Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jon Swift Memorial Roundup 2010

(The Best Posts of the Year, Chosen by the Bloggers Themselves)

The much missed Jon Swift/Al Weisel left behind some excellent satire, but was also a nice guy and a strong supporter of small blogs. Blogroll Amnesty Day (co-founded with skippy) is a celebration of small blogs that's still going strong, and coming up again the first weekend in February. Jon/Al also put together a roundup of the best blogs posts of the year, selected by the participating bloggers themselves. (Here's the 2007 and 2008 editions.) I wanted to revive that tradition, both as a tribute to Jon/Al and because it was something special in its own right.

If you're not familiar with Al Weisel's work as Jon Swift, his site features a "best of" list in the left column (scroll down). His journalism site is here. Meanwhile, Tom Watson and skippy compiled most of the many memorial posts written for him.

Thanks to all the participants, especially those who helped spread the word. Apologies to the folks I missed in this effort (although you can still link your post in the comments). My initial contact list included a significant number of past contributors, but many bloggers have retired. Many more I tried to reach don't include contact information. Still, it's been nice to see many past participants again, enjoy some fine posts and read all the warm comments about Jon Swift/Al Weisel.

Whether your post appears in the modest list below or not, anyone with a Twitter account is free to link his or her best post and include the hatchtag #jonswift2010. The upcoming Blogroll Amnesty Day is also a great way for anyone to highlight any overlooked blogs.

As in Jon/Al's 2008 roundup, submissions are listed roughly in the order they were received. As he wrote for that post:

I'm sure you'll be interested in seeing what your favorite bloggers think were their best posts of the year, but be sure to also visit some blogs you've never read before and leave a nice comment if you like what you see or, if you must, a polite demurral if you do not.

Without further ado:

Mad Kane's Political Madness
Alpha-Political Verse: Election 2010
Madeleine Begun Kane: "Our bizarre mid-term election period summed up in alpha-political verse."

Where’s the Outrage?
Health Care Reform – Reloaded
ecthompson md: "Healthcare Reform done right should cover all Americans, it should be cost-effective (the government should be able to negotiate drug prices and product prices with manufacturers), it should be portable, and must be single-payer in order for us to get the biggest bang for our buck."

Kiko's House
When Care Givers Became Cost Centers: The Genesis Of The Crisis In Nursing
Shaun Mullen: "The moment that the crisis in American nursing went from being worrisome to dire was when hospital administrators stopped considering nurses to be care givers and they became "cost centers." It's not possible to pinpoint exactly when that metamorphosis occurred..."

Did NYT's Risen Get Played On Afghan Mineral Wealth Story?
Steve Hynd: "Risen challenged bloggers to get out of their PJ's and do some reporting. So we did, and found his source's shady connections."

I'll Never Forget The Day I Read A Book!
American Insurgents American Patriots
Clark Bjorke: "I have mixed feelings about the lessons to be learned from this excellent book on the people's revolution in colonial America. It illustrates how misinformed, ill prepared and misguided the American Public has been from the very beginning of our history and how this has driven the development of our democratic society."

World O' Crap
Abortion-Seeking Women: Won't Someone Think of the Man-Child?
Scott Clevenger: "If your wife or girlfriend had an abortion, then you're not receiving all the Father's Day cards you're entitled to. Fortunately, a Men's Rights group now offers a line of seasonal abortion greeting cards for Him."

Pruning Shears
State-run Iranian media beats the NY Times on WikiLeaks reporting
Dan: "Before the release of the diplomatic cables, America's newspaper of record whiffed on another WikiLeaks scoop."

Playing with my Food
Paul Hinrichs: "A brief look at the uses and abuses of a misunderstood genre."

Stump Lane
Human Nature, Power and Ethics: A Layman's View
Montag takes a graphical approach to the subject.

FDL News
Portrait of HAMP Failure: "It Makes Your Financial Situation Worse"
David Dayen: "This was the story of a friend of mine, who told me how his mortgage servicer was handling his attempt at a loan modification. It was eye-opening and appalling, and it led me to examine the entire HAMP program. I wrote at least a dozen of these stories, and this was the first."

The Most Nauseating Lie in Bush's New Book
Marc McDonald: "In this article, I noted that George W. Bush was lying in his "Decision Points" book when he claimed that he was "angry" when no WMDs were found in Iraq and that the issue gives him a "sickening feeling" to this day. As I wrote in the article, in reality, a mere year after he ordered the Iraq invasion, Bush was already flippant about the missing WMD issue, joking about it at the 2004 White House Correspondents Dinner."

Within Our Souls
Melissa McEwan: "Rep. Duncan Hunter says "it takes more than walking across the border to become an American citizen; it's within our souls," and I take to task Hunter and his cohort of anxious braggarts, who love to wave the flag and shout about how America is the "greatest country in the world!" at every opportunity, then react with sullen resentment when (certain) people agree and clamor to get in the door."

Confession Zero
Behind the Walls
Mark Prime pens a poem on the news of the day.

David E's Fablog
Phone Call from a Stranger
David Ehrenstein recounts Virginia Thomas calling Anita Hill, with cinematic assistance.

William K. Wolfrum Chronicles
An Open and Honest Discussion of my Racism
William K. Wolfrum: "Bill looks back at the night his racism cost him a friend, and how that night made him take stock of his racial insensitivities."

Blue Police Box Music
TV Titles A-Z: Part 4c: D is for Doctor Who
Andrew Edwards: "A brief history of the Doctor Who theme song, from 1963 - The Present. Covers every version from the original Delia Derbyshire analogue tape realization, to Murray Gold's orchestral bombast for the 2005 new series."

Fried Green al-Qaedas
Goodbye Moon
Mark Hoback: "A celebration by Dr. Harry Spangler (NASA) of the end of the lunar exploration program."

Entitlement Derangement
Robert Stein: "An octogenarian's sadness at the decline of the American spirit from JFK's inaugural address to the year of Tea Party rage."

Mental Floss
Nuclear Quotes: The Crew of the Enola Gay
Miss Cellania: "A profile of each crew member of the Enola Gay and the feelings they expressed about the mission after the war."

They Gave Us a Republic
By their name you shall know them
Blue Girl: "Not content with making up "intel" in the 70s and 80s, the infamous Team B rides again to screw up Afghanistan intel in the aughts."

Blue in the Bluegrass
Democrats Facing Fourth and Long – Go for It!
Yellow Dog: "Almost every time, the Fraidy-Cat team doesn't win, even if it's the team with more talent and should win - because not going for it creates losers."

Hysterical Raisins
The Macaca Awards! And the Winners Are… (collaboration)
Nonnie9999: "An award for everything that is appalling in American Politics. Named in honor of George Allen."

Mock, Paper, Scissors
The Macaca Awards: And The Winners Are... (collaboration)
Tengrain: "It seems so long ago that George Allen uttered the words that moved a generation (and sank his political career), and forever seared the word MACACA into our collective brain... And so we honor all that is appalling in American Politics with the First Semi-Regular MACACA AWARDS."

Rand Takes the Train to Portland
Darrel Plant: "Hooking up this year's Ayn Rand fixation to advertising for luxury toilets."

Diary of a Heretic
The Killer
(kathleenmaher): ""The Killer" is the last "flash fiction" piece I wrote. My flash fiction--stories in fewer than 500 words--are by far more popular than the serials, which I much prefer writing."

Blue Gal
I got yer Contract with America right here.
Blue Gal: "Blue Gal reminds Republicans that we already have a contract with America."

10 Epic Failures of the Bush Tax Cuts
Jon Perr: "From moribund job creation and sinking household incomes to skyrocketing deficits and record income inequality, Republican economic stewardship over the past decade has been a disaster. Here, then, are the 10 Epic Failures of the Bush Tax Cuts."

Mister Tristan
Emily Dickinson and Being Organized
Gary…A Relative of Mister Tristan: "I comment upon Ms. Dickinson’s marvelous use of language to convey her self-declared disorganization, and relate it to the sport of endurance running."

Comrade PhysioProf
Militant Atheism
Comrade PhysioProf: "This post explains how the "militancy" of some atheists is a rational response to god-bothering psychotic fucke-uppes ruining all kinds of shitte for decent people."

Less as More
Mark Gisleson: "Whatever nonsense you believe, they’ll put whipped cream on it and then between licks will pause to tell you how good your beliefs are."

skippy the bush kangaroo
to our democratic administration
skippy takes stock of the situation.

The Debate Link
Why Does Jennifer Rubin Hate American Jews?
David Schraub: "Jennifer Rubin's infamous Commentary piece trying to "explain" why Jews dislike Sarah Palin ended up providing one of the more naked displays of anti-Semitic stereotyping and anti-Jewish contempt ever to be displayed in a mainstream American news source."

Brilliant at Breakfast
Maggie and Jenny's Guide 2 Kat Fud - 4 Fuchur Retireez
Jill passes on some timely "expert opinuns on kat fud."

The Brad Blog
NYT Public Editor Finally Admits Acorn 'Pimp' Hoax Reporting Failure: 'Times Was Wrong, I Have Been Wrong Defending Paper'
Brad Friedman makes the supposed "paper of record" correct the record.

Lotus - Surviving a Dark Time
And another thing
LarryE: " After going back and forth on picking a long analytical post or a short passionate one I settled on one that's a bit of each. The Cat Food Commission, otherwise known as the Deficit Commission, says we all have to sacrifice. But just who do they mean by "we?""

Distributorcap NY
The Front Page
Distributorcap: "Which came first - journalists turning into to a bunch of sideshow barkers because the only thing Americans want is to be entertained, or Americans losing any semblance of reality because the once noble profession of journalism has turned into nothing more than a conduit to sell Tide and Toyotas?"

Red, Green and Blue
Avatar, Vietnam and the War on Trees
Jeremy Bloom: "One thing the blockbuster film Avatar showed in glorious, graphic 3D: In war, no matter who wins, the forest nearly always loses."

Just Another Blog (From L.A.)
Lying & Dishonest: Needn't Call Anyone Names
M. Bouffant takes on witches, Nazis and Althouse.

The difference between Democrats and Republicans?
J. explains the two parties to her daughter, a sixth-grader.

Southern Beale
Your Modern Conservative Inferiority Complex
Southern Beale analyzes a Julian Sanchez piece on modern conservatism.

Whoreganically Blown
Peter reviews a kitchen appliance that every chef should be without.

A Blog About School
Is there anything our school officials won’t do for federal money?
Chris Liebig describes an absurd lunch room scene.

Mutant Poodle
Dear Congressional Democrats
Mutant Poodle isn't a fan of whining.

Mario Piperni
Glenn Beck Praises My Work
Mario Piperni acquires a new fan.

The Satirical Political Report
WikiLeaks Lays Bare The Ultimate ‘Revelation’: ‘Document Dumps’ on God
Don Davis satirizes the news of the day.

Bark Bark Woof Woof
Our Better Nature
Mustang Bobby: "Why conservatives tend to act like children."

Watergate Summer
Blog Blast for Peace
Enigma4ever contemplates peace, and the costs of war.

Happy Labor Day: Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Suicide Bombers
Roy Edroso: "Remembering what Michelle Malkin called "the union movement's violent and corrupt foundations" with several historical union outrages against cops, vigilantes, etc."

Sneetches Come Alive!
driftglass delivers the audio version of his Dr. Seuss remix, "The Bush-Belly Sneetches."

Failed Empire
Getting Bogged Down in the Details: Why We Shouldn't Focus on Obama
Andrew: "The post deals with the issue of media manipulation of the public's perception of right/left. By buying into the false notion that Obama is a "liberal," we are prevented from pursuing a genuinely progressive agenda."

The Hunting of the Snark
The Hunting Of The Snark Cookie Of Gratitude: Let's Hear It For The Commenters!
Susan of Texas: "This post chronicles Megan McArdle's attempt to ruin the professional reputation of Elizabeth Warren and her commenters' futile attempts to correct her mistakes. This post has all the classic features of McArdle's work; lying and obfuscation in the service of the rich, a McMeltdown in the comments, and rampant innumeracy, and it spread far beyond the reaches of my small blog."

The Inverse Square
Why Friends Don’t Let Friends Cite The Atlantic’s “Business and Economics Editor”: Further to the Megan McArdle is Always Wrong chronicles.
Tom Levenson: "This post responded to an attack on Elizabeth Warren's qualifications and intellectual integrity through an underhanded and unfair scrutiny of the actual sources used by Warren's would-be antagonist, Megan McArdle. It's notable because it helped create a substantial blogospheric response to the right wing campaign against Warren's prospective role in consumer financial protection -- and Warren herself credited that wave of response as one of the reasons she was able to join the Obama administration in such a role."

The Reaction
Ronald Reagan, conservatism, and the decline of the American Empire
Michael J.W. Stickings examines why the right has canonized Ronald Reagan.

Tom Watson
The Lamplighter
Tom Watson delivers a lovely eulogy.

Washington Monthly's "Political Animal"
Movements are about something real
Steve Benen: "Tea Party activists and Glenn Beck acolytes succeeded in generating attention and passion, but real political movements are about more than buzz words, television personalities, and self-aggrandizement. For transformational change that sets nations on new courses, Americans need more than vague, shallow promises about "freedom.""

Balloon Juice
This Is What Obstructionism + Nihilism + the Wurlitzer Looks Like
John Cole explains why common sense legislation rarely passes.

Lance Mannion
Get a dune!
Lance Mannion: ""Were we ever that young?" A pair of summer romances observed."


Vagabond Scholar
We Cheat the Other Guy and Pass the Savings to You
Batocchio: "The game is rigged, but contrary to what David Brooks says, that's not in everyone's best interest."

Thanks, everyone! Here's to a good new year, blogging and otherwise.

(One of lolcats Jon Swift featured.)

Update: I've updated the post slightly. Again, if you weren't included this time, you're welcome to link your post in the comments, as some bloggers have already done. It's good stuff.

Also, if you thought the best post of the year was something written by some other blogger who's not featured above, you're welcome to link that in the comments. (I received some submissions like that by e-mail, and tried to contact the post authors, but didn't include them unless I got their stamp of approval.) Unless things become ridiculous (in a bad way) or unmanageable, the idea is to be inclusive and celebrate good work.

Realistically, few people can plow through all the posts linked above and in the comments below in one go, but I hope this endeavor will introduce readers to at least a few good blogs they didn't know before.

Thanks again to Mike Finnigan of C&L and the many bloggers who've spread the word. Remember that you can spread good karma and blogging cheer with the extremely inclusive Blogroll Amnesty Day, coming up the first weekend in February. (Or whenever you choose, really.) Thanks, all, and have a safe and Happy New Year.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hallelujah Chorus 2010

This post is mostly a repeat, but for the season, it's hard to beat the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah. First up, a neat flash mob version:

Next up, Cantillation with the Orchestra of the Antipodes, conducted by Antony Walker:

The Robert Shaw version is also quite nice, and then there's this one from the Roches (h/t Steve Audio):

Eclectic Jukebox

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Wrong Cure

Here's a good video from the British group False Economy on proposed economic "solutions":

Why cuts are the wrong cure from False Economy on Vimeo.

(Via Cookie Jill at skippy's place.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bertolucci on Bertolucci

A former teacher of mine kindly passed on this neat feature: "Bernardo Bertolucci Dissects Ten of His Classic Scenes." I still need to see a couple of these films, and I'm overdue for watching The Conformist (Il conformista) again. (Somewhere, I have a handout showing the non-linear narrative structure of the film.) If you happen to live in the NYC area, the Film Forum is screening The Conformist from Friday, December 17 to Thursday, December 23. Apparently it's a new print, and seeing the film projected on the big screen (with Vittorio Storaro's masterful cinematography) would be pretty sweet.

(My favorite piece of trivia on Bertolucci is that he shares a story credit for Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West.)

Get yer chiaroscuro on.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Belle & Sebastian - "I Want The World To Stop"

Eclectic Jukebox

Aristocrats and Peasants

Digby's been writing a great deal of good stuff on plutocracy and the insular Villager mindset recently. Her post "Yearning to be Subjects" touches on the Estate Tax, and quotes from an intriguing essay by Phil Agre:

From the pharaohs of ancient Egypt to the self-regarding thugs of ancient Rome to the glorified warlords of medieval and absolutist Europe, in nearly every urbanized society throughout human history, there have been people who have tried to constitute themselves as an aristocracy. These people and their allies are the conservatives.

The tactics of conservatism vary widely by place and time. But the most central feature of conservatism is deference: a psychologically internalized attitude on the part of the common people that the aristocracy are better people than they are. Modern-day liberals often theorize that conservatives use "social issues" as a way to mask economic objectives, but this is almost backward: the true goal of conservatism is to establish an aristocracy, which is a social and psychological condition of inequality. Economic inequality and regressive taxation, while certainly welcomed by the aristocracy, are best understood as a means to their actual goal, which is simply to be aristocrats.

More generally, it is crucial to conservatism that the people must literally love the order that dominates them. Of course this notion sounds bizarre to modern ears, but it is perfectly overt in the writings of leading conservative theorists such as Burke. Democracy, for them, is not about the mechanisms of voting and office-holding. In fact conservatives hold a wide variety of opinions about such secondary formal matters. For conservatives, rather, democracy is a psychological condition. People who believe that the aristocracy rightfully dominates society because of its intrinsic superiority are conservatives; democrats, by contrast, believe that they are of equal social worth. Conservatism is the antithesis of democracy. This has been true for thousands of years.

The defenders of aristocracy represent aristocracy as a natural phenomenon, but in reality it is the most artificial thing on earth. Although one of the goals of every aristocracy is to make its preferred social order seem permanent and timeless, in reality conservatism must be reinvented in every generation. This is true for many reasons, including internal conflicts among the aristocrats; institutional shifts due to climate, markets, or warfare; and ideological gains and losses in the perpetual struggle against democracy.

In some societies the aristocracy is rigid, closed, and stratified, while in others it is more of an aspiration among various fluid and factionalized groups. The situation in the United States right now is toward the latter end of the spectrum. A main goal in life of all aristocrats, however, is to pass on their positions of privilege to their children, and many of the aspiring aristocrats of the United States are appointing their children to positions in government and in the archipelago of think tanks that promote conservative theories.

Insightful stuff. I've touched on some similar themes before ("Attack of the Plutocrats," "The Social Contract," "The Five Circles of Conservative Hell," "We Cheat the Other Guy and Pass the Savings to You") and will likely explore them further. Reasonable, self-described conservatives who believe in the social contract and competent governance do exist, but they sure as hell aren't running the Republican Party (nor the Democratic Blue Dog Caucus). Aristocrats and authoritarian conservatives have never been fans of the whole "democracy" thing. They're wielding a great deal of power right now, and they're doing so recklessly, even nihilistically.

As Bill Moyers has said, "plutocracy and democracy don't mix." I'm increasingly coming to think that plutocracy - or plutonomy - is the biggest issue of our time in America, affecting almost everything else: taxes, health care, the social safety net, infrastructure spending, education, climate change, scientific research, the arts and humanities, the surveillence state, indefinite detention, and endless wars. It greatly affects our news coverage as well, which makes Blue Gal's big cause, media reform, awfully important.

Also - isn't it striking that many of the people currently hollering about the Constitution the loudest are so hostile to the Enlightenment values at its core?

On a lighter note, I also can't help but think of some classic cinema:

"Who's that then?"
"I dunno, must be a king."
"He hasn't got shit all over him."


Friday, December 10, 2010

The Rich and Wealthy (Now in Video!)

Here are three rather different approaches to explaining how the game just ain't the same for the rich and wealthy. First up, some animation (from October 2004) by Lee Arnold explaining "The Bush Tax Cuts." (Via Linda Beale of ataxingmatter and Angry Bear.)

Next up, via David Dayen, here's Al Franken's floor speech from last week on tax cuts, unemployment and wealth:

Finally, Chris Rock explains the difference between being "rich" and having "wealth" (NSFW):

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Fundraising around the Web (Nov. 2010)

For those with the means and inclination:

The Washington Monthly is holding their annual fundraiser. Their site features the ridiculously prolific Steve Benen, one of the best debunkers and fact-checkers out there.

Meanwhile, the ridiculously thoughtful Lance Mannion, who covers film, books and politics, is also holding a fundraiser.

Finally, we have the ridiculously vituperative Blue Gal and driftglass. If you're not listening to their weekly podcast (NSFW), "The Professional Left," you're missing out. Small donations keep their internet hamsters and audio gerbils working.

Los Angeles City Donating to Food Banks

It's nice to hear some good news for a change. From the Los Angeles Times:

In what one official called a giant step toward "eradicating hunger" in Los Angeles, tons of surplus food from city-sponsored events would be donated to the needy each year under a new policy enacted Wednesday by the City Council.

“Today we are taking a historic step in eradicating hunger in the city of Los Angeles,” said Councilman Jose Huizar, adding that he hoped that donating surplus food would become “as common as recycling.”

Among other things, new guidelines would encourage contractors such as caterers serving city events to donate surplus fare to food banks or other assistance groups. Lawmakers are seeking to insert language in all city contracts promoting donations of surplus food.

With the economy continuing to slump, anti-hunger advocates are aggressively pushing to bolster food donations from both the private and public sectors. The need is rising sharply, advocates say, as people facing loss of jobs, homes or other setbacks join the bulging ranks of hungry food-seekers. The unemployment rate in Los Angeles County is 12.5%.

One in six people now receiving emergency food aid in Los Angeles has never received such assistance in the past, according to Councilman Huizar’s office.

Some 5 million tons of consumable food is wasted each year in California, activists say.

The Los Angeles Convention Center already has a robust food-donation effort. The Last year, according to Huizar’s office, the Convention Center shipped 7.24 tons of surplus food to aid groups.

For Los Angeles residents, the city's new site is HelpFeedLA.org. (I donated to my local food bank a few weeks ago.)

Meanwhile, the site Feeding America has a very useful food bank locator for all fifty states.


KT Tunstall - "Uummannaq Song"

Here's her KCRW session.

Eclectic Jukebox

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Give the Millionaires More Money or the Country Gets It

This post title pretty much sums up the Republican approach to economic and fiscal matters for the past ten to thirty years. However, the latest shameful but unsurprising development came with a Republican letter last Wednesday, 12/1/10:

ALL 42 SENATE REPUBLICANS ANNOUNCE HOSTAGE PLAN.... The AP had an item late last night, noting that Senate Republicans were circulating a letter, "quietly collecting signatures" on a plan to "block action on virtually all Democratic-backed legislation unrelated to tax cuts and government spending."

This morning, the Senate GOP leadership unveiled their letter -- signed by literally all 42 members of the Republican caucus -- declaring their intention to hold the chamber hostage until the tax policy debate is resolved.

"[W]e write to inform you that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers. With little time left in this Congressional session, legislative scheduling should be focused on these critical priorities. While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate's attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike."

In practical terms, this means that the Senate Republican caucus will join arms and kill literally every piece of legislation in the lame-duck session -- New START, funding U.S. troops, the DREAM Act, etc. -- until the government is fully funded and they're satisfied with the outcome of the debate on tax policy...

* Postscript: Also note the unstated truth behind the threat -- Republicans will block literally everything until they're satisfied, at which point, they'll try to block literally everything anyway.

This is the hill the Republicans have chosen to die on. This. Despite the economic hardship many Americans are facing, despite the holiday season, these fuckers will insist that unemployment benefits have to be paid for, that hungry kids shouldn't get meals, but funneling more money to the rich requires no justification whatsoever. It's unconscionable. Even Scrooge didn't actively campaign to close the workhouses.

Yet as despicable as this is, this simply makes explicit a long-existing Republican agenda and strategy. They've been flogging the same plutocratic positions for months now. According to the CBPP, a truly staggering "two-thirds of the nation's total income gains from 2002 to 2007 flowed to the top 1 percent of U.S. households." Continuing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans is bad policy, and despite conservative claims about a "mandate" to push their plutocratic agenda, the American people strongly support letting taxes rise again on the rich. Let's also keep in mind that Bush and the Republicans designed the tax cuts to expire to avoid normal budgeting rules because they were so fiscally irresponsible, that only the rich's top marginal rate would rise and they'll benefit from the other tax cuts, and the increase in that marginal rate is pretty miniscule. The tax cuts to those richest 2% are estimated to cost 700 billion over the next decade alone, or 830 billion if one counts interest payments. I agree with Paul Krugman and others that the tax cut money would be better spent on jobs programs (including infrastructure spending) instead. However, at least tax cuts to the middle class and poor have some stimulative effect.

Many commenters have described this as a "hostage" situation. Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) was on NPR last Wednesday, and Robert Siegel asked him about the letter. You can read the transcript and listen to the audio here. For me, this was the key exchange:

SIEGEL: Senator Gregg, I just want to ask you about the letter that you and all the Republicans in the Senate signed today, the letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid, saying: We write to inform you that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers.

In effect, you're saying, nothing happens until you extend the Bush tax cuts. Something sounds - it sounds more like a we're putting a gun to your head, rather than we're here to cooperate together in the lame-duck session.

Sen. GREGG: That would be an NPR take on something like that. But as a very practical matter, it's just the opposite. Simple fact is that the Democratic leader continues to bring forward miscellaneous legislation in a lame-duck, which is an inappropriate way to bring it forward, and then fill the tree so the minority has no right to amend. That's wrong.

Was Siegel rude? Did he deserve that response? Did Gregg really answer the question? I'd say no for all three. Siegel has often asked members of Congress how they'll balance the budget given their proposed tax cuts. His question was on point, especially given that this was a drastic if not unprecedented action from the GOP. Gregg's attack on NPR sounded pretty thuggish to me, an aggressive way to dodge the question that played on recent Republican threats to defund NPR. Consider, too, that Gregg was courted for a position in the Obama White House, and a couple of years ago was viewed by some folks as one of those "reasonable," practical conservatives interested in bipartisan efforts to solve real problems. Bad though he is, he's less extreme than some others in his party.

Since that appearance, the House passed a bill to extend the middle class tax cuts only, but the Senate Republicans and some conservative Democrats have blocked that measure despite being the minority (the vote was 53-36 – thank you, filibuster). We'll see what happens next, but the current plan appears to be lousy but not completely disastrous, in fine congressional tradition. (It's horrible in some respects.)

Conservatives were angered by Steve Benen's thought experiment that the Republican Party was deliberately sabotaging the economy for political gain, but at this point, the best defense is that conservatives are merely stupid or crazy and not completely evil. John Boehner's position on the tax cuts is indefensible if one believes that political leaders should be rational and responsible – or thay they should, at the very least, serve their own constituents. Besides, it's not as if conservatives have never heard of the data that skewers their dogma.

As usual, the framework for discussion/debate is horribly skewed, and the Overton window badly needs to shift. The debate in Congress should be how much should we raise taxes on the rich, not whether it should be done at all. As Economist Mom points out, the Bush tax cuts never should have been passed at all – yet now, a policy of fiscal irresponsibility is seen inside the Beltway as the norm.

As I've written before, the Republican Party is nihilistic, obstructionist and completely plutocratic. The Democratic Party is partially plutocratic and corrupt. To riff a bit on an earlier post, when it comes to policy this generally plays out as follows:

The liberals push to invest in the middle class (and poor), and to take on the rich and powerful. (There's a certain style of "social contract" conservative that supports this too, if more timidly.) The liberal position is largely marginalized in Congress and in the corporate media, if it's heard at all.

The Democratic Party will give some things to the middle class and poor, while generally avoiding taking on the rich and powerful. This means some things get better, while some things get worse due to negligence, timidity and watered-down measures (for instance, weak financial reform that won't prevent more skullduggery).

Conservatives in the Democratic and Republican Parties will give some things to the middle class and poor, but hold these measures hostage to even bigger giveaways to the rich and powerful. This shifts the power balance even more for the plutocrats, if a piece at a time. (The deal currently shaping up seems to be in this vein.)

Far right conservatives give very little, if anything at all, to the middle class and poor. In fact, they actively work to screw over their own constituents by destroying the social safety net and other programs. They also actively work to give more money and power to those who are already rich and powerful. Whether unwittingly or eagerly (the ol' Stupid-Evil-Crazy question), they are making America into more of a plutocracy.

Meanwhile, the meta-game played by conservatives all the time is You're not supposed to win, and You're not supposed to fight back. It's why they're such bullies in power and such whiners out of it, and completely inconsistent with every principle save their insistence on getting their way on their pique du jour.

Mistermix at Balloon Juice has a similar take:

As Tim F. posted earlier, Ezra Klein thinks that Obama’s a bad poker player. He may be right, but the analogy isn’t helpful. Poker is a win/lose game. Negotiation is a win/win game, because both parties get something when a deal is struck. Republicans aren’t playing poker or negotiating. They are playing another game, call it “You Must Lose”. They’re happy with win/lose, if they win, but they’ll tolerate lose/lose as long as Obama loses.

The only analogy that springs to mind when I look at the Republicans’ recent behavior is a bad divorce. Think of a situation where Lisa and Bob are getting a divorce, and Bob is so hell-bent on hurting Lisa that he doesn’t care about their kids or their bank account. Bob will deploy a hundred variations on the same tactic: put the Lisa in a bind where she has to choose between damaging the children and losing money. Lisa will lose money almost every time in order to save the children.

In this situation, capitulation is inevitable, the only question is what form it will take.

Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog has another apt analogy that several liberal bloggers have used:

I've said this over and over again on the blog, but I'll say it again: the analogy that seems apt to me is spousal abuse.

Abusers, like Republicans, work to assert absolute control, and severely punish violations of an often changeable set of rules. They try to avoid harm to themselves, and often succeed for years in avoiding negative consequences, usually by persuading those who might hold them accountable that they're fine, upstanding citizens -- but when they're pushed to the limits of their anger, they're likely to throw self-preservation to the winds and do anything to reestablish their dominance. It's no surprise when an abusive relationship ends in murder-suicide.

At this point I'm not sure whether Republicans even give a thought to what kind of country they'll inherit when (inevitably) they seize control of the entire federal government in 2012. And I'm not sure they care anymore. I'm not sure they care all that much anymore about privatizing Social Security or eviscerating the progressive income tax or nuking Iran. They just want to destroy the Democratic Party and (as they see it) murder liberalism. I'm not sure they care anymore what happens after that.

This situation is atrocious, and the GOP's behavior is unconscionable. America really needs its two major political parties to both be responsible. Instead, as Bill Maher's put it, we have a "center-right party, and a crazy party." The GOP continues to become more and more nihilistic, and they show no signs of stopping. Whether it's fighting to the death to funnel more money to the richest Americans, denying global warming, or refusing to ratify an essential treaty solely out of spite, there are simply no responsible adults running the Republican Party.


Thursday, December 02, 2010

Glasser - "Apply"

Eclectic Jukebox

The Federal Budget Puzzle

The New York Times has a cool interactive feature where you can balance the federal budget, addressing both the medium term deficit of 2015 and the more long-term deficit of 2030. It gives a set of options, most of them based on actual proposals that have been made. It will also show you the percentage of your savings that come from tax increases versus spending cuts. David Leonhardt has written an article about the feature, and also more about the NYT's deficit project and its methodology. Meanwhile, their Room for Debate blog has asked 16 people to weigh in on deficit solutions.

I've played with the feature a few times, normally winding up with around 32% in spending cuts and 68% in new taxes. I've seen several other results on the web, including Simon Johnson's (he has a 50-50 split.). It's actually quite easy to balance the budget if you simply cut military spending (ending wars helps) and crack down on the plutocrats. I left the middle class and poor mostly alone, and didn't touch federal employment much, because it's normally cost-effective or economically stimulative (as with federal aid to states). The feature has its limitations, and won't let you, for example, restore taxes on the rich and wealthy to pre-Reagan rates or add more than one slightly steeper marginal tax bracket at the top. The health care reform options are extremely limited, and some of the other "solutions" offered aren't the best. Still, this project is a fantastic idea and the feature is well-designed. It's educational and a great way to start conversations. Among other things, looking over the proposals and the estimated savings show how just slightly higher taxes on the rich, with a few higher marginal brackets, would solve a great deal. (You know, the same people who've made out like bandits over the past ten-thirty years, and the chief beneficiaries of that roughly five trillion the Bush administration added to the national debt.) The feature also reveals how inadequate or ludicrous some of the current fashionable proposals are. For example, cutting foreign aid (a favorite target of John McCain and other conservatives) barely makes a dent. And as was often pointed out during the health care "debate," the GOP's plan for medical malpractice reform amounted to little more than buzz words, wholly inadequate for fixing America's health care problems. Similarly, the conservative mantras about curbing government "spending" tend to be simplistic at best, dishonest at worst (Fiorina's performance on this front remains one of the funniest). However, it's one thing to hear those things or read them, and another thing to see them in this feature, especially if you're the visually-oriented type.

Leonhardt writes, "Arguably, economic growth is the most important yardstick for any plan." As Digby has pointed out, the Democrats should have been arguing that "jobs = deficit reduction" from the get-go. (The Republicans should have been doing so, too, but they don't like to admit it.) When Obama was elected, plenty of liberals called for a New New Deal, but the Obama administration and congressional Democrats largely ignored that argument. The stimulus bill did some good, but it was too small.

I do think (with the Stupid-Evil-Crazy Vortex in mind), some of the opposition to New Deal solutions like jobs programs is purely ideological or irrational, and not truly evil – although there's plenty of evil there, too. (Really every conservative think tank is dedicated to spreading paired lies – that the middle-class-focused New Deal was a failure and that plutocratic Reaganomics have been a great success.) The dogmatic objections have never made much sense to me. The pragmatic argument is, if it works, why not do it? The moral argument is, how is giving someone a job – that actually does some useful work, by the way – possibly a bad thing? I'd refer anti-government absolutists yet again to my Godzilla model of power and politics. If private industry wants to create jobs, great, but they're not doing it, and instead non-financial companies alone are sitting on 1.8 trillion in reserves. (This is, by the way, further repudiation of supply-side economics and further argument for traditional demand-based economic models. Remember when "conservatives" respected that tradition?)

One of the problems with the New York Times feature (good though it is), and all of this deficit chatter, is that it distracts from the much more important issues of job creation and how to stimulate the economy. (Media Matters and some others have made the same point. Media Matters also points out that the NYT badly misuses the term "moderate" regarding the estate tax.) It'd be neat to have another interactive feature that addressed that. Even if it might be more speculative in some respects, there is data about which government measures give the most economic bang for the buck, and which ones cost more money than they bring in. I'd love the option to create jobs programs and invest in education, research, the arts, and infrastructure. It'd be great to reform the tax system - income, capital gains, "robin hood" tax on bank transactions, the estate tax, closing loopholes for billionaire hedge fund managers, adding several marginal brackets at the top, and so on. (I'd love too see a good interactive feature for that, too.) America could really kick ass. Up until the Reagan years, you could find some Eisenhower Republicans who weren't far from where Bernie Sanders is now on economic/fiscal matters.

On the spending side, further reforming health care would be the single biggest cost saver. America stacks up horribly compared to other countries in that regard. To lessen doctor complaints, we could certainly have a more expensive model with higher compensation than other countries, yet still adapt their systems to make things cheaper and more efficient for essential care in the U.S. (Some doctors would gladly trade less pay for the considerable drop in paperwork, billing and other hassles, but still.) Kevin Drum has an eye-popping chart on medical spending, related to the Bowles-Simpson "Catfood Commission" on the deficit. (More here - one and two.) Ezra Klein looks at an older budget calculator that renders this situation starkly.

There's plenty more out there on these issues. Center for Economic and Policy Research and Center for a Responsible Federal Budget also have budget calculators, which have their pluses and minuses. The always good Center for Budget and Policy Priorities gives a detailed look at the Bowles-Simpson plan and the competing, mostly better Rivlin-Domenici plan. Jonathan Chait says no deal on Bowles-Simpson, because it would funnel even more money to the rich. That's both depressing and predictable.

The most interesting – and progressive – plan I've seen so far comes out of the project Our Fiscal Security. A PDF of the report can be downloaded here. It focuses much more on job creation and other economic growth measures. Brad DeLong, Steve Benen, Digby and Matt Yglesias have posted on it, as has Paul Krugman, who writes:

A coalition of progressive think tanks has released a plan for dealing with the deficit. It’s at least as responsible as any of the other plans being advanced, with a very different emphasis: more reliance on revenue, no attack on Social Security. Some of the revenue comes from indirect taxes — green taxes and fuel taxes — but the rest comes from measures that would raise taxes mainly on upper-income Americans.

I’ll need to work through the proposal, but one thing it clearly does is to explode the myth that there is no alternative to the Bowles-Simpson-type regressive proposal. A lot of inside-the-Beltway types have been trying to sell the notion that a severely weakened social safety net is the only possibility; it isn’t.

And it’s definitely worth noting that even with the revenue measures in the progressive plan, the US would have lower overall taxation than almost any other advanced country.

The progressive Citizens' Commission also has a report out, and a panel of progressive groups met today to discuss "prosperity, not austerity." I imagine some videos will be posted later, and there will be much more to come. However, in the meantime, the Strengthen Social Secuity site (via Digby) provides good information on that issue, and calling your congresscritters to tell them to say no to cutting Social Security wouldn't be a bad idea, either.


Chalmers Johnson (1931-2010)

Chalmers Johnson, best known for the Blowback trilogy, died recently. He was extremely insightful on foreign policy, especially as it related to American imperialism, which he saw as both unsustainable and incompatible with American democracy. He started as a conservative Cold Warrior, but over time, his views changed. The Wikipedia article linked above lists his books and links some interviews.

Democracy Now did a nice remembrance that ran some of his last interview on the show. The full interviews of his two DN appearances can be accessed through this page. DN also passes on a tribute to Chalmers Johnson by Tim Shorrock.

Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch has written about Chalmers Johnson here and here, and here's the archive of Johnson's ten posts for TomDispatch.

Finally, Steve Clemons has a lengthy, personal piece on Johnson. Here's an excerpt:

Johnson measured himself to some degree against the likes of Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal -- but in my mind, Johnson was the more serious, the most empirical, the most informed about the nooks and crannies of every political position as he had journeyed the length of the spectrum.

Chalmers Johnson served on my board when I worked at the Japan America Society of Southern California. He and I, along with Sheila Johnson -- along with Tom Engelhardt one of the world's great editors -- created the Japan Policy Research Institute. Johnson served on the Advisory Board of the Nixon Center when I served as the Center's founding executive director. We had a long, constructive, feisty relationship. He helped propel my career and thinking. In recent years, we were more distant -- mostly because I was not ready, as he was, to completely disown Washington.

Many of Johnson's followers and Chal himself think that American democracy is lost, that the republic has been destroyed by an embrace of empire and that the American public is unaware and unconscious of the fix. He may be right -- but I took a course trying to use blogs, new media, and a DC based think tank called the New America Foundation to challenge conventional foreign policy trends in other ways. Ultimately, I think Chalmers was content with what I was doing but probably knew that in the end, I'd catch up with him in his profound frustration with what America was doing in the world.

Chalmers and Sheila Johnson saw me lead the battle against John Bolton's confirmation vote in the Senate as US Ambassador to the United Nations -- but given the scale of his ambitions to dislodge America's embrace of empire, Bolton was too small a target in his eyes. He was probably right.

Saying Chalmers Johnson is dead sounds like a lie. I can't fathom him being gone -- and with all of the amazing times I've had with him as well as the bouts of political debate and even yelling as we were pounding out JPRI materials on deadline, I just can't imagine that this blustery, irreverent, completely brilliant force won't be there to challenge Washington and academia.

Few intellectuals attain what might have been called many centuries ago the rank of "wizard" -- an almost other worldly force who defied society's and life's rules and commanded an enormous following of acolytes and enemies.

Wizards don't die -- and I hope that those who read this, who knew him, or go on reading his works in the decades ahead provoke, inspire, jab, rebuke, applaud, and condemn in the way he did.

In one of my fondest memories of Chalmers and Sheila Johnson at their home with their then Russian blue cats, MITI and MOF, named after the two engines of Japan's political economy -- Chal railed against the journal, Foreign Affairs, which he saw as a clap trap of statist conventionalism. He decided he had had enough of the journal and of the organization that published it, the Council on Foreign Relations. So, Chalmers called the CFR and told the young lady on the phone to cancel his membership.

The lady said, "Professor Johnson, I'm sorry sir. No one cancels their membership in the Council in Foreign Relations. Membership is for life. People are canceled when they die."

Chalmers Johnson, not missing a beat, said "Consider me dead."

I never will. He is and was the intellectual giant of our times. Chalmers Johnson centuries from now will be seen, I think, as the intellectual titan of this past era, surpassing Kissinger in the breadth of seminal works that define what America was and could have been.