Surly bubble.

The problem with modern life is, we all live in a bubble. Our bubbles float through space, occasionally bumping into other bubbles, but you know how that happens — the two bubbles don’t become one, but just adhere for a while. We can look into the bubble next door, but there’s still the membrane between us.

The better your bubble, the more secure you are. On the other hand, the better your bubble, the harder it is to hear what’s going on outside it. Bubbles can be called by other names — I prefer “Graceland” — but it’s still a bubble. My membrane is thin at the moment; I am not secure. On the other hand, I am not Peggy Noonan, either:

On Wednesday, in an interview with Politico, Dick Cheney warned of the possible deaths of “perhaps hundreds of thousands” of Americans in a terror attack using nuclear or biological weapons. “I think there is a high probability of such an attempt,” he said.

When the interview broke and was read on the air, I was in a room off a television studio. For a moment everything went silent, and then a makeup woman said to a guest, “I don’t see how anyone can think that’s not true.”

A makeup woman. Peggy’s bubble has adhered to another’s. She peers inside at the strange life there, and is pleased to see the makeup woman shares her anxieties. Makeup people, taxi drivers, “an e-mail from a reader” — these are how the pundit class takes the pulse of the mob. It doesn’t matter; it’s still a bubble.

Actually, the whole column is just classic Noonan, and I know I’ve said this a million times, but every time I picture her at her laptop, working, I see her stirring a highball with her index finger, sucking the bourbon off, tapping out a few lines, back to the highball. I can think of no other explanation for an opening line like this: All week the word I kept thinking of was “braced.” Peggy doesn’t write so much as she streams her consciousness, whatever shape it’s in at any given moment. Who knew that Hunter Thompson’s legacy would carry so far from the pages of college newspapers? It is to marvel.

Eh. I can’t get excited about picking on the holders of wingnut sinecures this morning. It’s Thursday, almost the end of my week, but not this week. I’ll be working every day, on one job or another, for the foreseeable future, which makes me a little glum and, like Peggy, very thirsty. So let’s turn to the one place that never fails to cheer me up: The big world outside the bubble.

Here in Detroit, the city council president is… well, what is the word I’m looking for? Insane? Maybe. You tell me how to describe a woman who cannot check into a hotel without police being called, who reduces a public meeting to chaos by flinging insults at a colleague? Insane implies she’s irrational, when she’s clearly not. Bloggers and commenters not affiliated with mainstream media reach for more racially tinged descriptions; “ghetto trash” seems to be the term of the moment. She’s always wagging her finger, metaphorically or not, in someone’s face. There was another incident last week:

Detroit City Council President Monica Conyers had to be restrained during a confrontation last week with Councilman Kwame Kenyatta in which she hurled insults at Kenyatta about his hearing aid, health and education.

…When Kenyatta asked her what she said, Conyers responded he needed to learn how to talk to a woman.

Kenyatta shot back that when he was with a woman, he would do so. That prompted Conyers to yell at Kenyatta that he was stupid, citing his lack of a college degree, to tell him he “can’t hear” — a dig at his hearing aid — and to try to rub in his face rumors that Kenyatta has cancer.

It sounds like an episode of “Rock of Love Charm School,” only without the hope of elimination at the end of the episode. Oh, wait. Monica may take care of that herself:

“Sometimes, I think of this job, it’s like, Is it all worth it?” she said in a half-hour interview. “It’s just so much scrutiny for nothing that I didn’t even see none of this when I wanted to run for this office. But now here I am in this office, and it’s just like, beat up on Monica.”

Narcissists are such interesting people, aren’t they? Poor them.

Meanwhile, in totally unrelated musings, Supergay Detroit has some thoughts.

But that wasn’t the only outrage coming out of Detroit this week. (Is there ever only one? No.) The same day one of the city’s few successful and legal businesses lays off 250, it also hires one: Kwame Kilpatrick. And while you can read the legitimate stories about this in the usual places, for pure summing-up pungency, you really can’t beat Detroitist:

Kleptocracy uber alles.

Oh, hell yes.

Dana Milbank can be a bit full of himself, but for a certain sort of Washington reporting, no one does it better:

In another time, Stew Parnell, the man whose peanut butter killed eight people and sickened 550 more, would have been put in the stocks or the pillory. Congress didn’t have such tools at its disposal yesterday, so lawmakers did the modern equivalent: They put him through the walk of shame.

The House commerce committee hauled Parnell up to testify under subpoena, even though lawmakers knew the Peanut Corporation of America boss would take the Fifth. Before calling him to the witness table, they heard from the grieving relatives of Parnell’s victims. They made him take the oath, then invited him to sample some of product he shipped even though he knew it had tested positive for salmonella. Finally, they forced him and his lawyers to take a quarter-mile perp walk on Capitol Hill, chased by television cameras and reporters jamming microphones in his face and shouting questions:

“Mr. Parnell, did you put profits ahead of the public’s health?”

“People died, sir. Do you have anything to say to their families?”

More constrained reporters had to settle for wussy adjectives like “theatrical,” but I thought Milbank’s “sketch,” as these pieces are called, captured the absurdity of the situation — posturing on one side, weaseling on the other — rather neatly. He should cover Detroit.

And with that, I think I should drag my stinky ass through some hot water and try to make some sense of the day. Some days, you think Joaquin Phoenix is the only one who really has it figured out. Hilarious clip behind the link.

Posted at 10:13 am in Current events, Detroit life |
 

53 responses to “Surly bubble.”

  1. coozledad said on February 12, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Is there some fraternity of actors whose ritual hazing is to do the Letterman show on acid? Crispin Glover comes to mind- and Madonna, with the whole pissing in the shower and smoking indo thing. You’ve got to hand it to Dave. He’s learned how to make it work for him.

  2. jeff borden said on February 12, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Nancy, you silly person, Stewart Parnell was only looking out for his bottom line. If eight people had to die and hundreds more became violently ill, well, that is a small price to pay to ensure that the Peanut Corporation of America continues to hum along.

    Remember during Blowjob Gate, when some rightwing talking head or another demanded to know why Americans were not more upset and angry at their randy president enjoying a little fellatio in the Oval Office. “Where is the outrage?” he thundered.

    The Bush administration set the outrage bar so high that even Dick Fosbury couldn’t clear it. When you invade a sovereign nation under false pretenses, shred the Constitution, wipe your butt with the writ of habeas corpus and embrace the same kinds of torture Army Rangers and Navy Seals are taught to survive, the deaths of eight people due to sheer, unadulterated greed are easy to ignore. Hell, Halliburton is responsible for more than a dozen deaths by electrocution in Iraq, where poorly constructed military shower facilities have killed more people than tainted peanut butter. Heard a word about it except for a four-paragraph story on page C-36?

    And it certainly didn’t begin with the little weasel from Crawford. Remember the actuarial study Ford Motor Co. did on the Pinto? Ford callously weighed the costs of replacing the faulty gas tanks –which tended to explode into fireballs on impact and cook those inside the Pinto– against the projected costs of lawsuits and payouts to the families of the dead and injured. The lawsuits came in a lot cheaper, so those gas tanks went unreplaced and more unlucky consumers were fricaseed.

    Parnell is only the latest “profits uber alles” executive to be spotlighted. He will not be the last, so long as we continue to treat this kind of criminality with kid gloves instead of treating Mr. Parnell the way we would if he took a pistol and shot eight people. I’d treat Bernard Madoff the same way. The S.O.B. is a bank robber. He ought to be awaiting trial in some grim hellhole of a prison instead of living large in his multi-million-dollar Manhattan penthouse.

    Our system of justice is so skewed in favor of the wealthy and the powerful. To bring this up brings cries of “class warfare” from our friends on the right, but how can any thinking person not see the dichotomy in the treatment of Mr. Parnell vs. your usual low-life gangbanger gunman?

  3. Jolene said on February 12, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Wow, Jeff. That was really impressive. On most days, it would take me until at least 2 PM to work up that much outrage, and, even then, I wouldn’t be nearly so eloquent. Great job.

  4. Julie Robinson said on February 12, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Now I know where all that wind was coming from last night. Not that I disagree.

  5. jeff borden said on February 12, 2009 at 11:24 am

    Jolene,

    I am ticked off today. Someone forwarded the latest drool masquerading as a WSJ column written by Mr. Toad aka Karl Rove, which I unfortunately read. After scalding the insides of my nose by blowing out a mouthful of hot coffee, my Outrage-O-Meter has been pinned in the red ever since. Seeing Nancy spotlight Stewart Parnell just set me off.

    Sometimes I wonder why we don’t see a rising tide of populist anger swamping the nation, given how poorly the many are treated by the few. But I guess we’re all too busy watching TV, surfing the Internet, playing video games, etc. I’m not casting aspersions. I count myself among the non-involved. For all my bluster, what the hell have I done to address these questions? Nada except for voting Democratic and supporting the ACLU. A response that is anemic at best, pathetic at worst.

  6. Cole Hanz said on February 12, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    The Joaquin Pheonix act is a complete hoax. Yes, he’s been doing it all over L.A. and New York. Yes he’s completely immersed in this “character.” But Casey Afleck has been following him around with a camera the whole time, usually smirking and unable to keep a straight face as he videotapes DJ Jazzy Joaquin rapping his “hip hop.”

    This is a hoax, and it’s a damn good one.

    Jeff, you can keep ringing that bell (“Blowjob Gate”) but it will never ring true. Clinton was impeached because he lied to a judge and he lied to a Grand Jury. There wasn’t a damn word about blowjobs in the articles of impeachment. If perjury doesn’t rise to your personal level of considerable outrage, that’s fine. But all your efforts to reframe the charges against Clinton are hogwash. They were hogwash yesterday and they will be hogwash tomorrow.

    Clinton skated justice, as did Reagan before him, and Nixon before him, (and Johnson before him) (and a dozen others before him).

    If Clinton was your guy and you didn’t think the tenor of his crimes warranted removal from office… Hey, guess what? You should rejoice. Justice was not done… Again. Yay.

    But seriously, Dude. It may be time to accept an unqualified victory and move on. Just a suggestion. Because fighting the facts of history are only going to wear you out and make you bitter.

  7. LA Mary said on February 12, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    I work in a office with five other people who do the same job I do. We all make around the same amount of money give or take about ten grand. Across from me is the office right wing fundie. We can all hear each other on the phone, and we’ve all heard her phone calls to the people who manage her trust fund, her husband’s family trust, and the trusts the grandparents have set up for the kids. Good on her. But the other day, she got a call from someone she had hired who moved here from out of state. The new hire was given relocation money and a sign on bonus, and she hasn’t received the check yet, and it’s causing her some serious financial problems. My colleague tells her curtly she’ll look into where the check is, hangs up and says, “well, I can’t believe we hired someone who says that delaying a check for 6300 dollars causes her financial problems. That’s not our issue. It’s her financial mismanagement.”
    Let me tell you, if I was counting on check for 6300 dollars and it didn’t arrive, I would be in deep shit. I’m a very different bubble than this woman.

  8. Cole Hanz said on February 12, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Oh, and Peanut Butter…

    Do any of you know what FDA inspectors really do?

    Do you think they are some kind of biological CSI team taking swab samples and running centrifuges and looking through microscopes?

    You’d be wrong.

    FDA inspectors are government paid supplemental unskilled employees who stand next to the conveyor belt and pull off suspicious looking bruised fruit. Food plant owners LOVE them because they are free unskilled labor.

    You could have had 30 more FDA inspectors in that plant and it would not have stopped that guy from shipping tainted product. More government regulation wouldn’t have made one iota of difference.

    It came down to a human being making a choice. He made the wrong one. He is responsible for the deaths of those six (or more) people. He will be held accountable for his bad decision. Unlike Clinton and Reagan and Nixon, the system appears to be working where this guy is concerned.

    “Greeeeeed! Corporate greeeed! Damn that muther blanking Corporate GREEEEEED!”

    Uh, yeah. Corporations are bent on making a profit. Welcome to Capitalism. Funny how we’re all greedy, we all want more stuff, but we just hate those with the means and resources to actually make money and get stuff.

  9. beb said on February 12, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    It seems like all Congress is good at anymore is theatrical Public Hearings. it’s easier than doing something about the abuses of the Peanut company — like enacting strict product liability laws and funding the hiring of 500 more food inspectors so that every plant can be inspected more than one or twice a month. But that doeosn’t buy air time for re-election purposes and costs money. Although, right now, hiring 500 new food inspectors would be a big stimulus package, and the money needed to be spent to avouid being closed down would employ lots of people, too.

    Since the FDA suncontracted inspections to the state of Georgia, perhaps the FDA should sue the state for failing to do its duty.

    Monica Conyers…. she’s like some bad Tyler Perry movie. But it’s like everyone on the City Council thinks they’re the Pope and that their rings aren’t kissed enough and so on. And it’s been like that for twenty years. Like Yogi Beera you gtta ask, “is there anybody out there who knows how to run a government?”

    I think I nned to change my handle from “beb” to “sourpuss pissant” Politics really brings out the worst in me.

  10. Cole Hanz said on February 12, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    From the Wikipedia:

    “However, a 1991 law review paper by Gary Schwartz argued that the case against the Pinto was less clear-cut than commonly supposed. Twenty-seven people died in Pinto fires. Given the Pinto’s production figures (over 2 million built), this was no worse than typical for the time. Schwartz argued that the car was no more fire-prone than other cars of the time, that its fatality rates were lower than comparably sized imported automobiles, and that the supposed “smoking gun” document that plaintiffs claimed showed Ford’s callousness in designing the Pinto was actually a document based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulations about the value of a human life rather than a document containing an assessment of Ford’s potential tort liability.”

    Sauce: http://www.pointoflaw.com/articles/The_Myth_of_the_Ford_Pinto_Case.pdf

  11. moe99 said on February 12, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    I heard from a friend in Chicago that Joaquin Phoenix did not want to go out and promote his current movie and this is the way he is getting back at the producers.

  12. Carolyn said on February 12, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    I like the bubble analogy, Nance.
    I read the Noonan column earlier this week and thought: This woman has a seriously low tolerance for stress. She needs to go lie down!

  13. alex said on February 12, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Hey, Cole/Danny, look up the Chevy Malibu case from the ’80s. There was, in fact, a cost-benefit analysis done with regard to litigation versus building a safer gas tank and a whistleblower leaked it. I believe that may be the case Jeff is thinking of.

  14. Peter said on February 12, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Ithink a big difference between the Pinto, and similar problems, and the peanut case is probability.

    It’s one thing to discover a problem, calculate the risk versus cost in repairing it, and make a business decision. It’s something else to ship out a product that is obviously tainted and that is guaranteed to get people ill and you’re hoping that someone will blame the final manufacturer instead of you, the original supplier.

    And for the Bill Clinton debate – I agree he should have been impeached. If he was a high school principal instead of the president, he would have been fired and hauled off in minutes. The true tragedy is that W and his evil sidekick who won’t shut up have pushed irresponsible and impeachable behavior to such a new level that Clinton’s (and let’s be honest, Reagan’s and Nixon’s) behavior is quaint, at best.

  15. nancy said on February 12, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    Sorry, but I simply don’t believe this:

    FDA inspectors are government paid supplemental unskilled employees who stand next to the conveyor belt and pull off suspicious looking bruised fruit. Food plant owners LOVE them because they are free unskilled labor.

    You could have had 30 more FDA inspectors in that plant and it would not have stopped that guy from shipping tainted product. More government regulation wouldn’t have made one iota of difference.

    And unless you can actually cite chapter and verse on how this is true, I’m calling bullshit. This is the old “the government can’t do anything right, therefore let’s have no government” canard. If they had nothing to fear from the FDA, if, as you say, they would have been welcomed as free assembly-line workers “pulling off bruised fruit” in a plant that didn’t actually handle fruit, why then were they given advance notice of FDA inspections, during which employees were told to keep their mouths shut?

    UPDATE: Ha! Guess whose IP address is identical to the one used by Dwight earlier in the week? Cole’s! An amazing coincidence! Let’s all welcome “Cole Hanz” back to the fold. Sorry, but I can spot a prose style a mile away.

  16. ROgirl said on February 12, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    The Monica C. thing is just…insanity, as you write. I have often wondered about the council president and her much older, Washington-residing husband.

    As for Kwame and Karmanos, it’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham. At least he’ll be out of Detroit.

  17. Rana said on February 12, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    I like the bubble analogy as well – and it occurs to me that not only does the bubble isolate a person, it distorts their perceptions as well. My own reaction on reading what the make-up person said was something along the lines of “Well, duh.” As in, the world’s a big place, filled with all sorts of nuts with grievances, and so it’s more likely than not that at least some of them will attempt something crazy and destructive. What would surprise me would be if things like this didn’t happen. So for me, the take-away message is not “Run around like a crazy person then hide under the covers in on-going fear while demanding that people make the world 100% safe” but rather that one should have plans in place so that when such attempts are made, the casualty counts are as low as possible (and hopefully zero).

    I wonder if Peggy Noonan lives in terror of accidentally choking on a piece of meat or getting hit by a bicycle, too. I suspect she does.

  18. Rana said on February 12, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Speaking of bubbles… perhaps more FDA inspectors might not have caught a particular batch of bad peanut butter, but at the very least an increased presence and a stronger enforcement arm would have meant that things like the leaking roof would have been noticed, along with unsafe practices that contribute to contamination in the first place. Food inspectors aren’t merely testing the food – they’re assessing the cleanliness of the environment in which the food is made, packaged, and stored.

    The rest of the assertions made in that comment demand substantiation – and of a more compelling sort than “I say so, so it must be true.”

  19. jeff borden said on February 12, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    Cole,

    You completely misread my comments. Where do I defend Bill Clinton, whom I blame personally for the election of George W. Bush? My point was we were encouraged by a holier-than-thou wingnut to be outraged by a man who lied about sex with a woman not his wife. The silence from the right on the tainted peanuts, Bernard Madoff, et.al. has been deafening.

    Spare me your bogus arguments that requiring manufacturers of food products guarantee their offerings will not kill or sicken consumers makes me anti-capitalist. I’m a devoted capitalist, though the economic chaos sowed by the G.O.P. has made it considerable more difficult for many of us to earn a living. Driving the economy into the ground will do that, don’t you think?

    Corporations are no better or worse, in general, than other institutions. But you’d better believe I’m outraged when an executive who is informed that his peanut products are tainted with salmonella decides to ship them anyway.

    Try to engage the argument the next time, dude. There’s enough pollution in the air without you burning straw men.

    For the record, I can’t stand Bill Clinton, not only for assuring that a better man in Al Gore was denied the White House, but also for his mendacity, his narcissism and his betrayal of his wife and daughter.

  20. del said on February 12, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    The post today was magnificent. Bubbles. Will ponder that.

  21. nancy said on February 12, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Save your breath, Borden. Dwight/Cole specializes in point-missing.

  22. jeff borden said on February 12, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Nancy,

    Duly noted. Another rightwing goofball who thinks Ayn Rand was the bee’s knees. Even when we had to wade through “Atlas Shrugged” back in school, I thought it was a crappy book driven by dime store philosophy. Dwight/Cole/SecretAgentMan whatever apparently is among the many wingnuts who bought in completely.

    Perhaps there’s a place for Dwight/Cole/SecretAgentMan on Fox. They miss a lot of points, too.

  23. MichaelG said on February 12, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    Dick Fosbury? He flopped.

  24. jeff borden said on February 12, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Finally! Congrats, Michael. I was wondering when someone would address the Dick Fosbury reference. The Fosbury Flop is one of my favorite sports inventions. Unorthodox, for sure, but he cleared a lot of bars with it.

  25. Scout said on February 12, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Possibly part of the silence from the right is because Parnell is, you guessed it, one of them. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack just removed him from membership of USDA’s Peanut Standards Board. Yep, another heckuva job Bush appointee.
    http://crooksandliars.com/david-neiwert/peanut-gallery-mum-salmonella-republ

  26. Jolene said on February 12, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    It’s hardly original to point out the (lack of) qualifications or other unsuitability of Bush appointees, but one that I like to mention was his nominee for head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The guy was formerly the head of the National Association of Manufacturers. Talk about fox-guarding-the-henhouse. I happened to hear about this appointment on NPR while on a longish drive, and I couldn’t help pounding on the steering wheel as I was listened. Fortunately, the guy was rejected by the Senate, but only just. This presentation occurred back when we were concerned about lead paint on toys from China. Just incredible.

    P.S. I like the current look of the comments section. The comments seem to fit the space better–less sprawly–and the typeface for the name of the commenter is just the right size. Stands out nicely. Would it be possible to darken the comment numbers slightly, or is the shading an on/off function?

  27. moe99 said on February 12, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    I worked with FDA inspectors when I was an Assistant Attorney General in Consumer Protection on a case involving the sale of meat certified as beef that contained pork. They were very professional and knew a great deal about the scientific and legal processes that they were involved in.

  28. joodyb said on February 12, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Carolyn, we have waited decades for her to become so impaired by all this stress that she can no longer write. i surmise all she does is write, then lie down. writing is her vampire’s blood.

  29. nancy said on February 12, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    There are two schools of thought on these appointments, and I can see the GOP’s side, which goes like this: “Who knows better what an industry is or isn’t capable of than someone in it? Turn industry standards over to just anyone, and pretty soon they’re imposing ridiculous restrictions based on ignorance. Peanut processors know what other peanut processors need, so let them set the standards.”

    (Note: This argument was incredibly prevalent in Indiana, where the part-time “citizen legislature” was full of insurance executives setting standards for the insurance industry, etc.)

    The argument usually went on to state that peanut processors would have no incentive to allow the peanut industry to operate filthy plants and/or escape liability for the odd bad lot of peanut butter. Killing or sickening their own customers would be bad for business. Then lots of boilerplate about the holy powers of the Market, hosanna in the highest, pause for genuflection, etc.

    Every so often, though, you get a case like this, where Mr. this-is-costing-us-$$$$$ slips through, or, more likely, uses his spot on the peanut standards board to know when the FDA is in the neighborhood (because, according to Dwight/Cole, he needs some cheap labor). Or you have a story wondering why, in Indiana, loss of a limb in a factory accident only nets you $1.98 (the insurance industry-approved price), they shrug and say, essentially, “Shit happens.”

    That’s why I’m not a Republican. Shit always happens. Have a couple guys like that on the board for their insider’s opinions, but for god’s sake don’t let them reach critical mass.

    ADDED: The more I read about the Peanut Corporation of America, the more I’d like to know about them. They sound like a pretty small operator in the industry — $11 million in sales doesn’t seem like very much, at least compared to Con-Agra or another more well-known name. I recall reading somewhere that they’d found a niche buying cheaper raw product from Mexico and elsewhere and doing fairly limited processing — to peanut paste, not all the way to store-ready peanut butter. It sounds as though they’re a margin player, which I suspected from the looks of Stew Parnell, who lacks the country-club polish you’d expect to find in an Archer-Daniels-Midland executive.

    I think he’s toast, and is preparing for prison stripes. The industry has to throw someone into the volcano, and it’s gotta be him.

  30. Deborah said on February 12, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    “That’s why I’m not a Republican. Shit always happens.” I think it’s funny when right wingers talk about why communism is so bad. They say it’s because of human nature, that under communism people would have no incentive to do the right thing to help themselves, they would only be looking for handouts and it would make beggars of all of us. But capitalism has a similar argument you never hear them discuss, in fact it’s human nature to be greedy too, you will always have greedy bastards who lie and cheat and steal, and I’m talking about executives not common criminals. Pure free market capitalism is just as bad as pure communism, they’re just opposite ends of the spectrum.

  31. LA Mary said on February 12, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    I know you all got your Darwin Day wishes out of the way yesterday. I was in an all day meeting and as much as I would have liked to be reading these comments, I was reading about OFCCP compliance.
    Anyway, as well as being Darwin Day, and Lincoln’s birthday, it’s my youngest son’s birthday today. He’s fifteen and I think he has officially passed me in height.

  32. moe99 said on February 12, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    BREAKING NEWS

    Judd Gregg withdraws his name from the Commerce Secretary spot. He just can’t abide the stimulus bill. Even though he lobbied hard to get the job.

    http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2009/02/12/democratic-source-gregg-campaigned-for-the-job/

  33. brian stouder said on February 12, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Mary – marvelous! I’ve noticed that our 13 year old (14 in August) measures himself against me pretty much every other day; he passed up mom a year ago, and I’m only a hair (so to speak) taller than him (we figure he will overshadow me by this summer, and then forevermore)

    He takes a particular glee in this…and frankly, mom and I are happy enough too

  34. LA Mary said on February 12, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Older son passed up his dad about four inches ago and I’m thinking younger son will be even taller. My dad was 6’7″, so they come by it honestly.

  35. mark said on February 12, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    “Pure free market capitalism is just as bad as pure communism..”

    Oh, my. The amount of history that has to be ignored to give credence to that statement is staggering.

    I’ll nominate 20th century Hong Kong as the closest thing to “pure” capitalism. Your candidate for closest to pure communism? 20th century Soviet Union, China N.Korea or Cuba? Surprise the panel and choose Tanzania?

    Maybe your trump card is the word “pure”, that undefined point where capitalism suddenly produces wholesale evil and communism suddenly becomes benign. But even if the pure versions that you imagine are somehow otherwise equally horrible, doesn’t the fact that pure capitalism lets you leave it’s horrors, while pure communism kills you (and perhaps your family) for trying to leave, make capitalism the infinitely better system?

  36. moe99 said on February 12, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    It’s means “it is” while Its is the possessive. Or else my 9th grade English teacher at Defiance High School, Mrs. Stoner, is spinning in her grave.

  37. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on February 12, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    Deborah, it’s not the case to say that “But capitalism has a similar argument you never hear them discuss, in fact it’s human nature to be greedy too.” It gets discussed often, from two angles — one is that greed, being a human constant, should be factored in to cancel out, which is the essence of most hard core laissez-faire philosophy. People will try to make stuff cheaper and sell it for more, and when you overreach, the market stops buying you, helping to set an ideal balance between price and quality.*

    The other is a more political take, but one beloved of Hamilton and Madison — check and balance, separation of powers type stuff, where self-interest is more dependable than George Washingtonian disinterested public service interest. You design a governing structure where you get George Will’s beloved gridlock, so only real consensus allow restriction of markets or options. Now, either of these can break down with monopoly control, which various economic schools discuss as avoidable this way or that, but we still don’t have a grip on (why monopolies always tend to arise, and economists say they can show it’s not just because individuals want sole power, which is what you’d think and i still tend to suspect), and they are weaker than an ideal state of protection for society, which can readily be imagined but turns out to be harder to implement than you’d think (see 1787 to 2009 in US history).

    But conservatives have no trouble talking about greed, and a big chunk of them/us will say it’s bad, too — the dividing line is that conservatives tend to say that you cannot end greed by regulation or legislation, so you take it into account in some way, while liberals tend to believe that we can actually reach a point where greed will no longer be a factor, most notably in Marx “after the revolution of the proletariat and the withering away of the state.” To which conservatives say, “uh, right.”

    *Which is why i perversely favor a single-payer, all-inclusive health care system for America: you really can’t have a market for health care, because it tends not to be susceptible to rationality. As a fellow in Harper’s wonderfully summarized, “the demand for not dying is essentially infinite.” So there will never be a rational market for health care decisions, except on some basic preventative aspects, which we should try soon, as Obama once strongly favored, and i hope he will roll out shortly, he and Sanjay Gupta!

  38. coozledad said on February 12, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    The purest form of communism occurred right here in the US in the Shaker communities from the 1830’s until the end of the nineteenth century. The final years of these communities were less an exercise in all property being held in common, than a tenacious attempt to hang on to a pastoral world that had all but evaporated. But while they were able to maintain their trade with the outside world through designated intermediaries, and the country spiraled into Civil War “From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs as long as you are willing to ignore the beast between your legs” seemed to work OK for a couple of thousand people.
    The Soviet Union was never a haven for communists, especially of the Marx-Engels variety. It might have been, but Kerensky and his devout little band of Mensheviks tried to keep Russia in the war, turning a blind eye to the fact the armed forces were in full mutiny.
    Lenin was a killer, and saw everything through the lens of the revolution of 1789. He set up an eliminationist state, and died before it saw its full flowering under Stalin. The USSR was a kleptocracy with the window-dressing of socialist rhetoric, but ruled like the Camorra, by the criminally insane.
    The communists were always the first against the wall.
    Talk about a fucking dead poet’s society.
    Gorbachev was the first socialist since Kerensky to actually head the state, and it fell apart with him too.
    The state that comes closest to pure capitalism is Pre-Gladstone Britain. You know, the Dickensian hellhole of workhouses and crazy assed twits periodically taking the most advanced army of its time to annihilate it stupidly fighting people armed with sticks and rocks. The Britain of potato famine and the wretched fucking poor, that gave rise to Marx and Engels writing their books when they weren’t fucking the maid.

  39. moe99 said on February 12, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    pity the poor maid.

  40. coozledad said on February 12, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Especially if they asked her to help proofread.

  41. del said on February 12, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    Interesting stuff cooz. JTMMO, greed’s a given to all reasonable people. The heart of the matter, to me, is how much economic disparity a society will allow. If too much disparity is permitted it undermines mores and the rule of law. Like Springsteen sings, you get a world of “winners and losers and don’t get caught on the wrong side of that line.”
    And Moe99, sounds like you too are familiar with the Federal Comminuted Meats Act.

  42. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on February 12, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Sure, but it was noted up thread that conservatives don’t talk about or admit greed in the human equation – hence my lengthy demurral.

    The challenge to any conservative economic view is best set forward by John Rawls, who asked the question “if you were to design a society, what would it look like — IF you did not know in advance where you would end up in the social strata.” Conservatism argues that it’s a fair point, but that any centrally designed and managed economy tends to make more members of the lower strata than the market does, and they’re just honest about the fact that there will be some losers, while centrally planned economies claim there won’t be any losers, and then find scapegoats when it turns out there are quite a few anyhow (ask a kulak, if you can find one).

    Times like this are when the conservative argument appears the weakest, but i’m not sure that means it actually works less well. But i’m more of a Chestertonian conservative, so vigorous governmental activity to guarantee equality of opportunity, if not outcome, doesn’t lose me much sleep. Grover Norquist and i don’t get on at all.

  43. Dexter said on February 12, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    What the hell was Obama doing in the first place by nominating Gregg to Commerce?
    I screamed at the TV when I first heard it, and was not surprised when he threw in the towel today…who has Obama’s ear on these horrible choices?

  44. brian stouder said on February 12, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    Well, I loved Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line, but that interview was off-putting.

    Aside from that, I liked the old Farah Fawcett interview; she came across as endearing (and not “disasterous”), whereas Letterman was the smart aleck of old (that never appealed to me in those days, and in looking back still doesn’t)

    Dexter, didja see the president’s remarks from the Lincoln banquet in Springfield, Illinois this evening? They were, in a word, sublime. (the president drew a huge laugh; in fact several recurring waves of laughter, with an ad-libbed joke [at his own expense] regarding his protracted search for a Secretary of Commerce)

  45. Dexter said on February 13, 2009 at 12:37 am

    No, I missed most of Abe’s 200th birthday party yesterday. I did learn that the Lincoln Presidential Library is the most visited presidential library in the nation.
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032619/#29169080

  46. Gasman said on February 13, 2009 at 12:41 am

    Jeff (tmmo),
    Glad to see you endorse single payer healthcare. All of my wife’s family are Canadian and their system beats the hell out of ours. All of the fear mongering rhetoric from the right opposing single payer is pure nonsensical crap. I can cite hundreds of firsthand examples that debunk their sorry old chestnuts. Their system covers everybody and it’s cheaper. Plus, their government hasn’t been whoring for the pharmaceutical companies, so drugs are actually affordable without insurance company shell games.

    As for conservative free market advocacy, I’d have a modicum of respect if they ever actually practiced it. As beb said in yesterday’s post regarding the recent James Galbraith book, conservatives don’t really ever practice true “free market” anything. In their minds, “free” means free from risk or competition for their political allies. Hence, no-bid contracts for Haliburton.

    That kind of crony capitalism is antithetical to a truly “free market”, as it destroys any type of economic competition, thus driving up prices and inefficiency and driving down quality. The same holds true when unethical entities such as the management at PCA knows that they have nothing to fear from inspectors. Most manufacturers wouldn’t stoop that low, but some always will. That’s why we have – or used to – FDA inspectors.

    Markets are free only when all parties, management and labor, and all other competing businesses have equal access and representation at the table. Republicans haven’t favored that since, since, maybe never.

  47. Gasman said on February 13, 2009 at 12:52 am

    By the way, if you haven’t seen it, check out Nova’s skewering of Intelligent Design in their 2 hour “Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial.” They are running it this week in honor of Darwin’s 200th. He would be proud. You can also see it online.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/id/

    Anyone who can watch that and still be a proponent of ID may not be capable of cognition. Every single cornerstone of ID is systematically and quite handily disposed of. What is also quite revealing is that all of the pro ID witnesses in the Dover case were bald faced liars. They also seemed to have no problem whatsoever reconciling their mendacity with evangelical Christianity. I wonder how that works?

    It could be a double bill with Ben Stein’s “Expelled.”

  48. Dexter said on February 13, 2009 at 2:01 am

    I play the lottery all the time and I know I’ll never win it. I do not fly much in airplanes because I know the one I am on will crash, and it never does (well, except that C-130 in Vietnam that I was on), but still we all know flying is PERFECTLY SAFE…

    http://www.buffalonews.com/home/story/577959.html

  49. mark said on February 13, 2009 at 6:09 am

    Well, so much for transparency in government. The stimulus bill wasn’t made available to the public until 11:00 last night (although the K street lobbying firms apparently got advance copies) and debate begins this morning.

    Sorry mr patient, this medicine is so important we can’t take time to tell you what it is or ask if you want it.

    This approach worked out real well with TARP.

  50. beb said on February 13, 2009 at 7:52 am

    Your sarcasm aside, mark, I actually agree that large, complex bills should not be pushed to a vote mere hours after coming out of committee. Congressmen should be given time to have their aides read through the thing and find the bits of toxic sludge shoveled into it. I’m kind of opposed to the whole idea of large, complex bills in general. There’s too many chances for mischief being slipped into a large bill that no one has time to find and remove.

  51. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on February 13, 2009 at 8:07 am

    Interesting dialogue — not really a debate at all — at theatlantic.com between Ross Douthat and Ta-Nehisi Coates about families, traditional and non-traditional. Stimulosity Plan wrangles aside, this is the kind of discussion i’m hoping the Age of Obama will help support and advance, and it looks like it’s already happening (but shoved off the radar screen by Congressional tomfoolery):

    http://ta-nehisicoates.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/01/manhood_and_bill_hendrickson.php

    http://rossdouthat.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/02/social_conservatism_and_the_co.php

    Good stuff.

  52. moe99 said on February 13, 2009 at 10:16 am

    a darker look at the attempt to harmonize religion with science:

    http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=1e3851a3-bdf7-438a-ac2a-a5e381a70472

  53. Rana said on February 13, 2009 at 10:27 am

    I’d agree about that too, mark. I’ve never understood Congress’ apparent obsession with rushing things out at the last minute. Yes, we’re in a crisis, but it’s not one where one extra day is going to kill us. (And since they do this even with fairly minor legislation, I’m sceptical about the need to rush.) Seems like they could do a better job of planning and setting deadlines.

    Actually, this reminds me of one place I used to work. It was a vocational school that had rolling enrollments, and every eight weeks or so we had to schedule the new students’ classes, process the grades from the current students, and determine whether or not those students’ grades were good enough to either graduate or move on to the next level of courses. At the time I arrived, the place had grown sufficiently disorganized (how, I never figured out) that for a week the whole place shifted into crisis mode to try and handle all of those responsibilities. It was so bad that the president’s wife – who was also the vice president – had bought a bunch of plastic fire hats for us to wear during that week, as some sort of symbol of us pulling through the crisis.

    The thing was, though, that all this drama was completely unnecessary.

    When they hired me, they also hired two more people who were competent at their jobs (the previous hirees had been last-minute fill-ins who, as best I could tell, were “qualified” only in that they’d once taken classes there and the wife liked them). What the three of us discovered was that, if we were organized and processed things as they came in, the change-over was actually pretty easy to manage.

    (Of course, we proved to be too good at this, and I basically organized myself out of a job!)

    So I have little patience for avoidable “dramas” and “crises” and I have a strong suspicion that most of those in Congress fall into that category. Between loving the attention they get during a “crisis” and wanting to rush things through without challenge, our representatives have a few too many incentives to don their plastic fire hats.