could have, perhaps, but it is clear in retrospect (and probably at the time as well) that his presidency wasn't an opening for that sort of change but a repudiation of it.

Bipartisan rhetoric isn't going to get the EFCA accross the finish line.


Compare and contrast

Exhibit A.

Exhibit B: JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs were all top 10 contributors to Obama's campaign, giving collectively more than $2 Million.

In principle, I have no problem with taking money from capitalists (assuming there aren't strings attached) and using it against them. But is that what's happening here? Is exhibit A more convincing than B?

Even John McCain got on his populist high-horse toward the end of the campaign to decry the 'greed on Wall Street' in a way that rang totally hollow and begged for ironic readings.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Stimulus Bill for Freedom-loving, American Americans

From the Republican bonehead Jim DeMint for the Heritage Foundation:

"The Democrat bill takes money--actually, it bor­rows money--and decides where it should go. It does virtually nothing to stimulate the economy while it wastes billions of taxpayer dollars. It's a hodge-podge of long-supported pet projects that the normal budget process would have thrown out. Using the troubled economy as their motive, Dem­ocrats have opened the floodgates for all sorts of outrageous wasteful spending. Here are just a few examples from the Senate's bill, which we will debate next week:
  • $400 million for researching sexually transmit­ted diseases,
  • $200 million for bike and pedestrian trails and off-road vehicle routes,
  • $200 million to force the military to buy envi­ronmentally friendly electric cars,
  • $34 million to renovate the Department of Commerce headquarters,
  • $75 million for a program to end smoking, which if successful will bankrupt the children's health program Democrats are about to pass.

And those are just some of the ridiculous things they have written into the bill."

That is some ridiculous crap indeed. Especially the part about finding cures for STD's! Also, its not as though people are going to be employed building/renovating the DoC HQ. But they probably don't need the work, since there are tons of new construction projects being undertaken right now in the private sector... (whoops). And the part about ending smoking and bankrupting S-CHIP makes perfect sense.... uh, er... what?

Is this the best that Republicans have got? Absolutely pathetic.


Venkatesh, Galbraith, et. al Debate Obama Stimulus

Full text of the debate/panel here.

Excluding the conservative idiots who are whining about spending increases, there are some interesting points in this exchange.

For Galbraith, the stimulus is not bold enough (or commensurate with the gravity of the crisis at hand). Stiglitz said virtually the same thing when he told the BBC today that the Obama Stimulus package is "totally inadequate". He recommends the following ideas (which sound marvelous to me):

– All the resources being released from residential and commercial construction should be taken up in public building. At the federal level, strategic investments in mass transit and other long-term improvements — largely omitted from the current package — should be authorized via a permanent National Infrastructure Fund.

– Comprehensive foreclosure relief, through a 90-day moratorium followed by restructuring except in cases of demonstrable borrower fraud.

– Increase Social Security benefits, say by 30 percent, and a lower the eligibility age of Medicare to (say) 55 years of age. This would offset the deep drop in equity wealth of the elderly population, while favoring the poor. Expanding Medicare eligibility would permit more workers to retire, freeing firms from carrying health care costs for older workers.

– A payroll tax holiday to restore the purchasing power of working families. By setting the payroll tax rate at zero (and letting the government write a check to the Social Security Trust Fund for the uncollected sums), tax relief can be delivered at large scale and with immediate effect. Later, if growth resumes rapidly, this measure could be scaled back.

– A Reconstruction Finance Corporation, to meet industrial needs for credit and to help with restructuring and modernization.

– Jobs programs, in the spirit of the New Deal, to hire people to do what they do best, including art, letters, drama, dance, music, scientific research, university teaching and the work of the non-profit sector — including for community organizations.

– An energy program with a framework adequate to meet the climate crisis and sufficient to reduce demand for oil and quell speculation as the economy recovers.
Michael Oppenheimer argues, correctly in my view, that infrastructure spending must be spent with the future in mind (which is to say, the environment and climate change). In concrete terms (no pun intended) this means eschewing highway construction/expansion in favor of mass transit and greener forms of transportation. He writes:
The trade-off between building new highways and expanding or even just maintaining mass transit capacity is an obvious example. Both are “shovel-ready” but one supports the emergence of a green economy while the other just ossifies the existing patterns, which are a big part of our economic and international problems in the first place.
Steven Goldsmith, presumably in an attempt to sound unique or creative, argues that what America needs more of right now is a boost in volunteerism. Thus, he recommends an increase in funding for Americorps. I say fuck that. People need jobs not charity, and getting well-off people to volunteer is, at best, an idea that is peripheral to the main thrust of any serious effort to stave off disaster for ordinary Americans.

Venkatesh argues that the stimulus needs to be more 'locally oriented'. Yet, the examples he gives:
For example, two cities (or counties) can independently spend millions to shore up new transit systems. Yet, a regional focus might more efficiently and effectively serve a population whose movements cut across their borders. Giving unemployed workers subsidies to retain their health benefits is progressive, but in some metropolitan areas, workers are facing eviction and would much prefer rental subsidies. Averting homelessness might take priority over a doctor’s visit.
beg the following question. Why not do both (avert homelessness and guarantee health subsidies)?


NYTimes even worse than we thought?

So, Linda Holmes at NPR thinks that whole Dating a Banker Anonymously support group/blog is a great big satirical hoax that the Times fell for. Now looking back at the Times article and at their blog, I think she's right. In fact, I'd bet my savings on it (don't worry, it's not much).

First of all, let it be true so I don't have to think that support group actually exists or those women actually think what they do.

But next, what the hell NYtimes?! Do they so badly want to believe women are vapid, gold digging narcissists that they didn't even question whether this is real?!

Here's Holmes' probably spot-on guess at what happened:

Isn't it totally obvious that the "support group" reported on in the Times doesn't exist, that these are three women -- two writers and an attorney -- who figured out how to tap our deep societal hatred of the recession and hatred of privileged women who get away with everything, and to combine it into a big giant phenomenon that would produce so much instant vitriol that they would absolutely, definitely get a book deal?


French General Strike

French workers down tools in general strike over handling of financial crisis

Action is first general strike in an industrialised nation since the start of the global economic turmoil


UN Resolution on the right of the Palestinians to Self Determination

UN Resolution on the 'right of the Palestinian people to self-determination' (document A/C.3/63/L.52*), voted on November 20th, 2008.

In favor: 175 countries

Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, United States.


Arizona gutting public education to balance budget

I've written before about the crazy-drastic action the GOP-led Utah legislature is taking to keep their books looking good. Now Arizona, directly following the departure of the "education governor" to the Obama administration, seems to have lost their damn minds (via HuffPo).

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Russell Pearce (R-18) and Arizona House Appropriation Committee Chair John Kavanagh (R-8) are leading a charge for massive cuts in public education across Arizona. The Pearce-Kavanagh proposal includes $631 million cut from the Arizona university system over 18 months, a 10 percent across-the-board cut for public elementary and secondary school districts, elimination of all-day kindergarten and early kindergarten, and elimination of $125 million in school tax credits currently provided to individuals and corporations who donate to public education.

Last year, then-Governor Napolitano urged lawmakers to work on a bipartisan plan to avert the impending budget crisis, but most elected officials were preoccupied with re-election campaigns. After the election, when Napolitano was named as the likely new Homeland Security Secretary, the Republican-led legislature decided to wait for the automatic ascension of fellow-Republican Janet Brewer to the governorship. In the meantime, the budget shortfall became a budget crisis.

The state budget shortfall is $1.6 billion for the 2009 fiscal year (July 2008 - June 2009) and more than $3 billion for the 2010 fiscal year (July 2009 - June 2010). Under the Pearce-Kavanagh proposal, roughly two-thirds of the money needed to meet the shortfall would be extracted from the universities. The rest of the cutbacks are primarily to elementary and secondary education and health care.

You can read a detailed account of what is going on at Arizona State in all this madness here. Seriously...shouldn't education always be the last thing that gets cut (if anything needs to be cut at all)? Is it so hard to convince yourself you can't throw away your future to make it through a (relatively) short-term crisis?


"We refuse to pay for the capitalist crisis"

Massive protests across France are erupting in conjunction with huge strikes to protest the government's handling of the economic crisis.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Audacity of Dope?

Red Pepper blog on some of the strange commercial appropriations of Obama lately.

This looks like a blog I may have to keep an eye on.


Class enemies getting richer, even as economy sinks...


By almost any measure, 2008 was a complete disaster for Wall Street — except, that is, when the bonuses arrived.

Despite crippling losses, multibillion-dollar bailouts and the passing of some of the most prominent names in the business, employees at financial companies in New York, the now-diminished world capital of capital, collected an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for the year.

Contrast that with this, for instance. Or, this. Or this. Or bullshit like this.

And the best part is that there are idiots who know all of the above but still have the nerve to write tripe like this.


Chomsky on Obama's Foreign Policy and the Economy

At counterpunch, an interview with Noam Chomsky on Obama's emerging foreign policy. (Hint: It's not good.) I think the most original analysis comes in the end, however, when Chomsky briefly discusses the economic downturn and Obama's response to it:

It is a worldwide crisis and it is very serious. It is striking that the ways that Western countries are approaching the crisis [entirely contradict] the model that they enforce on the Third World when there is a crisis. So when Indonesia has a crisis, [or] Argentina and everyone else, they are supposed to raise interest rates very high and privatize the economy, and cut down on public spending, measures like that. In the West, it is the exact opposite: lower interest rates to zero, move towards nationalization if necessary, pour money into the economy, have huge debts. That is exactly the opposite of how the Third World is supposed to pay off its debts. That this seems to pass without comment is remarkable.


Omg, nytimes, omg...

Check this story out.

For Christine Cameron, the recession became real when the financial analyst she had been dating for about a year would get drunk and disappear while they were out together, then accuse her the next day of being the one who had absconded.

Dawn Spinner Davis, 26, a beauty writer, said the downward-trending graphs began to make sense when the man she married on Nov. 1, a 28-year-old private wealth manager, stopped playing golf, once his passion. “One of his best friends told me that my job is now to keep him calm and keep him from dying at the age of 35,” Ms. Davis said. “It’s not what I signed up for.”

They shared their sad stories the other night at an informal gathering of Dating a Banker Anonymous, a support group founded in November to help women cope with the inevitable relationship fallout from, say, the collapse of Lehman Brothers or the Dow’s shedding 777 points in a single day, as it did on Sept. 29.

In addition to meeting once or twice weekly for brunch or drinks at a bar or restaurant, the group has a blog, billed as “free from the scrutiny of feminists,” that invites women to join “if your monthly Bergdorf’s allowance has been halved and bottle service has all but disappeared from your life.”
Wha? Is this really the best way the Times could use its resources to cover the economic collapse? They can't cover the way the recession is hurting the relationships of those who aren't among the elite? I don't even know how to take them seriously. There's the "who cares?" response, the "god, the Times is so vapid" response and the "why does the Times like to give spotlights to people just so they'll play up some of the oldest and lamest gender stereotypes?" angle. I'm not sure which path to go down so I'll just tag it with our oft-used NYTimes tag and move on.



Dissent, the social-democratic Left magazine founded by Irving Howe in the 50s, has recently come under the ownership of UPenn Press after having been independently owned and operated for more than 55 years. Tough times for print media coupled with economic calamity left the magazine with no choice. The editorial staff has not changed at all, indeed they reassure their readers that nothing about the magazine (least of all its politics) will change. I suppose that means I will continue to be unlikely to resubscribe any time soon.

I read Mitchell Cohen's "editor's page" in the newest Dissent yesterday, where he says that although Obama was frequently called a socialist by moronic Republicans, he clearly is not one. Nonetheless, Cohen says, everyone at Dissent wishes he was. I assumed that the implication I was supposed to draw was that they are socialists and would welcome a socialist leader. Fair enough. But then I read later on the issue an article about Latin America in which Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia were described as suffering from the politics of "social resentment" and consequently were failing to adequately "develop". At this point I felt as though I was reading "Reason" magazine or The American Spectator. I put the magazine back on the rack.

There is enough interesting and smart writing in the magazine that usually, I find myself unable not to at least take a look. But I am always amazed by how tepid (well... support for the 67' war and mixed support for the Iraq War aren't exactly tepid, but...) some of the politics are at the same time that the magazine's leadership is always paternalistically anointing itself the 'smart Left', the 'critical Left' or the only game in town Left of the Democrats.


More evidence in the developing case for War Crimes

UN releases Gaza attack photos

UN pictures show what appears to white phosphorus 'wedges' raining down on one of its compounds in Gaza

The United Nations has released images of what it believes are white phosphorus munitions raining down on one of its compounds during Israel's war on Gaza.

The pictures, broadcast by Al Jazeera on Thursday, show what appears to be flame-generating munitons, thought to be white phosphorus "wedges", falling into a UN compound in Gaza where hundreds of people were sheltering.

Two Palestinian boys, aged five and seven, were killed in the attack on January 17.



Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Worst newspaper ever?

More goodies from the Washington Times.


Monday, January 26, 2009

MUST WATCH: CBS on the recent atrocities in Gaza, West Bank

Watch CBS Videos Online

This is far from perfect. But this is the most fair coverage of the Palestinian/Israeli question that I have ever seen from a mainstream US media outlet. (Saw the video on Lenin's Tomb).

I can't believe they said "apartheid" on CBS. This is has got to be some kind of new precedent.


Redbaiting Obama's Climate Czar

From the (always reactionary) Washington Times:

Stephen Dinan

Until last week, Carol M. Browner, President-elect Barack Obama's pick as global warming czar, was listed as one of 14 leaders of a socialist group's Commission for a Sustainable World Society, which calls for "global governance" and says rich countries must shrink their economies to address climate change.

By Thursday, Mrs. Browner's nam
e and biography had been removed from Socialist International's Web page, though a photo of her speaking June 30 to the group's congress in Greece was still available.

Socialist International, an umbrella group for many of the world's social democratic political parties such as Britain's Labor Party, says it supports socialism and is harshly critical of U.S. policies.

[...] "
Yes... 'global governance'. What a frightening idea! That governments might join together in halting the unbrideled quest by the barons of global capitalism to ravage the environment and burn down the last tree on the planet to enable their stock to increase by 1%.

Socialist International says it 'supports socialism'. What a revelation! *An accusatory, balding old white man's voice snarls*: "Carol Browner, are you or have your ever been a member of the Communist Party? Are you a member of the Screenwriters Guild of America?"

The sort of 'socialism' supported by the Socialist International is the most tepid, third-wayist, reformist incarnation of European labor/social-democratic parties on offer in the world. (Like most social-democratic european parties, their statement of principles is more attractive than the actual (neoliberal) policies they support).The group does have a few semi-radical parties as members, but these are not to be found on the Continent. The German SPD (who is now in a coalition with the CDU and whose leadership leans more toward the CDU than Die Linke, the only serious leftist party in Germany), the pathetic Parti Socialiste Francais, the Blair-ized British Labour Party and the now powerless Italian Democratic Party (formerly Democrats of the Left, formerly the PCI (the party of Gramsci) back when Italian Eurocommunism was a serious movement) are all members of the Socialist International. How ignorant would you have to be to think that Browner's membership in this organization was in any sense subversive (nevermind that subversive should be a term of praise rather than rebuke!)?

"Mr. Obama's transition team said Mrs. Browner's membership in the organization is not a problem and that it brings experience in U.S. policymaking to her new role."
Gasp! You mean he didn't find her when he found out that she was a Stalinist agent!?

"Her name has been removed from the Gore organization's Web site list of directors, and the Audubon Society issued a press release about her departure from that organization."

Good thing. Gore and Audubon sure wouldn't want to have to admit that they had a dirty Stalinist thug in their organizations.

Most Americans don't have any clue what socialism is. And how would they? Our culture, history books, etc. are all saturated with Cold War tropes... meanwhile the tradition of home-grown radical movements (like the IWW, the Socialist Party under Debs, the Black Panthers, etc.) is completely occluded from most mainstream sources of information.

Even in graduate-level political theory courses, you can frequently hear 'progressive' students wondering out loud why anyone would mention Marx anymore given that we've "been there and done that". The equation of Marxism with Stalinism and Socialism with the Soviet Union didn't emerge from thin air... neither did it emerge from any particular student's 'individual critical faculties.' Tropes of this kind represent the most crude legacy of Cold War ideology, pure and simple. Flavor-of-the-month fans of gentrified versions of post-structuralism (itself born of a reaction against a particular kind of Marxism and the experience of post-68 Maoism) would do well to canvass the history of ideas once in a while.

Seriously though, the WT article is truly disgusting... this sort of Redbaiting makes my stomach turn. When will this kind of garbage end? The Washington Times is famous for this kind of trash, but it would hardly surprise me if this had been printed in the Washington Post or the New York Times.



In a speech, the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, countered criticism from party conservatives, like many in the House, who oppose compromise with Mr. Obama.

“Anyone who belittles cooperation resigns him or herself to a state of permanent legislative gridlock,” Mr. McConnell said. “And that is simply no longer acceptable to the American people.”
Really? How noble of you Mitch. Gridlock, you say? I thought gridlock had to do with a legislature divided roughly evenly between two parties. Compromise or not, his caucus doesn't even have the votes to create legislative gridlock if he wanted to. The Senate Republicans cannot even try to filibuster anything as long as Democrats get Lieberman or at least one other GOP senator to vote for cloture. The Democrats are one vote shy (if we count Lieberman as a 'maybe') of a supermajority.

Mitch, can you say "ir-re-le-vant"?


Sunday, January 25, 2009

change we can believe in

"Obama, in his first military action as president, sanctioned two missile attacks inside Pakistan on Friday, killing 22 people, reportedly women and children among them. The attacks drew criticism from Pakistani officials at the weekend."


Sit down, and shut up.

Seriously. If the answer to this sort of whining isn't "sucks to be you", then I cannot understand why we hold elections. In a country in which the two hegemonic parties are frustratingly indistinguishable in important ways, I find it appalling that we should try to eradicate via 'bipartisanship' the few areas where there is some substantive difference between them.

Let's consider a few facts about this situation. Boehner is part of a GOP minority that got significantly smaller last November... and it's clear that the GOP hasn't been severely hemorrhaging congressional seats for the last 2 years because people want their approval on every single piece of legislation. Once Franken is seated, the Democrats will have 59 senate seats including Lieberman. Add to that the enormous amount of momentum behind our nearly universally-adored President.

Thus, there is absolutely no reason to blame the Republicans for the character of policy that emerges out of the next legislative session. I'm sure some liberals and other apologists will find ways to do it nonetheless, but if any legislation passed by the new Congress is tepid, latently conservative or otherwise insufficiently progressive the Democrats have no excuse. The Republicans have hardly anything to bargain with and are a defeated, directionless party at the moment. They do not even have the congressional muscle or force to pose any serious opposition to the Democrat's legislative agenda. If the Democrats don't simply pound them into submission (or completely ignore them) then what is the point of voting against Republicans?

I was struck by this excerpt fromt he NYTimes link above: "Republicans in Congress plan to test the new president's commitment to bipartisanship". Right. I fail to see how all of this talk about bipartisanship (which was in no sense a concession forced from the Dems out of a need for GOP support) is going to do anything besides bolstering the Republicans and give them a measure of credibility, something that they've worked long and hard to sully over the past 8 years in particular. Given all of the groveling talk about 'reaching across the aisle', Obama would now appear to renege on promises were he to simply call for an up/down vote on his stimulus plan. How that is a good thing is beyond me. Perhaps we should stop holding elections and simply arrange congress so that it is perpetually 50/50 Democrat and Republican so that we can more effectively ensure that 'bipartisanship' is the law of the land.

If all the talk about 'bipartisanship' isn't merely one huge rhetorical gambit designed to better crush Republican opposition (and I'm not convinced of the instrumental value of this strategy), then I am at a loss. At least Bush tried to make use of his majorities when he had them, even when they were slim.


From recent Krugman op/ed: "But here’s the thing: Most Americans aren’t listening. The most encouraging thing I’ve heard lately is Mr. Obama’s reported response to Republican objections to a spending-oriented economic plan: “I won.” Indeed he did — and he should disregard the huffing and puffing of those who lost."

If true, then we should assume that all the talk about 'bipartisanship' is nothing but vacuous rhetoric. I'm curious to see how this plays out.


Friday, January 23, 2009

The $3.8 Million Prank

Have you heard about the girl who is selling her virginity?! (that was feigned shock and interest)

Amanda Marcotte's post on it is pretty good, because she gets at all the nonsense involved in making this not only a news story, but possible at all. Virginity, of course, is not even a real definable thing, let alone something one could prove or sell. She seems to decide this is little more than a $3.8 million prank the woman in question is playing on a guy who has more money than he should.

The money will apparently go toward paying for this woman's college education. Who can't respect that? And yet, more than anything else, this whole scenario leaves me screaming, "HOW ABOUT DECENT FEDERAL FUNDING FOR HIGHER EDUCATION?!" But of course, nobody in the media seems interested in talking about that detail...


Blogging for Choice (one day late): People I Know

Since yesterday was the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, bloggers everywhere celebrated by blogging for choice. I'm a bit late, but I thought I'd share some stories about people in my life, and their reproductive choices. A totally autobiographical, policy-free journal entry.

Since moving to Chicago, I’ve gotten to know a beautiful family of six – we’ll call them the Rogers family. The husband and wife are young, happy, and in love. They have four children under the age of seven. Their father is a Catholic youth minister and a graduate student in theology. When I met Cara, their mom, I was struck by how very young she was to be the mother of four children. As I got to know them, I began to realize that Cara fully expected to bear more children – she didn’t know when, but she assumed another child would someday come. It became clear that Cara and her husband didn’t use contraception. Cara is vehemently pro-life, and is frightened by Obama’s presidency for this very reason. She has four beautiful children, and her husband was adopted. When she discusses abortion, you can see the “What if” in her eyes: What if I’d “chosen” to abort my oldest daughter, who’s now learning to play the violin? What if my husband’s birth mother hadn’t “chosen” adoption?

And then I think about the reproductive history of my own family, and the way even we – a middle-class, white family from the Northeast – represent so many different kinds of reproductive choices. One member of my family gave a baby up for adoption twenty-five years ago. Another aborted her pregnancy in secret last year. Another experienced horrible post-partum depression after the birth of her only child. Another couple adopted a baby girl from Korea, after the birth their biological son a few years before. My family includes one childless gay couple, one childless straight couple, and at least one granddaughter - that's me - on the pill.

I take that little white pill, knowing that it gives me the freedom to have an adult relationship without becoming a mother. Knowing that it levels the playing field of sexual consequences for me and my partner. Knowing that it protects my body from an experience that my life can't contain yet. Knowing that this pill is -- in many ways -- the reason why I can apply to graduate school, play my instrument, go for a run, plan a vacation, write in my blog, and yes, have sex, all in the same life.

In my family, and across the country, there are mothers who stayed at home, mothers who went back to work, and mothers who made the decision they weren’t ready to be mothers yet. These were all people who had a choice.

And then there’s my friend from Tanzania, who learned she was pregnant with twins just after graduating from high school. She wasn’t with a man she had any intention of marrying. Those babies were born two weeks ago, and received a joyous welcome from their mother, father, and grandmother. Those babies were born to a woman who had a choice.

So sure, I want fewer abortions. Therefore I want accessible, affordable, safe, awesome birth control for everyone. I want scientific, shame-free, comprehensive, compassionate sex education for everyone. I want affordable child care and health care for parents, so that they can take care of their children. I want good jobs in our country, so that parents can work and support their families. I want a society with MATERIAL PROOF of its appreciation for mothers, and fathers too.

And even when all these things are in place, many women will still need abortions. Because people make mistakes, because it’s not the right time, because there’s no money and because he’s not the right person and because you can’t do it. And when they go to get their abortions, I don’t want it to be frightening or sad. I don’t want any woman to have to go through abortion alone. I don’t want abortion to be shameful, I don’t want it to be secret, and I certainly don’t want its access to be restricted.

And in this little utopia, I want all the above named people – friends, family, mothers, fathers – to respect each other’s choices. Is this too much to ask?


Krugman attacks tepid centrism of Obama's Speech

Just to be clear, there wasn’t anything glaringly wrong with the address — although for those still hoping that Mr. Obama will lead the way to universal health care, it was disappointing that he spoke only of health care’s excessive cost, never once mentioning the plight of the uninsured and underinsured.

Also, one wishes that the speechwriters had come up with something more inspiring than a call for an “era of responsibility” — which, not to put too fine a point on it, was the same thing former President George W. Bush called for eight years ago.


Thus, in his speech Mr. Obama attributed the economic crisis in part to “our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age” — but I have no idea what he meant. This is, first and foremost, a crisis brought on by a runaway financial industry. And if we failed to rein in that industry, it wasn’t because Americans “collectively” refused to make hard choices; the American public had no idea what was going on, and the people who did know what was going on mostly thought deregulation was a great idea.

Read the rest here.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oh yeah, we have a new president

We may be the only blog in the blogosphere that did not have an inauguration post on Tuesday. While I can only speak for myself, and not my co-bloggers, it wasn't because I had an excuse like I was too busy or something, it was more a matter of having little to say.

It is a relief to have Obama in the White House and to have Bush out, but just how much of a relief will be determined in the next few months. Other than that, what can I say?

I'll quote Courtney Martin (who we tend to give a lot of shit over here) who I think had one of the most realistic, but still optimistic sentiments of the day:

It is the beginning of a more engaged, more hopeful citizenry. With leaders that treat us as more than a 300-million-person focus group, we can effectively hold those leaders accountable. We are no longer a manipulated mass, a nation of children embarrassed by our father's simple-mindedness and impulsive rage. We have stepped into our own power through this election process, grown wiser and more informed than any electorate in decades. Like the wide-eyed children who have found a new hero, we will inevitably be disillusioned, but at least we will be passionate. Indifference and apathy have been replaced with investment and the related risks. I'd much rather live in a country in danger of disappointment than in a nation of indifference.
Also great is Phil BC's at take on the day and what it means for socialists at A Very Public Sociologist.


U.S. Digital TV Transition and Telecom Distribution

For those of us living in the United States, it has probably been hard to miss the recent publicity blitz on the FCC's move to switch all TV transmission to digital, which means millions of Americans who receive their television broadcast through free, analog transmission (you know, the bunny ears on those old tv sets?), will be forced to either buy new TVs or to get a hold of digital-converter boxes in order to continue receiving this feed.

The transition was originally set to take place at the first of the year, but shortages of converter boxes and the complete training of the federal money in place to help low-income families purchase the boxes forced the congress to reconsider the switch. Now congress is considering moving it back to June 12. I'm something of an advocate for telecom equality, as I established in a previous post on broadband access, and I think delaying the transition is a serious necessity for the sake of underprivileged Americans. For an illustration of how difficult the information about the transition has been to convey to those who still rely on analog signals, and then how difficult it has been for them to prepare for it, check out this September NPR story.

You can imagine what an easy issue it is to dismiss, especially in communities where the only valid service projects seem to concern basic living needs.

Luckily, I'm not alone in seeing this problem. On Monday I received this press release from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund.

Washington, DC – During the weekend of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund teamed with local partners in seven cities to reach help local residents prepare for the February 17 analog to digital television transition through service activities, community events, and volunteer outreach.

Local groups in Atlanta, GA; Detroit, MI; Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN; Portland, OR; San Antonio, TX; San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland CA; and Seattle-Tacoma, WA are holding coupon application and donation drives, conduct trainings about the converter box options and installation, and answer questions about the transition.

The DTV Transition will require millions of Americans to take action in order to maintain access to free over-the-air television for crucial emergency information and news about their communities. Many of the households affected include low-income families, elders, communities of color, and individuals with disabilities.
News and emergency information aside, having an affordable link into even popular culture becomes a real factor in education and in economic class. I think it's difficult to deny that advanced technology accessibility and education illustrates privilege in a capitalist society more than almost any resource. This fact might contribute to an impression that leftists are anti-technology, or that there is some direct correlation between technology utilization and a committment to a market economy. I don't think that has to be so. Most images of Utopia in the popular imagination might not include every citizen with a laptop and a digital tv, and likewise it's easy to think of images of distopia that do include technology. But communications technologies provide an unprecedented opportunity to mass-distribute information, and I don't think those benefits can be overstated.

It's nice to have an administration that cares at all about telecom equality for a change, but this is an issue that is still too quickly overlooked by social justice activists, and too quickly dismissed by their opponents.


Gaza village wiped off the map


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

SleptOnTV: Dr. MLK Jr.: Struggling Not To Lose Him


Monday, January 19, 2009

illdoc's "10 other things MLK said"

On the heels of T's post, here's a vlog illdoc posted last year highlighting some MLK quotes that have too conveniently been forgotten.


Obligatory MLK-day Message from the Left

I wrote at least two pieces for newspapers on this topic (MLK has long since been appropriated, gentrified and his legacy stripped of its radical import, etc) while I was in college. Here are some of the recent additions (and older ones as well) that are worth reading:

If you're in the mood for a chuckle, read the Heritage Foundation's MLK-day propaganda leaflet which pins MLK's "message" as "fundamentally conservative". Seems to make a lot of sense to me that someone advocating the abolition of Jim Crow and the momentous 1964 Voting Rights Act (not to mention radical redistribution of resources, expansion of the Great Society and an end to the imperialist war in Vietnam) was a staunch advocate of maintaining the status quo. Of course, that the Heritage Foundation could even lay claim to MLK with a straight face already speaks to the tremendous progress made in domesticating, whitewashing and depoliticizing the meaning of his life's work.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

If you want some thoughtful discussion of Gaza

Visit Feministe. They've had some great, comment-driven discussions of the Gazan conflict over the past week, including discussions of the history of Israel-Palestinian conflict, anti-Semitism, and Zionism. I'm certainly learning a lot...


Friday, January 16, 2009

Obama's Victory is Just One Step (aka, racism didn't die on election day)

Hat tip to Racialicious, for pointing out Tamara Winfrey Harris' great piece in The Guardian about what Obama's inauguration means for equality in our nation, and how to reconcile happiness about the occasion with skepticism about America's racial future.

***Please don't read the comments at The Guardian. It may result in the pulling out of hair and much gnashing of teeth.


I feel clueless.

For me, Israel's three-week attack on the Gaza Strip has been heartbreaking, infuriating, and mind-boggling. It's also profoundly difficult to write about, because I certainly don't feel comfortable throwing around terms like Israel, Zionism, Colonialism, Anti-Colonialism , or Palestinian Liberation as if they were monolithic entities. As we've seen in the massively different coverage that the Gaza onslaught has received from various media outlets, the very words we use to describe the conflict, its parties, and its people are fraught with problems. This is why I prefer to discuss the attack in terms of my personal reaction. Most of us aren't experts, but we are thinking human beings, and our responses need space to exist.

My dismay and anger is not only because of the massive loss of innocent life, but also because I've rediscovered just how difficult it is for me to understand the ideological position of the Israeli government. I really don't understand Zionism. Nor, to be fair, do I understand the desire to violently destroy Israel. But I'll admit it: in my knee-jerk heart of hearts, I sympathize more closely with Islamic, anti-colonial jihad than I do with Zionism and the use of military force in its defense. That is my bias. And any discussion of this conflict seems to require an announcement of our biases.

So. I really, really don't understand Zionism. That is why, before my very eyes, quotes from Israeli officials morph from sad-calculus-of-war into holy-batshit-crazy. For an example, see last week's New York Times:

“This is a just war and we don’t feel guilty when civilians we don’t intend to hurt get hurt, because we feel Hamas uses these civilians as human shields,” said Elliot Jager, editorial page editor of The Jerusalem Post ... “The most ethical moral imperative is for Israel to prevail in this conflict over an immoral Islamist philosophy. It is a zero sum conflict. That is what is not understood outside this country.
Or this quote from Moshe Halbertal, a "left-leaning" Israeli professor, from the same article, emphasis mine:

“You have Al Jazeera standing at Shifa Hospital and the wounded are coming in,” [Moshe Halbertal] continued, referring to an Arab news outlet. “So you have this great Goliath crushing these poor people, and they are perceived as victims. But from the Israeli perspective, Hamas and Hezbollah are really the spearhead of a whole larger threat that is invisible. Israelis feel like the tiny David faced with an immense Muslim Goliath. The question is: who is the David here?
Indeed, this professor has put it quite well: while the rest of the world seems to see quite clearly who the tiny David is (that is, the poor, defenseless, trapped, brown Palestinians), Israel sees things in just the opposite way. For them, Israel is the tiny David among an ocean of armed, angry, Jihadist Arab nations intent on its destruction.

For me, as a helpless observer, this begs the question: What is this attack about? Is it tactical, or is it ideological? Is it about Hamas and its ineffectual rockets terrorizing Sderot? Is it about establishing peace in the region? Is it about rescuing Gazans from the tyrranical rule of the party they elected? Or is it, in fact, about David and Goliath? About East and West? About Islam and Judaism?

I suppose it's about all of these things. But as an Atheist, this is where I have to jump ship. I can't follow those arguments where they lead. More than a thousand people have been killed, and I can't see fit to describe it in terms of David and Goliath, or as a "moral imperative." And that's about all I've got.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

An Uncomfortable Truth for Myopic Cultural Studies Triumphalists

"Every position on postmodernism in culture—whether apologia or stigmatization—is also at one and the same time, and necessarily, an implicitly or explicitly political stance on the nature of multinational capitalism today."

-Fredric Jameson

From Postmodernism: Or, on the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, NLR I/146, July-August 1984


Can Chavez Serve Unlimited Terms?

Via, Hugo Chavez has the legislature's okay to run for a third term as Venezuelan president, pending a February popular vote to approve the constitutional amendment.

Obviously, the matter is up for vote, so we'll wait and see what the people decide on the issue. But I have to say, even if approved, I think this move by Chavez is very short sighted. Aside from what any political scientist would tell you about the inherent dangers of a life-long leader becoming increasingly absolutist, I really think this is a bad move for the revolution. If progress and effectiveness over there really can't go on without having his personality at the helm, the design of the revolution is flawed, and that is the matter that should be fixed, not term limits. A revolution should not live and die with one charismatic leader. If Chavez is seeking a third term out of concern for his nation, and not out of narcissism, he should put his resources into creating a stable government and a clear direction that government can take with or without him at the helm.


*sigh* Feministing...

Courtney Martin has a "Thank you Thursday" post exploring the "silver lining" of the recession. One of the plus-sides she has found is mostly offensive because it comes straight out of la-la land:

3. Thank you for the innumerable people who will be forced out of jobs that didn't fulfill them and inspired to creatively reinvent their lives so that, ultimately, they can be happier and contribute more to the world.
Seriously? She knows of "innumerable" people who have been so blessed by this recession that they're now in a better job than they were before? A few other commenters and I pointed out that this suggestion might be a little insensitive, and I also chastised her a bit for always acting like every little suggestion that she might be privileged or tactless is tainting the feminist harmony pool or something.

On the plus side, her Not Oprah's Book Club book of the day, which is about Oprah's role as a neoliberalist, sounds fascinating. I guess it can be kind of a crap shoot trying to find worthwhile stuff over there lately.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I tend to hate biopics (except this one maybe). But maybe as a minimum, more people will know who the hell it is they are wearing on their t-shirts.


Millions in New Delhi slums being displaced

Though I think the real shocking news might be that the American press has actually covered it.
Via CNN:

Bulldozers razed the makeshift home and hundreds of others earlier this month as the Indian government moves to improve New Delhi for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Officials say the land is for a road and the demolitions are simply part of a master plan to clean up the city and move slum-dwellers to proper housing.

But, the government says, there will be no relocation for families like Hanso Devi's because they do not meet relocation requirements.

The government says they are squatting too close to the road, and are located in a major development zone.

"You see they have encroached on the specific project lengths -- there will be no notice, no relocation projects for them," said New Delhi Mayor Arti Mehra, who says she and the city are worried about those who have been left homeless.

About 3 million people live in New Delhi's slums, the government estimates. Mehra says New Delhi is slated to build 100,000 new apartments, though only 6,800 are under construction.

Millions of Indians have been displaced for the causes of economic and cultural development over the past decade. (I wonder if a recent widely acclaimed film about these slums had anything to do with this random piece of coverage on the matter.)

As for the razing of slums for an international sporting event, it's nothing new. It happened most recently in China, for the Olympic games, and is happening right now in South Africa in preparation for the 2010 World Cup. Ah, isn't "development" a beautiful thing to watch unfold?


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Amid increasing violence, murdered Sri Lankan journalist urges restraint

Sri Lankan editor Wickrematunge was murdered last week, but prediciting the government may try to silence him, had already prepared a final column in which he named his probable murderers and made his final argument against military aggression against Sri Lanka's minority Tamil population. From the Guardian:

Wickrematunge was shot in the head in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, by two gunman on a motorcycle as he drove to work on Thursday. More than 4,000 people attended his funeral yesterday, including opposition leaders and human rights activists.


The government has made a series of military gains over the [Tamil] Tigers in the last two weeks, capturing their political capital and reopening the main road from Colombo to Jaffna by seizing the important Elephant Pass. In the editorial Wickrematunge said this would not bring victory - a sign he wrote his article very recently. "A military occupation of the country's north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self respect. Do not imagine that you can placate them by showering "development" and "reconstruction" on them in the post-war era.

"The wounds of war will scar them forever, and you will also have an even more bitter and hateful diaspora to contend with," he wrote.


The editor ends his article appealing to his readers: "If you remember nothing else, remember this: the [Sunday] Leader is there for you, be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled. Its staff will fight on, unbowed and unafraid, with the courage to which you have become accustomed. Do not take that commitment for granted. Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrifice is another matter. As for me, God knows I tried."

Ugh, the article is just chilling. A man who was silenced by violence managed to get out one last plea for peace...and it will undoubtedly be ignored by the same people who likely arranged for his assassination...


Monday, January 12, 2009

Israel bans Arab political parties from February 10th elections


More reviews of Slumdog Millionaire

Apparently Slumdog won about 9,000 Golden Globe awards last night, including Best Drama, so the internets are all abuzz with it today, which has helped me to stumble upon some other really interesting takes on the film.

See MMW's take on the love interest of the movie, Latika, and the film's overall portrayal of Muslims here.

Also to consider is Manohla Dargis' NYT review, in which her only reservation with the film is with the aesthetics, rather than the politics, of the wonderfully happy ending I wrote about:

"In the end, what gives me reluctant pause about this bright, cheery, hard-to-resist movie is that its joyfulness feels more like a filmmaker’s calculation than an honest cry from the heart about the human spirit (or, better yet, a moral tale). In the past Mr. Boyle has managed to wring giggles out of murder (“Shallow Grave”) and addiction (“Trainspotting”), and invest even the apocalypse with a certain joie de vivre (the excellent zombie flick “28 Days Later”). He’s a blithely glib entertainer who can dazzle you with technique and, on occasion, blindside you with emotion, as he does in his underrated children’s movie, “Millions.” He plucked my heartstrings in “Slumdog Millionaire” with well-practiced dexterity, coaxing laughter and sobs out of each sweet, sour and false note."
And just a final note from me on the film, based on my exploration of these other reviews: I never fail to be amazed at how freaking defensive people can get when someone criticizes art that made them feel good! It's personal...


WSJ op/ed: Israel is Committing War Crimes


TN Man Fired for Being Gay

Hat tip, Pandagon:

Tennessee man is fired from Nashville-area hotel for living an "alternative lifestyle."

It really blows my mind that gay marriage has become more central (read: more publicized) in the gay rights fight than ENDA. I can't help but feel that reflects not only a co-op by the religious right, but also the bougie nature of gay rights activism. This next congress better get its ass in gear on this issue.


Economic crisis leads to conservative budget hysteria

One of the most conservative-dominated states in the nation, Utah, is planning to cut its budget by 15% for the coming year, despite the fact that even the Republican governor recommended only about a 7% cut. And where is this 15% coming from?

Meals on Wheels and a host of support programs for at-risk teenagers and seniors. As the Salt Lake Tribune reports:

Salt Lake County prevention programs -- which help immigrants, teens in juvenile court and others -- stand to lose as much as 38 percent in state dollars, or $811,872, under one scenario. An estimated 17 employees at different community groups would likely lose their jobs due to reduced contracts.

Of the 3,200 students who participated in Cornerstone Counseling programs in the 2007-2008 fiscal year, about 1,300 could no longer be served. That would mean a significant reduction in the teaching of practical life skills that studies link to a drop in drug and alcohol use.

The day the [Governor John] Huntsman scenario was announced in December, Salt Lake County served 1,084 meals to seniors in their homes, a number that could drop by half if the dollars aren't replaced.

"These are people who are very frail, very sick, and we're taking food away from them," said Shauna O'Neil, Salt Lake County's director of aging. Though the governor has proposed backfilling those and other dollars, many community groups and local officials are skeptical the dollars will be found.

Acute needs, particularly those involving youth, have been prioritized at the state level. For example, programs for treating substance abuse were protected while many programs preventing alcoholism were suggested as cuts.

"This is at the point where there aren't a lot of good choices," said Lisa-Michele Church, executive director of the Department of Human Services. She hopes her agency will have some safeguards, because of its mission.

What's being overlooked, advocates say, is how much money prevention programs can save the state in the long run.

A huge chunk of money was cut by eliminating $4.7 million from DORA, a substance abuse program set up by the Drug Offender Reform Act. Its closure ends treatment for 1,400 and could lead to the need for more jails. But without a long track record of outcomes, it was more vulnerable to cuts.

An economic crisis does not mean it's time to stop spending government money. In fact, as pretty much every economist who isn't a libertarian ideologue has told us recently, it's the time to spend, not only to help support those suffering from economic decline in the markets, but because it's the only way to stimulate the markets back into productivity. Beyond this alone, however, it's difficult to see anything but conservative exploitation of the economic crisis to get out of the mandatory welfare programs they have long resisted.

These programs are life-saving programs. Cutting the budget itself is unnecessary, and cutting it at these places is morally repugnant. These calculated political moves demonstrate a marked animosity toward the under-privileged.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire: Mixing raw reality and fantastic fiction

Today I had the chance to a see a new movie in an actual movie theater, the first one in a long time. My indie loving family and I deliberated between Milk and Slumdog Millionaire, before finally deciding Milk might be too tortured to watch on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Well, that might be true, but the first 30 seconds of Slumdog Millionaire let us know we'd made a mistake if we'd been hoping for something light and nice.

While I'd heard a lot of hype about the movie, I hadn't heard any detail about the plot other than it centered around a poor Indian man trying to win a million dollars on the Hindi equivalent of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. Jamal, our "slumdog," tells us the story of his life, with all its violence and disappointment, as he grew up in the slums of post-colonial Mumbai.

The soundtrack is wonderful, the acting superb, the romance lovely and endearing. The poverty is raw and (for the most part) inescapable, the injustices of modern India obvious. But I think it's the general premise of the movie, the skeletons of the plot, that left me with a feeling of dissatisfaction. For 100 minutes or more, this movie illustrates in a most heartbreaking and gritty way, the slums. The poverty, the violence, the broken system of India feels so raw, and then suddenly the wordly angst of the first-world viewer is distracted, when something completely fantastic happens: (SPOILER ALERT) Jamal wins the million dollars, and the girl, mostly because he got lucky, because as Jamal himself says, his destiny was simply written this way. After the money and the girl are safe in his arms, the end credits literally roll amid scenes from a Bollywood-inspired finale, complete with Jamal, his lady, and a train station full of celebrating slumdogs dancing and singing.

The fact that Jamal's success, after all his pain and loss, is one in a billion (one in a billion in India alone, let's not even try to consider the entire globe here), is a moot point. So where does the movie leave us? We feel really good for Jamal. He's beaten the odds. He has found happiness even though the world around him is chaos. But what about the world? They're left singing and dancing like in some of the most feel-good fictions we can create for ourselves. The directors (Trainspotting's Danny Boyle and Monsoon Wedding's Loveleen Tandan) make no apologies for this resignation to unreality to tie up the all too real loose ends of the movie. Are we really supposed to buy it? Can't art do any better than that? Is it a matter of deciding on a ridiculously unrealistic conclusion that makes us happy or a realistic, depressing, frustrating ending? Is there no in-between? I'm honestly not sure right now. It may be that question that has left me so restless and not the movie itself.

Trailer, if you're interested:


Venezuela expels Israeli ambassador to express solidarity with Palestinians

"To express solidarity with the Palestinian people, Venezuela expelled Israel’s ambassador, is organizing humanitarian aid, and has called on the international community to protest. In response, the Israeli government called Venezuela a terrorist state."


Against Israel's colonial tactics

"Israel would say, "what would any normal country do if they were threatened by rocket fire? They would act".

"But Israel is not a normal country, it is an occupying country, a colonial country and the people of Gaza are under siege."


Children of the Left, Unite!

Check out this essay in todays NYTimes on an anthology of radical Leftist children's literature recently published by NYU press.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Friday, January 9, 2009

Roundup on Gaza


Excellent "Lenin" post on Gaza

In general, the posts at Lenin's Tomb on Gaza recently have been sharp, informative and refreshing (to the extent that any news about Gaza can be said to be so). Here's an excerpt:

The IDF's initial justification for the attack on the Al-Fakhura school was that Hamas had used the building to fire mortars from, and its tanks had responded. Implicit in this was an admission that they had targeted the school on purpose. The tank shells, presumably shot from quite nearby, were fired by soldiers operating under orders from command centres equipped with detailed targeting intelligence. As is now known, the Israeli military had the GPS coordinates not only of this UN school but of the other UN schools that it attacked. We also know that the UN told Israeli forces that the schools were being used as refuges for those driven out of their houses by Israel. And the first thing the IDF let us know is that it was done on purpose. Their excuse was barbaric, of course. The idea that an invading force may attack a building filled with hundreds of terrorised civilians just in order to kill two of those resisting the invasion is nothing short of grotesque. But the fact that it was barbaric was part of the point: rather than bluntly condemning a war crime, you were invited to focus on whether Hamas would be so evil as to attack Israel's brave boys from within a civilian building. Because it is so frequently repeated you might be predisposed to assume that Hamas did indeed position its 'infrastructure of terror' among unsuspecting citizens but, whether you are so predisposed or not, you are already drawn into the macabre calculus of the murderer if you even get involved in that argument. You have tacitly accepted the logic in which war crimes are not merely acceptable, but actually appropriate, if the enemy really is as evil as Israel says. The usual suspects, of course, immediately embraced Israel's excuse: Israel's killing, they expostulated, merely demonstrates the ruthless, diabolical genius of Hamas. If anything, they added, the IDF was admirably restrained in its action. But it is doubtful that many others were taken in.
Read the entire post here.



One vote short of a super-majority in the Senate, with punishing majorities in the House and control of the White House, the last thing we should be hearing is talk about "bipartisanship". We hold elections for a reason, and the consequence of the last two is that the GOP has been thoroughly hammered and rejected as the ruling party. The Dems need one vote (if we include Lieberman in the Dem caucus) to push through any proposal they like and overrule a filibuster.

Yet despite these electoral mandates, despite the huge momentum of political capital buoying up the new President-elect, we are given tepid, half-way proposals for action.

Paul Krugman writes in his most recent column:

Is the plan being limited by a lack of spending opportunities? There are only a limited number of “shovel-ready” public investment projects — that is, projects that can be started quickly enough to help the economy in the near term. But there are other forms of public spending, especially on health care, that could do good while aiding the economy in its hour of need.

Or is the plan being limited by political caution? Press reports last month indicated that Obama aides were anxious to keep the final price tag on the plan below the politically sensitive trillion-dollar mark. There also have been suggestions that the plan’s inclusion of large business tax cuts, which add to its cost but will do little for the economy, is an attempt to win Republican votes in Congress.

Whatever the explanation, the Obama plan just doesn’t look adequate to the economy’s need. To be sure, a third of a loaf is better than none. But right now we seem to be facing two major economic gaps: the gap between the economy’s potential and its likely performance, and the gap between Mr. Obama’s stern economic rhetoric and his somewhat disappointing economic plan.

"Political caution"? "An attempt to win over Republicans"? A friend has suggested to me that the rhetoric of bipartisanship could be being implemented in an attempt to forestall the inevitable obstruction from the Republican congressional minority. But we aren't talking about rhetoric here. Obama's stimulus plan is a concrete policy proposal, and I cannot see any reason to blame Republican opposition for its tepid and 'cautious' (which is to say, unduly conservative) character.

When this 'cautious' spending regimen doesn't work wonders, what will Democrats say to idiotic morons like Mitch McConnell when they inevitably start bantering that "gummint spending doesn't work"?

We would be mistaken in a characteristically liberal fashion, however, if we simply assumed that "political caution" meant only throwing a bone to the Democrat's electoral opponents. Obama and company took power with the blessing (and financial backing) of powerful business interests, and the Administration already has representatives of Capital sitting in cabinet posts. In short, there is a general sense in which Obama's crew aims to keep Capital supportive of the new Administration. But we should not confuse this with prudence, expediency or economic wisdom: this is an expression of the new Administration's ideological trajectory and economic alliances.

FDR's administration made the nearly-fatal mistake of trying to balance the budget after an initial round of massive government spending and quasi-Keynesian initiatives, a similar example of political 'caution' which derailed and obstructed the ability of the spending initiatives to generate recovery by stimulating demand. This example is different in many important ways, but the strategy was mistaken for the same reasons as Obama's apparent flip-flopping, hodge-podge approach.