Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, November 25, 2004

One Market Under God, a review

In the aftermath of the election I found myself continually wondering how a person working her ass off to make $30,000.00 a year does not realize that the person she just voted for was the enabler behind the $1,500.00 increase in real estate taxes she was complaining about two weeks prior.

Enter Thomas Frank. Frank is a PHD of History from the University of Chicago who has written What's the Matter with Kansas?, subtitled "How Conservatives Won the Heart of America". This seeemed like a natural, so I hooked up with Amazon to order it.

Amazon, in a glorious bit of irony, suggested I also purchase an earlier Frank's work, One Market Under God, subtitled "Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy". I decided I would read these two books in chronological order, and have finished the earlier book.

One Market Under God, written and submitted with amazing coincidence on approach of the Nasdaq collapse, deals with the development of the industrial psuedo-revolutionizers of the .com era, primarily in examination of the attendant intellectual boosterism eminating from Ivy league think tanks to Kudlow and Cramer and the like. In these aras Frank is very thorough and enlightening: of particular interest to me was learning of the mechanism behind the images I remember from the 90's, those sort of spooky Brave New World and 1984 backdrops to the heroic actions of Nike's third world dreamers or the common man as investor crashing through the glass walls of the stock exchange to claim their stake of the "New Economy" largesse.

The central theme of the book is that conservatives, having run the course of optimizing political gain from the 60's backlash of the Reagan era, have found themselves a whole new PR campaign, the New Economy. The old money are the elitists, utilizing labor and government to subvert the most natural of all socializing processes, the free market. You're all free agents now! We're laying you off and hiring you back as benefitless temps so that you may join the "ownership society". Unionists and politicians can only hold you back with their elitist (not driven by the democracy of the market) notions of what is best for you!

In truth, Frank spends a lot more time chronicling the advance of the intellectual theory driving this "revolution" than to the devastating effect on working people wrought by the MBAs in the trenches. There are similiarly timed points very near the end of each chapter when the reportage of scholarly research rather abruptly turns to summarization in a more championing tone. Frank is adept at both, however the pattern seems a bit contrived, as if the summaries were a post scripted attempt at broader appeal. Nevertheless the summarization is powerful, as in the following:

For the hustlers of ideology the bull market worked similar wonders. While 'we' never quite 'joined the money class' in terms of wages or security, everywhere one turned in the nineties there was some parable of the world: Grandmothers in Illinois realizing that the market was the true path to social security all along; regular joes in Detroit figuring our that the union was the wrong way to go; workers everywhere counting on tomorrow's fluctuations to make up for the fact that their boss was such an asshole about wages, that their market-driven health-care plan was worthless, that under no circumstances could they afford to send the kid to college. We were learning that past performance was never, ever, a guarantee of future anything; that if the market insisted it was time to burn our factories and sew microchips into our collars we would just have to do it. We were learning to accept the market as the arbiter or all things: To bow before what it chose to do to our cities, our industries, our lives---so long as that little lift continued on our 401(k)s. In one great patriotic auto-da-fe we were sending the work of decades up in smoke---send the jobs south! put our neighbor on a twelve-hour shift! smash the downtown merchants!---whatever it took to keep the market smiling.

"Act of faith", in case you were wondering. Perhaps this insertion of French is telling in my reaction to the book. Although Frank is mindful to identify the origins of and motive for the use of the French example rampant in the right's dismissal of everything effete and powerless, as an intellectual he cannot (perhaps could not, we shall see) help tossing these tidbits of esoteric precision into his writing. Surely this will not win him any converts from the elitist-bashers! I am hoping that What's the Matter with Kansas? reveals a more courageous foray into democratic language.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Gotta Be the Opium

From the New York Times/CBS poll:

55. How worried are you that popular culture -- that is, television, movies, and music —- is lowering the moral standards in this country -- very worried, somewhat worried, not too worried or not at all worried?


VerySomewhatNot tooNot at allDK/NA
40 301712 1

There's an old cartoon where Bugs and Yosemite Sam are out in the desert. Bugs (and I may have this backwards, it doesn't matter) keeps daring Yosemite Sam to step across this line and over and over again on off to the horizon. Such is the nature of censorship. It's a fool's game, played by whiny hypocrites on one side and adolescent schoolboys on the other.

Well, let me save you a lot of time, my fellow Americans. 95% of what you see is total crap. This is not an elitist notion, this is what is commonly referred to as common knowledge. This garbage, from the soaps to the Superbowl to the latest Nicholas Cage action movie is all engineered to appeal to the lowest common denominator, that being you! If you want your life to be anything but drearily common, stop believing in all this crap and start asking yourself where the stuff is you want, cuz it's out there.

So 40% of you are "very" worried that what is total garbage is what, 10% stinkier? Don't cut the cable, this will only create alienation. You want to really start protecting your children? Find out what makes them tick and feed it. Stop treating your kids like projects and start treating them like human beings for a change. Don't forbid them and don't just tell your kids it's crap; learn and then teach them why it is such and exactly why it's being fed to them. Set an example. Have a little taste. Be a little uncommon.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Quality is Being the Jobbed One

You can read the entire ugly story related to the below if you Google "Fox Lake Ford problems" (#1) or Ford wiper problems (#2)

Ford Motor Company
Customer Relationship Center
P.O. Box 6248
Dearborn, MI 48126

Monday, November 22, 2004,

I have received your brochure on the 500 sedan and I am sure it’s very nice and would be tempted to look into replacing my wife’s ‘95 Sable with such a car. I will not, however, do so, nor will I ever fail to discourage others from buying a Ford product due to the extremely cavalier (you should excuse the expression) attitude toward your loyal customers.

I am out $800.00 and the wipers on my Focus still don’t work properly. I’m told now that an additional $400.00 repair will do the trick. Clearly this must be some kind of record for windshield wipers. Intermittent; That has nothing to with anything except search engines.

We have had numerous contacts during this adventure. I don’t expect you to take any responsibility at this point. I write here to formally request that you take me off your promotional mailing list. The less I see of the Quality is Being the Jobbed One logo the better, not a problem when I’m driving in the rain past one of your (er, I mean my) dealerships.

Googlely goop

Focus Freestyle
2004 Mustang 2005 Mustang
Crown Victoria Thunderbird
Taurus Freestar
Five Hundred Ford GT
Ranger E-Series Vans
F-150 Commercial Trucks
Super Duty
Escape Explorer
Escape Hybrid Expedition
Explorer Sport Trac Excursion
Mazda (Thought about that Mazda 3 wagon for a moment, too many rattles)
Aston Martin

that is all

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Condy O, I Need You So!

I’ve been listening to a lot of discussion about the Cabinet changes of our present regime. Condy as Secretary of State? Not that important really; this has got to be one of the easiest jobs in the world!

To be Secretary of State for this regime all you really need is a copy/fax machine and an intact middle finger! But, seriously...

I played a little hoop in high school. Actually I spent most of my brief career hoping I wouldn't get in for the last two minutes of a rout and be utterly embarrassed in front of everyone, but as usual I paid a lot of attention.

To my coach the most important aspect of our season, the thing he wanted to read in the local paper, was that we were a well coached team. I remember thinking to myself that in a rebuilding year this seemed to be more important to him than talent, or at the very least, imagination.

This thought recurs as I consider what is going on with the Bush administration. There is clearly an impression that discipline and loyalty are being rewarded during this post-election reorganization. Antagonists and the grudgingly neutral are moaning that the core administration is isolating itself further behind a thickening fog of like-mindedness while others' reactions range from "Duh!" to something like these are the soldiers of American righteousness.

I think of that basketball season. I wonder if an emphasis on loyalty, discipline and regimentation must to some extent come at the expense of talent, imagination and receptiveness. I wonder if, while the appointees and civil servants are focusing on the "x"s and "o"s of the neo-cons, that teams from a consolidating Europe and an emerging China aren't running fast breaks left and right in ways we will recognize a bit too late.

Friday, November 12, 2004

If I Call You Stupid, It's Your Own Damned Fault

I sent $150.00 to Wisconsin Public Radio today. I needed a new coffee mug and besides, what could piss Rush Limbaugh off more? That's my last shell lobbed of the port bow because since my life has changed......

Rush Limbaugh has ceased to exist! So has Hannity and Hot Lips Coulter and Scarborough and the whole lot of 'em. I'm trying, anyway. What has caused this sudden purification of the air? The election, of course. You see, it turns out that I've found myself on the elitist side in that I value intelligent leaders over decisive ones. It really seemed like a no-brainer to me because in the absence of someone who might be intelligently decisive I like the survivability of the intelligent non-decision over that of the unintelligent decision. But there I go again, all smarty-pantsy!

All these years I've been concerned that my genius!? would alienate people. Turns out they're all alienated anyway! As hard as I might try I simply cannot anticipate what these people will find stupid enough. I give up. I'm turning over a new leaf. If I'm going to be too smart for my own good (if you've ever heard that one you may as well join me) then dammit I'm going to do a much better job of it!

I am going to focus much more on non-commercial sources for my information. I may catch an Aaron Brown on CNN or a Keith Oberman on MSNBC but if there is any shouting, I'm out! For world news I will rely on...well...the world to a much greater degree. If anyone says "liberals" or "conservatives" I will immediately dismiss their argument as simplistic and toss in a CD. From now on I want specifics! If you want to have an issue based discussion with me you better not bring some crap you saw on NBC Nightly News or 60 minutes unless you can back it up!

I'm a little behind in my quest but there's no time like the present to begin to read non-fiction, and I vow to visit the library once a week with a shopping list prepared.

And then there's all that time in the car, and for me this is way too much. I think of all the time I've wasted listening to sports radio. Sports are fun, but geez, what's there to talk about after five minutes? Talk radio? Right! News Radio? Okay for a quick headline summary on the hour, but that's it. Through all the zaniness, incessant pandering and endless repetition of mindless commercials (okay, I admit one or two were clever) I COULD HAVE BEEN LEARNING SOMETHING!!

So I'd like to thank you one and all, you dismissors of intellectualism. I know who I am and I know what I want to be. For too long I've regretted not being you, now your choice has shown me in some definitive way that I will never be you. Thus is my way made easier.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Chutes and Ladders

I said we would talk a bit about the fact that the point at which the majority for each party meets is inexoribly tied to the median income, and that it's no accident.

Everyone talks about the mainstream. Like the Mississippi River the mainstream wanders here and there and sometimes off on strange tangents and through divides and confluences. There was a time when the politics of this country could afford these meanders and eventually gravity would set a course and we could all kinda float thataway.

Those days are gone.

We have this thing here called the Wisconsin Dells. It's one of those places where you take your kids and spend outrageous amounts of money for three days. There are Go-Karts and helicopter rides and these amphibious things that drive right into the river and go by some unimpressive sandstone formations (the actual Dells), casinos for mom, overpriced, overcrowded restaurants with hundreds of whiney ten year olds waiting in line, loudmouthed overachievers in walking shorts and golf shirts spitting juice from their Italian Beefs while they go on about their 200 grand this and 40 grand that. You know the place. We took the kids there once and had a great time, sardonicism all aside.


At the Dells is a world class water park called Noah's Ark. On my commute home I pass a billboard for this adventureland and I get to thinking about this median income phenomenon and presto! I have the perfect analogy to describe the relationship mentioned several untidy paragraphs ago.

Picture a cross section of a water slide, with the center the median income, if you will. Down this chute passes the water, the public, with all these little bubbles, the votes. Down the straights the bubbles flow half on the left and half on the right of the center. How does this differ from the more haphazard mainstream analogy? How is each philosophy mirrored so precisely in the other so as to meet in this exact center? How is it that these political and economic midpoints coincide?

Two thoughts on this for now. First is that the science of politics has developed to a degree that this middle ground can be analyzed ad nauseum, thus is provided a defined place for conservatives and liberals to stand, positioned only as far to the extreme as will give them definition. This they do to the same extent, hence equal participation in the determination of the course, equalized appeal to all economic classes and uncannily equal shares of the vote, as in the 2000 election.

Secondly, omnipresence of the media and perennial obstructionism by the outs take an equal toll on the parties' agendae, like the steep slippery sides of the slide they eliminate the opportunity of escape from the center.

By this theory some extra element has to exist to move the center of vote off the center of income. This is a curve. On a curve inertia (issues, events) for a time can overcome gravity (economic reality). Sometimes a big issue, a big curve can create a big shift. Like a war.

Maybe some day we'll come across a too sharp curve and we'll find ourselves all going over the edge. In some office, somewhere, a Karl Rove will be going, "Oops."

Sunday, November 07, 2004

wha' happened?

Well, that last post was quite an effort, I've edited it 4 times already and still see tweaking I should do. Seems to be a hit in Madison as a shortened, less prosaic version landed in the letters section of Friday's Daily Cardinal. I consider this a pretty good accomplishment as I am sure there were many letters on similiar subjects that day.

So where do effete, intellectually chauvanistic, Hollywood porn-loving lefties like myself go from here? First, let's try to define where we are by looking at what happened. In this attempt I go to one of my favorite conservatives for help, namely David Brooks of the New York Times, who writes in his Friday column:

Here are the facts. As Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center points out, there was no disproportionate surge in the evangelical vote this year. Evangelicals made up the same share of the electorate this year as they did in 2000. There was no increase in the percentage of voters who are pro-life. Sixteen percent of voters said abortions should be illegal in all circumstances. There was no increase in the percentage of voters who say they pray daily.
He goes on to say:
The fact is that if you think we are safer now, you probably voted for Bush. If you think we are less safe, you probably voted for Kerry. That's policy, not fundamentalism. The upsurge in voters was an upsurge of people with conservative policy views, whether they are religious or not.
Reasonable, I thought, but then how do you explain this?

Apparently the outcome of this inner debate over safety is highly dependent on income! The medium income in America is about $44k. For the sake of simplicity let's say that $40k is the 49%/50% point above. You can see that the median wage of 44k is very close to the 50%/50% vote split. This is no accident, the political center of America has settled to this point for many reasons, discussion left for another time on that.

Now, the best way to crinkle Ann Hot Lips Hoolihan Coulter's nose or roll Bill O'Reilly's eyes or send David Brooks's fingers to push up his glasses is to bring up class; they despise the very subject. When it comes to class they will always ask "Why can't we get along?" This is the universal winners' plea eminating from the eternal winners' mouths.

You will find me often referring to the "median" class. What is this all about? The median class is where it all happens. Why not the "working" class? The commies borrowed that one and it will be some time before you can throw it around America again. Too bad, as it tied in well with the work ethic to give folks a meaningful identity. Why not the "middle" class? This term has been usurped by folks far above the median. I call this the "Ordinary People" syndrome. "Ordinary People" is a pretty good movie about family stuff but my point is that it was filmed in Lake Forest, IL. A typical ordinary home in Lake Forest goes for about $800,000! This is an extreme example but suffice it to say that "middle" class tax cuts that do things like help Johnny go to Notre Dame mean squat to the median class. For the median class the tuition at Northern Illinois goes up and real estate taxes go up and if medical insurance exists the copay goes up while they see a $120 break from federal tax cuts.

Being in the "middle" class means questioning whether you can afford matching ATV's to tow behind your SUV. Being in the median class means wondering how you will replace your Honda Civic when it croaks. The "middle" class is always conservative. The median class is a battleground.

So we have this large number of people sitting on the 50/50 line who are extremely vulnerable to a difficult economy. Normally this is not good news for this incumbent, and yet here we are. For any number of reasons the men of this class bucked the convention and went for Bush. It is not important why these men consider a Bush a better leader than a Kerry, it is clear that they do. From the very beginning Edwards quite correctly went after this crowd on economic terms. The Kerry gang decided to battle Bush on macho terms. A macho senator from Massachusett's? I would not try to tell the hockey team from Natick High that Massachusetts is full of wimps, but fairly or not Macho Kerry is a tough sell nationally and I give Kerry a lot of credit for getting as close as he did.

Now let's get back to economics. Conservatives have many plans and few of them bode well for the median class. The best the median class can do under this regime is to await their turn, the infamous trickle down theory. See my post "Back to the Future" to see what will always become of the working person's turn. It is time to find some way to get into these people's heads that it will never be their turn if they do not apply some strength to their position.

These people that swung the election to Bush are specific, vulnerable and generally ill-informed. The Democratic Party's future may well lie in the enlightenment and consolidation of this class, but it must take great care not to alienate in the attempt.

Democrats must find a more constructive rallying point for these people than the destructive jingoism of Karl Rove and the hawks, a specific plan to improve the lot of the median class. Any ideas?

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Sounds of Silence

I find myself in Madison, Wisconsin on this morning after the election. The sun is shining, but it’s a cold sun. Indian Summer is a memory as the street sweepers clear away the glory that was autumn along with the debris of the last great Kerry/Edwards rally.

It’s quiet here in this bastion of Midwestern progressivism. The few early risers suffer from a different type of hangover than that from the annual Halloween debacle. We are here because Judy is having her fourth eye surgery since January. The place is beginning to feel so much like home that I had found myself glad that chance would have me here to celebrate a Kerry victory. I had fantasized about dancing around the capitol with all the other merry munchkins singing, “Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead!” This notion seems exceedingly silly now.

On the drive up I listened to a progressive radio talk show. Even on this day I would not miss an opportunity to listen to an intelligent voice of the minority after months of WLS and WTMJ and their incessant jingoistic drone. Interrupting the steady stream of fault finding and depression came a caller telling us that we need to buck up; that our problem arises from putting our faith too much in man and not enough in the man upstairs.

Somewhere across an angry looking Lake Mendota is Judy’s surgeon’s newly remodeled lakefront home. I’m getting a vision of Mrs. Surgeon sitting in her gourmet kitchen, sipping coffee and admiring the skyline Perhaps the warm shelter of her American Dream seems all the more glorious against the backdrop of the November gloom and she resolves to find some time to pray to this caller’s god.

Judy and I need to put aside a bit of our faith for Judy’s boss, however; faith that he will not lose patience with all the time off and/or the effect all these surgeries may have on her health insurance premiums. I can’t help feeling a little guilty about this. I should have been a surgeon. Apparently we all should have been surgeons!

I’m in the waiting room now and Fox News is on in the background. From this sewer good old folks from Scarsdale and Alexandria and Chevy Chase are discharging that all those intellectual elitists in Europe will have to change their tune now about the political naivete of the American public. This is an interesting take when considered from a state that voted 70% for the only man in the world who had the courage to vote against the Patriot Act while it voted at the same time 49% for President Bush!

It’s all water over the dam now. The reality is that the Presidency, House, Senate and the Supreme Court are all securely in the hands of the Blue Meanies now, and there is no Sgt. Pepper on any horizon. War is inevitable and will be made cheaper and more efficient with the introduction of National Service (read my lips, not the same as a draft). Increasingly the tax burden will be shifted not to those who call themselves the Middle Class, but to the true median class. Huge shifts of capital into the equities markets will make the rich astoundingly richer while these retirement funds are treated with the same urgency and equanimity always afforded them by those heroes of the common man, the brokers! Internal spying will increase under the party of less government intervention. Deficits will soar under the alternative to the tax and spend liberals. Censorship will increase under the party of strict constitutionalism and state’s rights. Some children will be forced by the government to reveal their sins to their parents in the name of Family Values while, against their parents wishes, others must choose between castigation by their peers or prayer to the Christian God.

Low scudding clouds contribute to the chill of the day as increasing numbers of students and others begin to face the ongoing business of their lives, clutching the collars of the too-light clothing of youth to whom the cold is always a bit of a surprise. It is quiet here, too quiet. Much was written and spoken of the cell phone generation and the influence they would begin to assert.

It is in places like this that truth is to endure the onslaught of fear and superstition. I can only hope that in this fertile place some of this silence is a quality of resolve.

But my words like silent raindrops fell
and echoed in wells of silence

Simon and Garfunkel