Archive for April, 2010

Everything that’s wrong with our Government (introducing ‘Black is White’)

April 28, 2010

Another theme I’d like to examine in this blog, as it progresses, is the death of meaning in language and how that relates to the farcical nature of the press and its coverage of some of the more blatantly corrupt, obviously “For Sale”, Senators.  I call it, in honor of the Master Eric Blair, the: “Black is White” phenomenon.

Ben Nelson (D-Berskshire Hathaway) joined the Republicans (3 times and counting) in voting against cloture for the Financial Reform Legislation in the Senate.

Almost instantly Bloomberg reported that:

Senator Ben Nelson owned with his wife as much as $6 million worth of stock in Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and supported an exemption to proposed derivatives rules sought by the Omaha, Nebraska, company. Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, reported in financial disclosure documents last year that he owned between $500,000 and $1 million of stock in Berkshire in 2008, and his wife, Diane, owned between $1 million and $5 million.

Rest assured though America, as Nelson insisted “his ownership of stock in Berkshire, a company from his state, didn’t pose a conflict of interest or an appearance of ethical impropriety.”  The only thing more predictable than a Senator getting caught acting blatantly in their own financial interests and openly selling their votes, these days, is the inevitably soul-crushing, intelligence insulting denial faithfully and unquestionably reported here by Bloomberg. Did the reporter at least laugh? Did he or she roll their eyes, snicker or sigh when Nelson spouted this nonsense?

It gets worse.   A man entrusted with leadership responsibilities at the pinnacle of our nation’s power centers said, after it was discovered that he had millions of dollars worth of stock in a company that directly expressed their disapproval to him with legislation that he blocked from even being debated further, that “it doesn’t influence my decision at all; never has, never will.”

I hope he at least tried to maintain a straight-face when he said this, because if he didn’t, you know…then…he’d really be mocking us.

This is how the Wall Street Journal characterized it: (emphasis mine)

Democrats killed a provision Monday pushed by Mr. Nelson that would have helped Berkshire avoid a big financial hit related to its portfolio of derivatives. Berkshire is Mr. Nelson’s biggest campaign contributor. Mr. Nelson and his wife, Diane, owned up to $6 million in the company’s stock at the end of 2008, according to the latest congressional disclosure records.

Mr. Nelson said he hasn’t spoken directly with Mr. Buffett and that there was nothing untoward about the relationship.

The glories of a free press!  Nelson essentially says there’s ‘nothing to see here, move along’ and the Journal obliges. Not even a weak follow-up as to why he proposed a legislative provision that would directly protect his financial stake in a company coupled with the revelation, all in the same paragraph, that said company is his biggest campaign contributor; and his lazy, phoned-in assertion about nothing being “untoward” isn’t even challenged?

Take it away bottom-feeding Nelson spokesperson, “‘it isn’t about Berkshire Hathaway,’ he said of the senator’s two votes.”   There it is: a pitch-perfect example of “Black is White” aka somebody declaratively stating something that is the exact polar opposite of what objective facts and reality would demonstrate to be true.  Some hapless stenographer will be there to take dictation and provide “balance” and “equivalence” where there is none.

As far as Ben Nelson not being “untowardly” influenced by his relationship with Warren Buffet goes, guess what? That really isn’t so true, either. On at least one occasion this year Sen. Nelson voted expressly according to Mr. Buffett’s wishes. Thanks to the miracles of Proquest I found this interesting nugget buried in a Wall Street Journal article about the once uncertain Senate reconfirmation prospects of Ben Bernanke: (emphasis mine)

Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) said Monday that he would vote for Mr. Bernanke after having spoken to fellow Nebraskan Warren Buffett, who advised him to do so.

I could have sworn that the people of Nebraska thought they were voting for Nelson to make decisions, not Buffett. I could have also sworn that Nelson is charged with acting in the best interests of the residents of Nebraska, who no doubt saw their pensions raided and homes foreclosed, and not he and his wife’s stock portfolio.

I could have sworn Black wasn’t White.


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2 Things…

April 28, 2010

I read something this morning on Huffington Post that spoke to the point I was trying make in the previous post regarding the dissolution of America’s manufacturing capabilities. The column written by Leo Hindery Jr. articulates the point in the wider context of “Always Wrong” Larry Summers and the baffling persistence demonstrated by the White House’s continuing reliance on his wisdom.   Hindery quotes a recent speech from GE boss Jeff Immelt where he says:

“the U.S. took a macroeconomic misstep when it concluded 25 or 30 years ago ‘that we could move from being a technology and manufacturing-based economy to a service-based economy with a $1 trillion annual trade deficit’ with no fundamental adverse result.”

Welcome to the US power elite!  Ironically, the only place in our society where being bone-jarringly, catastrophically unequivocally wrong at nearly every turn can actually boost/enhance your career and reputation.  People like Lawrence Summers have turned this into an artform.

Hindery diagnoses the problem inherent in the President’s economic team’s stunning, stubborn adherence to “Summers’ core belief — even though almost universally discredited — that a ‘job is a job’ and that at any point in time drop-offs in America’s manufactured goods (and, by extension, the labor force that makes them) can be made up by a favorable trade balance in such products as software, legal services, university tuition, and motion pictures.”

As we’ve seen in reality this has not been the case. It will never be the case.  It’s almost gratuitous for Mr. Hindery to mention, again, how discredited Summers’ philosophies are, but the jokes on us because he’s still near the levers of power and Obama’s people are still steadfastly committed to those discredited theories.   And unfortunately as long as that’s the case the Government will not re-emphasize the importance of manufacturing within the wider context of our faltering economic structure.

part II-

Ezra Klein has a great piece on “Retconning” which is short for “Retroactive continuity.” This narrative device is often employed by comic book writers, but Klein examines its recent usage by far less creative people to strengthen conservative “arguments.”

Klein lays out the cons use of ‘Retconning” like this:

“A politician will make a hyperbolic, absurd claim that will catch fire but prove totally false upon examination. Shame, right? Not to worry! Members of the conservative expert class will quickly construct new arguments based on different parts of the bill that have no relationship to the original argument but save the claim, or at least allow members of the right-wing media to say it’s still a live charge.”

Palin’s lying “Death Panel” rubbish is the prime example, but he looks more thoroughly at Senator Frank Luntz/Mitch McConnell’s more recent, more Orwellian invocation of “endless taxpayer bailouts” and how some AEI hack had the unenviable job of trying to attach some wobbly twice-removed shred of truthiness to it.

This is just one tactic employed in a larger, very frightening, very insidiously organized and concerted conservative assault on reality and history.

It can be seen in the Texas Textbook fiasco and “The Family’s” attempt to rebrand Jesus as a capitalist friendly badass who preached about strength and wealth.

This phenomenon is something I want to examine at length in upcoming posts. It can, perhaps, best be summed up by this terrifying quote served up to Ron Suskind by a typically arrogant, pathetic Bush lackey:

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Seriously the most honest statement ever to emanate from their reign of error.

Making the Bankster connection explicit

April 27, 2010

Thanks Senator McCaskill!

Thanks for calling criminals criminals. You have to love how the poor, delicate Goldman guy chafes at being called a bookie at the end of the clip.

Senator McCaskill:

You’re the bookie.”

People are booking their bets with you,” she continued. “That’s what they’re doing. That’s what a synthetic CDO is. I don’t know why we need to dress it up. It’s just a bet.”

It’s great seeing a sitting United States Senator correctly compare the identical actions employedby Wall Street’s so-called “Masters of the Universe” to that of those undertaken by much reviled Organized Crime Syndicates like the Mafia.

The Goldman people testifying today predictably showed no shame, remorse or regret for the shattered lives and stolen pensions in their wake.

“Regret to me means something that you feel that you did wrong,” said former Goldman partner Dan Sparks. “And I don’t have that.”

Good thing for us this man provides an important, indispensable service that our society just couldn’t function without.  Oh wait…turns out he’s just a criminal who, in the words of Frank Rich, does absolutely nothing for America except create and subsquently peddle “exotic, speculative ‘investments’ that have no redeeming social value and are instead concocted to facilitate gambling for its own sake.”

Nobody has ever credibly explained to me what the United States has actually gained from disassembling and downsizing our formidable manufacturing infrastructure to transition from a society and economy predicated on manufacturing real, live tangible products into one that creates and deals fictional financial “products” whose only function seems to be the facilitation of wealth upwards into ever smaller sets of hands.

At least we can sleep easier at night knowing that the fine people at Goldman are “sympathetic to the negative impact” of their greedy manipulations.

Where are the Tea Party Patriots in all of this?  Goldman, Citigroup et.al took their precious tax dollars and had bonus orgies with them in broad daylight. Shouldn’t these freedom fighters be pissed and ready to fight this injustice??

Oh right…they’re nothing but brainwashed sheep and reverse Robin Hoods fighting for the rights of corporations and insurance companies to keep robbing you (and them) at will.   There is no Freedom Works or whatever corporate front group agitating and renting buses for them to be led into DC to fight for Financial Reform against the big bad bankers and they’re too dumb to figure out what’s really in their best interests all by themselves…so silence…

Amoral Majority

April 23, 2010

“Sonny’s right: the working man is a sucker”

Bronx Tale, 1993

I have to laugh when I read things like this from Steven Pearlstein’s column in the Washington Post today where he laments:

“Wall Street’s complete and utter amorality. There, concepts like truth, justice, fairness, trustworthiness, duty of care, right and wrong are now totally without meaning

(emphasis mine)

I give Pearlstein credit because at least he is willing to use his platform and the exposure provided by the Post’s Op-ed page to actually state this basic truth and let it filter into the mainstream where it belongs.

What I find funny is the hand-wringing over the notion that this phenomena of Wall Street being cutthroat, selfish and amoral is somehow new (albeit the brazenness might just be).

Again, I respect Mr. Pearlstein for even writing this piece, but I’d love to ask him: do you really think this amorality and lack of truth etc. is a recent development?

Capitalism by its nature is predatory (mergers and acquisitions) You have to make the best, most efficient, cost-effective widgets to survive. If you don’t, your competitor will and you’ll be out of business. Simple. It’s hard to envision this type of system ever breeding, or welcoming, the sense of ethics and justice Pearlstein rightfully invokes when there is a built-in, ready-made rationale to justify all levels of corner cutting, dishonesty, lawbreaking and what-have-you which is: if we didn’t do it the next firm would.

The people at Goldman Sachs are using variations of this logic right now: if we didn’t do these deals JP Morgan or someone else would’ve and we would’ve lost money, lost clients etc.

Be quick or be dead.

Add to this the basic fact that many of the people who shaped our recent, mostly disastrous, economic history are devoted Ayn Rand acoltyes. Gore Vidal perfectly described Rand’s ‘philosophy’ as being “nearly perfect in its immorality.” Rand expoused the importance of self-interest at all costs and basically gave greedy, amoral people pseudo-intellectual cover to be greedy, amoral people. This is an emerging trend similar to how the people in the “Family” (C Street’s, not Manson’s although both respect the methodology of Hitler) have molded and shaped a rabidly pro-business CEO version of Jesus to believe in and help them sleep better at night.

Echoes of Rand’s childish, simplistic worldview/philosophy dominate the business and political world. You can hear traces of it when someone like Rudy Guiliani mocks President Obama’s time as a community organizer. There’s nothing to be gained financially from it and, even worse, it acknowledges the existence and sufferings of other people, which is for soft, weak, immature suckers in Rand/Guiliani’s universe. I truly believe that this is an under-examined, overlooked explanation (besides his skin color of course) of why the Right despises Obama with the vehemence that it does: he’s not sufficiently selfish enough. He doesn’t play the game properly and with enough vigor. No connections to Halliburton or Chevron for him. Not even one solitary SEC investigation under his belt.

The Times article I linked above, while mostly about Alan Greenspan’s devotion to Rand’s rubbish, also contains this telling quote:

“I know from talking to a lot of Fortune 500 C.E.O.’s that ‘Atlas Shrugged’ has had a significant effect on their business decisions”

Those words were uttered in 2007 by the Chief Executive of BB &T.

This attitude oozes from people like Dick Cheney. If you aren’t corrupt, cutthroat and knee-deep into crony-capitalism where the fix is always in: you are a sucker with no balls, just like Henry Hill said.

I love when every fresh-faced Republican savior like Mario Rubio bursts on the scene and almost instantly things like this happen. You can set your watch to it. But in reality he’s playing the game the correct way; and guess who was there to endorse him yesterday? That’s how you do it, President Obama! Take the rubes for everything you can while screaming about “limited government.” Of course they want limited government. Because government, when it’s run properly, limits their ability to steal. What self-respecting conservative could countenance that?

Instinctual predatory mindset, selfishness writ religiously large and with zeal, these things are in our DNA as Americans. Our way of life demands it. It isn’t pretty and it sure isn’t new (Homestead, Ludlow). This constant conservative psych-job/con that everything we ever collectively do, or have done, as a nation unquestionably wreaks of purity and altruism is undermined by every breath they take and every action undertaken.

At least people like Henry Hill are honest about what they are.

Inside Baseball part.1 (inside, inside baseball)

April 21, 2010

Joan Didion’s excellent and influential essay “Inside Baseball”, collected in After Henry, added a new descriptive term/connotation to our political lexicon, that of its title.

Content wise Didion masterfully dissects the meta-before it’s time concept of “the political process” not in actuality being a process that affords:

“the citizens of a state a voice in its affairs, but the reverse: a mechanism seen as so specialized that access to it is correctly limited to its own professionals, to those who manage policy and those who report on it…to that handful of insiders who invent, year in and yearout, the narrative of public life.”

After Henry 49-50

This state of affairs has only intensified exponentially with the advent of cable news networks and the resultant “24-Hour News Cycle” (Didion wrote this in 1988).   Everyday professional pundit/interpreters are invited on TV to dissect and discuss the narrative that they and their colleagues create and perpetuate, like a virus, while we the voter/citizen get collectively smaller and smaller and positioned at an ever further remove from any sort of objective reality.   Didion basically provided the first modern description of the “Beltway Bubble”, or “The Villagers” per Sally Quinn’s now infamous piece, and how remote this specialized establishment and their specialized concerns can be from the reality of life elsewhere in the United States.

I’m writing about this today because the Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins has an extraordinarily caustic, withering  piece on the upcoming “New York Times Magazine” profile on Politico’s Mike Allen (talk about meta)!  In fact, the term “terrible inside baseball” is used and triggered my thoughts on Didion’s essay in the first place.

Linkins is a great writer and his stories are always enjoyable and worth a read, but this one is a must-read because it delineates, in bright neon lights, everything that is wrong with our political process and the media’s coverage of it.   He isolates this quote from the Times piece:

I was also struck by how freely VandeHei threw out the word “market” in connection with how newsmakers and sources interacted with Politico. “If you want to move data or shape opinion,” VandeHei wrote to me by e-mail, “you market it through Mikey and Playbook, because those tens of thousands that matter most all read it and most feed it. Or you market it through someone else at Politico, which will make damn sure its audience of insiders and compulsives read it and blog about it; and that it gets linked around and talked about on TV programs.”

This speaks exactly to what Didion observed but it’s all dressed-up in pretty corporatespeak about “marketing.”  What they are “marketing” is insipid, manufactured political gossip that pollutes language and poisons what passes for substantive debate and discourse in our ever dumbed-down society.   Information, critical to any non-delusional people’s ability to govern themselves, should never be viewed as just another commodity to “market”  and accumulate “market share” as if it were no more or less important than a pair of shoes.   This is the type of insidious journalistic malpractice and shallow disrespect for true democracy that breeds the Sarah Palins of the world.

I also love Politico honcho VandeHei’s cavelier mention of the “thousands that matter most” aka Didion’s professional class of insiders “who invent our public life.”  I considered titling this post “Here’s What They Think About You.”  How much more venal and vapid can these ‘insiders’ get?  How much less interested in REALITY and ACTUAL governance could they be?  Yet, here they are ghostwriting the script.  Feeding the narrative and getting stories that may, and often do, have no factual basis “talked about on TV programs.”

It leaves a sick feeling in my stomach.

McCain’s True “Base” Fights to Save his Career

April 20, 2010

Chris Matthews famously remarked not long ago that: “The press loves McCain. We’re his base.”  There is so much evidence and material verifying the truth in these remarks that the hard-working folks over at Media Matters wrote an entire (excellent) book on this abject phenomenon, just in time for the 2008 Presidential Campaign, called Free Ride: John McCain and the Media. Is if any further proof was needed, Tom Brokaw’s disgusting, blatant shilling for McCain during his disastrous “Meet the Press” stint provided it.

Now that Mr. Maverick decided that he isn’t so Mavericky anymore, a lot of his “base” is confused.  Some are even disillusioned.  Not Michael Gerson, though.  He penned this hilarious column today in the Washington Post wherein he absolutely trashes McCain’s primary opponent J.D Hayworth.  The panic and desperation in Gerson’s piece is palpable; and most likely indicative of the growing fear in the bellies of Beltway pundits and Very. Serious. People of all stripes that the ‘Maverick’ may actually suffer the unfortunate consequences, again, of these pesky things we call elections, and get retired to one of his many homes he lost count of a few years back.

McCain hasn’t made it easy for his base, and I imagine Gerson twisting into all sorts of knots while writing this:

There are reasons McCain is politically endangered. He is the Senate’s most gifted practitioner of sudden, disproportionate anger. He often seems overly impressed by his own virtue. Many in Washington and Arizona would pay good money to see him humbled. His epic service is matched by epic flaws

I’m not going to link anymore, but he goes on to lament how bad a McCain loss would be for God and Country…blah, blah.

Ahhh…primary season 🙂

File this under the love that always dare blare its name.