Friday, October 31, 2008

At least I won't have to pay the piper... I hope I hope

When, lo, as they reached the mountain side,
A wonderous portal opened wide,
As if a cavern was suddenly hollowed;
And the piper advanced and the children followed,
And when all were in to the very last,
The door in the mountain side shut fast.
Did I say, all? No! One was lame,
And could not dance the whole of the way;
And in after years, if you would blame
His sadness, he was used to say,--
"It's dull in our town since my playmates left!
The Pied Piper of Hamlin - Robert Browning
David Seaton's News Links
This is a trying period for me, when most of the people I would ever want to hang out with are besotted by Barack Obama and I, like the little crippled boy who couldn't run fast enough to follow the piper of Hamlin, am left behind.

But as the poet once said that is how the cookie crumbleth.

After all these years I have to trust my instincts and intuitions in areas where I have spent enough time ruminating for my subconscious to cough up interesting stuff.

As my readers surely have noticed by now, I have the worst hunches, whim whams and heebjeebies as far as The One is concerned.

If I had to describe metaphorically what it is about him and what surrounds him that sets my teeth on edge I would call it "George Orwell meets Walt Disney".

Really the worst and most unforgivable thing would be for time to prove me right. I am sure there will be people that instead of congratulating me for my perspicaciousness will think it's all my fault for holding such negative thoughts.

I am quite understanding about all those trundling off to the "wondrous mountain": If I were a kid there is no way I could resist the peer pressure on this one, but I'm not a kid anymore and I can... so I will.

I sure hope that in the future, finally enough people dig their way out of that hill to at least put together a pickup soccer match.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

At the guru's lotus feet

David Seaton's News Links
McCain may not be as inept and clueless as he seems. Strapped as he is for cash, by falling so far behind in the polls and without spending a dime he has turned Obama, not Bush, into the "incumbent" and the focus is now on Obama and not on Bush.

Did he plan this or, more likely, has he just stumbled upon it? However he managed to find it, it may be the only path he could have ever taken to victory.

The question for flat broke McCain is to keep the focus on Obama and build up doubts among the "low information voters" (LIVs) who, with the World Series finished are just tuning into the presidential campaign. And of course the essential challenge is to keep that focus on Obama with out spending any money.

The "low information voters" (LIVs) who are just now tuning into the election are only really hearing about Obama for the first time. At this point rumors about girl friends and wealth redistribution can really catch the attention of the LIVs. All this focus on Obama is a force multiplier for McCain's meager dollars.

Perhaps someone who can make a dollar go such a long way as McCain can would do well during a severe economic crisis. Certainly Obama's spending four to one and not having everything sewn by now up does smell a little bit of the classic "tax and spend" Democrat that Republicans love to portray.

Another thing bothers me quite a bit: there seem to be many stories about Obama that never get followed up in the press.

It is very striking how any trivial story about any other candidate that I can remember has always been considered legitimate news, but stories about Obama are considered off limits.

Like everyone else, I really know very little about Obama, but I am coming to know quite a lot about his supporters and I find quite a few of them frankly sinister.

Somehow, someone that has appeared literally "out of the blue" is infused with some sort of holy aura. What it most reminds me of from my dirty hippie days of yore, is of "ashrama", the hot house climate of an Indian ashram, where the guru's every nose picking becomes a cause for worship, is treasured, celebrated and collected.

I can't get a clear view of what Obama is, was, what he wants (besides power) or what he will do if elected. If after so much money has been spent over so many months and the candidate still appears all things to all men, then I don't think that this is by chance: I think that that this is the general idea, the effect desired.

What astonishes and offends me is how people are painting in the empty spaces with their own fantasies and dreams. It reminds me of previous "great awakenings" where Americans sold everything and sat in fields waiting for the second coming.

Next comes the "Great Hangover". DS

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Poll axed

Henry Fuseli -The Nightmare
David Seaton's News Links
It will be interesting to see which pollster has called this thing correctly. There is such a huge difference between them. The differences seem to be between those who “weight” their samples using past precedents and those who, putting aside all skepticism, consider that many more young people and black people are going to actually take the trouble to vote than ever have before.

Another factor may be that their are so many pollsters calling so often that people are beginning to hang up on them and that these unpolled are McCain voters.

Another interesting idea is that to win Obama has to be over 50% in the polls because with Obama being black and in the lead the undecideds will all break for McCain. In short, the idea is to look at the polls of the key battleground states and if Obama is not over 50% (no matter what lead he has) than those states may very well go to McCain.

If this is true then McCain is not as inept as he seems.

By falling so far behind he has turned Obama, not Bush, into the “incumbent” and the focus is now on Obama and not Bush.

I expect that now, in the closing days and hours we will be seeing all the nasty material that the Republicans are said to have saved up on Obama.

We have already heard the “socialist” radio tape, now there is now supposed to be a “Palestinian video” which the Los Angeles Times is accused of suppressing, and also some sort of mysterious girlfriend, a certain Vera Baker, who seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth.

If the Reverend Wright is not encased in cement at the bottom of Lake Michigan by now, I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned up, say around Friday

The “low information voters” (LIVs) said to decide all close elections are just tuning into the election now and all they are hearing about is Obama.

At this point rumors about girl friends and wealth redistribution can really catch the attention of the LIVs. All this focus on Obama is a force multiplier for McCain’s meager dollars.

I think tonight’s massive info-ad is also a huge mistake. They are even putting the World Series on hold for it. This is like Obama’s Berlin speech, truly jumping the shark: overkill.

As improbable as it may seem right now it is totally possible that this thing may slip through Obama’s fingers at the last moment. DS

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

America the dangerous

(Reporters are) not as much in love with Obama as they're in love with the idea of Obama, of the "meaning" of his run for the presidency, of the redemption he offers a sinful nation that scratched slavery into its liberty-loving Constitution.

The windows of this mind-set are provided by Slate's Jacob Weisberg, for whom the Obama election is a national referendum on racism; the New York Times' Nicholas D. Kristof, for whom an Obama presidency is an opportunity to "rebrand" our nation and "find a path to restore America's global influence"; E.J. Dionne, who sees an Obama presidency as representing a chance to "rekindle the sense of possibility and transformation" in American life; and a swooning Andrew Sullivan, who almost a year ago speculated that Obama might be "that bridge to the 21st century that Bill Clinton told us about." For Chris Matthews, of course, the Obama candidacy is a "thrill" going up his leg, one that will arc over his torso and detonate his head in the event of a victory.

The leading Obama cheerleader among the commentariat is Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, whose "erection of the heart" for the candidate has no match. Alter sees the presidential election as a world referendum on the United States and "the common sense and decency of the American people." Obama symbolizes hope over fear, and his election would produce an "Obama Dividend" that would "blow the minds of people in the Middle East and other regions, and help restore American prestige." Obama, Alter continues, "knows how to think big, elevate the debate and transport the public to a new place."Jack Slafer - Slate

David Seaton's News Links
This extensive press resume from Slate explains much of the Obama phenomenon and also explains the existential crisis that the United States is undergoing.

For me the two quotes that distill the idea most are Nicholas Kristof's idea that Obama will, "find a path to restore America's global influence" and E. J. Dionne's that an Obama victory will, "rekindle the sense of possibility and transformation" in American life.

Cutting to the chase what this means tis hat with the failure and disappearance of the Russian Revolution and its promise of "possibility and transformation" gone, the only revolution promising "possibility and transformation" left is the American revolution and it is in crisis and needs to be "rekindled".

The problem for the United States is that, contrary to the Russians, without their revolution, without their "dream", much of America's national identity simply disappears.

When the USSR went down, the Russians abruptly stopped being soviets and went back to being Russians. In fact they had never stopped. Theirs is a culture that goes back centuries before Lenin was even a gleam in his father's eye. A national identity that strong needs no "power of transformation" to exist, it simply is, was and, presumably, always will be.

There is no "Russian Dream" as there is no "Chinese Dream"... They are just the Russians and the Chinese and as far as they are concerned others are simply defined as "not Russian" or "not Chinese".

Frankly speaking, such knee jerk, ethnic, "us and them", nationalism is offensive to most thinking Americans, because outside of America's "ideals", exactly who is "us" and who is "them"?

What is there outside of this ongoing revolution, exactly, that is going to ever make "E pluribus unum"? Without some idea of limitless horizons of "possibility and transformation": growing prosperity, social mobility etc, what is to keep America from flying apart like some Bosnia Herzegovina on steroids?

White, Black, Asian and Hispanic, Christian and Jew: have we been assembled from the four corners of the earth only to shop together?

Of course this need to "transform" and "rekindle" its "power" is a danger to itself and everyone else.

Obama fan, Roger Cohen, writing in the NYT of his interview with Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero, was deeply offended when Zapatero, with very simple, Spanish logic and savoir vivre advised Americans to relax and have a life:
Zapatero is also wrong about the United States. He said it is a "diverse, creative, dynamic" country, but "it does not need to have a mission."

But America was born as an idea and cannot be itself unless it carries that idea forward. That's the tragedy of the Bush years: the undermining of American ideals. The United States is inseparable from the hope it has given Emma Lazarus' "huddled masses yearning to be free;" it is bound to the struggle to ensure that, as Lincoln put it, "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Obviously, with the economy melting down, vapors like this are dangerous stuff as America searches for "a path to restore its global influence".

What I'm afraid of is that Obama is not just talking through his hat: simply in love with the sound of his own voice but, unless his fans are totally mishearing and misreading him, he is serious about all this "re-kindling". If so, he is going to talk us and the rest of the world into some very dangerous days. DS

Monday, October 27, 2008

Obama's challenge and McCain's last, small, chance

David Seaton's News Links
Most probably Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States and if elected his major problem may very well be to control the "left wing infantilism" of some of his supporters who are going to confuse a virtual victory by default with a sea change in American politics, however for the same reason the presence of these supporters means that John McCain still has a real, if at this date almost infinitesimal, chance to pull off an upset.

The present political situation is more than marked, it is deformed by George W. Bush. He has practically amputated one of the legs America's two party system stands on.

Readers of my blog will be aware that rather than stupid or simply incompetent I consider him deeply insane. Within the framework of his insanity I consider him successful. He has achieved all that the darker recesses of his personality could have ever desired.

Psychobabble warning: Although surely he professes love for all of the following, actions speak louder than words, and I believe that Bush's actions prove that he hates his father, hates his talented younger brother, hates his political party and hates his country too... he has nearly destroyed them all.

Bush is said to love Jesus, and knowing that, if I were Jesus, I would watch my back.
If the Democrats win by the margins they are expected to win by it won't be because of any clear and ringing, Reagan-like, "good morning America", message they are sending, or a social-democratic epiphany in Middle America or any clear mandate to do anything but "change", which is something which can mean anything from " to make radically different" to a handful of small coins.

The Democrats will win enormously, simply because their opponents have been destroyed by George W. Bush. They are living the famous quote of Woody Allen's, "eighty percent of success is just showing up".

The Democratic coalition, a
s it stands today, more than a cohesive party of interest groups, presents itself and has for the last 30 years or so as what the British army would call a collection of "odds and sods", a flag of convenience, little more than a grab bag of assorted and heterogeneous entitlements. A disparate troop whose principal agglutinate seems to be a certain vague hostility to white, Protestant men whose last names end in consonants. Ronald Reagan played on this incoherence like a mighty Wagnaerian tenor with his jolly mixture of positive thinking, hand shaking xenophobia, sanctified selfishness and the "racism of low expectations": a mixture that still suits many Americans just fine.

However, Wagner, if played on the kazoo, would morph into a grotesque and comic caricature; and while not for one moment comparing Ronald Reagan's pablum to Wagner, George W. Bush's rendition of the Gipper's cheery arias has similarly deformed it. There is no reason to think that the great mass of Americans, those who have voted that message over and over again since 1981 don't like the message anymore... they just don't like failure and they don't like Bush. It would be dangerous to take winning, because the other team doesn't show up, as a mandate to do anything other then not look or sound like Bush.

If there is a real depression, then and only then will it be possible to talk to members of the American middle class about "income redistribution" or about "spreading the wealth around".

What is a real depression? Here is an example: my mother's father was running a steel mill in 1929... a year later he was selling shirts from door to door... When FDR died my grandfather cried like a baby. That is a depression.

If a Democratic dominated congress begins to move before America's middle class feels the fear my granddad felt in '29, the Republicans will take congress back in 2010 with a vengance.

That in a nutshell is Barack Obama's major problem if, as it looks almost sure at this late date, he wins the election.

And a dawning realization that precisely that might be the dynamic of his administration may give just a glimmer of a hope for John McCain to recover the votes that gave Bush the presidency in 2000 and 2004. DS

PS. Here is a wonky article from Salon, that illustrates obliquely some of the points I've been making:

Bill Greener: Why Obama has to stay above 50 percent - Salon

Abstract: I think John McCain really does have a decent shot at winning, and that's not just because I'm a longtime Republican political operative. Despite what the polls seem to be saying, a closer look at the numbers shows that a Democratic victory is not a foregone conclusion. Why? Because if history is any guide, Barack Obama, as an African-American candidate for political office, needs to be polling consistently above 50 percent to win. And in crucial battleground states, he isn't.(...) There's an old rule in politics that an incumbent candidate is always in danger when he dips under 50 percent, even if he is leading his opponent in the polls. It's all about the undecideds. In a race with an incumbent candidate and a challenger, on Election Day the undecideds tend to break for the challenger, at rates as high as 4 to 1. If an incumbent is polling at, say, 47 to 45 percent with 8 percent undecided, there's a good chance he's going to wind up losing 49 to 51. As it's sometimes expressed, if you're an incumbent, what you see is what you get. The same pattern seems to be true for African-American candidates in much of the country. If you're a black candidate running against a white candidate, what you see is what you get. And it doesn't matter whether you're an incumbent or a challenger. If you're not polling above 50 percent, you should be worried. As of this writing, Barack Obama is not polling consistently above 50 percent in a number of electoral-vote-rich swing states, including Ohio and Florida. He should be worried. Read it all

Saturday, October 25, 2008

McCain: a random clarification

David Seaton's News Links
I am so eternally skeptical of Barack Obama's attainments and so insistent on the subject, that there are people that think I favor John McCain. This is not so.... I am just horrified by the choice. I really am. I felt and still feel that the only major American politician with the vision, bandwidth and experience necessary to bring the USA through the next eight years is and was that boring, old, Nobel Prize winner, Al Gore.

In short, I haven't got a dog in this fight.

As to McCain. I think John McCain is a very good senator and should stay in the senate... I'm not sure that Obama is that good a senator because he hasn't been there (or anywhere else) long enough to really tell, so I think he should stay there as well... at least long enough to find out.

And as someone who grew up in that state, I would have loved to have seen Barack Obama run for President after eight years as governor of Illinois. Lately most of the governors of Illinois go to jail... If Obama could have run a tight ship in Springfield without getting covered with dung, I would be sure that he could handle the viper's nest that is and always has been, the White House.

I do think it is unfair to say that McCain is Bush... I don't think anybody could equal Bush's insane and destructive incompetence. If Bush has become the measuring stick, probably Joe the plumber could do the job as well as anyone.

I remember once many years ago sitting on the terrace of a bar overlooking the rugged coast of Spain. I was nursing a drink and watching the tiny cars miles away as they zipped around the hairpin turns on the cliffhanging coastal highway... the others at the table were engrossed in conversation with their backs to the sea and I was the only one watching the distant road. My attention was drawn to a small Mini Cooper that was coming down the mountain way too fast... my friends were all looking in my direction and talking as the tiny car, miles away, crashed through a guard rail and hurtled some 500 feet into the Mediterranean... I was the only one who saw them die... all my friends suddenly were staring at me as I vomited all over the table.

I feel a bit like that now. DS

Friday, October 24, 2008

Americans, the little boy and the pony

David Seaton's News Links
A lot of people are saying the sort of thing I'm saying, but saying it better: Peggy Noonan, of all people, for instance.
People wonder if he is decisive. It is clear he is decisive in terms of his own career: He decides to go for president of the law review, to move to Chicago, to roll the dice for a U.S. Senate seat, to hire David Axelrod, to take on Hillary, to campaign with discipline and even elegance. When it comes to his career, his decisions are thought through and his judgments sound. But when it comes to decisions that have to do with larger issues, with great questions and not with him, things get murkier. There is the long trail of the missed and "present" votes, the hesitance on big questions. One wonders if in the presidency he'll be like the dog that chased the car and caught it: What's he supposed to do now?
Or Caroline Baum, over at Bloomberg:
I feel sorry for whoever wins the presidential election on Nov. 4. He faces a colossal mess. The housing bubble is still deflating, with no end in sight. The unemployment rate is rising, making consumer loans of all descriptions -- mortgage, auto, credit card -- vulnerable to rising delinquencies. (...) Neither candidate has offered much of a vision for addressing the credit crunch sinking an economy that was already taking on water. (...) For the next 11 days, the two candidates will regale us with their vision for the future. They will promise, if elected, to work hard each and every day for the American people. They will inspire us with their rhetoric and scare us with distortions about the other guy. Whether they know it or not, they won't be fulfilling many of those promises come Jan. 20. The next president of the U.S. will be handcuffed by events and constrained by deficits. He'll be playing defense. And he won't have a deep bench to work with. The only bright spot is the prospect of escape in four years if things get worse before they get better.
Americans are the dreamers of the "Dream", the world's first and foremost positive thinkers, "there is no life, truth, nor being in error" type of folks... Folks who have to remind themselves that "denial is not a river in Egypt". Filled to the gills with positive pills.

Bereft of the tragic sense of life, but horrified and offended as no others by the inevitability of age and death, they are optimists in order not to be totally bleak, bereft and abandoned pessimists.

Americans are optimistic like the little boy in the psychiatrist's joke:

A little boy goes into a room full of horse manure and begins to dig frantically with his bare hands: tossing the shit behind him with ferocious abandon. When asked why, he replies; "There has to be a pony in here somewhere!".
After history's most incredible run of luck, a tri-centenarian stream of blessings that no other people in the world have ever experienced, the USA is finally moving into a real bald patch and Americans, unlike more fatalistic peoples, don't know how to just hunker down and sweat it out... Yet. They still have to believe that a magic savior will come.
Here we are...
Come and get us.
Believing makes it so...

You betcha. DS

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What is experience good for?

Vincenzo Camuccini, "The Ides of March", 1800 (detail)

David Seaton's News Links
Let me say before I go any farther, that I don't think either candidate for the president of the United States this year is very well qualified for the job or has much relevant experience for it.

In my opinion the US Senate gives practically no training relevant to commanding and controlling an immense organization. In the US system the legislative and executive branches are separated and demand different skill sets. Clinton and Reagan were governors and had spent a long time learning those skills. "Bush was a governor too", you say, yes he was, however, in my opinion, Bush is totally insane, which is an insuperable handicap for a manager.

What follows is only a short discussion about what experience might be good for. This seems necessary, as I have found quite a few supporters of Barack Obama that maintain that experience is irrelevant or ever a handicap. "Look how experienced Dick Cheney is!" they say. Look indeed. Cheney is extremely successful... if getting exactly what you want most of the time is any definition of success. Cheney is a perfect example of a subordinate that follows his own agenda in detriment of what is supposed to be the organization's "mission statement".

Before going any farther, I think I should confess that I have spent my whole life avoiding being a manager. All the men in my family were managers and I didn't want to live like they did. This aversion goes so far as to not even knowing how to play golf. I am a lone wolf, not a team player.

However, I respect the manager animal very much and know him very well. A great uncle of mine was the chairman of the board of Monsanto in the 1920s and 30s, my father's eldest brother was chief operating officer of Mother Bell, a first cousin of mine was a project manager at Boeing and my dad was the president of a large chain of sporting good stores before becoming the manufacturing vice president of a large floor covering company in charge of running some twenty factories, fifteen of which he built, manned and put into action himself.

My father was a good talker and loved to talk about his work and most of what I know about management I learned from him and reading anything by Peter Drucker I could get my hands on.

The first thing that was impressed on me as a manager's problem was that people don't do as they are told. My father had spent about twelve years in the Army before and during the war and I remember him saying, when I was a small boy, that as a former general, president Eisenhower's problem was that he was used to working with people who actually obeyed orders unquestioningly; whereas in civilian life and especially in politics everyone has their own agendas and that understanding their motives and ambitions was essential to managing and manipulating them. Knowing when to delegate, to whom, how much and how long is an essential manager's art that takes time to pick up when you move as the boss in an environment where everyone apparently agrees with you and seems eager to please you.

This takes us to the probable winner of the election, Barack Obama.

He has in large measure certain extremely important qualities in a manager: purposefulness, charisma, an ability to convince others that he knows what to do, the ability to listen and to communicate.

However he has never managed a large organization before.

"Hold on" you say, "what about the campaign?" "Hasn't he created and is running an incredible machine for winning the election?"

I would maintain that there is a fundamental difference between running a campaign for president of the United States and running the affairs of the United States themselves.

The campaign organization springs up with a single purpose, to win the the White House, which is either achieved or it isn't in relatively short time. During the campaign, as neither candidate has ever been president before, they must impersonate a president, look "presidential", but after they win they are basically left to run an organization, the government of the United States, which has been there ticking for well over 200 years. This is a very different kettle of fish.

The objective of nearly everyone of executive responsibility in the campaign organization, from the candidate on down, is a job in government. The idealistic young people ringing doorbells may be doing it out of pure and noble motives, but everybody above them expects to be rewarded for their work.

Once they have the job in government all of them are thinking about their next job. First of all the candidate who is thinking about getting reelected. Most of the others including those of cabinet rank are thinking about their future in the private sector, where their stint in government will open doors to great boardrooms, law firms, think tanks and consultancies and TV punditry... not to mention (shudder) lobbies.

All these people are out for themselves and handling them, manipulating them, rewarding them and punishing them, using them without being used is not something that I can see Obama ever having had to do before, at least on a large scale. What he has done is too look and sound like a president. He has never been defeated*, he has never had to "find out who his real friends were." And I wonder if he has enough people around him of proven, bench tested, through thick and thin loyalty, to get him through the first couple of years.

*Update. It has been brought to my attention that Obama lost a race for Congress in 2001. In fact this just underlines what I am saying: since the beginning of his career Obama has done nothing but run in races, never stand still and manage anything at all. As to campaign skills indicating presidential ability, George W. Bush is a fantastic campaigner.

Running the White House is like plowing a field with a team of chimpanzees. Even someone with the skills and experience of Bill Clinton struggled horribly in his first year and those were much better times than today.

When Obama hadn't yet decided to run, I remember Andrew Young advising him against it saying that he was too young to have acquired a large enough group of trusted collaborators to pad him and protect him, a real mafia.

That, in my opinion is his Achilles heel.

I think it is of utmost importance for Obama to tell the nation who he will appoint to his cabinet if elected and especially interesting, in my opinion, will be who he chooses as his chief of staff. Of course, keeping everyone on tenterhooks to see who get the juicy plums is part of running the campaign. The disappointed, who will outnumber the pleased might not row so hard if they knew they were not among the chosen. DS

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The baraka of Barack

"Virtually everyone who knows him recognizes that he plays his cards close to the vest, so that you can make your case to him without knowing whether it has registered."
The Obama I (Don't) Know - Richard A. Epstein
David Seaton's News Links
Barack Obama is, as of today, probably going to be the next president of the United States. Some wonder if he has enough experience for the job, while others say that no previous experience prepares a person for being president of the United States.

However, the experience that the rest of us have of that person may prepare us for their presidency.

A good example might be Bill Clinton.

As governor of Arkansas Clinton evidenced many of the traits that he would later show as president: a fine grasp of policy and all its details, an emphasis on economic performance, a preternatural connection with voter sentiment and priapsis; they all were there. It was very easy to have a clear idea of who Bill Clinton the person was.

Even George W. Bush shouldn't have been that much of a surprise: he was a ne'er do well, drunken, foul ball and fuck up most of his life, he seemed to have reformed as governor of Texas, but except for going back to the booze, all he did was revert to type under the pressure of the presidency.

This brings us to Barack Obama.

Barack Obama is not easy to know, he often seems distant and enigmatic and there are amazingly few "revealing" anecdotes about him either past or present. We have very little to go on; even psychobabble comes up dry in his case.

Always polite and unruffled, never angry, always in control; cautious, calculating, tactical and never unguarded. He has done relatively little and what he has done has always been marked by the same caution and tactical sense.

One thing stands out and that is how appropriate his first name is: Barack.

This is usually translated in Obamite literature as a Swahili word for "blessed".

In fact Swahili is just a trader's lingua franca of pigeon Arabic spoken in East Africa and the word barack is really an Arabic word and in common parlance in Muslim countries.

To have "baraka" is to be "blessed" with a form of preternatural luck.

A soldier who seems immune to bullets, who always emerges unscathed from battle, is said to have "baracka" and other soldiers feel that his luck rubs off on them, being close to him makes them lucky too. So, "baraka" is luck seen as charisma.

Napoleon who had to make many inexperienced officers into generals would always ask first about the candidate, "Est-il-heureux?" "Is he lucky?"

Who could deny that Barack Obama has "baracka"?

Barack Obama has probably arrived at the threshold of American politics's greatest prize with fewer moves than anyone in the country's history: his opponents have scandals that eliminate them from Senate races, the Republican Party under the leadership of Bush commits harikiri, and the economy threatens to collapse just as his opponent began to pull ahead in the polls.

Obama seems to have little to do except avoiding mistakes and riding his baracka home to victory... without using the whip.

The question we all have to ask ourselves is the same the soldiers ask themselves about a lucky comrade in arms: will his luck rub off on the rest of us"?

Is his luck our luck?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Granny and the coming storm

Senator Barack Obama will suspend his campaigning for more than 36 hours this week to visit his grandmother Madelyn Dunham, who is gravely ill in Hawaii. Mrs. Dunham, 85, all but raised Mr. Obama during his teenage years in Hawaii, and he has spoken of her often on the campaign trail. New York Times

'Le bon Dieu est dans le detail' Gustave Flaubert

'Get there fustest with the mostest' Nathaniel Bedford Forrest
David Seaton's News Links
As any Indian scout in an old Hollywood western would tell you, small things: a broken twig, a startled bird or a dog that doesn't bark, can have great significance.

Just as a small child knows that daddy sleeping on the sofa is filled with unknown portent, those who wish to analyze current events should never neglect the small but significant detail.

For example: when Rodrigo Rato suddenly left his job as head of the International Monetary Fund on June 28 2007 to return to Madrid because, "my family circumstances and responsibilities, particularly with regard to the education of my children, are the reason for relinquishing earlier than expected my responsibilities at the Fund", it was a clear signal, for anyone sensitive to these small details, that the world financial system was about to implode... If you had sold all your shares on that news item and bought treasury bills and gold, today you would be laughing at the crisis, picking up bargains, and all your friends would consider you a financial wizard.

In the same vein, Senator Obama's suspending his campaign to visit his ailing grandmother in Hawaii is a sure sign that the Republicans are going to open the Reverend Wright can of worms in the next few days.

What Obama does with all this is to hit the news cycle first with a huge human interest story that will remind the voters that Obama was raised by a nice old white lady from Kansas, ergo he is not really that "different". In the next few days TV viewers will be treated to endless "profiles" of Madelyn Dunham.

At the risk of sounding too cynical; if Mrs. Dunham chose this weekend to pass on, thus offering the candidate and his wife the opportunity of weeping copiously at her graveside, this might offset some of the damage that ten days of Jeremiah Wright's God damning America in an endless loop will surely produce. DS

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"W" and post "W"

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Many (most?) people think that George W. Bush is stupid. I don't.

On the contrary, I think that he is highly intelligent, but I also think that he is seriously insane.

I wont indulge in psychobabble trying to diagnose his disease: crazy is as crazy does.

It is his intelligence that makes his particular insanity so perverse. If he were stupid, his insanity would have come to little, we would never even have heard of him. It is the rest of us that are stupid... certainly not Bush

George W. Bush is an alcoholic who has cold turkeyed the booze and then taken the implicit self destructiveness and self hatred of alcoholism and channeled and projected it universally.
Few leaders in history, drunk or sober, have had such a canvas of destruction to paint upon as he has.

Considering the power he has had and how crazily destructive he is, we have come off lightly. He hasn't used the atomic bomb... yet.

A dramatically abridged list of the damage he has done to himself, the environment and humanity follows:

He has destroyed his own reputation: from being the governor of an important state to being a universal pariah.

He has destroyed the reputation of his family name, a family that has given the United States of America senators, governors and two presidents...
Now even the humble rosebush would probably like to change its name to rosesmith or rosejones.

George W. Bush has destroyed his own political party as a instrument of power: a party that is one of the two legs on which American democracy stands. He has surpassed even Nixon in leading the party that once was the home of Abraham Lincoln,
Robert Taft and Dwight Eisenhower into the swamps of neofascist populism.

Iraq, Afghanistan, habeas corpus, Kyoto, New Orleans and the economy: what hasn't he withered with his touch?

The power and influence of the United States in in tatters. Its core skills, which are the heart of its rise to preeminence: its military, organizational and financial abilities, have been degraded out of recognition.

However, I maintain that George W. Bush himself is not a root cause of any of this. At bottom he is only a symptom of a systemic malfunction.

Bush is merely the product of a malfunction that begins with the political parties and how they finance themselves. This is a corrupt alchemy abetted and echoed by a media of tardo-Roman frivolity that permits that someone as damaged as Bush can be selected as a candidate and treated as a serious one in the first place.

But also, and perhaps most gravely, this is a malfunction that includes the American people themselves. It was they who finally elected George W. Bush President of the United States: basically because his first opponent was boring and sighed during debates and then reelected him, basically because his second opponent spoke French and enjoyed wind surfing.

Now this same corrupt system, this same defective process and this same air headed American electorate have selected and are preparing to entrust the atomic bomb and the keys to the skeleton closets containing America's darkest secrets... plus the enhanced executive powers that Cheney has procured for Bush... and his successors, either to an aging and disorganized torture victim or to the hero of a book, "Dreams From my Father", who, for all we know, may turn out to be a fictional character himself.

We shan't begin to know until the big piñata is finally broken open on January 20th, 2009.

The piñata is filled with poisoned sweets.

Bush leaves behind him a damaged, if not crippled economy, with a debt so huge, that it reduces his successor's options at precisely the moment when decisive action must be taken.

To give an idea of what is in store, here are two brief quotes from two important articles which I recommend reading in full. They are by Nobel Prize winning New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman and by Phillip Stephens, associate editor of the Financial Times, who is considered close to Britain's New Labour:
Krugman: If Barack Obama becomes president, he won’t have (McCain's) knee-jerk opposition to spending. But he will face a chorus of inside-the-Beltway types telling him that he has to be responsible, that the big deficits the government will run next year if it does the right thing are unacceptable. He should ignore that chorus. The responsible thing, right now, is to give the economy the help it needs. Now is not the time to worry about the deficit.

Stephens: Mr Obama’s many tax and spending pledges can scarcely be reconciled with the grim reality of the burgeoning budget deficit. The rising protectionist tone of his pledges to protect American jobs jars with the promise to restore the nation’s standing in the world. That said, his speeches carry a professional sheen applied by a phalanx of economic advisers from the Clinton years.(...) Even before the cost of the bail-out of the banks and the stimulus programmes promised by the candidates are added to the accounts, next year’s US budget deficit is forecast to top $500bn. It could turn out to be twice that very large number. I have heard supporters of Mr Obama say “no matter”. Once he has won, he can declare that things are a lot worse than they seemed. A Democratic Congress will trim its ambitions. Even putting aside the political cynicism, this misses the scale of the challenge. Fixing the economy – persuading voters to consume less and save more and redirecting spending into investment in the nation’s crumbling infrastructure – will demand a huge reservoir of moral authority. What will voters say when Mr Obama, if he wins, tells them that his health plan is unaffordable?
The need for strong, social democratic measures is clear. What to do and how to do it no mystery. As I've said before, the plans are all there, all you have to do is translate them from Swedish.

The problem is that Bush's insane binge of selfhating destruction and the implosion of the economy has bent the American political map out of shape. This could be a dangerous mirage.

Over decades, in election after election, the country has proven itself to be leaning to the right. Only four years ago the voters endorsed Bush's program and goals. They have turned against him because of the results of his disastrous execution of those policies, not because of some ideological epiphany. It could be fatally unwise to confuse a victory by default with a "movement".
There is going to be no mandate, only an opportunity.

Therefore in a moment that requires swift, even radical action there will be many who urge caution.

It is dangerous to do too little, it is dangerous to do too much... it is dangerous.

If, as it now appears nearly certain, Barack Obama is elected president and is given a filibuster proof Democratic majority, in great part he will have received all this solely because Bush's binge of destruction has momentarily gelded the Republican Party.

If the economy doesn't get better very fast, the same destructive and bitter forces that Nixon called up from the depths of America's psyche can quickly turn on the Democrats; in fact this may be the only path the Republican remnant can take.

No less an authority on these forces: one of the men who most contributed to creating Nixon's racist, neofascist, Southern Strategy, Pat Buchanan, gives a venom laded version of Philip Stephens' conundrum:
This center-right country is about to vastly strengthen a liberal Congress whose approval rating is 10 percent and implant in Washington a regime further to the left than any in U.S. history.(...) Headed for the White House is the most left-wing member of the Senate, according to the National Journal. To the vice president's mansion is headed Joe Biden, third most liberal as ranked by the National Journal, ahead of No. 4, Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders. What will this mean to America? An administration that is either at war with its base or at war with the nation.(...) Obama knows Middle America harbors deep suspicions of him. Thus, he has jettisoned the rhetoric about the "fierce urgency of now," and "We are the people we've been waiting for," even as he has jettisoned position after position to make himself acceptable. Flip-flopping reveals the prime meridian of presidential politics. If an analyst will collate all the positions to which all the candidates move, he will find himself close to the true center of national politics. (...) No Democrat has ever come out of the far left of his party to win the presidency. McGovern, the furthest left, stayed true to his convictions and lost 49 states.(...) One question remains: Will a President Obama, with his party in absolute control of both Houses, revert to the politics and policies of the Left that brought him the nomination, or resist his ex-comrades' demands that he seize the hour and impose the agenda ACORN, Ayers, Jesse, and Wright have long dreamed of? Whichever way he decides, he will be at war with them, or at war with us. If Barack wins, a backlash is coming.
So this campaign, no matter who wins it, is probably only the beginning of an enormous conflict... a hopefully dry, second American Civil War.

Bush in his own tortured, private hell can be content. He has left a mess that will take decades to sort out and may tear the country apart. He has taken his revenge in full. Revenge for what? What did we ever do to him to deserve such punishment?

We will probably never know. DS

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mike Davis at TomDispatch: a five star must read

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Mike Davis has written an article that Tom Engelhardt has posted on TomDispatch that should be required reading for everybody who considers themselves a progressive. The skinny is that an Obama administration without money, or the will to create a real welfare state, may lead to a Republican resurgence that may be more sinister than Bush. He hammers on a few ideas that I have been trying to communicate to my readers, but he does it so much better than I ever could that I can't resist posting some excerpts from the article, which is titled, "Can Obama See the Grand Canyon":
Never have so many ordinary Americans been nailed to a cross of gold (or derivatives), yet Obama is the most mild-mannered William Jennings Bryan imaginable. Unlike Sarah Palin who masticates the phrase "the working class" with defiant glee, he hews to a party line that acknowledges only the needs of an amorphous "middle class" living on a largely mythical "Main Street."(...) Out in the stucco deserts of Limbaughland, moreover, fear is already being distilled into a good ol' boy version of the "stab in the back" myth that rallied the ruined German petite bourgeoisie to the swastika. If you listen to the rage on commute AM, you'll know that 'socialism' has already taken a lien on America, Barack Hussein Obama is terrorism's Manchurian candidate, the collapse of Wall Street was caused by elderly black people with Fannie Mae loans, and ACORN in its voter registration drives has long been padding the voting rolls with illegal brown hordes. In other times, Sarah Palin's imitation of Father Charles Coughlin -- the priest who preached an American Reich in the 1930s -- in drag might be hilarious camp, but with the American way of life in sudden freefall, the specter of star-spangled fascism doesn't seem quite so far-fetched. The Right may lose the election, but it already possesses a sinister, historically-proven blueprint for rapid recovery. (...) To what extent can we look to either Obama or any of the Democrats to help us analyze the crisis and then act effectively to resolve it?(...) If you've been watching the sad parade of economic gurus on McNeil-Lehrer, you know that the intellectual shelves in Washington are now almost bare. Neither major party retains more than a few enigmatic shards of policy traditions different from the neo-liberal consensus on trade and privatization. Indeed, posturing pseudo-populists aside, it is unclear whether anyone inside the Beltway, including Obama's economic advisors, can think clearly beyond the indoctrinated mindset of Goldman Sachs, the source of the two most prominent secretaries of the treasury over the last decade. Keynes, now suddenly mourned, is actually quite dead. More importantly, the New Deal did not arise spontaneously from the goodwill or imagination of the White House. On the contrary, the social contract for the post-1935 Second New Deal was a complex, adaptive response to the greatest working-class movement in our history, in a period when powerful third parties still roamed the political landscape and Marxism exercised extraordinary influence on American intellectual life. Even with the greatest optimism of the will, it is difficult to imagine the American labor movement recovering from defeat as dramatically as it did in 1934-1937. The decisive difference is structural rather than ideological. (Indeed, today's union movement is much more progressive than the decrepit, nativist American Federation of Labor in 1930.) The power of labor within a Walmart-ized service economy is simply more dispersed and difficult to mobilize than in the era of giant urban-industrial concentrations and ubiquitous factory neighborhoods.(...) Military Keynesianism is no longer an available deus ex machina.(...) when war production finally started up in late 1940 it became a huge engine for the reemployment of the American work force, the real cure for the depressed job markets of the 1930s. Subsequently, American world power and full employment would align in a way that won the loyalty of several generations of working-class voters.(...) It's worth asking, for instance, what in the actual substance of his foreign policy agenda differentiates the Democratic candidate from the radioactive legacy of the Bush Doctrine? Yes, he would close Guantanamo, talk to the Iranians, and thrill hearts in Europe. He also promises to renew the Global War on Terror (in much the same way that Bush senior and Clinton sustained the core policies of Reaganism, albeit with a "more human face"). In case anyone has missed the debates, let me remind you that the Democratic candidate has chained himself, come hell or high water, to a global strategy in which "victory" in the Middle East (and Central Asia) remains the chief premise of foreign policy, with the Iraqi-style nation-building hubris of Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz repackaged as a "realist" faith in global "stabilization." True, the enormity of the economic crisis may compel President Obama to renege on some of candidate Obama's ringing promises to support an idiotic missile defense system or provocative NATO memberships for Georgia and Ukraine. Nonetheless, as he emphasizes in almost every speech and in each debate, defeating the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, together with a robust defense of Israel, constitute the keystone of his national security agenda.(...) It is bitterly ironic, but, I suppose, historically predictable that a presidential campaign millions of voters have supported for its promise to end the war in Iraq has now mortgaged itself to a "tougher than McCain" escalation of a hopeless conflict in Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal frontier. In the best of outcomes, the Democrats will merely trade one brutal, losing war for another. In the worst case, their failed policies may set the stage for the return of Cheney and Rove, or their even more sinister avatars.
Go and read the whole thing, as I've had to butcher it to make it fit here. DS

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The US presidency and Harry Potter's magic invisiblity cloak

the s(h)itting president
According to the legend, the Cloak of Invisibility has the power to shield the wearer from being seen by Death. - Harry Potter - Wikipedia
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In the picture that illustrates this post, a picture which appears in all the major American media, an actor playing the current President of the United States, strikes the pose of Rodin's "Thinker", obviously engaged in having a bowel movement.

During the entire presidential campaign, primaries included, many people, both for and against, have been asking, "Can an African-American be President of the United States?"

They have been missing the whole point.

Not only can a black man be President of the United States of America; it is now a essential requirement for the job.

Until seeing the poster of Josh Brolin as Oliver Stone's "W" sitting on a toilet in cowboy boots with his pants around his ankles under the caption "Sitting president", I admit I didn't understand how essential this was either. But, on seeing the poster, I had an epiphany, a revelation, and saw the whole question clearly for the first time.

Today, after eight years of George W. Bush; as the image and the brand and the reality of American power unravels, only a black man can be president of the United States .

Why is this?

Not because, as Andrew Sullivan suggests, a brown face in the White House will make us suddenly beloved in places like Pakistan... it wont, not at all, perhaps quite the contrary.

But rather because nobody would dare to put a black person on a poster like the one advertising Oliver Stone's film, that's why.

Political caricature is ill willed and cruel and after centuries of our cruelty it is taboo for civilized white people to ridicule a person of color.

For example, Steve Bell, the Guardian's brilliant cartoonist, characterizes George W. Bush as a chimpanzee. Obviously if Bell drew Barack Obama as a chimpanzee he would be considered a vicious, racist beast.

Probably the most famous political cartoon of all time was Herblock's 1954 drawing of Richard Nixon crawling out of a sewer... Would any American cartoonist ever dare draw something similar of Obama no matter how much he disagreed with him? Would a major newspaper like Herblock's Washington Post ever dare to print such a thing?

To draw a caricature ridiculing a politician you have to cruelly exaggerate the victim's salient physical characteristics. How do you draw or represent any African-American with ill intent without crossing the line into racism?

Barack Obama pictured on a movie poster sitting in a warm bathroom, wearing comfortable cowboy boots... defecating?


This is what I call the "Harry Potter magic cloak of invisibility" that Americans don when they cloak themselves in Barack Obama.

By electing Barack Obama, Americans want to protect themselves from themselves and at the same time protect themselves from the world's ill will.

The political climate in America is toxic and it has been since Richard Nixon launched his Southern Strategy and caused Republicans to pause from their golf and stock coupon clipping long enough to plunge into neofascist populism and charismatic religion. Reading the traffic, commentaries, forums and blogs of the American Internet, I find myself sickened by how vindictive, petty, personal and ad hominem it is; both on the left and on the right. If it has been so in relatively good times, there is no reason to expect it to sweeten up in truly bad times.

Things are very bad and they are getting much worse.

Whoever is elected president is in deepest doo doo even before their inauguration.

The country is going to be in a bad mood and surly, but commentators, cartoonists and even most popular bloggers will walk on eggs when treating president Obama. At this time the default position for Obama supporters, when confronting anyone skeptical of Barack Obama, his personality or accomplishments, is to treat them as racist. As president Obama finally takes his bruises from reality instead of speculation, this position should harden. The taboo against racial abuse should guarantee America at least a few months of most welcome peace.

Things have gone so far that electing the untested Obama and invoking this taboo, is probably the only way Americans have of restoring, in their own eyes, the sanctity and the prestige of the center of American political life, the office of the presidency, the post of the nation's commander in chief.

And when someday a million Shiites take to the streets in Iraq shouting, "Death to America! Death to Obama!", they too can be dismissed as racists.

That is how far things may have gone. DS

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Uncle Sam has a talk with the family doctor (Friedmanesque fantasy)

It's unnerving when history becomes yours, when no one can tell you where the bottom is, or what life will be like after that bottom is reached. It's one of those moments when you discover why overused phrases -- I think here, for instance, of "through a glass darkly" -- were overused in the first place. Tom Engelhardt
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Uncle Sam sat in his family doctor's office as the kindly old physician gazed up from the test results and spoke to him in a concerned voice.

"Sam, I'll put it to you straight. You are anemic, you've got high blood pressure, an arrhythmic heart, high cholesterol and I don't like your blood sugar either."

Uncle Sam gulped and asked,
"What can I do Doc?"

"Sam" the doctor said, "if you don't stop mixing cocaine and Viagra, I'd say you have no more than six months left?

"B-b-b-but Doc", Sam stuttered, "I go for a ten mile run every day".

"Sam, if you don't take up something quiet like gardening and leave off the Viagra speedballs you are a dead duck."

"I guess I should see my Rabbi." Sam sighed.

"Are you Jewish?" the doctor asked.

"No" Sam replied, "but this is supposed to be a parody of Thomas Friedman, and he gets his Rabbi into nearly every column". DS

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hope and no money has got to be better than no money and no hope... I hope

"The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge" Jeremiah 31:29

Mr Obama’s laudable ambitions to extend health insurance to all Americans, to refurbish the country’s failing infrastructure, to make a college education affordable and to cut nearly everybody’s taxes will run up against the amazing demands that the rescue will place on present and future taxpayers. The fiscal mess left behind by the Bush administration makes the problem much worse.(...) Circumstances will force the next president to be a fiscal conservative on matters other than temporary stimulus and financial stability. Clive Crook - Financial Times
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George W. Bush with his wars, with his tax cuts, with his incompetent profligacy, and now with the measures he is taking to save our toxic financial system, is leaving behind him a weight, a legacy, so poisonous that any major change of direction in American social policies looks impossible in this generation. A death trap for social democracy.

America, of all the developed countries, is probably one with the least safety net. Already many Americans are suffering for lack of health insurance or adequate schools and lacking other programs that citizens of most rich and advanced countries take for granted.

This lack of a basic welfare state means that in any economic downturn poorer Americans suffer much more than their counterparts in other wealthy countries.

To be sick and to be hungry is always bad anywhere. To be sick and hungry in "the greatest country in the world" is to add insult to injury.

We have thus laid out before us many of the classic ingredients of fascism.

According to Wikipedia:
(Fascism) is primarily concerned with perceived problems associated with cultural, economic, political, and social decline or decadence, and which seeks to solve such problems by achieving a millenarian national rebirth by exalting the nation, as well as promoting cults of unity, strength and purity.
The same article quotes Robert O. Paxton, the author of "The Anatomy of Fascism", who defines it as:
A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.
It is easy to see that this is the direction that the Republican party has been taking since Nixon's "Southern Strategy" and which we are now seeing in full flower today. Joe Sixpack's, the evangelical's and the rural poor's "uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites" has proven a remarkably effective strategy in good times.

Now with a deep and long recession on the menu and the prospect of a Democratic government despite solid legislative majorities, impotent, without money to institute wide, sweeping social reform, while at the same time America's influence in world affairs steadily declines,
is an invitation to classical nativist paranoia of the grossest kind.

And not just for Republicans.

Barack Obama himself succinctly explained the yeast culture of American fascism in a few candid words that brought him much pain:
“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And it’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
The present crisis may very quickly turn heretofore prosperous suburbs all over America into "small towns in the Midwest," where the jobs have all gone, leaving bitterness and "clinging" in those whose educational attainments might have previously made them immune to those vapors.

With a weight of present and future debt so heavy that social policies to ameliorate the lot of suffering citizens will be nigh impossible; in a moment of dreamlike gravity, at the end of some unmarked line, leaden footed, molasses blooded and peering into an abyss of clinging bitterness and rage: the American people find themselves at the point of handing a blank check to an unknown quantity who has until now announced the vaguest of recipes for how to solve the situation... and now there is no other viable choice left

At this point, unless (God forbid) Osama bin Laden intervenes, that is what there is.

The idea that Obama's inexperience might be important has always been considered irrelevant by the millenarians who cling to him. Those with experience of experience would say that inexperience is only a virtue in young, marriageable girls; and only then in traditional societies, but today, many of America's most hopeful, in the aching audacity of their hope, apparently see some sort of political or administrative virginity to be as essential to redeeming America. Much as the Taliban see value in the hymens of their future wives.

Not only poor midwesterners "cling" it seems.

I hope they all are right for their sake, for my sake, and for the world's sake.

Surely it is better to hope than to despair

We can only wish President Barack Obama and ourselves Godspeed. DS

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I hope for all our sakes that Obama really is a socialist radical

Forget the predatory lenders, Wall Street sharks and their government enablers: It all started with George Bailey. Yes, that George Bailey -- the hero of Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," (...) George Bailey was actually a pretty savvy businessman. And it's even easier to forget the precise nature of his business: putting the downscale families of Bedford Falls into homes they couldn't quite afford to buy. This is the substance of the great war between Bailey and Lionel Barrymore's Mr. Potter, the richest, meanest man in Bedford Falls.(...) "They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? . . . Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars?" (...)"It's a Wonderful Life" debuted in 1946, more than a decade after Franklin D. Roosevelt's National Housing Act kicked off a half-century of federal policymaking aimed at making it dramatically easier for working-class Americans to buy and keep their homes.(...) It offered the average American something no country on Earth had ever offered its citizens before -- the promise of an equality rooted in ownership, a citizenship rooted in self-sufficiency and an entrepreneurial spirit rooted in security. Ross Douthat - Washington Post
Most important, in Roubini’s opinion, is to realize that the problem is deeper than the housing crisis. “Reckless people have deluded themselves that this was a subprime crisis,” he told me. “But we have problems with credit-card debt, student-loan debt, auto loans, commercial real estate loans, home-equity loans, corporate debt and loans that financed leveraged buyouts.” All of these forms of debt, he argues, suffer from some or all of the same traits that first surfaced in the housing market: shoddy underwriting, securitization, negligence on the part of the credit-rating agencies and lax government oversight. “We have a subprime financial system,” he said, “not a subprime mortgage market.” Nouriel Roubini - NYT

The nuclear physicist Leo Szilard once remarked that the fall of the Soviet system would eventually lead to the fall of the American system. He said that in a two-element structure the interrelationship and interdependence are such that the one cannot survive without the other.(...) Without the enemy, the machinery of power begins to race, with nothing to resist it; megalomania sets in. William Pfaff
Sen. Barack Obama has taken a commanding lead in the race for president not because of any dramatic gesture, but because of a signature political trait: his caution. The nation's economic crisis triggered Obama's sharp rise in what had been a tight race. But Obama hasn't tried to seize the kind of central, national leadership position for which Sen. John McCain grasped, and fell short. Nor has he been touting — Bill Clinton-style — a highly detailed plan for what he'll do the moment he takes office. The result is that while virtually all observers agree that he has benefited from the crisis, his allies and critics alike remain a bit hazy on what exactly he would do if he takes office Jan. 20, 2009. Ben Smith - Politico
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The idea or thread that holds the above quotes together is that the legendary prosperity of the American middle class, their massive home ownership and dizzying consumption have long been based on easy credit, that with the end of the cold war, America's credit binge went out of control, that the days of easy credit have just ended with an enormous bang or thud and that if Barack Obama, probably the next president of USA, has any specific ideas about what to do about the whole thing, he is playing his cards very close to his chest, indeed.

The reference to the cold war is very relevant, in my opinion.

If a worldwide banking meltdown, such as we are experiencing right now, had occurred in the 1960s or 70s, the large soviet backed, communist parties of France and Italy, and their trade unions, would have been out in the streets in force rapidly destabilizing those countries: the reaction in Asia, Africa and Latin America might have been
even more explosive. Certainly the risk of strengthening such political movements would have been a conscious restraining factor for regulators all over the capitalist world. Those parties and those unions no longer exist. At the end of the cold war, as William Pfaff writes, "without the enemy, the machinery of power begins to race, with nothing to resist it; megalomania sets in."

With this crisis the era of easy private credit is surely drawing to a close and we will see a revival of traditional, conservative, lending practices. This means, for those too young to remember, that to get money you will have to already have money. Nouriel Roubini gives a short list of things that you will find yourself paying up front for besides a house: anything you usually pay for with a credit-card, or a college education, or an automobile, etc.

As you look at the list of things that you will have to save up to buy, James Stewart's, Charles Bailey voice may echo in your ear, "Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars?" In 1946 you could buy a house with five thousand dollars, nowadays you can't buy very much with that sum, but it is still hard for anyone on minimum wage, or not so minimum wage, to save five thousand dollars.

A great many people are going to discover for the first time in their lives that they are poor and they are going to resent it.

Many more people than today are going to feel bitter and in Barack Obama's prescient phrase, "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations”. As another major new voice in American politics might add, "you betcha".

With nothing to threaten it, the system has set out to destroy itself. Now the danger to our system is right wing populism not socialism. Socialism or at least some version of a Scandinavian social democracy is the only way to stabilize this situation and stability is the most truly conservative of values.

This ultra-right, Le Pen-like populist anger is going to sweep America and make an already horrible situation much worse, unless very proactive, openly social democratic, anti-poverty programs are put quickly into place: universal, free health care, grants, not loans, for higher education, government sponsored, high quality subsidized rental housing with option to buy, etc. And make no mistake, this means cutting back defense spending, closing tax havens and raising taxes on the very rich and moving the money into education, health and infrastructure... right away.

Nothing original here, the plans are already drawn up, all you have to do is translate them from Swedish.

The wing nuts are accusing Barack Obama of being a "socialist radical", oh, but were it true.

I think he should quickly announce his future cabinet choices and give a detailed outline of the legislation he aims to pass in his first hundred days.

If Obama doesn't move strongly with vigorous social democratic measures to stabilize the situation of America's seething masses of nouveaux pauvres, he will simply be fattening frogs for snakes... keeping the Oval Office chair warm for Sarah Palin or even worse in 2012. DS