Sound Affects

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Why Is America So Content With Mediocrity?

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by Alan Cumming

repost from The Huffington Post

I had intended to write this entire piece and then go back and remove the ‘g’ from every word that ended in one.

But then I thought that would make me a churlish, smart-arsed, lefty stereotype and alienate the very people I want to try to hear me. (Although I imagine there ain’t gonna be many of them readin’ the huffpost, huh?! Wait for the audience to realize they should clap and/or boo, nod, smile even more, carry on.) Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Ok, this is basically it: Over the last few weeks I have watched with mounting bemusement as John McCain and Sarah Palin have constantly referred to the American work force as the best in the world, how America is a force for good in the world, how America is the best at (fill in the blank here depending on who you’re talkin’ to, wait for applause, wink, smile, and on).

You know what? I’m sorry to be blunt, and I wish it were not true, but America isn’t any of the above. Its poor downtrodden, unhealthy, under-educated and depressed workforce cannot surely believe it towers above all others in some sort of World Worker Idol type way? If so, why are its bosses firing so many of them and giving the jobs to people in other countries?

And although the notion of America being a force for good is noble and beautiful, the reality of how the world sees America is very different: America is an imperialist power that invades oil and mineral rich countries on little or flimsy evidence, and at the same time turns a blind eye to blatant genocide taking place in other parts of the globe. Perhaps if Ms Palin had a passport before 2007 and had a little less xenophobic viewpoint, she would have experienced, as I have, the terrible sight of American friends of mine being afraid to open their mouths when abroad for fear of reprisal for their nation’s ‘force of good.’ (And I’m not talkin’ about scary, rearin’ their head places like Russia or Iran. I’m talkin’ about in like cool places like London.)

This country is a mess. It is entering a depression. It is waging two wars. It has an administration so blatantly corrupt that the world is baulking at its arrogance. It lets its poor die.

And on top of all this, one of the presidential options available to its voters – although having cynically plagiarized its opponent’s keyword of ‘change’, and positively wearing its flaws and shortcomings as a badge of honor – is actually endorsing the past eight years and playing down the gargantuan problems!

Now I understand that election stump speeches are partly about trying to make people feel better/confident/happy/deluded but I am really shocked that a political party in a country that so trumpets its democracy and freedom is offering its voters such a shoddy product, and WORSE, they are still buying it!! (I thank you, my fellow Americans!)

So why? Is loyalty the value that Republicans vaunt above all others? Above common sense? Are the right of America all colluding in a giant version of the Emperor’s New Clothes?

When I encountered a Republican TV pundit at a party in New York last week I reeled off my litany of reasons about why I feel the appointment of Sarah Palin is a disgrace and a terrible blight on America’s history, and I was met with a thin smile, a nodding head, maybe even a nascent wink and the line: ‘She’s learning.’

She’s learning? (Gosh yes, she’s only been doin’ this for, what, five weeks? Smile, shout out to class 3, ignore question, on.)

I actually have so much sympathy right now for the hundreds of Republicans out there somewhere – well intentioned, well-informed, prepared, lucid for goodness’ sake – who must be utterly furious that they were overlooked for the VP post. Imagine being a doctor and thinking you’re about to be made a partner in the practice and then the receptionist who’s a big fan of Grey’s Anatomy gets it over you and we’re beginning to understand how those poor people must be feeling.

But back to the Republican pundit: I then moved on to say why I thought the policies – the policies, remember those? – of the Obama-Biden ticket were better for America. Again the smile, a little attempt at an argument in that she wasn’t sure that all those great ideas could be achieved, to which I responded that yes, in the light of the economic holocaust caused by the greed and corruption that her vote had validated, perhaps these plans might take a little longer to implement now, but didn’t she agree with the thrust of them? That crazy, trying to help people who weren’t doing so well thing?

She looked at me, a little hurt.

‘You’re not going to say you’re a fiscal conservative, are you?’ I asked.

‘Actually I was going to say I’m an economic Republican,’ she smiled. Checkmate, I could see her thinking. But I wasn’t done.

‘You know what I think a fiscal conservative or an economic Republican means?’ I asked. ‘I think it means you are clever enough to agree with the notions of what Obama stands for, you’d love everyone to have access to healthcare and good education and to be treated equally…’

She was nodding slightly now.

‘But when it comes down to it, when you’re in that polling booth, you actually think ‘Screw them’ and you vote with your pocket. And I think you use that phrase as an excuse to not care!’

She looked a little taken aback. I thought I might have gone a little too far. But no.

‘I love your passion’, she said and turned to her colleague. ‘We should have him on the show.’

You see, I think that when it comes down to it, American politics is split into people who think it’s their duty to care about other people, and those who think it’s every man for themselves. That’s it. That’s why I think the system is systematically flawed and is in dire need of a third party to shake things up a little.

But I digress. I truly think that Americans, some Americans, are comforted by mediocrity. Even those who have been battered the most by the last eight years can be reticent to the idea of change, because they are told to fear it and to leave things as they are, sit down and open a six-pack and forget their troubles. And so, all the more reason to take our hats off to Barack Obama and the Democratic party for making that scary word the touchstone of this election campaign.

I have lived in the United States for ten years. When Obama began his presidential campaign I was so inspired that I decided to start the process to become a naturalized citizen of this country. I am, at present, a resident alien (or green card holder), which basically means I do everything here -including pay taxes – except vote.

I wanted to become a citizen in time to vote on November 4th, but the immigration system of America is a little slower than it was when I first came here and I will not be sworn in properly in time. However, the point is that I want to be a part of America’s future, of its potential, because I am fed up with mediocrity.

Obama has a combination that is rare in a modern politician. He has the rhetoric and the charisma to inspire whole swathes of the hitherto dispossessed to engage in the political system. And he has the real-life experience of prejudice and poverty to both understand and make people trust that he understands their needs and his desire to help them. But he also has the intelligence and the sophistication to deal both in big ideas and incredibly detailed plans. His election campaign has been a model of harnessing a generation’s desperate desire to be heard and making them integral to the future of our society.

I hear him and he makes me excited about the prospect of being an American, an American that looks out for other Americans, in an America that is indeed a force of good in the world.

(Smile. Wink. Thumbs up. Wave.)

Written by soundaffects

October 14th, 2008 at 9:49 pm

Mad Dog Palin

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The scariest thing about John McCain’s running mate isn’t how unqualified she is – it’s what her candidacy says about America.

by MATT TAIBBI

reposted from Rolling Stone

I‘m standing outside the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. Sarah Palin has just finished her speech to the Republican National Convention, accepting the party’s nomination for vice president. If I hadn’t quit my two-packs-a-day habit earlier this year, I’d be chain-smoking now. So the only thing left is to stand mute against th fit-for-a-cheap-dog-kennel crowd-control fencing you see everywhere at these idiotic conventions and gnaw on weird new feelings of shock and anarchist rage as one would a rawhide chew toy.

All around me, a million cops in their absurd post-9/11 space-combat get-ups stand guard as assholes in papier-mâché puppet heads scramble around for one last moment of network face time before the coverage goes dark. Four-chinned delegates from places like Arkansas and Georgia are pouring joyously out the gates in search of bars where they can load up on Zombies and Scorpion Bowls and other “wild” drinks and extramaritally grope their turkey-necked female companions in bathroom stalls as part of the “unbelievable time” they will inevitably report to their pals back home. Only 21st-century Americans can pass through a metal detector six times in an hour and still think they’re at a party.

The defining moment for me came shortly after Palin and her family stepped down from the stage to uproarious applause, looking happy enough to throw a whole library full of books into a sewer. In the crush to exit the stadium, a middle-aged woman wearing a cowboy hat, a red-white-and-blue shirt and an obvious eye job gushed to a male colleague — they were both wearing badges identifying them as members of the Colorado delegation — at the Xcel gates.

“She totally reminds me of my cousin!” the delegate screeched. “She’s a real woman! The real thing!”

I stared at her open-mouthed. In that moment, the rank cynicism of the whole sorry deal was laid bare. Here’s the thing about Americans. You can send their kids off by the thousands to get their balls blown off in foreign lands for no reason at all, saddle them with billions in debt year after congressional year while they spend their winters cheerfully watching game shows and football, pull the rug out from under their mortgages, and leave them living off their credit cards and their Wal-Mart salaries while you move their jobs to China and Bangalore.

And none of it matters, so long as you remember a few months before Election Day to offer them a two-bit caricature culled from some cutting-room-floor episode of Roseanne as part of your presidential ticket. And if she’s a good enough likeness of a loudmouthed Middle American archetype, as Sarah Palin is, John Q. Public will drop his giant-size bag of Doritos in gratitude, wipe the Sizzlin’ Picante dust from his lips and rush to the booth to vote for her. Not because it makes sense, or because it has a chance of improving his life or anyone else’s, but simply because it appeals to the low-humming narcissism that substitutes for his personality, because the image on TV reminds him of the mean, brainless slob he sees in the mirror every morning.

Sarah Palin is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the modern United States. As a representative of our political system, she’s a new low in reptilian villainy, the ultimate cynical masterwork of puppeteers like Karl Rove. But more than that, she is a horrifying symbol of how little we ask for in return for the total surrender of our political power. Not only is Sarah Palin a fraud, she’s the tawdriest, most half-assed fraud imaginable, 20 floors below the lowest common denominator, a character too dumb even for daytime TV — and this country is going to eat her up, cheering her every step of the way. All because most Americans no longer have the energy to do anything but lie back and allow ourselves to be jacked off by the calculating thieves who run this grasping consumer paradise we call a nation.

The Palin speech was a political masterpiece, one of the most ingenious pieces of electoral theater this country has ever seen. Never before has a single televised image turned a party’s fortunes around faster.

Until the Alaska governor actually ascended to the podium that night, I was convinced that John McCain had made one of the all-time campaign-season blunders, that he had acted impulsively and out of utter desperation in choosing a cross-eyed political neophyte just two years removed from running a town smaller than the bleacher section at Fenway Park. It even crossed my mind that there was an element of weirdly self-destructive pique in McCain’s decision to cave in to his party’s right-wing base in this fashion, that perhaps he was responding to being ordered by party elders away from a tepid, ideologically promiscuous hack like Joe Lieberman — reportedly his real preference — by picking the most obviously unqualified, doomed-to-fail joke of a Bible-thumping buffoon. As in: You want me to rally the base? Fine, I’ll rally the base. Here, I’ll choose this rifle-toting, serially pregnant moose killer who thinks God lobbies for oil pipelines. Happy now?

But watching Palin’s speech, I had no doubt that I was witnessing a historic, iconic performance. The candidate sauntered to the lectern with the assurance of a sleepwalker — and immediately launched into a symphony of snorting and sneering remarks, taking time out in between the superior invective to present herself as just a humble gal with a beefcake husband and a brood of healthy, combat-ready spawn who just happened to be the innocent targets of a communist and probably also homosexual media conspiracy. She appeared to be completely without shame and utterly full of shit, awing a room full of hardened reporters with her sickly-sweet line about the high-school-flame-turned-hubby who, “five children later,” is “still my guy.” It was like watching Gidget address the Reichstag.

Within minutes, Palin had given TV audiences a character infinitely recognizable to virtually every American: the small-town girl with just enough looks and a defiantly incurious mind who thinks the PTA minutes are Holy Writ, and to whom injustice means the woman next door owning a slightly nicer set of drapes or flatware. Or the governorship, as it were.

Right-wingers of the Bush-Rove ilk have had a tough time finding a human face to put on their failed, inhuman, mean-as-hell policies. But it was hard not to recognize the genius of wedding that faltering brand of institutionalized greed to the image of the suburban-American supermom. It’s the perfect cover, for there is almost nothing in the world meaner than this species of provincial tyrant.

Palin herself burned this political symbiosis into the pages of history with her seminal crack about the “difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull: lipstick,” blurring once and for all the lines between meanness on the grand political scale as understood by the Roves and Bushes of the world, and meanness of the small-town variety as understood by pretty much anyone who has ever sat around in his ranch-house den dreaming of a fourth plasma-screen TV or an extra set of KC HiLites for his truck, while some ghetto family a few miles away shares a husk of government cheese.

In her speech, Palin presented herself as a raging baby-making furnace of middle-class ambition next to whom the yuppies of the Obama set — who never want anything all that badly except maybe a few afternoons with someone else’s wife, or a few kind words in The New York Times Book Review — seem like weak, self-doubting celibates, the kind of people who certainly cannot be trusted to believe in the right God or to defend a nation. We’re used to seeing such blatant cultural caricaturing in our politicians. But Sarah Palin is something new. She’s all caricature. As the candidate of a party whose positions on individual issues are poll losers almost across the board, her shtick is not even designed to sell a line of policies. It’s just designed to sell her. The thing was as much as admitted in the on-air gaffe by former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, who was inadvertently caught saying on MSNBC that Palin wasn’t the most qualified candidate, that the party “went for this, excuse me, political bullshit about narratives.”

The great insight of the Palin VP choice is that huge chunks of American voters no longer even demand that their candidates actually have policy positions; they simply consume them as media entertainment, rooting for or against them according to the reflexive prejudices of their demographic, as they would for reality-show contestants or sitcom characters. Hicks root for hicks, moms for moms, born-agains for born-agains. Sure, there was politics in the Palin speech, but it was all either silly lies or merely incidental fluffery buttressing the theatrical performance. A classic example of what was at work here came when Palin proudly introduced her Down-syndrome baby, Trig, then stared into the camera and somberly promised parents of special-needs kids that they would “have a friend and advocate in the White House.” This was about a half-hour before she raised her hands in triumph with McCain, a man who voted against increasing funding for special-needs education.

Palin’s charge that “government is too big” and that Obama “wants to grow it” was similarly preposterous. Not only did her party just preside over the largest government expansion since LBJ, but Palin herself has been a typical Bush-era Republican, borrowing and spending beyond her means. Her great legacy as mayor of Wasilla was the construction of a $15 million hockey arena in a city with an annual budget of $20 million; Palin OK’d a bond issue for the project before the land had been secured, leading to a protracted legal mess that ultimately forced taxpayers to pay more than six times the original market price for property the city ended up having to seize from a private citizen using eminent domain. Better yet, Palin ended up paying for the fucking thing with a 25 percent increase in the city sales tax. But in her speech, of course, Palin presented herself as the enemy of tax increases, righteously bemoaning that “taxes are too high” and Obama “wants to raise them.”

Palin hasn’t been too worried about federal taxes as governor of a state that ranks number one in the nation in federal spending per resident ($13,950), even as it sits just 18th in federal taxes paid per resident ($5,434). That means all us taxpaying non-Alaskans spend $8,500 a year on each and every resident of Palin’s paradise of rugged self-sufficiency. Not that this sworn enemy of taxes doesn’t collect from her own: Alaska currently collects the most taxes per resident of any state in the nation.

The rest of Palin’s speech was the same dog-whistle crap Republicans have been railing about for decades. Palin’s crack about a mayor being “like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities” testified to the Republicans’ apparent belief that they can win elections till the end of time running against the Sixties. (They’re probably right.) The incessant grousing about the media was likewise par for the course, red meat for those tens of millions of patriotic flag-waving Americans whose first instinct when things get rough is to whine like bitches and blame other people — reporters, the French, those ungrateful blacks soaking up tax money eating big prison meals, whomever — for their failures.

Add to this the usual lies about Democrats wanting to “forfeit” to our enemies abroad and coddle terrorists, and you had a very run-of-the-mill, almost boring Republican speech from a substance standpoint. What made it exceptional was its utter hypocrisy, its total disregard for reality, its absolute unrelation to the facts of our current political situation. After eight years of unprecedented corruption, incompetence, waste and greed, the party of Karl Rove understood that 50 million Americans would not demand solutions to any of these problems so long as they were given a new, new thing to beat their meat over.

Sarah Palin is that new, new thing, and in the end it won’t matter that she’s got an unmarried teenage kid with a bun in the oven. Of course, if the daughter of a black candidate like Barack Obama showed up at his convention with a five-month bump and some sideways-cap-wearing, junior-grade Curtis Jackson holding her hand, the defenders of Traditional Morality would be up in arms. But the thing about being in the reality-making business is that you don’t need to worry much about vetting; there are no facts in your candidate’s bio that cannot be ignored or overcome.

One of the most amusing things about the Palin nomination has been the reaction of horrified progressives. The Internet has been buzzing at full volume as would-be defenders of sanity and reason pore over the governor’s record in search of the Damning Facts. My own telephone began ringing off the hook with calls from ex-Alaskans and friends of Alaskans determined to help get the “truth” about Sarah Palin into the major media. Pretty much anyone with an Internet connection knows by now that Palin was originally for the “Bridge to Nowhere” before she opposed it (she actually endorsed the plan in her 2006 gubernatorial campaign), that even after the project was defeated she kept the money, that she didn’t actually sell the Alaska governor’s state luxury jet on eBay but instead sold it at a $600,000 loss to a campaign contributor (who is reportedly now seeking $50,000 in taxpayer money to pay maintenance costs).

Then there are the salacious tales of Palin’s swinging-meat-cleaver management style, many of which seem to have a common thread: In addition to being ensconced in a messy ethics investigation over her firing of the chief of the Alaska state troopers (dismissed after refusing to sack her sister’s ex-husband), Palin also fired a key campaign aide who had an affair with a friend’s wife. More ominously, as mayor of Wasilla, Palin tried to fire the town librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, who had resisted pressure to censor books Palin found objectionable.

Then there’s the God stuff: Palin belongs to a church whose pastor, Ed Kalnins, believes that all criticisms of George Bush “come from hell,” and wondered aloud if people who voted for John Kerry could be saved. Kalnins, looming as the answer to Obama’s Jeremiah Wright, claims that Alaska is going to be a “refuge state” for Christians in the last days, last days which he sometimes speaks of in the present tense. Palin herself has been captured on video mouthing the inevitable born-again idiocies, such as the idea that a recent oil-pipeline deal was “God’s will.” She also described the Iraq War as a “task that is from God” and part of a heavenly “plan.” She supports teaching creationism and “abstinence only” in public schools, opposes abortion even for victims of rape, has denied the science behind global warming and attends a church that seeks to convert Jews and cure homosexuals.

All of which tells you about what you’d expect from a raise-the-base choice like Palin: She’s a puffed-up dimwit with primitive religious beliefs who had to be educated as to the fact that the Constitution did not exactly envision government executives firing librarians. Judging from the importance progressive critics seem to attach to these revelations, you’d think that these were actually negatives in modern American politics. But Americans like politicians who hate books and see the face of Jesus in every tree stump. They like them stupid and mean and ignorant of the rules. Which is why Palin has only seemed to grow in popularity as more and more of these revelations have come out.

The same goes for the most damning aspect of her biography, her total lack of big-game experience. As governor of Alaska, Palin presides over a state whose entire population is barely the size of Memphis. This kind of thing might matter in a country that actually worried about whether its leader was prepared for his job — but not in America. In America, it takes about two weeks in the limelight for the whole country to think you’ve been around for years. To a certain extent, this is why Obama is getting a pass on the same issue. He’s been on TV every day for two years, and according to the standards of our instant-ramen culture, that’s a lifetime of hands-on experience.

It is worth noting that the same criticisms of Palin also hold true for two other candidates in this race, John McCain and Barack Obama. As politicians, both men are more narrative than substance, with McCain rising to prominence on the back of his bio as a suffering war hero and Obama mostly playing the part of the long-lost, future-embracing liberal dreamboat not seen on the national stage since Bobby Kennedy died. If your stomach turns to read how Palin’s Kawasaki 704 glasses are flying off the shelves in Middle America, you have to accept that Middle America probably feels the same way when it hears that Donatella Versace dedicated her collection to Obama during Milan Fashion Week. Or sees the throwing-panties-onstage-“I love you, Obama!” ritual at the Democratic nominee’s town-hall appearances.

So, sure, Barack Obama might be every bit as much a slick piece of imageering as Sarah Palin. The difference is in what the image represents. The Obama image represents tolerance, intelligence, education, patience with the notion of compromise and negotiation, and a willingness to stare ugly facts right in the face, all qualities we’re actually going to need in government if we’re going to get out of this huge mess we’re in.

Here’s what Sarah Palin represents: being a fat fucking pig who pins “Country First” buttons on his man titties and chants “U-S-A! U-S-A!” at the top of his lungs while his kids live off credit cards and Saudis buy up all the mortgages in Kansas.

The truly disgusting thing about Sarah Palin isn’t that she’s totally unqualified, or a religious zealot, or married to a secessionist, or unable to educate her own daughter about sex, or a fake conservative who raised taxes and horked up earmark millions every chance she got. No, the most disgusting thing about her is what she says about us: that you can ram us in the ass for eight solid years, and we’ll not only thank you for your trouble, we’ll sign you up for eight more years, if only you promise to stroke us in the right spot for a few hours around election time.

Democracy doesn’t require a whole lot of work of its citizens, but it requires some: It requires taking a good look outside once in a while, and considering the bad news and what it might mean, and making the occasional tough choice, and soberly taking stock of what your real interests are.

This is a very different thing from shopping, which involves passively letting sitcoms melt your brain all day long and then jumping straight into the TV screen to buy a Southern Style Chicken Sandwich because the slob singing “I’m Lovin’ It!” during the commercial break looks just like you. The joy of being a consumer is that it doesn’t require thought, responsibility, self-awareness or shame: All you have to do is obey the first urge that gurgles up from your stomach. And then obey the next. And the next. And the next.

And when it comes time to vote, all you have to do is put your Country First — just like that lady on TV who reminds you of your cousin. U-S-A, baby. U-S-A! U-S-A!

[From Issue 1062 — October 2, 2008]

Written by soundaffects

October 6th, 2008 at 10:35 pm

Dirty Secret Of The Bailout: Thirty-Two Words That None Dare Utter

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by Jason Linkins.

reposted from Huffington Post

A critical – and radical – component of the bailout package proposed by the Bush administration has thus far failed to garner the serious attention of anyone in the press. Section 8 (which ironically reminds one of the popular name of the portion of the 1937 Housing Act that paved the way for subsidized affordable housing ) of this legislation is just a single sentence of thirty-two words, but it represents a significant consolidation of power and an abdication of oversight authority that’s so flat-out astounding that it ought to set one’s hair on fire. It reads, in its entirety:

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

In short, the so-called “mother of all bailouts,” which will transfer $700 billion taxpayer dollars to purchase the distressed assets of several failed financial institutions, will be conducted in a manner unchallengeable by courts and ungovernable by the People’s duly sworn representatives. All decision-making power will be consolidated into the Executive Branch – who, we remind you, will have the incentive to act upon this privilege as quickly as possible, before they leave office. The measure will run up the budget deficit by a significant amount, with no guarantee of recouping the outlay, and no fundamental means of holding those who fail to do so accountable.

Is this starting to sound familiar? Robert Kuttner cuts through much of the gloss in an article in today’s American Prospect:

The deal proposed by Paulson is nothing short of outrageous. It includes no oversight of his own closed-door operations. It merely gives congressional blessing and funding to what he has already been doing, ad hoc. He plans to retain Wall Street firms as advisors to decide just how to cut deals to value and mop up Wall Street’s dubious paper. There are to be no limits on executive compensation for the firms that get relief, and no equity share for the government in exchange for this massive infusion of capital. Both Obama and McCain have opposed the provision denying any judicial review of decisions made by Paulson — a provision that evokes the Bush administration’s suspension of normal constitutional safeguards in its conduct of foreign policy and national security. […]
The differences between this proposed bailout and the three closest historical equivalents are immense. When the Reconstruction Finance Corporation of the 1930s pumped a total of $35 billion into U.S. corporations and financial institutions, there was close government supervision and quid pro quos at every step of the way. Much of the time, the RFC became a preferred shareholder, and often appointed board members. The Home Owners Loan Corporation, which eventually refinanced one in five mortgage loans, did not operate to bail out banks but to save homeowners. And the Resolution Trust Corporation of the 1980s, created to mop up the damage of the first speculative mortgage meltdown, the S&L collapse, did not pump in money to rescue bad investments; it sorted out good assets from bad after the fact, and made sure to purge bad executives as well as bad loans. And all three of these historic cases of public recapitalization were done without suspending judicial review.

Kuttner’s opposition here is perhaps the strongest language I’ve seen used, pushing back on this piece of legislation, in any publication of repute, and even here, Section 8 is not cited by name or by content. McClatchy Newspapers also alludes to Section 8 with concern, citing the “unfettered authority” that Paulson would be granted, and noting that the “law also would preclude court review of steps Paulson might take, something Joshua Rosner, managing director of economic researcher Graham Fisher & Co. in New York, said could be used to mask previous illegal activity.” Jack Balkin also gives the matter the sort of attention it deserves on his blog, Balkinization.

But elsewhere, the conversation is muted. The debate over whether Congress is going to pass the Paulson bailout package, or pass the Paulson bailout package really hard seems to have boiled down to a discussion of time and concessions. The White House has made it clear that they want this package passed yesterday. Congressional Democrats seem to be of different minds on the matter, with some pushing back hard, and others content to demand a small dollop of turd polish to make the package seem more aesthetically pleasing, at which point, they’ll likely roll over and pass the bill. Neither candidate, John McCain or Barack Obama, seem all that amenable toward the bailout, but neither have either demonstrated that they are willing to risk their candidacies to do much more than exploit the issue for electoral purposes.

Sunday morning came and went, with Paulson traipsing dutifully from studio to studio, facing nary a question on Section 8. Front page articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal detail the wranglings, but make no mention of this section of the legislation. On TV, cable news networks are stuck in the fog of the ongoing presidential campaign.

Throughout the coverage, one catches a whiff of what seems like substantive pushback on this power grab, but it largely amounts to a facsimile of journalistic diligence. Most note, in general terms, that the bailout represents a set of “broad powers” that will be granted to the Department of the Treasury. Yet the coverage offsets these concerns through the constant hyping of the White House’s overall message of “urgency.”

But one cannot overstate this: Section 8 is a singularly transformative sentence of economic policy. It transfers a significant amount of power to the Executive Branch, while walling off any avenue for oversight, and offering no guarantees in return. And if the Democrats end up content with winning a few slight concessions, they risk not putting a stop-payment on the real “blank check” – the one in which they allow the erosion of their own powers.

Over in the Senate, Christopher Dodd has proposed a bailout legislation of his own, which critically calls for “an oversight board that not only includes the chairman of the Federal Reserve and the SEC, but congressionally appointed, non-governmental officials” and would require the President to appoint an “independent inspector general to investigate the Treasury asset program.” In Dodd’s legislation, Section 8 is effectively stripped from the bill.

Nevertheless, the fact that Section 8 of the Paulson plan seems to strike few as a de facto dealbreaker can and should astound. The failure of Congress to hold the line on this point would be truly embarrassing. But if we make it through this week with nobody in the press specifically informing the public about the implications of this single sentence – in the middle of a complicated bill, in the middle of a complicated time – then right there, you have the single largest media failure of this year.

Written by soundaffects

September 26th, 2008 at 1:44 am

Obama meets with Bartlet. Jed Bartlet.

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resposted from New York Times

by Maureen Dowd

Now that he’s finally fired up on the soup-line economy, Barack Obama knows he can’t fade out again. He was eager to talk privately to a Democratic ex-president who could offer more fatherly wisdom — not to mention a surreptitious smoke — and less fraternal rivalry. I called the “West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin (yes, truly) to get a read-out of the meeting. This is what he wrote:

BARACK OBAMA knocks on the front door of a 300-year-old New Hampshire farmhouse while his Secret Service detail waits in the driveway. The door opens and OBAMA is standing face to face with former President JED BARTLET.

BARTLET Senator.

OBAMA Mr. President.

BARTLET You seem startled.

OBAMA I didn’t expect you to answer the door yourself.

BARTLET I didn’t expect you to be getting beat by John McCain and a Lancôme rep who thinks “The Flintstones” was based on a true story, so let’s call it even.

OBAMA Yes, sir.

BARTLET Come on in.

BARTLET leads OBAMA into his study.

BARTLET That was a hell of a convention.

OBAMA Thank you, I was proud of it.

BARTLET I meant the Republicans. The Us versus Them-a-thon. As a Democrat I was surprised to learn that I don’t like small towns, God, people with jobs or America. I’ve been a little out of touch but is there a mandate that the vice president be skilled at field dressing a moose —

OBAMA Look —

BARTLET — and selling Air Force Two on eBay?

OBAMA Joke all you want, Mr. President, but it worked.

BARTLET Imagine my surprise. What can I do for you, kid?

OBAMA I’m interested in your advice.

BARTLET I can’t give it to you.

OBAMA Why not?

BARTLET I’m supporting McCain.

OBAMA Why?

BARTLET He’s promised to eradicate evil and that was always on my “to do” list.

OBAMA O.K. —

BARTLET And he’s surrounded himself, I think, with the best possible team to get us out of an economic crisis. Why, Sarah Palin just said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had “gotten too big and too expensive to the taxpayers.” Can you spot the error in that statement?

OBAMA Yes, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac aren’t funded by taxpayers.

BARTLET Well, at least they are now. Kind of reminds you of the time Bush said that Social Security wasn’t a government program. He was only off by a little — Social Security is the largest government program.

OBAMA I appreciate your sense of humor, sir, but I really could use your advice.

BARTLET Well, it seems to me your problem is a lot like the problem I had twice.

OBAMA Which was?

BARTLET A huge number of Americans thought I thought I was superior to them.

OBAMA And?

BARTLET I was.

OBAMA I mean, how did you overcome that?

BARTLET I won’t lie to you, being fictional was a big advantage.

OBAMA What do you mean?

BARTLET I’m a fictional president. You’re dreaming right now, Senator.

OBAMA I’m asleep?

BARTLET Yes, and you’re losing a ton of white women.

OBAMA Yes, sir.

BARTLET I mean tons.

OBAMA I understand.

BARTLET I didn’t even think there were that many white women.

OBAMA I see the numbers, sir. What do they want from me?

BARTLET I’ve been married to a white woman for 40 years and I still don’t know what she wants from me.

OBAMA How did you do it?

BARTLET Well, I say I’m sorry a lot.

OBAMA I don’t mean your marriage, sir. I mean how did you get America on your side?

BARTLET There again, I didn’t have to be president of America, I just had to be president of the people who watched “The West Wing.”

OBAMA That would make it easier.

BARTLET You’d do very well on NBC. Thursday nights in the old “ER” time slot with “30 Rock” as your lead-in, you’d get seven, seven-five in the demo with a 20, 22 share — you’d be selling $450,000 minutes.

OBAMA What the hell does that mean?

BARTLET TV talk. I thought you’d be interested.

OBAMA I’m not. They pivoted off the argument that I was inexperienced to the criticism that I’m — wait for it — the Messiah, who, by the way, was a community organizer. When I speak I try to lead with inspiration and aptitude. How is that a liability?

BARTLET Because the idea of American exceptionalism doesn’t extend to Americans being exceptional. If you excelled academically and are able to casually use 690 SAT words then you might as well have the press shoot video of you giving the finger to the Statue of Liberty while the Dixie Chicks sing the University of the Taliban fight song. The people who want English to be the official language of the United States are uncomfortable with their leaders being fluent in it.

OBAMA You’re saying race doesn’t have anything to do with it?

BARTLET I wouldn’t go that far. Brains made me look arrogant but they make you look uppity. Plus, if you had a black daughter —

OBAMA I have two.

BARTLET — who was 17 and pregnant and unmarried and the father was a teenager hoping to launch a rap career with “Thug Life” inked across his chest, you’d come in fifth behind Bob Barr, Ralph Nader and a ficus.

OBAMA You’re not cheering me up.

BARTLET Is that what you came here for?

OBAMA No, but it wouldn’t kill you.

BARTLET Have you tried doing a two-hour special or a really good Christmas show?

OBAMA Sir —

BARTLET Hang on. Home run. Right here. Is there any chance you could get Michelle pregnant before the fall sweeps?

OBAMA The problem is we can’t appear angry. Bush called us the angry left. Did you see anyone in Denver who was angry?

BARTLET Well … let me think. …We went to war against the wrong country, Osama bin Laden just celebrated his seventh anniversary of not being caught either dead or alive, my family’s less safe than it was eight years ago, we’ve lost trillions of dollars, millions of jobs, thousands of lives and we lost an entire city due to bad weather. So, you know … I’m a little angry.

OBAMA What would you do?

BARTLET GET ANGRIER! Call them liars, because that’s what they are. Sarah Palin didn’t say “thanks but no thanks” to the Bridge to Nowhere. She just said “Thanks.” You were raised by a single mother on food stamps — where does a guy with eight houses who was legacied into Annapolis get off calling you an elitist? And by the way, if you do nothing else, take that word back. Elite is a good word, it means well above average. I’d ask them what their problem is with excellence. While you’re at it, I want the word “patriot” back. McCain can say that the transcendent issue of our time is the spread of Islamic fanaticism or he can choose a running mate who doesn’t know the Bush doctrine from the Monroe Doctrine, but he can’t do both at the same time and call it patriotic. They have to lie — the truth isn’t their friend right now. Get angry. Mock them mercilessly; they’ve earned it. McCain decried agents of intolerance, then chose a running mate who had to ask if she was allowed to ban books from a public library. It’s not bad enough she thinks the planet Earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago complete with a man, a woman and a talking snake, she wants schools to teach the rest of our kids to deny geology, anthropology, archaeology and common sense too? It’s not bad enough she’s forcing her own daughter into a loveless marriage to a teenage hood, she wants the rest of us to guide our daughters in that direction too? It’s not enough that a woman shouldn’t have the right to choose, it should be the law of the land that she has to carry and deliver her rapist’s baby too? I don’t know whether or not Governor Palin has the tenacity of a pit bull, but I know for sure she’s got the qualifications of one. And you’re worried about seeming angry? You could eat their lunch, make them cry and tell their mamas about it and God himself would call it restrained. There are times when you are simply required to be impolite. There are times when condescension is called for!

OBAMA Good to get that off your chest?

BARTLET Am I keeping you from something?

OBAMA Well, it’s not as if I didn’t know all of that and it took you like 20 minutes to say.

BARTLET I know, I have a problem, but admitting it is the first step.

OBAMA What’s the second step?

BARTLET I don’t care.

OBAMA So what about hope? Chuck it for outrage and put-downs?

BARTLET No. You’re elite, you can do both. Four weeks ago you had the best week of your campaign, followed — granted, inexplicably — by the worst week of your campaign. And you’re still in a statistical dead heat. You’re a 47-year-old black man with a foreign-sounding name who went to Harvard and thinks devotion to your country and lapel pins aren’t the same thing and you’re in a statistical tie with a war hero and a Cinemax heroine. To these aged eyes, Senator, that’s what progress looks like. You guys got four debates. Get out of my house and go back to work.

OBAMA Wait, what is it you always used to say? When you hit a bump on the show and your people were down and frustrated? You’d give them a pep talk and then you’d always end it with something. What was it …?

BARTLET “Break’s over.”

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September 24th, 2008 at 10:41 pm

Menage politique a trois a la Sarah

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reposted from Sydney Morning Herald

A great woman who worked with Ronald Reagan was on the phone shortly after Republican Senator John McCain turned the American political world on its head with his selection of Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his choice to be the next vice-president of the United States.

“Reagan loved McCain,” she said. “And John was a protege of Reagan. And John watched when Reagan was prevented by his staff, in his first run for the presidency in 1976, from going with his gut on his VP choice.

“Reagan wanted his old pal Paul Laxalt, a senator from Nevada. They were great together. But the staff said, ‘No, you have to go with another guy to bring the party together.’ Reagan resisted and then gave in, and he never forgot that and McCain didn’t either. And with Sarah Palin, he went with his gut and did it his way. And she’s going to be sensational. She’s going to connect with women in the west and in small towns who know real leadership when they see it.”

That’s what McCain did and this dynamo from Northern Exposure went incandescent on the floor of the Republican convention. The lions gorged on the red meat and felt they had a winner, a new American heroine, a change agent, a fighter, a smart and sassy no-nonsense cultural values cookie who would help throw the Democrats out of Washington and take no prisoners.

McCain threw the long ball and Palin scored.

But does this political ménage Palin joined with McCain to muscle Barack Obama – change the game?

Palin’s speech has made many of Obama’s strongest supporters, particularly African Americans, very nervous. Here they are on the cusp of the most profound change in American political history the election of a black man as president and they see this fireball from the land of shrinking ice floes and moose threatening to steal the very swing voters Obama needs to seal the deal and win in November.

An Obama ally assessed what Palin means.

“This is a turnout election and the right will now turn out. I still think this is Obama’s race to lose, but he could lose it unless our folks turn up the energy…Obama needs to help identify her over the weekend as a book burning fundamentalist with a secessionist husband, a wacky minister of her own and an appetite for pork barrelling. They need to marginalise her as a nice, but extreme, fringe, inexperienced and slightly less than honest politician. Right now she is America’s sweetheart … They have to demonstrate she is a radical conservative mannequin with a stylist.”

What Palin has done is energise the base of the Republican party which was lethargic until she went carpet bombing against the Democrats on national TV. Until then, the party was sleepwalking with McCain towards mediocrity as was so evident in McCain’s speech on Friday, which was pedestrian on policy, but riveting with his poignant, haunting story of captivity, torture, despair and resurrection. On taxes, energy, trade and national security, McCain offered nothing significantly different from the past two decades of Republican campaigns for power.

But at the end of the day, the choice is still between Obama and McCain, and not their VP choices.

In retelling the odyssey of his captivity, McCain said that, when he finally prevailed, “I wasn’t my own man any more. I was my country’s.”

Service, values, experience, trust: McCain tells us more about himself and what made him a hero. That’s what burns for McCain.

For Obama, the calling is more about people and where they are and where they want to go.

Service and honour. Change and transformation. An extraordinary election.

Four years ago, a new face exploded on the national scene with a riveting, dynamic speech to a national political convention. It was an instant sensation on the net. Many in the hall in Boston and watching on television that night thought, in the back of their minds, “President?” But no way it could be seriously considered then; the man needed time to emerge and prove himself. Last week, Sarah Palin delivered a powerful speech. A new face. And everyone knows she is standing, today, for vice-president. And the question mark still lingers in the air.

Paul Keating – Template for peace is inclusion

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reposted from Sydney Morning Herald

August 25, 2008


We are living through one of those rare yet transforming events in history, a shift in the power in the world from West to East. For 500 years Europe dominated the world; now for all its wealth and population it is drifting into relative decline.

Will our understanding of this transformation, and our acceptance of its equity for the greater reaches of mankind, lead us to a position of general preparedness of its inevitability, or will we cavil at it in much the same way as Europe resisted the rise of Bismarck’s creation at the end of the 19th century?

We can see, with this the 29th Olympiad, the questioning of China and the resentment at its pretensions about being one of us. Even becoming one of us!

The Western liberal press featured, generally in critical terms, the world-long torch relay, juxtaposing all that it represents and is good about it with what it sees as China’s democratic defects, viewing it almost exclusively through the prism of Tibet.

Saying, almost, that the aspirations of this massive nation, a quarter of humanity, a legatee of a century of misery, dragging itself from poverty, is somehow of questionable legitimacy, because its Government’s attitude to political freedoms and in specific instances, human rights, are not up to scratch. Ignoring the massive leaps in progress, of income growth, of shelter, of the alleviation of poverty, of dwindling infant mortality, of education, of, by any measure, the much better life now being experienced by the great majority of Chinese.

The Western critic feeling the epicentre of the world changing but not at all liking it, seeks to put down these vast societies on the basis that their political and value systems don’t match up to theirs.

Henry Kissinger made the point recently when he said, “We cannot do in China in the 21st century what others thought to do in the 19th – prescribe their institutions for them and seek to organise Asia.”

And he went on to pose the question: do we split the world into a union of democracies and non-democracies, or must there be another approach key to regional and historic circumstance?

There is a view that should China become a democracy, a real one, many tensions in the global system would go; that democracies find peace with other democracies; that the former political-military state first turns itself into a trading state and as wealth and opportunity rise so, too, do democratic values.

But what we must remember is that even if all the states of the world became democratic, the structure of the international system would remain anarchic.

The greatest challenge we face, whether for managing incidents or easing the new economic tectonic plates into place, will be to construct a truly representative structure of world governance which reflects global realities, but which is also equitable and fair.

For two Clinton presidential terms and two George Bush terms, the world has been left without such a structure; certainly one able to accommodate Russia and the great states such as China and India.

Instead Clinton and Bush left us with the template of 1947; the template cut by the victorious powers of World War II, the one where Germany and Japan were left on the outside, and still are 60 years later, and in which China and India are tolerated and palely humoured.

Sixteen critical years have already been lost. And it is not as if we are dealing with a world where things are the same now as they were 16 years ago. The world is dynamic: 16 years ago China was not a world power; today it is. Sixteen years ago, Russia was collapsing; today it is growing and strongly.

We are now sitting through, witnessing, the eclipse of American power. Yet for those 16 critical years, two American presidents did nothing to better shape the institutions of world governance.

And there has been no help from the old powers; Tony Blair’s Britain and Jacques Chirac’s France. After all, they had box seats to the event, courtesy of being on top in 1947.

But Blair’s contribution was not anything new or free-thinking, rather he thought being an American acolyte was all that was required. Chirac was simply incapable of adding any strategic value to the equation.

The fact is we are again heading towards a bipolar world. Not one shaped by a balance of terror like the old one, but certainly not a multipolar one – in fact, one heavily influenced by two countries; the United States and China.

Russia’s economy, while growing in strength from the burnt-out wreck it was in 1990, will not be in the league of that of the US or of China.

But Russia will still be wealthy; wealthy enough to continue to field its massive arsenal of nuclear weapons. So whether you attribute to Russia full “pole” status or not, you can certainly attribute to it huge strategic standing.

It is more the pity then, that following that unexpected epiphany in 1989, the Clinton administration rashly decided to ring-fence Russia by inviting the former Warsaw Treaty states of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to join NATO.

By doing so, the US failed to learn one of the lessons of history: that the victor should be magnanimous with the vanquished.

At some time the US will be obliged to treat Russia as a great sovereign power replete with a range of national interests of the kind that other major powers possess.

In the meantime, the great risk of this sort of adventurism is that with NATO’s border now right up to western Ukraine, the Russians will take the less costly military option of counter-weighing NATO’s power by keeping their nuclear arsenal on full operational alert.

This posture automatically carries with it the possibility of a Russian nuclear attack by mistake. The years of Russia’s economic poverty, certainly since the collapse of its economy in the first half of the 1990s, has meant the Russians have allowed their surveillance and early warning systems to ossify. To compensate, they are keeping their nuclear arsenal on full operational alert.

This leaves the rest of the world relying more on the generals, the battlefield commanders and intelligence assessors to restrain a nuclear response than it does the Russian President or his Government. This means that while the Cold War is over, the risk of a mistaken pre-emptory response has increased.

Many people will think and some will say that with communications and the globalisation of economic wealth being what it is, an outbreak of a major conflict seems more and more remote. That global interdependence and the shrinking of the world makes war a decidedly unproductive way of resolving foreign policy differences.

People should be reminded that that was said at the time of the last great intensification of trade between Britain, France and Germany along with the growing US economy before 1914.

The lesson is that when the strategic bits go wrong, the economic bits soon follow. Certainly not the obverse: when the trade goes well, the strategic wrinkles get ironed out.

The structure of the international system is anarchic. Was anarchic; remains anarchic. This condition cannot be remedied but structures to mitigate its most violent manifestations can be put into place.

Against this backdrop remains the open question about “the West” and its fibre. The question that was resoundingly answered by that generation who suffered the Depression and the Second World War and who delivered us into a new era of peace and prosperity.

Is our culture a culture made compliant by too much coming too easily; producing a state of intellectual and spiritual lassitude which can only be shaken by the gravest threats, be they economic, environmental or indeed, strategic?

As that pendulum swings from West to East, are the motivations for the West’s former primacy swinging with it? Has the bounty of science and industrialisation with its cornucopia of production and wealth encouraged us too far away from simpler requirements and concern for the needs of all?

As societies, have we taken our eye off public affairs for way too long?

Can we, all of us, assimilate, adjust ourselves to a constancy of peace and prosperity without lessening our regard for those enlivening impulses of truth and goodness?

A new international order based on truth and justice founded in the recognition of the rights of each of us to live out our lives in peace and harmony, can, I believe, provide the only plausible long-term template.

The old order of victorious powers, of a compromised United Nations, a moribund G8 with major powers hanging on to weapons of mass destruction, is a remnant of the violent 20th century. It cannot provide the basis for an equitable and effective system of world governance.

Just as world community concern has been ahead of the political system on issues such as global warming so, too, world community concern needs to galvanise international action to find a new template for a lasting peace, one embracing all the major powers and regions.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant said some day there will be a universal peace; the only question, he said, is will this come about by human insight or by catastrophe, leaving no other outcome possible.

Humankind demands that that proposition be settled in the former and not the latter.

Paul Keating was Australian prime minister from 1991 to 1996. This is an edited extract of a speech delivered to the Melbourne Writers’ Festival on Saturday.

in the beginning…

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yes, I have finally succumbed to the inevitable.

as someone who thinks of themselves as a writer, to write things and not see them published anywhere but your own notebook is a somewhat depressing sight.

also, there is something to be said for having an audience. even if that audience is my mother and my girlfriend, it’s still an audience. and if I have an audience, I will endeavor to write for them.

and so I will be writing about a whole lot of things: music, politics, film, ideas.
I’ll probably repost a good amount of stuff from newspapers, other blogs and whatnot.

the world is too big, too complex, for one person to claim a monopoly on knowledge. so I’ll be sharing it around a bit.

enjoy

H.

Written by soundaffects

April 12th, 2008 at 1:31 am