Sunday, November 30, 2008


A New, Political Saint Paul?
By Mark Lilla

What Paul Meant
by Garry Wills
Penguin, 193 pp., $14.00 (paper)

The Political Theology of Paul
by Jacob Taubes, translated from the German by Dana Hollander
Stanford University Press, 160 pp., $48.00; $19.95 (paper)

The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans
by Giorgio Agamben, translated from the Italian by Patricia Dailey
Stanford University Press, 197 pp., $53.00; $20.95 (paper)

Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism
by Alain Badiou, translated from the French by Ray Brassier
Stanford University Press, 111 pp., $17.95 (paper)

Being and Event
by Alain Badiou, translated from the French by Oliver Feltham
Continuum, 526 pp., $21.95 (paper)

The Century
by Alain Badiou, translated from the French with commentary and notes by Alberto Toscano
Polity, 233 pp., $22.95 (paper)

by Alain Badiou, translated from the French with an introduction by Steve Corcoran
Verso, 339 pp., $26.95

Une querelle avec Alain Badiou, philosophe
by Éric Marty
Paris: Gallimard, 185 pp., €16.00 (paper)

On Belief
by Slavoj Zizek
Routledge, 170 pp., $17.95 (paper)

Tertullian called Saint Paul 'the apostle of the heretics' and he was right. Ever since Marcion, the second-century theologian who thought Paul taught that the Christian God was a deity wholly distinct from and superior to the Hebrews' Yahweh, the Pauline corpus has been creatively misread. It is hard to find much in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount to inspire heretical thoughts, but Paul's epistles, with their powerful intimations about sin, grace, and imminent redemption, are another matter.

Krugman on Mankiw on Keynes

The Keynesian moment: Greg has this exactly right

Brad Delong...

The Road to Depression
Of course, hindsight is always easy. But if depression is to be avoided, it will be through old-fashioned Keynesian fiscal policy: the government must take a direct hand in boosting spending and deciding what goods and services will be in demand.

the economic crisis

The centre won’t hold any more
The West dominated world trade and power for two centuries, disrupting the pre-1800 more balanced international distribution of wealth and power. Now, the global balance is shifting to the East, and to primary producers of commodities worldwide

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

for some reason today starts well with this...

"A tragic situation exists precisely when virtue does not triumph but when it is still felt that man is nobler than the forces which destroy him." --George Orwell

Is it December 2nd yet?

I actually took a nap yesterday. The quality of everything jumped 10 fold when I got up. My mind was sharper, I was happy, I made sense. I still couldn't spell very well... but you can't get everything.

I've been reading blog posts last night/this morning and I realize how far behind I am. The blogosphere moves like lightening and I feel uninformed about the world just looking at some of the subjects.

I'm ready for the campaign to be over with. I'm done. I think I was done in October. I thought I was done in September. And who would have figured any of this would have been going on back in February.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ah... Dean...

Tax Increases Are Not Stimulus

The NYT tells us that President Obama's plans to increase taxes on the wealthy are not part of his stimulus package. It would be very surprising if they were since tax increases, even on wealthy people, are not stimulus. His plan to withdraw from Iraq is probably not part of his stimulus package either.

--Dean Baker

Thought for the day...

Something I was thinking in the car today: "I think this financial crisis may be the end of the Reagan Revolution"

Here's Naomi Klein, Robert Kuttner and Michael Hudson on Obama's economic team.

Brad Delong on
Talking Points on the Designation of Christina D. Romer as the Candidate to Be Nominated to the Senate for the Post of Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers
World-class expert on the Great Depression: if you want to avoid any of the mistakes made during the Great Depression, she is the one to hire.
World-class expert on monetary and fiscal policy: encyclopedic knowledge of their history--since we need a CEA chair who knows more about stabilization policy than about tax or labor or industrial organization policy.

Very good at explaining economics: great similarities between teaching Econ 1 and teaching the White House staff about economics.

Very good at making people believe that relatively complicated ideas about economics are simple facts of nature.

Bush moved the CEA staff out of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building:
A very bad thing because the CEA staff can no longer look over the shoulders of the White House staff and offer advice.

CDR should demand, as a condition of appointment, that at least her two deputies have offices in the White House complex.

A center-left moderate:
But these are not moderate times. To be moderate now is to be radical. To be radical is to be moderate.

A woman who taught her then-two year old that the answer to the question "Who should be president?" was "Bruce Babbitt."


Other appointees:

Geithner, Summers, Orszag--world-class appointments; at least as well qualified as anybody else in the world for these jobs.
Who is going to be the consensus-builder?
You need a person to build a happy consensus among economic policy advisers.
If you don't have a builder of the happy consensus, then you have a situation in which lobbyists, spin-doctors, and rogue vice presidents have points of entry in order to make bad policy.

Then a good post on the bailout failure...

The Citigroup Bailout


Obama, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News: A Look at Media in 2009
The Washington Post ombudsman and others claim that the media was too kind to Obama and hard on John McCain. This superficial analysis is both wrong and misleading. Wrong because you had a candidate that was forcefully embracing the policies of George W. Bush while the nation spiraled into one of its darkest moments in its history. The idea that the press should not exert sharp criticism of such a candidate reflects the kind of tepid pandering that has become the hallmark of mainstream corporate media.

And misleading because the real problem is not the media favoring one candidate over another, but rather its utter failure to practice critical journalism. Turn on your television or radio, and it's 24/7 horserace political coverage, partisan shouting matches, and salacious crap. There is no effort to tell voters the difference between the candidates' rhetoric and reality, how their proclamations match their voting records, and what their policy proposals would actually do. While there were a few notable moments when news outlets actually did this during the campaign, they were few and far between.

Olbermann and Maddow's increased popularity is moving the range of debate on cable from center-right to left-right, but radio is still overwhelmingly right-wing, and the changes at MSNBC fall far short of a comprehensive, long-term solution to thecrisis of journalism. Newsroom layoffs mount across television, radio and newspapers, and omission has become the greatest threat. There is virtually no in-depth coverage and analysis on television of Iraq and Afghanistan, poverty, the environment and the other critical issues facing working Americans. And despite the explosion of the Internet, 45% of American homes still have no high speed Internet, while some 65% of Americans still cite TV as their primary news source.

Charges of liberal bias continue to strike such fear in the hearts of corporate news editors and producers, that they continue obsessive contortions to present both sides of every debate -- not from a factual perspective, but from a partisan one. Even if one side of an argument is clearly true, today's Wolf Blitzer, Charlie Gibson or Brian Williams - and even NPR and PBS - dare not say it (such as the economic bailout being a corrupt boondoggle for banking fatcats) and suffer the wrath of the right wing noise machine, and pressure from their corporate bosses. In today's media environment, the truth becomes irrelevant.

Take a walk through rural Ohio as I did this Election Day, and working-class voters are watching Fox, reading empty newspapers running on a bare-bones staff, and listening to radio's right-wing hate-fest. In today's media environment, we must face the fact that if not for the financial crisis and a disastrous GOP vice-presidential pick, this election might well have been McCain's.

So the incoming president is excellent on media policy, and his election allows media reform advocates to move from defense to offense. However, as Obama inherits a severe economic crisis, two wars, and myriad other problems, it will be too easy for media issues to get pushed down the to-do list. And the well-financed lobbyists from the phone, cable and broadcasting companies who supported Obama's candidacy are expecting a return on their investment. As well they should: if you look back at the history of Democratic presidents and media policy, there have been many disappointments, and cause for us to be as cautious as we are optimistic.

Here's a quick list of the top policy reforms to watch in 2009 for anyone who shares my disgust with news coverage, sky-high cable and phone bills, and the other maladies brought by a media system dominated by the likes of Comcast, Disney, AT&T, General Electric, Verizon, News Corporation and Time Warner:

Getting super-fast, open/neutral, affordable Internet to every home and business in America, urban and rural, rich and poor - Internet that will allow every website to be a television or radio network... a complete game changer.

Reversing consolidation of media ownership through tougher broadcast license requirements and incentives for more independent, diverse and local radio, television and print outlets.

Dramatically increasing funding for public media: for PBS and NPR, as well as community radio and television, and other noncommercial outlets. This includes policies that better protect public media from undue political pressures.
Now that the champagne has been put away, it's time to realize that while disastrous members of Bush & Co. are heading towards the exits, the disastrous members of mainstream media remain firmly in place. Ignore the problem at your - and the nation's - peril.

Go read...

The Ideology of No Ideology by Norman Solomon right now. Do not pass go... do not collect $200. Go read it right now...

dead on.

The ideology of no ideology is nifty. No matter how tilted in favor of powerful interests, it can be a deft way to keep touting policy agendas as common-sense pragmatism -- virtuous enough to draw opposition only from ideologues.

Meanwhile, the end of ideology among policymakers is about as imminent as the end of history.

But -- in sync with the ideology of no ideology -- deference to corporate power isn't ideological. And belief in the U.S. government's prerogative to use military force anywhere in the world is a matter of credibility, not ideology.

Ideological assumptions gain power as they seem to disappear into the prevailing political scenery. So, for instance, reliably non-ideological ideological journalists sit at the studio table every Friday night on the PBS "Washington Week" program, which is currently funded by similarly non-ideological outfits including Boeing, the National Mining Association and Constellation Energy ("the nation's largest supplier of competitive electricity to large commercial and industrial customers," with revenues of $21 billion last year).

Along the way, the ideology of no ideology can corral even normally incisive commentators. So, over the weekend, as news broke about the nominations of Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers to top economic posts, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote an article praising "the members of Obama's new economic team." Reich declared: "All are pragmatists. Some media have dubbed them 'centrists' or 'center-right,' but in truth they're remarkably free of ideological preconception. ... They are not visionaries but we don't need visionaries when the economic perils are clear and immediate. We need competence. Obama could not appoint a more competent group."

Competence can be very good. But "free of ideological preconception"? I want to meet these guys. If they really don't have any ideological preconceptions, they belong in the book of Guinness World Records.

As for competence, it seems that claims of non-ideology often go hand-in-hand with overblown claims of economic mastery. "Geithner and Summers are credited with expertise in crisis management," economist Mark Weisbrot pointed out on Monday, "but we better hope they don't manage the current crisis like they did in East Asia, Russia, Argentina or any of the other countries that Treasury was involved in during the 1990s with their help. They helped bring on the East Asian crisis in 1997 by pressuring the governments in the region to de-regulate international financial flows, which was the main cause of the crisis. Then they insisted that all bailout money go through the IMF, and delayed aid until most of the damage was done. Then they attached damaging conditions" to the aid.

After all is said and done, the ideology of no ideology is just like any other ideology that's apt to be much better at promoting itself than living up to its pretenses. No amount of flowery rhetoric or claims of transcendent non-ideology should deter tough scrutiny. And Judge Judy's injunction should apply to the ideology of no ideology as much as to any ideology that owns up to being one: "Don't pee on me and tell me it's raining."

dead on.

critique of enlightenment thinking

The Limits of Individual Knowledge
As Barack Obama is putting together his team that will help "fix the economy", we need to keep in mind that in a world with nearly 7 billion people all acting in their own self-interest, no one person or one group of people can ever have the knowledge to successfully tinker with the economic system.

Case in point: Less than three months ago, Hurricane Ike hike the Gulf Coast and already sky-high gas prices shot even higher. After more than than seven years of increasing gas prices because of terrorism and two Middle Eastern wars, everyone just knew that the old ways of American life were over. From business to politics to media to the arts, everyone in the American elite called for a "rationalization" of American energy policy.

I commented:
I think the Kennedy administration proved that the technical class isn't all knowing.

Well, in reality... look at any elite group since the beginning of time. There will always be those who promise salvation or claim some group will bring it to us.

That's not how salvation works, and that's not how human knowledge works. Another failure of enlightenment thinking really...
Also moving from theory to real world. I don't think terrorism, and two middle eastern wars, were the only contributors to our transportation crisis. Bad Transportation policy and bad governance doesn't help... as Doug noted:
there is no way any group of people - no matter how smart - can have enough knowledge to successfully plan the economy. The world is just too complicated, and the only way to efficiently allocate resources is through the market economy.
Throwing up our hands and saying here is the only solution, be it certain market approaches or the hands off "the private sector is the best way to address these issues"--the way people too often do. Has reaped the mess we are in (mind you bad transportation policies are supported by Dem's too!). This situation and many we fcae right now are of the "hands off" descent. This fact would fall within the logic of the post as well.

Thinking we can determine the most successful plan without using our best understanding of markets and the tried and true test-- what happens and is happening in the real world when we implement it--would be a stunning failure of human thinking.

Not that such is anything outside of the norm (myself included).

Policy is not pretty, representative government and the compromises and deal making it entails is most definitely not pretty. Life isn't fair... we just roll up our sleeves and try to find policies that work.
Mental health group formed to provide assistance

By Valerie Baldowski

A new mental health advocacy group has been formed to address the needs of those afflicted with mental health issues.

The group, called Georgia Mental Health United, was founded with the help of a $40,000 grant from the Atlanta United Way. Three of those organizing the new initiative are Henry County Democratic Committee Chairman Jim Nichols, Dawn A. Randolph, and Ellyn Jeager.

Randolph is president of DIR Consulting Group LLC, a public-policy consulting firm in Stockbridge. Jeager is interim executive director of Mental Health American of Georgia.

Nichols, the point of contact in Henry County, said the group is still in the fledgling stages, but hopes to educate the public about mental health issues. "It's basically trying to grow a grassroots organization that allows people to find out more about this issue," he said. "It's a brand new program [and] we are just getting off the ground."

The group will provide an opportunity for those affected by mental illness to get help and find out more information. "One in five people have mental health issues," said Nichols, who said he, himself, is bipolar. "It's empowering people and families concerned about mental illness. This has a huge impact on people."

The problems patients face are serious, he continued, and they need extra assistance to live a normal life. "People who are bipolar, who go untreated or undertreated, have problems," Nichols said. He added that other challenges can include drug abuse, incarceration and dysfunctional relationships.

Randolph, who like Jeager, is a statewide coordinator for the group, explained that the grant should last until June 2009. The money will be used for educating and training 200 volunteers to become mental health issue advocates in five regions of the state. "It's a good start," Randolph said. "It's never enough money, but we're grateful for what we have."

The organization's first training session was Nov. 22 in Atlanta. Subsequent training sessions are scheduled for Dec. 12 in Savannah, Dec. 13 in Augusta, Dec. 19 in Tifton and Dec. 20 in Carrollton.

After the legislative session starts Jan. 3, there will be weekly conference calls to mental health advocates, aimed at making it easier to get information on mental health issues, she said.

One of the critical problems, she said, centers around the lack of bus service in some areas, including Henry. "A lot of folks live in rural areas," Randolph emphasized. "If they have a crisis, how will they get treatment? When it comes to these types of services, we might just as well be in Tifton."

She said if legislators do not realize the importance of mental health services, funds for them will be cut, once the legislative session begins. One of the basic resources, she said, a crisis hot line, could be eliminated.

For more information, call Nichols at (770) 312-6736.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dean Baker on double taxation...

Greg Mankiw Promotes the Myth of Double Taxation

There is an old myth developed by rich people at some point in the distant past that paying taxes on dividends amounts to "double-taxation." The argument is that profits are already taxed at the corporate level, so taxing money when it is paid out as dividends to shareholders is taxing the same profit a second time. Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard University professor and former top economist in the Bush administration, pushes this line in a column in the NYT.

The trick in this argument is that it ignores the enormous benefits that the government is granting by allowing a corporation to exist as a free standing legal entity. The most important of these advantages is limited liability. If a corporation produces dangerous products or emits dangerous substances that result in thousands of deaths, shareholders in the corporation cannot be held personally responsible for the damage. The corporation can go bankrupt, but beyond that point, all the shareholders are off the hook, the victims of the damage are just out of luck.

By granting corporate status, the government has allowed investors to shift risk to society as a whole. In exchange for this and other privileges of corporate status, the corporation must pay income tax on its earnings. We know that investors consider the benefits of corporate status to be worth the price in the form of the corporate income tax, because they voluntarily choose to form corporations. If investors did not consider the benefits of corporate status to outweigh the cost of the income tax, then they are free to form partnerships which are not subject to corporate income tax. In this way, the corporate income tax is a completely voluntary tax. Anyone can avoid the tax by investing in a partnership, or alternatively, any corporation can be restructured as a partnership.

The complaint about double taxation is an effort to get the benefits of corporate status for free. It is understandable that rich people would want to get benefits from the government at no cost, just like most of us would prefer not to pay our mortgage or electric bill. But, there is no reason for government to be handing out something of great value (corporate status) for free. If rich people don't like the corporate income tax, they have a very simple way to avoid it -- don't invest in corporations. The problem is that the rich are just a bunch of whiners.

--Dean Baker

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Zizek on Obama

Use Your Illusions
Slavoj Žižek
Noam Chomsky called for people to vote for Obama ‘without illusions’. I fully share Chomsky’s doubts about the real consequences of Obama’s victory: from a pragmatic perspective, it is quite possible that Obama will make only some minor improvements, turning out to be ‘Bush with a human face’. He will pursue the same basic policies in a more attractive way and thus effectively strengthen the US hegemony, damaged by the catastrophe of the Bush years.

There is nonetheless something deeply wrong with this reaction – a key dimension is missing from it. Obama’s victory is not just another shift in the eternal parliamentary struggle for a majority, with all the pragmatic calculations and manipulations that involves. It is a sign of something more. This is why an American friend of mine, a hardened leftist with no illusions, cried when the news came of Obama’s victory. Whatever our doubts, for that moment each of us was free and participating in the universal freedom of humanity.

In The Contest of Faculties, Kant asked a simple but difficult question: is there true progress in history? (He meant ethical progress, not just material development.) He concluded that progress cannot be proven, but we can discern signs which indicate that progress is possible. The French Revolution was such a sign, pointing towards the possibility of freedom: the previously unthinkable happened, a whole people fearlessly asserted their freedom and equality. For Kant, even more important than the – often bloody – reality of what went on on the streets of Paris was the enthusiasm that the events in France gave rise to in the eyes of sympathetic observers all around Europe and in places as far away as Haiti, where it triggered another world-historical event: the first revolt by black slaves. Arguably the most sublime moment of the French Revolution occurred when the delegation from Haiti, led by Toussaint l’Ouverture, visited Paris and were enthusiastically received at the Popular Assembly as equals among equals.

Obama’s victory is a sign of history in the triple Kantian sense of signum rememorativum, demonstrativum, prognosticum. A sign in which the memory of the long past of slavery and the struggle for its abolition reverberates; an event which now demonstrates a change; a hope for future achievements. The scepticism displayed behind closed doors even by many worried progressives – what if, in the privacy of the voting booth, the publicly disavowed racism will re-emerge? – was proved wrong. One of the interesting things about Henry Kissinger, the ultimate cynical Realpolitiker, is how utterly wrong most of his predictions were. When news reached the West of the 1991 anti-Gorbachev military coup, for example, Kissinger immediately accepted the new regime as a fact. It collapsed ignominiously three days later. The paradigmatic cynic tells you confidentially: ‘But don’t you see that it is all really about money/power/sex, that professions of principle or value are just empty phrases which count for nothing?’ What the cynics don’t see is their own naivety, the naivety of their cynical wisdom which ignores the power of illusions.

The reason Obama’s victory generated such enthusiasm is not only that, against all odds, it really happened: it demonstrated the possibility of such a thing happening. The same goes for all great historical ruptures – think of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although we all knew about the rotten inefficiency of the Communist regimes, we didn’t really believe that they would disintegrate – like Kissinger, we were all victims of cynical pragmatism. Obama’s victory was clearly predictable for at least two weeks before the election, but it was still experienced as a surprise.

The true battle begins now, after the victory: the battle for what this victory will effectively mean, especially within the context of two other more ominous events: 9/11 and the current financial meltdown, an instance of history repeating itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as comedy. President Bush’s addresses to the American people after 9/11 and the financial meltdown sound like two versions of the same speech. Both times, he evoked the threat to the American way of life and the need for fast and decisive action. Both times, he called for the partial suspension of American values (guarantees to individual freedom, market capitalism) to save those very values. Where does this similarity come from?

The fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 marked the beginning of the ‘happy 1990s’. According to Francis Fukuyama, liberal democracy had, in principle, won. The era is generally seen as having come to an end on 9/11. However, it seems that the utopia had to die twice: the collapse of the liberal-democratic political utopia on 9/11 did not affect the economic utopia of global market capitalism, which has now come to an end.

The financial meltdown has made it impossible to ignore the blatant irrationality of global capitalism. In the fight against Aids, hunger, lack of water or global warming, we may recognise the urgency of the problem, but there is always time to reflect, to postpone decisions. The main conclusion of the meeting of world leaders in Bali to talk about climate change, hailed as a success, was that they would meet again in two years to continue the talks. But with the financial meltdown, the urgency was unconditional; a sum beyond imagination was immediately found. Saving endangered species, saving the planet from global warming, finding a cure for Aids, saving the starving children . . . All that can wait a bit, but ‘Save the banks!’ is an unconditional imperative which demands and gets immediate action. The panic was absolute. A transnational and non-partisan unity was immediately established, all grudges among world leaders momentarily forgotten in order to avert the catastrophe. (Incidentally, what the much-praised ‘bi-partisanship’ effectively means is that democratic procedures were de facto suspended.) The sublimely enormous sum of money was spent not for some clear ‘real’ task, but in order to ‘restore confidence’ in the markets – i.e. for reasons of belief. Do we need any more proof that Capital is the Real of our lives, the Real whose demands are more absolute than even the most pressing demands of our social and natural reality?

Compare the $700 billion spent on stabilising the banking system by the US alone to the $22 billion pledged by richer nations to help poorer nations cope with the food crisis, of which only $2.2 billion has been made available. The blame for the food crisis cannot be put on the usual suspects of corruption, inefficiency or state interventionism. Even Bill Clinton has acknowledged that ‘we all blew it, including me,’ by treating food crops as commodities instead of a vital right of the world's poor. Clinton was very clear in blaming not individual states or governments, but the long-term Western policy imposed by the US and European Union and enacted by the World Bank, the IMF and other international institutions. African and Asian countries were pressured into dropping government subsidies for farmers, opening up the way for the best land to be used for more lucrative export crops. The result of such ‘structural adjustments’ was the integration of local agriculture into the global economy: crops were exported, farmers were thrown off their land and pushed into sweat-shops, and poorer countries had to rely more and more on imported food. In this way, they are kept in postcolonial dependence, vulnerable to market fluctuations – soaring grain prices (caused in part by the use of crops for biofuels) have meant starvation in countries from Haiti to Ethiopia.

Clinton is right to say that ‘food is not a commodity like others. We should go back to a policy of maximum food self-sufficiency. It is crazy for us to think we can develop countries around the world without increasing their ability to feed themselves.’ There are at least two things to add here. First, developed Western countries have taken great care to maintain their own food self-sufficiency through financial support for their farmers (farm subsidies account for almost half of the entire EU budget). Second, the list of things which are not ‘commodities like others’ is much longer: apart from food (and defence, as all patriots are aware), there are water, energy, the environment, culture, education, health – who will make decisions about these, if they cannot be left to the market? It is here that the question of Communism has to be raised again.

The cover story in Time magazine on 5 June 2006 was ‘The Deadliest War in the World’ – a detailed account of the political violence that has killed four million people in Congo over the last decade. None of the usual humanitarian uproar followed, just a couple of readers’ letters. Time picked the wrong victim: it should have stuck to Muslim women or Tibetan monks. The death of a Palestinian child, not to mention an Israeli or an American, is worth thousands more column inches than the death of a nameless Congolese. Why? On 30 October, Associated Press reported that Laurent Nkunda, the rebel general besieging Congo's eastern provincial capital Goma, has said he wants direct talks with the government about his objections to a billion-dollar deal giving China access to the country's vast mineral riches in exchange for a railway and highway. Neo-colonialist problems aside, this deal poses a vital threat to the interests of local warlords, since it would create the infrastructural base for the Democratic Republic of Congo as a functioning united state.

In 2001, a UN investigation into the illegal exploitation of natural resources in Congo found that the conflict in the country is mainly about access to, control of and trade in five key minerals: coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold. According to this investigation, the exploitation of Congo's natural resources by local warlords and foreign armies was ‘systematic and systemic’. Rwanda's army made at least $250 million in 18 months by selling coltan, which is used in cellphones and laptops. The report concluded that the permanent civil war and disintegration of Congo ‘has created a “win-win” situation for all belligerents. The only loser in this huge business venture is the Congolese people.’ Beneath the façade of ethnic warfare, we thus discern the contours of global capitalism.

Among the greatest exploiters are Rwandan Tutsis, the victims of the genocide 14 years ago. Earlier this year, the Rwandan government published documents that demonstrated the Mitterrand administration’s complicity in the genocide: France supported the Hutu plan for the takeover, even supplying them with arms, in order to regain influence at the expense of the anglophone Tutsis. France’s outright dismissal of the accusations as totally unfounded was, to say the least, itself unfounded. Bringing Mitterrand to the Hague tribunal, even posthumously, would cross a fateful line, for the first time bringing to trial a leading Western politician who pretended to act as a protector of freedom, democracy and human rights.

There has been in recent weeks an extraordinary mobilisation of the ruling ideology to combat the threats to the current order. The French neoliberal economist Guy Sorman, for example, recently said in an interview in Argentina that ‘this crisis will be short enough.’ By saying this, Sorman is fulfilling the basic ideological demand with regard to the financial meltdown: renormalise the situation. As he puts it elsewhere, ‘this ceaseless replacement of the old with the new – driven by technical innovation and entrepreneurialism, itself encouraged by good economic policies – brings prosperity, though those displaced by the process, who find their jobs made redundant, can understandably object to it.’ (This renormalisation coexists with its opposite: the panic raised by the authorities in order to make the public ready to accept the proposed – obviously unjust – solution as inevitable.) Sorman admits that the market is full of irrational behaviour, but is quick to add that ‘it would be preposterous to use behavioral economics to justify restoring excessive state regulations. After all, the state is no more rational than the individual, and its actions can have enormously destructive consequences.’ He goes on:

An essential task of democratic governments and opinion makers when confronting economic cycles and political pressure is to secure and protect the system that has served humanity so well, and not to change it for the worse on the pretext of its imperfection. Still, this lesson is doubtless one of the hardest to translate into language that public opinion will accept. The best of all possible economic systems is indeed imperfect. Whatever the truths uncovered by economic science, the free market is finally only the reflection of human nature, itself hardly perfectible.

Rarely was the function of ideology described in clearer terms: to defend the existing system against any serious critique, legitimising it as a direct expression of human nature.

It is unlikely that the financial meltdown of 2008 will function as a blessing in disguise, the awakening from a dream, the sobering reminder that we live in the reality of global capitalism. It all depends on how it will be symbolised, on what ideological interpretation or story will impose itself and determine the general perception of the crisis. When the normal run of things is traumatically interrupted, the field is open for a ‘discursive’ ideological competition. In Germany in the late 1920s, Hitler won the competition to determine which narrative would explain the reasons for the crisis of the Weimar Republic and the way out of it; in France in 1940 Maréchal Pétain’s narrative won in the contest to find the reasons for the French defeat. Consequently, to put it in old-fashioned Marxist terms, the main task of the ruling ideology in the present crisis is to impose a narrative that will not put the blame for the meltdown on the global capitalist system as such, but on its deviations – lax regulation, the corruption of big financial institutions etc.

Against this tendency, one should insist on the key question: which ‘flaw’ of the system as such opens up the possibility for such crises and collapses? The first thing to bear in mind here is that the origin of the crisis is a ‘benevolent’ one: after the dotcom bubble burst in 2001, the decision reached across party lines was to facilitate real estate investments in order to keep the economy going and prevent recession – today’s meltdown is the price for the US having avoided a recession seven years ago.

The danger is thus that the predominant narrative of the meltdown won’t be the one that awakes us from a dream, but the one that will enable us to continue to dream. And it is here that we should start to worry: not only about the economic consequences of the meltdown, but about the obvious temptation to reinvigorate the ‘war on terror’ and US interventionism in order to keep the economy running. Nothing was decided with Obama’s victory, but it widens our freedom and thereby the scope of our decisions. No matter what happens, it will remain a sign of hope in our otherwise dark times, a sign that the last word does not belong to realistic cynics, from the left or the right.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Jim Martin volunteer opportunities via Atlanta Young Dems

Young Jeezy Supports Jim Martin

Thought I'd get your attention with that. And it's true! There are only 12 More Days Until the Run-Off Election and everyone is getting in on the GOTV effort. Are you?
Jim and Saxby are separated by only a few points in the polls. This is a fight we can win with your effort! We are asking everyone to dedicate 2 hours and to find 5 friends who can also dedicate 2 hours in the next 12 days to getting young Democrats out one more time for the run-off election.

You can:
Canvass with the Jim Martin campaign. Contact Nia Phillips at to volunteer. Specific information is below.
Make calls to young Democratic voters to ensure they vote sometime between now and Dec. 2. We are joining forces with Stonewall Democrats to host phone banks. Calling with other people is much more fun than calling alone. Bring your cell phone. You can also make calls with Campaign for Change. The schedule is below.
Ask your friends who live in-state or beyond to help make calls. All they need is a cell phone. I can provide call lists of young voters to any one (in-state or out-of-state) who would like to make calls from the comfort of their own couch
Rally with Young Jeezy on Sunday. No, I'm not kidding. Details are below.
Donate to YDAtl or directly to the Jim Martin campaign. YDAtl has just purchased $4500 of airtime for a new commercial aimed at motivating young voters to get out one more. You can watch it here.
YDAtl could use any small donation you may have to help us buy stamps for postcards that we are sending to young Democratic voters all over Georgia to encourage them to vote. You can contribute to us here:
The Martin campaign is accepting donations through their website here:

If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to reply to this email.

Phone Bank Schedule (Sun. Nov. 23-Tues. Dec. 2 with Stonewall Dems):
Friday, Nov. 21 (today) -- 5pm - 9pm at Campaign for Change 1080 Spring St
Saturday, Nov. 22 -- 12pm - 3pm at DPG Headquarters, 1100 Spring St. #480 (parking will be validated)
Sunday Nov 23 -- 4-9 PM Midtown Prudential (1409 Peachtree Street)
Monday Nov 24 -- 6-9 PM Midtown Prudential (1409 Peachtree Street)
Tuesday Nov 25 -- 6-9 PM Midtown Prudential (1409 Peachtree Street)
Wednesday Nov 26 -- 6-9 PM Location TBD (most likely IBEW Building)
Friday Nov 28 -- 6-9 PM Location TBD (most likely IBEW Building)
Saturday Nov 29 -- 4-9 PM Location TBD (most likely IBEW Building)
Sunday Nov 30 -- 4-9 PM Location TBD (most likely IBEW Building)
Monday Dec 1 -- 6-9 PM Midtown Prudential (1409 Peachtree Street)
Tuesday Dec 2 -- ALL DAY Location TBD (most likely IBEW Building) also canvassing and phone banking available all day at 1080 Spring St.

Canvassing on Saturday, November 22, 2008 (tomorrow):
Beauty & Barber Shop Canvass
9am until 6pm
We will meet at First Corinth Missionary Baptist Church to pick up our itineraries and canvass material
2165 Donald Lee Hollowell Pkwy
Atlanta, GA 30318
1st shift: 9:30 until 1:30pm
2nd shift: 12:30 pm until 4:00pm
3rd shift: 3:30pm until 6:00pm

WHEN: SUNDAY, November 23, 2008 from 11am until 6pm
We don't care what you do, but please do something

Jim Powell endorsed by Carter...

For Immediate Release: November 21, 2008
Contact: George P. Birchby, Campaign Manager
678-644-8355 (Mobile)

Jim Powell endorsed by former President Jimmy Carter

ATLANTA - Jim Powell, Democratic nominee and first-place candidate for Georgia Public Service Commission, District 4, has received the endorsement of former President Jimmy Carter for the Dec. 2 General Election runoff.

“I am impressed with Jim Powell’s knowledge of the issues that will be addressed by the Georgia Public Service Commission in the coming years,” President Carter said. “His vision of energy policy for our state reflects the forward-thinking approach we need, both in the near future and in the long term.

“With Jim Powell, the people of Georgia have a unique opportunity to elect a Public Service Commissioner with solid professional experience for this important position. I support Jim Powell in the December 2 runoff election.”

President Carter made the endorsement following a meeting with the candidate Thursday afternoon at the Carter Center.

“I am most honored to have the support of this great Georgian and American, President Jimmy Carter,” Powell said. “During his term in the White House, President Carter foresaw the importance of managing our energy resources and established the U.S. Department of Energy. He understands what is at stake in this election, and I am humbled that he would endorse my candidacy.”

Powell has also been endorsed by, among others, incumbent Public Service Commissioner Angela Speir, Libertarian Party nominee Brandon Givens, former Republican candidate Pam Davidson, and four of the state’s major daily newspapers: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Savannah Morning News. the Rome News-Tribune and the Waycross Journal-Herald.

In the General Election on Nov. 4, Powell was the top vote-getter with 1,732,175 votes or 47.9 percent. On July 15, Powell received 85 percent of the statewide primary vote to earn the Democratic nomination.

Powell, a first-time candidate for office, retired in February 2007 after 35 years of public service. He served as a Senior Executive with the U. S. Department of Energy, managing a number of initiatives and a budget of over $300 million, and as the Southeast Regional Director, based in Georgia. Jim and Karen, his wife of 37 years, live in Hiawassee. They have two adult sons and two adorable granddaughters.

For more information, visit

Henry County... help Martin win on the 2nd! Come out and canvass

Kevin Waller is doing a great job of keeping people in the loop...
From his email today:


We are doing canvassing to support the Jim Martin Campaign for US Senate both Saturday and Sunday. The election runoff is in just 11 days. It is a close race. The victory will be to the one whose team makes the most calls and knocks on the most doors. People are registered, we just need to get them back out to the polls.

Ms Cathryn Chatters (985) 703-0164 and Mike Burns have taken the lead on this initiative.

If you want to participate and help put someone in the Senate that is going to help President Elect Obama make a difference: come on down.

Days and Times:

Sat from 10 am - 6:00 pm (two hour increments)
Sunday from 2 pm -6:00pm (two hour increments)

Rally Point: At the Sands Bar and Grill, #38 Macon Road, McDonough, GA (just off the square).

Fact Checking the run-off

Peach State Piffle
November 21, 2008
The Georgia Senate run-off is filled with misleading claims from both sides.
Georgia voters are being hit with misleading ads from both sides as Republican Sen. Chambliss battles Democratic challenger Martin in a Dec. 2 run-off election.

Chambliss claims in an ad that Martin would work to raise taxes on "nearly every small business in Georgia." In fact, only around 2.4 percent of small businesses nationally earn enough to be affected by the tax plan Martin favors.

Chambliss also says Martin “refused to return $100 million of surplus taxes” to Georgians. That’s false. Martin voted in favor of the tax relief bill in question.

A Martin ad claims Chambliss “opposes a middle-class tax cut.” In fact, he supported cuts for middle-income taxpayers. What Chambliss voted against was an amendment that also would have increased taxes on corporations and others.
In one exchange, Chambliss accuses Martin of supporting the largest tax increase in state history, while Martin says he supported the largest middle-class tax cut in state history. It turns out both are right, as we explain fully in our Analysis section.

Common Dreams for the day...

Friday 11.21.08
Report: Sun Setting on The American Century

UN: Gaza on Brink of Humanitarian Disaster

Death Bloom of Plankton A Warning on Warming

California Officials Unveil Plans to Turn San Francisco into Electric Car Capital

Congo: A Touch of Hope in The War without End

Economy Hitting Women Hardest, Say Experts

Thousands Protest in Iraq Against US Troops Pact
and more...


Tom Engelhardt | The Pentagon's Argument of Last Resort on Iraq

Norman Solomon | A Media Parable for 'the Center'

Heather Wokusch | You're Scaring Me, Obama: Let the Bush Years Die

David Sirota | Tuning Out the Braindead Megaphone

Paul Krugman | The Lame-Duck Economy

Nancy Van Ness The Granny Peace Brigade Campaigns to Close All US Military Bases - in Latin America and Around the World

Laura Flanders | The Hunger News
and more...



The Real News Network: What Does The West Owe Afghanistan?

Peace Action West: Peace Movement Raises Concerns About Possible Obama Defense Secretary

Institute for Public Accuracy: The End of Racism?

SOA Watch: Thousands Gather This Weekend at Fort Benning, Georgia to Say: Yes We Can Stop Torture and Close the School of Assassins


Is the burden of proof on incompatibilists?
A few people have responded to my 2007 PPR paper, “Is Incompatibilism Intuitive?” co-authored with Stephen Morris, Thomas Nadelhoffer, and Jason Turner. But most of the responses have focused on the experimental results that suggested incompatibilism is not as intuitive to non-philosophers as incompatibilists have claimed. While I (unsurprisingly) think these results are illuminating, I also think that the more interesting parts of that paper came before and after the discussion of the experiments themselves. And I don’t think anyone has responded to the arguments we offer in those parts--perhaps illustrating that I’m wrong about those arguments being interesting, but I’ll be charitable and hope that it’s because those arguments were drowned by the flood of excitement about the experiments. ;-}

In any case, Shaun Nichols asked me recently if anyone had a response to our (interrelated) arguments that the burden of proof should be on incompatibilists (rather than compatiblists) and that there is little reason to accept libertarians’ more demanding conditions for free will unless they are motivated by widespread intuitions supporting them. I am hoping some of you might offer food for thought about these arguments. Below I have cut from pp. 30-33 of the article to summarize some of these arguments. I would love to hear where people think we went wrong (or right).

[After showing that incompatibilists have tended to claim their view is commonsensical and compatibilism is counterintuitive and then explaining why we think ordinary intuitions matter to the free will debate, we say…]

It is especially important for incompatibilists that their view is supported by ordinary intuitions for the following three reasons. First, incompatibilism about any two concepts is not the default view. As William Lycan explains, “A theorist who maintains of something that is not obviously impossible that nonetheless that thing is impossible owes us an argument” (2003: 109). Either determinism obviously precludes free will or those who maintain that it does should offer an explanation as to why it does. The philosophical conception of determinism—i.e., that the laws of nature and state of the universe at one time entail the state of the universe at later times—has no obvious conceptual or logical bearing on human freedom and responsibility. So, by claiming that determinism necessarily precludes the existence of free will, incompatibilists thereby assume the argumentative burden.[note 1]

Second, the arguments that incompatibilists accordingly provide to explain why determinism necessarily precludes free will require conceptions of free will that are more metaphysically demanding than compatibilist alternatives. These libertarian conceptions demand more of the world in order for free will to exist: at a minimum, indeterministic event-causal processes at the right place in the human agent, and often, additionally, agent causation. To point out that incompatibilist theories are metaphysically demanding is not to suggest that they are thereby less likely to be true. Rather, it is simply to say that these theories require more motivation than less metaphysically demanding ones.

Consider an example. Suppose two philosophers—Hal and Dave—are debating what it takes for something to be an action. Hal claims that actions are events caused (in the right sort of way) by beliefs and desires. Dave agrees, but adds the further condition that the token beliefs and desires that cause an action cannot be identical to anything physical. Now Dave, by adding this condition, does not thereby commit himself to the claim that token beliefs and desires are not physical. But he does commit himself to the conditional claim that token beliefs and desires are not physical if there are any actions. On our view, if T1 and T2 are both theories of x, then to say that T1 is more metaphysically demanding than T2 is to say that T1 requires more metaphysical theses to be true than T2 does in order for there to be any x’s. So, Dave’s theory is more metaphysically demanding than Hal’s because it requires more metaphysical theses to be true in order for there to be any actions. Likewise, incompatibilists—whether libertarians or skeptics—have more metaphysically demanding theories than compatibilists since they say that special kinds of causation (indeterministic or agent-causation) must obtain if there are any free actions.[note 2]

Since incompatibilist theories of free will say the existence of free will is incompatible with determinism, these theories, other things being equal, will be harder to motivate than compatibilist theories, which do not require the existence of extra metaphysical processes, such as indeterminism or agent causation, in order for free actions to be possible. As we’ve seen, many incompatibilists have attempted to motivate their metaphysically demanding theories, at least in part, by suggesting that other things are not equal, because our ordinary intuitions support incompatibilist views. This is not to say that incompatibilists must appeal to such intuitions in order to motivate their demanding theories (see §§4.2-4.3 below). Nonetheless, it is certainly unclear why, without wide-scale intuitive support for incompatibilism, the argumentative burden would be on compatibilists, as suggested by Ekstrom when she claims that the compatibilist “needs a positive argument in favor of the compatibility thesis” (2000: 57) and by Kane above [“Ordinary persons have to be talked out of this natural incompatibilism by the clever arguments of philosophers” (1999: 217).]

Finally, if it were shown that people have intuitions that in fact support incompatibilism, it would still be open to foes of incompatibilism to argue that, relative to ordinary conceptions of freedom and responsibility, their view is a benign revision towards a more metaphysically tenable theory.[note 3] Incompatibilists, on the other hand, do not seem to have this move available to them in the event that their view is inconsistent with pre-philosophical intuitions. After all, it is difficult to see why philosophers should revise the concept of free will to make it more metaphysically demanding than required by ordinary intuitions (see §4.3).[note 4] So, if incompatibilism is not the intuitive view, or if no premises that support incompatibilist conclusions are particularly intuitive, then there seems to be little motivation for advancing an incompatibilist theory of free will.


[1] See Warfield (2000) for an explanation of why the proper incompatibilist view is not the contingent claim, “If determinism is true then there is no freedom,” but the stronger claim, “Necessarily, if determinism is true then there is no freedom” (169). See also Chalmers (1996) who writes, “In general, a certain burden of proof lies on those who claim that a certain description is logically impossible…. If no reasonable analysis of the terms in question points towards a contradiction, or even makes the existence of a contradiction plausible, then there is a natural assumption in favor of logical possibility” (96).

[2] Even though hard determinists or skeptics about free will are not committed to the existence of libertarian free will, they are committed to the libertarian conception of free will since their arguments require this conception to reach the conclusion that free will does not (or could not) exist. Hence, skeptics, like libertarians, require motivation for the accuracy of this conception, and they often do so by suggesting that incompatibilism is the commonsensical or intuitive view (see, for instance, Strawson 1986 and Smilansky 2003).

[3] See Vargas (forthcoming). Compatibilists may also be better situated to offer error theories to explain why people sometimes express incompatibilist intuitions even though this need not commit them to incompatibilist theories. See, for instance, Velleman (2000) and Graham and Horgan (1998).

[4] There is a fourth reason that some incompatibilists should want their view to be intuitive to ordinary people. Peter Strawson (1962) offered a compatibilist argument to the effect that we cannot and should not attempt to provide metaphysical justifications for our practices of moral responsibility (e.g., praise and blame), which are grounded in reactive attitudes such as indignation and gratitude. He suggested such practices are subject to justifications and revisions based only on considerations internal to the relevant practices and attitudes, but not on considerations external to the practice, including, in his view, determinism. But incompatibilists, notably Galen Strawson, have responded to this argument by suggesting that the question of determinism is not external to our considerations of moral responsibility (see also Pereboom 2001). That is, they claim that our reactive attitudes themselves are sensitive to whether human actions are deterministically caused. As Galen Strawson puts it, the fact that “the basic incompatibilist intuition that determinism is incompatible with freedom … has such power for us is as much a natural fact about cogitative beings like ourselves as is the fact of our quite unreflective commitment to the reactive attitudes. What is more, the roots of the incompatibilist intuition lie deep in the very reactive attitudes that are invoked in order to undercut it. The reactive attitudes enshrine the incompatibilist intuition” (1986: 88). If it turned out that this claim is false—that most people’s reactive attitudes are not in fact sensitive to considerations of determinism—then this particular incompatibilist response to the elder Strawson’s argument would fail. While there are other responses to Peter Strawson’s views, we interpret some of the claims that incompatibilism is intuitive as attempts to shore up this response that our ordinary reactive attitudes and attributions of moral responsibility are sensitive to determinism. And we accordingly view any evidence to the contrary as strengthening Peter Strawson’s suggestion that determinism is irrelevant to debates about freedom and responsibility and, accordingly, as weakening incompatibilism.


Good point by David Brooks...

Today's op-ed column "The Insider's Crusade"
Obama seems to have dispensed with the romantic and failed notion that you need inexperienced "fresh faces" to change things. After all, it was L.B.J. who passed the Civil Rights Act. Moreover, because he is so young, Obama is not bringing along an insular coterie of lifelong aides who depend upon him for their well-being.
I hate the "reformers" who want to "change Washington." I'm systemic by nature. I see dead people as that kid in the sixth sense said.

You want the smartest in the class, you want the most vetted politico in the legislature to deal with parliamentary maneuvers that might stymie your agenda. To bring "change" is actually counter intuitive. The smart competent people aren't the ones who have gotten us into this mess to begin with.

The populist screed of ending the corruption 9 times out of 10 tends to be just that... a screed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wallerstein on Obama

"Obama's Victory - Fear and Hope"
by Immanuel Wallerstein

The whole of the United States and indeed the whole world was watching, and almost all of it was cheering, the election of Barack Obama as the next president of the United States. Although, during the electoral campaign, everyone tried to play down the centrality of the racial issue, on Nov. 4 it seemed that no one could talk of anything else. There are three central questions about what most commentators are calling this "historic event": How important is it? What explains the victory? What is likely to happen now?

On the evening of November 4, an immense crowd assembled in Grant Park, Chicago, to hear Obama's acceptance speech. All those who were watching U.S. television saw the camera zoom in on Jesse Jackson, who was in tears. Those tears reflect the virtually unanimous view of all African-Americans, who regard Obama's election as the moment of their definitive integration into the U.S. electoral process. They do not believe that racism has disappeared. But a symbolic barrier has been crossed, first of all for them, and then for all the rest of us.

Their sentiment is quite parallel to the feelings of Africans in South Africa on April 27, 1994 when they voted to elect Nelson Mandela president of their country. It has not mattered that Mandela, as president, did not fulfill the whole promise of his party. It will not matter if Obama does not fulfill the whole promise of his campaign. In the United States, as in South Africa, a new day has dawned. Even if it is an imperfect day, it is a better day than before. The African-Americans, but also the Hispanics and the young people in general, voted for Obama out of hope - a diffuse hope, but a real one.

How did Obama win? He won the way anyone wins in a large, complex political situation. He put together a large coalition of many different political forces. In this case, the gamut ran from fairly far left to right of center. He would not have won without that enormous range of support. And, of course, now that he has won, all the different groups want him to govern as each prefers, which is of course not possible.

Who are these different elements, and why did they support him? On the left, even the far left, they voted for Obama because of deep anger about the damage the Bush regime inflicted on the United States and the world, and the genuine fear that McCain would have been no better, perhaps worse. On the center-right, independents and many Republicans voted for him most of all because they had become aghast at the ever-increasing dominance of the Christian right in Republican party politics, a sentiment that was underlined by the choice of Sarah Palin as the vice-presidential candidate. These people voted for Obama because they were afraid of McCain/Palin and because Obama convinced them that he was a solid and sensible pragmatist.

And in-between these two groups were the so-called Reagan Democrats, largely industrial workers, often Catholics, often racist, who had tended to desert their Democratic party roots in recent elections because they viewed the party as having moved too far left and disapproved of its positions on social questions. These voters moved back to the Democratic party not because their outlook had changed, but because of fear. They were deeply afraid of the economic depression into which the United States has moved, and thought that their only hope was in a new New Deal. They voted for the Democrats despite the fact that Obama was an African-American. Fear conquered racism.

And what will Obama do now? What can Obama do now? It is still too early to be sure. It seems clear that he will move quickly to take advantage of a crisis situation, as his new Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, put it. I suspect we shall see a dramatic set of initiatives in the traditional first 100 days. And some of what Obama does may be surprising.

Still, there are two situations, the two biggest, that are largely beyond his control - the transformed geopolitics of the world-system, and the catastrophic world economic situation. Yes, the world received Obama's victory with joy, but also with prudence. It is notable that two major centers of power issued statements on the geopolitical scene that were quite forthright. Both the European Union in a unanimous statement and President Lula of Brazil said they looked forward to renewing collaboration with the United States, but this time as equals, not as junior partners.

Obama will pull out of Iraq more or less as promised, if for no other reason than the fact that the Iraqi government will insist upon it. He will try to find a graceful exit from Afghanistan, which will not be too easy. But whether he will do something significant in relation to the Israel/Palestine deadlock and whether he can look forward to a more stable Pakistan is very unsure. And he will have less to say about it than he may think. Can Obama accept the fact that the United States is no longer the world's leader, merely a partner with other power centers? And, even if he can, can he somehow get the American people to accept this new reality?

As for the depression, it will no doubt have to play out its course. Obama, like all the other major leaders in the world, is a captain on a very stormy sea, and can do relatively little more than try to keep his ship from sinking altogether.

Where Obama has some leeway is in the internal U.S. situation. There are three things where he is expected to act and can act, if he is ready to be bold. One is job creation. This can only be done effectively in the short run through government action. And it would be best done by investing in reconstructing the degraded infrastructure of the United States, and in measures to reverse environmental decline.

The second is the establishment, at last, of a decent health care structure in the United States, in which everyone, without exception, will be covered, and in which there will be considerable emphasis on preventive medicine.

And the third area is in undoing all the damage that has been done to basic civil liberties in the United States by the Bush administration, but also by prior administrations. This requires an overhauling both of the Department of Justice and the legal and paralegal apparatus that has been constructed in the last eight, but also the last thirty, years.

If Obama acts decisively in these three arenas, then we might say that this was a truly historic election, one in which the change that occurred was more than symbolic. But if he fails here, the letdown will be momentous.

Many are trying to divert his attention into the arenas in which he cannot do much, and in which his best position would be that of a lower profile, the acceptance of new world reality. There is much about Obama's future actions to fear, and much that offers hope.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


"The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities."

Is that socialism? No actually thats Adam Smith... here. read more!

Spread The Wealth? What’s New?
McCain's attack implies that an Obama presidency would lead us toward the Swedish model. Unlikely.

Jacob Weisberg
From the magazine issue dated Nov 10, 2008
In the last lap of his campaign, John McCain is claiming that Barack Obama "believes in redistributing wealth." The problem with this charge is not that it's untrue. It's that McCain—along with most of his supporters—favors redistribution, too. Government redistributes wealth to some extent by its very existence, since it's impractical for citizens to pay for or benefit from it in equal proportion, even if that were desirable. So long as you have a system of taxation and spending on public goods like education and roads, some people will do better out of the bargain than others. The real questions are whether public policy consciously tries to affect the distribution of wealth, and how much it tries to change it and in what direction.

Redistribution has a "from" side (taxation) and a "to" side (spending). On the "from" side, the notion that government should use taxation to increase rather than decrease equality is hardly Marxist. In "The Wealth of Nations," Adam Smith begins his section on taxation with the following maxim: "The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities." To ask otherwise, Smith writes, would be obviously unfair.

Until the 20th century, the bulk of government revenues came from tariffs, which are regressive, meaning that they redistribute income away from the poor. The progressive principle was enshrined in American practice with the arrival of the federal income and inheritance taxes. The champion of these policies? None other than John McCain's hero, Teddy Roosevelt. We got progressive income taxes with the passage of the 16th Amendment in 1913. The federal estate tax we have today came in 1916.

McCain is a consistent adherent to his hero's principles. Unlike George W. Bush, McCain supports the retention of an estate tax (he favors reducing it to 15 percent on estates above $5 million). McCain opposes the flat tax, which would repudiate progressivity (though with a $46,000 exemption, it would still redistribute income). Some of us still remember the John McCain who opposed Bush's 2001 tax cut, saying it was unfairly tilted toward the rich.

On the "to" side of the ledger, large-scale redistributive policies owe their existence to the other President Roosevelt. The biggest and most important of these is Social Security. FDR understood that an income-support program that was too explicitly redistributionist would be unlikely to survive politically, which is why everyone who works and pays into the system has a right to benefits. But the Social Security Administration does quietly shift money from relatively richer to relatively poorer—even if some recent research indicates it does so less than intended, largely because poor people have shorter life expectancies.

Curiously, the most prominent proponents of more-aggressive wealth redistribution have been Robin Hoods of the right. Milton Friedman is considered the father of the negative income tax, a 1960s-era proposal to simply give cash to the poor. Richard Nixon pitched a version of this plan in 1973. The idea was that writing checks would be preferable to more bureaucratic programs like welfare. Our most explicit redistributive program today is probably the earned-income tax credit, which supplements the incomes of people who work but don't earn enough to escape poverty on their own. Gerald Ford signed this bill into law and Ronald Reagan greatly expanded it.

McCain has long-favored the EITC, call-ing it "a much-needed tax credit for working Americans." McCain doesn't support the repeal of Social Security or Medicare, or a raft of other wealth-spreading programs like food stamps. And he's got redistributive measures of his own invention, too, such as a tax credit to help people with lower incomes buy health insurance.

McCain might respond that it's not the principle of redistribution that makes Obama's policies objectionable, but the extent of them. Socialistic Sweden, with its generous benefits and a government consuming about 55 percent of GDP, exists on the same continuum with the mildly distributive United States, where you can't get by on welfare payments and total government spending is in the range of 30 percent of GDP. McCain's attack implies that an Obama presidency would lead us toward the Swedish model.

There's little in Obama's background or writings to suggest he favors more-ambitious redistributive policies. His most expensive new social program is an expansion of health-care coverage that would not create a universal entitlement (as many Democrats want to do) and which has been credibly priced at less, or only slightly more, than McCain's plan. There's little reason to think that Obama would depart from the bipartisan consensus that has favored federal spending at approximately the same level for the past 40 years.

What has changed in that period is the way the market has distributed wealth. Since the 1970s, income inequality in the United States has increased dramatically. Obama, like a lot of fellow liberals, would like to find ways to reverse that trend without diminishing overall economic growth. The old John McCain worried about that problem, too. We may see that guy again, after the election.

Weisberg is editor in chief of the Slate Group and the author of “The Bush Tragedy.” A version of this column also appears on

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Links for the day...

Liberal Activists Have Long Legislative Wish List

Democrats make gains in Georgia Friend RJ Hadley quoted in article!!

Low turnout likely in Senate runoff

The Wall Street bailout looks a lot like Iraq — a "free-fraud zone" where private contractors cash in on the mess they helped create

Obama's Historic Victory
by Howard Zinn

"Free-Marketers" and the Bank Bailout
The Post tells us how the people who designed the bank bailout were committed to the free market. Interestingly, the key decisions that they made gave the banks much better terms than they could have received from the free market.

Since the post doesn't really know the inner most thoughts of the bailout designers, let's try an alternative hypothesis. They wanted to help the banks as much as possible with public money, yet they wanted to rationalize this give away of taxpayer dollars as somehow consistent with the free market. Their alleged belief in the free market is simply a cover for efforts to aid the rich.

I don't know if this alternative hypothesis is true, but the Post certainly does not know that the story it presented to readers as fact is true. How about we just get the news media to skip the speculation about people's ideologies and just report on where the money went.

It's the Housing Bubble, Not the ***** Credit Crunch!
No one will lend me $1 billion, that's how bad the credit crunch has gotten. There are probably reporters at major news outlets who would print that.

The news media almost completely missed the housing bubble. They relied almost entirely on sources who either had an interest in not calling or attention to an $8 trillion housing bubble or somehow were unable to see it. As a result they did not warn the public that their house prices were likely to plunge in future years.

Having dismally failed in their jobs to inform the public, reporters are still relying almost exclusively on sources that completely missed the housing bubble. As a result, they are still badly misinforming the public, first and foremost by attributing the economic downturn to a credit crunch.

This is truly incredible. Homeowners have lost more than $5 trillion in housing wealth. There is a very well established wealth effect whereby $1 of housing wealth is estimated as leading to 5 to 6 cents of annual consumption. This implies that the loss of wealth to date would cause consumption to fall by $250 billion to $300 billion annually (1.7 percent to 2.0 percent of GDP). If you add in the loss of around $6 trillion in stock wealth, with an estimated wealth effect of 3-4 cents on the dollar, then you get an additional decline of $180 billion to $240 billion in annual consumption (1.2 percent to 1.6 percent of GDP).

These are huge falls in consumption that would lead to a very serious recession, like the one we are seeing. This would be predicted even if all our banks were fully solvent and in top flight financial shape. Even the soundest bank does not make loans to borrowers who it does not think can pay the loans back (except during times of irrational exuberance).

Obviously the problems of the banking system make the situation worse, but the real cause of the downturn is the collapse of the housing bubble, and the reporters who talk about the economy should know this. (Of course, they should have seen the housing bubble too.)

Eric Rauchway vs. Alex Tabarrok on New Deal Unemployment
By Brad DeLong

You cannot be serious! Perceptual errors by professional tennis referees
In Neuroscience