Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It’s The Economy Stupid, And It’s Time To Stop The Political Theater And Get Serious.

 It’s The Economy Stupid, And It’s Time To Stop The Political Theater And Get Serious.





The Zombie Ideas Have Won: Cash For Trash




America Is in Need of a Moral Bailout

By Chris Hedges


March 23, 2009 "TruthDig" -- -In decaying societies, politics become theater. The elite, who have hollowed out the democratic system to serve the corporate state, rule through image and presentation. They express indignation at AIG bonuses and empathy with a working class they have spent the last few decades disenfranchising, and make promises to desperate families that they know will never be fulfilled. Once the spotlights go on they read their lines with appropriate emotion. Once the lights go off, they make sure Goldman Sachs and a host of other large corporations have the hundreds of billions of dollars in losses they incurred playing casino capitalism repaid with taxpayer money. 


We live in an age of moral nihilism. We have trashed our universities, turning them into vocational factories that produce corporate drones and chase after defense-related grants and funding. The humanities, the discipline that forces us to stand back and ask the broad moral questions of meaning and purpose, that challenges the validity of structures, that trains us to be self-reflective and critical of all cultural assumptions, have withered. Our press, which should promote such intellectual and moral questioning, confuses bread and circus with news and refuses to give a voice to critics who challenge not this bonus payment or that bailout but the pernicious superstructure of the corporate state itself. We kneel before a cult of the self, elaborately constructed by the architects of our consumer society, which dismisses compassion, sacrifice for the less fortunate, and honesty. The methods used to attain what we want, we are told by reality television programs, business schools and self-help gurus, are irrelevant. Success, always defined in terms of money and power, is its own justification. The capacity for manipulation is what is most highly prized. And our moral collapse is as terrifying, and as dangerous, as our economic collapse.


Theodor Adorno in 1967 wrote an essay called "Education After Auschwitz." He argued that the moral corruption that made the Holocaust possible remained "largely unchanged." He wrote that "the mechanisms that render people capable of such deeds" must be made visible. Schools had to teach more than skills. They had to teach values. If they did not, another Auschwitz was always possible.


"All political instruction finally should be centered upon the idea that Auschwitz should never happen again," he wrote. "This would be possible only when it devotes itself openly, without fear of offending any authorities, to this most important of problems. To do this, education must transform itself into sociology, that is, it must teach about the societal play of forces that operates beneath the surface of political forms."


Our elites are imploding. Their fraud and corruption are slowly being exposed as the disparity between their words and our reality becomes wider and more apparent. The rage that is bubbling up across the country will have to be countered by the elite with less subtle forms of control. But unless we grasp the "societal play of forces that operates beneath the surface of political forms" we will be cursed with a more ruthless form of corporate power, one that does away with artifice and the seduction of a consumer society and instead wields power through naked repression. 


I had lunch a few days ago in Toronto with Henry Giroux, professor of English and cultural studies at McMaster University in Canada and who for many years was the Waterbury Chair Professor at Penn State. Giroux, who has been one of the most prescient and vocal critics of the corporate state and the systematic destruction of American education, was driven to the margins of academia because he kept asking the uncomfortable questions Adorno knew should be asked by university professors. He left the United States in 2004 for Canada.


"The emergence of what Eisenhower had called the military-industrial-academic complex had secured a grip on higher education that may have exceeded even what he had anticipated and most feared," Giroux, who wrote "The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex," told me. "Universities, in general, especially following the events of 9/11, were under assault by Christian nationalists, reactionary neoconservatives and market fundamentalists for allegedly representing the weak link in the war on terrorism. Right-wing students were encouraged to spy on the classes of progressive professors, the corporate grip on the university was tightening as made clear not only in the emergence of business models of governance, but also in the money being pumped into research and programs that blatantly favored corporate interests. And at Penn State, where I was located at the time, the university had joined itself at the hip with corporate and military power. Put differently, corporate and Pentagon money was now funding research projects and increasingly knowledge was being militarized in the service of developing weapons of destruction, surveillance and death. Couple this assault with the fact that faculty were becoming irrelevant as an oppositional force. Many disappeared into discourses that threatened no one, some simply were too scared to raise critical issues in their classrooms for fear of being fired, and many simply no longer had the conviction to uphold the university as a democratic public sphere."


Frank Donoghue, the author of "The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities," details how liberal arts education has been dismantled. Any form of learning that is not strictly vocational has at best been marginalized and in many schools has been abolished. Students are steered away from asking the broad, disturbing questions that challenge the assumptions of the power elite or an economic system that serves the corporate state. This has led many bright graduates into the arms of corporate entities they do not examine morally or ethically. They accept the assumptions of corporate culture because they have never been taught to think.


Only 8 percent of U.S. college graduates now receive degrees in the humanities, about 110,000 students. Between 1970 and 2001, bachelor's degrees in English declined from 7.6 percent to 4 percent, as did degrees in foreign languages (2.4 percent to 1 percent), mathematics (3 percent to 1 percent), social science and history (18.4 percent to 10 percent). Bachelor's degrees in business, which promise the accumulation of wealth, have skyrocketed. Business majors since 1970-1971 have risen from 13.6 percent of the graduation population to 21.7 percent. Business has now replaced education, which has fallen from 21 percent to 8.2 percent, as the most popular major.


The values that sustain an open society have been crushed. A university, as John Ralston Saul writes, now "actively seeks students who suffer from the appropriate imbalance and then sets out to exaggerate it. Imagination, creativity, moral balance, knowledge, common sense, a social view-all these things wither. Competitiveness, having an ever-ready answer, a talent for manipulating situations-all these things are encouraged to grow. As a result amorality also grows; as does extreme aggressivity when they are questioned by outsiders; as does a confusion between the nature of good versus having a ready answer to all questions. Above all, what is encouraged is the growth of an undisciplined form of self-interest, in which winning is what counts."


This moral nihilism would have terrified Adorno. He knew that radical evil was possible only with the collaboration of a timid, cowed and confused population, a system of propaganda and a press that offered little more than spectacle and entertainment and an educational system that did not transmit transcendent values or nurture the capacity for individual conscience. He feared a culture that banished the anxieties and complexities of moral choice and embraced a childish hyper-masculinity, one championed by ruthless capitalists (think of the brutal backstabbing and deception cheered by TV shows like "Survivor") and Hollywood action heroes like the governor of California.


"This educational ideal of hardness, in which many may believe without reflecting about it, is utterly wrong," Adorno wrote. "The idea that virility consists in the maximum degree of endurance long ago became a screen-image for masochism that, as psychology has demonstrated, aligns itself all too easily with sadism." 


Sadism is as much a part of popular culture as it is of corporate culture. It dominates pornography, runs like an electric current through reality television and trash-talk programs and is at the core of the compliant, corporate collective. Corporatism is about crushing the capacity for moral choice. And it has its logical fruition in Abu Ghraib, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our lack of compassion for the homeless, our poor, the mentally ill, the unemployed and the sick.


"The political and economic forces fuelling such crimes against humanity-whether they are unlawful wars, systemic torture, practiced indifference to chronic starvation and disease or genocidal acts-are always mediated by educational forces," Giroux said. "Resistance to such acts cannot take place without a degree of knowledge and self-reflection. We have to name these acts and transform moral outrage into concrete attempts to prevent such human violations from taking place in the first place."


The single most important quality needed to resist evil is moral autonomy. Moral autonomy, as Immanuel Kant wrote, is possible only through reflection, self-determination and the courage not to cooperate.


Moral autonomy is what the corporate state, with all its attacks on liberal institutions and "leftist" professors, has really set out to destroy. The corporate state holds up as our ideal what Adorno called "the manipulative character." The manipulative character has superb organizational skills and the inability to have authentic human experiences. He or she is an emotional cripple and driven by an overvalued realism. The manipulative character is a systems manager. He or she exclusively trained to sustain the corporate structure, which is why our elites are wasting mind-blowing amounts of our money on corporations like Goldman Sachs and AIG. "He makes a cult of action, activity, of so-called efficiency as such which reappears in the advertising image of the active person," Adorno wrote of this personality type. These manipulative characters, people like Lawrence Summers, Henry Paulson, Robert Rubin, Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner, AIG's Edward Liddy and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, along with most of our ruling class, have used corporate money and power to determine the narrow parameters of the debate in our classrooms, on the airwaves and in the halls of Congress while they looted the country.


"It is especially difficult to fight against it," warned Adorno, "because those manipulative people, who actually are incapable of true experience, for that very reason manifest an unresponsiveness that associates them with certain mentally ill or psychotic characters, namely schizoids."


Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America." 


A Mockery of Moral Outrage | By Peter Schweizer


The mock outrage that we've seen in our nation's capital over the past couple of weeks surrounding the compensation of AIG employees has to go down as one of the greatest performances in thespian history…


Mock outrage is common to Washington. It makes for good media coverage and it has a wonderful moral tone to it.

But the mock outrage that we’ve seen in our nation’s capital over the past couple of weeks surrounding the compensation of AIG employees has to go down as one of the greatest performances in thespian history.

Not only is it now clear that many of those feigning outrage knew about the bonuses several weeks ago, the outrage is directed only at employees and not the more troublesome problem of campaign donations.

But even more troubling than this moral sleight of hand is how campaign contributions continue to roll into Washington — even from companies such as AIG.

We have all become accustomed to the fact that money and politics mix. Congress votes all the time on legislation that directly or indirectly affects companies and individuals that have donated to their campaigns. This is how business (sadly) is done in Washington.

But in the cocktail that has been brewed of federal bailouts, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), and campaign contributions, we have a potent drink that if ignored threatens to eat through the internal organs of our political system.

We are no longer talking about congressmen voting on legislation that might influence the profitability of a certain industry or raise their taxes. We now have a situation where members of Congress are taking campaign contributions and then voting to directly give cash — billions of dollars — to individual companies.

The ramped up-scandal concerning bonuses paid to AIG executives masks a far more important issue: the campaign contributions that AIG has given to those who are most aggressively seeking to give it federal funds.

In the 2008 election cycle, AIG and its employees gave more than $100,000 to Barack Obama ’s campaign, and more than $103,000 to Sen. Christopher J. Dodd , D-Conn. Other recipients include Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. ($19,975), Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton ($35,965) and Sen. John McCain , R-Ariz., more than $59,000.

There is also the matter of direct AIG donations to political parties. As the Washington Times recently reported, on the eve of the bailout, AIG gave a $100,000 donation to the New York Democratic Party.

The money that was given to AIG didn’t all stay with AIG; much of it went to other banks. These include Goldman Sachs (which gave Obama $653,000 in campaign contributions), Citigroup ($653,000), JP Morgan Chase ($646,000), Morgan Stanley ($485,000), Bank of America ($274,000) and Wachovia ($214,000).

Amazingly (or not), the flow of money has continued since the bailout — and the majority of it has gone to Obama (?). As Newsweek recently pointed out, it’s the same story on Capitol Hill, where recipients of TARP money such as Bank of America, have been passing out cash to the election committees of members of Congress from both parties.

Imagine for a second that a county judge has been ruling on a bankruptcy case and it emerges that he has taken campaign contributions from the company seeking protection from its creditors. Wouldn’t we expect the judge to recuse himself? Wouldn’t there be cries of “conflict of interest” if he not only ruled on the case but continued to receive donations? The fact that so few have raised these objections about what is going on in Washington shows just how far our ethical standards have fallen.

Individuals and companies can continue to make these contributions because they have a First Amendment right to free speech. No one should take that away from them. But with the chorus from Washington for AIG execs to return their bonus money, here’s an idea: why don’t our elected officials in Washington return the campaign contributions they have received in the last year from their troubled companies we are now bailing out?

If it’s distasteful for AIG executives to get bonuses with taxpayer money, it should be even more distasteful for members of Congress and presidents to get campaign contributions courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. And then our elected officials can take things a step further and promise that they wouldn’t take any campaign money from these companies in the future until they have paid the government back.

It’s time for our elected officials to lead by example, not by mock outrage.

Peter Schweizer is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a New York Times best-selling author. His first novel, “Chain of Command,” was coauthored with former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.

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Pundits Gone Wild (in Dumping on Obama)


Sitck a fork in it. Obama's presidency is done. He's lost the people. He's adrift. He's screwed the pooch.

Some pundits are already pronouncing the O Era a bust--or suggesting it's near the cliff's edge. In the White House press room, reporters routinely ask press secretary Robert Gibbs if the Obama White House has already lost its mojo. Over at The Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes has declared Obama's stint a "flailing presidency." Given that Barnes considers the Bush presidency one of the best in this country's long history, his success-o-meter may be in need of recalibration. Barnes verdict is based mostly on the AIG bonus mess, which he calls a "crisis." Maybe for Senator Chris Dodd. But for most folks--including the man in the White House--the true crisis is the collapse of the economy. Certainly, the White House did not handle the AIG business well last week. But by bringing up Watergate while referring to the AIG business, Barnes shows how desperate he is to turn a bruise into a coma.

Over at Newser.com, media-poker Michael Wolff also went after Obama. He called him a "terrible bore." And--insult of insults--he compared him to Jimmy Carter. Obama's great sin, in Wolff's eye? He delivered a "turgid teachy fiscal lecture" on Jay Leno's show on Thursday night. Wolff goes on:

The guy just doesn't know what to say. He can't connect.. Emotions are here, he's over there. He can't get the words to match the situation...You can see the fundamental mistake he's making. Having been so successfully elected, he's acting like people actually want to hear what he thinks. He's the great earnest bore at the dinner party. Instead of singing for his supper, he's just talking--and going on at length. The real job of making people part of the story you're telling, of having them hang on your every word, of getting the tone and detail right, the hard job of holding a conversation, he ain't doing.

Last time, I checked, Barack Obama's approval ratings were still relatively high. Much higher than what you might expect of a dinner-table bore. Wolff''s grading scale is a bit odd for a president:

He thinks it's all about him. That we want him for himself--that he doesn't have to seduce, charm, surprise, show some skin.

Wollf's real beef appears to be with Obama's style: "This guy is leaden and this show is in trouble."

It's not my job to do White House press secretary Robert Gibbs' job. But, jeez, in less than two months, Obama has passed one of the biggest spending packages in history (yeah, it has pork in it, as well as billions for progressive programs) and has crafted a budget loaded with various innovations (and hundreds of billions of dollars for expanding health care). He's signed a bunch of executive orders implementing fundamental change on assorted matters of significance,: Gitmo, torture, FOIA, ethics, family planning funds, stem cells research and more. He's signed into law an equal pay bill and a measure expanding the state children's health insurance program. He's brought science back into federal agency decision-making. He's begun a withdrawal in Iraq. He's ordered a review of policy in Afghanistan. He's seeking fresh starts in US relations with Russia and Iran. He's rolled out plans--detailed or not--for dealing with the banking crisis, the mortgage crisis, toxic assets, and excessive corporate compensation. In the works is an additional plan for financial reregulation. And he's done all of this while staffing up the federal government and initiating the process of appointing federal judges.

In the long run, there's no telling whether Obama's policies will work. But if this is what a flailing president can get done, I wonder what a successful one would have accomplished in the last eight weeks. It's too gosh-darn bad that Wolff has not been sufficiently entertained by all the heavy-lifting that has transpired. Obama's done pretty well for a "leaden" Jimmy Carter clone. But Wolff, who mentions not one policy action of Obama's, is not engaged by "this show." Well, this ain't The Sopranos.

Obama's made mistakes. And perhaps his most crucial Cabinet pick--Timothy Geithner--has yet to prove he can do the job well. But it's a bit early to write Obama off as another Carter, as Wolff does, or Nixon, as Barnes suggests. There's a bigger show playing than what either of these guys are watching.

CORN ON C-SPAN. I was on C-SPAN's Washington Journal this past Sunday. I took a few whacks at Barnes (see above) and others. Here it is:






Go Back Into Hiding, GOP Begs Dick Cheney


Congressional Republicans are telling Dick Cheney to go back to his undisclosed location and leave them alone to rebuild the Republican Party without his input.

Displeased with the former vice-president's recent media appearances, Republican lawmakers say he's hurting  GOP efforts to reinvent itself after back-to-back electoral drubbings.

The veep, who showed a penchant for secrecy during eight years in the White House,has popped up in media interviews to defend the Bush-Cheney record while suggesting that the country is not as safe under President Obama.

Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) said, “He became so unpopular while he was in the White House that it would probably be better for us politically if he wouldn’t be so public...But he has the right to speak out since he’s a private citizen.”

Another House Republican lawmaker who requested anonymity said he wasn’t surprised that Cheney has strongly criticized Obama early in his term, but argued that it’s not helping the GOP cause.

The legislator said Cheney, whose approval ratings were lower than President Bush’s during the last Congress, didn’t think through the political implications of going after Obama.

Cheney did “House Republicans no favors,” the lawmaker said, adding, “I could never understand him anyway.”

Cheney’s office declined to comment for this article.

Potential Illinois Senate hopeful Rep. Mark Kirk (R) told The Hill that Cheney would better shape his legacy by writing a book. 

“Tending a legacy is best done in a memoir,” Kirk said. “I would just encourage everybody who has left office to follow the tradition of the Founding Fathers — to write your memoirs, but to refrain from [criticizing].”

Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), who is running for governor, suggested that past leaders should not be seeking the spotlight at a time when the party is rebuilding and redefining itself, after “hitting bottom” in the devastating losses last November.

“Interpret it however you want to, but what I’m saying is: We should focus on the people that will lead us tomorrow, not the people who led us yesterday,” Wamp said. “With all due respect to former Vice President Cheney, he represents what’s behind us, not what’s ahead of us.”

To the delight of some Democrats, Cheney, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele have attracted headlines in recent weeks. 

Asked about Cheney’s criticisms of Obama, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs last week said, “I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy so they trotted out the next most popular member of the Republican cabal.”

Bush, who has announced he has already started to work on his memoirs, has not taken shots at Obama.

The 43rd president said last week that Obama “deserves my silence,” adding “it is essential that he be helped in office.”

Not all Republicans are calling for Cheney to keep mum.

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee who is eyeing a 2010 Senate bid, said Cheney’s remarks are not out of bounds because Obama made some “pretty severe criticisms of what President Bush did in the war against terrorism.” 

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) said, “Politically, it’s irrelevant, because whether I like it or not, a private citizen has the right to free speech and they can do what they want. What gets a majority back is deeds, not words.”

During an interview on “60 Minutes” that aired on Sunday, Obama fired back at Cheney.

Obama said, “I fundamentally disagree with Dick Cheney … I think that Vice President Cheney has been at the head of a movement whose notion is somehow that we can’t reconcile our core values, our Constitution, our belief that we don’t torture, with our national-security interests. I think he’s drawing the wrong lesson from history. The facts don’t bear him out.”

In 2007, it was revealed that Obama and Cheney are distant relatives.


BS Notice…and I don’t mean Bachelor of Science


 A deep narrative is taking root in the political class and it goes something like this: Obama is biting off way more than he can chew, “overloading” the system and dealing with all sorts of “side issues,” when he should be focusing solely on the broken economy. He is said to be asking Congress to do too much.

 Note that anyone who makes an argument of this sort is freed from responsibility to mention any of the specific problems Obama is proposing to take on. Insisting the economy trumps everything means you don’t have to say a thing about health care reform, energy, education and taxes.

 And that’s the beauty of the critique of excessive ambition. It’s far easier to talk about an overloaded system than to tell those without health insurance that they will have to wait a few more years, or to be honest in saying that balancing the budget long-term will require raising taxes. It’s much easier to use the economic crisis as an excuse for inaction than to defend the status quo.



Irish  Golfer

A golfer playing in Ireland hooked  his  drive into the woods. Looking for his ball, he found a little Leprechaun flat on his back, a big bump on his head and the golfer’s  ball  beside him.

Horrified, the golfer got his water bottle from the cart and poured it over the little guy,  reviving  him.

'Arrgh!  What happened?' the Leprechaun asked.

‘I’m afraid I hit you with my golf ball, the golfer  says.

'Oh,  I see. Well, ye got me fair and square.  Ye get three wishes, so whaddya want?'

'Thank God, you're all right!' the golfer answers in relief. 'I don't want anything, I'm just glad you're OK, and   I apologize.'

And the golfer walks off.

‘What a nice guy,' the Leprechaun says to himself.

I  have to do something for him.  I'll give  him  the three things I would want... a great golf game, all the  money he  ever  needs, and a fantastic sex life.'

A year goes by and the golfer is back. On  the  same  hole, he again hits a bad drive into the woods and the  Leprechaun is there  waiting  for him.

‘Twas  me that made ye hit the ball here,'  the little  guy says. 'I just want to ask ye, how's yer golf game.'

'My game is fantastic!' the golfer answers.  I'm  an  internationally famous golfer now.' He adds, 'By the way, it's  good  to  see you're all right.'

'Oh, I'm fine now, thank ye. I did that fer yer golf game, you know. And tell me, how's yer money situation?'

'Why, it’s just wonderful!' the golfer states.  ’When I need cash, I just reach in my pocket and pull out $100 bills I didn’t even know were there!'

'I did that fer ye also.' And tell me, how’s yer  sex  life?'

The golfer blushes, turns his head away in embarrassment, and says shyly, 'It's OK.'

C'mon, c'mon now,' urged the Leprechaun, ‘I’m wanting to know if I did a good job.  How many times a week?'

Blushing even more, the golfer looks around  then whispers,  'Once, sometimes twice a week.'

'What??'  Responds the Leprechaun in shock; ’That’s all, only once or twice a week?'

'Well,’ says the golfer, 'I figure that’s not bad for a Catholic priest in a small parish.'



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