Friday, July 31, 2009


Paul Krugman, New York Times:

At a recent town hall meeting, a man stood up and told Representative Bob Inglis to “keep your government hands off my Medicare.” The congressman, a Republican from South Carolina, tried to explain that Medicare is already a government program — but the voter, Mr. Inglis said, “wasn’t having any of it.”

I'm curious to know how many legitimate "health services" could be rendered for the amount of money the private health lobby spends in achieving this kind of "outcome."
Socialized medicine saved my life!

Myrna Ulfik, Wall Street Journal:

I have been battling non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, an incurable blood cancer, for the past nine years. Last year, I was also diagnosed with uterine cancer.

I didn't run to Canada for treatment. Medicare took care of my needs right here in New York City. To endure, I just need the freedom to choose my insurance, my doctors, and get the diagnostic scans and care I need. And one more thing: I need hope that a treatment will be developed that can control my diseases the way insulin controls diabetes.

...I am still here because my care was managed by doctors -- not a government agency. My doctors do what the bureaucracy can't: They see me as a human being.

We've apparently reached the point in our national conversation on health reform in which the Wall Street Journal publishes arguments against "Canadian-style, government-run health care" by contrasting it with the American-style, government-run health program for people over 65, on which Canada's national system is modeled. (Canada's universal system is even called "Medicare.")

While both are examples of "socialized medicine," the author does not acknowledge this in the US case.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Of, by, for

Socialism has never insisted that the government do everything; it merely insists that the government do everything the public instructs it to do.

In this way, it distinguishes itself from the current system.
Received wisdom

Moderates in Congress are resolved that they should not be hasty about health care legislation, especially when they are on the receiving end of so many industry-supplied ... "ideas."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Safety first

Financial Times:

Queen Elizabeth stumped her hosts at the London School of Economics by asking why no one had seen the financial crisis coming. Scholars at that and other universities should feel the sting: if they cannot be counted on to spot dangers to the economy, why have economists at all?

Yeah, I'm pretty confident if an economist spotted a danger to the economy, all money-making activities would suspend until he or she gave the all-clear.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Best check-up ever

Wall Street has determined that 83% of insured Americans are "'somewhat' or 'very' satisfied with the health care they receive" -- a ringing endorsement considering that their money is made by selectively insuring healthy people.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Coming soon

Barack Obama's post-racial mandate is jeopardized anytime he "wades" into subjects that have not been adequately explained by a Morgan Freeman feature film.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hire a professional

Financial Times:

[Clinton's] comments follow suggestions from several US experts that Washington needs a fallback policy of containing Iran, including extending a nuclear umbrella over Israel and the Gulf Arab states, to provide a middle way between engagement and a military strike.

Liberals are always so half-assed on defense! Like a "defense umbrella" is really going to hold up in the middle of a full-scale nuclear storm!

As for me, I've always preferred fully-retractable nuclear awnings, remotely deployed by our privately contracted Lunar Liberation Brigade (of the future). Reasonable and seasonable!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Class conflict and health reform

David Brooks, New York Times:

It’s not that interesting to watch the Democrats lose touch with America. That’s because the plotline is exactly the same. The party is led by insular liberals from big cities and the coasts, who neither understand nor sympathize with moderates. They have their own cherry-picking pollsters, their own media and activist cocoon, their own plans to lavishly spend borrowed money to buy votes.

If you're anything like me, you often wonder what the fuck David Brooks is talking about.

Personally, I prefer the explanation that if you can't deliver what 72% of the population wants -- namely, a public alternative to private insurance -- you are likely to forfeit their "approval." This is especially true if the exclusion of what people want actually increases the costs of health reform.

This issue is a great example of how straight-up class conflict gets recast as a narrative about Democrats and Republicans just not getting along: Obama liberals are so far out in left field that responsible moderates just can't keep up!

But insofar as the complaint aimed at Obama is that his initiatives are out of step with Washington, this deliberately ignores the fact that most of Washington is out of step with 72% of Americans. In this respect, praise for "bipartisanship" is praise for rejecting public preferences out of hand.

The sad reality is that ours is a system in which 72% of the population can support something and still only command a minority in Congress, thanks to the well-organized interference run by private concerns.
The Walter Cronkite of Iran

Roger Cohen, New York Times:

Iranians...are a proud people. They do not take kindly to being played around with, nor to seeing their country turned into a laughingstock.

Applying the same standard to his columns, Roger Cohen must be a very proud person.
The most efficient market of all

How many words are in an Economist special report, anyway?

This week the magazine strings together the requisite "way too many" while omitting the twenty or so that might explain why "modern economic theory" (read: theirs) fails to explain anything meaningful about the real world.

Are you ready to save yourself an hour? Here it goes!

Just as economists appreciate being employed, the powerful enjoy hiring them -- especially when they lend credibility to the prejudices of their employers!

And now, laundry.
A view from the bottom

This is neither here nor there, but I'm relieved to see that Ben Bernanke's beard no longer extends to his neck.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Nation mourns prospect of someday thinking for itself

New York Times

To most of us, most of the time, the news is something that happens to other people, the disembodied events of the day. It was Walter Cronkite’s job to embody them for us, to give them presence in our lives.

Well, that's not his fault.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Breaking the law!

If ever there was an example of how little things that slight big people make waves, while big things that bludgeon little people persist without comment, I give you the "CIA-didn't-tell-us-about-an-assassination-program-that-doesn't-exist" gripe put forth by a Democratic congress which presently endorses exactly the same thing, only with flying robots instead of soldiers, and with a lot more civilian casualties.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Your career: It's what's for dinner!


The problem with sticking it to business [through taxation] is that ultimately business doesn't get stuck. Taxwise, a company is just a bunch of incorporation papers; all taxes are paid by people -- customers, shareholders, and employees. And guess who would bear most of the burden of these tax increases? It's the U.S. employees of the companies being taxed.

Leave it to the people at the top to tell it like it is!

Of course, if the people who worked for a company had any say in its operations, such burdens might be placed elsewhere -- for instance, on executive compensation or shareholder dividends -- freeing up revenue for whatever initiatives people want.

The fact that executives and shareholders allocate profits with a view to their own self-interest while employees supplicate themselves for the right to live owes only to the imbalance of power which exists between them -- an imbalance which rests squarely at the heart of capitalist relations.

A different outcome presupposes different relations. As I like to say, it would be good to change them.

And the reason is as the saying goes: If you don't have a seat at the table, don't be surprised when you end up on the menu.
Manifest destinies

Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post:

Fourteen months from today, for the first time since 1962, the United States will be incapable not just of sending a man to the moon but of sending anyone into Earth orbit. We'll be totally grounded. We'll have to beg a ride from the Russians or perhaps even the Chinese.

So what, you say? Don't we have problems here on Earth? Oh, please. Poverty and disease and social ills will always be with us. If we'd waited for them to be rectified before venturing out, we'd still be living in caves.

A letter in response to this op-ed:

Dear Charles Krauthammer,
As someone terminally afflicted with a preventable disease owing to poverty, I read with interest your piece on the moon. Fuck you.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Michael Jackson goes straight to hell

Wall Street Journal:

If only [Michael Jackson] had an enormous fortune, a large family, and an extraordinary network of famous friends to help him cope with those problems. Instead of turning to them, he chose to run away from his art, become a drug addict, ruin his personal reputation, dismantle a towering fortune, embark on transparently absurd PR campaigns, and turn himself into a world-class freak show.

Wow -- and I thought I was cynical about Michael Jackson!

When it comes to the "personal responsibility" crowd, I guess "empathy" really is a four-letter word!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The limits to liberalism

The Big Money:

During the credit boom, an unquenchable need for short-term success, combined with a lack of empathy for those who didn't share in the economic windfalls, was a byproduct of a society trying desperately to survive beyond its means. We both empowered the most ruthlessly self-aggrandizing among us and succumbed to the erosion of any authority that might have contained the overweening. We lost any independent measure of the American dream.

Liberalism often reduces to gobbledygook in the face of hard economic questions, including one of my personal favorites: "Just what the fuck is going on around here, anyway?" This is because liberalism is faithful to the same economic premise as conservatism: the unequal relationship between owners, their institutions, and everybody else.

The significance of such inequality is not conceded in capitalism, however; the state is advanced as a neutral party which impartially enforces whatever is on paper, as recorded by the people's representatives. In reality, "equality under the law" is subject to the same bane of power and influence as any other relationship.

Insofar as liberalism asserts a public role in economic affairs through the political process, it ignores the fact that "the public" are by and large preoccupied with their own survival, while corporations and investors deploy their lobbyists full-time. Under such a scenario, it is only a matter of time before the advantaged groups get what they want, even if it is the repeal of sensible post-Depression era legislation designed to forestall crisis in the future. Clinton gave this to Wall Street in the aptly named Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, helping along the glorious meltdown which we presently enjoy.

In short, economic advantages beget political advantages. Our system just happens to be constructed on one giant economic partition, a fact which liberalism resorts to all manner of nonsense to avoid.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Farce, uninterrupted

New York Times:

Judge Sonia Sotomayor insisted on Tuesday, in the face of sometimes skeptical questioning from Republicans, that she would never allow her background or life experiences to determine the outcome of a case if she were elevated to the Supreme Court.

Instead, Judge Sonia Sotomayor insisted she would only allow the background and life experiences of the Founding Fathers, conjured by séance, to determine the outcome of a case if she was elevated to the Supreme Court.
Tragedy as farce

While it may be tempting to take some satisfaction in the unfolding train wreck that is the Republican Party's rapport with ordinary Americans (both agree that a woman's identity may be an obstacle to her thinking like a man, but only Republicans miss that this is the entire point of nominating one), it's important to note how little public sensibilities help steer the course charted by our business-backed betters. Another illustration: health care reform.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Getting the governments we deserve

Look at the difference in New York Times coverage between disputed election results in Iran and the military removal of the president of Honduras. Iran is a human rights story, trumpeted ad naseum; Honduras is a "contested" legal matter, with no human rights dimension whatsoever.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

You've got some explaining to do, young lady!

Wall Street Journal:

When Judge Sonia Sotomayor faces the Senate Judiciary Committee next week, she will finally get to explain before the cameras her comment that a "wise Latina" can often reach a better conclusion than a white man.

Finally! May her pearly white benefactors show her the power of their mercy!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Understanding communism


Why did communism take root? Given its sorrowful harvest, why did it keep spreading? And what ever enabled it to last so long?

...It is striking that 36 countries at one time or another adopted this system and that five—Cuba, Laos, North Korea, Vietnam and the biggest of them all, China—still pay lip service to it.

Communism and socialism have always concerned themselves with the relationship between employers and employees. If you've ever been employed, then you know how significant this relationship can be. When the relationship is "bad," it makes life that much more difficult, because most of us are dependent on employment for "life" as we know it.

Socialism (of which communism is a subset) has never accepted the premise that one person or group has the right to exclusive ownership of that which others require for survival. This kind of "liberty" for one group only puts everyone else at an extreme disadvantage, prompting them to submit to a kind of relationship they would not otherwise accept. Predictably, this has contributed to the kind of abuse one would expect from such an extreme disparity in power. Socialism's aim has always been to alter this relationship fundamentally, changing the balance of power, as opposed to asking the powerful to "do the right thing" through various incentives.

Apologists for concentrated power will often rebuke the impulse to question unequal relations by asserting some preconceived idea in the very act of questioning. "Communism" has never meant any one thing in practice any more than "feminism" has meant one thing in practice: they are only intended to challenge to an unequal relation in power. Both traditions have always contained widely divergent, often contentious disputes over how best to advance this challenge. In communism's case, those committed to monopoly power within government (Leninist) won out against those opposed to monopoly power anywhere (anarchist) -- these two trends evolved out of a movement aimed ending the monopoly of private, concentrated power.

Naturally, the fact that Leninism was a disaster has since become a rallying point for those who sought to preserve the unequal relations of private enterprise all along; it is held up as proof that such inequality must never be questioned, that the terms set by employers are "as good as it gets" -- and if you don't like it, go bow before another master. Otherwise, you see what good "overthrowing capitalism" will get you.

Thursday, July 09, 2009


People often think that "politics" amounts to the close study of one or another jackass in power, and that being especially familiar with this or that jackass contributes to a well-rounded understanding of what is happening in the world.

In truth, having some familiarity with the jackass du jour can be helpful. But the fact remains that jackasses do not make the world go round quite as much as they would have us believe. The point must be made that jackasses almost never deserve the amount of attention they get, whether in power or not; and it is a point worth repeating under threat of ever-ready claims to the contrary.

The thing to remember about jackasses is that they exist in a relationship with the rest of us, their jackassery being, to a greater or lesser extent, facilitated or constrained by our own behavior.

Once we extract the jackass from the center of our political worldview, we can reclaim it, put ourselves at the center of our concerns, and relegate any and all jackasses to their rightful, subordinated place. We pay attention to them to the degree that they obstruct our goals, but they do not accumulate significance merely by doing so.
Taking one for the team


Should banks, carmakers, and other companies getting federal bailouts run marketing campaigns "thanking" taxpayers for giving them a hand?

Don't mention it, dudes! That's what we're here for!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The many ghosts of Robert McNamara

Late defense secretary Robert McNamara pictured with Vietnam War opponent Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, in 1997. I believe part of the exchange was related in the Errol Morris documentary, The Fog of War; Giap discloses that the Vietnamese had been fighting a war for national independence and were not pawns of China, which -- if you knew anything about the region -- was a longstanding rival. McNamara finds this fascinating in light of the fact that he had prosecuted the entire war on a false premise, helping along three million Vietnamese to a state of extra-corporeal "liberation" -- which in Holocaust terms is like half.

You might take from this story a sneaking suspicion that McNamara was something of an idiot. In fairness, I will not discourage you in this view. Still, the Wall Street Journal may have put it best: "[McNamara's] genius lay in pursuing efficiencies rather than in questioning policy goals." Which, unfortunately for him -- and not only for him, not by a longshot -- is kind of like saying the same thing.

Financial Times:

The White House has not abandoned a public insurance plan, which would compete with private providers, but Rahm Emanuel, the president’s chief of staff, said it was only one way to get cheaper and broader coverage. “The goal is non-negotiable,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “The path is.”

The words...were encouraging for doubting Democrats and moderate Republicans, who want a bipartisan approach that leaves out the government-sponsored option.

Bipartisanship: because if there is one thing competing political parties can agree on, it's leaving out what's favored by a majority of the country.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Civil, disobedient

Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal:

At a dinner last week in California, I was reminded of the debt we owe to those who have, for 233 years, sustained our freedom and independence.

Were you served an indictment?
Lessons learned

Philip Stephens, Financial Times:

As for suggestions that Israel is ready to bomb Iran to prevent Mr Ahmadi-Nejad from getting his hands on nuclear weapons, the issue was now more complicated. “How do you bomb Neda?” the diplomat said, in a reference to Neda Salehi Agha-Soltan, the young woman whose death on the streets of Tehran has become a symbol of the regime’s repression.

I don't know about you, but if there's one thing I've learned from Neda, it's the importance of bombing her before she becomes an international symbol for Iranian civil rights. Otherwise there is no telling how she might inconvenience you.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The praxis of "evil"

Bernie Madoff was sentenced to being "evil" because he stole money from the rich. Had he merely stolen from the poor, state laws vary.
Not wisely, but too well

Thomas Frank says Republicans screw up in order to prove government can't work, but I prefer to say that Republicans do not advance the interests of the vast majority of Americans very, very well.