Sunday, September 07, 2008

Some Politics & Other Stuff

Ah, the socialism continues: late Friday, conveniently after the US stock markets had officially closed and two days after the Dow Jones Index plummeted more than 300 points, we learned that the federal government would, contrary to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's earlier assurances, surprise surprise, nationalize Fannie Mac and Freddie Mac! Today we learned more about the plan, which will can the two institution's leaders (but not require that they pay back their multimillion-dollar bonuses), wipe out most shareholder value, and saddle taxpayers with hundreds of billions of dollars of new debt. It appears to have been a necessary move given both companies', but especially Freddie Mac's, deteriorating financial situations, which had investors in the US and across the globe worrying about a possible global financial crisis if both failed.

Aren't you excited?

So this is what we get with reckless deregulation, no congressional oversight, and unshakeable conversative faith in the "market" and its powers to correct itself. "Conservative" governance, who'd have ever thought it would be the means by which we'd move as a nation ever closer to the old Soviet Union? Nationalized banks, domestic spying on citizens with legislative approval, an establishment press that has merged with a political party (the Republicans), show elections...perhaps the right-wing neocons have kicked Leo Strauss to the curb and are taking direct cues from the ghost of Joseph Stalin.

Concerning the banks, let's see what else we learn about this "deal" in the next few days. I can assure you, the reality is going to be far more costly than we're being told right now.


Speaking of socialism and nationalized banks, did you know that so far 11 US banks have failed so far this year, which is nearly four times the number that failed last year?

Let me say that again: nearly four times as many US banks have failed in 2008 as in 2007 (it was 3 last year). And it's only early September. (36 have gone under since W took office.)

The most recent bank to fail, Silver State Bank of Henderson, Nevada, had none other than John McCain's son Andrew on its Board of Directors until he resigned on July 29, 2008. He was, and I'm not making this up, on its audit committee. According to the above-linked article on Huffington Post,

prior to coming to Silver State, he was the director of the Choice Bank in Scottsdale, Arizona until its merger with Silver State Bancorp which has 13 branches in Southern Las Vegas, and 4 branches in Arizona, and California.

Has your establishment TV press and punditocracy made much of this? I know, I know, there's a shiny new liar media celebrity darling on the hustings these days, telling tales fanciful enough to make Aesop jealous. There's also that dreary news about the rising unemployment rate and cuts in jobs, rising inflation, record foreclosures and cascading home values. It's enough to make anyone forget about a commercial banking sector under serious distress, though the failing banks are another key sign of how troubled the current US economy is.

But I guess acknowledging this constitutes whining, right?


Hurricane Hanna's rains hammered us yesterday, but turned out to be manageable enough, which got me thinking about not only the physical and economic toll these storms create in the US, but the psychological frenzy, which makes me wonder how they're perceived elsewhere. Such as in Haiti, one of the countries that is often battered by the tropical storms that move through the Caribbean. Haiti suffered serious hits from Hurricane Gustav, then Hannah, and now Ike.

Here's Stephen Gibb's take in The Guardian Online: "Hurricanes like Gustav and Hanna seem only to matter if they hit America"


One thing that I've found breathtaking over the last few days is Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's relentless and shameless lying at her public appearances. But, I have to note, it's a brilliant strategy and proof that she is more in the mold of George W. Bush than just in ideological and theocratic terms. In fact she fits in perfectly with the Republican electoral strategic game plan that's been in place and mostly successful for decades.

Why do I think it's a brilliant strategy? Because the psychological and cognitive effects of the steady repetition of lies, weakly or half-heartedly challenged by the establishment media and, more importantly, Democrats, will, coupled with the McCain campaign's and the GOP's constant and insistent attacks on the "liberal" media and the Democratic Party, resist subsequent media or Democratic attempts to debunk, challenge or correct them. They are going to stick for a certain percentage of the population. She will be Mrs. I Stood Up to Congress on the Bridge to Nowhere despite the fact that this is a TOTAL LIE.

Since the McCain campaign has also decided, without much pushback except mealy-mouthed quibbling it appears, to keep her away from direct journalistic questioning or inquiry, there are few avenues for challenging her directly on her lies. When she finally does sit even for a friendly interview, as she supposedly will do with ABC's Charlie Gibson soon, it's unlikely he'll press her on the basic untruthfulness of her statements. (He has proved to be a notorious dope for the GOP this election season.) But regardless of which journalist is asking questions, Palin actually has two options: she can follow John McCain's lead and simply deny she ever said what she did, or Dick Cheney's, and admit that she was wrong, then simply go back out on the campaign trail and tell the exact same lies on the campaign trail! How much do you want to bet she'll get away with either strategy?

A good friend suggested the other day that the late Tim Russert would have held her to the truth, though I reminded him that Russert was on record in the Plame proceedings as a stooge for the current White House. Do you think he'd ask Sarah Palin the following series of simple questions?

Journalist: Mrs. Palin, you said at your unveiling last Friday, and then again in your speech at the Republican National Convention, and have repeated at each subsequent campaign stop, "I told the Congress 'thanks, but no thanks,' for that Bridge to Nowhere." But Congress, without your input, canceled the earmark for the Bridge to Nowhere in 2005, before you were elected to your governorship. Since Congress canceled the earmark before you were even elected, how could you possibly have said "Thanks, but no thanks" to Congress?

Palin: Blah blah blah.

Journalist: On top of not telling Congress anything at all, because you couldn't, because the earmark had already been canceled, you still pushed for it, and accepted the $223 million of unrestricted funds for your state.

Why do you keep claiming you did something you absolutely did not do? And despite there being a record of your actions, why do you keep claiming to have been against this particular earmark when you were for it and actively sought it, even though it had already been canceled?

Palin: Blah blah blah.

Journalist: So if you did not tell the truth about this basic issue, and keep failing to tell the truth about this basic issue, on campaign stop after stop, why should Americans trust anything you say?

After that the journalist could ask about current affairs and, looking into her on the record background, inquire about:

-her earmark binging,
-her hiring an Abramoff-affiliated lobbyist to gain the earmarks for Wasilla,
-her leaving the town of Wasilla in debt and an ongoing lawsuit,
-her support of corrupt US Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), which including running a 527 on his behalf and vocally supporting him just this past summer;
-her history of raising taxes, including sales taxes, which disparately impact working-class and poor people, and the sort of windfall profits tax the GOP has criticized Obama for suggesting,
-her attempts to ban books at the Wasilla Public Library when she first became mayor,
-her loyalty tests and repeated history of firing employees on flimsy pretexts,
-her failure to cooperate with the Troopergate investigate despite saying she would,
-whether she agrees with the secessionist Alaska Independence Party and whether she truly "loves America,"
-whether she believes the extremist statements, including anti-Semitic and anti-gay ones, that have been uttered in her presence at her church,
-whether she believes that her presiding over a state that is geographically near to a foreign country counts as foreign policy experience.

Oh, and whether she and the Republican Party not only support but celebrate premarital teenage sex. Given how they've demonized inner-city folks on this issue, I would be curious to hear her thoughts.

How much do you want to bet (the Grand Canyon, anyone?) that nothing of the sort will happen? Ever.

UPDATE: An enterprising American actually did ask Palin (and McCain) a few questions, which is more than all the establishment media combined. Let's see how long it takes for them to get off their behinds and do their jobs.


One way to deal with a racist idiot like Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA)....


Last night C and I watched Lanre Olabisi's August the First on PBS. Though it has flaws, I recommend it, and must add that not only haven't I seen this particular story ever told before on film. Novelty shouldn't be underestimated. I'll try to write a review soon.

I also hope to write a review of James Wood's How Fiction Works, which I read in part for my graduate fiction workshop this fall and because I've found Wood's probing, nontheoretical, aesthetically oriented and somewhat conservative readings nevertheless enlightening and useful in the past. In particular, his reading of what he calls "hysterical realism" in his previous study, The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel (FSG, 2004), provided me with a valuable means for talking about a great deal of contemporary American fiction, and for assessing some of the work of my graduate fiction writing students.

Before it ends, I hope we can catch Bill T. Jones's Fela!, which I've heard praised a great deal. A friend, the poet, playwright, musician and performer Karma Johnson, is in the cast. (Seun Kuti, I realized later on, performed at SummerStage the day after Tisa and I caught Rachid Taha!)

I'll also try to write something about J. M. Coetzee's most recent novel, the 2007 Diary of a Bad Year (Viking), which, like his utterly strange and formally inventive earlier post-Nobel Prize anti-novel novel, Elizabeth Costello, I cannot stop thinking about. Here is just one passage in the work, which makes use of a simple yet clever formal device to tell what ends up proving to be not only an intellectually provocative and ethically instructive, but by its end and despite its faults, emotionally probing story. The selection is from the 11th "Strong Opinion," "On the curse":

We thought they were powerless, he says, that was why we did what we did; now we see the were not powerless at all.

"Tragic guilt," writes Jean-Pierre Vernant, "takes shape in the constant clash between the ancient religious conception of the misdeed as a defilement attached to an entire race and inexorably transitted from one generation to the next . . . , and the new concept adopted in law according to which the guilty one is defined as a private individual who, acting under no constraint, has deliberately chosen to commit a crime."

The drama being played out before our eyes is of a ruler, George W. Bush (whether Bush turns out to have been a pawn in the hands of others is not relevant here), whose hubris lies in denying the force of the curse on him and of curses in general; who indeed goes further and asserts that the cannot commit a crime, since he is the one who makes the laws defining crimes.

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