Thursday, December 18, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
And, they give you free ice cream all the time, Ben & Jerry's coupons (7 pints and counting, and I just signed up a week ago). Go do it now, people! Keep your number and let them reimburse your early termination fees!
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Did Bernard-Henri Lévy comprehend that "the American left" and "the Charlie Rose television program" are, in fact, distinct entities? Might there be aspects of social and political life that do not impinge upon the consciousness of Sharon Stone or Warren Beatty (who, to judge by American Vertigo, are among the American left's most important figures)? Can a thing be, and yet not be, well publicized?
I frame these questions with all due seriousness, for they touch on something one must always keep in mind while reading Lévy's work--his new book, Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism (Random House, $25), most emphatically included. For BHL (as he is known in France and, increasingly, the United States) is not simply another pundit. He brings to current affairs a certain philosophical method, which he succinctly unpacked not many years ago in his book War, Evil, and the End of History. There Lévy explained that he found it impossible to recognize as valid any political movement "about which I could not have the feeling, even if illusory, that it began, ended, and found its reasoning in me alone." And so while "the American left" may or may not exist, what Charlie Rose so lovingly calls "this table" certainly does--for BHL has sat at it. Hence certain rigorous deductions are possible....
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
• Bernie Sanders
• William Greider in The Nation:
Washington must assert its full emergency powers and tackle two things at once: manage the gradual downsizing of the financial system in an orderly fashion that sustains lending, and revive production and employment by force-feeding activities of many kinds. This cannot be a voluntary program that simply invites bankers to participate on their terms. The government must impose emergency regulatory controls to keep finance in step with the nation's overall goals. If bankers resist these terms, they should be cut off, isolated from the public's lifesaving assistance.
These are not idle suggestions. The nation is now in the grip of dynamic political change, and this will not stop with the decision on Paulson's grandiose bailout. Presuming the bailout prevails in Congress, Paulson will be handing out public billions to Wall Street players in the next few months. The political counterforce for genuine public-spirited solutions should be pushing back right away. Activists and intellectuals, public citizens and heavyweight financial players, even some members of Congress, are already at work on the details. If Congress reconvenes for a lame-duck session, you will see some of these measures surface for public debate and popular agitation.
The essence of this action will borrow ideas and models from the New Deal and update them to fit our present circumstances. This not simple nostalgia. It is a clearheaded recognition that the public interest has not been served and the crisis will not recede until it is. Here are five concepts for recovery and reconstruction that are in circulation. If we are lucky, these proposals will redefine the next presidency, whoever wins.
1. Stop the easy-money bailout. Instead of buying rotten assets from Wall Street firms with no strings attached, the government should examine their books and decide which banks can be saved with direct infusions of capital in exchange for public ownership--roughly on the terms Warren Buffett got when he aided Goldman Sachs (preferred shares and guaranteed dividends). The failing institutions should get regulatory euthanasia. This approach gives the government direct control over the survivors and ensures that the public is protected from egregious loss. The model is the Reconstruction Finance Corporation of the 1930s, which recapitalized banks and corporations under stern supervision.
2. Help the folks who are hurting--directly. A homeownership corporation patterned after the New Deal original would have the money and the flexible authority to supervise "workouts" for millions of failing families. This is what bankers do for corporations when they get in over their head. Government can do the same for indebted households: stop the liquidation, stretch out default dates and arrange manageable terms. This is not a bleeding-heart gesture--keeping families in their homes is economic stimulus, and it halts the decay of neighborhoods.
3. Get serious about economic stimulus. We need a recovery program five or six times larger than the pitiful $60 billion proposed by Democratic leaders. These billions should go for the familiar list of neglected priorities--fixing bridges and schools--but should also jump-start the green agenda for alternative fuels and restoration of ruined ecosystems. The government should subsidize the new industries of our age, just as New Deal spending financed the modern development of aircraft, petrochemicals, steelmaking and other key industries in the 1930s.
4. Re-regulate the bad actors and indict the criminals. Start by restoring the law against usury--the predatory lending practices that ruin weak and defenseless borrowers. Government cannot wait for a relaxed debate about restoring regulations. We need newly designed controls over the financiers and well-defined public obligations imposed not only on banking but also on hedge funds and private equity firms. These cannot be discretionary rules. If the money guys don't like them, they should get out of the business. Paulson's Wall Street colleagues are already mobilizing lobbyists for this fight, but they may discover that Washington has been changed by events. The easygoing deference to Big Money seems suddenly out of fashion.
5. Create a new brain for government management of the economy. The crisis and the halting decision-making by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve--not to mention the secrecy and special deal-making on behalf of financial interests--make it clear that deep reform is required. I would start with a special reconstruction and recovery agency, empowered to lead policy and oversee banking regulators and the economic stimulus. The Federal Reserve's so-called independence is an antique concession to the big banks and doesn't make any sense. Monetary policy and fiscal policy must be balanced and decided in the same process. That rational approach might have stopped the Fed from the biases and dereliction that led to this crisis.
These ideas and many others are in gestation. They will reach fruition when politicians and other leaders swallow their bruised egos and rethink their supine posture, arm in arm with Wall Street. That looks improbable at the moment. But voters can help them change their minds. (read the whole thing)
Friday, October 17, 2008
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Dramesi, who went on to serve as chief war planner for U.S. Air Forces in Europe and commander of a wing of the Strategic Air Command, was not surprised. "McCain says his life changed while he was in Vietnam, and he is now a different man," Dramesi says today. "But he's still the undisciplined, spoiled brat that he was when he went in."
This is the story of the real John McCain, the one who has been hiding in plain sight. It is the story of a man who has consistently put his own advancement above all else, a man willing to say and do anything to achieve his ultimate ambition: to become commander in chief, ascending to the one position that would finally enable him to outrank his four-star father and grandfather.
In its broad strokes, McCain's life story is oddly similar to that of the current occupant of the White House. John Sidney McCain III and George Walker Bush both represent the third generation of American dynasties. Both were born into positions of privilege against which they rebelled into mediocrity. Both developed an uncanny social intelligence that allowed them to skate by with a minimum of mental exertion. Both struggled with booze and loutish behavior. At each step, with the aid of their fathers' powerful friends, both failed upward. And both shed their skins as Episcopalian members of the Washington elite to build political careers as self-styled, ranch-inhabiting Westerners who pray to Jesus in their wives' evangelical churches.
In one vital respect, however, the comparison is deeply unfair to the current president: George W. Bush was a much better pilot...(read the whole thing)
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Secondly: what the fuck? What kind of lunatic comes up with this as his "illustrative example"? Your simplifying parable is more fantastic and complicated than the actual story! At first I thought you were kidding, then I had to go back and read it to believe it -- astounding! It should tell the readers of this debate quite a bit that this is your idea of a good way to start an argument: "Say for example that your best friend is killed in broad daylight with a crossbow, and the government frames you for the crime using advanced morphing technology."
Taibbi strikes again here.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
And for more on the history of the Voter-Fraud Fraud, read Digby.
And for all you swing voters who want to vote for a winner, this prediction is from an exceptional, non-partisan site that corrects for bias in polling and is far more comprehensive:
...set of state polling that follows is so strong for Obama that he continues to hit record marks in all three of our projection metrics. We are now projecting Obama to win the election 90.5 percent of the time, with an average of 346.8 electoral votes, and a 5.4-point margin in the national popular vote.
Monday, October 06, 2008
Saturday, October 04, 2008
The show should be required listening for anyone concerned with understanding why things are the way they are, and how to change them.
Friday, October 03, 2008
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
DemocracyNow covers the revised swindle, and the long-term prospects of a smaller Wall Street, as Paulson picks which criminal friends to reward for their crooked greed and who to sacrifice, all at taxpayer expense, and all without addressing any root causes. On the plus side, it will still be easy for anyone paying any attention at all to predict that another crisis is inevitable. The "feeling" among progressives being that Obama will be in a position to actually do something about it, then. The now inescapably obvious fact that our system is just incredibly fucked up and corrupted by/beholden to Wall Street likewise disheartening, but hardly a surprise. Still it's too bad no leader has emerged to take advantage of this opportunity for the left. Plenty of people, like Defazio, stood up for what was right, although it wasn't enough, passionately and eloquently so. They just weren't real players in the game. Or rather, there aren't hardly enough players worth a shit in the game. We're a sick, election-obsessed country and it's too bad there's no time or ideological room for real leadership.
Plenty of time to pass a terrible bill once hundreds of pages of pork and earmarks have been added to it, though. Not all of them bad, certainly. Some of them criminal. But none of them relating directly to addressing the root causes of the economic crisis. Since the bill itself doesn't do that either, what's the difference right?
Mortgages, from what I understand, are hardly mentioned. No real help is mandated.
The Conference Call.
Hunter. Update: And again.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
• Comparing Crises:
The 1930s, the 1970s, and Today by Ingo Schmidt
• The $700 billion already stolen without Congress seems not to have helped.
Of course, sane people know that nobody "lost" anything yesterday, that stocks go up and down and this too shall pass because the rich will now buy low, hold, then sell off, then buy low again.
But for now, Wall Street and its propaganda arm (the networks and media it owns) will continue to try and scare the bejesus out of you. It will be harder to get a loan. Some people will lose their jobs. A weak nation of wimps won't last long under this torture. Or will we? Is this our line in the sand?
Here's my guess: The Democratic leadership in the House secretly hoped all along that this lousy bill would go down. With Bush's proposals shredded, the Dems knew they could then write their own bill that favors the average American, not the upper 10% who were hoping for another kegger of gold.
So the ball is in the Democrats' hands. The gun from Wall Street remains at their head. Before they make their next move, let me tell you what the media kept silent about while this bill was being debated:
1. The bailout bill had NO enforcement provisions for the so-called oversight group that was going to monitor Wall Street's spending of the $700 billion;
2. It had NO penalties, fines or imprisonment for any executive who might steal any of the people's money;
3. It did NOTHING to force banks and lenders to rewrite people's mortgages to avoid foreclosures -- this bill would not have stopped ONE foreclosure!;
4. It had NO teeth anywhere in the entire piece of legislation, using words like "suggested" when referring to the government being paid back for the bailout;
5. Over 200 economists wrote to Congress and said this bill might actually WORSEN the "financial crisis" and cause even MORE of a meltdown.
Put a fork in this slab of pork. It's over. Now it is time for our side to state very clearly the laws WE want passed. I will send you my proposals later today. We've bought ourselves less than 72 hours.
Some beginnings worth thinking about:
• Progressive Shock Doctrine
• History of a Liberal Shock Doctrine
• Dean Baker
• Ian Walsh
• Robert Reich
(All three via.)
• James K. Galbraith
• Draft of the No Bail-Outs Act
• Panel of economist reactions at TPM
Monday, September 29, 2008
Why is he letting the Republicans (that is, the Republican Study Group/assorted lunatics who only oppose the bailout because they want more tax cuts for the rich, more deregulation and private profits) steal all the thunder?
Sure he's still only campaigning, and such principled, ideological bravery against his political nature (not to mention economic advisors). But what an opportunity to fight for and write a moment of history that actually punished, instead of rewarded predatory Wall Street criminals, definitively closed the book on a failed ideology of fundamentalist free market capitalism (Reagan included, though his name is NEVER mentioned in conjunction with the crash of '87) and accomplished some enduring good for the middle class and America as a whole for potentially decades to come.
Update: Digby truly gets it.
Update II: Digby also unearths an article written by Rick Perlstein last month which argues the historical problem and opportunity even better. Read all of both. And hope this spirit of spine-building catches on.
Update III: America Needs a New New Deal, by Katrina vanden Heuvel & Eric Schlosser (via)
The House on Monday rejected a $700 billion Wall Street bailout that would have been the biggest government intervention in the financial system since the Great Depression. "Vermonters and people across America are saying very clearly that this bailout is a bad idea and that the struggling middle class should not have to pay for the greed and excesses of Wall Street.
“With the House vote today,” the senator added, “it is time to send a loud and clear message that if a bailout is necessary, it must be paid for by those on Wall Street who caused the problem and the very wealthy who pocketed huge profits. Any effective program to help the economy also should re-regulate the financial services industry that has gotten a pass in the past decade, include an economic recovery program to put Americans to work at decent wages, and break up huge companies so that there is no longer anything that is too big to fail.”
Sanders’ letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson calls for a five-year, 10 percent surtax on individuals with more than $500,000 income and couples with combined incomes of more than $1 million. The surtax would raise more than $300 billion to help pay for losses on assets taken over by the government.
In addition to the 50 thousand co-signers of Sanders’ letter that was first posted only one week ago, a new Web poll today also is reflecting overwhelming opposition to the bailout that the House rejected.
To read and sign the letter to the Treasury secretary, click here.
top managers will continue to receive million-dollar-a-month paychecks under this new bill. There is no direct ownership given to the American people for the money being handed over. Foreign banks and investors will be allowed to receive billion-dollar handouts.
...the reason so many Dems are behind this is because Wall Street this weekend put a gun to their heads and said either turn over the $700 billion or the first thing we'll start blowing up are the pension funds and 401(k)s of your middle class constituents.
Here's someone who's read the bill and plans to vote against it.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
...in these early days of the twenty-first century, the suicide of a writer does not mark their body of work, does not inflect it, in the same manner in which it did previously, during the epoch of Romanticism. Is literary Romanticism dead? Perhaps, although it is still too early to say; either way, the terrain in which we are writing and living and dying is shifting; the definition of tragedy today also needs to be examined further. Although we could argue that everything is anachronistic, that we live in an epoch with no sense of itself, and that we occupy a dislocated era, an age out of its proper time, an age Foster Wallace predicted, from a literary perspective, the suicide of David Foster Wallace, or for that matter, the suicide of any writer in the 21st century, is of no importance.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Only they're not supposed to talk about this agenda openly. Because it makes them seem like blatant opportunists, liars and crooks. Here's naive and idiotic Sarah Palin talking about it openly (or trying to), seemingly offering a string of non-sequitors in direct response to a question about the bailout.
She seems to have grasped, or overheard somewhere, that this disaster means an opportunity down the road for things like health care "reform" (of the wildly unpopular, hatchet sort), but she obviously hasn't grasped that she isn't supposed to talk about it quite that way. Expect her to be kept out of sight until she can be made to understand the game, or at least keep her mouth shut and memorize some equivocal slogans and platitudes to respond to questions on economics.
• 95% of working families would get a tax cut from Obama
• 100 million Americans would get NO tax cut from McCain
• Most would get a larger tax cut from Obama
They also have a handy, non-partisan tax calculator under each plan. And links to everything you might be curious to know.
Here are the numbers:
1. Pre-tax $200-500k: Obama raises taxes $3,546, McCain cuts $1,892.
2. Pre-tax $500-1mil: Obama raises taxes $30,499, McCain cuts $6,825.
3. Pre-tax $1mil+: Obama raises taxes $262,371, McCain cuts $58,632.
In sum, Obama's plan involves
* large increases in taxes paid by the highest-earning Americans, who represent a very small share of people but take in a (relatively) very large share of pre-tax income, coupled with
* moderate-to-large reductions in the net tax bill faced by everyone else.
By contrast, McCain's plan involves
* smaller, but still large, reductions in taxes paid by the highest-earning Americans, coupled with
* very small reductions in the net tax bill faced by everyone else.
(I stress again that both plans add substantially to the federal debt relative to current law, which means that someone will have to pay the bill later; again, though, that bill would be smaller with Obama's plan than with McCain's.)
This chart tells a pretty simple story. McCain's plan would reduce all groups' average tax rates, though generally by very little. Except for those making more than a million dollars a year, who would see a drop in average tax rates of 1.8 points, McCain's plan would reduce the average tax rate by less than one percentage point across the board.
By contrast, Obama's plan would reduce average tax rates by a moderate to large amount (between 1.4 and 8.1 percentage points) for all groups with pre-tax income below $75k; those in the $75-100k and $100-200k groups would see average tax rates fall by 0.8 and 0.3 percent. Most notably, those in the three highest groups would see moderately small (1.2 percent for $200-500k) to large (4.1 and 8.0 percent for those making $500k-$1mil and $1mil+) increases in their average tax rates.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
After pointlessly signing the above, well worth listening to Naomi Klein on Democracy Now:
I’m also arguing that this is only stage one of the shock doctrine. They’re getting this—they’re lobbying for this huge bailout, obviously, but this bailout is a kind of a time bomb, because it’s all these bad debts, and they are going to explode on the next administration. I mean, we know that the Bush administration has already left the next administration with huge debt and deficit problems. They’ve just exploded those, expanded them. And what that means is that whoever the next president is is going to be inheriting this economic crisis that is being exacerbated by this bailout.
So, in the case of McCain, I think—if he’s the president, then I think we know what he’ll do, because we know he wants to privatize Social Security, which is something that Wall Street’s been wanting for a long time, another bubble. We know he has said in the next—in the first 100 days of his administration he’ll look at every program and either reform it or shut it down. This is really a recipe for economic shock therapy. So, while you have all of these trivial issues being discussed in the election season, I think what we could—what we’re really—you know, under the surface, they’re actually being quite clear. They’re going to take—if they take power, it will be in the midst of an economic emergency. They’ll invoke that emergency to push through very, very radical changes. So, you know, what I’ve been saying is, this is not four more years of Bush; it’s much, much worse in the case of another Republican administration.
But there’s huge problems for Democrats, as well, if they win this election, because, you know, we need to only think back to the situation in which Clinton took power, where he ran an election on an economic populist platform, promising to renegotiate NAFTA. Then there was an economic crisis. Clinton came under intense lobbying by people like Robert Rubin, who’s also advising Obama right now, and by the time he took office, he had embraced economic austerity.
So, people need to understand these tactics, need to put pressure on the candidates, the parties, and reject this tactic. And I’ve actually been really heartened, Amy, that people are onto these shock tactics and aren’t falling for it. And, you know, to the extent that we’re seeing a little bit of spine from the Democrats, it is only, as Chris Dodd said, because they are hearing it from their constituents. So people need to keep up this pressure right now.
there is pressure being put on Congress from Democrats who—you know, we’ve heard the proposals to cap executive pay and to have a moratorium on foreclosures. It’s coming not from all Democrats, but from some. But there’s something going on on the Republican side, where you have people like Newt Gingrich, and you also have the Republican Study Committee, which is a group of very influential Republican lawmakers who are saying that they’re opposed to the bailout, and they also have their wish list. And I think it is that it’s not that they’re going to oppose a bailout completely; it’s that they want economic changes, right-wing, pro-corporate economic changes, attached to a bailout. So, Newt Gingrich has his list. He’s got eighteen demands. But I think even more important than that is the Republican Study Committee, and I raise this because they’ve just issued their ransom list. It starts with suspending the capital gains tax, privatizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, suspending mark-to-market accounting, which is the rule that requires companies to assess their assets at current market values.
So, what’s so stunning about this, Amy, is that here you have a crisis that everyone seems to agree is borne of deregulation, and they’re actually calling for more deregulation. We have a situation where the debt is exploding on American taxpayers, and they want to suspend corporate profits—sorry, corporate taxes, which is actually what might defray some of those costs from regular taxpayers. So it’s an incredible display of opportunism. And this is what I mean by stage two of the shock doctrine. The first stage is just the bailout, but the second stage are all of these radical reforms that are going to be invoked in the name of the crisis that the bailout is creating, whether it’s pushed through right now or whether it’s pushed through later.
But what’s important—you know, Amy, in the book, I talk about—I start the book with a quote from Milton Friedman that has really made the rounds a lot lately, which is that—and this is a Friedman quote—that “only a crisis, actual or perceived, produces real change. And when the crisis occurs, the change depends on the ideas that are lying around." And then he goes on to say, “That, I believe, is our basic function: to keep the ideas ready until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.” So I think it’s really important for people to look at the ideas that are lying around.
There’s enormous corporate lobbying going on to, for instance, eliminate the post-Enron collapse regulations, to actually say that the way to save the American economy—you know, you heard Henry Paulson equating—still equating the interests of the financial sector with the interests of everyone else. We know that’s simply not true. But it’s that—precisely that logic that then is used to say, OK, these are the—this is what the financial community, this is what the corporate world needs in order to revive the economy: they need less regulation, they need less taxation.
So, we should be really, really wary of this claim that we’re hearing that free market ideology is dead, that this marks the end of, you know, of capitalism. You know, I’m sorry, that is not the case. It may be going dormant for a little while to rationalize these massive bailouts, but it will come roaring back, and the crisis that is being deepened right now through these bailouts will be invoked for even more radical deregulation, privatization, tax cuts and so on...
I don't think we can stress this enough...Henry Paulson ["Mr. Risk" himself, former Nixon administration pal] is one of the key people, one of the top people responsible for creating the crisis that he is now claiming he will solve...it's this state of regression that we go into...Henry Paulson has been cast as an economic Rudy Guiliani, saving the day, impartial, bi-partisan, a strong leader....Henry Paulson is...bailing out his colleagues [and himself].
As for "Dems that don't suck" as Corrente aptly puts it, watch Marcy Kaptur.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Friday, September 19, 2008
In cruder language the operators of these two giants [Fannie and Freddie] had been engaged in the pleasant activity of cooking the books by borrowing at low-interest government rates, selling the repackaged mortgages at a higher-interest markup and then lying about the their actual exposures. "Fannie and Freddie were almost single-handedly supporting the junk mortgage market that was making Wall Street rich," economist Michael Hudson told Counterpunch the Monday after the takeover, protecting themselves from regulatory harassment by shoveling campaign contributions at the relevant lawmakers sitting on the financial committees in Washington.
Now the Treasure is refloating these two huge casinos and sending them down the river again ["sticking the taxpayers with a $300 billion tab"], so that Wall Street can stay happy and China and the other overseas lenders can be assured that the money they're lending the United States....is at least partly secured.[...]
Even Swift could not depict...McCain offering himself as the foe of special interests when his economic advisor is former Senator Phil Gramm, the key player in Congress in the late '90s in the deregulatory assaults that overthrew Glass-Steagall, opened the door to the derivatives scams and greased Wall Street's wheels as it plunged the economy into the present crisis. Obama alluded obliquely to Gramm without naming him in his Denver speech[...] But why not identify McCain's detestable associate [who recently called America "a nation of whiners"]? The problem is that co-conspiring in Gramm's deregulatory rampages in the late '90s was the Clinton Administration, spurred on by the Democratic Leadership Council. On the ticket with Obama is that lifelong serf of the banks, Joe Biden[...]
When they look back on it, people will surely see this election as one of the larger missed opportunities in the nation's history for scrutiny and shake-up of our economic and imperial arrangements: an unpopular war abroad, brazen thievery by the rich and powerful at home, widespread discontent of huge slabs of the electorate, beleaguered by debt, low wages and joblessness. How easy it should have been for a politician as eloquent and intelligent as Obama to create an irresistible popular constituency challenging business as usual. But what's positively eerie is the cautious sensitivity of his political antennas, alerting him time and again to the risks of actually saying or pledging anything substantive[...] Small wonder it's hard to remember much that he says, because so little that he does say is ever substantively memorable or surprising or exciting; no wonder that Sarah Palin is proving so successful a distraction.
support The Nation Magazine.
Too bad for Cockburn the distraction is already wearing out...
For various reasons, I recommend this.
Five Direly Underappreciated U.S. novels >1960
The Uncollected DFW
Interviews and Audio
Wallace dramatised the need and urge to keep the proliferating networks of our culture in view and under control, at a time when they have passed beyond the compass of any human mind. Addiction, the oft-cited overarching "theme" of Infinite Jest, means nothing if not a quest for an always-elusive mastery of fate. And his memorialising fans now seem addicted to the same pursuit of an integrated, it-all-adds-up meaning.
But that is not quite right.
Update: I like what The Existence Machine has to say, very much. Although I prefer to remember the non-fiction right now, particularly for its humor, and maybe the hint of a different relation to his sadness that–who knows–might have led to somewhere else. But it was not his truest voice. Wallace's writing seemed lighter, which is to say the perpetual note of sadness became muted, perhaps in deference to some journalistic style that one could argue was a little false, in the end. Still, I'll re-read A Supposedly Fun Thing before Brief Interviews...if only to work up the patience for the latter. It will be hard to see the sadness as anything but king, finally.
Update II: This is extremely good, by A. O. Scott (sub - now partially liberated):
Reviewing a biography of Jorge Luis Borges in The New York Times Book Review a few years back, David Foster Wallace attacked the standard biographical procedure of mining the lives of writers for clues to their work, and vice versa. Borges’s stories, he insisted, “so completely transcend their motive cause that the biographical facts become, in the deepest and most literal way, irrelevant.”
What’s true of writers’ lives is also, surely, true of their deaths. The temptation to regard Mr. Wallace’s suicide last weekend as anything other than a private tragedy must be resisted. But the strength of the temptation should nonetheless be acknowledged. Mr. Wallace was hardly one to conceal himself within his work; on the contrary, his personality is stamped on every page — so much so that the life and the work can seem not just connected but continuous.
The moods that Mr. Wallace distilled so vividly on the page — the gradations of sadness and madness embedded in the obsessive, recursive, exhausting prose style that characterized both his journalism and his fiction — crystallized an unhappy collective consciousness. And it came through most vividly in his voice. Hyperarticulate, plaintive, self-mocking, diffident, overbearing, needy, ironical, almost pathologically self-aware (and nearly impossible to quote in increments smaller than a thousand words) — it was something you instantly recognized even hearing it for the first time. It was — is — the voice in your own head.
Or mine, at any rate. When, as an undergraduate with a head full of literary theory and a heartsick longing for authenticity, I first encountered David Foster Wallace, I experienced what is commonly called the shock of recognition. Actually, shock is too clean, too safe a word for my uncomfortable sense that not only did I know this guy, but he knew me. He could have been a T.A. in one of my college courses, or the slightly older guy in Advanced Approaches to Interpretation who sat slightly aloof from the others and had not only mastered the abstruse and trendy texts everyone else was reading, but also skipped backward, sideways and ahead. It was impressive enough that he could do philosophy — the mathematical kind, not just the French kind. But he also played tennis — Mr. Wallace, in fact, had competed seriously in the sport — and could quote lyrics from bands you only pretended you’d heard of. Without even trying, he was cooler than everyone else.
All this shone through Mr. Wallace’s fiction. He had the intellectual moves and literary tricks diagrammed in advance: the raised-eyebrow, mock-earnest references to old TV shows and comic books; the acknowledgment that truth was a language game. He was smarter than anyone else, but also poignantly aware that being smart didn’t necessarily get you very far, and that the most visible manifestations of smartness — wide erudition, mastery of trivia, rhetorical facility, love of argument for its own sake — could leave you feeling empty, baffled and dumb.
he was not only preoccupied with staking out a position in relation to other writers. Again and again, he returned to a basic, perhaps the basic, philosophical question facing anyone with a blank screen and a story to tell. What am I going to say? How am I going to say it? It’s never an easy question, but perhaps no one illustrated its difficulty with so much energy, good humor and conceptual rigor. In the story “Octet,” a section begins “you are, unfortunately, a fiction writer” and then proceeds, hilariously and infuriatingly, to diagram the dimensions of that misfortune. One long, brilliant, crazy footnote ends: “None of that was very clearly put and might well ought to get cut. It may be that none of this real-narrative-honesty-v.-sham-narrative-honesty stuff can even be talked about up front.”
And yet Mr. Wallace never stopped trying. Even when his subject matter took him outside himself — into the world of lobsters, tennis players, cruise-ship vacationers or presidential campaigners — the fundamental problems of writing remained in the foreground. I suspect that Mr. Wallace’s persona — at once unbearably sophisticated and hopelessly naïve, infinitely knowing and endlessly curious — will be his most durable creation.
“Infinite Jest” is a masterpiece that’s also a monster — nearly 1,100 pages of mind-blowing inventiveness and disarming sweetness. Its size and complexity make it forbidding and esoteric. The other big books published since by members of Mr. Wallace’s age cohort — “Middlesex,” by Jeffrey Eugenides; “The Corrections,” by Jonathan Franzen; “The Fortress of Solitude,” by Jonathan Lethem; “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” by Michael Chabon — are more accessible, easier to connect with and to give prizes to. They are family chronicles, congenial hybrids of domestic melodrama, immigrant chronicle, magic realism as well as the more traditional kind. Not easy books, necessarily, but not aggressively difficult, either.
In their different ways, though, these novels and their authors — along with other itchy late- and post-boomer white guys like Richard Powers, Rick Moody and Dave Eggers — stand in Mr. Wallace’s shadow. Not because his version of their generational crisis was better or truer than theirs, but rather because it was purer and more rigorous. In some ways, the figure he resembles most is Ezra Pound. Not the loony, ranting figure Pound eventually became, but rather the innovative and uncompromising modernist he was in his prime. Pound, in the teens and 1920s, understood the literary logic of modernism, with its poetics of difficulty and allusiveness, more clearly than any of his contemporaries. He pushed his insights further, into an extreme, enormous, all-but-unreadable book — the “Cantos” — that is to high modernism what “Infinite Jest” is to late postmodernism.Outside of graduate classrooms, not many readers swallow the “Cantos” whole, and a similar fate may lie in store for “Infinite Jest.”[...]
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Last week, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin declared that she was willing to go to war against Russia on behalf of Georgia.:
The issue of "conflict of interest" takes on a new and apocalyptic meaning when you consider the role of energy giant BP in all of this. Palin's husband has spent most of his adult life, eighteen years, working for BP. The company is even more important to his wife, as BP owns Alaska's (and America's) largest gas and oil fields. BP hates Russia at least as much as their tools Palin and McCain: the company has been locked in a nasty battle over its 50 percent stake in Russian energy giant TNK--BP's stake in that company is key to BP's stock price. If BP loses TNK to Putin's goons, then billions could be wiped off the stock price. That's something to go to war for.
The Global Financial Mess: blaming the victims
America's Financial Meltdown: Lessons and Prospects
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Belatedly, R.I.P. Obit.
Toward a New New Cold War:
"...threat inflation work[s] to the advantage of both the US and the SU military-industrial complexes...A new new cold war is on the starting blocks, and the initiating party most certainly has been the United States."
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
...somewhat lost in the focus on Palin trying to censore books, build bridges, and requiring help to run a city of 5,000
So here we have a massive assault led by Federal Government law enforcement agencies on left-wing dissidents and protesters who have committed no acts of violence or illegality whatsoever, preceded by months-long espionage efforts to track what they do. And as extraordinary as that conduct is, more extraordinary is the fact that they have received virtually no attention from the national media and little outcry from anyone. And it's not difficult to see why. As the recent "overhaul" of the 30-year-old FISA law illustrated -- preceded by the endless expansion of surveillance state powers, justified first by the War on Drugs and then the War on Terror -- we've essentially decided that we want our Government to spy on us without limits. There is literally no police power that the state can exercise that will cause much protest from the political and media class and, therefore, from the citizenry.
Thursday, September 04, 2008
The trick to both the immediacy of these memories (building a treehouse, drinking punch next to the pond) and the duration of the immediate events (Wasznar’s barn, converted to house Marek and Antonina’s family, burns in the background of the whole book) is that the narration never once detours from the present tense. This is much more unusual in German than it is in English: German fiction is written almost exclusively in the simple past tense, which is rarely a part of spoken speech. (Past events in spoken German are almost invariably described as, effectively, “having been done” rather than simply “done.”) The chief challenge of the translation has been to render this strangeness in English, where the present tense is an ordinary literary device. The translator, Ross Benjamin, who with his second effort proves himself perhaps the great German translator of Vennemann’s generation, has come up with an elegant and effective solution. He uses a historical present that English doesn’t have, as in the first quotation above: “we hear their songs for hours already.” This formulation is quite normal in German, but it jars in English in a way that communicates the strangeness of the tense usage[...]
One can’t help reading this as a reflection on the German storyteller’s anxiety that in writing about the Holocaust—in writing a story, in Vennemann’s case, about an event in which there are no survivors—he has pilfered from here and there and devised what has become his story. But, Close to Jedenew says, that might, by now, be okay; there is no other choice but to inhabit the invention. This is what it means to be the first Holocaust book from a generation of writers who do not feel burdened by guilt. It is a harrowing, remarkable, serious novel, in part because it is not a guilty one. This is no “never forget” platitude. This is new remembrance.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Class warfare is very real, stupid. (And you're not winning. And if McCain and his entrenched, er..."experienced" special interest cadre wins (or is close enough to steal), you'll almost certainly have higher taxes, at least one nuclear war that he can finally "win," less veteran care, more and more disastrous hand-outs for multi-millionaires and international billionaires leading to more credit crisis and international recession, gutted social security, crumbling bridges, more expensive food and gas and big swaggering unilateral CEO-style executive government in your bedroom, hospital and everywhere.)
McCain doesn't think you can be considered "rich" unless you make at least five million dollars a year.
-- He is a son of privilege from an elite military family (his father and grandfather were admirals). Despite a mediocre academic record at his fancy prep school, he was admitted to the highly prestigious Naval Academy (those family connections do come in handy). At the Academy, he graduated fifth from the bottom of his class.
-- His abysmal record at the Academy notwithstanding, McCain was "offered the most sought-after Navy assignment -- to become an aircraft carrier pilot." His instructor at flight school said that McCain was "positively one of the weakest students to pass our way," and McCain crashed five planes while he was there. Yet in spite of his poor performance, he continued to receive "plum assignments" throughout his military career.
The McCains pay about $273,000 per year for their household staff of butlers and maids, and one of their children had an American Express card that permits a balance of up to $50,000 per year. Meanwhile, McCain pays only $18,000 per year in alimony to the loyal wife he abandoned.
Barack Obama was raised by a single mom and grew up in a lower middle class home. His family sometimes struggled economically, and there were times his mother collected food stamps. Yes, Obama attended an elite high school, but he got there on a scholarship, and he lived in his grandparents' modest two-bedroom apartment while attending school. He went on to graduate from Columbia University and Harvard Law School, but he never would have been able to afford to study at those places without considerable financial aid. He also had a distinguished academic record, graduating magna cum laude from Harvard, where he was president of the law review. Unlike McCain, Obama has spent significant amounts of time with poor and working class people, most notably during the years when he was a community organizer in Chicago.
Also unlike McCain, Obama could certainly never be accused of marrying for money. Michelle Obama grew up in a working class family on the South Side of Chicago. Her parents never went to college and her father had a blue collar job with the city. Like Barack, Michelle worked hard and won admission to elite universities (in her case, Princeton and Harvard Law School). And like Barack, she paid for school by taking out student loans. In fact, it was only recently that the Obamas were able to finally pay off those student loans -- it was the money they made from Barack's two books that finally gave them the wherewithal to do so.
The right would have you believe that, no, you're not being oppressed by the CEO of the company you're working at, who makes 364 times as money as you; nor by the credit card companies bleeding you dry. And it isn't the moneyed special interests which are robbing this country blind and driving us into a ditch. It is, rather, those liberal elitists who are the root of all evil. In the contemporary conservative imagination, liberals serve the symbolic role that Jews play in the ideology of anti-Semites[...]
Compared to 1990s, middle-class working families lose ground in the 2000s (Link)
From the Wiki on Regressive Taxation:
The New York Times in June 2005 ran a high-profile campaign arguing that at the very-high incomes United States tax-payers actually face regressive taxation rates, equating income tax across wage and rental incomes. For instance, they project that if the Bush tax cuts are made permanent: “By 2015, those making between $80,000 and $400,000 will pay as much as 13.9 percentage points more of their income in federal taxes than those making more than $400,000.”
The Nation Magazine: "The [Even] New[er] Inequality"
On average and after loopholes, all those making more than $350,000 in America last year paid only 29% in taxes (they are supposed to pay 35%).
Before Reagan it was 70%, for the highest bracket. After Reagan it was 50%.
Most recently, the top 400 billionaires last year each paid an average of only 19% in income tax!
That's six percent LESS than someone making only $32,500 was forced to pay.
Under Eisenhower, the highest tax bracket paid 90%.
Anyone for trust-busting?
"The minimum wage is at its lowest real value in over 50 years and has not been raised since 1997. This is the longest stretch of federal inaction since the minimum wage was first instated in 1938...."
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
tax the rich, close the loopholes, regulate the hedges, grant a living wage, bring back electric cars, invest smart infrastructure, support the unions
One would surely be hard pressed to find a way on a national scale to erase or re-direct 30 years of ideological brainwashing, especially as manifested in vigorous knee-jerking, historical revisionism and sentimentalism and tired clichés concerning the fundamental evils of "Socialism," spasms brought on by any brave whiff of skepticism directed toward the fundamentalist "free" (private) market madness. This senseless dogma and basic paranoia is so acute precisely because it is a badge of pride for pathetic creatures, a sort of group-identity grunt and license to avoid thinking altogether–a desirable thing to do as repressing residual guilt over supporting criminally high discretionary and non-taxable income, in this day of modern suffering and failure, is as American as...whatever. Attending a wedding recently, sipping a $6 yuengling, some elder gent in the Sheraton Hotel evinced this mentality exactly. His stock response to courteous and factual rebuttals? "Well really that's all your concern now, you know....It's no longer up to me; it's up to your generation to come up with something." What's a young man to do? Tactful charming and prodding, slipping in the truth whenever possible. More satisfying to break bottles over heads, but you know, it was a wedding, after all so it was merely "Well...thanks a lot."
The Nation's Special Issue proves indispensable: Gabriel Thompson rips the lid off hedge-fund elitists/US plutocrats Bruce Kovner and John Paulson:
The living wage as socialist plot, unions as massive drain on the economy and Walmart as corporate savior: this is the sort of scholarship that Kovner subsidizes. Without squinting too hard, the outlines of such a capitalist dream world–imagined by well-paid fellows and funded by a billionaire–comes into focus: out from under the thumb of Big Labor, workers are free to work long hours for whatever wages a boss feels like paying. If they fall il, they're free to visit the emergency room. If they're really sick, they're free to declare bankruptcy. With Wal-Mart as the model, all workers become associates, free from the bonds of health coverage and overtime pay.
And on a local note:
In 2006 the loophole allowed Kovner to avoid paying $28.6 million in taxes; last year, it allowed Paulson to pocket an additional $150 million.
The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that Levin's bill, which also eliminated the ability of fund managers to shift compensation to offshore havens, would bring in nearly $50 billion to the Treasury within ten years. Edwards, Clinton and Obama all came out in support of the legislation; even Fortune magazine concluded it was a sensible proposal On November 9 it passed the House.
The industry responded agressively. A primary target was Senator Charles Schumer, who sits on both the Banking and Finance committees and is close to the hedge-fund industry. Checks started flowing in to the Democractic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), which Schumer chairs. Schumer, author of a book whose subtitle is Winning Back the Middle-Class Majority, publicly expressed his opposition to the bill, arguing that it unfairly targeted the two industries. In December the Senate overwhelmingly signed a bill leaving the tax loopholes in place.
On the day before the Senate vote, Frederick Iseman, then head of the private-equity arm of Caxton Associates, donated $28,500 to the DSCC. The day after the bill was passed, Paulson wrote the DSCC another $25,000 check. The gifts made up what was a record year for hedge-fund contributions, with individual giving more than doubling to nearly $10 million in the 2007-08 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. About three-quarters of those donations went to Democrats.
Whatever tortured excuse for this exists, I'm sure no working American wants to hear it.
See Firedoglake: Survival in an Economic Darwinism America
Sunday, July 06, 2008
For sixteen long days, even with the senate majority against him, in 1983, he filibustered the bill making Dr King's birthday a national holiday. “ Dr. King’s action-oriented Marxism is not compatible with the concepts of this country,” said Helms. Even fellow racist Senator Strom Thurmond came around on the King Holiday. Not Senator No....and some humorous anecdotes slip through the S.C.U.M.GOP/media complex:
Which invites the question: where's the Democrat's Senator Helms? Where's the anti-war Helms who'll filibuster for what he or she believes?
Friday, July 04, 2008
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Their wages may be falling, but one thing has certainly increased as young Americans struggle to maintain a middle-class lifestyle: their debt burdens. In households headed by someone aged twenty-five to thirty-four, average debt has climbed to over $55,000, up 70 percent from the 1980s (after accounting for inflation). Indeed the average debt load for young Americans--comprised largely of housing debt and college loans--actually exceeds their annual household income, a sharp change from two decades ago.
And the safety net for young workers is in sorry shape. All told, more than one-fourth of the 45 million workers under age thirty-five do not have health insurance from any source--by far the highest rate of any age group. As for young workers with just high school degrees, two-thirds do not receive health coverage in their entry-level jobs, up from just over one-third in 1979.
Corporate America's increasing tightfistedness over pensions is also hitting young workers hard. The share of workers twenty-five to thirty-four participating in an employer-sponsored pension plan or 401(k) slid to 42 percent in 2005, down from 50 percent five years earlier.
As Anya Kamenetz points out in her book Generation Debt, the Internet Generation will enter the prime of life in a nation as gray as Florida is today, and as a result that generation will face an unprecedented burden in sustaining the Social Security system. In 1960, sixteen Americans were working for each retiree. Today there are four active workers contributing taxes to Social Security for each retiree. In 2030, there are expected to be just two-and-a-half workers per retiree. Today's young workers may well face a double squeeze--to keep Social Security solvent, Congress might increase the younger generation's payroll taxes as well as trim their Social Security benefits. Also disturbing is the fact that the folks in Washington are building mountainous budget deficits, and they're simply passing the bill to their children's and grandchildren's generations. How fair is that?
All these trends have fostered considerable pessimism. Forty percent of voters surveyed in exit polls conducted on Election Day, 2006 said that life would be worse for the next generation, while just 30 percent said it would be better. Still, it is important to remember that some things are better for the younger generation--longer life spans, lower crime rates and wondrous developments like the Internet.
A special issue of The Nation states the obvious well:
Over the past three decades, market-worshiping politicians and their corporate backers have engineered the most colossal redistribution of wealth in modern world history, a redistribution from the bottom up, from working people to a tiny global elite.[...]
A worker making $10 an hour would have to labor for more than 10,000 years to earn what one of the 400 richest Americans pocketed in 2005.
How vast has our parallel universe of the ultrarich become? The Wall Street Journal now dedicates a full-time beat reporter, Robert Frank, to cover what he calls Richistan. Richistan did not suddenly appear on the American scene. Our top-heavy era has evolved from a heavily bankrolled effort by conservatives and corporations to instill blind faith in the market as the magic elixir that can solve any problem. This three-decade war against common sense has preached that tax cuts for the rich help the poor, that labor unions keep workers from prospering, that regulations protecting consumers attack freedom. Duly inspired, our elected officials have rewritten the rules that run our economy--on taxes and trade, on wage policies and public spending--to benefit wealthy asset owners and global corporations.
To reverse this reckless course, we need to change our nation's dominant political narrative and restore faith in the critical role that government must play to protect the common good. But we can't stop there. We need to confront directly the threat posed by this inequality.[...]
The Senate couldn't even manage to eliminate a tax loophole for gazillionaire hedge-fund managers last year. And even progressive wish lists tend to call only for a return to pre-George W. Bush tax rates, a step that would undo a mere one-sixth of the rise in income inequality we have experienced since the late 1970s, according to the Brookings Institution.
Future historians, we have no doubt, will note a certain irony here. The "real problems" we Americans face owe their intensity--and often their origin--to issues of income and wealth distribution our society simply refuses to address.
For more sophisticated analysis and links, please see The Existence Machine.