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The Last Supper

The Rising Sun Performance Company is now performing Dan Rosen’s movie cum play The Last Supper at The Red Room. It’s a rip-roaring good time, and well worth your dime.

A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged

The official blurb runs something like this: A group of young, liberal graduate students in Iowa have a formal, sit down dinner once a week, to which they like to invite a stranger – to spice up conversation. Their ivory tower serenity is disturbed, however, when their latest guest, Zach (played in the 1995 movie by Bill Paxton!), turns out to be a redneck, pedophilic, murderous, Holocaust denier. Zach taunts the tolerant liberals, saying that they don’t have the balls to stand up for themselves, and pulls a knife on Marc, the resident Jewish artist. Zach is distracted for a moment while breaking the arm of Peter, another sissy liberal, and Marc seizes the opportunity to stab Zach in the back with his own knife. Existential angst ensues as the “liberals” try to justify their aggression. They rationalize it so well that they decide to recreate the scenario every week with a new flavor of conservative crazy. Their preferred method of execution? Poison in the chardonnay.

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Waiting for Lefty at ATA's Sargent Theater

You may not guess it from the picture of the handsome man above, but Lefty is a leftist, a commie, a red — and not in the Texas “Red Meat” way. You might think of this guy as a Lefty for The Great Recession — cool, hip, possibly living in a palatial squat in Buffalo, refusing to use currency or pay for food.

And yet, it was not always thus.

The enduring strength of Clifford Odets’s play Waiting for Lefty is its focus on character rather than identity. That may seem like a subtle distinction, but it’s an important one that traces the success and failure of the labor movement in the USA from Odets’s time to ours. Odets’s characters are honest, working people who strive for a measure of human dignity and are systematically deprived of it by the Bosses, the Owners, and the unsympathetic, pampered, and callous Elites. Odets builds his characters through their struggles: they are dynamic, not static. But in the intervening three quarters of a century since this play was first produced “identity” as a pillar of capitalist ideology has dominated and marginalized character so thoroughly that the didactic purpose of this play, what Brecht would have called a lehrstück, is easy to miss. Waiting for Lefty is the greatest work of American agitprop theater because it attempts to dramatize how a person learns courage in an act of character building, rather than appealing to the audience’s fear and pity.

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Chinese electric cars, courtesy of the NY Times

Chinese electric cars, courtesy of the NY Times

There’s plenty of uncertainty on what the future holds, but one thing is for sure, the 21st century will not be like the 20th.

While Obama and Gordron Brown try to convince the Europeans not to take away our capitalism toys, the Chinese are making exactly the kinds of massive public investments in the future that Krugman and others have argued the US must make in order to stay relevant. The money isn’t the problem. Excluding some rightwing nutters in Congress, our country has signed on to the idea that something must be done (other than cut taxes) to ameliorate this economic crisis. But why isn’t any of that money going to beef up Amtrak or the MTA? The answer: no one in power in America, either Democrat or Republican, has a 21st century vision.

But the Chinese have it.

Paul Krugman hit the nail on the head today with his Op-Ed. It reminds me why I like him in the first place. For those of you too lazy to click through to the essay and read it, I’ll give you a summary. Krugman says that our policy makers continue to be blinded by the mythology developed by Milton Friedman and others and popularized by Reagan. They think the financial system is fundamentally sound, and the recent collapse is wholly due to public misperception. That is why the Summers/Geithner plan rings hollow in a progressive’s ears. A progressive knows we have to move past the culture of greed and bonus, of growing wealth disparity and opt-out attitudes, but Summers and Geithner don’t get it.

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Jake Desantis’s (public) letter to Edward Liddy in today’s New York Times is just one more attempt by the the real media elites — the conservatives of both parties — to quash public outcry over the legacy and abuses of Reaganomics.

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This is CNN’s headline for a story in which Obama responds to Cheney’s tale that he has made America unsafe and prone to another terrorist attack: “On ’60 Minutes’ Obama rebukes Cheney criticism.'”

I know that newsmen are not as smart as they like to think they are, but come on! It should be “Obama rebuts Cheney criticism.” To say Obama “rebukes” Cheney criticism is to say that he chides those who criticize Cheney. I sense a right-wing conspiracy — of dunces.

The New York Stock Exchange on Wall St

Wall Street

The New York Times is reporting that some banks are balking over the strings attached to their bailout cash.

Good! That is the right response, and it shows that the Obama policies are right on. This is not a Republican or a Democrat issue — it’s a good government issue. If the banks are willing to take on the risk of failure in order to maintain the possibility of future, outsized profits, let them do it. If they fail, they do so on their own merits. On the other hand, if a bank wants money to stay alive, they have to know they are entering a period of indentured servitude to the American people. They will not be free until they have paid their debt to society, and in this case that debt comes in an easily recognizable dollar amount.

Hypocrites like John Boehner and Richard Shelby argue that some banks should fail because that’s good fiscal discipline, confusing once again the role of markets and the role of government. Markets reflect the sentiment of its local population (i.e. whoever comes to the market). Government has the power to coerce or incentivize behavior when necessary. In times of crisis markets should not be allowed to make decisions because they will make panic driven, emotional decisions. In those cases it is the government’s job to set parameters for acceptible behavior. In this case it means righting financial malfeasance while containing the damage inflicted on the innocent by the crime. No-government Republicans would have the innocent pay along with the guilty. Strings on a bank bailout make sure that the innocent are protected while the guilty work off their guilt.

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Tim Geithner — Really? I mean, is it really possible to live in this country after 8 years of Bush, 6 months of financial apocalypse, and still not have the smallest clue? Macroeconomics as a discipline developed in the 30s because that global financial meltdown was precipitating a global political meltdown. Doesn’t anyone remember Nazis vs. Commies in the streets of Berlin and Munich? No, not in this country. If you want a perfect example of the triumphalist myopia of the free market fundamentalists take a look at the documentary The Commanding Heights by Greg Barker and William Cran. The one good observation made in the documentary is that both J. M. Keynes and Friedrich Von Hayek thought economic collapse would lead to political anarchy.

Geithner and Summers

Geithner and Summers

Now these yahoos working from a mix of free market fundamentalist ideology and naked, corporate self-interest, are opening up a political firestorm by crippling a real fiscial stimulus package with useless tax breaks and spending cuts for states while at the same time handing over hefty cash gifts to their friends the oligarchs on Wall St. (For my personal experience of the humiliation of this see my earlier post.) In the words of Stephen Labaton and Edmund Andrews:

Mr. Geithner, who will announce the broad outlines of the plan on Tuesday, successfully fought against more severe limits on executive pay for companies receiving government aid.

He resisted those who wanted to dictate how banks would spend their rescue money. And he prevailed over top administration aides who wanted to replace bank executives and wipe out shareholders at institutions receiving aid.

Obama is spending his good name out in America to enable a couple of bumbling, Ivy educated fools to destroy any trust Americans have left in their government.

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Obama really got one on the Bushies without looking like a partisan hater. You have to hand it to the guy, he knows how to be smooth.

In one of his first presidential directives — given on his very first day in office — O declared that former presidents cannot declare executive privilege:

The new president effectively reversed a post-9/11 Bush administration policy making it easier for government agencies to deny requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act, and effectively repealed a Bush executive order that allowed former presidents or their heirs to claim executive privilege in an effort to keep records secret.

Yay! The new president is for transparency, an absolute necessity in democratic government. But let us ask ourselves, what are the practical implications? This paragraph is pregnant with unspoken danger for the Bushies:

Experts said Mr. Obama’s moves would have the practical effect of allowing reporters and historians to obtain access to records from the Bush administration that might otherwise have been kept under wraps.

Obama — and the Congress — don’t need to start an investigation and open themselves to accusations that they are as partisan as the last administration. There are plenty of independent scholars and public advocates who will find all the damning evidence of illegal activity on their own. And once that information is out in the clear light of day, Congress may be reluctantly led to open a criminal proceeding, long after the charge of partisanship has become irrelevant.

Goooo ‘Bama!

 

By J.D. Oxblood

Fox News, approx. 12:15 EST:  Bill Hemmer and Bret Baier covering the inaugural balls.

Video coverage of President Obama and First Lady dancing at Southern Inaugural Ball:

Obama:  Let’s go change America.

(crowd cheers)

Bret:  Ok by my count they have one more, is that right?

Bill:  One more ball.

Bret:  One more inaugural ball.  They’ve got the dance steps down, it is down to under a minute, it seems like everything’s being sped up just a bit on the routine, but uh, they have one more and as you see them wave to the southern ball there at the DC armory, uh we will bring you every step of every official ball.

Bill:  This time she’s doing the waving and he has his head back behind her head so that the camera’s can’t see and he’s like, “honey I cannot wait to get some sleep.”  Don’t you know he was?

Bret:  I mean—we were just talking during the break there that uh… I mean it’s kind of like a wedding… a giant wedding—

Bill:  On acid.

Bret:  Yeah but— (indistinct laughter in background) —times a thousand, you know, if—if—(flubs)

A few unnecessary comments:

1.  While “acid” is not one of the famed seven words you can’t say on television, I feel fairly confident that “on acid” is not a phrase newscasters are generally encouraged to use on the air.

2.  Who would ever expect a Fox News correspondent to know what “on acid” means?

3.  Am I the only pundit in America who’s done enough acid to catch such a reference?

obama-speaks-nyc-party1

I had to be at work and didn’t see the speech. What did everyone think?

 

Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi

 What kind of kool-aid is Nancy Pelosi drinking? CNN reports that Pelosi has said she thinks the Bush tax cuts should be repealed immediately, and that Congress should press forward with an investigation over whether Bush et al. pressured their people at the Justice Department to make illegal hiring decisions based on politics and ideology. President Obama — of course — wants to take a middle road, let the tax cuts expire on their own, and is against any investigation of the Bush administration.

In the first place, we know that the imperative to hire RTAs (right thinking Americans) at the Justice Dept. came from the highest levels of the Bush government. <cough, Dick Cheney, cough> It’s not a matter for investigation. In the second place, there are a lot more important crimes to investigate, like the illegal wiretapping program, the infiltration of protest groups by government spies, no bid contracts to war profiteers, and the lies (told with malicious intent and knowledge of wrong doing) that led us to wage war in Iraq. Finally, raising taxes on the obscenely wealthy isn’t nearly as important as stripping out the ridiculous and worthless tax breaks to businesses included in the Obama plan. Paul Krugman puts the case as succinctly as possible here and here.

You may have thought the kool-aid I referred to in the title of this post is the kool-aid of liberal revenge. Oh no! This country swung so far to the right at the end of the 20th century that to get back to the middle we’re going to go pretty far left. Militarism, free market fundamentalism, and the cult of the individual (with its attendant cult of personality) reached a fever pitch under Bush, and the residual effects of that “conservative” kool-aid are obviously still infecting Obama and the Congressional Democrats. Disaffected whites and greedy globalizers united to turn this country into a banana republic — and not the good kind where you can find urban professional clothing at reasonable prices. No, they wanted a country where the rich are a law to themselves, the Constitution has been replaced by the Articles of Confederation, and the Southern Gentleman planter (complete with an economy run on the brown backs of a institutionalized underclass) replaces the middle class citizen.

I think there may be one bright spot in the disturbing political timidity shown so far by both the Congressional leadership and Obama. If Obama choses to be the uniter we didn’t get eight years ago, counseling peace and reconciliation, the Congressional Dems might be given the opportunity to play the bad cops and put the nastiest Bush aparatchiks into jail. And if that plays well (as it might if the recession gets really bad) hopefully Congress will remember that it does not have to be the political punching bag it has become in recent years. It might grow a pair and become what it was intended to be — the primary branch of government; the voice of the people; the genius of democracy. Only when Congress asserts its constitutional rights will we get the government Lincoln promised us: of the people, for the people, and by the people.

I can hear the hater chorus already saying that Congress under Gingrich asserted itself, and look where that got us. To you I say this: Gingrich was (like Cheney) a member of Congress but not of it. He asserted the power of Congress because Clinton as president was too weak for his taste. He was really paving the way for Bush’s “unitary executive”, a.k.a. king. A representative legislature is the soul of liberal democracy. Let the new Congress take up the mantle of freedom, and prove their mettle. In the process they just might save the Union.

sorry-grandma

This editorial at Marketwatch.com would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad. The jist is this: through colossal selfishness and criminal mismanagement, the lifetime of work our grandparents put into securing their retirement has been spent — and then some — by our parents. This paragraph is priceless:

The Fed, in a bid to stimulate the economy through consumer spending, has cut interest rates to zero. That’s wiped out yields on Treasuries, destroying a traditional safe haven in the process. Meanwhile, years of gutting Social Security has reduced the nation’s retirement program to a shadow of its intended self, and what’s left is about to be swept away by a tsunami of baby boomers just entering retirement.

That “gutting Social Security” part is particularly funny, cuz it happened on Bush’s watch. Remember when they increased the payroll taxes in the 90s? Greenspan told Clinton that the boomers would bankrupt us if we didn’t beef up Social Security, so Clinton, like a dutiful Conservative-lite, raised taxes. Of course, this was another covert scheme by freemarket fundamentalists to discredit the government so they could shrink it and drown it in a bathtub. But at least Social Security was in the black.

And then the Iraq war came along, and Bush (courtesy of widespread venality among us, the American people) raided Social Security to wage a vanity war while lowering taxes for his soon-to-retire boomer cronies. And who paid for this joyride? The parents who suffered through the Great Depression and the Second World War. Thanks boomers!

g-h-w-bush

obama2

We all knew Obama was no Nader when we voted for him. But it still comes as a shock to this New Yorker to be reminded of exactly how conservative the traditional “Liberal” media is. And it is disappointing to see Obama waste his political capital and his mandate by falling into bad old Democrat habits. How many times do we have to say it? Do not pander to self-identifying conservatives!

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From the CNN news desk:

“As a public official, I expect criticism and I expect to be held accountable for how I govern,” Palin said in a statement released by her office Friday. “But the personal, salacious nature of recent reporting, and often the refusal of the media to correct obvious mistakes, unfortunately discredits too many in journalism today, making it difficult for many Americans to believe what they see in the media” (emphasis mine). Yeah! Salacious! When did she pick that one up? Surely not studying for the SATs. I’m glad she’s gone to the trouble to hire a vocabulary coach. Sadly, she’s about twenty years too late.

Mama Grizzly also said she got up on her hind legs when Tina Fey made a crack on her daughter. I say amen. Tina Fey almost single-handedly saved the republic by exposing Palin’s idiocy — and in the process the idiocy of American conservatives.

Speaking of which, check out Sam’s comment on this CNN blog post: “Why do we need Congress anyway? When the Constitution was written, people needed others to represent them in making policy decisions. Now we have the technology to vote and represent ourselves directly.”

OMG. I know that some secretly bad stuff lurks in the hearts of men, but I didn’t think anyone would have the bad judgment to expose himself in public as a monarchist. That’s right people. If you enjoy your liberty, you better stand up with Harry Reid and the Congress, and say we want government of the people, for the people, and by the people. Congress — a legislature — is the only way to have such a government. If Sam’s plan were implemented, and we all voted individually for every piece of legislation that was proposed (by whom?) — as if government were like American Idol — first there would be deadlock, then there would be a breakdown of government, then the executive would assert him/herself to become a king.

I blame the miserable state of American education for comments like this. No one who has studied history, government, or politics would say such a perniciously stupid thing.

bailout3952
I guess the Big 3 were too big to fail. That is, our venal leaders were torn between fearing we’d revolt if they bailed out their buddies and fearing we’d revolt if they let a million more jobs go down the tubes. In the end I think it’s a good thing that they gave these pompous losers three more months to get their house in order before the day of reckoning comes. Once again strange political bedfellows made for a weird ideological tension behind the resolution. Conservatives want to break the back of organized labor forever, and in their view they’re not so much saving jobs as making sure manual laborers get paid no more than service industry employees. True liberals want the market to do its magic — even if that means losing a million jobs. Bleeding heart liberals want us to think of the children — of the soon to be impoverished northern states. The best possible outcome here, is for entrepreneurs of small companies that make small, incredibly efficient cars to spring up like mushrooms on the rotting dung heap of the big 20th century American auto industry. Even better, companies from Detroit and Milwaukee that make high speed light rail trains, tracks, services, and all the rest. But I’m not holding my breath.

George Pataki is laughing at you.

George Pataki is laughing at you.

The metropolitan transit system is the most developed mass transit system in the United States. It carries workers (including me) from their houses to their jobs inside and outside the five boroughs. It is an essential piece of infrastructure for New York City, New York State, and the Tri-State area. Its importance cannot be overstated. The economic activity made possible by the transit system produces the lion’s share of taxes that go to Albany, and a sizable income for Newark and Hartford. Without the MTA millions would be unemployed.

So why did Governor Pataki try to starve it in the 90s? This is from an article in the New York Times:

At first the programs were financed with a combination of money from the state and city and borrowing. After George E. Pataki became governor in 1995, he sharply cut state funds for the capital programs and told the authority to borrow more. As a result, the last two five-year plans have been, in the words of the authority’s current executive director, Elliot G. Sander, put on a credit card.

The massive irresponsibility of the governor’s policy is all the more glaring now that the MTA is gasping for air. So why wasn’t there more of an outcry when the electorate could do something about it?

The answer is The Great Conservative Tax Swindle, also known as the Laffer Curve. The Laffer Curve is some spurious (and typically conservative) economic snake oil sold to the masses by Reagan and his legion of followers. At first it seems reasonable: if taxes are too high people won’t work. But taken to the extreme It says that all taxes are bad, and that rests on the assumption that only private capital is able to finance the public weal.

Some things are too important to be left to private initiative. In order to form a more perfect Union (as our Founding Fathers believed) we must come together as a people, and that means we will elect a government. Conservatives, deeply suspicious of government, have for the last twenty-eight years elected sabateurs whose explicit vow was to dismantle government. Deeply suspicious of public capital, they actively and openly raided the public treasury to enrich private capital. The time has come to roundly condemn this insanity. In the words of Roger Toussaint, president of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union:

With a dramatic and historic increase in ridership, more service – not less – is needed on our subway and bus lines. Failure to maintain and reinvest in our transportation infrastructure now will result in huge costs to riders and all taxpayers down the road.

obama-speaks-nyc-party

Barack Obama is the president-elect of the United States. Yours truly and some friends watched the returns at the New World Theater in Midtown Manhattan — the name fit the mood.

Tessa Birch, English lass and Obama supporter

Tessa Birch, English lass and Obama supporter

The place was packed and richly diverse. Americans of all races were there, as were foreigners, many of whom told me my vote had extra importance because it was also their vote.

Bakar Wilson, Will Kenton, and John Yi

Bakar Wilson, Will Kenton, and John Yi

When the first good news came it was from Pennsylvania.

obama-wins-pa

To say the mood was ecstatic is almost an understatement. We all knew we were on the right side of an historical moment: one that will define the truly New American Century. When Barack Obama was officially declared the winner all of New York City erupted.

obama-wins-nyc-party

When the man spoke he left not a dry eye in the house.

obama-speaks-nyc-party1

Even now, sitting at my desk deep in the heart of Brooklyn I can hear cars driving by pumping triumphant hip-hop. We finally have a president who represents an American hope for the 21st century. Let us have a day of rejoicing before the weight of the world falls back on our shoulders.

Bill Kristol

Bill Kristol

Bill Kristol’s Op-Ed in today’s NY Times is good for a laugh. Most of the best refutations of his inanity are already given in reader comments on the Times’s web site, so I won’t belabor the point here. Part of his analysis is right though: If self-proclaimed conservatives are out of power for two years, they will come back in a new and virulent new form in 2010. I hope, as Krugman argued, that the hateful, White elements of American conservatism have had their moment and will be thrown on the trash heap of history after tomorrow. But what will the world be like if the Congress has a solid Democratic majority and McCain becomes Prez? Even better, what if McCain dies in the first 100 days and Palin becomes Prez? Do you think the Congress would grow a pair sufficient to impeach her and all the asinine conservative ideas she stands for?

This battle is far from over, and both sides are plenty sore.

You’re probably saying to yourself, Zach, have you lost your mind? How can you, a big city liberal, think Palin makes sense?! She is the antithesis of everything you believe in!

Well friends, in the first place Zach ain’t no big city liberal. He’s actually a small town conservative trapped in the body of a big city liberal. In the second place, Zach doesn’t think Palin is competent, he merely thinks she’s qualified for the highest office in the land. Still scratching your head?

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The only thing Obama and Biden should talk about is the culture of corruption that is endemic to conservative politics.

Thass right y’all, you heard me say it. People who voluntarily call themselves “conservative” are lowlife scum looking to get one over on tax payers. Earl E. Devaney sez so. (OK. Technically he says that Bush appointees to the Department of the Interior are lowlife scum who use your money to buy cocaine and whores. But come on. We all know that if a thorough investigation of the entire executive branch was conducted no one would get out of jail free.)

This means you Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

Are you listening Mr. Democratic strategist?

Hello, all you CC readers! I hope you have been following the DNC as avidly as I. Overall it was an exciting convention. The stellar speeches filled with pithy barbs! Billary, for chrissakes! And last, but definitely not least, the freakin’ Denver Boroncos Dem-packed stadium, replete with stoic columns to frame our man O in an austere, presidential manner. It was hot hot hot!

“No way. No how. No McCain.” – HRC

more insight available here

Sarah Palin is conservative eye candy.

Why did McCain pick her? Because she will be the ultimate Miss Moneypenny to his James Bond. She’s clever, hot, and most definitely subordinate to The Man. She is the ideal conservative VP: a totally bangable chick whose only job is to be a foil to highlight the masculinity of the Great Leader.

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