Saturday, December 27, 2008

Another disaster on Bush's watch

By Creature

Like Hilzoy, I'm late getting to the coal-ash-sludge spill disaster playing out in Tennessee. A disaster they are now calling the "largest environmental disaster of its kind in the United States." Now, I'm not yet sure if we can lay the "largest environmental disaster of its kind in the United States" at George W. Bush's feet, but I would not be surprised to hear the words "no one could have predicted" coming out of some Bush official's mouth somewhere and soon.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Truth, justice, and the Zimbabwean way

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Yes, things are pretty bad in Zimbabwe:

Zimbabwe has refused transfer to hospital of a top rights activist and several others accused of plotting against the regime as ordered by a court...

High Court judge Yunus Omerjee on Wednesday ordered police to release to hospital Jestina Mukoko and several opposition activists accused of recruiting or inciting people to undergo military training to fight Robert Mugabe's government.

The detainees' lawyer has said they may have been tortured in custody.

Mukoko, director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project -- a rights group which has been compiling cases of election violence -- was seized from her home on December 3 by armed men who identified themselves as police.

Two members of her staff were taken away from their office days later. They are being accused together with 28 members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party of recruiting anti-government plotters.

The detainees, including a two-year-old boy, were taken from their homes and some from their workplaces.

That's right, one of the detainees is two years old. And while the Mugabe regime is portraying Mukoko as some sort of violent insurgent, she is actually a former journalist and one of the country's leading human rights activists -- and, yes, one of the leaders of the opposition to Mugabe's tyranny. Obviously, the Mugabe regime is trying not just to smear her but to do whatever it takes to silence her. Even if she and her fellow activists are transferred to hospital, it's not like they can expect any justice.

For more on her arrest, see here. As as Amnesty International official put it, "Mukoko's abduction or arrest was part of an established pattern of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders by Zimbabwean authorities in an attempt to discourage them from documenting and publicizing the violations that are taking place."

The Mugabe regime is the enemy of truth and justice. There won't be any of either in Zimbabwe until Mugabe is gone.

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Tom Friedman redux

By Carol Gee

Over the past years of my primary home, the South by Southwest blog, the most popular post I have ever written was about Thomas Friedman's "flat world," dated 7/19/05. In all likelihood, it is not because it was a brilliant post, but because the first line of it reads like a gold mine for college students with an assignment due. To quote:

Here's your cliff notes . . .
Thomas Friedman addressed the National Governors Association in Des Moines, Iowa recently. In an animated presentation, he talked about his thesis that "The World is Flat." ( reviews his book here). See also "Valin"'s long post and comments following it.

Here are some of the main points and themes that I took from watching his keynote speech to the assembled governors, broadcast on C-Span.

I have been meaning to revisit this most influential author, and today is the day based on regular contributor betmo's sending me this link from The Agonist: "There will be no reboot."* The post had its genesis in Friedman's latest op-ed piece in the 12/23 NYT, in which he opined that it is "Time to Reboot America." Bemoaning the GM bailout, Friedman compared his favorable technological experience on a Far East trip, with his unpleasant recent homecoming to an aging and dysfunctional U.S. infrastructure. To quote:

That’s why we don’t just need a bailout. We need a reboot. We need a build out. We need a buildup. We need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history. Because of the financial crisis, Barack Obama has the bipartisan support to spend $1 trillion in stimulus. But we must make certain that every bailout dollar, which we’re borrowing from our kids’ future, is spent wisely.

. . . John Kennedy led us on a journey to discover the moon. Obama needs to lead us on a journey to rediscover, rebuild and reinvent our own backyard.

How to peg Friedman's politics? He has written a number of columns supportive of President-elect Obama, one this month speculating that Obama might just be able to fetch a success from the war in Iraq. Opinion about Friedman's stripe varies wildly:

  • "Thomas Friedman's Socialist America" is posted at New York Young Republican Record.

  • David Sirota, writing in 2006 at The Huffington Post, labels him contemptuously as a "pompous and grandiloquent" friend to rich elites.

  • Reviewing Friedman's newest book, titled, "Hot, Flat and Crowded," NPR labeled his as a revolutionary opting for "geo-greenism." That sounds positively scary.

  • Wikipedia, naturally, has a thorough exploration of the three-time Pulitzer Prize winning author, noting that he originally supported the invasion of Iraq, but "later became an outspoken critic of the war and the Bush administration."

Now, what do I really think? I am ambivalent. Friedman fancies himself as a world-class guru on the Middle East, and incidentally, the Entire World. He can be smug during personal appearances on television. But he is due much credit for articulating the flat world concept that explains globalization in a way that truly fits for me. And his television series on the history and politics of the Middle East was foundational to my understanding of the region. What is your take on Tom Friedman?

Hat Tip Key: Regular contributors of links to leads are "betmo"* and Jon#.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Light at heart

By Capt. Fogg

Paul Shanklin is a long-time friend, and I think that RNC members have the good humor and good sense to recognize that his songs for the Rush Limbaugh show are light-hearted political parodies,

said "Chip" Saltsman. I'm sure that many of them would see "Barack the Magic Negro" as hilarious, that many of them would see Rush Limbaugh as a funny man.

Please enjoy the enclosed CD by my friend Paul Shanklin of the Rush Limbaugh Show,

read the note RNC candidate "Chip" attached to the CD containing 41 tracks of "light-hearted political parodies" and distributed as a message of Christmas cheer to Republican National Committee members. Republicans love Christmas and all it's religious meanings, you know. It's titled "We hate the USA." These light hearted bozos of course can't be accused of hating the USA, they just think most of the people in it are comical Poles, Jews, Liberals, homos, Mexican illegals, murderous Muslims, and of course Negros, any of whom can be stereotyped, ridiculed and condescended to over Scotch and sodas at the good old boy's club where loving America's most obnoxious traditions is as de regeur as a good old black-face minstrel show or lunch at the Coon Chicken Inn.

Rush Limbaugh, you know, the guy who avoided the draft because of an anal infection and who let his housekeeper take the fall for his drug addiction and who thinks it's "light-hearted"
to compare a homely self conscious adolescent girl with a dog on national TV, predicted a while back that featuring the song on his radio program would foster accusations of racism. That wasn't hard to predict seeing that it is racism of the most arrogant sort. But no, Chip and Rush and the rest of the country club comedians haven't broken any laws. It's possible that they truly don't see anything wrong in being the douche bags they are and will go to their graves thinking they've been put-upon by moral censors and do-gooders and humorless liberals and there's little we can do about it other than to hope the event comes soon.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Harold Pinter (1930-2008)

By Mustang Bobby

Harold Pinter died on December 24, 2008 after a long battle with cancer. He is remembered in The New York Times by Mel Gussow* and Ben Brantley:

In more than 30 plays — written between 1957 and 2000 and including masterworks like “The Birthday Party,” “The Caretaker,” “The Homecoming” and “Betrayal” — Mr. Pinter captured the anxiety and ambiguity of life in the second half of the 20th century with terse, hypnotic dialogue filled with gaping pauses and the prospect of imminent violence.

Along with another Nobel winner, Samuel Beckett, his friend and mentor, Mr. Pinter became one of the few modern playwrights whose names instantly evoke a sensibility. The adjective Pinteresque has become part of the cultural vocabulary as a byword for strong and unspecified menace.

An actor, essayist, screenwriter, poet and director as well as a dramatist, Mr. Pinter was also publicly outspoken in his views on repression and censorship, at home and abroad. He used his Nobel acceptance speech to denounce American foreign policy, saying that the United States had not only lied to justify waging war against Iraq, but that it had also “supported and in many cases engendered every right-wing military dictatorship” in the last 50 years.

His political views were implicit in much of his work. Though his plays deal with the slipperiness of memory and human character, they are also almost always about the struggle for power.

The dynamic in his work is rooted in battles for control, turf wars waged in locations that range from working-class boarding houses (in his first produced play, “The Room,” from 1957) to upscale restaurants (the setting for “Celebration,” staged in 2000). His plays often take place in a single, increasingly claustrophobic room, where conversation is a minefield and even innocuous-seeming words can wound.

My first encounter with Mr. Pinter's work was working on a production of The Birthday Party at the University of Miami in 1973 (included in the cast was Ernie Sabella). I remember thinking that there had to be something more to the play than just the plot, and the more I saw it in rehearsal and in performance, the more I got to think about it. But what intrigued me was the reaction of other people who were watching it; some were repulsed by it while others were fascinated, but no two people had the same reaction. They didn't know if it was a horror story or a farce. But that's what the playwright wanted:

Few writers have been so consistent over so many years in the tone and execution of their work. Just before rehearsals began for the West End production of “The Birthday Party” half a century ago, Mr. Pinter sent a letter to his director, Peter Wood. In it he said, “The play dictated itself, but I confess that I wrote it — with intent, maliciously, purposefully, in command of its growth.”

He added: “The play is a comedy because the whole state of affairs is absurd and inglorious. It is, however, as you know, a very serious piece of work.”

The next time I saw the play was a few years later when it was staged at the University of Minnesota, this time directed by Emily Mann. It was a completely different production -- intimate and thoroughly chilling. The long pauses that Mr. Pinter is so famous for were actually punctuated by the tension felt in the audience and the menace of the unspoken word. It's a lesson some playwrights and directors need to learn, and Harold Pinter is the one who taught it.

By the way, a lot of conservatives are remembering Mr. Pinter more for his stand against the war in Iraq and his Nobel speech against it in December 2005 than his life's work as a playwright and director. These commentators seem to think that somehow playwrights or artists aren't allowed to speak out on things like war and inhumanity unless, of course, they agree with them. What these people don't understand is that playwrights have been speaking to the human condition since time out of mind -- it's what we do. And even if you don't agree with the writer's point of view, it doesn't lessen the importance or the impact of their work and the insight they may shed on humanity and civilization. And anyone who would dismiss or shun a writer's work or an actor's performance because of their political views is depriving themselves of the opportunity to understand themselves and the people around them. But then, people who do that probably don't want to leave their narrow little world in the first place.

*Mr. Gussow died in 2005.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Friday, December 26, 2008

The Reaction in Review (Dec. 26, 2008)

A week's Reactions that deserve a second look:


By Creature: "Pharmacist to the world" -- Creature explains the CIA's latest head-spinning use of U.S. "soft power" in our quest to save the Afghans from themselves.

By Libby Spencer: "Happier Times" -- We see Libby after she "worked through" to a very successful encounter with a Florida manatee, and lived to tell the tale!


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Christmas 2008" -- Michael's personal Christmas letter, with greetings to us and the reading world out there; includes an encounter with a Scrooge in the comment thread.


By Libby Spencer: "Count your blessings" -- Libby's Christmas message to us, including video of her favorite "White Christmas" movie scene.

By J. Thomas Duffy: "Top Ten Cloves: Things about Christmas around the nation's Capital" -- Another ever so clever list, through which we breathlessly pour to get to Duffy's #1, "Cheney's still making lists, and torturing them twice." Includes Bonus Xmas Links.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Next year in Minnesota" -- Michael presents an excellent analysis of the still contested Senatorial race between Al Franken-D and Norm Coleman-R.

By Carol Gee: "What will the new Congress do?" -- Will the new 111th Congress mean real change, or just a change of bodies? Suggestions included.


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Headline of the Day (Pope Benedict XVI edition)" -- Michael explores the latest controversy with Rome involving " 'gay groups' [who] have good reason to be angry not just at the pope's remarks but at the pope himself."

By Carl: "Echoes down the corridor" -- Carl's brilliantly written call for re instituting the many Constitutional freedoms so eroded under the current Bush administration.


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Christmas in Baghdad" -- Michael says, "On the list of bad ideas for 2008, Christmas in Baghdad, as presented by the Interior Ministry, ranks up near the top."

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Sign of the Economic Apocalypse #1: Toyota in the red" -- Michael explores his own history with cars, with a worried reaction we all share, explaining, ". . . we already do Signs of the Apocalypse, (we're up to #61) mostly cultural indicators of imminent doom, but with the economy where it is, and worsening, it seems appropriate to turn our attention to the coming Economic Apocalypse."

By Creature: "Drawing lines" -- The question with bailing out everyone . . . comes down to drawing lines; "enough is enough," Creature declares.

By Carl: "Recovery" -- This very good analysis of how the U.S. got into its economic crisis and how renewable energy could be one of our answers, by The Reaction's resident expert on the U.S. economy.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Permanent minority" -- Michael makes a persuasive argument that Republicans could be in the minority for a long time, saying, "The GOP is ideologically extreme, regional in focus, and, to more and more Americans, simply repellent."

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Pharmacist to the world

By Creature


The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

"Take one of these. You'll love it," the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes -- followed by a request for more pills.

Why not send a few cases of Prozac over and just be done with the whole war thing altogether.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Happier Times

By Libby Spencer

I'm really unphotogenic and I tend to avoid cameras so when someone asked me for a photo to use for a blogger Christmas card I had to send them a picture of a photo because I don't even have a scanner. I figure since it's going to be out there anyway now, I may as well post it here for those of you who have been reading me all this time and don't know what I look like. The pix is about five years old but it was the most recent shot I could find that I was willing to circulate. It's a photo of me feeding a manatee that came up to the docks when I was vacationing in the Florida Keys.

That was one of the top ten coolest things that ever happened to me. You can't see it in the photo but the guy on the right is looking at the baby manatee, whose size was pretty intimidating on its own.

When they arrived I was in the water about up to my waist, just walking around looking at the sea bed. I had just started heading back to shore when I felt something bump me from behind. I turned around. It was the mother manatee. I had never seen one before and having this two ton fish bumping me in the butt freaked me out. I screamed and started running for the beach.

Meanwhile, everyone on the beach, including tiny children, knew what it was and went running into the water to play with it. Embarrassing. It took me a couple of hours to work up the nerve to touch it myself, but by the end, I was spending ten bucks a day on lettuce to feed her while she was hanging around.

Despite the shaky begining, and you would have laughed to see me quaking the first time I got in the water with her again, in the end it turned out to be a magical experience. One of the happiest times in my life.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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My favorite Christmas posts -- a digest.

By Carol Gee

Thursdays here at The Reaction for me have often been posts about the Mid-East/Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But this is the Christmas season, and it is not the time for ranting about the Middle-East region's problems. After all. Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, is located in the Middle East.What follows is a round-up of ten of my favorites' Christmas posts. Enjoy:

Happy Holidays to all. New Year's wishes for good things in 2009.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas 2008

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It's just after midnight, the first few minutes of Christmas 2008. The past couple of weeks here in Toronto have been massively snowy, but it was gray and rainy on Christmas Eve, and generally unpleasant. With moving and settling into a new place, it's been a busy time. Christmas sort of snuck up on me. But tonight, as always, there is no place I'd rather be than with my family, at home. We had a lovely evening, a nice dinner, presents, and now, as I inhale deeply, there's baking going on in the kitchen. There is still much to do tonight, all to get ready for the morning, and then for the day ahead.

I want to wish a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to my friends here at The Reaction. It's funny, we don't really know each other all that well, spread out across North America, communicating in the virtual reality of the Internet, and yet, we do know each other, in a way, and very well, and I am grateful to have them in my life. To all of you, I cannot thank you enough.

I also want to wish a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to my friends and acquaintances in the blogosphere. There are so many of them, and what a wonderful community it is, and what wonderful people I have met.

And a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you, our readers, all over the world, wherever you are. I cannot tell you how much you mean to me, and to all of us here. Thank you for stopping by. You are always welcome.

Be safe out there, and love one another, and imagine a world at peace.

-- Michael


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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Count Your Blessings

By Libby Spencer

I watched White Christmas last night and since it's Christmas Eve and the news is so toxic, let's forget about it for a moment. Here's my favorite scene and one of my favorite songs, even though it isn't really so much about Christmas.

Times being what they are, there might not be quite so many presents under the tree this year, but it's good to remember that we are blessed with many things that can't be wrapped up in gift paper and a bow.

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate and a peaceful and joyous holiday season to those who mark these days in some other way. Count your blessings. I count you, our dear readers, among mine.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Top Ten Cloves: Things about Christmas around the nation's Capital

By J. Thomas Duffy

News Item: Bush's Lame Duck Christmas Dinners: The White House Menus

10. 'Do You Hear What I Hear' ... Even on Christmas, no break from the wiretapping

9. Blackwater USA sings "Sleigh Ride" all year round

8. When John McCain sings "I'll Be Home For Christmas", he has to focus on just one of his seven homes

7. 'Silent Night' is, pretty much, the summation of Condi Rice's tenure as Secretary of State

6. Ted Stevens is afraid to sing "Deck The Halls", fearing it may bring new indictments against him

5. All the Obama Team will say is that he's 'Away In The Manger'

4. For Karl Rove, and his Legacy Project, is all about 'O Come All Ye Faithful'

3. Bob Novak's favorite Christmas tune is 'Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer'

2. All of Bush's pardons to cronies are hung by the fireplace with care

1. Cheney's still making the lists, and torturing them twice

Bonus Xmas Links

Wikipedia: Christmas music

Rawlin Blake: Christmas Songs

Santa's Sing-A-Long Christmas Carols

phillyBurbs Staff: Best and worst Christmas songs

Zach Baron: Another Free iTunes Single of the Week: Stephen Colbert's "Another Christmas Song"

(Cross Posted at The Garlic)

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Next year in Minnesota

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Minnesota Public Radio:

Minnesotans will not know whether Democrat Al Franken or Republican Norm Coleman won the Senate race until next year. Election officials, along with the two campaigns, have agreed on a framework for adding wrongly-rejected absentee ballots to the recount.

Franken is currently up by just 47 votes. (The Star-Tribune has him up 46 and has more on the latest developments here and here.)

It all comes down to the rejected absentee ballots. Once identified, the newly accepted absentee ballots must be sent to the secretary of state by January 2 and then opened and counted by January 4. Challenges will then begin on January 5.

New senators are scheduled to be sworn in on January 6. Needless to say, this won't be over by then. There's a long and contentious way to go.


Update: From Eric Kleefeld at TPM Election Central:

In a unanimous decision handed down just now, the state Supremes denied Coleman any relief in a lawsuit he was waging to deal with allegations of double-counted absentee ballots, which his campaign says have given an illegitimate edge to Al Franken. The Coleman campaign was seeking to switch 25 selected precincts back to their Election Night totals, which would undo all of Franken's recount gains in those areas and put Coleman back in the lead.

The court, however, sided with the Franken camp's lawyers in saying that a question like this should be reserved for a post-recount election contest proceeding, as the proper forum to discover evidence -- and which also has a burden of proof that heavily favors the certified winner.

Simply put, Coleman is in very big trouble right now. With Al Franken leading by 47 votes, this lawsuit was Coleman's best shot at coming from behind. And it just failed, making a Franken win nearly a foregone conclusion when this recount finishes up in early January.

But it's still far from over. If he's behind at the end of the recount, Coleman will undoubtedly challenge the results in court. But it would nonetheless be a huge victory for Franken, who would have the advantage of being ahead going into any such challenge, and of being deemed the winner, if still unofficially.

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Gates's people

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So, according to the right-wing Washington Times, Obama apparently wants "many of the Bush administration's 250 Pentagon political appointees to remain on the job until the incoming... administration finds replacements -- a move designed to prevent a leadership vacuum with U.S. troops engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Big deal.

As Steve Benen rightly notes, this was one of the concerns expressed by many of us who opposed (or at least were skeptical of) the move to keep Gates at the Pentagon. We may or may not have been fine with Gates, but we certainly weren't fine with all those Bush appointees.

"The key to remember here is timing," Steve explains. "If we'd learned that Obama and Gates expected to keep Bush's Pentagon political appointees on the job indefinitely, that would be cause for concern. But while the Washington Times glosses over the timeline, we're talking about a short-term process -- Obama and his team will replace these appointees gradually over the course of the year."

And not a moment too soon.

The realities of the world, including two ongoing wars, require a smooth, seamless transition at the Pentagon, one that will necessarily take time. I suppose we just have to accept that.

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Polygamist abuse

By Michael J.W. Stickings

AP: "Nearly two-thirds of the families living at a polygamist group's ranch -- targeted in a high-profile raid last spring -- had children who were abused or neglected, Texas child welfare officials said in a report released Tuesday."

Surprise... surprise... surprise.

As I wrote when this story broke back in May: "[W]e all know -- do we not? -- that this sort of lifestyle, the polygamy of a totalitarian religious cult, is inherently abusive. Indeed, it would not exist without abuse. Abuse is what keeps it going, what enables and supports it."

In a liberal society, the state has every right to, and must, intervene and to prosecute the abusers. The abusers will cry religious freedom, but there should be no freedom to abuse.

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A dead meme

By Carl

The good thing about Christmas Eve is no one has anything of import to write about. The bad thing about Christmas Eve is no one has anything important to write about:

[T]he war on Christmas is a godless plot cooked up by a cabal of latte-sipping liberals, greedy retail tycoons, bearded ACLU communists and Ban Ki-moon acolytes who secretly gather in Bay Area synagogues to smoke pot, deface Bibles and perform abortions.

Or — maybe — the whole thing is just a canard, the backlash against a wave of political correctness that swept the U.S. in the late '90s, resulting in some strange new concessions to cultural sensitivity: cities insisting on calling the telltale conifers "holiday trees," efforts to ban the pleasantry "Merry Christmas" and crackdowns on the use of holiday nativity scenes and other religious iconography. But to many, the War on Christmas is a hyperbolic construct that blows the problem out of proportion. "There is no war on Santa," Michelle Goldberg wrote on in 2005. "What there is, rather, is the burgeoning myth of a war on Christmas, assembled out of old reactionary tropes, urban legends, exaggerated anecdotes and increasingly organized hostility to the American Civil Liberties Union." According to Max Blumenthal, who published a recent article on the topic, the trope's persistent popularity is fed by financial opportunism: "The Christmas kulturkampf is a growth industry in a shrinking economy, providing an effective boost for conservative fundraising and a ratings bonanza for right-wing media." O'Reilly himself has lent credence to this theory. "Every company in America should be on its knees thanking Jesus for being born," he said on Nov. 29, 2005. "Without Christmas, most American businesses would be far less profitable."

Yup. A history of the war on Christmas!

(Long-time readers of my blog may recall I bothered to write a little ditty a
few years back on the topic. Feel free to read it again.)

It's this last quote from Bill O'Reilly (the model for my novella) that got my attention.

Bill-O, really... have you forgotten
Matthew 21?

12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

(emphases added)

Bill-O, you old
Ferengi! "A good lie is easier to believe than the truth," indeed! That was Westbury, NY, right? ;-)

Christmas, in my eyes, has become nothing more than an excuse to exploit and manipulate the feelings of people, to watch those feelings manifest themselves in a spending spree.

Now, on the face of it, there's nothing wrong with that: people ought to acknowledge the folks around them who have supported and otherwise stuck by them throughout the year and the end of the years is as good a time as any to do so. By codifying the recognition of this relationship, we don't find ourselves in the embarassing circumstance of "forgetting" to get a present. It's hard to forget Christmas.

Or Hannukah. Or Kwanzaa. Or Festivus. Or the Solstice.

See where I'm going with this, Bill-O? Does it really fucking matter to Wal-Mart or Target which holiday gets celebrated?

Does it even matter to you? My suspicion based on your wholly Unchristian attitude towards people is the next time you set foot in a church, it will be feet first in a pine box.

I, for one, was glad this year that we had better things to focus on than the rantings of the O'Reillys and the John Gibsons of the world regarding the lack of piety in our secular world surrounding the birth of Our Lord (no offense, atheists, Ceiling Catists, or FSM believers, much less Jews or Muslims or Hindus and Buddhists). If this article is any indication, this is a meme that has outlasted its fifteen minutes.

It is Christmas Eve. We're told it is a time to gather round your family and celebrate another year older (and deeper in debt). I like to think differently.

To me, Christmas is a time to look back on your year, your life, and ask if you could have done it better. Jews have a week-long celebration of their religious new year: the time from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Indeed, the entire last month, Elul, is a time of reflection, to ask and to wish to be inscribed in the Book of Life.

What a marvelous concept! If only certain faux-Christian commentators would have that much humility!

Christmas is my Father's reminder of His great gift to the world: His Son, a gift I accepted a long time ago. We may disagree about this idea, but it comforts me, and gives me strength when the world around me seems darkest. He is my candle in the night. He reminds me there is a larger world out there, one that is filled with people who have earned just as much respect for their beliefs and knowledge as I do.

After all, we're all still here. That alone is enough.

My problems, my concerns, are important to me, but in the larger picture, mean nothing. And if I had a soapbox as big as Bill-O's, I'd find something more important to talk about than a petty insignificant created crisis like The War On Christmas.

It is to mock the waste of resource that is Bill O'Reilly. Long may he stumble over his own two feet, telling me about the speck in my eye, while ignoring the log in his own.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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What will the new Congress do?

By Carol Gee

When the U.S. House and Senate come back into session in early January, it will be a changed legislative body. There will be a number of new senators and House members, for starters. And most of them will be Democrats. But will it mean a real change, or just a change of bodies? It will be interesting to observe whether Congress can listen to its better angels, or whether it will in 2009 again be business as usual.

If they are smart -- Congress can easily renew the SCHIP children's health insurance program before it expires in March 2009. It could be one of the easiest and earliest successes possible. A recent poll showed that they could even garner widespread support for covering the children of legal immigrants, according to the Congressional Quarterly. And Congress is wisely considering adding a number of other health care measures to the economic stimulus package, the Washington Post reports, a clever way to "kill two birds with one stone."

If they are vigilant -- They will continue to investigate. There are pertinent committees chaired by smart peopole with no lack of situations that cry out for the light of day, and/or legislative fixes. ProPublica's recent investigative pieces include: Unsafe/unhealthy housing provided to Katrina victims; gaps in aviation security; as well as threats to the nation's water supply. The economic rescue program alone could occupy a dozen committees for a dozen months. Yahoo! News spotlights the banking bailout scandal regarding huge gifts to banking execs#. Another similar story points out that there has been no overall accounting of how the banks spent# the bailout monies.

If they are patriotic -- They will investigate the true nature of the loss of civil liberties in the past eight years, as chronicled by Tom Head at liberties. And they will investigate themselves as the peoples' guardians of constitutional protections in the process, as the latest Glenn Greenwald post at suggests. Jeff Schweitzer at the Huffington Post reveals just how bizarre are Dick Cheney's recent revelations# on the administration's blatently lawless view of a unitary presidency. Will there be any criminal prosecutions? It remains to be seen.

If they are brave -- They will begin to try to bridge the partisan divide, the widest in a long time, according to a fascinating recent Congressional Quarterly study. And they should work hard to avoid intra-party divisions, that could be nudged along by spoiler Republicans, according to

If Congressional leaders are to be a match for our new presidential leader, they will turn over new leaves, letting go of their previously ineffectual tactics. There will be no more excuses in 2009.

Hat Tip Key: Regular contributors of links to leads are betmo* and Jon#.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Obama clears Obama on Blago

By Creature

Which would be a conflict of interest had not the very independent Patrick Fitzgerald cleared the president-elect from all wrong doing weeks ago. Now, the Right will still call for an independent counsel of some kind, but that's only because they are intentionally dense (if not outright dumb).

See Meme for more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Craziest Conservative of the Day: John O' Sullivan

By Michael J.W. Stickings

For writing, in response to conservative "snobs," that Sarah Palin and Margaret Thatcher "have a great deal in common."

Honestly, I can't bring myself to quote from, let alone comment on, this ridiculous piece. Well, okay, here's the kicker:

But she has plenty of time, probably eight years, to analyze America's problems, recruit her own expert advice, and develop conservative solutions to them. She has obvious intelligence, drive, serious moral character, and a Reaganesque likability. Her likely Republican rivals such as Bobby Jindal and Mitt Romney, not to mention Barack Obama, have most of these same qualities too. But she shares with Mrs. Thatcher a very rare charisma.

Now, to be fair, O'Sullivan was once an advisor to Thatcher. So I suppose he writes with some authority on the matter. Which is to say, he gets Thatcher right, albeit in a deeply partisan way.

What he doesn't get is Palin, whom he overestimates with reckless abandon. Sure, she's plucky and driven, and perhaps (to some) likeable, but she's also arrogant, ignorant, un-self-conscious, and seemingly unaware of much of the world around her. Thatcher was never a genius, but at least she had (prior to her current dementia), a keen and perceptive mind, not to mention a genuine curiosity about the world. Neither one is from the establishment, to be sure, and each is (or was) an "outsider," but that's about as far as it goes.

O'Sullivan tries desperately to make the case, but it's doomed from the start.

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Headline of the Day (Pope Benedict XVI edition)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I couldn't help but chuckle when I read this one at the BBC today:

Really. You don't say.

Now, these "gay groups" have good reason to be angry not just at the pope's remarks but at the pope himself:

Speaking on Monday, Pope Benedict said that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour was as important as protecting the environment.

The comments were "irresponsible and unacceptable", the UK's Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) said.

Vladimir Luxuria, a transgender former Italian MP, called his words "hurtful".

What Pope Benedict said -- and the BBC has the "key extracts" here -- was that any blurring of the man/woman "order," including any efforts at "human auto-emancipation from creation and from the Creator" (whereby humans make themselves on their own), is "against the truth." It seems to me that this has more to do with transsexualism than with homsexualism, but the pope's point is clear: In nature, and by God, there are men and there are women and there is an order to gender and sexuality, namely, that gender is fixed (or ought to be) and that, sexually, only a man and a woman ought to copulate (and reproduce), each according to his natural, God-given purpose.

Now, I'm with the "gay groups" on this, more or less, whatever my concerns about humanity's efforts to conquer, by overcoming, nature. We are all little Nietzscheans now, perhaps, but that's not necessarily a good thing. What I recognize, unlike the pope, is that nature is flexible and that it is part of our nature, as rational creatures, to seek to shape it according to our desires. And the fact is, gender and sexuality are rather complex. (I'll defer to our co-blogger LindaBeth on this.) There aren't just men and women and we aren't all straight.

But here's why I couldn't help but chuckle: What did these "gay groups and activists" expect? This is the Roman Catholic Church we're talking about. It may be more "modern" than it used to be, but it's not exactly a bastion of progressive thinking on anything, let alone on gender and sexuality. And the head of the Church is Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, hardly a liberal. (Even the liberals in the Church are pretty conservative on such matters.) It's a wonder his remarks weren't much harsher.

So, fine, they're angry. I suppose they have a right to be, and I suppose I applaud their efforts to protest what is the Church's (and the pope's) "irresponsible and unacceptable" positions. Maybe one day, if it still exists, genuine liberals will take over the Church and bring it forward into Enlightenment. In the meantime, all we're going to get is more of the same from the same old narrow-minded fools and bigots (sorry, "true believers"). They're far too influential to ignore, but they're also far too ridiculous to take too seriously.

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Echoes down the corridor

By Carl

The first of many disconstitutional dismantlings is now coming back to haunt us:

The Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, issued eight years ago this month, was widely understood to work like that tape recorder in “Mission: Impossible.” It was meant to produce a president and then self-destruct.

“Our consideration is limited to the present circumstances,” the majority famously said, “for the problem of equal protection in election processes generally presents many complexities.”

That sentence, translated from high legal jargon into English, was often taken to mean this: The decision was a ticket for one ride only. It was not a precedent. It was a ruling, yes, but it was not law.

But now, as the petitioner leaves the national stage, Bush v. Gore is turning out to have lasting value after all. “You’re starting to see courts invoke it,” said Samuel Issacharoff, a law professor at New York University, “and you’re starting to see briefs cite it.”

Indeed, rumblings of
the damage the Bush administration has so gleefully inflicted on the Constitution echo everywhere. That sound you here is the foundation of the nation quivering. And just as it was unlikely that a major Supreme Court obstruction of justice eight years ago would not now be used by candidates great and small, Democratic and Republican, so is it unlikely that the massive gaping holes in due process and the law will go long ignored.

We elected Barack Obama with the understanding that he would likely close some of these holes, and perhaps ignore others, but asking a President to completely ignore convenient precedents is like asking a man to not use his left arm for four or eight years. It's simply not going to happen so long as they are available.

And assuming that Barack Obama is as much a mensch as we might hope he is, there's no guarantee that a president down the road would not reopen these old wounds. After all, even as great a man as Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. But then, so did as wretchedly pitiful and miserably twisted a man as George W. Bush.

Our freedoms, such as they are, are at stake here. This is more important than any controversy over any pastor or proposition might be, for what is, say, gay marriage or the right to an abortion when there is no freedom to speak of? Nothing but a gaudy bauble glued to the ratty carpet of America.

If I had the means, I would do this: When Barack Obama gets to the bit at his inauguration that says "preserve, protect and defend the Constituion of the United States of America," I would ask Chief Justice Roberts to pause, and say, "We are holding you to this, Mr. President."

A reminder that a free people is only as free as the government allows them to be, and until we the people control the government again, we the people rely on those in power to share our vision of freedom.

It pains me to think that in the past fifty years I've been on this planet, I've seen freedom dwindle, rather than flourish. Freedom should be an unprunable bush, one that you can nip a little here or there, but never be able to cut back to its roots. Freedom should be spreading, not contracting.

Even as we've made strides to insure freedom to all people in the nation- - black, white, male, female, gay, straight -- we've simultaneously watched our freedom winnow and starve as a whole. This must stop. This must reverse. The center cannot hold for long.

The impetus in this country has long been towards safety. I'm not sure specifically when that occured, my guess would be during the Great Depression. Government does solve problems, but those solutions need to be put away unless necessary as soon as the problem begins to resolve itself.

Similarly, a confluence of morality, religion, and fear has created an atmosphere that makes security take precedence over liberty. Scary gay men might ruin our marriages! Scary Latina women might do work that American women will not! Jesus is coming and he's carrying an M-16 rifle!

We must, as a nation, grow up a little. Coddled by our ministrations and administrations for too long, we must stand on our own two feet and work our own way through the world. Only then will we understand that it is through liberty, through freedom from oppression not only of our government, but of the majorities and minorities around us, that we can achieve security and safety. Respect is a two-way street, not a dumpster in a blind alley that we might duck behind when we need protection.

Freedom, Mr. President-elect, is what got you where you are. Please keep that in mind when you take your oath next month. We've missed it for so long here in America.

(Cross-posted at Simply Left Behind.)

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas in Baghdad

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Pardon me for spoiling the spirit, but this just reeks of propaganda:

From a distance, it looks like an apparition: a huge multi-colored hot-air balloon floating in the Baghdad sky, bearing a large poster of Jesus Christ. Below it, an Iraqi flag.

Welcome to the first-ever public Christmas celebration in Baghdad, held Saturday and sponsored by the Iraqi Interior Ministry. Once thought to be infiltrated by death squads, the Ministry now is trying to root out sectarian violence -- as well as improve its P.R. image.

The event takes place in a public park in eastern Baghdad, ringed with security checkpoints. Interior Ministry forces deployed on surrounding rooftops peer down at the scene: a Christmas tree decorated with ornaments and tinsel; a red-costumed Santa Claus waving to the crowd, an Iraqi flag draped over his shoulders; a red-and-black-uniformed military band playing stirring martial music, not Christmas carols.

On a large stage, children dressed in costumes representing Iraq's many ethnic and religious groups -- Kurds, Turkmen, Yazidis, Christians, Arab Muslims not defined as Sunni or Shiite -- hold their hands aloft and sing "We are building Iraq!" Two young boys, a mini-policeman and a mini-soldier sporting painted-on mustaches, march stiffly and salute.

Even before I can ask Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Abdul Karim Khalaf a question, he greets me with a big smile. "All Iraqis are Christian today!" he says.

Right. Sure they are.

Look, I recognize that Iraq is a diverse multi-national, muti-ethnic, multi-religious state, but... well, here are some thoughts:

1) Iraq has been torn asunder by sectarian violence, but is this really what it needs? A hot-air balloon displaying a poster of Jesus? And not just that, but Jesus attached to the Iraqi flag, is if somehow religious nationalism will heal Iraq's wounds.

2) It is all about PR, isn't it? It's a show, not a genuine expression of religious sentiment -- a show put on behind a wall of high-powered security. The Interior Ministry knows what plays well to American audiences. The best way to avoid all those probing questions is to appear to be not just tolerant but aggressively pro-Christian.

3) Religion, in my view, is about division. Even if the Sunni-Shiite divide is somehow bridged, is there not the risk that religious divides will replace it? Iraq could easily become another India/Pakistan.

4) All Iraqis are Christian? How does that play with the country's majority Muslim population -- Sunni and Shiite alike (including the moderates, not just the extremists)? Does such a statement, and such a spectacle, not smack of Western/American imperialism in another form? I realize that there are Christians in Iraq -- and they should be free to worship as they please -- but it doesn't help if they're seen as threats, or if the government is behind them.

5) Eventually, maybe Iraq will be America's foothold in the Middle East, the sort of consumerist paradise where people trample each other to death at 24-hour Wal-Marts. Maybe. Again, though, do Iraqis really need a Santa Claus draped in an Iraqi flag? What next? Car dealerships with American flags the size of football fields?

On the list of bad ideas for 2008, Christmas in Baghdad, as presented by the Interior Ministry, ranks up near the top.

(To make it worse, CNN's report of the event, by Jill Dougherty, is atrocious: credulous and without penetrating insight of any kind. Even the title of the piece -- "Baghdad celebrates first public Christmas amid hope, memories" -- is awful.)

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Biden tonight

By Michael J.W. Stickings

If you can tear yourself away from the Bears-Packers Windy City Deep Freeze Bowl this evening -- and I'll be watching strictly for fantasy purposes (if Donald Driver catches a couple of passes, I'll finish third in my league), flip over to CNN for Biden on Larry King (if you can stomach any Larry King at all -- I'm not sure I can). It's a substantive interview, if this CNN preview is any indication. Some of you may remember that I welcomed the Biden pick for veep, and it's good to hear that Obama is including him at the highest levels of decision-making. He won't be a Cheney, perhaps, but he should be one of the key figures in the Obama Administration. Notable here is his statement that U.S. combat troops will be out of Iraq "within the next two years." I'm less enthusiastic about redirecting combat troops to Afghanistan, but, then, that's the one area of Obama's foreign policy that has genuinely troubled me.

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A bad year for conservatism

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It must have been a bad year. How else to explain the fact that Sarah Palin -- "our beauteous Sarah," "our heroic Sarah," as Ann Coulter dubs her -- has been named Human Events' Conservative of the Year?

She was a disaster, was she not? And yet conservatives evidently still love her.

Then again, it's not like she had much in the way of competition.

And it's actually quite amusing to read Coulter's list of Palin's "embarrassing gaffes." No, it's not an exhaustive list, for they would be too exhausting to list.

Beyond that, the rest of her piece is unreadable in that especially Coulterian sort of way:

In time, HUMAN EVENTS' 2008 Conservative of the Year will be ready to be our President and someday can sweep into office and dismantle all the heinous government programs Obama and the Democrats are about to foist on the nation. Who knows? She might even be able to run as the candidate of 'hope' and 'change.'

Um. Yeah. Whatever.


For Palin's interview with HE, see here.

Steve Benen notes one of the funnier bits: Palin claims that "the biggest mistake" of the campaign was not doing -- and not being "allowed to do" -- more media interviews: " But: "Palin seemed to run into trouble when she started doing media interviews."

The more Americans (and the rest of us) got to know her, the more they (and we) disliked her. She and her right-wing admirers still don't get that.

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Sign of the Economic Apocalypse #1: Toyota in the red

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Well, it's time to kick off a new series here at The Reaction. As you may know, we already do Signs of the Apocalypse, (we're up to #61) mostly cultural indicators of imminent doom, but with the economy where it is, and worsening, it seems appropriate to turn our attention to the coming Economic Apocalypse. And not just in the U.S. This series will have a global reach. (Carl, our resident economics guru, been doing SOTEAs for some time, though he hasn't been calling them that.)

So... here we go...


It ain't just the Big Three that are in trouble. According to The New York Times, Toyota, a far more successful automaker, is sinking into the red for the first time in seven decades:

TOKYO — Toyota Motor, the Japanese auto giant, said Monday that it expected its first operating loss in 70 years, underscoring how the economic crisis was spreading across the global auto industry.

On Monday, Toyota said it expected an operating loss in its auto operations of 150 billion yen, or $1.7 billion, for the fiscal year ending March 31. That would be the company’s first annual operating loss since 1938, a year after the company was founded, and a huge reversal from the 2.3 trillion yen, or $28 billion, in operating profit earned last year.

Analysts said Toyota’s downward revision, its second in two months, showed that the worst financial crisis since the Depression was threatening not just the Big Three but also even relatively healthy automakers in Japan, South Korea and Europe. Many other companies will also soon be reporting losses.

A friend and I were recently discussing whether, if looking for a new car, we'd consider buying an American one. (He drives a Japanese one, I drive a German one.) We both said no -- even though the quality of Big Three cars seems to be better now than in quite some time.

I drove a Chevy in high school and college, then had a Ford later on -- our family GM cars were great, while the Ford was mediocre -- so it's not like I have any sort of antipathy to American cars. But with all the other choices available, from VWs and Hondas to Volvos and Infinitis and Lexi and beyond, why go American? My friend and I may be behind the curve, assuming that American cars have in fact improved in quality, but our first instinct is to look elsewhere. And not just because of quality, but because of the Big Three's current, er, problems.

And yet here's Toyota, arguably one of the world's finest car companies -- I've never had one, but I have friends who do, and they love them -- losing money. Now, Toyota is clearly in a much stronger position than most of its rivals, including the Big Three:

Toyota said it still expected to report a small net profit, helped by interest and dividend income as well as tax-related savings of 50 billion yen, or $560 million.

With some $18.5 billion in cash, and relatively little debt, Toyota is still in far better shape to weather the downturn than General Motors and Chrysler, which on Friday received $17.4 billion in emergency loans from Washington.

Still, its loss signals a much deeper problem not just in the auto industry but, more broadly, throughout the global economy. If Toyota is struggling, after all, so must all the other car companies, and so must other manufacturers in other industries, and so must all of us consumers, who evidently aren't buying enough Toyotas. (And when you're having trouble paying your bills and putting food on the table, or when you've been laid off, or when you fear you may just be let go, your priority likely isn't a new car.)

Maybe we never should have been buying that many Toyotas in the first place, or maybe we shouldn't have been racking up massive amounts of debt, or maybe all these manufacturers, as undeniably successful as some of them have been, need to rethink their products and how they do business, and maybe we all need to adjust to the new reality, the new paradigm, whatever it may be, whatever it may entail, that lies ahead at the end of this meltdown, but, right now, the Economic Apocalypse seems to be at hand.

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Drawing lines

By Creature

The question with bailing out everyone, and their mothers, usually comes down to drawing lines. I understand a frozen financial system harms all (the life-blood argument blah, blah, blah). I understand the importance of keeping Detroit, and its millions of interconnected jobs, alive as well. And, I'm all for a huge stimulus focused on infrastructure, education, and green. But keeping greedy property developers and commercial building owners in the black is a step too far and should be rejected without a second thought. As Calculated Risk points out: "How many jobs will be lost if the ownership of an office building or mall changes? Very few." If at all. Enough is enough.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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By Carl

Paul Krugman won his Nobel honestly, to say the least. Today, he puts forth the following proposition:

A few months ago a headline in the satirical newspaper The Onion, on point as always, offered one possible answer: “Recession-Plagued Nation Demands New Bubble to Invest In.” Something new could come along to fuel private demand, perhaps by generating a boom in business investment.

But this boom would have to be enormous, raising business investment to a historically unprecedented percentage of G.D.P., to fill the hole left by the consumer and housing pullback. While that could happen, it doesn’t seem like something to count on.

A more plausible route to sustained recovery would be a drastic reduction in the U.S. trade deficit, which soared at the same time the housing bubble was inflating. By selling more to other countries and spending more of our own income on U.S.-produced goods, we could get to full employment without a boom in either consumption or investment spending.

I agree. I think the largest concern for the American economy over the past decade or so has been the transnationalization of our debt.

Think about it: the Chinese, British, and Saudis (as well as other nations swimming in new-found cash) basically have funded not only our national debt, but in turn, our personal indebtedness, including our mortgages.

Our foreign policy has followed suit, you might have noticed. The Iraq invasion was as much a pretext for getting money from the House of Saud as it was for "protecting America from terrorism".

Too, once these foreign governments found themselves swimming in American paper, the more risk-tolerant governments began buying up American private instruments: corporate bonds, securitized mortgages, credit and auto loans, things like that. Better return
for only slightly higher risk.

I'd got so far as to make the observation that the change in bankruptucy laws that made it nearly impossible for Americans to walk away from debt was less about the banking lobby and more about not knifing our allies in the back.

Once this house of cards began to topple (and this really is only the beginning), much effort was put not into prevention, as in financing Americans directly, but in staving off the collapse of the mediators: the banks and brokerages.

You see, we're stuck paying these bastards off for stuffing our mailboxes full of solicitations, egged on by a president who's idea of sacrifice is to take our credit cards out and spend, spend, spend! Financing us just brings the problems the institutions have to a head.

What we as a nation need to do, therefore, is to repatriate our owings, if we are to reclaim a recovery of any length and note. You'll notice the last time we had a truly healthy recovery, we were paying down our budget deficits and even making inroads into what was now-laughably called a crisis national debt of $3.8 trillion (it is now over $10 trillion and climbing fast).

The trouble, of course, is that other nations may not take kindly to this domestication of resources and money. China, for example, lives by our imports of their goods. It would be a bit irritating if we suddenly opened factories all across America, and paid people a living wage to make goods that China can produce far cheaper than we can.

Which brings me to some linkage, something that Barack Obama had already proposed on the campaign trail for other purposes, but which can make us a manufacturing powerhouse again without really upsetting our trade with China among others.

To put it in a phrase: green energy.

Right now, we have a nascent renewable resources manufacturing industry. We have the innovative American mind, the entreprenurial spirit with which to create, and the structure to manage and distribute this kind of knowledge around the nation.

More important, we have the idle capacities in terms of both plants and labor. There's not much reason not to insitute this program of weaning ourselves off fossil fuels, weaning ourselves off the notion of "brand, spanking, new", and weaning ourselves of the notion that this kind of work, manufacturing and fabrication, is somehow a dead art in America, that Americans find this work beneath them somehow.

Ultimately, this technology would become an export, and a lion-sized one to boot. We'd be able to balance our trade and budget deficits, and make some paydowns of our national debt, probably just in time for the next recession.

(Cross-posted at Simply Left Behind.)

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