Monday, November 23, 2009

The Natural History Of Sarah Palin

The release of Sarah Palin's book, Going Rogue, has been an occasion of great frivolity amongst those of us on the left. We get to mock her inability to tell Iraq from Iran and her penchant for rewriting her fuck-ups as frustrated angst. For good measure, we rerun all her greatest hits: the shaman, Tina Fey, the lipstick, the Couric know. It's great fun, and we all can make ourselves feel better about the much more sinister aspects of anti-Obama nutballdome creeping out from under every slime covered rock at an increasingly alarming rate.

There's no way that such a kook, no, such a dimwit kook could possibly ever get the keys to the nuclear codes, we smugly reassure ourselves. The America electorate is not that dumb.

But it doesn't have to be.

Let me explain: Darwinian evolution tells us that natural selection selects in favor of those individuals who most successfully exploit the environment that they inhabit. Creatures that live in cold climates get gradually more fur covered, critters that eat tall plants develop longer necks, etc. You know the theory. But what if we export something sort of like natural selection to political evolution?

Through dint of her obvious dimness, Sarah Palin is spectacularly unqualified to be President. But that particular attribute may not be the thing that decides if she's going to own the Oval. In fact, it may not be important at all. G.W. Bush, as I'm sure all but the most densely arranged of us can agree, was not qualified to be president either. A "C" student with no particular passion for much other than coke and booze, W. spent most of the first half of his life doing the rich dick thing and embarrassing his parents. However, George did have one shining attribute. He was a charismatic.

The success of Bush in securing the White House for two terms was based not on his wisdom, his deference, his intellect, or his judgment, all of which we expect to be in the exceptional range for our Presidents. In fact, he sucked at all of those, as became all too apparent by 2006.

W. succeeded because he was the perfect puppet for men who lacked the charismatic presence that is the only true necessity in these times of tweets and sound bites. Using Bush as a proxy, orcish neocons like Cheney were able to advance a radicalized version of American Exceptionalism that was previously relegated, literally, to the crazies.

And here's how Darwin applies: the proxy thing? It works. Political "selection" did not select Bush for the things that we traditionally desire in a leader. It selected Bush because of a potent combination of fear, vote rigging, ideological bluster, tactical cover-ups, and a dangerously shallow uber-patriotism.

That last bit sound familiar? Are you a "Real American?"

Power in the general sense is not interested in how it is held, only that it is held. In other words, Bush was successful in that he held power for the maximum time allotted. People took note, believe me. And they thought, "man, if we can do that once, we can do it again." The formula worked. The creature grew fur, the neck sprouted to great lengths, the political blueprint on how to seize power without having to actually have any of the prerequisites was recorded for future reproduction.

To be fair, the patsy controlled by a scheming, brilliant mind is an old form of human behavior, and we can find many examples of it throughout our tiny history as a country. But, in living memory at least, the office of the President has always seemed somewhat protected from this kind of crass manipulation.

Not anymore.

The true Bush legacy is not a wrecked economy, a ravaged environment, or the twisted mess that is Iraq and Afghanistan. It is that the most powerful office in the history of the world is exquisitely and profoundly subvertable, if only you know how.

Sarah Palin could easily be the newest species in a highly successful linage of patsies. Groomed to be passionate about her righteousness, wrapped in designer clothes and shallowly glamourous, willfully ignorant of any real issues and accepted by a frighteningly large number of Americans as "genuine," Palin is Bush 2.0. She represents a new level, the next step in a political evolution that is increasingly convinced that only a rigid ideology of short-term exploitation and control will solve humanity's problems.

In fact, she's perfect for the job.

All of a sudden, I'm not really in the mood to laugh at her much anymore.

Friday, October 9, 2009

retooned on the Huffington Post

My work for the Telegraph and perhaps more besides will be posted as a blog for the Huffington Post as of today.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A proposal for the unjustly maligned right.

Over the last few weeks, several conservatives have become visibly upset at being labeled racists for their opposition to President Obama's attempts to pull the nation out of near-bankruptcy and give health care to the poor.

I quite agree. Racism should have no place in the debate. And yet, what else can you call pictures of our black president as a monkey, a Sambo, or a witch-doctor? What else can you call Beck and Limbaugh's fear-mongering? Instead of shooting the messenger, it seems to me that these citizens should be mad at their own ranks. It was not liberals sending those e-mails, marching with those signs, or carrying those assault rifles. It was conservatives.

Many conservatives ask: "where is [the liberal] apology [for defaming honest dissent as racist.]" I know just how they feel. For some time now, I've been asking where the conservative apology is for labeling liberals "America-hating traitors," even when our dissent turned out to be justified. There were no WMD. We did torture illegally. Bush did lie. Imagine our frustration.

Opposition to reform is to be expected and welcomed. There are many conservatives who have honest disagreements, and America needs to hear them. What we also need to hear is a Republican denunciation of the race hate that seems to have infected their base. Instead, the GOP has chosen to further insult liberals as socialists.

Tell you what, folks of the right: you first. Reject the racists in your ranks. Apologize for your unfair characterizations of liberals. I'll be right there to make up after you do. Otherwise, all I can say is, welcome to the club of unfairly defamed patriots, and the slow dissolution of American civility.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sotomayor in Context:

From Nominee Sotomayor's speech delivered at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law and published in 2002 in the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal.  

I have bolded the relevant passages showing that Sotomayor was speaking about the fact that background does make a difference, and that a Latina woman will have an understanding of racism that a white man does not simply out of personal experience. It's interesting to note, however, that she also concludes white men can and have been empathetic enough to make good decisions regardless. 

In our private conversations, Judge Cedarbaum has pointed out to me that seminal decisions in race and sex discrimination cases have come from Supreme Courts composed exclusively of white males. I agree that this is significant but I also choose to emphasize that the people who argued those cases before the Supreme Court which changed the legal landscape ultimately were largely people of color and women. I recall that Justice Thurgood Marshall, Judge Connie Baker Motley, the first black woman appointed to the federal bench, and others of the NAACP argued Brown v. Board of Education. Similarly, Justice Ginsburg, with other women attorneys, was instrumental in advocating and convincing the Court that equality of work required equality in terms and conditions of employment.

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. 
Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.

Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. 
I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.

However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. 
Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see.

It is also interesting to note that when Justice Thomas was nominated, John Yoo, (yes, that Yoo what wrote them really bad legal opinions), defended Thomas on identical grounds

Yoo touted the unique perspective that he said Thomas brings to the bench. Yoo wrote that Thomas "is a black man with a much greater range of personal experience than most of the upper-class liberals who take potshots at him" and argued that Thomas' work on the court has been influenced by his understanding of the less fortunate acquired through personal experience.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A letter to Norris

My small town has two papers, and whilst I cartoon for the Telegraph, I sometimes write letters to the editor to submit to the other one. The following is just such a beast:

Norris Rose’s letter decrying the Obama administration’s much needed housecleaning is representative of many letters recently posted. Kudos to Norris for making rational assertions, but I respectfully disagree with everything he said.  

Factually, Rose’s arguments are classic disinformation. The Heritage Foundation is a recognized partisan institution. Rose’s reliance on this source colors his entire letter. IE: The Administration has indeed cut 1.4 billion from missile defense, but the programs cut are expensive duds. R&D into rogue missile threats is being continued, and the cuts being made are on consultation and recommendation from Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs. Obama is keeping his promise to trim the fat from government, something I would have thought conservatives approved of. 

 Some more inconvenient facts for Rose:


• While fighting is sometimes unavoidable, history shows that talking to despots actually has averted disaster: witness the Cuban Missile Crisis.
• Fannie May and Freddie Mac’s bad loans did not cause the meltdown. Only around 1 of 4 defaulted loans originated with those companies. 
• The Cap and Trade plan will tax energy companies around $366 billion a year, not $644 trillion. Estimated cost per consumer by 2015 is $7.00 per month. For that, we begin mitigating global warming, encourage conservation, and produce new jobs in a green economy.
• Granting citizenship to illegal immigrants will generate $66 billion in taxes oven ten years, while costing us $54 billion in welfare, a net gain. 
• Obama has “assumed control” over some banks because they were insolvent. The FDIC “assumes control” over smaller bankrupt institutions in the same way, then sells them back to the private sector. 
• We are suffering an economic crisis due to systemic deregulation over 30 years of GOP philosophical dominance. Capitalism stays healthy only if kept on a reasonable leash.

I implore Rose to retire his ideological blinders and realize government is not a boogie man. Government is us, and it is only as good as we make it. Obama is not perfect, but his election gave us an opportunity to build a better future. That is what a clear majority voted for in 2008, and that is what we are starting to get. Why not help out? There is much to do.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Sub-prime 101

I'm on a kick to write about revisionism. 

Last week's post about FDR got me thinking and researching another popular meme, specifically that the Sub-prime crisis is primarily the fault of Democrats. This theory is based the belief that the Community Reinvestment Act, (CRA), enacted in 1977 and amended by Bill Clinton in the 90's, required the quasi-federal lending institutions Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make bad loans to unqualified poor folks which resulted in the current crisis. 

While this is a gross simplification of a complicated series of events, it is true that there were bad loans were made, and as a result, both institutions have had to be bailed out by the US government. 

That said, there are three basic distortions here:

1. Confusing pressure from Democrats, who clearly wanted an expansion of loans to the poor, with the bad decisions made by the CEO's of Fannie and Freddie(conservative Republicans appointed by President Bush, by the way.) The CEO's fell victim to the same greed-fueled gold-rush mentality that wrecked everyone else. In order to make a lot of money, they purged whistle-blowers, relaxed regulatory standards, and bought up bad, "Alt A" loans. Now, while this activity contributed to the overall sub-prime crash, it was not the "match that lit the subprime crisis", as Senator the economy is healthy McCain proclaimed during the 2008 election. Fannie and Freddy were more like ships steered into a hurricane by greedy Ahabs riding a wave of unethical profiteering. And where are the roots of such activity found?  Why, in conservative anti-regulatory ideology. 

2. Bad loans made by the Fannie and Freddie caused the crisis. In actuality, 80% of the subprime loans were made by institutions NOT regulated by the Community Reinvestment Act. In other words, only about one out of four bad loans originated with Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. 

3.  Democrats killed off the 2005 Federal Housing Reform Act, a bill that if passed, would have prevented the whole meltdown hoohah. The bill died in the majority Republican Senate, despite passing the House, 331 to 90. It perished from a the lack of an effective Senate champion. Mostly likely this was due to a troika of hostility to the bill from the Bush Administration, the Fed, and the Treasury, who saw privatization as the only solution. Add staunch resistance from the minority Dems who thought they were defending the poor, and the bill was DOA. 

So are the D's to blame for anything? Sure- besides congressional Democrats doing their best doe-eyed naive doofus impressions about what was actually happing over on the decks of HMS Frannie and Freddie, Bill Clinton, being the great triangulator that he is, signed into law the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. This rather odious piece of Republican legislation is most often blamed for allowing the spiral of deregulation that allowed financial organizations from Banks to Insurance Companies swap tens of trillions of dollars worth of transactions in the dark, and grow "too big to fail." Of course, ol Bubba is nowhere near ready to admit he messed up, but in all fairness, the national tide was running pretty strongly against him on that one. 

A careful reader will note that far from being a Democratic Party pooch-screwing, the whole Sub-Prime crisis emerges from almost thirty years of ideologically fueled deregulatory practices, including defanging the folks who were supposed to be watching the store. And deregulation, that same reader may note, is a tune the GOP cats love to riff on.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Revisionism and FDR

Recently, a revisionist meme has sprung up in the pundit community claiming that FDR-era New Deal programs not only failed to lift America out of the great depression, but actually prolonged it or even made it worse. Of all the sillyness being thrown against Obama's wall, this one wins the cupie for being at the same time most obviously wrong and most predictably asserted. 

The Great Depression ran from 1929-1941-ish in the US, and President Franklin Roosevelt was in office for most of it. FDR instituted a series of big spending "stimulus" programs in order to revive the economy. The programs were collectively known as the New Deal. Hence, the logic goes, if the New Deal was a dud, so is Obama's "newNew Deal.

Problem is that the New Deal actually worked pretty well. Economic figures vary depending on source, but most more or less agree that New Deal programs had a tremendous positive effect on employment, the GDP, manufacturing, and private investment, returning levels either close to or surpassing pre-crash numbers by 1941, when the US entered WWII. The war definitely put a cherry on the recovery, and powered the launch of the economic juggernaut the US would become, but it was not the Depression-buster some have anointed it. 

If there was any need to further kick the coffin lid down on this one, we could inspect the mini-recession of 1937. From 1933 to 1936, Roosevelt was full speed ahead on stimulus programs, and the economy responded dramatically to the positive. Then, FDR began to listen to some of his more partisan advisors, and slashed stimulus spending. The economy tanked once more. As soon as he reversed course and instituted new spending- hey presto, the economy shot up again. That there's a direct cause-and-effect thingy. But don't take it from me. That economist guy Krugman said it, and he got a Noble for knowing about such things.

Lastly, we could ask some experts in economics and history. A 1995 survey from Economic History Services asked, "Taken as a whole, government polices of the New Deal served to lengthen and deepen the Great Depression."  27% of economist surveyed agreed, and 51% said "you be smoking something." The economic historian response was even more revealing: only 6% agreed. 74%  began gravesite pre-rolling in anticipation of being offed by revisionist questioning, and the remaining 20% fence-sat themselves into irrelevancy.

So where does this rather noxiously perennial claim of a market-busting, capitalism-tanking, red-loving FDR come from? Well, strangely enough, from the hard right, who have never really gotten over the fact that spending money on poor people and infrastructure actually makes the country work better. Specifically, a 2007 book by Amity Shlaes, a few university professors (I thought those guys were all liberal kool-aid drinkers. Who knew?), assorted economists, and that great bastion of fair balancing, Fox News, are the key offenders. 

Fox needs no real debunking because they got their info from the other sources I mentioned. Shlaes book, the professors, and most of the other economists gripes are founded on cherry-picked statistics, and have been thoroughly discredited on those grounds. As much as I hate to lay down a big old url, if you want more detail on this, go see There, you will satisfy your every wonkish desire.

Opportunistic revisionism like this oozes out of think tanks from both sides of the aisle on a regular schedule, depending on who's in power. That said, the current spate of rewrites, led mostly by the angry teabag fringe, is particularly damaging to the GOP.  Debating the justification for spanking Bill Clinton is one thing, but balls-out nonsense, such as slinging mud at settled history from 80 years ago, or Bill O'Rielly's recent claim that Nixon never met Mao Zedong, (they were photographed shaking hands, and yes, ol' Tricky was smiling-), is just further proof that the GOP is allowing radicals to dictate their policy. 

That's not good. 

Principled opposition is key to a healthy democracy, and ideological revisionism of documented facts is the political equivalent of Swine Flu. Fortunately the vaccine is available: it's called a history book. 


Welcome to the blog. My posts will be sporadic, so please feel free to subscribe for updates. I'm happy to host reasonable people, but abuse of myself or other posters is unwelcome and uncool, so please don't do it. My hope is that this space can be used for information and understanding, spiced with a bit of tough but respectful debate. Thanks for checking it out.