Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Roll Over, Dr. Strangelove — I've Learned To Stop Worrying & Love The Cold War

Albert Einstein is alleged to have said: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Today, Michael Lind doesn't repeat that old chestnut, but he trots out another aphorism that he attributes to George Santayana: "Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim." Either way, we in the USA are up to our ass in alligators and we have forgotten that our original intention was to drain the swamp. If this (fair & balanced) pithiness, so be it.

[x Salon]
The U.S. Is Stuck In The Cold War
By Michael Lind

Tag Cloud of the following article

created at

What does America's deepening war in Afghanistan have to do with the American trade deficit? Answer: Both are the results of Cold War policies that made sense at one time but are now harmful to the United States.

During World War II, the Roosevelt administration planned for a postwar world in which the wartime cooperation of the Big Three — the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union — would continue indefinitely. The Bretton Woods system was designed to allow countries to pursue domestic policies of full employment and to avert the kind of trade wars and beggar-thy-neighbor currency revaluations that had wrecked the global economy in the interwar years.

But the Cold War divided much of the world between rival blocs, symbolized by the division of four countries — Germany, China, Korea and Vietnam — into communist and non-communist states.

During and after the Korean War, the U.S. rebuilt its military and stationed troops along "tripwires" from Central Europe to East Asia. The U.S. encouraged the formation of the European Common Market (now the European Union) in part to provide the West Germans with markets. In Asia, Mao Zedong's victory in China cut off Japan's China market, so the U.S. offered the American market to Japanese exporters, which initially were not considered a threat to American businesses.

Thus began the Grand Bargain at the heart of U.S. Cold War strategy toward West Germany and Japan, the "markets-for-bases" swap. In return for giving up an independent foreign policy to their protector, the United States, the West Germans and Japanese would be granted access to American markets (and, in the case of the Germans, access to Western European markets).

By the 1970s, it was clear that the markets-for-bases swap was a better deal for West Germany and Japan than for the U.S. They recovered from the devastation of World War II and won growing shares of global markets in automobiles and, in the case of Japan, consumer electronics.

Japan did so by boldly unfair "mercantilist" measures, like non-tariff barriers that kept U.S. imports out of Japan, and interlocking corporate ownership patterns that froze American and other foreign investors out of Japanese multinationals. When American manufacturers complained about this double standard, however, the Pentagon and State Department warned that to crack down on unfair Japanese trade practices would endanger the markets-for-bases swap at the heart of Cold War strategy.

The markets-for-bases deal should have been scrapped when the Cold War ended and there was no longer any need to favor American allies with one-way trade privileges in return for their support of U.S. military objectives in their regions. Unfortunately, the Cold War lasted long enough for two completely separate American foreign policy establishments — the security establishment and the economic establishment — to develop and take separate paths.

The American security establishment, dominating both parties, wanted the U.S. to expand its overseas commitments after the Cold War, not reduce them. Under both Clinton and Bush the U.S. expanded NATO to the borders of the Soviet Union, consolidated America's position as the hegemon of the Persian Gulf, maintained America's bases in Japan and South Korea, and encircled China and Russia with new bases in Central Asia, whose strategic usefulness was not limited to the war against a small number of jihadists.

Meanwhile, in a different part of the building, the economic establishment was living in a fantasy world, ignoring the markets-for-bases swap and pretending that every country in the world believed in Chicago School free-market fundamentalism. A version of the markets-for-bases deal was extended to China, which, it was hoped, would acquiesce in U.S. military hegemony in its own neighborhood, in return for unlimited access to American consumers.

George W. Bush made the deal explicit in his 2002 West Point address: "America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge — thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless and limiting rivalries to trade other pursuits of peace." U.S. to other great powers: We make wars, you make cars.

China, like West Germany (now Germany) and Japan before it, took the U.S. up on the offer. In seeking to persuade multinationals to close down production in the U.S. and make things in China, the Chinese government cheated in various ways, confident perhaps that the U.S. foreign policy establishment, invoking diplomatic and national-security considerations, would intervene on its behalf against American manufacturers and workers. Like postwar Japan and Germany, China has accepted the terms of the bargain America's elites offered, focusing on economic growth while the U.S. wasted blood and treasure on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But now the markets-for-bases deal has broken down, because American consumers are tapped out. The bargain nearly broke down in the 1990s, when a Japanese-American trade war was averted only by the economic collapse of Japan.

In the 2000s, debt-fueled consumption in the U.S. kept the system going for a while. China kept its currency low by using its huge dollar surpluses to buy U.S. federal debt, thereby keeping interest rates low and allowing Americans to borrow to pay for Chinese imports. But like all Ponzi schemes, this collapsed, leaving China with overbuilt export capacity and not enough customers either in the U.S. or at home, where the consumption of the Chinese people has been ruthlessly suppressed.

A similar Ponzi scheme has broken down in Europe, where Germany ran perpetual trade surpluses with the other EU nations, in the way that first Japan and then China have run perpetual surpluses with the U.S.

For half a century America's economic establishment, turning a blind eye to Asia's crude and Germany's subtle mercantilism, pretended that American protectionism was the greatest threat to the world economy. It is gradually dawning even on former free-trade fundamentalists that you cannot have a liberal global trading system in which three of the four largest industrial capitalist countries — China, Japan and Germany — pursue policies that permit them to enjoy perpetual trade surpluses, which require perpetual trade deficits by the U.S. and other countries.

Meanwhile, the security half of America's global strategy is headed for a crash as well. Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has mindlessly sought to fill every power vacuum from the Balkans to the Persian Gulf to Central Asia, while spending far less on the military than it did in the Cold War. The U.S. has gone into debt to finance the Iraq and Afghan wars. You don't have to be a grand strategist to figure out that extending territorial commitments without commensurately expanding funding and troop levels is a formula for strategic and perhaps national bankruptcy.

By declaring that the new deficit commission would not consider any cuts in military spending, only in entitlement spending, President Obama reflected the preferences of America's policy elite. Its members would gladly cut Social Security and Medicare in order to pay for bases and "nation-building" abroad. In the same way, for half a century, America's foreign-policy elite tolerated the targeted deindustrialization of America by Asian mercantilist states, as long as those countries did not challenge America's global military hegemony.

There are signs, however, that the American people and their representatives in Congress, if not the White House, are ready to reject a Cold War system under which the U.S. gives away its industries while wasting taxes and the lives of its soldiers on quixotic crusades in the lands of the former British empire.

Members of Congress are threatening to use tariffs to punish China for its unfair currency manipulation policies if the Obama administration does not name China as a currency manipulator on April 15. And while the public has acquiesced in escalation of the war in Afghanistan, if the choice comes down to balancing the budget by slashing the Pentagon or slashing Social Security, it is not clear that the Pentagon will win. After all, massive post-Cold War cuts in Pentagon spending, along with tax revenues raised by the tech stock bubble, permitted the budget to be balanced under Clinton.

For the time being, however, America's out-of-touch foreign policy establishment continues to favor the policy of expanding America's geopolitical frontiers while allowing our self-interested industrial rivals to hollow out the American economy. Policies that made sense in the early years of the Cold War emergency continue to be followed out of inertia, when their original strategic rationale has long since vanished. In the words of the philosopher George Santayana, "Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim." Ω

[Michael Lind is Policy Director of New America's Economic Growth Program and the author of The American Way of Strategy: U.S. Foreign Policy and the American Way of Life (2006). Lind holds a B.A. from the University of Texas-Austin, an M.A. from Yale University, and a J.D. from University of Texas-Austin.]

Copyright © 2010 Salon Media Group, Inc.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Roll Over Calhoun Calhoun, Here Comes That Mendacious Mob AKA Tea-Baggers!

Oh, what a time! The storm clouds are gathering. Will there be a Civil War II? If this is (fair & balanced) national anxiety, so be it.

[x TNR]
The Essence Of Anarchy
By Sean Wilentz

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Historical amnesia is as dangerously disorienting for a nation as for an individual. So it is with the current wave of enthusiasm for “states’ rights,” “interposition,” and “nullification”—the claim that state legislatures or special state conventions or referendums have the legitimate power to declare federal laws null and void within their own state borders. The idea was broached most vociferously in defense of the slave South by John C. Calhoun in the 1820s and 1830s, extended by the Confederate secessionists in the 1850s and 1860s, then forcefully reclaimed by militant segregationists in the 1950s and 1960s. Each time it reared its head, it was crushed as an assault on democratic government and the nation itself—in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “the essence of anarchy.” The issue has been decided time and again—not least by the deaths of more than 618,000 Americans on Civil War battlefields. Yet there are those who now seek to reopen this wound in the name of resisting federal legislation on issues ranging from gun control to health care reform. Proclaiming themselves heralds of liberty and freedom, the new nullifiers would have us repudiate the sacrifices of American history—and subvert the constitutional pillars of American nationhood.

The origins of nullification date back to the stormy early decades of the republic. In 1798, a conservative Federalist Congress, fearing the rise of a political opposition headed by Thomas Jefferson, passed the Alien and Sedition Acts outlawing criticism of the federal government. Coming before the Supreme Court had assumed powers of judicial review, the laws, signed by President John Adams, were steps toward eradicating political dissent. In a panic, Jefferson and his ally James Madison wrote sets of resolutions duly passed by the legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky, which called upon the state governments to resist and, as Madison put it, “interpose” themselves between the federal government and the citizenry. But the other state legislatures either ignored or repudiated the resolutions as affronts to the Constitution, and the crisis was ended by the democratic means of an election when Jefferson won the presidency two years later—the wholly peaceable and constitutional “revolution of 1800.”

The concept was revived by John C. Calhoun, who expanded it into a theory of nullification and Southern states’ rights in 1828. The specific issue at stake was a protective tariff that Southerners believed unfair to their section, but behind it lay a growing fear that the federal government might interfere with the institution of slavery. Calhoun declared that as “irresponsible power is inconsistent with liberty,” individual states had the right to nullify laws they deemed unconstitutional. He asserted further that should the federal government try to suppress nullification, individual states had the right to secede from the Union. In 1832, the South Carolina legislature passed a formal ordinance nullifying the tariff. But President Andrew Jackson proclaimed nullification pernicious nonsense. The nation, Jackson proclaimed, was not created by sovereign state governments—then, as now, a basic misunderstanding propagated by pro-nullifiers. Ratified in order “to form a more perfect union,” the Constitution was a new framework for a nation that already existed under the Articles of Confederation. “The Constitution of the United States,” Jackson declared, created “a government, not a league.”

Although state governments had certain powers reserved to them, these did not include voiding laws duly enacted by the people’s representatives in Congress and the president. Calhoun and South Carolina were isolated by Jackson’s firm stand. The aging James Madison sided with the president, deploring “the strange doctrines and misconceptions” of the South Carolinians, charging that they were a perversion of the Virginia Resolutions, and insisting that the “Constitution & laws of the U. S. should be the supreme law of the Land.” (Madison also wrote of nullification that “[n]o man’s creed was more opposed to such an inversion of the Repubn. order of things” than Thomas Jefferson’s.) Other southern states refused to join in the nullification movement, and the Congress approved a compromise tariff bill.

Calhoun’s radical ideas about states’ rights resurfaced during the sectional crisis over slavery in the 1850s. The Civil War began as a struggle over democracy and American government, focused on a key question: could the slave power in individual states, dissatisfied with the outcome of a presidential election, declare that election null and void and secede from the Union? Lincoln, like Jackson before him, declared such extreme views of state sovereignty a direct attack on democratic republican government.

After four years of Civil War, in a “new birth of freedom” that resurrected the Union, Calhoun’s states’ rights doctrines were utterly disgraced—but they did not disappear forever. Nearly a century later they were exhumed to justify the so-called “massive resistance” of the segregationist South against civil rights and, in particular, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. The current rage for nullification is nothing less than another restatement, in a different context, of musty neo-Confederate dogma.

Following the Brown decision, James J. Kilpatrick, the pro-segregationist editor of the The Richmond News Leader, dressed up nullification under the milder sounding “interposition,” borrowed from Madison’s Virginia resolutions. Kilpatrick hoped that adopting lofty Madisonian language would lift resistance to Brown “above the sometimes sordid level of race and segregation.” Despite his rhetorical sleight of hand, his intent was radical—supporting resistance not only to acts of Congress or the outcome of a presidential election, but also to the decisions of the ultimate court. Not surprisingly, not a single Supreme Court justice then or since, including the fiercest advocates of states’ rights, has ever ruled the concept a valid response to federal law or judicial rulings. All have recognized that nullification under any name would leave controversial laws or court decisions open to state-by-state popular referendums—a recipe for chaos that would undercut judicial review, the cornerstone of American constitutional jurisprudence. And the justices have recognized the explicit language of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, that federal laws made in pursuance of the Constitution “shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges of every State shall be bound thereby.” Yet in their last-ditch efforts to save Jim Crow, segregationists like Kilpatrick grasped and distorted the words of James Madison from 1798. In the spirit of John C. Calhoun and the Confederacy, they then vaunted their idea of “interposition”  above the words of the Constitution, of which Madison is considered the father.

Kirkpatrick’s gambit caught on among his fellow white supremacists in southern state governments—most notably Virginia’s—and they passed resolutions of interdiction in defiance of the Brown decision. (The Alabama legislature went further, bluntly declaring Brown, “as a matter of right, null, void, and of no effect.”) Those resolutions came to lie at the heart of what Senator Harry F. Byrd of Virginia announced in February 1956 as a policy of “massive resistance” to Brown. For several years, the strategy succeeded in fending off federal authority, resulting in mob violence against blacks and federal officials as well as the closure of entire public school systems in the South, including the shutdown of public education in Virginia’s Prince Edward County for five years beginning in 1959. But determined efforts by the administrations of Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson eventually broke the back of the segregationist campaign. And as early as January 1960, state and federal courts negated the Virginia nullification laws meant to implement massive resistance. Segregationists found other temporary means to preserve racial separation in the schools, including, for a time, the creation of private “segregation academies.” But, in time, Virginia, as well as the rest of the South, finally acceded to the legitimacy of the Brown decision. The repudiated doctrines of interposition and nullification were repudiated once more.
Less than a year ago, on July 16, 2009, the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran an editorial apologizing for its role and that of its sister newspaper, the News Leader, in instigating and supporting massive resistance, which it called “a dreadful doctrine.” It is all the more ironic that the legal fictions used to justify that doctrine should now be reappearing in new circumstances. “Who is the sovereign, the state or the federal government?” State Representative Chris N. Herrod, a Republican, declared amid a recent session of the Utah legislature that nullified, among other federal measures, health care reform. Earlier this month, Governor Mike Rounds of South Dakota, a Republican, signed into law a bill that invalidated all federal regulation of firearms regarding weapons manufactured and used in South Dakota. A few days later, Wyoming’s governor, Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, signed similar legislation for his state. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma House of Representatives resolved that Oklahomans should be permitted to vote on a state constitutional amendment which would allow them to ignore the impending reform of the health care system. And in Virginia, the home of massive resistance, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, a Republican, has argued that a recently enacted state law prohibiting the government from requiring the people to buy health insurance counters federal health care reform which, he insists, is unconstitutional.

Now, as in the 1860s and 1960s, nullification and interposition are pseudo-constitutional notions taken up in the face of national defeat in democratic politics. Unable to prevail as a minority and frustrated to the point of despair, its militant advocates abandon the usual tools of democratic politics and redress, take refuge in a psychodrama of “liberty” versus “tyranny,” and declare that, on whatever issue they choose, they are not part of the United States or subject to its laws—that, whenever they say so, the Constitution in fact forms a league, and not a government. Although not currently concerned with racial supremacy, the consequence of their doctrine would uphold an interpretation of the constitutional division of powers that would permit the majority of any state to reinstate racial segregation and inequality up to the point of enslavement, if it so chose.
That these ideas resurfaced 50 years ago, amid the turmoil of civil rights, was as harebrained as it was hateful. But it was comprehensible if only because interposition and nullification lay at the roots of the Civil War. Today, by contrast, the dismal history of these discredited ideas resides within the memories of all Americans who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s—and ought, on that account, to be part of the living legacy of the rest of the country. Only an astonishing historical amnesia can lend credence to such mendacity. Ω

[Sean Wilentz is Dayton-Stockon Professor of History at Princeton University. He earned one B.A. at Columbia University in 1972, before earning another at Oxford University on a Kellett Fellowship. In 1980, he earned his Ph.D. at Yale University. Wilentz won the Frederick Jackson Turner Award (OAH, 1985), the Annual Book Award (Society for the History of the Early American Republic, 1985), and the Albert J. Beveridge Award (AHA, 1984) for his first book: Chants Democratic: New York City & the Rise of the American Working Class: 1788-1850 (1984). His second book — The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (2005) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History. Most recently, he was the author of The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008 (2008).]

Copyright © 2010 The New Republic

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Will Health Care Reform Cure White Racism?

A few days ago, this blog featured the NY Fishwrap's Butcher On Broadway (Frank Rich) with trenchant analysis of these days of white rage. A nearly parallel and less polemical take on the current white rage is provided by Ron Brownstein in The National Journal. If this is (fair & balanced) politics of self-interest, so be it.

[x Salon]
"This Modern World — Health Care Reformageddon"
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Click on image to enlarge. Ω

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Salon and Working for Change. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly.

Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002.

When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political weblog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001.]

Copyright © 2010 Salon Media Group

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Monday, March 29, 2010

March Goodness

Kid Coach (Brad Stevens of Butler University) was not born when Whinin' Jim Boeheim (of Syracuse University) started his coaching career in 1969. However, Kid Coach gave Whinin' Jim a schoolin' in the Sweet 16 game of the 2010 West Regional of the NCAA Tournament. After the game, the teams lined up for the obligatory handshake. At the head of the line were the two head coaches. Whinin' Jim barely shook Kid Coach's hand and said nothing. Not "nice game." Not "kiss my foot." Whinin' Jim will be a jerk until the last day he whines from the Syracuse sideline. Kid Coach has more class in his nether parts than Whinin' Jim can ever summon forth on his best day. If this is the (fair & balanced) Butler Way, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Butler’s Coach: Competitiveness Wrapped In Calm
By Billy Witz

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It did not take Tracy Stevens long to discover how important basketball was to her husband, Brad. On their third date, as sophomores at DePauw University in Greencastle, IN, he took her to a high school basketball game more than an hour and a half away.

“Anderson versus North Central, at the Wigwam,” she said, displaying an Indiana native’s proper reverence for Anderson’s renowned arena. “I should have known I was in trouble.”

Tracy Stevens said this while standing at the edge of the court late Saturday afternoon, after being summoned by her husband from the stands with their two children, 4-year-old Brady and 10-month-old Kinsley. Tracy Stevens wore a West Regional championship baseball cap and a smile, both products of Butler’s 63-56 victory over Kansas State.

A big story in the Final Four will be Butler, the small Indianapolis university that reached the Final Four in its hometown, trying to put a real-life spin on the script from the movie “Hoosiers.”

At the center of it will be Brad Stevens, the coach. But Stevens is no modern-day Norman Dale, the character played by Gene Hackman, a crusty basketball sage in search of redemption. Nor is he Bob Knight, the bombastic red-sweatered icon of Indiana basketball.

Stevens, 33, is in many ways the embodiment of his team — baby-faced, smart, unknown to all but the basketball cognoscenti and, until now, frequently underestimated.

Indeed, when he took off for a flying chest bump with the freshman walk-on Emerson Kampen after the game, Stevens got surprisingly high in the air.

Ten years ago, Stevens, a native of suburban Indianapolis, took another leap. He walked away from a job as a marketing representative at the medicine manufacturer Eli Lilly to pursue a college coaching career at one of its lowest rungs — the director of basketball operations at Butler. He did not become a head coach until three years ago and still looks young enough to be mistaken for a player.

Yet throughout the tournament, the visage of Stevens on the sideline is one of composure. He mostly stands with his arms folded, observing, and when he is moved to action, it is often polite applause — for a job well done or as a pick-me-up.

“He’s calm and collected, but he’s fiercely competitive,” Tracy Stevens said. “He’s always thinking about how he can beat you.”

Brad Stevens is a believer in statistical analysis, which after heavily influencing baseball is making its way into basketball. At home, he pores over statistics almost as much as he does film in preparing game plans. He refers to the 6-foot-3 forward Willie Veasley as his team’s Shane Battier, the Houston Rockets player whose role as a facilitator is not often reflected in box scores but has made him a darling of the statistical set.

The result is a team that is not gifted athletically and starts only two players taller than 6-3 but that could outrebound Kansas State by 12. And force Syracuse into 18 turnovers. And hold each regional opponent to a season-low point total, neither reaching 60 points.

“Yeah, definitely,” Kansas State forward Curtis Kelly said when asked if the Wildcats had underestimated Butler. “I didn’t think they were that good, especially defensively. But they disrupted our offense with their pressure.”

Two things have been noticeable about Butler in the N.C.A.A. tournament — the Bulldogs are very well prepared for their opponents, and they do not rattle easily.

In each game, there were key wrinkles in the Bulldogs’ game plan — how they tried to force Syracuse’s Andy Rautins to dribble to his right, for example, or the way they changed the positioning of their screens against Kansas State.

When center Matt Howard was in foul trouble early against Kansas State, Andrew Smith, a husky freshman who had not played in a tournament game, performed as if he had prepared all season for the moment, playing a near-flawless 12 minutes, a season high.

“We know everything we need to about our opponents, all their tendencies are broken down,” the sophomore guard Ronald Nored said. “I honestly believe every time we go on the court, we’re the most prepared team in the country.”

That preparation translates into confidence, and it is what the Bulldogs, who have won 24 consecutive games, credit for their success when the game is in the balance.

They are 10-1 in games decided by 5 points or fewer and have come from behind in the second half of all four tournament games. They trailed Murray State, Syracuse and Kansas State in the final five minutes, yet did not wilt.

“I really love their resolve and their toughness,” said Barry Collier, the Butler athletic director and a former coach there. “There’s a level of toughness that defines this team, and I really appreciate it.”

Amid the celebration on the court Saturday, the silver-haired Collier, who also played at Butler, wrapped his arms around Stevens like a father would a son and told him, “Awesome.”

It was Collier who promoted Stevens to head coach when Todd Lickliter left for Iowa. Stevens interviewed for the job the day after Lickliter left and was called back the next day for a second interview.

When he was offered a contract, Tracy, a labor and employment lawyer, looked it over.

The contract, whose terms Butler, a private university, does not divulge, was extended last year through 2016. “It’s somewhere between seven years and lifetime,” Collier said.

That commitment may be tested in the weeks to come. Stevens will surely be a target of bigger programs, just as the coaches were who preceded him — Collier (Nebraska), Thad Matta (Xavier and then Ohio State) and Lickliter (Iowa).

Stevens has been coy when the subject of his future comes up. There may be jobs in which he is more likely to return to the Final Four or make more money, but Butler is home.

And that is one other thing that should not be underestimated. Ω

[Billy Witz now writes for "The Quad," The NY Fishwrap's College Sports Blog.]

Copyright © 2010 The New York Times Company

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Today's Daily Double: "It's An Outrage!"

The Donkey mantra during The Slickster's time (thanks to James Carville) was "It's the economy, stupid!" Today, the Dumbo/Tea Bagger mantra is "It's the goddamned nigger, stupid!" Many talking heads want to cast today's Dumbo/Tea Bagger crowd as "populists." Thanks to Professor Charles Postrel, in an earlier post to this blog, we know that today's loudmouths are NOT populists. However, there is one strain in the populism of the 1890s that animates the Dumbo/Tea Bagger crowd today: racism. Georgia populist Thomas Watson was a populist and a racist. In the mid-1890s, Watson editorialized in the People's Party Paper — "The argument against the independent political movement in the South may be boiled down into one word – NIGGER!" If the Dumbos and Tea Baggers want to show their true colors, they should wear white robes and hoods. If this is (fair & balanced) racialism, so be it.

P.S. Helpful hint from the blogger: click on the bracketed numbers below to hop from one item to another; click on "Back To Directory" to return to the starting point.

[Vannevar Bush Hyperlink — Bracketed NumbersDirectory]
[1] Mr. & Mrs. Mad — AKA The Bitch & The Geezer — 2010
[2] The Butcher Guts The Tea-Baggers & Finds The Source Of The Rage

[1]Back To Directory
[x San Antonio Fishwrap]
The Bitch & The Geezer — 2010
By John Branch

[John Branch contributes to the San Antonio Express-News on a regular basis. He was the full-time editorial cartoonist at the Express-News from 1981 through March 2009. Branch began his career at The Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina in 1975. Upon graduation in 1976 with a degree in studio art, he began drawing for his hometown paper, The Chapel Hill Newspaper. (Yes, that was its name.) His work has been reprinted in The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek, and many other publications throughout the country. Branch's work is distributed nationally in the King Features/North America Syndicate "Best and Wittiest" package. A member of the board of directors of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, Branch hosted the 2009 AAEC convention in San Antonio.] Ω

Copyright © 2010 John Branch/San Antonio Express-News
[2]Back To Directory
[x NY Fishwrap]
The Rage Is Not About Health Care
By Frank Rich

Copyright © 2010 Barry Blitt

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There were times when last Sunday’s great G.O.P. health care implosion threatened to bring the thrill back to reality television. On ABC’s “This Week,” a frothing and filibustering Karl Rove all but lost it in a debate with the Obama strategist David Plouffe. A few hours later, the perennially copper-faced Republican leader John Boehner revved up his “Hell no, you can’t!” incantation in the House chamber — instant fodder for a new viral video remixing his rap with’s “Yes, we can!” classic from the campaign. Boehner, having previously likened the health care bill to Armageddon, was now so apoplectic you had to wonder if he had just discovered one of its more obscure revenue-generating provisions, a tax on indoor tanning salons.

But the laughs evaporated soon enough. There’s nothing entertaining about watching goons hurl venomous slurs at congressmen like the civil rights hero John Lewis and the openly gay Barney Frank. And as the week dragged on, and reports of death threats and vandalism stretched from Arizona to Kansas to upstate New York, the F.B.I. and the local police had to get into the act to protect members of Congress and their families.

How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far.

No less curious is how disproportionate this red-hot anger is to its proximate cause. The historic Obama-Pelosi health care victory is a big deal, all right, so much so it doesn’t need Joe Biden’s adjective to hype it. But the bill does not erect a huge New Deal-Great Society-style government program. In lieu of a public option, it delivers 32 million newly insured Americans to private insurers. As no less a conservative authority than The Wall Street Journal editorial page observed last week, the bill’s prototype is the health care legislation Mitt Romney signed into law in Massachusetts. It contains what used to be considered Republican ideas.

Yet it’s this bill that inspired G.O.P. congressmen on the House floor to egg on disruptive protesters even as they were being evicted from the gallery by the Capitol Police last Sunday. It’s this bill that prompted a congressman to shout “baby killer” at Bart Stupak, a staunch anti-abortion Democrat. It’s this bill that drove a demonstrator to spit on Emanuel Cleaver, a black representative from Missouri. And it’s this “middle-of-the-road” bill, as Obama accurately calls it, that has incited an unglued firestorm of homicidal rhetoric, from “Kill the bill!” to Sarah Palin’s cry for her followers to “reload.” At least four of the House members hit with death threats or vandalism are among the 20 political targets Palin marks with rifle crosshairs on a map on her Facebook page.

When Social Security was passed by Congress in 1935 and Medicare in 1965, there was indeed heated opposition. As Dana Milbank wrote in The Washington Post, Alf Landon built his catastrophic 1936 presidential campaign on a call for repealing Social Security. (Democrats can only pray that the G.O.P. will “go for it” again in 2010, as Obama goaded them on Thursday, and keep demanding repeal of a bill that by September will shower benefits on the elderly and children alike.) When L.B.J. scored his Medicare coup, there were the inevitable cries of “socialism” along with ultimately empty rumblings of a boycott from the American Medical Association.

But there was nothing like this. To find a prototype for the overheated reaction to the health care bill, you have to look a year before Medicare, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both laws passed by similar majorities in Congress; the Civil Rights Act received even more votes in the Senate (73) than Medicare (70). But it was only the civil rights bill that made some Americans run off the rails. That’s because it was the one that signaled an inexorable and immutable change in the very identity of America, not just its governance.

The apocalyptic predictions then, like those about health care now, were all framed in constitutional pieties, of course. Barry Goldwater, running for president in ’64, drew on the counsel of two young legal allies, William Rehnquist and Robert Bork, to characterize the bill as a “threat to the very essence of our basic system” and a “usurpation” of states’ rights that “would force you to admit drunks, a known murderer or an insane person into your place of business.” Richard Russell, the segregationist Democratic senator from Georgia, said the bill “would destroy the free enterprise system.” David Lawrence, a widely syndicated conservative columnist, bemoaned the establishment of “a federal dictatorship.” Meanwhile, three civil rights workers were murdered in Philadelphia, MS.

That a tsunami of anger is gathering today is illogical, given that what the right calls “Obamacare” is less provocative than either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Medicare, an epic entitlement that actually did precipitate a government takeover of a sizable chunk of American health care. But the explanation is plain: the health care bill is not the main source of this anger and never has been. It’s merely a handy excuse. The real source of the over-the-top rage of 2010 is the same kind of national existential reordering that roiled America in 1964.

In fact, the current surge of anger — and the accompanying rise in right-wing extremism — predates the entire health care debate. The first signs were the shrieks of “traitor” and “off with his head” at Palin rallies as Obama’s election became more likely in October 2008. Those passions have spiraled ever since — from Governor Rick Perry’s kowtowing to secessionists at a Tea Party rally in Texas to the gratuitous brandishing of assault weapons at Obama health care rallies last summer to “You lie!” piercing the president’s address to Congress last fall like an ominous shot.

If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.

They can’t. Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress. The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans haven’t had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.

If Congressional Republicans want to maintain a politburo-like homogeneity in opposition to the Democrats, that’s their right. If they want to replay the petulant Gingrich government shutdown of 1995 by boycotting hearings and, as John McCain has vowed, refusing to cooperate on any legislation, that’s their right too (and a political gift to the Democrats). But they can’t emulate the 1995 G.O.P. by remaining silent as mass hysteria, some of it encompassing armed militias, runs amok in their own precincts. We know the end of that story. And they can’t pretend that we’re talking about “isolated incidents” or a “fringe” utterly divorced from the G.O.P. A Quinnipiac poll last week found that 74 percent of Tea Party members identify themselves as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents, while only 16 percent are aligned with Democrats.

After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, some responsible leaders in both parties spoke out to try to put a lid on the resistance and violence. The arch-segregationist Russell of Georgia, concerned about what might happen in his own backyard, declared flatly that the law is “now on the books.” Yet no Republican or conservative leader of stature has taken on Palin, Perry, Boehner or any of the others who have been stoking these fires for a good 17 months now. Last week McCain even endorsed Palin’s “reload” rhetoric.

Are these politicians so frightened of offending anyone in the Tea Party-Glenn Beck base that they would rather fall silent than call out its extremist elements and their enablers? Seemingly so, and if G.O.P. leaders of all stripes, from Romney to Mitch McConnell to Olympia Snowe to Lindsey Graham, are afraid of these forces, that’s the strongest possible indicator that the rest of us have reason to fear them too. Ω

[Frank Rich is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times who writes a weekly 1500-word essay on the intersection of culture and news. Rich has been at the paper since 1980. His columns and articles for the Week in Review, the Arts & Leisure section and the Magazine draw from his background as a theater critic (known as "The Butcher On Broadway") and observer of art, entertainment and politics. Before joining The Times, Rich was a film critic at Time magazine, the New York Post, and New Times magazine. He was a founding editor of the Richmond (Va.) Mercury, a weekly newspaper, in the early 1970s. Rich is the author of a childhood memoir, Ghost Light (2000), a collection of drama reviews, Hot Seat: Theater Criticism for The New York Times, 1980-1993 (1998), and The Theatre Art of Boris Aronson (with Lisa Aronson, 1987). Rich is a graduate of the Washington, DC public schools. He earned a BA degree in American History and Literature from Harvard College in 1971.]

Copyright © 2010 The New York Times Company

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Call Me Anything Except Ishmael, Late-For-Dinner, Or Liberal?

“Progressivism is an orientation toward politics, it’s not a long-standing ideology like liberalism, but an historically-grounded concept… that accepts the world as dynamic....”
— John Halpin, senior advisor for the staff of the Center for American Progress

So, by this definition of progressive, Liberals are Liberals and Conservatives are Conservatives, but both can be progressive — e.g., Theodore Roosevelt (R-NY) and Woodrow Wilson (D-NJ). One of the main accomplishments of the Rightist takeover of the Dumbo party after 1964 was to make "Liberal" a pejorative. And — just as U.S. citizens of German descent changed their names overhight (Schmidt became Smith) in the nativist frenzy promulgated by the progressive Wilson administration after the United States went to war with Germany in 1917 — Liberals became Progressives overnight in the age of Nixon-Reagan-Bush (both). If this is the (fair & balanced) nailing of jelly to the barn door, so be it.

[x Salon]
Progressive: Not Just A Euphemism For Liberal
By David Sirota

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As a progressive, I'm often asked if there is a real difference between progressivism and liberalism, or if progressivism is merely a nicer-sounding term for the less popular L-word.

It's a fair question, considering that Democratic politicians regularly substitute "progressive" for "liberal" in news releases and speeches. Predictably, Republicans call their opponents' linguistic shift a craven branding maneuver, and frankly, they're right: Most Democrats make no distinction between the two words.

However, that doesn't mean the ideologies are synonymous. In fact, if the last decade of economic policy proves anything, it is that even as the word "progressive" is now ubiquitous, a perverted form of liberalism has almost completely snuffed out genuine progressivism.

Some background: Economic liberalism has typically focused on using the government's treasury as a means to ends, whether those ends are better healthcare (Medicare/Medicaid), stronger job growth (tax credits) or more robust export businesses (corporate subsidies). The idea is that taxpayer dollars can help individuals afford bare necessities and entice institutions to support the common good.

Economic progressivism, by contrast, has historically trumpeted the government fiat as the best instrument of social change — think food safety, minimum wage and labor laws, and also post-Depression financial rules and enforcement agencies. Progressivism's central theory is that government, as the nation's supreme authority, can set parameters channeling capitalism's profit motive into societal priorities — and preventing that profit motive from spinning out of control.

Looked at this way, liberalism and progressivism once operated in tandem. But regardless of which of the two economic ideologies you particularly favor (if either), three of the recent epoch's most far-reaching initiatives make clear the former now dominates both parties.

It started in 2003 with Republicans' Medicare drug benefit. Rather than go the progressive route — imposing price controls, permitting government to negotiate lower bulk prices or letting wholesalers buy drugs at cheaper foreign prices — the bill hinged on taxpayer money. Essentially, the government gave $1.2 trillion to the pharmaceutical industry in exchange for the industry providing medicines to seniors.

This became the bank bailout's model. Instead of first responding to the Wall Street crisis with progressive, New Deal-style regulations, Presidents Bush and Obama opted for liberal bribe theory: Specifically, they bet that giving banks trillions in loans, subsidies and guarantees would convince financial institutions to halt their riskiest behavior and start lending to small businesses again.

Now, it's healthcare.

The Democratic bill began as a hybrid. On the liberal side, it proposed growing Medicaid and trading subsidies to insurance companies for expanded coverage. On the progressive side, the original legislation included measures like premium regulation and a government-run insurer to compete with private firms. But save for a few fairly weak consumer protections, the final bill was stripped of most major progressive provisions. Ultimately, the celebrated "reform" is based primarily on a liberal wager that Medicaid plus subsidies will equal universal healthcare.

Which, for a short time, may be the case.

The trouble, though, is what the Washington Post reports: "The [subsidies'] buying power could erode over time in an era of rapid medical inflation."

There, of course, is the rub.

Liberalism sans progressivism — i.e., public money sans regulation — turns the Treasury into an unlimited gift card for whichever private interests are being sponsored.

In this era of corporate-tethered lawmakers, such public-to-private transfers often face less congressional opposition than progressivism's inherent confrontations. But the inevitable result is taxpayers being bilked, as subsidized industries freely raise prices and continue engaging in destructive behavior, knowing government and/or captive consumers will keep financing the binge.

So to answer the question — is there a difference between liberalism and progressivism? Yes — and without both, we end up paying a steep price. Ω

[David Sirota attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, where he earned his bachelor's degree with honors in journalism and political science. Sirota is a political journalist, nationally syndicated weekly newspaper columnist and bestselling author living in Denver, CO. As one of the only national columnists living and reporting outside of Washington, DC, he is widely known for his coverage of political corruption, globalization and working-class economic issues often ignored by both of America’s political parties. David Sirota is the author of Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government—And How We Take It Back (2006) and The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington (2008).]

Copyright © 2010 Salon Media Group, Inc.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

What Should "The People" Really Want?

Richard Hofstadter (1916-1970) was right about our history much of the time. Professor Charles Postrel, current prize-winning historian of the Populists, takes the Great Hofstadter to task for pointing to "the 'cranky' side of Populism." Well, truth be known, the Populists of the 1890s and after were cranky. People like "Sockless Jerry" Simpson and Mary Elizabeth ("Yellin' Mary") Lease were mad as hell in the 1890s and they weren't going to take it any more. Perhaps the only link between the Populists of the 1890s and the Dumbos and their Tea Party brethren today is anger. Professor Postrel finds anger in the body politic today, but people are angry at the evasion of the real agenda: "putting the unemployed back to work, stemming the tide of foreclosures and evictions, regulation of the financial industry, providing health care security, and repairing schools and the national infrastructure." If this is real (fair & balanced) populism, so be it.

[x Politico]
Sarah Palin A Populist?
By Charles Postel

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When David Broder praised Sarah Palin’s speech at the National Tea Party Convention as “perfect-pitch populism,” real Populists were surely spinning in their graves.

In the 1890s, American farmers and other activists rocked corporate power in a populist revolt. Now, the Washington Post columnist has passed the populist mantle to Palin. If they could, the Populists would protest this misuse of their name.

But why do political analysts insist on using the word “populism” to describe conservative activism? Why should we care? Because it makes hash of both history and our current political conflicts.

The Populists were all about economic justice. They demanded government regulation of railroads, banks, telecommunications and insurance. And if that failed to curb corporate abuses, they wanted public ownership or at least a “public option.” They demanded a federal stimulus to get the economy out of the terrible depression of 1893-97.

The Populists were the ones who pushed for a progressive income tax to pay for the needs of the people, especially for better and more accessible public schools and universities. The Populist Party of the 1890s failed. But, in failure, its proposals refashioned progressive politics for generations.

Yet the populist reputation has suffered a cruel fate. In the 1950s, historian Richard Hofstadter discovered a “cranky” side of populism. “Progressive populism,” he suggested, had morphed into the conservative intolerance of McCarthyism.

It didn’t matter that this never happened. It didn’t matter how many scholars had showed that there was not a scintilla of evidence for a populism/Joe McCarthy connection. The damage was done.

Today’s political analysts channel Hofstadter. George Will’s February 18 Washington Post column smugly reduces populism to the whiny politics of self-defeating resentment “that never seems serious as a solution.” It may be bad history, but it makes for simple story lines about “angry” politics.

So they tell us Palin is a populist because she speaks for the “common people.” But every ambitious politician over the past 200 years has laid claim to “the plain people,” “the neglected middle class” or “the silent majority.”

Palin is a populist, the political analysts tell us, because she is “resentful” and “angry.” But Americans are divided in their anger. And those divisions run along well-worn historical ruts.

Take health care. Lots of Americans, in the populist tradition, are mad at the social injustice of 40,000 people dying every year because of a lack of health care. Lots of other Americans, in the conservative tradition, are no less angry at the idea that government would provide the care that they need.

Or income taxes. Lots of Americans, in the populist tradition, resent the fact that schools and bridges are crumbling because Wall Street millionaires no longer pay their share of taxes. Lots of other Americans, in the conservative tradition, believe that progressive taxation means theft — putting “your tax dollars at work for those who won’t!”

Or President Barack Obama’s stimulus. Lots of Americans believe that the feds should take more action — that is, print more money to pull the economy out of its slump and put people back to work. The Populists of old wanted to do this by taking the United States off the gold standard and printing money or coining silver.

This gave rise to the late-19th-century “battle of the standards” that we learned about in high school — with the conservative “gold bugs” pitted against Populist “greenbackers” and “silverites.”

Today’s tea party conservatives, like the gold bugs of yore, have put fear of inflation at the top of their political agenda. Tea party protesters are demanding a return to the gold standard.

Earlier this month, Mike Pitts, a conservative legislator in South Carolina, introduced a bill to make gold coins the only legal currency in the state. Fox News’s Glenn Beck peddles his “three-G system” of “God, gold and guns” on his show.

If we want to make sense of the storms brewing in American politics, a little history can’t hurt. The conservatives haven’t adopted gold as their symbol by accident. They are today’s gold bugs.

They proudly follow in the footsteps of the “sound-money” enemies of Populism. Of the conservative bloc that fought Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Of the militant Republicans of the McCarthy cabal, who exposed Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower as traitors. Of the Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan wing, who promised to free America from Social Security and government slavery.

But many Americans have different concerns. They want government action to put the unemployed back to work, to stem the tide of foreclosures and evictions, to regulate the financial industry, to provide health care security and to repair schools and infrastructure.

For such people, there’s another historical tradition they need to know about: It’s called Populism. Ω

[Charles Postel, an assistant professor of history at California State University-Sacramento, won the Bancroft Prize and the Frederick Jackson Turner Award for his book The Populist Vision (2007). Postel graduated from University of California-Berkeley with a Ph.D. in 2002.]

Copyright © 2010 Capitol News Company

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