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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

At Long Last Sir ...

by digby

have you no ... oh forget it. Of course he doesn't have any:
Beck’s been using the movie [It's a Wonderful Life] to promote a visit he's making to the economically hard-hit town of Wilmington, Ohio. He has said, inaccurately, that the town has taken no government money and that its residents' economic plan is based on praying to God to provide. In that sense, he argues, Wilmington is trying to mimic Bedford Falls, the fictional town where It's a Wonderful Life is set, as opposed to the movie's fictional slum of Pottersville.

Although the film is not devoid of religious and political themes, it has long been regarded as a classic treatment of small-town life and the power of the little guy to overcome the perfidy of greedy bigwigs. But truthfully, the movie's broader universal themes are ones that transcend politics and religion. It's a message that in the end, we are all our brothers' keepers. (I hope the biblical reference doesn't sound too socialist for Beck.)

But Beck, in his zeal to appropriate the film for his own politically divisive purposes, claims that it demonstrates the evils of government intervention in business. Despite Beck's apparent belief to the contrary, however, the villain in the movie wasn't the government, but the corrupt banker Mr. Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore.

In his radio broadcast last Wednesday, Beck read my post and dismissed the idea that there were progressive themes in the movie. (Either he or his show's producer also called me "screwy" while doing a pretty darn good Jimmy Stewart impression.)

Who saved the Building & Loan in Bedford Falls? The people did. George did, with his own private funds. The government didn't bail him out, and that's the deal. You remember the bank was bailing everyone out ... along with the government closing down the banks. The banks and the government were in collusion. ... The local banks were the ones that didn't have a problem. It's the gigantic banks run by people like [Mr.] Potter that were just trying to get rich and didn't care about people. The local banks are the George Baileys. That's not progressive. Progressive is about going past the Constitution and having people at a government level babysit people because they're all too stupid.

What Beck is saying, I believe—although it's difficult to know for sure, because his logic is so hard to follow—is that the government was in bed with the big, evil banks, and that the good-guy local banks were successful because they were free from government regulation. This depiction matches his thesis about today's economic problems: that too much government intervention in the form of bank bailouts is the inherent evil—as opposed to the absence of regulation that led to the banks' implosion at the hands of, well, you know, greedy bigwigs.

To Beck, the bank bailouts are evidence of socialism—the government controlling business—as opposed to the reality that the big banks got a free regulatory ride for so long, and that their political power is so vast, that the government had to bail them out to save the world economy from collapse, leaving the consumers ripped off and taxpayers footing the bill.

Similarly, Beck asserts that Mr. Potter was evil, not because he was a greedy bigwig, but because he was in collusion with the government. Like his portrayal of our current economic woes, this is just more Beck demagoguery. What he conveniently dissmisses is that Pottersville, as depicted in It's a Wonderful Life, was solely the making of the unregulated free market—the impact of Mr. Potter's iron-fisted monopoly on the town. He also neglects to mention that Bedford Falls' survival was due to competition from the Bailey Bros. Building & Loan, a communally owned organization.

For a man who called the first black president a racist and compares himself to Martin Luther King, this bizarroworld interpretation of an iconic American story shouldn't be too shocking. But somehow, I'm shocked. Defiling It's A Wonderful Life in service of his distorted and delusional worldview seems like sacrilege on a whole other level to me.

Quote Of The Day

by digby

Here's a servant of power who knows his job and does it well. David Gergen on CNN:

I think the bigger issue we're going to fave in this internet world, is that there are huge international organizations in every sphere, and if you have an alienated employee, and there are lot of people in every organization who can tear the place apart, and they put out these kinds of documents. I think it's going to be extremely hard to lead and to manage international organizations. The security of the United States rests on that but so does the whole corporate world. You talked about the trust deficit earlier in politics. You begin to have that trust deficit spreading to every other organization and you really could damage the workings of the international economy.

And that will put a lot of people out of work.

I don't think he was talking about crooked bankers and greedy hedge fund managers, but in that regard, he might be right. If we're lucky.

Grand Bargains

by digby

Tax cuts extensions for rich people in exchange for unemployment extensions for broke people. Is this a great country (for rich people) or what?

President Obama suggested Tuesday that a group of congressional leaders he has asked to work out a compromise on expiring tax cuts will also try to work out a compromise on expiring unemployment benefits.

"We discussed working together to keep the government running this year -- and running in a fiscally responsible way," Obama said. "And we discussed unemployment insurance, which expires today. I've asked that Congress act to extend this emergency relief without delay to folks who are facing tough times by no fault of their own."

Let me rephrase that:

The Republicans would like to pay for millionaires' tax cuts by throwing the unemployed out in the streets at Christmas time. It's their way of celebrating the joy of the holiday season. Democrats are afraid that if they don't extend tax cuts for millionaires every pundit will be mad at them. So I'm going to compromise by agreeing to extend the tax cuts in exchange for allowing the Republicans to take credit for being decent human beings rather than the evil scumbags they are by extending unemployment benefits. (Democrats will still be seen as desperate losers and everyone will hate me, as usual, but that's how the system works.)

Oh, and once that's done we'll finally be able to do that Grand Bargain I've been promising and get down to the business of slashing entitlements. The Republicans have already agreed to stage a phony hissy fit to be named later which they can use as a negotiating chip to get what they wanted in the first place. We will, of course, meet them halfway and agree to destroy the safety net. It's win-win!

Update: BTW, the "centrist" ex-Giuliani speechwriter John Avlon was on CNN just now, wringing his hands and arguing ad nauseam that all the American people want is for everyone to just stop the fighting. John King was very sympathetic and agreed.

Is that what all those Republicans who voted for far right Tea Party candidates want? What I heard was that want their politicians to fight as hard as possible for their agenda. Liberals want the same thing. The only constituency that seems to be upset by the fighting is the Village constituency which is obviously quite agitated to be wasting time dealing wit such silliness as unemployment insurance and social security cuts and tax breaks for millionaires. Who cares about that trivia?

There are issues worth getting passionate about, like the horror of unauthorized presidential fellatio or the horror of unauthorized leaking of documents to the press, but arguing over things that affect Real Americans is the last thing Real Americans want. Just ask the Villagers, our self-designated celebrity millionaire stand-ins. They know us better than we know ourselves.

Flies On The Wall

by digby

The Village shows why it gets paid all that money to "interpret" the ways of Washington for you :
Gloria Borger: It's kind of like the first day at school Brooke. They heard the message from the American people that we want you all to work together.

It's always interesting to report out what's going on these meetings. If you ask the Democrats you get one thing if you ask the Republicans you get another story.

The Democrats said that the meeting was good because the Republicans seemed more serious about actually working together than they had when they were purely an opposition party. When I talk to Republicans they say, you know, it was a good meeting because the Democrats seem less arrogant because they no longer control both houses of congress.

And a couple of Republicans also said to me that they liked hearing the president admit that hadn't been bipartisan enough. When I talked to some Democrats they said they didn't really hear that, so since I wasn't in the room..

Brooke: If we could be a fly on the wall..

Borger: This is our job as reporters though, we try to feel it out and get the best semblance of the reality of the session that we can, so I have to say that it was a much better session than we've seen over the past few years...

What was interesting to me Brooke, and to give you some idea that it might be serious about certain things like resolving the tax cut issue, is that for 35 minutes they threw out the staff and when they throw out the staff and it's just the principles meeting, it's that, you know what, we actually have to get down to business here and we don't want all of this leaking to people like me. So they threw out the staff and the members still came out saying you know, "this is getting serious."
Who need Wikileaks with crack reporting like that?

Borger did go on to explain that it was possible they were really looking to combine the tax cuts for the wealthy with maybe some deficit reduction.

Unhooking The Networks

by digby

Greenwald's commentary on the pushback against Wikileaks among our elite overlords is excellent and you should read the whole thing. Like him, the thing that leaves me the most gobsmacked is the media, which seems to be the most upset over the idea that the Government is having a hard time keeping its secrets. I think we can all see how odd that is --- journalism being a field which is ostensibly about speaking truth to power and all that drivel.

This may be the best illustration of the point, also courtesy of Greenwald, in which the "diplomat" is the one who argues for transparency while the "journalist" (the editor of the New York Times as it happens) defends clearing their reporting with the government before reporting it:

If you find this subject intriguing, I would highly recommend that you read this mindblowing essay on Julian Assange's philosophy. Yes, he has one. And it's radical and it's interesting although nobody seems to be interested in it. All I hear is the argument about whether or not it's good for national security or whether it can be called real journalism. What I don't hear about is what it is Wikileaks is trying to accomplish. I suppose most of the interested parties who lead our conversation aren't comfortable with that. And you can understand why, when you read it.

I'm going to excerpt the conclusion of the essay, but please do not comment on it without reading the entire piece because you won't know what you're talking about unless you do:

There is a certain vicious amorality about the Mark Zuckerberg-ian philosophy that all transparency is always and everywhere a good thing, particularly when it’s uttered by the guy who’s busily monetizing your radical transparency. And the way most journalists “expose” secrets as a professional practice — to the extent that they do — is just as narrowly selfish: because they publicize privacy only when there is profit to be made in doing so, they keep their eyes on the valuable muck they are raking, and learn to pledge their future professional existence on a continuing and steady flow of it. In muck they trust.

According to his essay, Julian Assange is trying to do something else. Because we all basically know that the US state — like all states — is basically doing a lot of basically shady things basically all the time, simply revealing the specific ways they are doing these shady things will not be, in and of itself, a necessarily good thing. In some cases, it may be a bad thing, and in many cases, the provisional good it may do will be limited in scope. The question for an ethical human being — and Assange always emphasizes his ethics — has to be the question of what exposing secrets will actually accomplish, what good it will do, what better state of affairs it will bring about. And whether you buy his argument or not, Assange has a clearly articulated vision for how Wikileaks’ activities will “carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity,” a strategy for how exposing secrets will ultimately impede the production of future secrets. The point of Wikileaks — as Assange argues — is simply to make Wikileaks unnecessary.

If you are a person who believes our current system is working well and that the mandarins, technocrats and their wealthy benefactors are competent and righteous and that we can safely leave our futures in their hands, then you will not like what Assange is up to. If, on the other hand, you are a teensy bit concerned that these elites might not know what they are doing (or even worse, might know very well what they are doing and it's clearly not in your best interest) then you may find it useful to look at the way the world is organized with a fresh set of data.

For me, challenging the nation states' systems of secrecy is probably necessary before this recent era of decadent recklessness leads us into catastrophe so, perhaps it will cause some of the ossified notions about the international security framework to be reconsidered. But I'm much more intrigued by the idea of this sort of transparency challenging the obscure practices of the transnational economic system. That's where the power is and where the real issues of our future lie.

Regardless of where you come down on Wikileaks, it's important to at least consider what they are actually trying to do --- because they're doing it whether you like it or not.

Keep Those Calls and Letters Coming

by digby

Strengthen Social Security has come up with another handy tool to make your wishes known to the powers that be about leaving Social Security alone in this idiotic deficit debate. It provides some templates and makes it easy for you to find and send it to the proper place. (I would urge you to write your own --- I suspect that papers are far less likely to print astro-turf from the left.)

I have been told by numerous people who work in politics that local papers are extremely important to legislators. They really don't like to be put on the spot on their home turf and the locals can make their lives very difficult if they read something in the paper they don't like. It's very useful for constituents to engage his way. It doesn't matter if your Representative or Senator is one of the "the good guys" or not. Right now, everything is very fluid and you don't know what kind of deals are being made. It's a crazy political environment. So write a letter anyway. They all need to know that people out here feel passionate about this and that there will be hell to pay if they do the wrong thing.

Also, remember to call congress today. You can sign up here, it's very easy.
He Said/He Said

by digby

So the Republican leaders held a press conference and basically said the president admitted that he was a loser and a punk and that he understood that he'd been very wrong not to do their bidding in the past and is now their supplicant. They said that the people want jobs and that everyone agrees that the only way to create jobs is to extend the tax cuts and cut spending.The president then came out and said that they all agreed that the old Washington game will not work and they will work together.

Two sides of the same coin or alternate universe?

Update: Ali Velshi just told me that the President also said that they are going to work together to see that nobody sees a tax increase on January 1st. I didn't hear it that way -- I heard the president say that he believed that extending the Bush tax cuts was too hot and the Republicans thought it was too cold and that he had tasked Tim Geithner with negotiating for a tax cut that is just right. Perhaps Velshi assumes that means a temporary extension for the top 2%, which wouldn't be surprising.

Update II: Ed Henry just said that it's true that President Obama apologized for failing to be bipartisan and promised to work harder to find common ground. Tom Tomorrow describes the way this will work very well in this week's strip.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Grandma Millie Returns

by digby

According to this interview with Assange in Forbes magazine, Wikileaks will soon be releasing a trove of documents relating to a major US bank:

Assange: We have one related to a bank coming up, that’s a megaleak. It’s not as big a scale as the Iraq material, but it’s either tens or hundreds of thousands of documents depending on how you define it.

Is it a U.S. bank?

Yes, it’s a U.S. bank.

One that still exists?

Yes, a big U.S. bank.

The biggest U.S. bank?

No comment.

When will it happen?

Early next year. I won’t say more.

What do you want to be the result of this release?

[Pauses] I’m not sure.

It will give a true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level in a way that will stimulate investigations and reforms, I presume.

Usually when you get leaks at this level, it’s about one particular case or one particular violation. For this, there’s only one similar example. It’s like the Enron emails. Why were these so valuable? When Enron collapsed, through court processes, thousands and thousands of emails came out that were internal, and it provided a window into how the whole company was managed. It was all the little decisions that supported the flagrant violations.

This will be like that. Yes, there will be some flagrant violations, unethical practices that will be revealed, but it will also be all the supporting decision-making structures and the internal executive ethos that cames out, and that’s tremendously valuable. Like the Iraq War Logs, yes there were mass casualty incidents that were very newsworthy, but the great value is seeing the full spectrum of the war.

You could call it the ecosystem of corruption. But it’s also all the regular decision making that turns a blind eye to and supports unethical practices: the oversight that’s not done, the priorities of executives, how they think they’re fulfilling their own self-interest. The way they talk about it.

Well, if it's anything like Enron, it will sound something like this:

This is Bob Badeer (a trader at Enron's West Power desk in Portland, CA, where all these tapes were recorded) and Kevin McGowan (in Enron's central office in Houston, TX, as he mentions in the transcript):


BOB: (laughing)

KEVIN: So the rumor’s true? They’re fuckin’ takin’ all the money back from you guys? All those money you guys stole from those poor grandmothers in California?

BOB: Yeah, grandma Millie, man. But she’s the one who couldn’t figure out how to fuckin’ vote on the butterfly ballot.

KEVIN: Yeah, now she wants her fuckin’ money back for all the power you’ve charged right up – jammed right up her ass for fuckin’ 250 dollars a megawatt hour.

BOB: You know – you know – you know, grandma Millie, she’s the one that Al Gore’s fightin’ for, you know? You’re not going to –

KEVIN: They’re so fucked and they’re so, like totally ...

BOB: They are so fucked.

Remember, they arrested Enron's big shots Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, but it didn't mean a thing to the Big Money Boyz. They carried on without losing a step. Its something to think about.

With Friends Like These ...

by digby

I'm watching an exasperated John King on CNN right now visibly stunned that the liberals don't see the savvy genius of Obama's move to freeze Federal Workers' pay. He says:
King: The president here, he knew, the House was going to be in Republican hands in January. A pay freeze was was going to be in their budget. So he decided to be the engine not the caboose, to get out ahead of this, which is smart politics for the president. Get out and get some credit on this and show the voters, "I hear you" we're going to do something.

Here's Larry Mishel who runs the Economic Policy Institute, a labor backed think tank in Washington, says "this is another example of the administration's tendency to bargain with itself rather than Republicans, and in the process reinforces conservative myths, in this case the myth that federal workers are overpaid."

I'll keep going on this point. On the Daily Kos today Jed Lewison writes, "So... instead of actually doing something real about 'sky high deficit spending' (like pulling out of Afghanistan and Iraq ahead of schedule), we get a symbolic gesture that will reduce federal spending by less than 0.05 percent.And with that symbolic gesture we witness President Obama's unfortunate alter-ego, President Gimmick."

This is from the Left.

(Hearty derisive laughter from the panel.)

Paul Begala: Yes but I do think his point about capitulating rather than negotiating is a valid one with this president. The pay freeze is probably a good idea but should have come out of negotiation. What do the Republicans give, when the president gives...

Gloria Borger: Why not give something first though? People don't like government and this is an easy gimme for the president.

Begala: What are the Republicans proposing? Then you get it on the Republicans turf. Why don't you say I'll freeze federal pay and cut this in return for this and that program but you guys need to come with taxes on the rich at least say people who make over a million bucks don't get a tax cut. My Lord ...

Borger: Well maybe there's something else he can negotiate.

I'm sure there is. Why not throw in debtor's prisons? It wouldn't be enough to totally appease them, but it would go a long way toward proving they are "responsible."

They prattled on a bit with both Dana Bash and Borger agreed with John King that this was very smart politics because it was something that was easy to give to "make the point." Then John King turned to "analyst" Erick Erickson:

King: To that point, if your the Republicans and the president has made this gesture tonight, the man who will be House speaker said "good for you Mr President, this is something we would have done anyway." [When, by the way, did the House gain unilateral power? Last I'd heard they were practically superfluous and everything depended on getting 60 votes in the Senate.]

Do the Republicans now reciprocate or do they just demand more?

Erickson: I think they probably demand more seeing as he folded so easy on this one. Why not? The problem is that they are fighting on the wrong ground. If you look at the data the federal workforce is only 200 thousand people larger than it was in 1960. With the inflation of population growth that's ridiculously small...

Borger (scoffing): So are earmarks!

Crickets from the panel on the "folded" comment. Erickson said something stupid about federal workers at the state and local level needing to be cut and then he and King went back and forth about taxes, with Erickson parroting the usual "we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem" as if that makes any sense at all.

Then Borger just couldn't stand it any longer:

Borger: Can I just defend what the president did today? Sometimes I believe presidents have to make symbolic gestures. Ok? And this was symbolic, just look at your pie chart. And you're about to get a report from the deficit commission you're about to sit down tomorrow with congressional leaders. People care about deficit reduction, they don't like the federal government very much, they think that federal employees are treated differently on their health care and on their pay increases, so he made a symbolic gesture. What's wrong with that?

I guess the reasons why it's wrong as stated by Begala, Larry Mishel and Jed Lewison were so completely outside of her comfort zone that they aren't even worth considering.

They all went on to agree that the deficit is caused by wars, tax cuts for the rich and the recession yadda, yadda yadda whatever. Who cares, everyone needs to sacrifice! Then they also agreed that both sides are equally to blame for the bad relations that poison the meeting tomorrow between the president and Republican congressional leaders (who are on record saying that their most important priority is his defeat at all costs.)

At that point King actually let fly with this old trope (I'm not lying):

King: Why, why is it so bad? Why can't you go back and I guess we're going back too far, to the days of Reagan when he and Tip O'Neill would spar like hell but they weren't afraid to have a drink... Why is that gone?

Oy vey.

Look, when the president's staunchest defenders are villagers like Borger and King, you know he's on the wrong track. In fact, you really don't need to know anything more than when they say something is "smart politics" to reject it out of hand and start over.

I hope the White House is not taking any comfort from this support from beltway gasbags. It's a Democratic disease to think that pleasing the wealthy celebrities who make up the political punditocracy is a good guide to successful governance. These are, after all, people who are so caught up in their useless false equivalence that they continually ask why the relations between the two parties are so hostile. Sure it's rhetorical, but the problem is that in their view it's perfectly obvious that if only the president would just pass the Republican agenda everything would be fine. And what could be wrong with that?

Going Back To Square One

by digby

Following up on the post below it should be noted that the idea that we need to talk about deficits at all is fairly ridiculous since we are in the middle of an economic slump so terrible that even thinking about anything but getting people back to work is just a distraction. Joshua Hollad makes that point well in this piece on Alternet today.

But the political reality is that the president made the calculation from the beginning of his term that he was going to make some sort of "Grand Bargain" with the Republicans and it has finally come down to this. It's impossible to know whether or not he knew that by enabling deficit talk he was playing into an existing pernicious theme that the deficit boogeyman was responsible for the anemic economy, but it did. And here we are.

It's important that people continue to keep perspective on this, but thanks to the president's insistence on putting this issue on the menu early on, the political dynamic at the moment is such that liberals have to prove that their policies to create security and prosperity will fit this silly frame. And they do --- basically create jobs, tax the wealthy at the rates they paid ten years ago and control health care costs et voila. The numbers add up.

Once you do that then we can get down to the real argument which is over whether the government should tax the wealthy and do more to create jobs. They are obscuring that argument with the deficit obsession for a very good reason --- they don't think they can win it. And why would they?

Deficit Assumptions

by digby

We've known that the chances of getting a unanimous report from the Catfood Commission was highly unlikely and we knew that they knew that going in. It's been out there for some time that the most they hoped for was a new "bipartisan" baseline which would, in all likelihood exclude only the liberals from the consensus. Earlier in the month we had reports of just that and today we see more evidence that this is their plan:

If the panel wins close to a dozen votes for its proposal, some of the ideas could be incorporated into the White House's 2011 budget proposal, or tax and spending plans from either Democrats or Republicans next year. If the proposal receives only a handful of votes, it will likely send a signal that the parties remain at odds over how best to rework the country's tax and spending priorities, suggesting that it will take much longer for any changes to be made.

A key threshold for the co-chairmen will be whether they can get the support of the 10 lawmakers on the panel who are returning in January as part of the new Congress.

Failure to win support from any of these members—who include likely chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich.) and the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois—would show how difficult it might be for any proposal to win support from the politicians who would ultimately be charged with setting any plan in motion on Capitol Hill.

If those lawmakers vote for the plan, and withstand the political blowback from constituencies poised to defend their cherished programs, others on Capitol Hill could feel under pressure to act. Aides familiar with the matter said panel member Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) had expressed the most interest in forging a bipartisan deal.

The NY Times puts it this way:

Inside the commission, expectations remain low that a supermajority can agree on a plan, given most Republicans’ opposition to raising taxes and most Democrats’ resistance to deep spending cuts and reducing future retirees’ Social Security benefits.

Yet the panel’s proponents hope that agreement among even a bipartisan minority can be the basis for future action to arrest the unsustainable growth of government debt in coming years.

Now it only takes 10 votes out of 18 to be sufficiently "bipartisan." Presumably that could mean all 8 Republicans and 2 Democrats, although considering the make-up of the President's commission it seems likely that quite a few Dems will do the dirty work for zealots like Paul Ryan so that he can stake out the far right wing goalpost. (After all "consensus" really means never having to compromise with a liberal.)

The good news is that liberals have actually done something important, at least for the record, in that they released a deficit reduction plan today that actually doesn't require heaps of suffering for the old and infirm.. Brad DeLong writes:

The Left Opposition Has a Budget-Balancing plan and it is a very good one--a much better one than the amateurish, unthought-through and far-right Simpson-Bowles or the professional but inequality-increasing and right-wing Domenici-Rivlin.

Here's what it looks like:

In a world in which anyone (including the president) gave a damn about liberal solutions to problems, this exercise would have been required from the Commission itself so that people could see clearly what the trade-offs are and how the two ideologies differ in their approach to governance. Matt Yglesias analyzes the plan from a similar perspective:

Liberals didn’t like the Simpson-Bowles deficit plan largely because neither Simpson nor Bowles is a liberal so their proposal doesn’t encapsulate liberal thinking. Today the Our Fiscal Security coalition, comprised of Demos, the Economic Policy Institute, and the Century Foundation have released their fiscal blueprint which shows you would that liberal take would look like.

First and foremost that means explicitly situating the “budget” problem in a broader economic context. You see this two ways. One is the heavy (and appropriate) emphasis in the short term on mobilizing excess capacity to increase growth and decrease unemployment rather than austerity budgeting that will only increase resource-idling. The other is the principle they call No Cost Shifting, namely “Policies that simply shift costs from the federal government to individuals and families may improve the government’s balance sheet but may worsen the condition of many Americans, leaving the overall economy no better off.” ...

At any rate, they show that medium term balance can be achieved basically entirely on the tax and defense sides.For the longer-term, like all long-term budget plans they need to rely heavily on fairly speculative assertions about health care costs. But I think that if you dig into it, you’ll find that OFS offers the least hand-waving on this point of any plan I’ve yet seen, though that’s not to say there’s no hand-waving.

Liberals look at the way the economy as a whole affects a citizen's life and tries to fashion a set of policies that provide a little ballast in a necessarily risky capitalist system. Conservatives see that sort of thing as bailing out parasites who should have planned better and think everyone would be better off with a little "tough love." (Simpson's "greedy geezers" trope is designed to create means testing so they can finally get around to hectoring the elderly for failing to be responsible enough to save for their entire retirement on their own.)

Tomorrow the Citizens Commission will be releasing its report as well. You can see it here today and there will be more about it in the press tomorrow. Combined with the Schakowsky plan released a while back, these three blueprints prove that there are more ways to balance the budget than slashing all spending on social welfare.

It's important to see this difference in approach spelled out in detailed plans like these. If there is any justice in our political system, it will force the non-FOX media to re-assess its assumptions and start framing this debate in a more balanced way. In fact, if President Obama wanted to be a Party leader and a president with a real vision, he could be the one to do it. There's no economic reason not to -- they all achieve long term deficit reduction. And unless he agrees with the conservative view of the government's responsibility to its citizens (or the ruling class view that the wealthy must not be required to pay a fair share to support the society from which they benefit so grandly) there no political reason not to.

Social Security Works has something for you to do to help in this debate. Tomorrow is National Call Congress Day and you can sign up here to participate. They've made it very easy.

If you think this won't make a difference, think again. Right wing radio managed to derail a very carefully negotiated Immigration reform bill with a tidal wave of calls to the congress. The good guys can play that game too.

Sign up here.

Update: Oh Jeez. Here comes Third Way, advertising itself as "progressive", with it's own plan proposing to help Alan Simpson turn the elderly into welfare recipients and pave the way to privatization. Can't somebody sue them for misappropriation of labels?

Update II: What would really help at this point in the debate would be for someone to come up with a radical leftist plant to cure the deficit through the nationalization of corporations, total demilitarization and a 90% tax rate on the top .5% as a balance to the Ryan wrecking crew. That would successfully push all the other proposals to the center so that even Andrea Mitchell could talk about it in respectful terms.

Boehner's Staff Meets With Terrorists

by digby

They even have pictures:

That's right, it's anti-abortion extremist Randall Terry, meeting with John Boehner's chief of staff right after the election. He's fired up and ready to go:

When the Republicans are in power, pro-life groups and leaders become way too “polite.” We lose our edge; we don’t hold them accountable; we settle for trite phrases and broken promises as long as they will meet with us for 10 minutes, and we can take our picture with them, or they come to one of our meetings and receive some useless award.

I beg you to carefully consider my words; look at this situation with prophetic insight. Unless the Republicans do something concrete to save babies from murder, then they are collaborators with child killers, and we must treat them as such.

We have Pro-Life DEMANDS for Mr. Boehner & House GOP

We Must Play Hard Ball: They Must Fear Pro-Lifers!

It isn't the first time he's issued such a threat by any means. Just a year ago he said this:

Background: It is clear that many elements in the pro-abortion congress and White House want to force Americans to pay for the murder of the unborn in their “healthcare” program. If that happens, it is tantamount to the government putting a gun to taxpayers’ heads to pay for the brutal murder of an innocent child. This is tyranny and evil of the highest order. . . .

“Nevertheless, the sheer horror and frustration of such an evil policy will lead some people to absolutely refuse to pay their taxes. And I believe — if my reading of history from America and around the world is correct — that there are others who will be tempted to acts of violence.

“If the government of this country tramples the faith and values of its citizens, history will hold those in power responsible for the violent convulsions that follow.” — Randall Terry

Bin Laden's anti-abortion. Maybe he should ask for a meeting with the Speaker's chief of staff too.

Immoral But Juicy

by digby

Roy Edroso at the Voice rounds up the usual right wing subjects on Wikileaks and finds them predictably confused:

Rightbloggers generally take a two-pronged approach to the leaks: They believe the new document dump is an unpardonable breach of U.S. security -- except to the extent that it may be used to denigrate the Obama Administration, it which case they feel it deserves wider dissemination.

It's not as if rightbloggers have been alone in denouncing Wikileaks, as mainstream media outlets from the New York Times on down have attacked Assange from all directions -- while sopping up his revelations on the basis of their newsworthiness.

But that is an old, time-honored form of journalistic hypocrisy: Using hot news to draw readers with one hand, and tut-tutting its shameful provenance with the other. Rightbloggers have added a few new wrinkles to the game.

Read on for the full rundown. The calls for assassination are as predictable as the cried of treason are funny (Julian Assange isn't an American, although most Americans believe the world belongs to them anyway.)Palin's farcissistic [h/t to Adele Stan]contribution being the best of all:

Inexplicable: I recently won in court to stop my book "America by Heart" from being leaked,but US Govt can't stop Wikileaks' treasonous act?

Yeah, Sarah, you're quite the superhero. It's all about you.

Roy's point about the press being hypocritical is also key. It's no different than their tabloid slavering over a sex scandal while decrying the immorality of the participants. There's nothing more inane than the media lecturing others about proper decorum while they carefully parse all the juicy details.


by digby

This is just sad

Today in outrageous new benchmarks for bipartisanship, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) says she'd be more likely to vote to ratify the START Treaty if former Presidents, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush were to speak out in support of it.

"It would be wonderful if President [George H.W.] Bush would come out for the treaty. That would be so powerful and definitely help," Collins told the Washington Post.

The article goes on to point out the virtually the entire foreign policy staffs of the Reagan, Bush I and Bush II presidencies have already come out in favor of the treaty. They even dragged in Kissinger.

I'm afraid that Senator Collins just doesn't understand the problem she has: those guys are no longer relevant, and not just because they are old and out of office. They are irrelevant because they are not Tea Partiers, whose sole mission in the short term is to defeat the Muslim, commie menace in the White House and in the long term --- well, it's not worth thinking about.

It does not matter what Bush thinks. Indeed, if he did come out in favor of it, it would probably doom it forever. The new GOP is a whole different animal --- and Susan Collins' friend and colleague Olympia Snowe is one of its intended victims in 2012 too.(Remember this?) Reanimating GOP zombies isn't going to help her. They don't scare the Tea Party and neither does she.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wikileak Fall Out

by digby

There's a lot of chatter, for obvious reasons, about the Wikileaks document dump and whether or not it's a dangerous and despicable act. My personal feeling is that any allegedly democratic government that is so hubristic that it will lie blatantly to the entire world in order to invade a country it has long wanted to invade probably needs a self-correcting mechanism. There are times when it's necessary that the powerful be shown that there are checks on its behavior, particularly when the systems normally designed to do that are breaking down. Now is one of those times.

I also think that all the sturm und drang about leaks is fairly bizarre considering that the technology to transfer large amounts of secret information has been out there for some time and has shown its capability in many facets of our lives already. Privacy and secrecy are very abstract concepts in this age. I would have expected the government to have anticipated this kind of document transfer in advance and guarded against it.

As for the substance of the revelations, I don't know what the results will be. But in the world of diplomacy, embarrassment is meaningful and I'm not sure that it's a bad thing for all these people to be embarrassed right now. Puncturing a certain kind of self-importance --- especially national self-importance --- may be the most worthwhile thing they do. A little humility is long overdue.

Update: I highly recommend this thoughtful essay on the topic by Walter Shapiro.

All this brings to mind the enduring wisdom of the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the last intellectual to serve in the Senate (four terms from New York) and the only public official to serve in the Cabinet or sub-Cabinet of four successive administrations (from JFK to Jerry Ford). Moynihan, who was U.N. ambassador and envoy to India, was long obsessed with the folly of excessive government secrecy. As Moynihan put it in a 1990 memorandum written right after the Berlin Wall came down with no warning from the CIA, "The central and enduring problem of the security system is that ... the secrets are frequently wrong."

Moynihan's correspondence has been collected in a new book titled "A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary," edited by my friend Steve Weisman. Moynihan took pains in his final 2000 letter to his constituents in New York to stress, "As I close out near on to a half century of government and politics, the great fear that I have is the enveloping culture of government secrecy and the corresponding distrust of government that follows. Since the end of the Cold War – which, incidentally, all those secret agencies quite missed ... the secret side of government just keeps growing."

These words were written a year before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Mr Lee Goes To Washington

by digby

A lot of people, including yours truly, have been discussing the Christian Reconstructionist underpinnings of the Tea Party for the past few months. Today, Jeffrey Rosen looks at a different theocratic influence which emanates from the Mormon branch. And highly influential it is since it forms the basis for "Professor" Glenn Beck's daily multi-hour demagogic crusade.

Rosen doesn't go into Beck's muddled blathering but rather looks at the man who took down a very conservative incumbent Senator of his own party --- Utah's Mike Lee. He's one of the "intellectual" engines of the Tea Party --- and he's a far right religions extremist:

Of the newly elected Tea Party senators, Mike Lee, a 39-year-old Republican from Utah, has the most impeccable establishment legal credentials: the son of Rex Lee, a solicitor general under President Reagan, he attended law school at Brigham Young and later clerked for Samuel Alito on the U.S. Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court. But on the campaign trail, especially during his heated primary battle with the three-term Republican incumbent Bob Bennett, Lee offered glimpses of a truly radical vision of the U.S. Constitution, one that sees the document as divinely inspired and views much of what the federal government currently does as unconstitutional.


Like the Tea Party movement itself, Lee’s constitutional vision may appear to be an incohesive mixture of libertarianism and social conservatism, of opposition to federal power and support for tearing down the wall of separation between church and state. In fact, however, it represents an exotic but, in its own way, coherent idea of the Constitution, one that is consistent with certain familiar strains of legal conservatism and constitutional scholarship but at the same time is genuinely eccentric and extreme. Much of the Tea Party movement’s more-strident rhetoric, seen in light of this constitutional vision, may be best understood not as scattershot right-wing hostility to government but as a comprehensive, if startling, worldview about the proper roles of government and faith in American life.

Many of the positions Lee outlined on the campaign trail appear to be inspired by the constitutional guru of the Tea Party movement, W. Cleon Skousen, whose 1981 book, “The 5,000-Year Leap,” argued that the founding fathers rejected collectivist “European” philosophies and instead derived their divinely inspired principles of limited government from fifth-century Anglo-Saxon chieftains, who in turn modeled themselves on the Biblical tribes of ancient Israel. Skousen, a Mormon who died in 2006 at 92, was for years dismissed by many mainstream conservatives, including William F. Buckley Jr., as a conspiracy-mongering extremist; he was also eventually criticized by the Mormon Church. A vocal supporter of the John Birch Society, Skousen argued that a dynastic cabal, including international bankers like the Rockefellers and J. P. Morgan, conspired to manipulate both Communism and Fascism to promote a one-world government.

Skousen’s vision of the Constitution was no less extreme. Starting more than 60 years ago with his first book, “Prophecy and Modern Times,” he wrote several volumes about the providential view of the U.S. Constitution set out in Mormon scripture, which sees the Constitution as divinely inspired and on the verge of destruction and the Mormon Church as its salvation. Skousen saw limited government as not only an ethnic idea, rooted in the Anglo-Saxons, but also as a Christian one, embodied in the idea of unalienable rights and duties that derive from God, and he insisted that the founders’ “religious precepts turned out to be the heart and soul of the entire American political philosophy.”

This tracks with the other Theocrat/Libertarian alliances that we've discussed in recent weeks. And although one could easily see a sectarian battle breaking out in the United States of Gilead at some point, right now the fact that the Mormons and Christian fundamentalists have different prophets probably doesn't mean much. They are on the same track:

While Paul’s anti-Fed crusade is widely thought of as economic libertarianism, the roots of this combat lie in a theocratic reading of the Bible, arising out of the nexus between Paul (and now his son, Senator-elect Rand Paul), Howard Phillips and his Constitution Party, and Gary North and the Christian Reconstructionists.

For decades, the elder Paul, Phillips, and North have shared the libertarian economic philosophy of the Austrian School, which advocates a strict free market approach to an economy they portray in terms of individual choices and agreements rather than systemic forces. With respect to the Federal Reserve System in particular, they have argued against its fractional reserve banking, and its manipulation of interest rates to control economic ups and downs.

North, the architect of Christian Reconstructionist economic theory, and controversial libertarian economist Lew Rockwell both worked on Ron Paul’s congressional staff in the late 1970s. That collaboration continues today, even after reports during the 2008 presidential campaign that Rockwell had ghostwritten racist and anti-gay statements in Ron Paul’s conspiracy-minded newsletter in the 1980s and ’90s. They continue to collaborate through the Ludwig von Mises Institute, founded by Rockwell and the anti-“statist,” anti-New Deal economist Murray Rothbard, who believed Joseph McCarthy was “the most smeared man in American politics” in the 20th century.

Their work is also found at LewRockwell.com, where North currently writes, often in support of Paul. In promoting their libertarian economic views, Rothbard and Rockwell have, according to the libertarian Reason magazine, “championed an open strategy of exploiting racial and class resentment to build a coalition with populist ‘paleoconservatives.’”

While each of these figures comes to the table from different places, they come together in agreement on Rothbard’s anti-statism, which dovetails with North’s views. For North, the Bible limits the legitimate functions of civil government to punishing “evildoers” and providing for defense. Reconstructionist theocracy, based on the Reconstructionists’ reading of the Bible, gives coercive authority to families and churches to organize other aspects of life. In this view—one that also meshes with Tea Party rhetoric—the Fed’s control of monetary policy is a prime example of federal government “tyranny.”

North argues that the Federal Reserve is unbiblical because it usurps power not legitimately held by civil government (because God didn’t grant it) and it promotes inflation, which he says is nothing more than theft from those who are not in debt in favor of those who are.

Mike Lee is a US Senator who also happens to be a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. And he's a Theocrat. A real one. I suppose there would be no need to be alarmed if he were just some outlier. After all, this stuff has existed on the fringe of American politics for a long time and a super right wing Mormon from Utah isn't exactly unprecedented. But now the good word is being spread far and wide on right wing media and a whole horde of politicians steeped in this theocratic view are coming to Washington in the guise of small government libertarians. It merits keeping an eye on at least.

Structural Problem

by digby

If anyone's wondering why the administration hasn't been able to get on message about jobs and unemployment, it might be because they just don't know what the hell they are doing. This rather breathtaking post by Mark Thoma discusses the extremely disconcerting fact that the Obama administration can't communicate, not because they are bad communicators but because they can't decide what the problem is that they have to fix:

The administration needed to be out there pushing for employment policies, doing everything it could to signal to people that it was on their side, not the side of corporations and big banks. That requires that you figure out that you have a cyclical unemployment problem before the election is all but over, and that you begin pushing for solutions in public forums. That push needs to start at the very top with Obama, and it needs to be reinforced every single day by other administration officials. One mention by Obama in a Saturday address to the nation doesn't get the job done.

I understand that Congress may not have supported additional policy to try to stimulate employment, but the fight would have been worth it no matter the outcome, and with the administration actually leading rather than accepting defeat before the game has been played, the outcome may not have been as preordained as the administration seems to believe:

Obama could learn from Bush, by Richard Wolffe, Commentary, LA Times: The day before his party's shellacking in this month's elections, President Obama sat down with his economic team to examine the single most important issue for voters across the country: jobs.
But the question on the agenda was not how to accelerate the recovery or target job creation... The president had called the meeting to grapple with what he and his propeller-head economists have been debating for some time: the wonkish question of whether today's high unemployment rate is structural or cyclical. ...
Two years into this presidency, and many months into a sluggish recovery, may be a little late to try to agree on the root cause of today's high unemployment.
This lack of agreement on economic fundamentals is a primary factor behind one of this White House's most obvious failures: communications. As one senior Obama advisor told me the day after the disastrous midterms: "It was hard to find a single economic message when the economic team couldn't agree on a single economic policy." ...
However, a new economic team will not resolve the communications problems... In fact, the president has been frustrated by his communications strategy for most of the last year. ... Obama told me six months ago that poor communications had hampered his ability to execute his policies, and that was after several months of internal reviews.
Oy vey. Brad DeLong says that while they may have disagreed, there was nobody in the administration who didn't at least think anything was better than nothing (except for Peter Orszag, whose deficit fetish rules his world) and suspects that the meeting has been mischaracterized. Perhaps that's true, but then it still leaves unresolved the question of why the administration can't seem to get its act together on jobs.

Krugman says:
What I want to know is, who was arguing for structural? I find it hard to think of anyone I know in the administration’s economic team who would make that case, who would deny that the bulk of the rise in unemployment since 2007 is cyclical. And as I and others have been trying to point out, none of the signatures of structural unemployment are visible: there are no large groups of workers with rising wages, there are no large parts of the labor force at full employment, there are no full-employment states aside from Nebraska and the Dakotas, inflation is falling, not rising.

More generally, I can’t think of any Democratic-leaning economists who think the problem is largely structural.

Yet someone who has Obama’s ear must think otherwise.

No wonder we’re in such trouble. Obama must gravitate instinctively to people who give him bad economic advice, and who almost surely don’t share the values he was elected to promote. That’s what I’d call a structural problem.

No kidding.

I have to laugh at this bit in the Richard Wolfe piece though which, coming from Obama's designated scribe is just amazingly unreflective. He claims that Bush won reelection six years ago because of his disciplined message and "undisciplined" opponent and proclaims:

The lesson of 2004 is that the president cannot be an empty vessel for hope, no matter how big or small his own hopeful base. And if he doesn't fill the vessel with his own story of how and why he delivered on hope, then his opponents will fill it for him. ...

You don't say?

Why this is supposed to be the lesson of 2004 I don't know. I think the lesson is of a little bit more recent vintage than that.

News Hole

by digby

Today proves one thing about the media. When there's a natural disaster or a sex scandal, you turn on the TV. When there's real news unfolding, you go online.

Here's what I mean. Right now we have three extremely interesting stories unfolding. The first is that Ireland is on the brink of civil rebellion over the IMF imposed pain and suffering to bail out bankers. Again. The second is the North and South Korea are on the verge of war. The third is the Wikileaks revelations of diplomatic cables which are rife with fascinating tid-bits and interesting details.

You would think that all news organizations would be all over these stories. Instead CNN is re-running the same stupid story about how to deal with your credit card bills. MSNBC is doing "Death in the Hamptons."

The Sunday morning shows are have never been about breaking news so I won't pick on them. (Meet the Press did do a segment with Richard Engle about North Korea and Wikileaks.) But cable news is about breaking news and they're just missing in action on a pretty good news day. Well, except for FOX, which is doing a six part series called "The Rise, Fall and Future of Conservatism."

Twitter and the online versions of the papers are on fire today so journalism is still being done today. It's just not on TV.

Wikileak Linkies

by digby

For those of you trying to catch up on the reaction to the Wikileaks story,you can read about the key details here from Greg Mitchell, updating frequently. The European perspective from the Guardian, here.

The diplomats are all having a conniption,and perhaps there are details which are damning and dangerous, but on the broader strokes nothing so far strikes me a particularly surprising. (The Arab states are more afraid of Iran than Israel? Uhm yeah.)

Anyway, as they say: developing ...

Per Guardian: Here's the cover of Der Spiegel's initial take of the story. Some of the captions attached to luminaries on the cover, taken from US embassy cables, include "Avoids risk, rarely creative" (for Angela Merkel) and, more intrguingly still, "Luxuriant blonde nurse" (Libya's Muammar Gaddafi). The English version of their story is here.

Useless Metaphors

by digby

Gene Lyons made a good observation the other day about the "government is family" metaphor that describes the absurdity of it in a useful way:

"The American people are ahead of their government and their politicians on this," King said. "Because, Ali, you know this, over the past two or three years every family in America has had to make incredibly difficult choices and do things they didn't want to do. And so they look at Washington and they say why won't you do things that you don't want to do, why don't you ... do something about this and be grown-ups?"

Yes, it's perfectly obvious. The thing to do is cut government spending, reduce demand, put more people out of work. Prosperity will come roaring back.

Look, Obama asked for this. "Families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions," he said, announcing the Bowles-Simpson commission during his 2010 State of the Union. "The federal government should do the same."

Because the U.S. government is just like your family. And your family can't run deficits, can it? Apart from mortgages, auto and education loans, credit cards, stuff like that. Not to mention that it's the government that actually creates and maintains the money supply. Otherwise, yeah, your family's exactly the same as the Social Security Administration, the Pentagon, the National Institutes of Health, all those. So get out and build some highways: pay as you go

My head explodes every time I hear any of them use this stupid family metaphor. And it isn't just Obama using it. As everyone here is aware, there's a whole school of thought on the left about the dueling metaphors of government as family, with the Right allegedly preferring the "strict father" model and the Left preferring the "nurturing parent" (actually "indulgent Mommy", although the proponents of this metaphor will never admit that's what it is.)

It's dumb. America isn't a family and managing a national economy isn't like managing a family budget. It isn't like a business either (the second most common stupid metaphor.) The government has a completely different set of responsibilities than other human organizing entities, and democratic government is designed to completely upend the authoritarian model of family, church and business and put the "kids" in charge. Forgetting that is what gets us into trouble.

It would be very helpful to people's understanding of how their world works if they understood the differences between our various organizational models instead of conflating them. It's confusing rather than enlightening.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday Night At The Movies

Can you see the real me?

By Dennis Hartley

Marwencol: This is good therapy. No, seriously.

From whence it follows, that one thing cannot have two beginnings of existence, nor two things one beginning; it being impossible for two things of the same kind to be or exist in the same instant, in the very same place; or one or the same thing in different places.

-John Locke, from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

I’m dating myself here, but when I was 10 years old, I was obsessed with G.I. Joes. My best friend George and I would spend hours staging little dramas with the dolls for our amusement. It’s probably a good thing that we did this solely for our own amusement, because a casual observer might conclude that these two kids were a little weird. We very rarely dressed our G.I. Joes “correctly”. We never fantasized standard combat scenarios; we in fact created our own individual super-hero avatars, by mixing and matching uniforms and accoutrements from the four branches of military service to create unique entities. I was Mar-navy Man, George was Air-Army Man. We were so into our characters that, in addition to acting out, we created our own series of meticulously hand-made comic books, so we could document our adventures. OK, I guess I was a weird kid.

Normally, this little childhood anecdote doesn’t pop up in everyday conversation; nor have I ever felt compelled to share it with readers over the course of 200+ weekly posts I have written (and as a pick-up line, I think we can safely say that it is right out). However, as I watched Jeff Malmberg’s extraordinary documentary, Marwencol, (which plays like a mash-up of Memento, Lars and the Real Girl, and Pecker) those memories came flooding back, and I consequently found myself empathizing with the film’s subject, Mark Hogancamp, in emotionally resonant ways I could never have predicted.

Hogancamp’s unique journey was one borne of tragedy. In 2000, he was at death’s door, following a brutal beating by five men outside a bar in Kingston, N.Y. His situation was touch and go for the first week or so (the first 9 of his 40 days in the hospital were spent in a coma), but he eventually recovered enough from his physical injuries to become somewhat self-sufficient again. Unfortunately, however, the brain damage he sustained from the attack was permanent; as a result, he had virtually no memories of his life prior to the incident. Photos and home movies indicate that he was happily married at one time, to a woman who he, in essence, only “knows” from her pictures (I can’t even fathom how strange of a head space that would put someone in). People “tell” him that he was fond of the bottle; interestingly he now has no craving for alcohol whatsoever, post-trauma. On this aspect of his former life, he does have some tangible documentation-in his own handwriting. He shows the filmmaker piles of notebooks, which he refers to as his “drunk journals”. These diaries fascinate him, yet still fail to trigger any cognizance of personal identity. Also, there are reams of fantasy artwork that he had produced before the attack; and it’s all quite good, actually, in a Neal Adams/Frank Frazetta kind of vein. However, none of these clues can prepare the viewer for a tour of a little “town” called Marwencol.

Now, the Mark Hogancamp, that is to say, the corporeal being that we perceive to be “Mark Hogancamp” may exist and “live” in Kingston, N.Y., but as far as Mark himself is concerned, he actually lives in “Marwencol”. And Marwencol actually does “exist” (there are thousands of photographs to prove that it does). That being said, you’re not going to find Marwencol on Google Earth, because the entire town is located within the confines of Mark’s back yard. It’s a stunningly realistic 1/6 scale WW 2-era town, populated by G.I. Joes and Barbies. With infinite patience and laser-like focus, Mark constructed his town over a period of years, with every nook and cranny painstakingly detailed. This is not a hobby; it is on-going therapy (a luxury that he could not afford). Every doll has a back story; many are alter-egos of his friends and neighbors (including himself). Although the period detail is captured to a tee, Mark takes liberties with his storylines. For example, there are “good” and “bad” German soldiers (the “town Germans” get along fine with the American G.I.s, and the “SS” are the “bad” Germans). Even Mark’s assailants have alter-egos (SS, of course) who have faced the firing squad once or twice.

The story gets curiouser and curiouser, especially once a local professional photographer sort of stumbles onto Mark’s unique flair with a camera (he had been photo-documenting “daily life” in Marwencol for some time) and he is “discovered” by the New York art world (leaving Mark cautiously flattered, and more than a bit puzzled). There are even more surprises in store, as the many layers of this remarkable individual are very deliberately peeled away by the filmmaker (judge not a book by its cover, my friends). This aspect of the story strongly recalls Jessica Yu’s 2004 documentary, In the Realms of the Unreal, about artist Henry Darger, an elderly recluse who in point of fact had no clue that he was an “artist” up to his dying day. Like Hogancamp, he had a “second life” spent completely immersed in his own fantasy world; the main difference being that his “Marwencol” (if you will) was a mythic, Tolkien-like construct, dutifully annotated and rendered in art and prose, and discovered by others only after his death, when over 300 paintings and a lavishly illustrated 15,000 page novel were found in his cramped apartment. However (Monday morning psychological quarterbacking aside) what drove Darger (a nondescript janitor by day) into his rich alternate reality, remains a mystery.

Although the film has a discomfiting, want-to-look-away-but-you-can’t Grey Gardens vibe at the outset, it’s more than yet another “portrait of a quirky eccentric”. It’s a journey into the very essence of what defines human identity and the consciousness of “self”. It also demonstrates that the idea of reinventing oneself is not just an elective luxury, exclusive to the creative class. For some persevering souls, it is a means of survival.

Previous posts with related themes:

Synecdoche, N.Y.
Where the Wild Things Are

Tea Party Priorities

by digby

The Tea Party agenda was ostensibly about economic issues, but that was always a dicey proposition. It was necessary for the far right to downplay their essential social conservatism during the election cycle in order to pretend to be something other than they were. But all the people who follow the far right closely knew that their "libertarianism" was a beard for their real concerns --- which are the same as they ever were.

Here's how it's playing out in the states:

Incoming GOP governors and legislative leaders across the nation insist they intend to focus initially on fiscal measures to spur the economy, cut spending and address state budget problems.

But the pressure to go further, as soon as possible, is only slightly below the surface in states where conservatives' top social goals have been foiled for years by Democratic vetoes and legislative obstacles.

The tension is particularly visible in Kansas, where the victory by Gov.-elect Sam Brownback, a strong opponent of abortion and gay marriage, has created strong expectations among evangelical supporters.

A similar scenario is taking shape in strongly conservative Oklahoma, where a Republican governor will replace a Democrat, and to a lesser extent in Michigan, Wisconsin and several other states.

It all depends on the meaning of the word "conservative" you see. A whole lot of these Tea Party conservatives are defined by social conservatism, law and order, war, xenophobia and more than a little racial resentment. There are gun advocates who care about the second amendment and some Militia types who are concerned about black helicopters and all these strains mesh together into the rightwing stew. But since the commies (other than Obama) went away, the economic side of the equation has been reduced to a vague belief that government is making it impossible for them to be rich because it's giving all their money to the undeserving. It's not well thought out beyond putting the concerns all humans have about their security and prosperity into an amorphous package of "small government."

It's the culture war issues that really motivate them and they are not in a mood to wait any longer for results. They want action and if the standard bearers don't give it to them, they'll find someone who will:

Brownback's economy-first approach in Kansas has put him in the rare position of disappointing conservative allies.

Rep. Owen Donohoe, a Republican from the Kansas City-area suburb of Shawnee, sent colleagues an e-mail saying Brownback's legislative agenda "may not be as conservative as we wish."

I didn't know it was possible to be any more conservative than Sam Brownback, but apparently it is.

Chia Obama

by digby

@Dave Weigel tweeted this today with a simple "Oh my God". I also missed this when it came out in 2009 (and was quickly pulled from the shelves:)

I used to make fun of Bush kitsch, but this far exceeds anything I've ever seen. In fact, it's so out there, I'm tempted to think that this guy had something to do with it:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
P.K. Winsome - Defective Obama Collectibles
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionMarch to Keep Fear Alive

What's odd is that the most jarring thing about it now isn't the cheesiness but the fact that their sales pitch had Obama representing "peace, hope and prosperity." It's easy to forget how recent that was. I guess we now know that unless you can get the peace and the prosperity part, hope is awfully difficult to maintain.


Village Acid Trip: Broder edition

by digby

This may be the most absurd column David Broder has ever run. And that's saying something. In fact think it may go beyond anything a pundit has ever written, diving headlong into a fiction so ridiculous you have to wonder if he's joking -- or insane:
What if Barack Obama is telling the truth about his own beliefs when he says that neither party by itself can realistically hope to solve the challenges facing the United States?

Suppose he means it when he says that after the shellacking he and his fellow Democrats received in the midterm elections, he is ready and willing to hear the Republicans' ideas for dealing with jobs, taxes, energy and even nuclear weapons control.

I know that is supposing a lot - so much that it seems impossible. It's more like the script for a Broadway musical than a plausible plotline for Washington. But nonetheless, suppose that he is serious when he says, over and over, as he did on Thanksgiving Day, that if we want to "accelerate this recovery" and attack the backlog of lost jobs, "we won't do it as any one political party. We've got to do it as one people."

[...]Suppose there is a chance that he is serious - that after two years of trying to govern through one party, a party that held commanding majorities in the House and Senate but now has lost them, two years with landmark accomplishments but ultimate frustration of his hopes to change Washington, he has reverted to his original philosophy of governing.

What would Republicans do if they thought there was a chance of that being true?

They would do what Ronald Reagan always recommended in dealing with the Russians: Trust but verify.

Evidently Broder really believes that it's Obama who has been the obstinate partisan and the Republicans who have reason to mistrust his intentions when he says that he wants to work with them. The poor Republicans are once bitten twice shy and in order to carry out their mandate must take a leap of faith that he has changed.

Meanwhile, here on Planet Earth, this is what those poor put-upon Republicans are saying:

MCCONNELL: We need to be honest with the public. This election is about them, not us. And we need to treat this election as the first step in retaking the government. We need to say to everyone on Election Day, “Those of you who helped make this a good day, you need to go out and help us finish the job.”

NATIONAL JOURNAL: What’s the job?

MCCONNELL: The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.

A week later:
Over the past week, some have said it was indelicate of me to suggest that our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office, but the fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill, to end the bailouts, cut spending and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto any of these things," the Kentucky Republican will say. "We can hope the president will start listening to the electorate after Tuesday’s election. But we can’t plan on it.”

This seems pretty clear to me. Unless Obama agrees to repeal everything he did in the first two years and govern as a Tea Partier they will use any means necessary to ensure he doesn't get a second term. Even some Republicans are startled by this:

“It’s not clear to me what it is,” said Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush who noted that this START treaty is not very different from previous ones negotiated and ratified under Republican presidents. “I’ve got to think that it’s the increasingly partisan nature and the desire for the president not to have a foreign policy victory.”

In an attempt to rally bipartisan support for the treaty, the White House has enlisted the kind of GOP foreign policy wise men that Lugar exemplifies – among them former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and James A. Baker. But they have had no success with members of their own party, and it has left them scratching their heads over the source of the GOP opposition.
You'd think Broder would at least be taken aback when "grown-ups" like Scowcroft lay the problem at the feet of Republicans. But in his world, it's Obama who can't be trusted.

We've seen up-is-downism before, in the run-up to Iraq. But this latest trip down the rabbit hole is one wild ride. Hardcore right wingers are now centrists, the pliable Democrats are the obstructionists, rich people are being oppressed as they get richer and richer, the economy is failing so we have to destroy it. I'm dizzy.

Update: John Danforth is dizzy too:
Not surprisingly, this insubordination has earned Lugar significant scorn within the Republican base, which now seems to value blind obedience over principled independent decision-making. In a New York Times profile of Lugar published today, former GOP Sen. John Danforth feared that the backlash against Lugar from his own party signals that the GOP has gone “far overboard” with no hope of turning back:

“If Dick Lugar,” said John C. Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri, “having served five terms in the U.S. Senate and being the most respected person in the Senate and the leading authority on foreign policy, is seriously challenged by anybody in the Republican Party, we have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption.”

Mr. Danforth, who was first elected the same year as Mr. Lugar, added, “I’m glad Lugar’s there and I’m not.”

Danforth’s fears are not unfounded. Lugar, who is up for reelection in 2012, has already been targeted by tea party groups. “If I was Dick Lugar, I would certainly expect a challenge,” noted veteran political analyst Stuart Rothenberg. As Diane Hubbard, a spokeswoman for the Indianapolis Tea Party, told the Times, removing Lugar “will be a difficult challenge. But we do believe it’s doable, and we think the climate is right for it and we believe it is a must.”

Indeed, asked about a potential tea party challenge motivated by his breaks with the GOP on START and other issues, Lugar suggested the party has drifted to the right while he has stayed steady, saying, “These are just areas where I’ve had stances for a long time.”

Drifted to the right? How'd that happen?
Waiting For Prince Plutocrat

by digby

Oh dear, here comes another attempt at a Mushy Middle Party for people who only exist in the imaginations of extremely wealthy celebrities and political pundits. They're calling it "No Labels" which I assumed at first was some sort of slumming trend for Fashionsitas. But no -- it's a bunch of people who just want everyone to be "sensible" (ensure that wealthy people are taken care of) without all the muss and fuss of dealing with the hoi polloi who actually give a damn about anything.

The most recent rumbling started a while back with noted bucket of lukewarm water Matt Miller, who I caught wistfully dreaming of a Billionaire Prince to come and save us from all this unpleasantness:

Here's noted "centrist" Matt Miller:

MILLER: I would go for Mike Bloomberg and a billionaire to be named later because I think we need a kind of third force in this country. And I think once we get past November, the polarization and the sense of finger pointing and unproductiveness and sort of partisan pickiness is going to --

(CROSSTALK) SPITZER: But the notion that the plutocrats have not been represented -- the threshold in that 100 million is clearly the billion dollar threshold.

MILLER: It would be nice if that wasn't the case but in the system we have today, because of the lock the two parties have on ballot access and being able to actually get traction in the system, it would take somebody with a lot of money to try and get --


SAM SEDER, COMEDIAN: But what is a theory that somehow a third party president is going to be able to do more than any other president? I mean, what makes you think that the right is going to accept Bloomberg any more than they would accept Barack Obama?

MILLER: And I don't know if they're going to accept them yet. But right now, there's such a vacuum in the debate because I think most of the country is not in the sort of 20 percent on each sides that both parties are locked into. And there's such a wide open terrain for somebody who's a common sense person who's going to synthesize the best of liberal and conservative ideas. That finds no expression in public --

SPITZER: I think that's the point as a matter of political analysis is right. There is a desperate need for somebody in the middle who can disregard either fringe that traditional politics would suggest. Sometimes --

SEDER: That's not Barack Obama?

SPITZER: Look, I think that's the debate. I think many of us think Barack Obama was trying to do that. But why would a third party candidate be able to get anything through Congress at all? That's the real question.

MILLER: I think the first question is what would the campaign and the debate sound like? Because I think that would change the country. Perot in '92 fundamentally changed the direction of the country because he showed there was a 20 percent constituency. And Bloomberg, look, I'm not counting for Bloomberg, but the idea of a candidate like that --

SPITZER: And Bloomberg who is a very popular mayor here in New York City, I think the problem he has is on many of the issues he is to much of the country way left, and frankly, to much of the country his views about Wall Street are far right. So I'm not sure if he actually brings that constituency the way you're articulating it.
Now Miller's little fantasy has become a "movement" among the chattering classes. Of course, it's mostly conservative elites who are very uncomfortable with the prospect of Sarah and Todd Clampett coming to town and trashing the place. (And those tea people are just a touch crude, if you know what I mean.)But there are the inevitable third-party moneybags opportunists sniffing around, wondering if maybe this time they can buy themselves the White House.

Here's Kathleen Parker, the Goldilocks of Georgetown, mooning over the possibilities:

When the porridge is either too hot or too cold, the moment for something in between is ripe. More Americans now self-identify as independent rather than Republican or Democrat, even though they may be forced by a lack of alternatives to vote in traditional ways.

But what if there were an alternative? There's little appealing about either party dominated by a base that bears little resemblance to who we are as a nation or the way most of us live our lives. [Don't you love it when wealthy TV celebrities speak for the average American?]

Yet moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans alike have been banished. Purged, really. Some of them have landed in the No Labels camp.

Jun Choi, a Democratic former mayor of Edison, N.J., told the Wall Street Journal he lost because he wasn't extreme enough. Maggie Hassan, a New Hampshire state senator, thinks she lost for being too moderate.

Right. The Tea Party successfully challenged numerous US Senators and dozens of House Members and a couple of low level unknown Democrats blame the hippies for their defeats. Therefore the two parties are equally nuts. This is Village thinking at its finest. The right wing has gone batshit insane, around the bend, fallen off a cliff -- but the Democrats must be equally crazy or their world will be too topsy turvy to understand. How can it be possible that the right wingers are the radicals?

But this is where this silliness takes an ominous turn. She describes Congressman Bob Inglis' forced departure at the hands of lunatic wingnuts and then holds up Lisa Murkowski's successful challenge to Joe Miller as a potential answer to the problem:

She kept her seat by promoting ideas and solutions and by rebuking partisanship.

Alaskans are by nature independent and reliably rogue, as the nation has witnessed. Thus it may be too convenient to draw conclusions about a broader movement, but centrism has a place at the table by virtue of the sheer numbers of middle Americans, the depth of their disgust and the magnitude of our problems.

Ok, first of all, Murkowski rebuked "partisanship" for about a month because she needed Democratic votes to win. But she is a conservative to the core. So is Inglis (who had a 93.4 rating with the American Conservative Union.) They were both exceedingly loyal partisans, voting with the Party on all major initiatives, who were challenged by people who ran as outsiders with a whole different idea about what being "partisan" should mean. There's a reason why the Tea Party gave itself its own name.

Unfortunately, instead of waking up the cognoscenti to the radical nature of the far right, these events have led them to take the easy way out and simply declare that hardcore conservatives are actually "centrists" now, further marginalizing liberalism. As you can see by that interview with Matt Miller, nobody except a hippie like Sam Sedar ever characterizes someone like Barack Obama as a centrist -- even though that's exactly what he is. The push is always, always to the right whenever anyone starts bellyaching about partisanship.

Bob Inglis may be a decent person compared to the right wing kooks of the Tea party, but he is as ideologically right wing as they come, despite what Parker says. (The fact that she uses his belief that climate change is real as a sign of his "centrism" should tell you everything you need to know about how far the goal posts have shifted.) Ideology in the political establishment is only relevant to the extent that it properly represents elite interests. (That can be from either Party, of course, although since the Democrats stand accused of electing a secret Muslim Socialist president, I'm guessing they are no longer considered reliable.)

What these people really seem to care about is temperament and style --- an ability to fit in smoothly with the ruling class, to make it seem effortless, to make the rubes feel comfortable and make them feel good about being elites.(They really are the ones they've been waiting for.) They want someone who isn't overly passionate, who doesn't raise his voice, who takes care of business and move on to the next problem without a lot of political drama. What they want is a white version of Barack Obama and since, like Nixon going to China, only a conservative Republican can be that without provoking a backlash from conservative Republicans, a conservative Republican is what he must be.

Unfortunately, we live in a democracy and the rubes of all political stripes are up in arms. They want somebody whose going to fight for them. I don't know who that's going to be in 2012, but I'd be shocked if some plutocrat with a load of bull about "what works" catches fire any time soon. Nobody believes these people know "what works" anymore except a bunch of deluded Antoinettes babbling about centrism. They've never been more out of touch.