Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘FDR

It’s The Coporations’ World, We Just Live In It

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The Supreme Court has tossed out an Arizona law that provides extra taxpayer-funded support for office seekers who have been outspent by privately funded opponents or by independent political groups.

A conservative 5-4 majority of justices on Monday said the law violated free speech, concluding the state was impermissibly trying to “level the playing field” through a public finance system.

Here’s the full decision.

All my political fantasies today revolve around packing the Court; of course you’d have to retake the House and nuclear-option the Senate first, and also have a Democratic Party worth a damn.

UPDATE: Commentary from Lawyers, Guns, and Money, including this gem from Elena Kagan’s dissent:

This suit, in fact, may merit less attention than any challenge to a speech subsidy ever seen in this Court. In the usual First Amendment subsidy case, a person complains that the government declined to finance his speech, while bankrolling someone else’s; we must then decide whether the government differentiated between these speakers on a prohibited basis—because it preferred one speaker’s ideas to another’s. But the candidates bringing this challenge do not make that claim—because they were never denied a subsidy. Arizona, remember, offers to support any person running for state office. Petitioners here refused that assistance. So they are making a novel argument: that Arizona violated their First Amendment rights by disbursing funds to other speakers even though they could have received (but chose to spurn) the same financial assistance. Some people might call that chutzpah.

Indeed, what petitioners demand is essentially a right to quash others’ speech through the prohibition of a (universally available) subsidy program. Petitioners are able to convey their ideas without public financing—and they would prefer the field to themselves, so that they can speak free from response. To attain that goal, they ask this Court to prevent Arizona from funding electoral speech—even though that assistance is offered to every state candidate, on the same (entirely unobjectionable) basis. And this Court gladly obliges.

Wonks v. Kill-Billers

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Nate Silver offers an olive branch in the wonk-versus-activist civil war over the health care bill. But it’s not all olive branches:

…it does seem that one of the most significant potential upsides to passing the bill — motivating the base — may now be significantly muted.

I mostly don’t blame the kill billers for that either, nor do I expect them to cheerlead for a policy that leaves them feeling dissatisfied. But to the extent that some of the opposition on the left has been based on (i) an unrealistic read of the political environment, or (ii) an ill-considered (IMO) desire to use health care as a pawn in a somewhat amorphous long-run power struggle, or (iii) a principally emotional reaction to the intrinsically and inevitably ugly mechanics of compromise — I do assign them some of the blame for this portion of the political fallout.

For what it’s worth I think much of this political damage will turn out to be fairly transitory; I’m still expecting a significant bump in Democratic approval (especially for Obama) as soon as the bill is signed (i.e., as soon as he proves he can get results). Don’t forget the myriad benefits of this historic health care reform—a feat never accomplished in a century of attempts &c. &c.—will be the centerpiece of his second State of the Union; by the time he’s finished talking he’ll look like FDR.

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December 19, 2009 at 3:30 pm

Sunday Links

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Sunday links.

* If you’re still reading about health care, don’t miss the New York Times‘s hundred-year history of health care reform in America and (via the indomitable Steve Benen) a few links on what the bill actually accomplishes. It’s also worth checking in with Steve Benen’s reading of John Boehner’s December 2008 declaration “The Future is Cao,” which looks a whole lot different now.

* I’ve been thinking about the Paul Begala editorial from the summer, “Progress Over Perfection,” and I think some nay-saying progressives could use the reminder.

No self-respecting liberal today would support Franklin Roosevelt’s original Social Security Act. It excluded agricultural workers — a huge part of the economy in 1935, and one in which Latinos have traditionally worked. It excluded domestic workers, which included countless African Americans and immigrants. It did not cover the self-employed, or state and local government employees, or railroad employees, or federal employees or employees of nonprofits. It didn’t even cover the clergy. FDR’s Social Security Act did not have benefits for dependents or survivors. It did not have a cost-of-living increase. If you became disabled and couldn’t work, you got nothing from Social Security.

If that version of Social Security were introduced today, progressives like me would call it cramped, parsimonious, mean-spirited and even racist. Perhaps it was all those things. But it was also a start. And for 74 years we have built on that start. We added more people to the winner’s circle: farmworkers and domestic workers and government workers. We extended benefits to the children of working men and women who died. We granted benefits to the disabled. We mandated annual cost-of-living adjustments. And today Social Security is the bedrock of our progressive vision of the common good.

* Meanwhile, Ryan’s Twitter feed has this on the attention economy as “post-capitalism.”

The views I challenge include the notion that attention flows through the Internet chiefly to corporations, that attention only has significance if somehow monetized, that it is ultimately capitalists who exploit attention, and that money remains far more basic than attention.

Don’t worry, fellow citizens; capitalism is alive and well.

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November 8, 2009 at 4:08 pm

‘Capitalism: A Love Story’

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We saw Capitalism: A Love Story last night and had some heated discussion in the car afterward. While all the parties involved operate from a shared position that “Yes, capitalism is very bad,” I found myself significantly disappointed in Moore’s take on the problem. This is a topic that needs to be approached systematically, from a structural perspective, or you wind up doing more harm than good; it doesn’t really lend itself to the anecdotal style of more reform-minded documentaries like Roger & Me and Sicko. In short Moore bit off much more than he could chew.

Politically I found the film both ahistorical and largely incoherent. To begin, the film opens with completely uncritical nostalgia for the 1950s before pretending that the economic collapses of the 1970s never happened, blaming Reagan alone for both post-Fordism and the financialization of capital. (Reagan and Reaganonomics certainly did a lot of harm to the country, and accelerated the crisis dramatically, but the dismantling of the country’s manufacturing base and the explosion in private debt began about a decade before he took office.) Likewise, aside from a few scenes late in the film, Clinton is essentially let off the hook entirely, while Obama’s participation in the ongoing transfer of wealth to Wall Street is also barely acknowledged. Neither the Global South nor generational American poverty nor systemic racism nor ecological crisis warrant any mention; in short the film is wrapped up so entirely in nostalgia for a particular version of middle-class American life that, despite its name, it’s barely about “capitalism” at all.

Moore also weirdly conflates left and right populism in a way that, I think, is extremely pernicious. To take the example he focuses his climax on: most of the opposition to bailouts as such last year was coming from the right, and was located less in long-held principle than in a rhetorical attempt to regain control of the electoral debate—but Moore pretends that populism, like all populism, was somehow of the left. In fact, the progressive critique of the bailout was generally about its size—Krugman, remember, wanted it to be bigger—and the sorts of strings that should be attached to the funds—not whether or not it should happen at all.

Obama’s election is likewise recast as the culmination of a “people’s revolt” that somehow began with the bailouts, a revisionist history of the last year which just doesn’t make any sense. The two things, in fact, had little to do with one another, and to the extent that they were related it was Obama’s strong support for the bailouts that drove his poll numbers upward against McCain’s. Indeed, that Obama supported the bailouts, and McCain quasi-opposed them, is never explicitly acknowledged by the film at all.

And don’t get me started on the repeated reference to the Catholic Church as Moore’s (sole) exemplar for anti-capitalist morality. There are a lot of things that might be said about the Church, and undoubtedly a lot of good people working through it, but its corporate structure and massive financial holdings don’t exactly map for us a vision of a world beyond capital.

Moore’s argumentive style in Capitalism, more so than even his other films, is almost always emotive and anecdotal. A long section on so-called “dead peasant insurance”—the practice of companies taking out insurance policies on rank-and-file workers—never connects the practice to larger injustices, and tragedies like Hurricane Katrina or the death of a young mother are evoked for cheap pathos that stands in for actual critique. Small, isolated victories against boilerplate villains like foreclosing banks are taken as exemplary of a mass movement that, I’m sorry to report, doesn’t seem to actually exist. And as is increasingly the case with Moore, the film’s primary mode is unrepentant self-congratulation, incoherently casting failures as victories in much the same way as Slacker Uprising; Moore figures more and more in his films as the hero of a revolution that never came, that only happened in his dreams.

Even the visual style of the film is significantly inferior to recent offerings like Bowling, Fahrenheit, and Sicko; the film feels thrown together, even phoned in.

It should be said that Jaimee, Tim, Alex, and Julie all seemed to like the film rather more than I did, and their replies to these arguments generally fell along two lines:

1) It’s a Michael Moore movie. What did you expect?
2) Okay, but [Sequence X] was actually quite good.

Taking these in reverse order: it’s true that the film does have some rather nice individual sequences. One that springs to mind is an investigation into corruption surrounding a privatized juvenile-detention prison in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in which two judges were recently indicted on racketeering charges for funneling children into the prison in exchange for kickbacks. But as terrible as this story is, like most of the film’s examples this is still local and anecdotal, suggestive of reform and “bad apples” and not total system failure. It is too rarely that the film rises above the level of mere anecdote to the level of system, though it does here and there, as in its discussion of an unexpectedly forthright internal Citibank memo that declares America a “plutonomy” (for my money the film’s best sequence).

(EDIT: Just a quick after-the-post interjection that while talking to Jaimee I was reminded about the striking footage of FDR and his proposed “Second Bill of Rights,” which is actually the film’s best sequence, as well as an approach to reform/revolution that could have structured a better version of this film.)

And yes, it’s just a Michael Moore film and not Capital, and yes, rigor must sometimes be compromised in exchange for mass appeal. But we shouldn’t mistake spectacle for revolution, either; Paramount’s release of this film is much less the capitalist selling you a rope with which to hang him than the capitalist selling you a picture of a rope. At times the film can barely keep up the pretense of being about anything more than fluffing Michael Moore’s ego, with scene after scene of him shouting impotently in front of buildings in precisely the same way he has for the last 20 years. (The film depicts these moments not as futile but as, of course, heroic, including impotently-shouting-outside-buildings footage from Roger & Me without any apparent sense of irony.) The film ends with Michael Moore threatening not to make any more movies for us at all unless we get off our asses and revolt—but the film, primarily a love song to his own career, provides absolutely no roadmap for collective action. Even An Inconvenient Truth, flawed as its call for action was, at least told us to change our lightbulbs; beyond a visit to Moore has no apparent thoughts whatsoever as to how a successful anti-capitalist political coalition might be forged in America today.

I’ll go out on a limb and bet it doesn’t begin with a film like Capitalism. If I’m wrong, I owe Michael Moore a Coke.

More Michele Bachmann Alternate Universe Woes

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More information is coming out about the alternate universe Michele Bachmann comes from: it turns out that in Bachmann’s timeline it was FDR’s Hoot-Smalley tariffs that turned an otherwise run-of-the-mill recession into the Great Depression.

Now, of course, in our universe this was called the Smoot-Hawley Act and it was signed into law in 1929 by Republican President Herbert Hoover. Moreover, here on Earth-1 FDR didn’t even take office until 1933, at which time the Depression was almost four years old.

We’ve got to find some way to send Bachmann back home.

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April 29, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Puns I’m Only Just Now Getting

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Puns I’m only just now getting: Oh, it was that sort of deal

I always thought it was a new accord/compromise/understanding/pact…

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April 20, 2009 at 11:44 pm

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Monday News Roundup

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* Almost as if they all receive their talking points from a single, central location, the entire right-wing spin machine has spontaneously decided to start talking about how the New Deal didn’t actually work. Uh, sure.

* The first link doesn’t make the absurdity clear, but Karl Rove is Twittering.

* Also in alternate-universe news: George Bush: Greatest President.

To prove his point, Barnes points to Bush’s “ten great achievements”:

1. Bush stood up to “global warming hysteria,” and helped undermine the agenda of “alarmists.”
2. He endorsed “enhanced interrogation,” “secret prisons,” and “wireless eavesdropping.”
3. He seized unprecedented executive authority, and ignored congressional attempts at oversight.
4. He offered “unswerving support for Israel.”
5. He signed the No Child Left Behind initiative.
6. He delivered his second inaugural address.
7. He signed the Medicare prescription drug benefit.
8. He pushed the Supreme Court even further to the right.
9. He improved U.S. relations with Japan, South Korea, and Australia.
10. He created a “fragile but functioning democracy” in Iraq.

You’ll note Barnes is padding his list just a bit—delivering a second inaugural address is sort of light for a “top ten accomplishments” list, as is “improved relations with Australia.”

* Also via Washington Monthly, Jon Swift has your retort.

* Not capturing Osama bin Laden isn’t on Barnes’s list, but Cheney tells us that doesn’t matter.

Today on CNN’s Late Edition, host Wolf Blitzer asked Vice President Cheney, “How frustrating is this to you personally, knowing he’s [bin Laden] still at large?” Cheney hesitated, then simply replied that he would “obviously…like to solve that problem.” He added that it’s more “important” to “keep…this country safe,” indicating that bin Laden is inconsequential.

* North Carolina in the news! The Brunswick school district wants to teach creationism to kids. In 2008.

“I wasn’t here 2 million years ago,” Fanti said. “If evolution is so slow, why don’t we see anything evolving now?”

There’s your evidence.

* Eight reasons why we are in a depression.

* Half of world’s population could face climate-driven food crisis by 2100.

* After ten days of not sleeping, Randy Gardner was able to hold a press conference and beat a journalist at pinball. Note: this happened forty-four years ago, but I just found out about it yesterday.

‘Echoes of the Great Depression’

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In my email: ‘Pennyland: Echoes of the Great Depression,’ a film by Frank and Eddie Thomas featuring (among other things) snippets of FDR’s first inaugural address and the Walker Evans photos from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Feels timely.

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November 29, 2008 at 2:21 pm

The ‘C’ Word

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Al Giordano: ‘Thirty-two and the years that followed marked a paradigm shift for the American left, a time when certain tendencies of its creative class finally engaged in a conversation with the workers and for years after that listened to them and served their interests in the books, plays, songs and movies and journalism they wrote (the later McCarthyism purges in fact were aimed at breaking that historic alliance). The irony of that moment was that it took an electoral campaign and an unlikely president to catalyze that alliance.

When we hear, in 2008, a major party nominee for president at an hour of economic crisis unafraid to use the word “capitalism” critically, we can see that the American left is at just such an historic crossroads today.

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September 17, 2008 at 7:05 pm

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