Devastating New Ron Susskind Book on Obama and his Dysfunctional Economic Team

Larry Summers Napping

In excerpts below from their discussion, Frank Rich and Adam Moss talk about Ron Susskind’s new book Confidence Men — published tomorrow — about president-elect Obama’s choice of his economic team in 2008, and how it became dysfunctional.

“Adam: Hi, Frank. So there’s a little commotion about this new book Confidence Men, by Ron Suskind, which is being published on Tuesday. And as it happens, you and I have actually read it! So let’s talk about that this week. To give readers a super-fast overview, it’s a book, essentially, about Obama’s economic team during his first two years in office. The news of the book, according to some reports, is that Tim Geithner was insubordinate to the president, pursuing his own pro-banker agenda. Or, according to other reports, that Larry Summers was insubordinate to the president, pursuing his own — well, monomaniacal agenda. I’d add that it’s also about Rahm Emanuel being insubordinate to the president, just because. Basically, it’s about the presidency being hijacked by these three guys. And the guys thing is important because they’re pretty awful to women. Anyway, they’re the villains. Paul Volcker, Christina Romer, and Elizabeth Warren are the heroes. Bankers win, America loses. Did I get that right?

“Frank: Hi, Adam, and yes, you did! I would point out that among the other heroes are more women (Sheila Bair, Brooksley Born, Maria Cantwell) and at least one man, the Princeton economist Alan Krueger, who also seems to be a serious Suskind source and who has now returned to the White House to succeed Austan Goolsbee and Romer as head of the Council of Economic Advisers. Not that that will do any good. I think the portrait of Geithner is devastating — his countermanding of the president’s wishes to make a Wall Street object lesson of Citigroup, his nasty “Elizabeth Warren strategy” to silence and neuter the administration’s rare genuine reformer. And yet Geithner is the only member of the original economic team still standing in the White House, poised to countermand any other rare independent voice that might yet speak up, like Krueger’s.

“A: You think the portrait of Geithner is more devastating than the one of Summers? I guess. In that instance you cite, Obama asks to put the dissolving of Citibank on the table, and Geithner simply ignores him, “walking back” the decision, in political parlance. More insidiously, he creates the framework, borrowed from Hippocrates, of “first, do no harm,” which effectively cuts off any bold reforms for fear of their potential effects on the market. But Summers is portrayed as an egotistical nut job, single-mindedly determined to get Bernanke’s job; when he doesn’t get it, he goes bananas. He is supposed to be a conduit for the collective advice of the team, but undermines his colleagues, only passing along advice and information that supports his positions. I was kind of stunned how many officials were willing to go on the record against him.

“Peter Orszag relays this eviscerating quote that Summers said to him about Obama during the worst of the economic distress. According to Orszag, Summers says, “You know, Peter we’re really home alone. There’s no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.” Later, Orszag says to Suskind, “Larry just didn’t think the president knew what he was deciding. Was this [obstruction of the president’s wishes] outright and willful?” In other words, asks Orszag, was Summers saying, “I know more than the president flat-out? That strikes me as … likely.” In an amazing memo, Pete Rouse, who would replace Emanuel temporarily as chief of staff, recommends firing Summers for “Larry’s imperious and heavy-handed direction of the economic policy process.” Romer says Summers made her feel “like a piece of meat.”

Read the full discussion in New York Magazine, here.

Tea Party Gets the Constitution Wrong

Reprinted with permission from ConsortiumNews.

The Tea Partiers love to cite the U.S. Constitution as supporting their contempt for the federal government. But they don’t realize that the Constitution represented the most important assertion of central authority in American history, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

It is now an article of faith in the Tea Party and on the American Right that the Founders wrote the U.S. Constitution to restrict the power of the federal government and protect states’ rights. But that analysis is simply wrong.

Like any government document, the Constitution can only be understood in the context of what it replaced – and why. The Constitution superseded the Articles of Confederation, which guided the new country starting in 1777. The Articles granted broad authority to the states with only a weak national government.

As the Revolutionary War wore on and during the early years of peace, many American leaders – including George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson – came to view the Articles as unworkable and a threat to the survival of the new nation.

The Continental Army was especially disdainful of the Articles because they didn’t grant taxing authority to the national government and thus – when the states reneged on promised funding, which they did frequently – soldiers were left without pay and munitions.

The answer to this political crisis took shape in 1786 with a growing movement for a much stronger federal government, leading to secret meetings in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft a new governing document, the Constitution.

The Constitution created the framework for a powerful federal authority that could not only declare war and negotiate treaties, but could tax, print money, regulate interstate commerce and undertake a host of other governing activities.

Besides the sweeping federal authority delineated by the Constitution, the document also dropped key language from the Articles of Confederation that had suggested the supremacy of the states.

The Articles had described the United States not as a government or even a nation, but as “a firm league of friendship” among the states “for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare.”

If that suggestion of the states’ supremacy wasn’t clear enough, the Confederation’s Article II declared: “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated.” And very few powers were delegated to the federal government.

That powerful states’ rights language was either eliminated by the Constitution or substantially watered down.

The Tenth Amendment Argument

Tea Party activists will often cite the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution as evidence that the Founders were strong advocates for states’ rights, since it says “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

But again the Tea Partiers are missing the point. The Constitution granted broad powers to the federal government – even over the regulation of national commerce – so there were far fewer powers left for the states. The Tenth Amendment amounted to a sop to mollify the anti-federalist bloc that was trying to block ratification of the Constitution by the 13 states.

To further appreciate how modest the Tenth Amendment concession was, you also must compare its wording with Article II of the Confederation. Remember, Article II says “each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence,” while the Tenth Amendment simply says powers not granted to the federal government “are reserved to the States” or individuals.

Stripped out of the new national governing document were the principles of state “sovereignty” and state “independence.” In effect, American “sovereignty” had been transferred to the Republic that the Constitution had created. States were no longer dominant; they were subordinate to “we the people” as represented in the “union,” the United States of America.

Of course, the anti-federalists did not entirely go away, especially when it became clear to the agrarian South that its economic model, based on slavery, was losing ground to the growing industrial power of the North and the influence of the emancipation movement.

In the early 1830s, Southern politicians led the “nullification” challenge to the federal government, asserting that states had the right to nullify federal laws, such as a tariff on manufactured goods. But they were beaten back by President Andrew Jackson who threatened to deploy troops to South Carolina to enforce the federal supremacy established by the Constitution.

In December 1832, Jackson denounced the “nullifiers” and declared ”the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one State, incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which it was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed.”

Jackson also rejected as “treason” the notion that states could secede if they wished, noting that the Constitution “forms a government not a league,” a reference to the line in the Articles of Confederation that had termed the fledgling United States ”a firm league of friendship” among the states, not a government.

The nullification crisis was defused, but a few decades later, the South’s continued resistance to the constitutional preeminence of the federal government led to secession and the formation of the Confederacy. It took the Union’s victory in the Civil War to firmly settle the issue of the sovereignty of the national Republic over the states.

However, the defeated South still balked at the principle of equal rights for blacks and invoked “states’ rights” to defend segregation during the Jim Crow era. White Southerners had amassed enough political clout, especially within the Democratic Party, to fend off civil rights for blacks.

Ending Segregation

The battle over states’ right was joined again in the 1950s when the federal government finally committed itself to enforcing the principle of “equal protection under the law” as prescribed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Many white Southerners were furious that their system of segregation was being dismantled by federal authority.

The South’s anger was reflected in the prevalence of the Confederate battle flag on pickup trucks and in store windows. White Southerners were expressing the bravado of secession even if it was more tough talk than anything real.

Gradually, the American Right retreated from outright support of racial segregation and muffled the threats of secession (although the idea still surfaces once in a while as it did in recent comments by Texas Gov. Rick Perry).

Instead, the Right has sought to impose a reinterpretation of the Constitution by revising the history of the United States and pretending that the Founders designed the Constitution as a document to establish the supremacy of the states over the federal government.

This revisionist view is now at the heart of the Tea Party movement and has powerful propaganda support from the right-wing news media. Since few Americans understand the reasons for the Constitution – or the fact that it represented a major consolidation of federal power – this right-wing disinformation campaign has proved effective.

Tea Party activists add to the misimpression about the Founders’ intent by dressing in Revolutionary War costumes and channeling the Founders’ supposed hatred of the federal government. The Tea Partiers wave “Don’t Tread on Me” flags as if the American revolutionaries were addressing that to their own government, not the British colonialists.

(Interestingly, the Tea Partiers ignore another common banner of the era, showing a serpent representing the 13 colonies cut into pieces with the instruction, “join or die.” That banner recognized the need of the disparate American states to cooperate as one nation or perish.)

The Right’s so-called “originalist” thinking about the Constitution – how the Founders allegedly disdained federal authority – also ignores the fact that nearly all the Founders were advocates of replacing the Articles of Confederation (the state sovereignty document) with the Constitution.

Among its biggest advocates was George Washington who commanded the Continental Army when it was hamstrung by the lack of resources caused by the absence of federal taxing authority in the Articles of Confederation. Washington presided at the Constitutional Convention and was elected the nation’s first president under the Constitution.

Though the Tea Party doesn’t want to admit it – and it is an inconvenient truth for the American Right – the Constitution represented the most important expansion of federal power in American history.

[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a two-book set for the discount price of only $19. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

Largest Objects in the Universe

Jim Hightower at the Fighting Bob Fest: “Rick Perry Puts the Goober Back in Goobernatorial”

Here’s a nearly hot-off-the-podium barnburner by Jim Hightower, delivered at the Fighting Bob Fest in Wisconsin about an hour ago.

Hightower is a disturbance in the force. Among his gems:

“Rick Perry is Michelle Bachmann with better hair.”

“He’s George Bush, without the intellect.”

“Perry is a climate-change denier. Hello? His state is on fire!”

“Battling the bastards is just about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

America and Oil Declining Together?

Reprinted with permission from

by Michael Klare

America and Oil.  It’s like bacon and eggs, Batman and Robin.  As the old song lyric went, you can’t have one without the other.  Once upon a time, it was also a surefire formula for national greatness and global preeminence.  Now, it’s a guarantee of a trip to hell in a hand basket.  The Chinese know it.  Does Washington?

America’s rise to economic and military supremacy was fueled in no small measure by its control over the world’s supply of oil.  Oil powered the country’s first giant corporations, ensured success in World War II, and underlay the great economic boom of the postwar period.  Even in an era of nuclear weapons, it was the global deployment of oil-powered ships, helicopters, planes, tanks, and missiles that sustained America’s superpower status during and after the Cold War.  It should come as no surprise, then, that the country’s current economic and military decline coincides with the relative decline of oil as a major source of energy.

If you want proof of that economic decline, just check out the way America’s share of the world’s gross domestic product has been steadily dropping, while its once-powerhouse economy now appears incapable of generating forward momentum.  In its place, robust upstarts like China and India are posting annual growth rates of 8% to 10%.  When combined with the growing technological prowess of those countries, the present figures are surely just precursors to a continuing erosion of America’s global economic clout.

Militarily, the picture appears remarkably similar.  Yes, a crack team of SEAL commandos did kill Osama bin Laden, but that single operation — greeted in the United States with a jubilation more appropriate to the ending of a major war — hardly made up for the military’s lackluster performance in two recent wars against ragtag insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.  If anything, almost a decade after the Taliban was overthrown, it has experienced a remarkable resurgence even facing the full might of the U.S., while the assorted insurgent forces in Iraq appear to be holding their own.  Meanwhile, Iran — that bête noire of American power in the Middle East — seem as powerful as ever.  Al Qaeda may be on the run, but as recent developments in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and unstable Pakistan suggest, the United States wields far less clout and influence in the region now than it did before it invaded Iraq in 2003.

If American power is in decline, so is the relative status of oil in the global energy equation.  In the 2000 edition of its International Energy Outlook, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U.S. Department of Energy confidently foresaw ever-expanding oil production in Africa, Alaska, the Persian Gulf area, and the Gulf of Mexico, among other areas.  It predicted, in fact, that world oil output would reach 97 million barrels per day in 2010 and a staggering 115 million barrels in 2020.  EIA number-crunchers concluded as well that oil would long retain its position as the world’s leading source of energy.  Its 38% share of the global energy supply, they said, would remain unchanged.

What a difference a decade makes. By 2010, a new understanding about the natural limits of oil production had sunk in at the EIA and its experts were predicting a disappointingly modest petroleum future.  In that year, world oil output had reached just 82 million barrels per day, a stunning 15 million less than expected.  Moreover, in the 2010 edition of its International Energy Outlook, the EIA was now projecting 2020 output at 85 million barrels per day, hardly more than the 2010 level and 30 million barrels below its projections of just a decade earlier, which were relegated to the dustbin of history.  (Such projections, by the way, are for conventional, liquid petroleum and exclude “tough” and “dirty” sources that imply energy desperation — like Canadian tar sands, shale oil, and other “unconventional” fuels.)

The most recent EIA projections also show oil’s share of the world total energy supply — far from remaining constant at 38% — had already dropped to 35% in 2010 and was projected to continue declining to 32% in 2020 and 30% in 2035.  In its place, natural gas and renewable sources of energy are expected to assume ever more prominent roles.

So here’s the question all of us should consider, in part because until now no one has: Are the decline of the United States and the decline of oil connected?  Careful analysis suggests that there are good reasons to believe they are.

From Standard Oil to the Carter Doctrine

More than 100 years ago, America’s first great economic expansion abroad was spearheaded by its giant oil companies, notably John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company — a saga told with great panache in Daniel Yergin’s classic book The Prize. These companies established powerful beachheads in Mexico and Venezuela, and later in parts of Asia, North Africa, and of course the Middle East. As they became ever more dependent on the extraction of oil in distant lands, American foreign policy began to be reorganized around acquiring and protecting U.S. oil concessions in major producing areas.

With World War II and the Cold War, oil and U.S. national security becamethoroughly intertwined.  After all, the United States had prevailed over the Axis powers in significant part because it possessed vast reserves of domestic petroleum while Germany and Japan lacked them, depriving their forces of vital fuel supplies in the final years of the war.  As it happened, though, the United States was using up its domestic reserves so rapidly that, even before World War II was over, Washington turned its attention to finding new overseas sources of crude that could be brought under American control.  As a result, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and a host of other Middle Eastern producers would become key U.S. oil suppliers under American military protection.

There can be little question that, for a time, American domination of world oil production would prove a potent source of economic and military power.  After World War II, an abundance of cheap U.S. oil spurred the development of vast new industries, including civilian air travel, highway construction, a flood of suburban housing and commerce, mechanized agriculture, and plastics.

Abundant oil also underlay the global expansion of the country’s military power, as the Pentagon garrisoned the world while becoming one of the planet’s great oil guzzlers.  Its global dominion came to rest on an ever-expanding array of oil-powered ships, planes, tanks, and missiles.  As long as the Middle East — and especially Saudi Arabia — served essentially as an American gas station and oil remained a cheap commodity, all this was relatively painless.

In addition, thanks to its control of Middle Eastern oil, Washington had its hand on the economic jugular of Europe and Japan, both of which remain highly dependent on imports from the region.  Not surprisingly, then, one president after another insisted Washington would not permit any rival to challenge American control of that oil jugular — a principle enshrined in the Carter Doctrine of January 1980, which stated that the United States would go to war if any hostile power threatened the flow of Persian Gulf oil.

The use of military force, in accordance with that doctrine, has been a staple of American foreign policy since 1987, when President Ronald Reagan first applied the “principle” by authorizing U.S. warships to escort Kuwaiti tankers during the Iran-Iraq War.  George H. W. Bush invoked the same principle when he authorized American military intervention during the first Gulf War of 1990-1991, as did Bill Clinton when he ordered missile attacks on Iraq in the late 1990s and George W. Bush when he launched the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

At that moment, the United States and oil seemed at the pinnacle of their power.  As the victor in the Cold War and then the first Gulf War, the American military was ranked supreme, with no conceivable challenger on the horizon.  And nowhere were there more fervent believers in “unilateralist” America’s ability to “shock and awe” the planet than in Washington.  The nation’s economy still appeared relatively robust as a major housing bubble was just beginning to form.  China’s economy was then a paltry 15% as big as ours.  Only seven years later, it would be approximately 40% as large.  By invading Iraq, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld planned to demonstrate the crushing superiority of America’s new high-tech weaponry, while setting the stage for further military exploits in the region, including a possible attack on Iran.  (A neocon quip caught the mood of the moment: “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad.  Real men want to go to Tehran.”)

The future of oil seemed no less robust in 2003: demand was brisk, crude prices ranged from about $25 to $30 per barrel, and the concept of “peak oil” — the notion that planetary supplies were more limited than imagined, that in the near future production would reach its peak and subsequently contract — was still considered laughable by most industry experts.  By invading Iraq and setting uppermanent military bases at the very heart of the global oil heartlands, the White House expected to ensure continued control over the flow of Persian Gulf oil and gain access to Iraq’s voluminous reserves, the largest in the world after those of Saudi Arabia and Iran.

From an imperial point of view, it was a beautiful dream from which Americans were destined to awaken abruptly.  As a start, it quickly became apparent that American technological prowess was no panacea for urban guerrilla warfare, and so a vast occupation army was soon needed to “pacify” Iraq — and then pacify it again, and again, and again.  A similar dilemma arose in Afghanistan, where a tribal-based religious insurgency proved remarkably immune to superior American firepower.  To sustain hundreds of thousands of American soldiers in those distant, often inaccessible areas, the Department of Defense became the world’s single biggest consumer of oil, burning more on a daily basis than the entire nation of Sweden — this, at a time when the price of crude rose to $50, then $80, and finally soared over the $100 mark.  Procuring and delivering ever-increasing amounts of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel to American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan may not be the principal reason for the wars’ spiraling costs, but it certainly ranks among the major causes.  (Just the price of providing air conditioning to American troops in those two countries is now estimated at approximately $20 billion a year.)

With oil likely to prove increasingly scarce and costly, the Department of Defense is being forced to reexamine its fundamental operating principles when it comes to energy.  Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s notion that troops could be replaced by growing numbers of oil-powered super-weapons no longer appears viable, even for a power already garrisoning much of the planet for which “unending” war has become the new norm.

Yes, the Pentagon is looking into the use of biofuels, solar arrays, and other green alternatives to petroleum to power its planes and tanks, but any such future still seems an almost inconceivably long way off.  And yet the thought of more wars involving the commitment of vast numbers of ground troops to protracted counterinsurgency operations in distant parts of the Greater Middle East at $400 or more for every gallon of gas used appears increasingly unpalatable for the globe’s former “sole superpower.”  (Hence, the sudden burst of enthusiasm over drone wars.)  Seen from this perspective, the decline of America and the decline of oil appear closely connected indeed.

Don’t Bet on Washington

And this is hardly the only apparent connection.  Because the American economy is so closely tied to oil, it is especially vulnerable to oil’s growing scarcity, price volatility, and the relative paucity of its suppliers.  Consider this: at present, the United States obtains about 40% of its total energy supply from oil, far more than any other major economic power.  This means that when prices rise or oil supplies are disrupted for any reason — hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, war in the Middle East, environmental disasters of any sort — the economy is at particular risk. While a burst housing bubble and financial shenanigans lay behind the Great Recession that began in 2008, it’s worth remembering that it also coincided with the beginning of a stratospheric rise in oil prices.  As anyone who has pulled into a gas station knows, at an average price of nearly $3.70 a gallon for regular gas, the staying power of high-priced oil has crippled what, until recently, was being called a “weak recovery.”

Despite the great debt debate in Washington, oil is a factor seldom mentioned when American indebtedness comes up.  And yet the United States imports 50% to 60% of its oil supply, and with prices averaging at least $80 to $90 per barrel, we’re sending approximately $1 billion every day to foreign oil providers.  These payments constitute the single biggest contribution to the country’s balance-of-payments deficit and so is a major source of the nation’s economic weakness.

Consider for comparison our leading economic rival: China.  That country relies on oil for only about 20% of its total energy supply, about half as much as we do.  Instead, the Chinese have turned to coal, which they possess in great abundance and can produce at a relatively low cost.  (China, of course, pays a heavy environmental price for its coal dependency.)  The Chinese do import some petroleum, but considerably less than the U.S., so their import expenses are considerably smaller.  Nor do its oil-import costs have the same enfeebling effect, since China enjoys a positive balance of trade (in part, at America’s expense).  As a result, when oil prices soared to record heights in 2008 and again in 2011, Beijing experienced none of the trauma felt in Washington.

No doubt many factors explain the startling rise of the Chinese economy, including lower costs of production and weaker environmental regulations.  It is hard, however, to avoid the conclusion that our greater reliance on oil as it begins its decline has played a significant role in the changing balance of economic power between the two countries.

All this leads to a critical question:  How should America respond to these developments in the years ahead?

As a start, there can be no question that the United States needs to move quickly to reduce its reliance on oil and increase the availability of other energy sources, especially renewable ones that pose no threat to the environment.  This is not merely a matter of reducing our reliance on imported oil, as some have suggested.  As long as oil remains our preeminent source of energy, we will be painfully vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the global oil market, wherever problems may arise.  Only by embracing forms of energy immune to international disruption and capable of promoting investment at home can the foundations be laid for future economic progress.  Of course, this is easy enough to write, but with Washington in the grip of near-total political paralysis, it appears that continuing American decline, possibly of a precipitous sort, could be in the cards.

And don’t think that China will get away scot-free either.  If it doesn’t quickly embrace the new energy technologies, the environmental costs of its excessive reliance on coal will, sooner or later, cripple its development as well.  Unlike Washington, however, the Chinese leadership not only recognizes this, but is acting on it by making colossal investments in green energy technologies.  If China succeeds in dominating this field — as has already begun to happen — it could leave the United States in the dust when it comes to economic growth.  Ditching oil for the new energy technologies should be America’s top economic priority, but if you’re in a betting mood, you probably shouldn’t put your money on Washington.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet. A documentary movie version of his previous book, Blood and Oil, is available from the Media Education Foundation.

“Obama has ruined the Democratic Party”

Matt Stoller, writing in Salon, looks to history for examples of losses comparable to those the Democratic Party suffered in its 2010 “wipeout.” He says that the absence of a serious discussion of how to replace Obama on the 2012 ticket shows how weak the Democratic Party has become.

Obama has ruined the Democratic Party. The 2010 wipeout was an electoral catastrophe so bad you’d have to go back to 1894 to find comparable losses. From 2008 to 2010, according to Gallup, the fastest growing demographic party label was former Democrat. Obama took over the party in 2008 with 36 percent of Americans considering themselves Democrats. Within just two years, that number had dropped to 31 percent, which tied a 22-year low.

Of course, there are many rationalizations for Obama to remain the nominee. He’s faced difficult opposition. He’s passed major legislation. His presidency is historic. The economy is hard to resuscitate. But all such rationalizations evade the party’s responsibilities to actually choose the nominee best suited to win votes. If Obama looks unlikely to get enough votes to win, he should not get the nomination.

If would be one thing if Obama were failing because he was too close to party orthodoxy. Yet his failures have come precisely because Obama has not listened to Democratic Party voters. He continued idiotic wars, bailed out banks, ignored luminaries like Paul Krugman, and generally did whatever he could to repudiate the New Deal. The Democratic Party should be the party of pay raises and homes, but under Obama it has become the party of pay cuts and foreclosures. Getting rid of Obama as the head of the party is the first step in reverting to form.

Stoller then goes on to explain how money has come to dominate the nominating process since the primary was first implemented in the Democratic Party over forty years ago “as a response to party insiders having too much influence.” Consequently, it is now impossible to consider mounting a primary challenge without the support of some brave party insiders. But, he says, there is a precedent in history for such a challenge:

So what can party leaders do? History offers one model. In 1892, the Democratic Party nominated Grover Cleveland, and with sweeping majorities in both houses, Democrats had control of the federal government for the first time since before the Civil War. Then a financial crisis, plus Cleveland’s stubborn allegiance to banking interests, turned his presidency into a catastrophe for Democrats.

When taking state candidates into account, the 1894 midterm elections were comparable to the 2010 wipeout; Cleveland was disliked so ardently that party leaders pushed him out of running for reelection. Instead the Democrats nominated William Jennings Bryan, who introduced many populist themes into the party and began the ideological transformation that would culminate with the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.

If Stoller is right, and 1896 is a model for our current predicament, then this fact should also serve to remind us what a deep hole progressives are in, and what a long process it might be (decades?) to dig ourselves out. Maybe that’s the timescale on which we should base our planning and our expectations.

This is all rather grim.

In the meantime, Obama seems to be out ahead of the Republicans in his attack on such founding principles of the Democratic Party as Social Security and Medicare.

Consider Obama’s push to raise the Medicare eligibility age (which we may hear more about from him in his speech next week). Obama is obviously listening to health care industry officials. So, how does raising the Medicare eligibility age increase industry profits?

Matt Yglesias explains:

The reasons are somewhat complicated, but also profoundly simple. The health care industry charges one price to Medicare, a different higher price to insurance companies, and a third much-higher price to individuals. The smaller your purchasing pool, the higher the price that industry can charge. Consequently, shifting marginal people out of Medicare is lucrative for the health care industry. By the exact same token, if you’re interested in reducing health care costs, what you want to do is listen to executives of health care companies and then go do the reverse. Rather than raising the Medicare eligibility age, we ought to be lowering it. That would require new tax revenue, but the amount of new taxes it would cost would be lower than the reduction in private health care spending. Alternatively, and semi-equivalently, we could embrace a Medicare “buy-in” or add a public option with Medicare-linked payment rates to the coming health care exchange. Both domestically and internationally, it’s clearly the case that the way to reduce health care costs is to adopt more statist payment systems. UK health care is cheaper than Canadian health care is cheaper than American health care. In America, Medicare is cheaper than private insurance.

So, raising the Medicare eligibility age will not lower health care costs. It will actually increase these costs, but remove them from the federal government’s balance sheet and onto the budgets (and backs) of old people.

This will really hit us in the pocketbook.

With Democrats like Obama, Republicans have become completely superfluous.

Maybe that’s what President Obama is counting on us to believe.

Twelve Particles of Matter, Four Forces of Nature

Here the latest bit of poetry/science from Symphony of Science:

The Union Wants Your Opinion About the Idaho-Maryland Mine

Update at 7:45AM on 9/15/11: See comment #5 below (link) for why this so-called “poll” question is bogus, and why the results cannot be trusted, no matter which side they appear to favor.

The Union is conducting a poll among Facebook users concerning attitudes about re-opening the Idaho-Maryland Mine.

This is the single — and conspicuously leading — poll question:

With gold and unemployment at near-record highs, would you support reopening the Idaho-Maryland mine?

Since The Union doesn’t mind asking leading questions, maybe it should consider asking it this way:

With gold and unemployment at near-record highs, and the guarantee that you will be massively infested with fleas if you say no, would you support reopening the Idaho-Maryland mine?

To participate in the poll, click on either of the two links above.

Citizen-Consciousness vs. Consumer-Consciousness: A Paradigm Shift

Anna Haynes (of NCFocus) put me on to this problem, the problem of how most of us substitute individual consumer choice for collective citizen action, then imagine that we’ve done all we can do to address the great environmental issues of our day.

Anna referred me to this excellent essay by Sharon Begley.

On the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, Let’s … Go Shopping!
Buying green and changing personal behavior won’t save the planet.


“Shopping for the planet is just one manifestation of how green activism has gone seriously off course as it has spread a gospel of personal change rather than collective action. Of the Nature Conservancy’s five recommendations for Earth Day, four—figure out your carbon footprint here, time your shower, go for a walk (!), and find a farmers’ market—involve individual behavior.

” … As my colleague Ian Yarett documents in his progress report on the environment, every example of major environmental progress—reducing acid rain, improving air quality, restoring the ozone layer—has been the result of national legislation or a global treaty. We reduced acid rain by restricting industry’s sulfur emissions, not by all going out and sprinkling bicarb on sensitive forests and lakes. Leaded gasoline was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1996, not by everyone choosing to buy cars that run on unleaded. Ozone-chomping CFCs were banned by the 1987 Montreal Protocol, not by everyone deciding to forgo spray cans and air conditioning.”

There’s a connection, I think, between the (mostly right-wing) assault on government, on the idea of government as a force for good, and the erosion of our belief in ourselves as citizens. Advertising — political and product advertising — encourages us to think of ourselves primarily as consumers, and not primarily as citizens.

If we became effective citizens, might we become less dependable consumers? Does our political/commercial system have a vested interest in disempowering us as citizens?

Some of the best writing (and thinking) being done today often appears in the beautiful magazine, Orion. And today in Orion I spotted this essay by Sandra Steingraber on this very subject of individual (consumer) versus collective (citizen) action.

Steingraber speaks of “well-informed futility.” Take a look.

Household Tips from Warrior Mom!
On the desire to change lightbulbs instead of paradigms


“A decade ago, I published a book about the links between chemical exposures and cancer. The research for it required four years, two postdoctoral fellowships, and fluency with Freedom of Information Act requests. I attended workshops on cluster analysis and taught myself molecular epidemiology. I made field trips to cancer laboratories, studied tumor patterns among wildlife populations, and rode a cable down a three-hundred-foot shaft to look at groundwater. When the writing was all done, I helped prepare the publicity materials, which, among other things, claimed that my book was the first to bring together data on toxic releases with data from U.S. cancer registries. No one had attempted that before. It was a big book.

“One of my first stops on the author tour was a television talk show that taped in Hollywood. Dropping by for the requisite preinterview, I was greeted in the studio by a woman in a diminutive orange dress who said her name was—I’m not making this up—Tangerine. Tangerine instructed me to fill out seven index cards and bring them to the interview the next day. On each one, I was to jot down a single “cancer prevention tip.” These seven tips would appear as bullet points below my talking head. Tangerine encouraged me to think hard about each tip.

“Back at the hotel, I thought hard. Finally, I came up with my first tip: IDENTIFY CORPORATE POLLUTERS IN YOUR COMMUNITY.

“My second tip was something like, CONFRONT THEM.

“The next day, Tangerine freaked out.”


“After one discomfiting exchange on a college campus, a man from the audience approached me with a suggestion: Read Gerhart Wiebe, a psychologist who wrote, in 1973, that information about a problem over which people feel little sense of personal agency gives rise to “well-informed futility.” The more knowledgeable we are about such a problem, the more we are filled with paralyzing futility. Futility, in turn, forestalls action. Eventually, we turn away from the knowledge itself; no one likes to feel intolerably guilty, helpless, or afraid.”

Read the full article here.

Obama Continues Bush Practice of Shredding the Constitution

From Chris Hedges, former New York Times Middle East Bureau Chief:

Stopping Gadhafi forces from entering Benghazi six months ago, which I supported, was one thing. Embroiling ourselves in a civil war was another. And to do it Obama blithely shredded the Constitution and bypassed Congress in violation of the War Powers Resolution. Not that the rule of law matters much in Washington. The dark reasoning of George W. Bush’s administration was that the threat of terrorism and national security gave the executive branch the right to ignore all legal restraints. The Obama administration has made this disregard for law bipartisan. Obama assured us when this started that it was not about ‘regime change.’ But this promise proved as empty as the ones he made during his presidential campaign. He has ruthlessly prosecuted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where military planners speak of a continued U.S. presence for the next couple of decades. He has greatly expanded our proxy wars, which rely heavily on drone and missile attacks, as well as clandestine operations, in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. Add a few more countries and we will set the entire region alight.

Read full article here.

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