Friday, August 27, 2010

This American Dream

James Kwak and Simon Johnson have parallel essays commenting on Ariana Huffington's new book, Third World America.

The title alone reminds me of what used to be said of the United Kingdom — that it was the world's wealthiest Third World country. (I remember this from the 1980s, but I don't know when it began or whether people still speak of the UK so.) Paul Krugman, speaking with Eliot Spitzer and Bill Maher on HBO in September, 2009, effectively said the US is going the way of a Third World country:
Sometimes I wake up and think I'm in a Third World country.... The American Dream is not totally dead, but it's dying pretty fast."
In his essay, James Kwak notes a couple of nice quotations Huffington pulls from Tocqueville's Democracy in America, including what struck him as "the general equality of condition among the people."

Of course, Tocqueville was missing one group — the slaves. Hardly a minor oversight. Neither was he particularly concerned with the denial to women of the vote or the right to own property. But these can be "controlled for" in a comparison of American ages.

It would be interesting to gauge at what time in American history wealth was most unequally (and at what time most equally) distributed.

If you just confine yourselves to people who were allowed to own property and allowed to vote (that is, people treated substantially equally in law), then at what time were people most unequal.

The disparities in distribution today, if not the greatest ever, must be pretty close — and getting closer. I think the following position can reasonably (and forcefully) be made:

For thirty years, since the Reagan administration, formal and substantive democracy have been under attack in the United States. Protections for the individual, especially the less advantaged "commoner" (for want of better expression) have been deliberately worn down. The government, especially the executive branch, has steadily and successfully sought more power. Obama has not departed from the pattern from Reagan through to Bush in the slightest. Indeed, government intrusions into the lives of Americans have accelerated under Obama. Far from having a tax and social policy aimed at promoting greater equality, we have seen seen the US government repeatedly act to redistribute wealth from the middle class up to the wealthiest Americans. We have an increasingly wealthy Congress. Those members who do not start among the wealthiest do whatever they can to join — witness Charlie Rangel's crimes.

Above all, the culture of separation is being institutionalized. Wealthy versus The Rest of Us. And government and corporate leaders show almost no concern about this at all. Indeed, they appear, in large measure, to be endorsing the two-state America.

The question may now be: Just how un-democratic will the US become?

Coddling Conservatives

Dean Baker speculates about the obviously different treatment of op-ed essayists at The New York Times, namely the welcome for the often-wrong David Brooks versus Paul Krugman or Bob Herbert. Baker's points can be generalized to the mainstream media and politics.

The obvious question is: When do 'mistakes' rise to something more serious? On a host of issues, Brooks has been corrected again and again, by people like me and by people with infinitely more public presence. Yet he has frequently gone on to repeat [i]exactly[/i] that on which he was corrected. So is he just lying for propaganda purposes?

Brooks does this on international issues, economics, politics — you name it. Unlike a Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann, Brooks is more decorous in his misrepresentations (lies) — as is the New York Times generally.

Dean Baker is quite right, but he poses his case rhetorically, neither raising nor answering another obvious question: Given that liberals would indeed be treated as he describes and given that conservatives get just the opposite treatment, why is this the case? (There's a perfectly good reason for Baker to write so — we all know the answers!)

There is a parallel case with Barack Obama. Obama has coddled conservatives like Alan Simpson. He has packed his team with the likes of Geithner, Bernanke, Summers. He has systematically excluded liberals from discussions on labor, financial reform, education and health care. Currently, he is hunting for an excuse to [i]not[/i] nominate Elizabeth Warren.

The most simple — and plausible — explanation is both cases is that the executives [i]agree[/i] with their conservatives. Times editors agree with Brooks or Douthat (the far dimmer Brooks clone). Obama agrees with Summers, Geithner, Bernanke, Rubin — despite his vague and infrequent gestures in the direction of liberals and progressives.

What concrete evidence we do have confirms this. The Times has pretty clearly joined the Clinton-style 'moderates' against social security. It has been dragged into a tiny handful of stories revealing Israeli crimes, but largely continues to ignore them. It has repeatedly misrepresented issues of housing, banking, etc. Former reporters like Chris Hedges, John Hess, Sydney Schanberg have provided first-hand accounts.

And a handful of inside-reports on Obama — from people who have been in touch recently (e.g., Rashid Khalidi) and in the past (e.g., Penn professor Adolf Reed, Jr.) — confirm the same with the administration of President Zero.

The process of critics of the Times or Obama can be treated as a scientific one. We have a set of observations of consistent behavior. What explains it? What explains the near-total absence of Palestinians from the op-ed pages of the Times or the Post but the regular and frequent appearance of Israelis and their supporters? What explains the total absence of single-payer advocates from Obama discussions on health care reform? What explains the continued employment of Timothy Geithner or Alan Simpson but the quick abandonment of Charles Freeman? One or two isolated cases would allow endless speculation. The uninterrupted pattern of the Obama administration or The New York Times leaves far less room for interpretation.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Democracy's End

Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss has some comments on a current Ethan Bronner story in The New York Times. Weiss notes Bronner's effective recognition of the death of the Two State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If I read Weiss correctly, he thinks it may portend the end of the Jewish State. I think it may mark an alternative, depending on how wedded Israelis and their American champions are to Democracy. Israelis and Americans are facing, largely independently, a parallel choice between preserving two increasingly incompatible Articles of National Faith. In Israel's case, they are the notions of Democracy and Jewish Statehood (which were arguably incompatible from the start, emphasis on arguably — not necessarily in my view). In the case of the US, the two are Democracy and (unlimited acquisition of) Wealth (termed free enterprise, private property — it has several names).

If the US and Israel are not already at a Moment of Truth (drumroll), they soon will be. The Jewish State may be finished, or — if Americans and Israelis choose to junk some other cherished notion — it may continue in radically altered form.

The obvious alternative to be junked is democracy. My view is that it will be the democracy that is dumped — not explicitly, but in substance and with a widespread, unstated recognition that this is what is happening.

There are calls in the Knesset for a more systematic denial of rights to Palestinians, but this has been true for some time. Likewise, there is a systematic denial of equal rights to non-Jews in Israel. The vast majority of non-Jews are Palestinian, so that systematic denial does the work, not just of latent racism, but of preserving the "Jewish character" of the Jewish state.

A further emphasis on protecting "Jewish character" to resolve the tension between a Two State Solution and Jewish Statehood will also bring denials of democracy to Jews in Israel. This, too, is happening with the grossly disproportionate power of the religious right. Israel is also seeing some evidence of liberal-intellectual flight.

How is the de-democratization of Israel to be managed in The World's Greatest Democracy? A good deal of Orwellian linguistic construction aided by the non-quite-coincidental de-democratization of the United States. Economists, first on the left and now increasingly among liberals, are noting this. And progressives generally have been warning of this since the Reagan years, when the "Danger of Too Much Democracy" was first attacked with malice aforethought.

In an interview with Bill Maher, Paul Krugman said, "The American Dream isn't dead, but it's dying pretty fast." Dean Baker has an essay on the service Congress renders to Wall Street and corporate America — not to us. Essential to Democracy are social mobility and some ideal of socio-economic equality serving as a goal. Both are near-dead in the US. Our politicians are becoming a political class. They become wealthier, use their elected positions to ensure or promote their own wealth and, if they leave office, go to work for precisely the companies they regulated (or didn't) through legislation. Their children take office after they leave. If we haven't already, when will we see a third-generation Kennedy take office — or a Murkowsi, Paul, Cuomo, Bush . . . ?

Elections are becoming near-irrelevant in the US. The great beacon of Change and Hope — Obama — has proved to be anything but, indeed almost the opposite. Who could imagine that Obama would not just fail to address Bush crimes, but actually further some of Bush's worst?

The decline of democracy in the US — coupled crucially with Orwellian language to perpetuate the Myth of Democracy — will make it easier for Israel-idealogues in the US to maintain the pretense that Israel is a democracy.

The irony in Israel's case is that a profound change in Judaism itself may be a consequence. If Judaism is identified with the Jewish State (as it is, above all by conservatives), then as Israel becomes more right-wing, less democratic and more discriminatory, Judaism will, sadly and possibly tragically, be also so identified. Liberal Jews will seek religious solace elsewhere, some abandoning Judaism, others seeking to create a true, liberal Jewish faith. Judaism will evolve in a way exactly counter to, and as a consequence of, what conservatives intend.

What will happen in the US is anybody's guess. Legal institution of oligarchy? Perhaps that is already happening with the formal protections granted Wall Street and corporate profiteering.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Violent Fence-Sitters and Villains
in the Field of American Racism

Salon has a nice, but not quite complete, essay by Alex Pareene on the Heroes and Villains of the ill-named (but very deliberately named, with malice aforethought) "Ground Zero Mosque" furore.

I have my own take on the villains especially. Pareene rightly names as heroes Jerrold Nadler, Michael Bloomberg, Al Franken, Russ Feingold, Sherrod Brown, Joe Sestak, Ted Olson, Grover Norquist. At least three people there with whom I almost never agree, but on this, they are great. People of Principle.

Barack Obama leads the pack of violent fence-sitters — prominent individuals with neither the decency nor courage to do what justice and morality demand. Also in this pack are Kirsten Gillibrand, David Paterson, Howard Dean, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and on and on. They are the silent or near-silent go-along-to-get-along types who in some ways do more damage than the unalloyed bigots like Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Pamela Geller and Abe Foxman. The violent fence-sitters are the ones who enable huge numbers to also sit on the sidelines or, worse, to edge toward a bigoted stance that in some part they know is wrong.

As for Anthony Weiner and Charles Schumer, they are long-standing, pseudo-respectable crypto-racists. Their violent support for Israel has forced their intellectual machinery into a hatred of Arabs and Muslims they would otherwise reject wholeheartedly.

They are examples of the peculiar elasticity of the Web of Belief (as philosopher Willard van Orman Quine called it). That is, if a person is sufficiently devoted to one point, he or she is quite capable of adjusting whatever else needs adjusting to accommodate that point.

Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, Pamela Geller, Joseph Lieberman — They are true racists to the core. Gingrich, Palin and Giuliani believe in the innate supremacy of white Christians; Geller and Lieberman believe the same of Jews. Their mental machinery is the same in form as that of the Nazis circa 1937. (And I mean that quite seriously, with all that it implies. They are people who would commit genocide if they thought the world would tolerate it today.)

By contrast, Schumer and Wiener are Adjusted Bigots. Their bigotry is the illogical, irrational consequence of a desperate need to maintain the Sanctity of Israel over all other things. Unlike the Gingriches or Gellers, they do not begin with a racist premise; they arrive at racist conclusion.

The web of belief need not be so elastic. Jerrold Nadler is an ardent supporter of Israel. Unlike Schumer or Wiener, he is also a defender of the Rights of American Muslims. Likewise, Michael Bloomberg, whom I usually loathe. He has been outstanding on this.

All that said, Salon should add to the list of Heroes both Charlie Rangel, who may be trying to recover some moral high ground, and Al Franken, who has repeatedly surprised me as one of the most intelligent people in Congress in recent decades.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Letter to Ross Douthat

Sent Wednesday, 18 August, after I suffered through the idiocy of Ross Douthat on PBS's NewsHour, hosted by the even more racist Jim Lehrer:
Mr. Douthat:

You're a master of the New York Times art of sounding reasonable while advocating bigotry.

Where is your condemnation of Pamela Geller, who profits by the most unambiguously racist diatribes? Where is your condemnation of the Israeli desecration of a Muslim cemetery (Mamilla) in Jerusalem, ostensibly for purposes of building a "Museum of Tolerance"?

You need to confront some realities about yourself. You're a racist.


Hugh Sansom

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ross Douthat — Just Another New York Times Racist

Ross Douthat, like Thomas Friedman or David Brooks, is a New York Times artist — a master of dressing viciousness, bigotry and just raw stupidity in 'delicate' language. The test of a Douthat (or Brooks or Friedman) essay is to replace the targeted ethnic group with the name of another. As yourself then how you react to his "reasonable" blanket assertions.

Today, Douthat weighs in — with pathetic predictability — on the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy. How a person names the proposed development is the first indicator of where he or she falls in the spectrum of American bigotry. Douthat is marginally less awful than the loudest bigots on the Islamic cultural center. He's roughly in the Abe Foxman/ADL camp. Also predictable for Douthat, who spends a good deal of time trying such up to perceived power.

We could call this Harvard-Times Bigotry. It is the kind of bigotry that will lead a Harvard president (Larry Summers) to condemn as anti-Semitic calls for divestment from Israel but remain silent (Drew Gilpin Faust) on a Israeli professor's (Martin Kramer's) explicit call for genocide against the Palestinians. It is what allows the Times to equivocate on an Islamic cultural center while supporting Israeli atrocities in Gaza.

Harvard-Times Bigotry takes a specific form. It begins with a token 'recognition' of the weaknesses of the privileged oppressor. So Israeli suffers from an "excessive" (but "understandable") obsession with self-defense. Americans enjoy the "wonderful tradition" of democracy and tolerance mixed with the "social norms" of Anglo-Saxons.

Douthat can't even get his history right — cultural or even simple, basic factual.

"... where the newest arrival to our shores is no less American than the ever-so-great granddaughter of the Pilgrims." Really?! I thought the Constitution expressly stipulates a birth requirement for the American presidency.

That's just one example of the shallow apologies Ross Douthat offers for American racism and bigotry. By doing so, he betrays himself as one of those bigots.

Douthat is the second person I've seen refer to American "nativism". (See also Robert Schlesinger in US News & World Report." We can translate "nativism" to what it really means in 2010 America — racism. Racism. And Ross Douthat is unambiguously (though he tries to mask it) defending — indeed, advocating, racism.

Douthat differs from Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich only by toning down sweeping, unfounded assertions about Islam and Muslims.

We know — conclusively — how the Times would respond of such sweeping claims were made about Jews and Judaism. Such claims are made with regard to Israel's war crimes in Occupied Palestine, something Douthat has never and will never critique or criticize, when some condemn all Jews for the crimes of one state.

Likewise, the Times would condemn – probably bar — blanket condemnation of Christians and Christianity, a condemnation many might find quite reasonable given the past 1000 years of intolerance and war in most Christian nations.

So why is Douthat allowed to commit exactly the vile wrongs that would rightly be damned if committed against any group other than Muslims and Islam?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Young Friedmanstein

Glenn Greenwald has a piece in Salon and Jonathan Schwarz in A Tiny Revolution on Jeffrey Goldberg's newest entry in the bid for More War — War with Iran.

Jeffrey Goldberg is a young Thomas Friedman, with shades of Judy Miller (shades shared by Friedman 30 years ago, when he was coming up).

Simmering out of sight is plenty of plausibility-evidence to undermine Goldberg's claims (not that any such evidence will make any difference to the mainstream). For one thing, Iran is not suicidal. They know how an attack on Israel would go — massive Israeli (and almost certainly American) retaliation, truly massive, as in Dresden-Hiroshima massive.

Second, if American and Israeli government and mainstream claims are to be believed (a very big "if"), then Iran is doing perfectly well needling Israel via Hamas and Hezbollah. Why go overt when you can stay covert and maintain 'plausible deniability'?

Ultimately, the question regarding Goldbergs (and Netanyahus, Cheneys, etc.) is, Why? Do they really think Iran is a threat? My guess is that they do. They are so bigoted, such thoroughly violent true believers, that they really do believe that even purely verbal criticism constitutes a physical attack on Israel.

That raises the question: After Iran, then what? Do Goldberg and Company believe that, with the Iranians gone, the Palestinians will just disappear? Or that Israel will then be able to annex southern Lebanon with all its water resources? Or take the east bank of the Jordan River? Or retake the Sinai?

Israel and its 'allies' seem to proceed with on the premise that any and every war is just a natural prelude to the next war. (Obama shows no sign of thinking all that differently.)

So after Iraq, ramp up Afghanistan. Then Iran. Then . . . ? Is the monster unstoppable?

Monday, August 9, 2010

American Workers — Screwed.

I posted the following comments on the website of NPR's Takeaway:

If I remember correctly, Lachman Achuthan now believes that the US is now bound to see a double-dip recession. There's no way around it.

The temp workforce has steadily grown for at least 20 years. Temps enjoy _no_ safety net. When they lose their jobs, they go straight for welfare, food pantries, etc. They do not qualify for unemployment compensation.

I'm not strictly a temp — I'm a freelancer, and I've been one for twenty years. Freelancers are effectively specialized temps. Both temps and freelancers fall under the general category of contractual workerse. Editors in a variety of media, designers, creatives of many kinds, are often temps. Their industries are seasonal; work is project-based and thus highly variable. Moreover, many companies have laid off people and then just brought those very people back as freelancers or temps.

Wages in the freelance industries have been going down for ten years. They peaked in the late 90s and 2000. In New York after 9/11, things just fell apart and have never fully recovered.

Now with the prolonged, severe downturn, I'm seeing pay decline to where it was 20 years ago. I know _extremely_ experienced people — award-winning editors, designers, animators — take jobs at levels they haven't accepted since they were in the 20s. (These are people in the 40s.)

So, consider any measure of the quality and quantity of work in the 'standard' on-staff work environments, and you can be confident things are _worse_ for freelance and temp workers.

Legal protections for temps and freelancers are often non-existent. Discrimination (especially on the basis of age) is rampant.

A growing problem centers on the unpaid or very low paid "internship." Companies seeking to cut costs turn a paid position into an unpaid internship. The federal and a few state governments (including New York's) are beginning to pay attention to this, but again, there is remarkably little protection for contractual workers.

If/when jobs pick up for temps, it will still be in the context of a prolonged decline in conditions for American workers that began in the Reagan years. Americans worker longer and for fewer benefits than any others in the G8 (with the likely exception of Russia — hardly an encouraging benchmark). Social mobility in the US is the lowest of any leading industrial economy — much much lower than in the countries of Western Europe. There is growing talk in the Obama administration and in Congress of raising the retirement age to 70. (It was already raised to 67. By contrast, France recently angered citizens by raising its retirement age . . . from 60 to 62.)

In the 1950s, economists were concerned about a future workforce facing too much time on its hands, once retirement was lowered to 55, or less, and work weeks were shorter. Exactly the opposite has occurred. Americans are more productive, more hardworking, and we are rewarded ever less.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

New York Times Reports on Anti-Muslim Bigotry
With NO Mention of Bigotry

Laurie Goodstein reports in today's New York Times (Sunday, 8 August 2010) of opposition to mosques anywhere and everywhere across the US. The story is amazing for the total absence of keywords like "bigotry," "discrimination," "intolerance," "racism," etc.

As the character of Cromwell says in A Man for All Seasons, "This silence speaks." Why does the Times studiously avoid use of certain words with regard to Muslims — words it would absolutely use in any other comparable instance involving any other ethnic group?

My email to Laurie Goodstein this morning:
Dear Ms. Goodstein:

How is it that a story on what certainly seems to be widespread American bigotry and intolerance includes not one use of any of the words that would normally be used: bigotry, intolerance, racism, discrimination, etc.

The closest your story comes is "anti-immigrant". But is transparently obvious that the hostility to mosques _anywhere_ is not about immigrants. The lower Manhattan center is being advocated by Americans, not immigrants.

Do you think a story on hostility or outright (often violent) opposition to a synagogue _could_ be written without raising the issue of anti-Semitism?


Hugh Sansom

And my letter to Arthur Brisbane, the new Times "Public Editor."
Dear Mr. Brisbane:

I wonder what goes on in the heads of Times editors, especially on hot-button topics where the Times engages in linguistic contortionism to do ... something. The use of the word "torture" to describe American war crimes (note my use of words) is a good example.

Today's Times provides another example — one for textbooks — Laurie Goodstein's report on opposition to mosques across the US.

In New York City, there have been threats of violence, including _bombing_, against mosque projects — not just the project near the World Trade Center, but at ones on Staten Island (killed by opponents) and another in Brooklyn (see NYT, June 10: "Heated Opposition to Proposed Mosque" )

Remarkably, Laurie Goodstein makes no mention at all of threats of physical violence — ones that would be called terrorism were they al Qaeda threats against Americans (or Arab threats of any kinds against any Westerner).

Equally remarkably, Laurie Goodstein makes no mention whatsoever of bigotry, discrimination, racism, intolerance....

Can you imagine a story on repeated, often threatening opposition to synagogues that would _not_ raise the issue of anti-Semitism?


Hugh Sansom

Saturday, August 7, 2010

College Degrees Evaporate in the US

Bob Herbert writes to lament the decline of the US on the world stage of higher education. The decline is just a part of a larger anti-intellectualism in the US.

If there is no good example of learning and inquiry in the halls of power and prestige (on Wall Street, in Washington, in the idolized entertainment fields), is it any surprise that the US is in freefall on higher education?

The US has a government and a news-media system that actively opposes open-mindedness, healthy criticism and skepticism, inquiry — all while publicly endorsing all of these, especially while annihilating whole countries "for their own good." Look at the widespread condemnation of Wikileaks, which found a niche precisely because the US news media has not been doing what it claims.

Obama — supposed champion of change — appoints only Harvard and Yale grads, hardly institutions worthy of admiration after twenty years of deplorable economic analysis, criminal graduates fomenting wars, etc. Obama is more conservative than Bush on whistleblowers. He was dragged kicking and screaming into releasing documents that he had previously promised to make public.

Where is the diversity of intellectual analysis, inquiry, challenge? It is utterly utterly absent from the American public arena. Progressives are systematically excluded from the mainstream media with only a tiny and fairly tame representation at MSNBC and a couple of others. PBS killed NOW and has offered no replacement for Bill Moyers, who was absolutely the most incisive of regular analysts of current events and any major media outlet.

A college degree is valuable in the US only for purposes of getting a job. On any other count, Americans — beginning at the *top* — oppose the values higher education is supposed to foster.

What "On" the Media Really Means

New York's WNYC runs a news analysis program, On the Media, at the obscure hour of 7 in the morning . . . on Saturday — bound to get a lot of listeners then.

This morning, August 7th, On the Media had Shane Harris of The Washingtonian to prate about Wikileaks, whistleblowing and Obama's Bushian hostility to openness, transparency, democracy, rights, etc. — all the things that he endorsed during his 2008 campaign.

Below, my criticism, directly delivered to On the Media.

Pretty sad excuse for analysis on Obama and leaks, On the Media.

You utterly fail to raise key points:

1. Wikileaks says, with evidence, that it DID approach the Obama administration and Obama dismissed them.

2. No mention that there has been a steady attack on FOIA for 20 years and that Obama has joined Bush in attacking FOIA.

3. You failed to mention that by both liberal and libertarian thinking (i.e., excepting only so-called moderates and conservatives), the prevailing view is that information held by OUR government is OUR information. Pure right.

4. You clearly, but tacitly, buy into the mainstream media is right dogma. There would have been no _market_ for Wikileaks if not for the glaring, repeated, and gross failures of the New York Times, NPR, CNN and others. The Times, for example, has repeatedly buried stories until it was too late for them to have any relevant and _preventive_ effect. NPR is _worse_ -- by a long margin. And CNN -- under the 'exalted' Walter Isaacson _allowed_ the Pentagon to place what in effect were propagandists in its newsroom.

Outrageous that On the Media had not the courage or even the decency to dig any further than the shallow pandering Shane Harris.