Politico.com has a story about “global cooling” that’s a jaw-dropping example of the perils of taking equivalency as balanced analysis and an execrable piece of journalism. It gives at least as much time to folks with demonstrably biased perspective as to those with legitimate scientific credentials, it takes publishing in the Old Farmer's Almanac as though that worthy booklet were a peer-reviewed scientific journal (a tried and true tactic of climate change deniers), and it's misleading cant from start to finish.
Fortunately, Joseph Romm gives the story the shredding it so richly deserves on Huffington Post (be sure to follow the links for the full picture). I defer to his piece, which is far better researched and linked than I could manage (read his bio if you want to know why). Go ye and Read.
Politico's not the worst, but it's pretty bad, and news outlets that persist in publishing this sort of garbage should be recognized as the propaganda vehicles they are. Even if it's not intentional, this is the sort of journalistic cowardice that brought us the Iraq War. It's a disgrace to the profession, and it has to stop.
Update: Politico and its reporter Erika Lovley hit a twofer today, and I missed the second one! David Roberts picks up both in his Gristmill Blog - also highly recommended.
There’s been a lot of chat recently, both on TV and in people’s living rooms across the country, about the auto industry’s woes, and what Congress and the Obama administration should do to try to help with the collapse of the largest part of the US’s heavy manufacturing sector.
That chat has included a lot of comparisons between the money spent to bail out the financial sector (almost 2 trillion dollars so far) and the reticence of Congress and both new and old administrations to give $25 billion of taxpayer money to the big three. The auto industry executives who appeared before Congress last week did themselves no favors by showing up on three separate corporate jets to beg for money (when you’re asking for a $25 billion dollar handout, it’s a good idea to put away the “master of the universe” persona), but what hurt them more was their complete lack of a plan to put the money to any use that might keep them from flying back to Washington in three months for another stunning infusion of cash.
The response of lawmakers to that display of arrogance was both predictable and appropriate, but the difference between the speed and size of the financial bailout and the consideration of the auto companies’ predicament is legitimate, and it won’t go away. Those who were already reeling from the idea of handing out trillions of dollars to a banking industry that drove itself bankrupt are understandably angry that it’s not so easy to get help for manufacturing industries that are no more guilty of malfeasance.
The difference has been particularly troubling for Democrats, and specifically to those who accurately observe that it seems to be a lot easier to convince Congress to support white collar industries than blue collar workers. As Steelworkers Union President Leo Gerard said; "The people who take a shower before they go to work get bailed out. The people who must take a shower after work get thrown out."
The Republicans’ bleat about “class warfare” sounds particularly hollow in consideration of these differences, but it’s also true that Democrats have a political problem here, in that one of the oxen that will likely get gored belongs to the unions that have supported Democrats, and that Democrats believe in unions as a mainstay of economic justice in this country. Despite that mutual support, it is pretty plain that some of what has made the big three uncompetitive (apart from designing, building, and selling cars that nobody wants to buy) is a labor cost structure that unions have had a lot to do with, and any restructuring will have to deal with that.
Comparison between the bailout in the financial services industry and the reticence about providing similar assistance to the big three automakers is legitimate, but let’s not take the equivalence too far. There are other differences between the two situations, and they need to be recognized for the discussion to proceed rationally.
One difference is that the collapse that the financial bailouts are intended to prevent is a collapse of the entire banking system, not just a part of it. The big three auto companies aren’t the whole industry (various foreign manufacturers are building cars in the US, and cars that even Americans are more interested in buying), and it’s not as though there will be nowhere to buy a car if they disappear.
More importantly, there is no question that we need a functional banking system in the US, and there’s substantial question about whether we need anywhere near as large an auto industry in this country as we have. The bloat in the big three is almost certainly unsustainable, and even if they start building cars people want to buy, they won’t (and shouldn’t) sell as many cars as they have been.
We’re buried in cars built around the concept of planned obsolescence in the US, and the whole world is choking on the crap they emit. We have to stop, and propping up an industry that is scaled to produce the volume and type of cars that we’ve seen up to this point is insane. There’s no question that the US needs a heavy industry sector, and there’s no question that having three million workers unemployed in the US would make a serious economic situation even more desperate. There is serious question, though, about whether those workers need to be employed in an industry that produces a product that we don’t need, that we can’t sell abroad, and that actively works against building the sorts of products that will help us escape the trap we’ve built for ourselves.
The officers of the big three have failed their shareholders and looted their companies for years, and they deserve nothing. The shareholders allowed them to get away with it, and are already getting their payback for that inattention. There’s no justification for spending billions to save their investments, and in reality, no bailout will do that anyway – all that infusing cash into a dying industry will do is to make a direct transfer to shareholders who will sell out as fast as they can anyway.
The workers who bargained in good faith don’t deserve to be screwed again by the collapse of their industry, and the costs of the complete economic collapse of the industrial base of the country is too high, but if we’re going to prevent it, we should demand that the reorganization of that industry be complete, and that it produce something we can both use and sell abroad. Train cars and track, windmills and tidal water turbines, solar panels and other sustainable building supplies, and other small footprint manufacturing should be added to plug-in and hybrid electric cars as the only things we’re interested in seeing the big three produce with our money. If they can save any part of the industry to produce marketable automotive products, great, but no sales incentives for selling gas guzzlers, and if the products produced don’t have a direct effect on improving our energy efficiency and weaning us off of the carbon-based fuels that are killing us, they shouldn’t be built.
We are the lender of last resort, and we get to set conditions. The only reasons we should do any of this is to force a rapid transition from a cheap energy economy to one that’s based on renewable and non-carbon-based fuels, and to save the workers who will be displaced by the death of an industry that needs to die from having their lives shattered by that transition. There’s no way to prevent that transition from causing a good deal of pain for those folks, but we can’t just keep propping up an industry that has actively contributed to our dire financial condition. We don’t have the resources, and even if we did, subsidizing part of the problem makes it that much harder to fashion a solution.
The reason we’re having these discussions about what Obama should do, two months before he’s inaugurated, is because the Bush administration has checked out two months before its term is up. That’s partly because Bush’s personal response to the collapse appears to border on catatonia, and partly because Treasury Secretary Paulson seems to be almost as petulant as his boss. Paulson’s announcement last week that he would simply wait for the new administration to decide what to do with the remaining $300 million in TARP money that Congress agreed to was a spectacular piece of malfeasance.
Don’t be deceived. This is tactical petulance. The administration desperately wants to have Obama put his name on the effort to stave off the mess we’re in as soon as possible, so that Republicans can start sniping about those solutions as quickly as they can. Any solution to this crisis is going to involve a lot of pain, and the party that got us into this pickle is desperate to share responsibility for the mess with the party that will have to fix it. It’s also true that after watching it stagger from one plan to the next for two months, the financial markets have absolutely no confidence in the current administration, but they had little to start with, so the political costs of abdication are low for the Republicans.
Somebody has to take charge, though, so despite being rushed, and despite having to continually repeat that “there’s only one president at a time” (and maintain the fiction that it’s Bush), the Obama team is walking into a trap with its eyes wide open, because if it doesn’t, it will have to preside over an even worse crisis, since the two months left in the Bush administration might very well be enough for those imbeciles to finish off whatever chance the economy has of beginning to recover during Obama’s first term.
We all hope that it succeeds, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in being relieved that someone is trying to work on the problem. It’s been hugely disconcerting watching the discussion going on in the wheelhouse of the ship of state about what should be done, while watching the ship itself speeding toward the rocks. When the sniping from the Republican peanut gallery begins, though (and it will soon), let’s not forget that they went AWOL on this problem specifically so they could begin sniping as soon as possible.
I'm grateful to reader Jennifer Williams, who points out in the comments to the Rip Van Winkle post that Obama is a member of "Generation Jones", a late subset of baby boomers born between 1954 and 1965. I'm grateful because I'm in the embarrassing position of having somehow completely missed discussion of this demographic until now, and it's an interesting and useful distinction.
For those living under the same rock I've apparently had over my head for some time, I recommend what Jennifer recommended to me, which is to Google "Generation Jones", or look it up on Wikipedia. Coined by marketing consultant and cultural historian Jonathan Pontell, the term stems from Pontell's observation that monolithic consideration of the purely demographic bulge known as the baby boom misses a fundamental difference between Boomers and Jonesers - late boomers grew up in a very different cultural milieu than early boomers, and their outlook is different as a result.
Jon Alter, in a Newsweek piece early this year, describes Jonesers as doing "irony, not rebellion". Pontell describes Jonesers as much more conservative than Boomers (he says they voted in large numbers for George W. Bush, even in 2004), and less invested in the struggles of the 60s, which explains the appeal of Obama's assertion that he'd like us to move past those arguments.
By birthdate (1956), I'm a Joneser too, but I confess I see a bit more Boomer in myself than Joneser. I wasn't a flower child, but several of the most important people in my young life were, and I carry a lot of their outlook, I guess, 'cause I'm a lot closer to being a flower child than a Young Republican. Regardless, HuffPo blogger Bennet Kelley
describes Jonesers as "born in the shadow of fallen heroes, tempered by
Watergate, and diciplined by economic uncertainty", which describes
pretty well the heartbreak I was talking about.
Al Gore appeared on Fareed Zakaria’s “GPS” program on CNN yesterday afternoon, and in addition to saying that he was so excited he could barely contain himself at the prospect of an administration that sees itself as responsible to progressive principles, when Zakaria asked him if he had any advice for Obama, he said that he thought Obama should make more thoughtful and detailed speeches about his policies and his rationales for them. He noted that the 30 minute ad that Obama ran a few days before the election was the highest rated show of any network for some time, and observed that people were ready for a serious discussion of the urgent issues that beset our country.
That’s exactly right, and it’s what many Republicans missed completely about Obama’s appeal. When they tried to turn Obama’s eloquence into a liability, it was a complete failure, because we’ve just been through eight years of defiantly clumsy and childish rhetoric, and the bankruptcy of that sort of oversimplification is manifest all around us. Apart from its lack of nuance and precision, the other characteristic of that rhetoric (and truth be told, of too much of the Clinton administration rhetoric that preceded it) was a lack of inspirational punch.
I’m honestly not sure why this is so. It might be that while Bill Clinton was a master at making a technocratic case for progressive ideals, and the Clinton years provided us with proof that Democratic government could be capable, while he could convince people he understood their problems and “felt their pain”, I don’t think he was as good at making our hearts soar with possibility. He made a less explicitly progressive case than Obama has, and in hedging the progressive message with his “Third Way” politics, he didn’t inspire people the same way.
Or it may be that the circumstances were different enough to make the messages resonate differently in the ears of their listeners. Clinton's attempts to implement a liberal or progressive agenda (health care reform, gays in the military, and several others) were mostly failures, in part because he won election in a relatively prosperous time, and the changes he sought to implement had to fight against that prosperity and the inertia it naturally generated.
Not so Obama. The economy is tanking, the anxiety index is going through the roof, climate disruptions are scarier every day, and we’re beginning to see a future of increasingly brutal and destructive resource wars if we don’t do something drastic about those climate changes and the energy use that’s driving them, and damn soon. Finally, we’ve watched as a notable portion of our civil birthright as Americans has been squandered in pursuit of a chimerical goal of dominating a world that’s fast disappearing around us.
Ironically, the policy positions Gore himself ran on in 2000 had a lot to do with staving off the effects we’re seeing now, and the squeaker of an election he lost (?) postponed the implementation of any solutions for the problems he saw then for eight critical years.
In short, we’re in trouble, and we’ve finally begun to realize it. That tends to focus the mind, and to make calls to action more inspiring. Let’s hope it’s in time.
I read a post from Alaska’s Shannyn Moore yesterday about Keith Olbermann’s dismissal of Alaskans over the parade of bizarre news stories and even more bizarre personalities over the last three months. Ms. Moore notes that it’s bad enough for an Alaskan liberal to have to deal with the strangeness of Alaskan politics anyway, and that Olbermann’s suggestion that we put the state up on E-Bay doesn’t help at all.
The post was largely in jest (as was Olbermann’s suggestion, of course), but it was beautifully written, contains an interesting sample of Alaskan history, and is well worth the time to read the whole thing. For this post, though, I want to highlight one short passage that really struck home as an accurate description of the source of a good deal of the fervor that Barack Obama has generated among baby boomers like me:
I’ve never been to New York City, but I wanted to puke in my mouth watching the Republican National Convention’s “9/11 Tribute to Fear.” I wasn’t born in the 60’s, but I know what race baiting is. I know the public executions of JFK, Malcolm X, MLK, and RFK-all in a five year span-drove the American progressive movement into a coma for nearly 40 years. A once empowered, liberal generation sat like Terry Schiavo watching balloons float by; Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I, Bush II. Wars, the corporate job-exporting economy, the perilous environment, expanded human rights violations, erosion of civil rights, The US Constitution compromised; none of it registered due to blunt force trauma on the American psyche.
Barack Obama’s voice blends many of those faint martyred messages cut short; human rights, hope, justice, peace, change. His inspirational urgency moved a generation politically paralyzed to stand up again. New generations learned to walk, on their own power, to change their futures. This promise is precarious. People my mother’s age hold their breath, pray he is safe, and bravely look forward from a painful past. I know, it takes one lone crazy, living in the apartment over his grandma’s garage; walls covered with “Pin-up Palin” shots who doesn’t need much more than a wink, a “pallin’ around with terrorists”, and her silence while “supporters” answered “terrorist!” and “kill him!” to her question of “Who is Barack Obama?” Even now, she’s still talking about “associations.”
I’m still pretty cynical about politics and politicians, and my optimism is innately cautious about Barack Obama, but I really hadn’t thought about that aspect of what his candidacy has meant to me, and I think Moore is absolutely right. What’s more, I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think there is a whole generation of progressive boomers who got our hearts broken repeatedly in the late 60s, and who were shocked out of acting on our idealism and hope by that heartbreak.
When our more conservative fellow boomers concluded that our advocacy of progressive principles was a cover for self-involvement and self-indulgence (as some of it surely was), we let them get away with painting all of us with that broad brush. We ended up ceding the definition of liberalism for a generation to the opponents of our principles, and so we lost the argument by default, and since then, we have watched as a merry-go-round of disastrous policies were enacted by those who would have defined our idealism for us as naïve or insincere.
I don’t think Obama has been the sole or even leading source of the resurgence of that set of ideals (they’ve been simmering for the whole time and have seen a great deal of growth with the advent of the distributed organizational imperatives of the political blogosphere), but he has unquestionably been its beneficiary. He has also provided an eloquent voice for those aspirations, not only for a new generation of progressives who are less burdened by those shocks, but for those of us who lived through them too.
Moore’s description of her mother’s generation holding its breath is also spot on. We’re painfully aware of how fragile the promise of a new progressive movement can be, both in the person of Barack Obama himself and in the psyche of the American people. We’re all feeling a little like Rip Van Winkle, stumbling out into the fresh sunlight of a new morning and blinking the sleep from our eyes. Hopefully, Obama will be fine, but even if the worst happened again, it’s hard to put someone back to sleep again after they’ve had a 40 year nap, and all shock wears off in time. The good news is that I think we’re less likely to go AWOL on defending our principles again, as we did before, regardless of what happens.
So, I live near New York City, and was just as disgusted as you were, Shannyn, by the festival of fear at the RNC (particularly since it was sometimes unclear whether some of the participants were more afraid of the folks who attacked New York or of those of us who live here). I was pretty young in the 60s, but not so young that I didn’t feel the hit from those “executions” as you put it, and I agree that it was devastating. I think you’re right that it led many of us into a coma, but unlike Terry Schiavo, we weren’t incapable of recovering. Some of what you’re complaining about is misplaced fury at how far loons like your governor have taken us down a desperate and dead end road, but better that fury be there and misplaced than missing from the debate entirely.
I’m looking forward to getting to see Homer, Alaska sometime soon. Meanwhile, as part of a cultural understanding program, I’ll buy dinner if you make it to New York. Thanks for a great post.
Josh Marshall at TPM has been polling his readership (here, here, here, and here) on what he calls “The Abiding Mystery” of why, after getting the “thumpin’” it got in 2006, the GOP failed to act on the obvious discontent with the Bush administration that generated the 2006 results, and instead doubled down on support for him. The result, obviously, was that they got thumped again this year, and these guys are usually smarter than to get spanked badly in two elections in a row (that sort of stupidity has historically been a Democratic trait).
There are a couple of interesting points, but the one that makes the most sense to me is in the fourth post, that the party apparatus got so thoroughly captured by the Bush campaign gang that there were no alternative power centers in the GOP to support any other agenda but Bush’s.
In the 17th century, Louis XIV, having survived a pair of revolts (or “Frondes”) by the nobility in his youth, so consolidated power in France that he became known as “the Sun King”, because it was his intention that all of France revolve around him. In putting that strategy into effect, he completed the transition his father had begun in France from feudal to modern nation-state, but thoroughly hollowed out the French aristocracy, removing all other centers of power in the country.
Dubya is certainly no Louis XIV, and (Dick Cheney's skill at bureaucratic infighting to the contrary notwithstanding) he has had neither Richelieu nor Mazarin to help him, but he did have the advantage of having run his father’s election campaign, and he did succeed in securing almost complete control of the party apparatus in the run-up to his election in 2000. The recount battle and then the 9/11 attacks only served to help Bush further centralize the GOP’s power. Like Louis did with the French aristocracy, he hollowed out the rest of the party in the name of creating a party unified enough to win his election and overcome opposition to the war.
There were other cascading failures that made the situation progressively worse (neither the cavalcade of revelations about exactly how dysfunctional the administration was, nor the steady stream of indictments for its allies in Congress helped, for example), but the root of the problem was that centralization of power in the party, and the lack of other alternatives for the party to turn to when its central actor became so thoroughly discredited. The fundraising and organizational discipline that served the party so well during the 2000 campaign and most of his first term completely paralyzed it when the Bushies’ policies began to unravel.
The Baker/Hamilton Iraq Study Group, which released its recommendations shortly after the first beating in 2006, was an attempt to walk back a bit of the more dangerous belligerence and unilateralism that characterized the first years after 9/11. It was also viewed (in my view, accurately) as an attempt to save the party from the administration’s excesses, and the administration from itself.
When Bush elected to ignore the ISG report and escalate the war instead, the study group faction (let’s call them “the grownups”) had only one choice: either split the party (while Democrats were already calling for blood and the country was at war), or go along with the president. They chose to brazen it out, and in retrospect, that was maybe not such a good choice. Nailing one’s colors to the mast is a great source of motivation, but it has to be chosen carefully, because if the ship sinks, the colors go down with it.
In the case of Louis XIV, it was the accession to the throne of his incompetent son, the Dauphin, that left France in such desperate straits. In W's case, he cut right to the chase himself, because while he was a gifted campaigner, he is the incompetent Dauphin himself when it comes to governing. His arrogance and his blunders have quite possibly sunk his party for some time. Unfortunately, he not only hollowed out his party's internal structure, he did the same thing to the US government. What remains to be seen is if in sinking the party, he has doomed the rest of our country to go down with it.