Saturday, March 21, 2009

favorite email subject line ever: 

Amazon.com recommends "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine" and more...

Freedom of expression 

Surely there is a connection between these two things: 1) yesterday's announcement of the public/private phase two of the "bailout of the sea," which -- as Krugman makes clear -- marks the official failure of Obama and his agenda; and 2) the fact that IDF soldiers are creating and wearing T-shirts that define and celebrate their work as the murdering of women and children:

The office at the Adiv fabric-printing shop in south Tel Aviv handles a constant stream of customers, many of them soldiers in uniform, who come to order custom clothing.... Dead babies, mothers weeping on their children's graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosques - these are a few examples of the images Israel Defense Forces soldiers design these days to print on shirts they order to mark the end of training, or of field duty.... A T-shirt for infantry snipers bears the inscription "Better use Durex," next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A sharpshooter's T-shirt from the Givati Brigade's Shaked battalion shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull's-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, "1 shot, 2 kills."...

There are also plenty of shirts with blatant sexual messages. For example, the Lavi battalion produced a shirt featuring a drawing of a soldier next to a young woman with bruises, and the slogan, "Bet you got raped!" A few of the images underscore actions whose existence the army officially denies - such as "confirming the kill" (shooting a bullet into an enemy victim's head from close range, to ensure he is dead), or harming religious sites, or female or child non-combatants.

Further edification provided at Haaretz. Also, see this NYTimes piece about soldiers' descriptions of how they were encouraged to murder women and children and did so. Angry Arab comments on Times writer Ethan Bronner's discomfiture at the soldiers' accounts (originally appearing in Haaretz): "...you know what is very ironic about Bronner's crude propaganda piece here? I mean, the Israeli terrorist soldiers are confessing that they were ordered to kill women and children and they recount the murder of women and children and Bronner follows them with stories that they did not actually do what they are confessing to doing."

Friday, March 20, 2009

If you read one thing about "the crisis," read this 

The Big Takeover by Matt Taibbi.

It starts with an angry and rather vague intro, but then it breaks down all of this stuff more clearly than anything else I've read. The housing bubble; credit-default swaps; collateralized debt obligations; TALF, TARP, and Maiden Lanes I, II, and III; Paulson and Geithner; the Federal Reserve -- all of it is outlined and explained.

Please read.

UPDATE: Let me add that if you're sick of this topic, and don't want to think (or try to think) about it anymore, this is the piece for you. Its explanations are straightforward and will answer many questions, so you can put the topic to rest.

Also, Taibbi is not always "serious" and may be disliked by some, but after the intro of the article, he focuses on doing everyone the service of explaining what needs to be explained.

UPDATE II: Don't mistake the AIG bonus brouhaha for a media-generated distraction. Lots of the anger is misdirected, but fundamentally, this issue is inseparable from all of the key problems, so the bonuses are an appropriate lightning rod for justified rage. The particular division getting the bonuses is truly ground zero of the whole meltdown. And the bonuses were allowed because of the blinkered and slavish approach to the Wall Street monster/zombie/corpse/idol taken by Obama and his experts Lawrence Summers (Frankenstein) and Timothy Geithner (Igor).

UPDATE III: In the Times, AIG execs bemoan the "invasion of privacy" posed by the fact that their neighbors hate them and confront them regularly in their driveways. The anger is said to hurt their children. Perhaps they should have thought about whether having a family is a good idea if one's job is thievery and bloodsucking.

"One A.I.G. executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared the consequences of identifying himself, said many workers felt demonized and betrayed. 'It is as bad if not worse than McCarthyism,' he said. Everyone has sacrificed the employees of A.I.G.’s financial products division, he said, 'for their own political agenda.'"

Ah, "politics" -- the dangerous adolescent desire to prevent theft, to punish wrongdoing, and to spit out shit when it's shoved down your throat.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

i can haz mulligan? 

By way of atonement for posting Rushkoff, here's Mike Davis with a truly fine piece of analysis on the shift in the political landscape. Goddamn he's good.

But the promise of Green Keynesianism may turn out differently than imagined by radical economists and environmental activists. A fundamental power-shift seems to be taking place in the business infrastructure of Washington, with ‘New Economy’ corporations rapidly gaining clout through Obama and the Democrats while Old Economy leviathans like General Motors grapple with destitution and welfare, and energy giants temporarily hide in caves. The unprecedented unity of tech firms behind Obama both helped to define and was defined by his campaign. Through his victory, they have acquired the credit balance to ensure that any green infrastructure will also be good industrial policy for their dynamic but ageing and cash-short corporations.

There is an obvious historical analogy. Just as General Electric’s Gerard Swope (the Steve Jobs of his day) and a bloc of advanced, capital-intensive corporations, supported by investment banks, enthusiastically partnered with Roosevelt to create the ill-fated National Recovery Administration (nra) in 1933, so too have Schmidt and his wired peers, together with the ever-more-powerful congressional delegation from California, become the principal stakeholders in Obama’s promise to launch an Apollo programme for renewable energy and new technology.

We should note that this realignment of politics by economics fits awkwardly within the Keys–Burnham paradigm, which asserts the primacy of public opinion and the durability of voter blocs. A ‘silicon presidency’, on the other hand, is perfectly accommodated by Thomas Ferguson’s ‘investment’ theory of political change which privileges political economy and class struggle within capital as modes of explanation. Analysing New Deal case-studies in his 1995 book, Ferguson—an intellectually supercharged descendant of Charles Beard—concluded that business elites, not voters, usually determine both the nature and course of electoral realignments.

The fundamental market for political parties usually is not voters. As a number of recent analysts have documented, most of these possess desperately limited resources and—especially in the United States—exiguous information and interest in politics. The real market for political parties is defined by major investors, who generally have good and clear reasons for investing to control the state . . . During realignments . . . basic changes take place in the core investment blocs which constitute parties. More specifically, realignments occur when cumulative long-run changes in industrial structures (commonly interacting with a variety of short-run factors, notably steep economic downturns) polarize the business community, thus bringing together a new and powerful bloc of investors with durable interests. As this process begins, party competition heats up and at least some differences between parties emerge more clearly.

But what has suddenly mobilized the self-identified New Economy as an ‘investor bloc’ in Ferguson’s sense? And why Obama?

Good news 

New Mexico Bans Death Penalty

SANTA FE, N.M. — Gov. Bill Richardson signed legislation Wednesday repealing New Mexico's death penalty, making it the second state to ban executions since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Richardson, a Democrat who formerly supported capital punishment, said signing the bill was the "most difficult decision" of his political life but that "the potential for ... execution of an innocent person stands as anathema to our very sensibilities as human beings."

Richardson said he made the decision after going to the state penitentiary, where he saw the death chamber and visited the maximum security unit where those sentenced to life without parole could be housed. "My conclusion was those cells are something that may be worse than death," he said. "I believe this is a just punishment."...

With Richardson signing the measure, New Mexico joins 14 other states that do not impose capital punishment. New Jersey, in 2007, was the first and only other state to outlaw capital punishment since its reinstatement by the Supreme Court....

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, former President Jimmy Carter and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish were among those who called on Richardson to sign the bill. The governor also said his solicitation for input from residents received 12,000 responses by phone, e-mail and visits and that more than three-fourths were in favor of repeal....

Richardson said he didn't have confidence in the criminal justice system as the final arbiter of life and death. "If you're going to put somebody to death, the ... criminal justice system has to be perfect, and it isn't," he said.

I'm happy to say that I wrote Richardson an e-mail urging him to do this. The death penalty is part of the "murder on TV" business that led to Iraq; maybe governors doing this can help to make Americans a bit less insane.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

let it die 

Rushkoff is an odd bird. From what I've gleaned from a quick perusal of his writings he seems to advocate some sort of market anarchist or mutualist economic system and defines his enemy as "corporatism". I can't see what distinction he makes between "corporatism" and "capitalism", and suspect it may just be a rhetorical choice to avoid getting dismissed as a leftist.

At any rate, he's got an interesting piece up that's worth a read:

if anything, it’s even more important for us to come to grips with the fact that the system in peril is not a natural one, or even one that we should be attempting to revive and restore. The thing that is dying—the corporatized model of commerce—has not, nor has it ever been, supportive of the real economy. It wasn’t meant to be. And before we start lamenting its demise or, worse, spending good money after bad to resuscitate it, we had better understand what it was for, how it nearly sucked us all dry, and why we should put it out of our misery.


President Obama may be smarter than most of us, but he’s still attempting to rescue the very institutions that robbed us in the first place. He’s not a socialist, as conservatives may be arguing, but he is a corporatist. Using future tax dollars to fund government job programs is one thing. Using future tax dollars to give banks more money to lend out at interest is robbing from the poor to pay the rich to rob from the poor.

As painful as it might be to watch, and as irritating as it might be to those with shrinking retirement savings, the collapse of the centralized corporate economy is ultimately a good thing. It makes room for a real economy to rise up in its place.


Deprived of centralized banks and corporations, we’ll be forced to do things again. And in the process, we’ll find out that these institutions were not our benefactors at all. They were never meant to be. They were invented to mediate transactions between people, and extract the value that would have passed between us. Far from making commerce or industry more efficient, they served to turn the real world into a set of speculative assets, and real people into debtors.

The current financial crisis is the best opportunity we have had in a very long time for a bloodless revolution against the faceless fascism under which we have been living, unaware, for much too long. Let us seize the day.

Stanley Fish is kind of a dick. 

Can someone explain for me the value of Fish's blog on the NYTimes website, in which he repeatedly uses the rhetorical power of deconstruction to reveal the relativity of political positions? Discussing the potential boycott of Israeli academics supportive of the regime, Fish writes:

"Whether or not divestiture and other actions taken by academics were decisive in, or even strongly contributory to, ending the apartheid regime is in dispute. What should not be in dispute is that those actions, however salutary and productive of good results, were and are antithetical to the academic enterprise, which while it may provide the tools (of argument, fact and historical research) that enable good and righteous deeds, should never presume to perform them."

The academic enterprise should never presume to perform good deeds or engage in the political world that conditions it? This is surely a disastrous and depressing endgame for deconstruction in this country-- a remarkably conservative position that the academy should spend its time parsing arguments and conflicts to bits but never, ever make ones of its own.

In Fish's previous column, he has a grand old time dissecting the term "neoliberalism" in the hopes of convincing us that it actually means nothing and is merely a hollow battle-cry for dumb leftists. Correct me if I'm wrong, but couldn't one do the same to "fascism" or "neoconservatism?" Yes there can be a range of how these terms are used, but in general they are very clear about which policies and figures they represent. Neoliberalism for me is a set of initiatives post-1989 that were designed to bring both developed and developing world into an economic and political unity. Its economic hallmark was not quite "globalization," which merely connotes the interconnectedness of national economies, but the aggressive and destructive third-world policies of the World Bank and IMF. The political ideal of neoliberalism was based around humanitarian intervention by NATO, generally spearheaded by the United States, and obviously this dream died a fiery death with the Iraq Invasion.

Am I crazy to argue that this, in the simplest terms, is what people mean by "neoliberalism?" That is, the quixotic mapping of the American economico-political system onto the rest of the world, whether they like it or not?

Bush to put people in place 

News item:

Bush said that he doesn't know what he will do in the long term but that he will write a book that will ask people to consider what they would do if they had to protect the United States as president.

He said it will be fun to write and that "it's going to be (about) the 12 toughest decisions I had to make."

"I'm going to put people in my place, so when the history of this administration is written at least there's an authoritarian voice saying exactly what happened," Bush said.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

OK, forget it, fuck this 

Wall Street Journal: Citi's Chief Economist Leaves for Treasury Post

Citigroup Inc.'s chief economist is leaving the New York company for a job at the U.S. Treasury Department, according to an internal Citigroup memo.

Lewis Alexander, who has been at Citigroup since 1999 and before that worked at the Federal Reserve, will head to Treasury "to work on domestic financial issues," said the Citigroup memo, which was sent Tuesday.

According to a government official, Mr. Alexander will be a counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Mr. Alexander and a Treasury spokesman weren't immediately available to comment Tuesday. A Citigroup spokesman declined to elaborate on the company's memo.

Mr. Alexander, who was the Commerce Department's chief economist from 1993 through 1996, is joining Treasury at a time when the department is scrambling to beef up its ranks of senior officials. The current staff shortage has fostered doubts on Wall Street and in Washington about the Obama administration's ability to get its arms around the financial crisis.

The Obama administration so far has largely avoided tapping Wall Street officials for senior spots at Treasury, wary of stoking the mounting political backlash surrounding the federal bailouts of the finance industry. That has irked top executives at some major banks, who say they can't get an audience with top Treasury officials.

Mr. Alexander's role as Citigroup's chief economist didn't entail significant management responsibilities. But his optimistic economic forecasts colored executives' views that the U.S. was unlikely to face a prolonged slump.

"I think that's not going to spill over more broadly into the economy, and so I think we're going to have a normal kind of housing cycle that's going to last through the middle of this year," Mr. Alexander said in a Feb. 28, 2007, interview on PBS.

Pitchforks, anyone? Perhaps a cyanide-laced Kool-Aid party?

Bush era not over 

When an arsonist lights a house on fire and the firefighters show up and debate whether to use water or foam on the flames, and then pause from the debate to assure the gathered residents of the neighborhood that it is not really the arsonist's fault, adding that the residents are wrong to assume that the firefighting activity implies a condemnation of the arsonist's act, it is safe to say that the consequences of the arsonist's act are unfolding without sufficient constraint.

An avowed racist and ethnic cleanser becomes foreign minister of Israel today.

The economy has already crashed, and even if it is somehow restored to functionality, the world-historical theft has already occurred and the attendant death-sentences across the world have already begun to be executed, and will continue to be.

Barack Obama likes being president too much; he kisses too much ass; he is too cautious; he acts like this is a delicate game; he has not tried hard enough to put out the fire.

Populist Fury 

I was wondering if other readers of this blog had, like me, noticed the "populist fury" of late.  


As Obama appeals for patience, his plans to stabilize the economy are at risk of being overtaken by a populist fury over the greed at AIG and in the rest of the financial industry. The president and his aides, armed with little more than their jawbones, seem powerless to stop the outrage.

It's like a tsunami of outraged fury--"populist" in nature--rolling over the White House.

It cannot be stopped.


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