Belaboring the Obvious

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ah, well, Peter King won't be happy...

... until Napolitano orders pre-boarding rectal exams.

When that happens, I hope they hand King a flashlight and a speculum and make him look up 4000 assholes a day for the rest of his life.

At least that would make him marginally more useful than he is in Congress.

And he'd be in familiar company.

Via digby.

Everyone's looking back...

... at the very bad, quite terrible, just plain awful past decade, and the not-so-heartwarming past year, and, apart from the seriously propagandized and addled wingnutz, the consensus seems to be that we've been living through some really unpleasant shit.

Of course, not as unpleasant a pile of shit as that in which the victims of various U.S. wars have found themselves... so, disaster is relative.

But, one has to look back at the last couple of decades to get a more complete picture of why things seem so desperate today. We ended the `80s with a couple of object lessons in the dangers of deregulation--the bailout of Citibank and the savings and loan debacle--that went completely unheeded, and, in what is now seen as typical fashion, proceeded in these past two decades to heap greedy self-interest of the elites on top of imprudent disregard by politicians, and the result has been a succession of bursting bubbles that have severely damaged the "real" economy of the country.

We ended the `80s with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the accelerating crack-up of the Soviet Union, which held the promise of not only ending the Cold War, but also of ending four decades of wildly extravagant military spending which, in most of those years, was three to four times what would have been necessary in peacetime. In equally typical fashion, we instead resisted any significant demobilization of U.S. forces and proceeded to unleash that military in now at least nine different theaters. Military spending has, instead, skyrocketed from its already high Cold War levels, and the U.S. currently operates about 750 known bases outside our territorial limits, along with perhaps 150-200 more in classified locations.

We ended the `80s with the sober realization that the combination of excessive military spending and tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations had done extensive damage to the country's finances, that in just the two terms of one President, Reagan, the national debt had ballooned from less than one trillion dollars to three trillion dollars. Instead of reversing the policies that had allowed that to happen, governmental, corporate and personal debt headed for the ionosphere, while, at the same time, the maldistribution of real wealth continued to become even more lopsided. We gained billionaires, but, the national debt nearly tripled from its end-of-the-`80s level and the safety net below the middle class and the poor became progressively more tattered and careworn. Productivity nearly doubled in the successive two decades, but the wages of ordinary workers, corrected for inflation, were virtually stagnant.

At the end of the `80s, there was budding awareness that climate change was quickly gaining on us, that issues of sustainability were paramount, that changes in the ozone layer indicated that human activity could, indeed, affect the biosphere in relatively short periods of time, and that corporate profits and the consumer consumption driving those profits figured prominently in the problem. Over the intervening two decades, little to nothing has been done, climate agreements without teeth continue to be made, wars for resources continue to be fought, and the trade agreements created in the meantime have disproportionately benefitted the wealthy corporations of the wealthiest countries, to the detriment of the biosphere and ourselves.

Over the intervening two decades, we've seen a general diminishment of both human rights around the world and diminishment of our civil rights at home, with both of those trends greatly accelerating in the past decade due to a timid and feckless Congress and a President and Vice President steadfastly, ruthlessly, determined to expand the powers of the administrative branch of government. Over the same period, we've also seen the courts moved ever rightward, producing decisions that generally have favored the power of the state and corporations over those of the individual. Government has become, contrary to Constitutional mandate, decreasingly secular and more inclined to entertain the whims and demands of fundamentalist Christian groups (consider, for example, the tawdriness of the Terry Schiavo business and the damaging results of political and religious interference in stem cell research).

Congress and Reagan abandoned the Fairness Doctrine in the late `80s, while media power through consolidation and legislation became greater in the `90s. As a consequence, news media have become increasingly tendentious, less informative and more accustomed to pleasing corporate stockholders than meeting their obligations to the citizenry. News gathering and dissemination are steadily being drained of life, and two of the worst examples in this regard are publicly-funded radio and television, both of which no longer see their primary role as speaking truth to power.

There were high expectations for 2009, in very large part due to the election of Barack Obama and the prospect of his first term coinciding with strong Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. The country was hungry for a reversal of these trends adverse to both democracy and citizens' well-being, and yet, by and large, there's no firm reason to expect much. Health care reform has been transformed into business-friendly health insurance reform, and the process by which that has been done has been both ugly and indicative of the degree to which Democrats have been co-opted by big business. Congress has thus far failed to undo the damage to civil rights done in past years, and the Obama administration has adamantly refused to bring war criminals to justice. Moreover, it seems to have adopted many of the most offensive tactics employed by the Bush administration to evade government accountability with regard to domestic spying, torture and the prosecution of war. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq proceed apace, and Obama has expanded them into Pakistan, and, most recently, Yemen. The banking industry continues to be propped up and protected from both its own mistakes and prosecution for its crimes, in large part because Obama has surrounded himself with many of the Wall Street players who helped create the crisis, and a compromised Congress has avoided repealing the laws that permitted those finance industry excesses and encouraged the underlying fraud on Wall Street. Those hopes that Obama would emerge as the FDR of this current crisis have been effectively dashed by Obama himself, although there were indications well before his election that those expectations were unfounded.

All in all, we might be better off if the political process in the country were moribund, but, in fact, it's not--it's actively working against the general interests of the electorate, and that's a phenomenon that began with Reagan and has been gathering steam ever since, in part because Republicans are determined to prove, by their actions, that government can't solve problems, and in part because the Democrats have succumbed to the false belief, promoted by the so-called New Democrats (the old DLC), that kowtowing to big business is the key to electoral success.

If there's any lesson to be learned from the last few years, it's that representative democracy in the United States has been rendered impotent by the elite, and that concentrated power has created a level of corruption and hypocrisy in the nation that likely cannot be expunged by any of the systemic means still left to the ordinary citizen.

One of the principles of transcendentalism is that one must go through a "dark night of the soul" before one is receptive to enlightenment, and as bleak as the prospects for genuine democracy have seemed in the recent past, that dark night is still yet to come.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Hmm. Still wondering about this...

... Twitter message: RT @NYCAviation "CNN passenger interview: Heard pop like champagne cork, moments later saw flames shooting out of suspect's crotch."

There was a teaser earlier today, suggesting that the supposed bomb was a mixture of "liquid and powder" contained in a condom.

Let's put it this way... if the TSA starts demanding rectal exams as part of pre-boarding security, train and automobile travel are going to get very popular again....

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I guess the Dems' new motto is...

... never let the barely adequate be the enemy of the plain flat fuckin' lousy.

I keep hearing from shills for the Administration that there are great things in the Senate health care bill, and I keep wondering, "for whom?" That's not an idle question today, given that the bill reported out of the Senate Finance Committee was heavily edited and influenced by a former VP in the health care industry, that all the so-called improvements have some very nasty and imprecise qualifiers attached to them, leaving lots of wiggle room for both regulators and the for-profit industry, and that the only real means of forcing competition on insurers is extremely likely not to be in the conformed bill.

Hell, the expansion of Medicare to the 55-64 age group was mostly a watered-down consolation prize for losing the public option, and that, if Lieberman continues to get his way, won't be in the final bill, either. Moreover, health care stocks are going up, and that says volumes about who benefits from this skanky piece of legislation.

I was about to say that the American people are like one giant nation with Stockholm syndrome, but, that's not quite right. It's the Congress that suffers from that particular malady, and its captors are the corporations. The American people just can't get through to their Congress critters, and the frustration of not being able to do so is gradually becoming debilitating, and that's showing up in polls, and in the Tea Party movement, which is composed, mostly, of the bottom 25% of voters who are mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore, but, can't quite figure out who to be angry at, or why, and can't see that they're being guided and underwritten by the real villains.

When historians look back on the 21st century, I think they're going to see this year and the next as the critical turning point in the dissolution of the American empire, even though the actual decline began decades earlier. Serious mistakes made by the Bush administration are now being institutionalized; even though the export-jobs-and-buy-cheap-Chinese-shit-with-borrowed-money model has completely collapsed, everything the administration and Congress have done in the last two years has been an attempt to prop up that same system; the wars are spreading out and getting longer and progressively more expensive (and justified by endless variations on the theme of "the white man's burden" or outright black propaganda). The maldistribution of wealth is getting worse, job growth is non-existent, the government's obsessive preoccupation with internal security is distorting or making moot a raft of Constitutional rights, and many of the avenues to a more stable export economy are being systematically cut off by a failure to invest in non-military R&D and that aforementioned business model.

If I didn't know better, I'd think that pod people are involved.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One of the country's great...

... carnival pitch men has finally met his maker. At that meeting, popcorn, cotton candy and RC Cola were served, and God had a good laugh, on us.

Monday, December 14, 2009

For a Monday...

... there's been more goatfucking going on than usual. To wit:

There's little Joe, strutting around like he won the Presidency in 2008. (Shorter Joe LIEberman: "I have the soul of the rat, the face of a basset hound, the brains of a flatworm, the tactics of a mafia don and the stature of a toadstool. Go fuck yourselves.")

Then there's the Judiciary colluding with the Bush Obama Department of Justice to kinda sorta, y'know, ignore the Constitution, international treaties and all common sense.

Then there's the tribe of brain-damaged goatfuckers over at Fox, who think that cutting the minimum wage and raising CEO pay is going to bring us back to economic health....

And, are we making progress at COP15 in Copenhagen? The goats bleat "oooh, fuck, noooo."

And, then there's Michael Steele, one of Washington, D.C.'s best-dressed goatfuckers (hey, this guy wipes his dick on the goat's pelt when he's through) saying that it will be all rainbows and roses if we get rid of the capital gains tax and cut the unemployment insurance tax.

Lotta stressed-out, morose goats out there for a Monday....

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Changing the landscape...

... more musing on Spocko's question....

The 1934 Communications Act firmly established the principle that the airwaves were a public commodity which could be regulated at the federal level--hence the creation of the Federal Communications Commission. Moreover, through a series of legislative battles during the debate on that legislation, it was established that broadcast licensing had to serve the public interest.

While much of that debate centered around the right to use public interest airwaves for commercial purposes--advertising--the need to regulate was obvious, since the technology was improving rapidly and the frequency bands were becoming increasingly crowded.

But, it was the coming of television that prompted the FCC to establish the Fairness Doctrine in 1949, as television was perceived as being even more powerfully influential than radio had been. The doctrine prevailed until 1987, when Reagan's appointee to the FCC, Mark Fowler, pushed through a radical ruling eliminating most of the provisions of Fairness Doctrine, with the remaining pieces--the right to use a licensee's frequency to respond to personal attacks and the so-called "political editorial" rule--being eliminated in 2000.

Every challenge to the Fairness Doctrine was rooted in the rather Orwellian principle that mandating broadcast of opposing views was a limitation on free speech, despite the fact that previous court cases, with Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC being the most prominent example, established that space on broadcasting bands was finite and could not be monopolized. In Red Lion, Byron White wrote for the majority:

A license permits broadcasting, but the licensee has no constitutional right to be the one who holds the license or to monopolize a radio frequency to the exclusion of his fellow citizens. There is nothing in the First Amendment which prevents the Government from requiring a licensee to share his frequency with others.... It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.

And yet, it is precisely monopoly in broadcasting--particularly radio--which has been the goal of the conservative/reactionary right for decades. Pro-business groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute have lately been on a crusade to get the FCC to permanently sell off portions of the public airwaves instead of licensing specific frequencies or leasing blocks of frequencies, thus making them a trade commodity and not subject to licensing--effectively privatizing more of the commons.

Much of this can be traced back to Reaganomics, true, but, ultimately, it originates in the so-called Powell Manifesto of 1971, in which Lewis Powell exhorted the business community to find every possible way of promoting corporate views and of dominating the public information landscape--and to tithe to that effort as might an individual to a church. The big business community embraced his call to arms, and the result has been the most successful propaganda effort in history. In order to consolidate and homogenize that propaganda message, it was essential that dissenting voices be stifled, and how best to do that but by denying them access to the public airwaves? Rush Limbaugh could not have found the niche he has if Premiere Radio Networks was required to offer program time to someone who would come on after Limbaugh and skewer him and his rhetorical sleights-of-hand. Limbaugh was, in effect, created by the dissolution of the Fairness Doctrine. Once the opportunity for response to personal attacks was eliminated in 2000, it opened the door to outright hate speech, such as that regularly broadcast by Michael Savage and his ilk.

With the complete dissolution of the Fairness Doctrine, networks are free to provide 24-hour programming with a right-wing, corporatist slant, and, importantly, have increased hour-by-hour follow-on listenership, which makes them more attractive outlets for advertisers, and fulfill their public service requirements by offering the occasional 30-second PSA. Quite simply, it's a variation on the old principle of revolution--the first thing one does is seize the radio and tv stations.

That seizure can happen quite literally, as happened in Caracas, Venezuela, in 2002. Every commercial broadcasting operation in Venezuela is owned and operated by Chavez's political opposition, and yet, during the April, 2002, coup it was considered essential that the rogue military units capture and shut down the public television station, as it was the only news outlet for the deposed government. Similar tactics were used in this summer's coup in Honduras. The lesson, of course, is that no opposing views can be tolerated whatsoever.

In the U.S., the revolution was accomplished through the legal and regulatory processes, despite the earlier determinations that the airwaves were part of the public commons and had to serve the public interest. So complete is the takeover that public service requirements are almost non-existent. One of the best examples was the 2002 train derailment in Minot, ND, which went unannounced by any radio station in the area for over ninety minutes as a toxic cloud of anhydrous ammonia drifted from the wrecked train, largely because the designated emergency announcement station in town was a Clear Channel station running on automatic pilot and had no one on duty to break into the programming and give emergency instructions.

It's a sign of Democratic fecklessness that talk of reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine actually subsided after Democrats gained the Senate, the House and the White House. Any time there is talk of it, the right wing propaganda outlets go into full Wurlitzer mode, and the Dems quietly drop the issue for fear of provoking a right-wing populist backlash against them (failing to understand, of course, that such a backlash occurs anytime they propose something that threatens the power of the corporatist state). So, it doesn't seem likely that any relief is going to come from the Democrats at the national level.

The other alternatives seem bleak, as well. Spocko's long been known for his campaigns to inform advertisers of the programming they sponsor, and while he's had some successes, it's, to my mind, a Sisyphusean task. If the wingnutz still control the airwaves, they still control the direction of the debate--and control of the minds of a significant minority population.

Then, there's the problem of money. The right wing seems to have most of it (and their media efforts are singularly directed at protecting what they have and increasing both wealth and power). Lefty interests are badly marginalized for lack of money--and because of a splintering of effort into hundreds of smaller special interests. That's part of the reason why, every so often, someone laments the absence of Dem players such as George Soros in broadcasting. True, Soros could bankroll a CNN-level operation from his own wallet and have plenty to spare, but, he's consistently said he's not interested, nor are any other of the Dem-leaning well-heeled. The system as it is works quite well for them.

However, there have not been many attempts to bring left-leaning operations together to make media changes on a large scale--such as that specifically prescribed by Lewis Powell in 1971. The idea of tithing to a media/think tank/PR operation on the scale of what the reactionary right has accomplished over thirty-odd years may be the only way to change the media landscape in the long run, in the absence of legislation to bring back some semblance of the Fairness Doctrine.

The network of think-tanks that sprang up from Powell's prescription now dominate the news and opinion sector of Washington, D.C., while older so-called liberal institutions (Brookings comes immediately to mind) are now more properly neoliberal, with aims and outlooks not very much different than those of the neoconservatives. The rolodexes of the Washington press are full of the names and phone numbers of ideologues at the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute and their ilk. When clueless reporters, editors and producers need someone for background, the sheer volume of such sources virtually ensures that they're going to be heard, and, more often than not, heard in the majority.

A second change that will have to made by left-leaning organizations is the way they fund their operations. Because money is scarce on the left, they've tended to micromanage budgets. If they don't get relatively quick results, the funding gets yanked. That's got to change. The right wing in this country funded their flagship think-tanks year after year after year without expectation of immediate results. Even underground efforts such as Richard Mellon Scaife's Arkansas Project were funded for nearly a decade, and managed to harass and preoccupy Democrats for most of Clinton's presidency and culminated in his impeachment. It's fine to be results-oriented, but only with the understanding that the results come by steady application of money and effort. After all, it is precisely that strategy that has provided the reactionary right a constant voice on the airwaves.

Left-leaning organizations will also have to learn to network in more effective ways--not at occasional conferences, or annual events, but all the time, and separate and apart from official or quasi-official Democratic Party operations, with much of that networking time devoted to how to regain access to the media and/or developing new broadcasting outlets, and working on funding those outlets for the long term. Being able to fund solid investigative reporting is the key to breaking back into the media, but, so far, efforts to that end, such as The Real News, simply haven't been funded to a level adequate to make them a 24-hour broadcasting reality, nor ones with staying power.

In the meantime, maybe the occasional guerrilla effort is appropriate. Offshore pirate radio might be useful in the short term, but, everyone buying into such an effort ought to understand from the outset that the power of the state eventually ends those operations, and there needs to be something more enduring to replace such ephemeral efforts.

More on this subject later.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sketch artists?

Watercolors of mass destruction?

From TPM:

Standing in front of the Supreme Court this morning, a group of Republican lawmakers railed against the court system run out of the building behind them. A sign affixed to the plexiglas podium each spoke at in turn spelled out the reasons for their fears. "Protect our homeland," it read. "Keep terrorists out of America."

The justice system laid out in the Constitution, they said, is just too weak to protect American citizens from wiley terror suspects. From "activist judges" to courtroom sketch artists, the group reeled off a list of reasons the Obama administration decision to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to the U.S. for trial could quite possibly end in, as Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) suggested, a nuclear attack on the United States.

Well, to quote Maj. "King" Kong: "I've been to one world's fair, a picnic and a rodeo, and that's the stupidest thing I ever heard...."

I wonder if these fear-mongering GOP morons are fond of Stephen Sondheim: "Send in the clowns... don't bother, they're here."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A couple of thoughts on "The People Speak"...

... coming up this Sunday on the History Channel. Zirin is right that the wingnutz are coming unglued at the thought of the series being aired. The usual suspects (BigHollywood, Newsbusters, Drudge, Andrew Breitbart, and, no, I'm not gonna link to them) are having a bad case of the vapors over this, with Breitbart, apparently, even suggesting that showing the program in a public school might be illegal, and is generally stamping his little feet about this being proof of the tendentiousness of the "liberal media."

Nice try, guys, but, I doubt it's gonna work. It's not going to get pulled just because you're all whining more loudly than usual, or because it makes your reactionary icons look like greedy racist fuckheads.

That said, the program is going to be an abbreviated version of Zinn's work, at best, isn't going to change the political dynamics of the country overnight, and there's the chance that the personalities might unintentionally outshine the words of the historical characters they portray.

It's the curse of television these days, but, it's better than nothing. One of the great lies told--mostly post-WWII--is that we have the highest standard of living in the world because of our brand of democracy wedded to the so-called "free market." Michael Parenti, in virtually every lecture of his on the political economics of the United States, reminds us that at the turn of the last century, the country was, for practical purposes, a third-world country, and that we have the efforts of countless ordinary citizens to thank for that standard of living, such as it is, because all the things which made middle-class existence possible in the U.S.--bans on child labor, women's suffrage, unionization, civil rights, old-age pensions, public education, the 40-hour work week, unemployment insurance, the minimum wage--were fought tooth-and-nail by the capitalist class, and that elite has been doing its damnedest ever since to undo those gains. In many instances, ordinary people made extraordinary sacrifices--bled and died--to gain those rights for which the capitalist class now takes credit.

Hopefully, that will be the message that comes through in this upcoming series--that democracy can't be defined for us solely by the financial and political elite, and that common purpose and the actual exercise of democracy, first and foremost, are what have given us our advantages.

That's what's got Breitbart and his ilk wetting their knickers. They don't like that sort of democracy.

Spocko asks...

... of the previous post, what can be done to fix the problem (which, I suppose, can be reduced to one of reversing the anti-intellectualism which seems to dominate politics in the U.S.).

If I had a sure-fire answer to that, I'd be making the big bucks advising political campaigns, certainly. But, maybe, drilling down into the problem itself offers some avenues to explore.

As a rule, we don't do a lot of sociological investigation into how large, complex societies evolve, which is how the U.S. ought, properly, to be defined today. We tend, more often, to look at subsets of society and then evaluate their influence on society in general. For example, there are an awful lot of trees killed in the examination of particular laws and how they will affect society, but, on the subject of the effects of the entire accumulated body of law on society, not so much. That's not a trivial concern in a society founded on the rule of law. If the body of law becomes so tangled that it is little more than a gigantic warehouse full of funhouse mirrors in which the cleverest navigator finds the reflected image desired, that the very complexity inherent in the system of law can therefore be manipulated and politicized for the advantage of the few, then the average person in society is, literally and figuratively, going to feel alienated from the foundational principle of the society. The inability to fathom that complexity, to understand it, to address it, can lead to the general perception that the presumed object of law--equal justice for all--is either out of reach or irrelevant.

So it is with politics, from which all that law ultimately derives. We lull ourselves into believing that the ideological and practical divisions between the two parties are clear and distinct (and, when campaigning, politicians attempt to capitalize on that tendency of ours to label and categorize), and into believing that those two parties encompass the political spectrum, when, in fact, the opposite is true. The greater truth is that the society is incredibly diverse and chaotic, politically, and that, even in those elections where turnout is described as "high," roughly forty percent of those of voting age don't vote. In a society where our only absolute ability to participate is voting for representatives every two or four years, the process in which republicanism is rooted, almost half opt out, in large part because they no longer see or sense any connection between their own interests and the greater process. For that reason, winning a political campaign is often solely a matter of (temporarily) motivating a greater number of the disenfranchised and disaffected.

As Richard Feynman said of the cold inflexibility of the shuttle booster o-rings in the Challenger accident hearings, "I think this has some bearing on our problem."

We ignore the complexity in society at our peril, but, it's understandable that we do. Most of us aren't wired to take in the enormous number of permutations of interactions in a society of three hundred-odd million people. Our tendency is to arbitrarily reduce complexity to a simpler set of rules that we can understand. That's what the two major political parties do, and yet, that's precisely the reason why so many people are effectively excluded from the political process. Over time, those two parties have learned how to manipulate the arbitrary limitations they've created, out of self-interest. For example, the two parties, about twenty years ago, successfully wrenched the campaign debates from the League of Women Voters, thus ending any opportunity for third-party candidates to obtain national exposure, name recognition and presentation of issues. Likewise, the two parties at the state level have created primary election rules that have successfully marginalized candidates not beholden to the two parties. In a sense, machine politics is an outgrowth of the human inability to understand and respond to complexity, and the human tendency to take advantage of it.

So, perhaps, a better understanding of societal complexity is a good starting point. How that is done is beyond my ken, but, maybe some of the principles of chaos theory and the theory of complex natural systems can be adapted and applied to understand similarly complex interactions in society.

More practically, maybe the process of representation has been over-simplified and is now manipulated to concentrate power. For example, the number of representatives has remained static since the turn of the last century. This may have been done to avoid running out of work space in the main assembly of the national legislature, the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., but, the actual net effect has been to further distance legislators from their constituents, making them less likely to be responsive to constituents' demands, more likely to restrict access to campaign contributors, more likely to endorse campaign finance law which facilitates meeting the huge costs of television and radio advertising (which are now virtually the only ways of reaching voters in very large districts), and more inclined to engage in the sort of gerrymandering that distorts representation to protect individual and party power.

Most importantly, it increases the complexity with which each legislator must deal in what is a finite and fixed period of time, while at the same time requiring the legislator to spend more and more time on fundraising. In the context of the ills that decision has spawned, the notion of maintaining the Capitol Building for iconic, symbolic purposes, or simply for the sake of not overcrowding available floor space, seems arbitrary indeed and antithetical to the spirit of representative democracy, the core tenet of republicanism. Around the time that the country was founded, the House of Representatives had one member for, roughly, each 40,000 people. Today, in a vastly more complex society, each representative serves, on average, about 700,000 citizens.

The response to this feature of complexity, therefore, ought to be more representation, not less. The only likely way to achieve that is through a Constitutional Convention, the invocation of which is quite another political problem.

More on Spocko's question later....

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Just more musings about the political divide...

... and our inability to bridge it. When a concern troll, for perhaps the millionth time, chided someone in a blog's comment thread for calling the American people "stupid," it prompted me to make a distinction between politicians saying such a thing (not at all likely to win many votes) and the value of the statement as social commentary (probably true to a more considerable degree than even most pessimists imagine).

I tried to couch the problem in terms of marketing psychology and its great effectiveness, but, I'm not sure that's the entirety of the problem (although mass marketing techniques have made the problem of adversarial politics much worse). After all, even the most piercing keystrokes of H.L. Mencken's typewriter were not sufficiently powerful to prevent the election of the dunderheaded Warren G. Harding, and that 1920 campaign essentially predated the age of modern advertising, which was only at that moment beginning to spring forth from the fever dreams of Edward L. Bernays.

Americans have always been suckers for clever sloganeering. "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!" "54-40 or Fight!" "A Chicken in Every Pot!" "I Like Ike." "Morning in America." Most slogans are unreconstructed bullshit with, at best, minimal inherent meaning. They are signifiers of preference, placeholders in the political spectrum. The problem today is that, particularly on the right, they've come to be statements of principle in and of themselves, which makes any debate pretty much impossible. "We can't allow the smoking gun to come in the form of a mushroom cloud!" was, as far as the underlying substance goes, a baldfaced lie, but, it was never meant to be examined for its truth. Rather, it was a rallying cry for war, and an effective one, no less potent (nor less mendacious) than "Remember the Maine!"

So, when Scary Sarah emits the word "freedom," or the phrase, "free markets," some notable, but not large, percentage of the population--in part, because of some rather sophisticated psychological conditioning--gets all warm and runny, not because any great knowledge has been imparted, but, rather, because their limbic systems give them a jolt. Those jolts are the subterranean reason why such people will consistently vote against their own interests.

And that, in a presumptive democracy, is really stupid behavior. So, I think that the tendency has always been with us to ignore the details and give in to what thrills us emotionally. Modern marketing and branding techniques have simply built upon and manipulated that tendency.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Uh, maybe I'm just confused...

... but, if there was a net job loss in November (even though much less than expected), how does the unemployment rate go down?

And by two-tenths of a percent?

Now, a lot of unemployed people could have suddenly died, thus removing themselves from the rolls the hard way. As unpleasant as things have been, that's not statistically likely.

Or, a lot of people could have been shoved off of the rolls of the actively unemployed because they didn't find work in the period when they were receiving benefits and their benefits have run out. But, then, there'd be a similar increase in the U6, and I don't see mention of that.

Or, a lot of people formerly counted in the U3 could be getting a few hours of temp work during the month. That, also, should raise the U6.

So, statistically, what's left? That the BLS has been diddling their birth-death models again.

For a country that measures, in considerable detail, damned near everything related to business, for the sake of business, we can't get statistics--even weekly or monthly--from, say, W-2 withholding data, that gives us an accurate picture of actual employment and unemployment (however noisy that data might be)? Sure, the self-employed don't report on that schedule, but, they're defined in other ways, and are a known quantity, even if their economic activity while self-employed is uncertain over a longer period, so, I'm not sure self-employment is the reason for the statistical inconsistencies.

Much more likely is that unemployment is always a political hot potato, and every administration diddles with the way it's calculated to make it seem like they are doing more than they are, as folks such as Kevin Phillips and William Greider have detailed over the years. When Reagan was faced with truly ugly numbers, he simply included the military in the ranks of the employed when they never had been before. Other Presidents have done similar things. The mere fact that the BLS continues to advertise the U3 rate as the unemployment rate, when the much higher and more realistic U6 doesn't get top billing is evidence that the numbers are spun for political purposes.

Now that the deficit hawks are in full-throated screaming mode, even small changes up or down are going to be seen as more dramatic than they actually are, and we're going to see politicians and economists alike stirring the goat entrails of these numbers for signs and portents. So, it would be kinda nice to think that they were really accurate.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Umm, I note that Mr. Bernanke...

... assiduously avoids any mention of this country's obscenely bloated national security state budget in his assessment, "that's where the money is."

Given that when all the defense-related spending (and its share of interest on the debt) is added up, it's about 80% of the discretionary budget, I would say to Mr. Bernanke that he doesn't know fuck-all about where the real money is.

These fuckers do want to go after old people's security, contrary to Mr. Bernanke's protestations. Business has hated to make its contribution to those funds ever since their inception.

We're in a rocket-powered handbasket to hell, and these sonsofbitches now want to spoil the ride, too.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The President's Escalation Speech....

Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

That is all.