Archive for December, 2008

Bush’s Reach, Bush’s Grasp

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

The New Yorker recently had an illuminating profile of Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve. Beyond exploring how Bernanke’s Alan-Greenspan-hand-me-down, laissez faire philosophy contributed to our current recession (hey, we may yet get a Great Depression out of this after all!), the article presents this revealing account of Bernake’s first meeting with Bush.

In June 2005, Bernanke was sworn in at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. One of his first tasks was to deliver a monthly economics briefing to the President and the Vice-President. After he and Hubbard sat down in the Oval Office, President Bush noticed that Bernanke was wearing light-tan socks under his dark suit. “Where did you get those socks, Ben?” he asked. “They don’t match.” Bernanke didn’t falter. “I bought them at the Gap—three pairs for seven dollars,” he replied. During the briefing, which lasted about forty-five minutes, the President mentioned the socks several times.

The following month, Hubbard’s deputy, Keith Hennessey, suggested that the entire economics team wear tan socks to the briefing. Hubbard agreed to call Vice-President Cheney and ask him to wear tan socks, too. “So, a little later, we all go into the Oval Office, and we all show up in tan socks,” Hubbard recalled. “The President looks at us and sees we are all wearing tan socks, and he says in a cool voice, ‘Oh, very, very funny.’ He turns to the Vice-President and says, ‘Mr. Vice-President, what do you think of these guys in their tan socks?’ Then the Vice-President shows him that he’s wearing them, too. The President broke up.

This emphasis of propriety—something Bernanke dismissed earlier in the article as “signaling”—is the only thing Bush seemed to have a handle on during his eight years in office. Hell, about the only time he apologized was after needling a reporter for wearing sunglasses. The reporter turned out to be blind.

I guess that’s what you get when you elect the first M.B.A. President. We took a middle manager and made him the most powerful man in the world.

Blago-Bashing

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

FLYMF alum Stefan Schumacher pulls a nice burn on in-the-process-of-being-disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich in the Chicago Tribune. (I would like to point out, for posterity, that I identified Blagojevich as a scumbag during his first run in 2002. I even voted Republican, people!)

Quoting Stefan:

Following Elvis’ lyrics closely

Gov. Blagojevich is all shook up. He’s the devil in the disguise. He’s a fool who rushed in. And soon he’ll be doing the jailhouse rock.

–Stefan Schumacher

Des Plaines

Stefan’s work for FLYMF included I Love My Dingy Poppers.

Sex and the Culture Divide

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

In Red Sex, Blue Sex, New Yorker writer Margaret Talbot explores the differences in teen pregnancy and attitudes toward sex in “blue” and “red” states. What’s fascinating about the article is that it highlights a real schism between those who claim to care the most about “family values” (the latter) and those who achieve the best outcomes for families (the former).

Among the stats and anecdotes recounted, Talbot highlights the following:

In 2004, the states with the highest divorce rates were Nevada, Arkansas, Wyoming, Idaho, and West Virginia (all red states in the 2004 election); those with the lowest were Illinois, Massachusetts, Iowa, Minnesota, and New Jersey. The highest teen-pregnancy rates were in Nevada, Arizona, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas (all red); the lowest were in North Dakota, Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Maine (blue except for North Dakota). “The ‘blue states’ of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic have lower teen birthrates, higher use of abortion, and lower percentages of teen births within marriage,” [family-law scholars] Cahn and Carbone observe.

The tempting takeaway is to say, “These people are nuts, and that’s why I don’t live in Oklahoma.” But Talbot is careful to temper holier-than-thou-ism against the holier-than-thous by pointing out that the issue is muddled by poverty and lack of resources. On the whole, though, the article offers a damning indictment of the abstinence-only industry.

In closing, she offers a heartening case for liberal values offering an edifice for healthy kids and marriages:

Evangelicals are very good at articulating their sexual ideals, but they have little practical advice for their young followers. Social liberals, meanwhile, are not very good at articulating values on marriage and teen sexuality—indeed, they may feel that it’s unseemly or judgmental to do so. But in fact the new middle-class morality is squarely pro-family. Maybe these choices weren’t originally about values—maybe they were about maximizing education and careers—yet the result is a more stable family system. Not only do couples who marry later stay married longer; children born to older couples fare better on a variety of measures, including educational attainment, regardless of their parents’ economic circumstances. The new middle-class culture of intensive parenting has ridiculous aspects, but it’s pretty successful at turning out productive, emotionally resilient young adults. And its intensity may be one reason that teen-agers from close families see child-rearing as a project for which they’re not yet ready. For too long, the conventional wisdom has been that social conservatives are the upholders of family values, whereas liberals are the proponents of a polymorphous selfishness. This isn’t true, and, every once in a while, liberals might point that out.

Why, it almost makes a social liberal want to say, “Amen!”

Republican Roots

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Neal Gabler has an interesting opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times tracing the roots of modern Republican electoral success not back to Goldwater, as the story often goes, but instead to the vicious scapegoating of McCarthy.

In a way, Goldwater was less a fulfillment of McCarthy conservatism than a slight diversion from it. Goldwater was ideological — an economic individualist. He hated government more than he loved winning, and though he was certainly not above using the McCarthy appeal to resentment or accusing his opponents of socialism, he lacked McCarthy’s blood- lust. McCarthy’s real heir was Nixon, who mainstreamed McCarthyism in 1968 by substituting liberals, youth and minorities for communists and intellectuals, and fueling resentments as McCarthy had. In his 1972 reelection, playing relentlessly on those resentments, Nixon effectively disassembled the old Roosevelt coalition, peeling off Catholics, evangelicals and working-class Democrats, and changed American politics far more than Goldwater ever would.

Today, these former liberals are known as Reagan Democrats, but they were Nixon voters before they were Reagan voters, and they were McCarthy supporters before they were either. A good deal of McCarthy’s support came from Catholics and evangelical Protestants who, along with Southerners, would form the basis of the new conservative coalition. Nixon simply mastered what McCarthy had authored. You demonize the opposition and polarize the electorate to win.

Sarah Palin’s tactics in the past election fell right along these same lines, which is why many of us find her so disgusting. Still, I hope she runs in 2012 because I don’t think she has the knowledge necessary to pull off a sustained smear campaign.

Isn’t There A Term For This? Something-Something Complex

Monday, December 1st, 2008

You know the generals who opine on your television about the necessity of the next war and massive defense spending? They’re being paid by defense contractors on the side.

As David Barstow reports in the New York Times:

In the spring of 2007 a tiny military contractor with a slender track record went shopping for a precious Beltway commodity.

The company, Defense Solutions, sought the services of a retired general with national stature, someone who could open doors at the highest levels of government and help it win a huge prize: the right to supply Iraq with thousands of armored vehicles.

Access like this does not come cheap, but it was an opportunity potentially worth billions in sales, and Defense Solutions soon found its man. The company signed Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and military analyst for NBC News, to a consulting contract starting June 15, 2007.

Four days later the general swung into action. He sent a personal note and 15-page briefing packet to David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, strongly recommending Defense Solutions and its offer to supply Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles from Eastern Europe. “No other proposal is quicker, less costly, or more certain to succeed,” he said.

Thus, within days of hiring General McCaffrey, the Defense Solutions sales pitch was in the hands of the American commander with the greatest influence over Iraq’s expanding military.

“That’s what I pay him for,” Timothy D. Ringgold, chief executive of Defense Solutions, said in an interview.

Nobody thinks they can be swayed by a conflict of interest. That’s why rules are in place requiring their disclosure.