March 29, 2008

What kind of defining moment?

Both Bush and Maliki have put all their chips on the attack on Basra:

Bush called the operation "a defining moment in the history of a free Iraq," saying the government is fighting criminals there. "It was just a matter of time before the government was going to have to deal with it," he said.

The president also hailed the operation as a sign of progress, emphasizing that the decision to mount the offensive was al-Maliki's.

"It was his military planning; it was his causing the troops to go from point A to point B," Bush said. "And it's exactly what a lot of folks here in America were wondering whether or not Iraq would even be able to do it in the first place. And it's happening."

It's tempting to say that Cheney ordered the attack when he was in Iraq a week or so ago, but that's not certain. Some speculate that it was Maliki's initiative and was intended partly in order to put the Bush administration on the spot.

If the attack had been immediately successful, that would have proved that the Iraqis are indeed independent now, and capable of standing on their own two feet. It wasn't successful, however, and is requiring increasing amounts of American and British support. Bush's statement that it was Maliki's initiative would also make it possible to disavow the attack and blame Maliki, but that would destroy the Bush team's overriding message -- that the Iraqis are ready.

So does Bush try to walk back his claim that this was a defining moment? Or does he stick with it, and redefine the defining moment? Bush never walks anything back, so we must expect the latter. (I am assuming that Maliki's military situation will not suddenly improve -- that remains possible, though it doesn't seem likely.)

So how will he redefine it? First, he can demonize Sadr and the Mehdi Army and use them as an excuse to devastate Basra -- a scorched-earth policy. Second, he can use the new violence as proof that we need to attack Iran. Both Bush's friends and his enemies are speculating about the latter (though the two courses are not mutually exclusive at all).

At times like this it would be nice if the U.S. had a two-party system. It would be even nicer if the Bush policy had collapsed during a hotly-contested Presidential campaign, because in that case the candidates of the opposing party could loudly point out that the "defining moment", like the rest of Bush's Iraq policy, has been a disaster. But if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Posted by John Emerson at 8:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

March 26, 2008

Will Hillary be the new Nader?

Hillary's meeting with Richard Scaife, perhaps the slimiest of the Republican media lords (and the one who most enthusiastically promoted fact-free smears of Bill Clinton) makes one suspect that the rumors are true, and that she has decided that, while she can't win the Democratic nomination, at least she can hurt Obama badly enough that he can't win, leaving Clinton a clear shot in 2012.

You know -- "The worse, the better". (Though based on what she and her beloved husband have been saying, it's by no means certain that she is bothered by the prospect of a McCain Presidency.)

Someone has to convince that Clintons that it's now or never for her. If neither she nor Obama is elected President this year, it will be time for us to look for someone new. If a broad range of Democrats tell her that she'll cut her own throat if she sabotages Obama, maybe she'll decide to retire with a little dignity left. And one doubts that Bill Clinton wants the destruction of Barack Obama and the election of John McCain to be his legacy.

If Clinton plays scorched earth politics against Obama now, she should know that the rest of us will play it against her four years from now.

James Carville should have his mouth washed out with soap.


1. Yes, I did vote for Nader in 2000. I repented in early 2002 and have been a servile Democrat ever since. After all the shit I had flicked at me for my Nader vote, it annoys me no end to see the Clintonistas relying on the same sabotage strategy that Nader did.

2. No, I'm not an Obama loyalist. There are some things about Obama I like, and some that I'm not so sure about. I supported Edwards while he was in the race, or maybe Dodd (though his campaign never really got off the ground), and only switched to Obama after it had become a two-person race. Until a couple of days ago I even tried to calm down the anti-Hillary militants, and if Hillary wins the primary, I'll support her in the general, no matter how hard she tries to convince me not to.

3. Should we really be surprised? Bill Clinton defeated the Congressional Democrats so thoroughly during his terms as President that the Republicans ended up gaining control of Congress. With the dog-in-the-manger DLC, you always have to ask whether their goal is to take office, or whether it's just to make sure that no one to the left of them ever wins. They talk as though their centrism is a response to political necessity, but they often act as though they're motivated primarily by a bitter hatred of anyone more liberal than they are.

Posted by John Emerson at 5:01 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

March 22, 2008

Someone should wash Carville's mouth out with soap

“Mr. Richardson’s endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic,” Mr. Carville said, referring to Holy Week. Link

Carville is a mercenary, and he's a specialist in the kind of personal-loyalty racketeer politics that the Bush machine also specializes in. Whenever possible he'll double-cross the majority of rank and file Democrats in order to cut a deal, in the same way that the Bush administration is always willing to betray Republican principles for the sake of a little graft. To Carville everything is deals and payoffs, so when Richardson dared to defy the family that had made him, Carville decided he was a traitor who must be smeared. Thank God that Richardson has more smarts than the average gangbanger.

Carville's lovely wife, Mary Matalin, is part of Dick Cheney's inner circle. Why would anyone ever trust the guy? Whoever washes his filthy mouth out should also swab it for second-hand Cheney semen.

Posted by John Emerson at 11:07 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

January 18, 2008

Commissar Goldberg: If you want a vision of the future, imagine a daycare worker giving a toddler a sugarfree bran muffin -- forever.

[Discussion of Jonah Goldberg's book, Liberal Fascism Also see this.]

Goldberg's weird definition of fascism was customized to make it possible to say things like this:

The quintessential Liberal Fascist isn't an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore.

But that's just loony. If Goldberg had written 1984, at the end he'd have O'Brien saying:

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a daycare worker giving a toddler a sugarfree bran muffin -- forever.

Or how about this:

A hug is liberal fascism's equivalent of a pistol shot to the back of the head.

You can have infinite fun with Goldberg. Who was the first liberal fascist, for example? Wasn't it Cardinal Biggles with his terrifying Comfy Chair?

Jonah Goldberg's book has no importance at all from a scholarly point of view, but the Jonah Goldberg phenomenon is extremely important. He's the most recent of a long string of Movement Republican mouthpieces who have gained places in the legit media, and he's put a few new tweaks into the formula. Unlike Coulter, Malkin, Limbaugh, Savage, and Beck, Goldberg speaks in a nice NPR voice and has a professorial manner, and while what he says is no more than cheap taunting, the way that he says it seems scholarly. So responding effectively to him will be tricky.

Conservatives hate liberal notions of tolerance, open-mindedness, and civility, and Goldberg is setting a trap: "OK, buddy, tolerate this!" If you argue civilly, he gains legitimacy, since his target readers are the ones who don't pay close attention and will score the debate as a draw. But if you lose your temper or ridicule him, Goldberg will smirk down at you from the moral high ground. This is an old game, and in my opinion it attacks (albeit dishonestly) one of liberalism's genuine weak spots.

Goldberg's book is also intended to inoculate Republicans against the charge of fascism -- "We're no worse than the Democrats" is the standard Republican response whenever they're caught behaving indefensibly. Goldberg doesn't really need to make his case: he just needs to plant a few doubts and give the Republican mouthpieces some new talking points. Even if his book is mostly rejected, there will be some residue, the way accusations tarnish reputations at the unconscious level even when presented from the beginning as false (e.g., "Obama has never been a Muslim and has never attended a Muslim school").

When a legit publication features someone like Kristol or Goldberg, a clear message is sent about what is expected and what is permissible. Movement Republican plants are turf markers, rather like the illiterate commissars holding high positions in Soviet universities or the thugs sent from national headquarters to oversee mobbed-up union locals. The media are free, all right, but they still have to give the Republicans a voice and a veto. The stupider the mouthpiece, the clearer the message -- it's not really possible to pretend that either one of these guys was hired for his talents. And everyone else in the organization will get the message about what the management wants.

What about the substance of Goldberg's book? Is there any? If you take the book seriously, you play into Goldberg's hands, but it's worth pointing out briefly that there's no there there. So:

Like fascists, American liberals are more populist and futurist than classical liberals and traditionalist conservatives, but so are Republicans. (The classical liberals and traditionalist conservatives are nostalgia items -- dead as a doornail.) Like fascists, American liberals are willing to intervene in the economy in a way that classical liberals weren't, but so are Republicans -- and like Republicans (but unlike liberals), fascists favored big business with their interventions. It is true that in the late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century many left groups were racist, but in the contemporary U.S. the racists are Republicans (the paleoconservatives and the neo-Confederates). Some early Nazi leaders were closet homosexuals, but so are many contemporary Republican leaders. The Nazi SA used anti-capitalist rhetoric at first, but the SA leaders were all massacred in 1934 and the group lost its influence.

And so on. As far as authoritarianism, militarism, contempt for legality, xenophobia, and the cult of personality go, the Republican Party which Goldberg automatically supports is remarkably more fascistic than the Democrats or any liberal group, so Goldberg just obscures these issues.

There's really only one reason why the Republican Party cannot be called fascist yet, though it's a big one. The Republicans (so far) don't have a paramilitary branch using violence and illegal means to intimidate opponents. But multiply the anti-abortion terrorists by a few hundred, and they'll have that too. (And you have to wonder what the Blackwater paras will do once they're brought home).

Repeating falsehoods with a straight face is Jonah's job. He can do this with confidence because he knows that his Republican sponsors and his media employers will accept anything he says. He was hired as a Republican mouthpiece, and if the Republicans like what he's saying the media can't object. Goldberg can also be confident that with a very few exceptions (Jon Stewart, Keith Olbermann, and Paul Krugman) no one in the major media will ever call him out on his fraud.

I expect the rest of the media will disgrace themselves by treating him as a reasonable man making a reasonable argument, and that in itself should be enough to tell us what desperate shape our country is in.

-- John Emerson

Posted by John Emerson at 9:29 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

The Progressives, the Left, and President Wilson

[Discussion of Jonah Goldberg's book, Liberal Fascism]

Several issues which come up repeatedly on Jonah Goldberg threads (in enormous numbers of posts by two or three guys) can be rather easily dealt with.

During the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century, many leftwing groups were openly racist. President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, was extremely racist and also (during World War I) highly authoritarian. American Progressives during the first part of the Twentieth Century were authoritarian, explicitly racist, and suspicious of foreigners. And finally, several famous progressives of the statist persuasion (for example, H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw) had sympathies with Mussolini. All these things are true.

I am now 61 years old, and all this happened before I was born. World War One ended ninety years ago. World War Two ended sixty years ago. During that time, a lot of things have changed. The Progressives (who were Republicans as often as they were Democrats -- think Theodore Roosevelt) ceased to be a factor about 1940. Whatever Mussolini had seemed to be at the beginning, and however he portrayed himself, as he gradually showed himself for what he was (a Fascist in the strict sense of the word) he lost support.

While it may be true that many Nazis and Fascists were ex-radicals or ex-Communists, the prefix "ex-" is important here. (There's even an old joke about this: "An anti-communist? I don't care what kind of communist he is!") At crunch time, most traditionalist conservatives in Italy and Germany supported the Fascists and the Nazis -- against the Communists, of course, but also against the Social Democrats who were the nearest European analogue to American liberals. And of course, the Nazis and Fascists learned violent tactics from the leftists -- but what that means is that they killed leftists. Killing a leftist isn't the same thing as being one.

Finally, during the civil rights movement forty or fifty years ago (during my lifetime, at least), there was a major political realignment in the United States. Authoritarian Woodrow Wilson racists like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms switched to the Republican Party, where they became important leaders and were highly honored.

Goldberg and other conservatives use events in the distant past to prove that liberals are Fascists, or like Fascists, or something (Goldberg is extremely evasive about exactly what he means), while at the very same time not only ignoring recent and contemporary cult-of-personality proto-fascism, but actually strongly affiliating themselves with it. This is really beneath contempt. (The Democratic Party is more than 200 years old, and awhile back I wrote a little satire using President Van Buren's indecisiveness during the 1838 Aroostook War with Canada to prove that Democrats are unable to handle foreign policy. I'm sure that Goldberg would have sneaked that into his book if he'd thought of it.)

All this is just more evidence that the argument about Jonah Goldberg's book Liberal Fascism is a waste of time. Goldberg's significance is in the media space he controls, rather than in his ideas or in what he writes. Wingers will continue to throw all the shit they can find at liberals, hoping that some of it will stick, and Goldberg and others will continue to debase the American political discourse with ignorant slander without being called on it.

-- John Emerson

Posted by John Emerson at 9:25 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

July 17, 2007

Two Books by John Emerson to be Published

I've just self-published two books which might be of interest to a few people here. They mostly represent my literary side, Relics being a book of poems I wrote 25+ years ago. Substantific Marrow is very diverse, including pieces on Eastern European History, garbled ontology and psychoanalysis, The State, philosophy, and Americana, but mostly it's literature.

Not much overt politics in the book, just scattered glum hints. Later on I also plan to publish a collection of Dave's pieces and mine from Seeing the Forest. (If I make any money on either book, I also plan to send some to Dave, the most underrated guy in the blogosphere.)

More information here:

Books can be bought here:

By Christmas I should have a third book out, about philosophy, economics, and temporality. Sometime next year my book on Inner Eurasian history should be out; this book should be of interest to many people here. I'm going to be spending the next several years gathering and finishing up stuff I've been working on since about 1985.

Posted by John Emerson at 7:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

June 15, 2007

John Emerson's Post

If you were sent by Digby or DeLong or Perlstein, the full post by John is here: Seeing the Forest: The "Honest Conservatives" should shut the fuck up

Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

January 9, 2007

Bloggers Leaving, Getting Real Jobs

Several bloggers have recently called it quits or are in the process of doing so. Read about it at skippy the bush kangaroo: ted barlow disease strikes again - a skippy musing,

let's face it, blogging is only slightly more productive than masturbation, and a whole lot less fun. unless you are one of the lucky more talented ones, like kevin drum, who gets paid for blogging, or lucky smart ones, like atrios or kos who have big enough audiences to command mucho dinero for their blogads, chances are you won't get paid enough for blogging to buy a 15 inch monitor.

so that means one of two things, if you're a blogger. you are either really stupid and like to waste your time writing inconsequential things probably nobody ever reads, or you are incredibly dedicated to your political ideals and believe you are making a difference, as well as being really stupid and like to waste your time writing inconsequential things probably nobody ever reads.

I left a comment:

The very night of the election I felt like that equation of urgency-to-blog vs necessity-to-make-a-living had changed. Our Nation Emergency was pushed back -- maybe by only a few weeks, we'll see what Bush does next... So I understand this.

I'm still blogging but the necessity of making a living really is ringing its bell in my hear now...

Note that zizka is a Real Blogger (meaning he couldn't stay quit). He's John Emerson at Seeing the Forest - very occasionally.

The fact is I don't make anything from blogging. It pays for my hosting service and bandwidth, but only barely. I'm going to need to find a paying job soon myself.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

January 7, 2007

How we could have a better press corps

An open letter to the blogosphere:


For some time now I've been arguing that the problems of the media primarily are caused at the ownership level, and that it's foolish to zero in on specific individual reporters and commentators. The real powers are invisible (owners, publishers, and editors) , and the people whose names we see are basically responding to incentives. Bad reporters get promoted, good reporters get fired (not always, but far too often).

We have the same media wise men today that we did in 2002, even though they have failed us disastrously -- Kristol and some other failures have even been promoted. Neither the Iraq War nor the Democratic Congressional victory seems to have taught anyone anything. We can vote politicians out, but not media -- they are entrenched. As we speak, they're starting to beat up on Nancy Pelosi.

Everyone knows about Scaife, Moon, Peretz, and Murdoch, but I believe that all of the media owners are hopeless. Financial management now dominates operations management (at the Times and the Post, the same individuals head both boards), and the Republican tax cuts and deregulation moves have succeeded in buying the media. (Someone at the Seattle Times specifically named the estate tax as their motive for supporting Republicans). When Ted Turner sold CNN to finance people, CNN went very bad very quickly. Turner was hardly perfect, but he did think about other things than the profit margin.

This country will never be healthy until new media institutions have been brought into being. National TV, national cable, national radio, and a national newspaper -- all new. Air America was a very small start, and it was very poorly supported. We need much more than that.

This is doable -- there's a lot of liberal money out there. But for whatever reason (I suggest stupidity and inattention, but that's just me), the liberal money people are reluctant to put money in media. The new media wouldn't necessarily be profitable, but it wouldn't necessarily be a money sink either. The main thing is, we need it. A considerable percentage of Americans never hear a liberal opinion except in conservative caricature form.

For whatever reason, this message has had no resonance at all so far. But I am convinced that it's the main thing we need.

John Emerson

Posted by John Emerson at 1:32 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

September 18, 2006

Letter to Josh Marshall on the October Surprise

(I'm responding to this story.)


I have been dreading the October Surprise since March. I said then that the Democrats should be pre-positioning themselves to react effectively if this happened, and should loudly warn against it whenever the trial balloons went up. The Democrats did not do this; the party as a whole is still following DLC Rule One: "We can't be seen as doves".

This is what the bad guy meant when he said "We make reality, we don't respond to reality". Hot war in Iran is capable of erasing the Republican Congressional polling deficits overnight. I don't say it will certainly succeed, it's probably about a 50/50 shot, but it's the only move Bush has left. Whether it succeeds or not depends partly on whether the Democrats as a team respond effectively to whatever he does, and I doubt that they are able to do that.

If Bush maintains Congressional control, even by a fingernail, it will be seen as an enormous triumph. The media will suck up to him even more, and he'll start in on his big projects.

At some point the American experiment with democracy might come to an end. I think that Bush's intentions in this respect are clear. Only paranoids say this kind of thing, but paranoids are sometimes right.

John Emerson

Posted by John Emerson at 4:23 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

May 28, 2006

The defining issue of our time is the media.

Go read Jamison Foser's "The defining issue of our time is the media". Take a look, if you want, at the pieces by Eric Boehlert and Bob Somerby on recent media silliness.

What's missing here (and also in Brad DeLong's frequent media criticisms) is the recognition that this is a management problem. When there's a consistent pattern of bad behavior, you have to conclude that the bad behavior is deliberate.

Below is the meat of a letter I wrote to Somerby. I've written a similiar letter to Foser and have commented many times on this topic both here and on DeLong's threads:

I've been arguing for some time now that the bylined reporters and commentators aren't agents. They just watch patterns of hiring and promotion and do what seems to work best. They're lackeys giving their bosses what they want.

Responsibility has to ascribed to faceless management and to the owners (Sulzberger and Graham, for example). For whatever reason, for the last ten years or more all of the media have swung consistently right.

My theory is that the reason is financial, and that the tax cuts and other goodies have caused financial management to interfere with operations. (Both Sulzberger and Graham are simultaneously business managers and operations managers of their respective publications).

This is bad news indeed. The media cannot be shamed into cleaning up their act, because bad reporting is a deliberate bottom-line policy, not an oversight or a mistake.

I have suggested that only new national media at every level (cable, TV, newspaper, radio) can improve the situation. Present players are incorrigible and inveterate. Air America was a good start, but not nearly enough. (I was horrified at the unenthusiastic reception AA got from many liberals and Democrats. Sometimes I thank that Democrats are too stupid to live).

New media are doable, but I'm the only one talking about it. The money is there (it's not just Soros, there are others).

I've been saying this for over a year, but I'm a crank's crank, and it's had no resonance at all.

John Emerson


I suppose I should address the silly idea that what I have proposed here is a "conspiracy theory". There's nothing paranoid about saying that the management of a given business controls the business that it manages.

Posted by John Emerson at 8:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

March 31, 2006

Emerson Speaks

I probably shouldn't post this, but I have a temper too.

John Aravosis of Americablog, normally one of my favorite blogs, just posted an intemperate and unjustified slam at Rep. Cynthia McKinney, NOW, and the NAACP. The issue was McKinney's recent altercation with the capitol police. Aravosis and several commenters went completely out of control, as did Neil Boortz. I don't know enough about the specifics of the case to be sure what I think, but neither did Aravosis.

I'm not a regular there but I happened to be passing by. I was appalled and I suggested several times, reasonably temperately, that Aravosis delete his crappy post. I thought he was embarassing himself. So "the Emerson asshole" got banned.

Aravosis got a lot of more-or-less-unjustified criticism the other day, so I guess he's a little testy, but his McKinney post was bullshit.

Perhaps we'll all feel better in the morning.

Posted by John Emerson at 9:28 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

March 23, 2006

Commissar Domenech

Ben Domenech is not a journalist. He's a moderately fluent writer, though prone to plagiarism, but he's been hired because, like Jonah Goldberg of the LA Times, he's a loyal and combative Republican operative with excellent connections. (This is how people were hired to reconstruct Iraq, and how Homeland Security and Fema were staffed and led).

Domenech does not work for the Washington Post. He works for the Party. He'll collect his Post pay for now, but he has every reason to expect that one way or another the Party will take care of him for the rest of his life.

This isn't completely new. A lot of established journalists earn a substantial part of their income by giving highly-paid speeches to ideological groups. What's new is Domenech's complete lack of qualifications. He's like a Soviet political commissar, or like the gangsters planted in union locals by the national offices of mobbed-up unions.

What we can expect him to do is to keep an eye on the real journalists at the Post. That's what he's been doing all along: he trashed Froomkin just a couple of weeks ago. Supposedly he's been hired to balance Froomkin, but that's phony. Froomkin is not a Democratic Party operative, and Froomkin, unlike Domenech, is an actual journalist.

When the facts hurt the Republicans, they accuse anyone who reports the facts of being biased. Domenech will be the on-site man to do that at the Post.

The Post didn't blunder. The Post was responding to organized outside pressures -- some of them public in the blogosphere and elsewhere, and some of them from behind the scenes. The Times and the Post have been knuckling under for some time now. Examples include coverage of the Clinton impeachment, coverage of the Gore-Bush race, and coverage of the runup to the Iraq war. There's no longer any reason to believe that either the Times or the Post will ever resist this pressure, or even to be sure that they really want to.

No one wants to put the heat on Sulzberger or Graham, because jobs at the Times and the Post are still the best in the biz, and no one is willing to burn any bridges. Those two guys wield a powerful carrot.

Increasingly, the Party is the media, and the Party is the State.

P.S. Ezra Klein has objected to my singling him out. In fact, Ezra is not an especially bad case, and this particular instance is not an especially terrible example of what I'm talking about. But in a toxic profession like present-day journalism, "reasonableness" puts you at risk. More in the extended entry.


First of all, it's me. Dave may or may not agree with me.

Second, I have a history with Tapped. A year or two ago Somerby and I had a messy triangular spat with someone there who made a silly slighting remark about his work. (I'm out of touch with Somerby, and I'm only speaking for myself now.)

Anyone hoping for a journalistic career will be tempted to pull punches for reasons of collegiality, and also to protect sources. I've seen even Alterman do that, and I believe that Alterman has made a considerable career sacrifice by choosing the political and journalistic course he has taken. He's just barely major-media even now, and he wrote somewhere about watching his conservative and mainstream colleagues pull down comfy think-tank positions while he was still living like a student.

Judy Miller is a scarier case yet. When she first went to Washington she was working for The Progressive, the weeniest of the weeny-liberal magazines. And I do believe that I've seen people move up from TAP to bigger media, and as I remember I thought that they had been taking an unnecessarily mild and "reasonable" tone right before they did that.

If the journalistic profession were healthy, there'd be nothing wrong with this kind of prudence. But it's deathly sick and terribly corrupt. If you look again at my STF piece, my real targets were Sulzburger and Graham. They have to be regarded as central to the corruption of print journalism, yet no one ever goes after them except me. I've been trying to convince DeLong to do so, and he won't. Even Somerby seemed to be willing to let the buck stop with individual reporters, even though a persisent, widespread problem has to be a management problem.

Sulzburger and Graham are still the kingmakers, both in the world of print journalism and in the political world. We're all still hoping for them to fix things, like Russian peasants hoping for to get past the "corrupt ministers" and speak directly to the Czar.

By temperament, choice, personal history, and circumstance I am pretty much stuck with the outsider perspective, and I think that this perspective is always a necessary part of the mix -- never more so than now. So I watch the up-and-coming people in the field closely from my particular point of view.

In my STF piece I did give my reasons why the Domenech hiring should be taken seriously. I thought your dismissal of the problem was one more example of the liberal tendency to finesse things away with clever rationalizations. And it had a flavor of the kind of in-crowd collegiality and unwillingness to make a stink, or step outside the rules of what's cool to say, that caused many Democrats to favor George Packer's misguided book over all the various people who could be regarded as peaceniks and outside the pale of decent society.

This is a general theme of mine. You are far from the worst offender, but it's pretty hard to make a general point without occasionally naming an individuals.

John Emerson

PS. After rereading your letter: I did not accuse you of dishonesty. I accused you of anticipatory socialization, excessive and inappropriate discretion, mistaken prudence, and misplaced collegiality in a toxic profession.

Posted by John Emerson at 5:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

March 6, 2006


For SOME reason I'm starting to study up on con-man techniques. I came across this page of quotes, incuding:

"The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most are those who try to tell them the truth." (H.l, Mencken)

"Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

"Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves." (Eric Hoffer)

"Tain't what a man don't know that hurts him; it's what he knows that just ain't so." (Frank Hubbard)

"Be wary of a man who urges an action in which he himself incurs no risk." (Joaquin Setanti)

"Truth is whatever a con artist can lead you to believe at any given moment in time." (Dennis M. Marlock)

"The great masses of the people...will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one." (Adolf Hitler)

"We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable." - Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Posted by Dave Johnson at 1:29 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

January 29, 2006

New National Newspaper?

I've sent the letter below to a few people who sometimes answer my emails. To me it seems like an obviously good idea, though no one has showed much interest so far. Pass it on.

I've been flogging the idea of a new national newspaper for well over a year. I even tried to persuade the Guardian to publish a US edition -- no luck.

I don't have much throw weight, and unless someone else picks up the idea it won't even be talked about.

I strongly doubt that the Times and the Post will reform themselves. I think that Sulzberger and Graham are much more strongly committed to a political agenda (probably neocon) than anyone realizes.

It would take a lot of startup money, but with good management and promotion it could be good business. The money is there, though liberals do seem to be much stingier than conservatives. the new newspaper would be a magnet for new journalists of the non-opportunist sort, and my bet is that some disgruntled major guys would jump from the Times and Post. There are also a lot of people like Seymour Hersh out there, who used to be newspapermen but got blackballed.

I am convinced that the center-right / right bias of the media dooms the Democrats to defeat. The free media are the worst, but the newspapers are also very bad and speak to a more significant demographic. Because of media skew, ambient political opinion -- the opinion of independents, moderates, and thoughtless people generally -- can usually be swung to the Republicans, and since the Republicans start out with a hard rightwing core representing 30%-35% of the vote, they usually win.

Right now I live in Minnesota. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune is a skimpy, average paper, but the editorial policy is liberal. It really makes a difference for your morale to open a newspaper with the reasonable hope of seeing something you agree with, and I believe I notice a difference in the guy reactions of ordinary people around me who otherwise be cynical centrists. Ambient political opinion is a tremendous political force.

Nobody's going to listen to me, but maybe if someone else picks this up the idea will get a little traction.

John Emerson

Posted by John Emerson at 6:31 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

November 10, 2005

Who Is Our Economy For, Anyway?

Regular Seeing the Forest readers know that we regularly ask the question, "Who is our economy for, anyway?" Today several bloggers are asking this question in different ways. In an earlier post here, John Emerson wrote,

DeLong said once that the Clinton free trade policy was Part One of a two part policy. Part Two would have been compensation and retraining for displaced workers, but it never happened. ... Basically Clinton tried to get his bipartisan program through with Republican votes while defying the Democrats in Congress, and then was shocked to find that the Republicans refused to support the Democratic part of the package.
Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly and Atrios are talking about trade. Keven wrote,

... [read the post] puts a different spin on the standard thesis that free trade agreements are good for growth, doesn't it? If "growth" mean GDP growth, it's probably true. But if "growth" means growth in median wages, as I think it should, then it might not be.
and later,
I didn't intend the previous post to imply that trade agreements are bad things. I don't think they are.

Rather, I just wanted to point out that they have their downsides as well as their upsides.

[. . .] The point isn't that trade is bad per se, the point is that politicians frequently make promises to help out those who are hurt by trade agreements, but then quickly lose interest in those promises once the agreement passes.

and even later,
...not only do workers who lose their jobs to a plant closure suffer a permanent income decline, but 20 years later the children of these families suffered lower incomes too. Surely those of us who benefit from free trade and an information age economy ought to be willing to forego a small part of that benefit in order to avoid the kind of multi-generational poverty that's caused by the things that benefit us in the first place?
Atrios wrote,
Now we're in this world where people just scream "free trade good!" Well, it isn't good for everyone. There are winners and losers, and all basic trade theory says is that enough extra income is created so that the winners could, in theory, more than compensate the losers for what they lost. But that's "class warfare" and "socialist redistribution" so we don't do that.

It's completely in the self-interest of a nontrivial part of the population to oppose basic free trade legislation. Economists are often loathe to embrace a particular social welfare function, but too many fall prey to embracing GDP as somehow being a metric which is value neutral. In fact all it does is obscure all the things about which we could make a value judgment. A useful measure of something, but certainly not a value-free measure of the nation's economic wellbeing. The income distribution is still there, even if we close our eyes and pretend it isn't.

Then, later he gets to what I think is the most important point,
Is a policy which makes 1% of the population better off but 99% worse off a better one strictly because it raises the average? What about 20/80? What about 50/50, when it's the less well off people being made worse off and the more well off people being made better off? People can certainly have different opinions about these things, but what people shouldn't do is think that by focusing solely on real per capita GDP they're not making a subjective judgment. A policy change which impacts GDP also is likely to have an impact on the income distribution and just because you manage to avoid the latter issue doesn't mean that the issue isn't there. All you're doing is saying "GDP trumps all other considerations." If that's what you believe, fine, but it's a rather odd thing to believe. [emphasis added]
At TPM Cafe there are lots of posts on the subject of trade. Jeff Faux writes,
The opening up of the US economy to unregulated markets has allowed the corporate investor class to escape the restrictions of the New Deal social contract. The threat and reality of off-shoring production is relentlessly undercutting the bargaining position of labor (not just labor unions but most people who must work for a living). The effect is similar for rich countries and poor ones. A dozen years after NAFTA, for example, wages have dramatically fallen behind productivity in Mexico as well as Canada and the US.

[. . .] But even if you accept all of the conventional theoretical arguments for unregulated trade, the benefits are exceedingly modest.

Some of the posts there try to say that cheaper goods from China balances our loss of jobs. But I think the lower price is actually from a form of deferred maintenance. I mean, if we export manufacturing we're exporting our future ability to manufacture because our manufacturing infrastructure deteriorates while China's modernizes, and we lose our ability to compete in the world. I think our trade deficit reflects this.

David Sirota sees another problem with the "lower prices" arguments,

As Robert Greenwald highlights in his new movie "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" - there are all sorts of hidden costs in those great low-prices that we venerate as the rationale for corporate-written free trade policy. For instance, as I note in my upcoming book, the best way to see that those low prices aren't all that they seem is to look at whether wages under free trade policies are actually outstripping those supposedly "low" prices. As Gene's colleagues at the Center for American Progress pointed out in 2004, wages are, in fact, not keeping up with inflation. And that trend has continued into 2005. In other words, the supposed gains from "low" prices are outstripped by the losses this trade policy incurs to workers' wages.

... Put another way, the low prices Wal-Mart is able to provide on goods under free trade policies are not enough to offset the low wages workers are now making under these free trade policies.

MaxSpeak says,
Trade, on the other hand, is fully predictable in its impacts on the US: it leads to losses for the worst-positioned and benefits for the already well-off.
Nathan Newman writes,
...what's striking is that advocates for trade deals accuse critics of being against "free trade"-- yet the deals they advocate are all about accepting child slavery and denial of freedom by workers to form unions as acceptable parts of the global economy.

It the critics of these deals -- who support trade but demand that basic standards of freedom for workers be incorporated into the trade regime -- who truly support "free trade." It is actually Orwellian that advocates for unrestricted trade with China-- where workers are thrown in prison if they advocate unionizations -- can appropriate the use of the term "freedom" for their position.

What exactly is wrong with demanding that if China wants to sell goods to the US, they must extend accepted ILO labor rights, such as the freedom to form a union, to their workers?

In The Corporate Ethic, Ian Welsh at BOPNews approaches the same question from the direction of corporate responsibility:
Plain Dave [a commenter previously quoted in the post] is basically asserting that businesses operate like psychopaths who will do whatever is in their material interest no matter what the ethical implications.

Now, if you know a person is a psychopath, you wait for them to commit a crime, then you lock them up so they can't hurt anyone else ever again.

If Plain Dave is right, businesses are psychopaths and the moral code of executives is one that requires them to operate as psychopaths. Let's assume Dave is right.

. . . As a citizen you have a right to demand that companies that operate unethically are either shut down or brought to heel. Corporations are created by government and a government can dissolve any company it wants simply by revoking its charter - the right is in every incorporation bill.

But I'm willing to suggest something else - not everyone in ost companies is a psychopath, so let's just arrest and try those who act like psychopaths. The executives who made this decision or other ethically dubious ones (like the executives who make cost benefit analyses that the suits from the relatives of people killed by known defects cost less than the cost of fixing the defects.)

. . .I'm real tired of people who seem to think that companies should act unethically if it will make them more money. Real, real tired. [emphasis added]

I was going to write something on this, but came across one of my older Who is our economy for, anyway? posts, and want to just repost most of it here as my own contribution to the discussion:
It's not just that we're shipping more and more of our jobs to other countries, and we are, but it looks as though the world really may be reaching the point where we need fewer people working to get done the things we need to get done. You hear about "high productivity." Well, that is what "high productivity" MEANS. Even China is losing manufacturing jobs.

And the answer isn't retraining people to move into higher-level jobs. When I moved to Silicon Valley in 1980, everyone was talking about retraining auto workers for tech jobs. Well, now in Silicon Valley almost the only jobs in the paper are for auto mechanics.

Wealth is concentrating as never before. The rich aren't just getting richer and richer anymore -- the concentration is way beyond that. And the opportunity avenues the rest of us expect from the social contract that tolerates such wealth are not expanding. If you look around at all the supposed prosperity -- the big houses, the SUVs, the electronic toys, nice clothes, etc. -- you should also understand what is supporting it: Massive debt. Massive, massive debt on a scale never before seen. Everyone thinks they are rich now, and are doing what it takes to live that way. It is the cultural expectation now, and I think this illusion is a way of avoiding accepting the concentration that is occurring and accepting that we are working harder, but receiving less and less of the benefits. The only way for most of us to achieve that lifestyle is to refinance our houses, run up our credit cards, and elect leaders who encourage all of that while running the country the same way. Massive, massive debt. Everywhere. A bankrupt philosophy surely expressing itself one day with real-world bankruptcy.

If something is unsustainable, it won't be sustained. We are all frantically trying to find new ways to buy time. Perhaps if we can sustain things another month we will turn the corner. Perhaps we'll get a raise in time. Perhaps tax revenue will increase in time. Perhaps the stock market will go back to where it was and our pensions will be there for us. Perhaps we'll win the lottery. But what is happening is that the money is draining upwards. As we work longer hours, and more members of our families enter the job market just to cover the house payments, the insurance payments, the childcare and the increasing cable-TV and credit card bills, the banker who collects our interest payments, and the owners and executives of the insurance companies are gobbling up more and more of the world's resources to "own" for themselves. Our government is even preparing to sell off our national parks -- another transfer of "ownership" of OUR resources to the priviledged FEW.

In the end, a very basic question will need to be addressed. Who is our economy FOR, anyway? This is a very dangerous question, and just asking it leads to places that many of us have not gone in our thinking, and many of us certainly don't want the rest of us to go. And, of course, the corollary question: Who is our GOVERNMENT for? Is it US, after all, or not?

You learned in grade school that "we" decide the laws and policies of OUR government. WE are our government -- that's what our government IS: US, grouping together to decide things. "Of the people, by the people and FOR the people." We even decide who "owns" what, and we do so because it supposedly benefits all of us. For example, no one "owns" the air or the oceans or the state capital building or the right to cut off your arm.

In many other countries now, (and in America until just a few years ago), there are some limits on how much of the public resources (money) one person can acquire. High taxes are imposed after a person has brought in some large amount for him or herself. Then, much of the rest is put to use for the benefit of the overall public. If a person has hit the jackpot and is bringing in, say, $10 million a year, anything beyond that is taxed at a high rate. Everyone benefits from this. The jackpot winner is bringing in a huge sum, but the public is also benefiting from having made the collective decisions that set up the system. In Europe the workday is shorter, they get 6 weeks average vacation per year, their health care is covered, AND they get generous pensions when they retire. This is because they have set up a system that works for THEM. But in America, we are degenerating into a form of feudalism, where the super-rich rule over the rest of us, to their benefit.

"Ownership" is only a concept. It is nothing more than a right that is granted by government -- US -- and only for the benefit of US. Corporations are not entities created by nature, they are structures created and defined by laws, and defined by law, and supposedly for the benefit of the public. Why else would we have passed the laws that set them up?

Remember, feudal lords "owned" the right to sleep with any bride on her wedding night.

"... a problem whose queasy horrors will eventually be made world-wide by the sophistication of machines. The problem is this: How to love people who have no use?

In time, almost all men and women will become worthless as producers of goods, food, services, and more machines, as sources of practical ideas in the areas of economics, engineering and probably medicine too. So, if we can't find reasons and methods for treasuring human beings because they are human beings, then we might as well, as so often has been suggested, rub them out."

- Kilgore Trout, in Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:32 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

June 20, 2005

Liberal Hawks Plan Democratic Party Takeover

Ari Melber of the miserable Kerry campaign has published an op-ed in the right-wing New York Post saying that the Democrats can win only by becoming more hawkish and defying their dovish wing with a "Sister Souljah" moment. Sample line:

"Democrats must come together and proudly view their party as the party of national security — before anyone else will."

The piece is bad enough to make you wonder whether Melber is deliberately trying to wreck the party. He knows perfectly well that much of the Democratic Party rank and file is dovish, but he is asking for a candidate who will insult them.

Here's my (slightly edited) response:


It will be a cold day in Hell before I pay attention to anyone who had anything to do with the Kerry campaign. You guys were worthless. The response to the SBV's was wretched.

The Democrats can't run against their base. The problem with the Democrats is that they're so dominated by Ivy League policy wonks such as yourself that they are completely incapable of communicating to the American people.

Your silly plan would almost certainly split the Democrats, and even so, I seriously doubt that the Dems will ever be able to out-hawk the Commander in Chief's party -- even when the CinC is fucking up as bad as Bush is.

The Democrats learned nothing from the 2000 election, and you've made it your job to make sure that they'll learn the wrong things from the 2004 election. Go to hell.

Most sincerely yours,

John Emerson

Posted by John Emerson at 6:32 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

June 11, 2005

Zizka ( going off the air

I don't know if any of you are fans of my old Zizka site, but as early as June 17 this site will go off the air. If anyone wants to steal the Zizka stuff, it's fine with me.

Posted by John Emerson at 7:33 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

April 12, 2005

Pope of Convenience, R.I.P.

Politically, our late Pope was a mixed bag -- in American terms, liberal on some issues and conservative on others. American conservatives, Catholic and otherwise, followed him when convenient and ignored him otherwise. The Pope's strong opposition to the Iraq invasion had no influence on them, whereas his strong opposition to abortion recently allowed the egregious Wolf Blitzer to joke that the Democrat Paul Begala might not be a very good Catholic. (Bill O'Reilly's opinion during the Iraq war was that the Pope was senile, though he denies that now.)

In the extended entry I've put an exchange I had with a local rightwing Catholic journalist who had just published a string of fulsome tributes to John Paul II. I've deleted his name, partly for legal reasons, partly because the guy isn't the worst of the lot, and partly because I no longer have the energy for big pissing matches.

You'll find that he supported the Pope only when he already agreed with him, and only on the questions on which the Pope spoke authoritatively (ex cathedra).

On questions about which the Pope's opinion was not binding, our Catholic friend just ignored it. His respect for John Paul's own personal opinion was nil; he was only interested in the man in his offical role as the head of the Catholic church.

I ended my part of the exchange by hoping for his sake that the next Pope would be more congenial to him. He didn't think that that was funny.


Dear XXX,

Like you, and like almost every American, I agreed with John Paul II about half the time, and disagreed (and ignored what he said) the other half. I'm not a Catholic, and I guess you aren't either, so I guess that's fine. For me it's capital punishment, the Iraq war, wealth and poverty, the consumer society, and relations between the rich and the poor nations. For you it's abortion, gay marriage, and probably a few other topics related to sex and gender.

You still do run into people who accepted his view on everything, but not often. They're always very nice people, and the things we agree upon are more important to me than the ones we disagree upon, so we can get along.

I have more problems with half-Catholics.

John Emerson


Dear John

I am a Catholic. I take very seriously all that he said and, as a faithful Catholic, am obligated to follow his and his predecessor's ex cathedra teaching in their area of faith and morals -- those concerning abortion, marriage and homosexuality. His words that appeal to you in those other areas, while important, are not non- negotiable beliefs that all Catholics must hold. Don't be upset about your misunderstanding of this distinction, many Catholics do, too.



Dear XXX

So you disagreed with most of his personal opinions, but were forced to accept his official pronouncements? Maybe this time you'll get a new Pope whom you actually respect personally.



It's hard to imagine a pope I would respect more, but where I come from respect doesn't mean agreement on everything. Thanks for writing


As far as I can tell, where this conservative comes from "respect" doesn't mean much of anything except refraining from direct insult. It sounds pretty content-free. Pope John Paul II would have had as much luck preaching to mud and rocks and the beasts of the field as he did with this guy.

Posted by John Emerson at 6:42 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos

April 7, 2005

We need our own media

Atrios has just published a request for donations to John Aravosis, who did most of the heavy lifting on the Gannon-Guckert story but who has also done a lot of other good work. Aravosis wants to be able to work full time on political stuff, and he's shown that he's good at it. I endorse this drive, and let me throw in Susie Madrak of Suburban Guerilla. Susie has a media background and is job-hunting, and she should be doing political writing for pay.

This brings up my pet theme: Democrats need their own media. Amateurism and voluntarism are fine, but you don’t want to be in a position of depending on it. If someone’s doing valuable work, they should be paid for it. People with jobs and families (who also want to have lives) should not be expected to make enormous sacrifices forever for their political cause.

There’s a lot of money out there. The DNC spent over a half a billion dollars in 2004. There are dozens of foundations and political groups spending tons of money. So why aren’t John and Susie and Billmon and Steve Gilliard and my partner Dave Johnson and a couple of dozen others fully funded?

Dozens of mercenary, treacherous, and incompetent consultants have milked the Democrats for tens or hundreds of millions of dollars over the last fifteen years or so. The outcome has been the near-destruction of the Democratic party. Couldn’t some of that cash have gone to some of the people I just named?

This isn’t really a blogosphere thing. Blogging is just the place where new people with new ideas happened to be able to make their voice heard. It has more to do with the domination of the media and the Democratic Party by an old-boy network of credentialized and well-connected mercenaries skilled at losing elections.

In the media and in the larger society, there’s little place for a partisan Democrat or a strong liberal. Not just media people, but even Democratic officeholders and party workers know that if they want to have a future and further their careers, they have to be moderates who are able to get along with Republicans. That's why the liberal media are so chicken.(And that's where the treachery comes from: Stephanopolous, Estrich, Chris Matthews, and dozens of retired-officeholder lobbyists).

Bob Somerby tells the truth about the media, but no one will back him because that would kill their careers. What we need is a new media where Bob Somerby and people like him could make a real living.

I’ve been told and told that the money is there, but I don’t see any of it being passed around. I’ve been told and told that the blogosphere is doing important work and that people appreciate it, but I don’t see anything more real than occasional pats on the head.

Partly, I suppose, it’s the control of the Democratic party by a coterie of incompetent leeches who’re protecting their turf. Partly it’s because Democrats with money are, as the right is happy to point out, decadent hedonists who have lots of fun things to spend their money and time on. Partly it’s probably because Democrats are almost all credentialed organization insiders promoting people similar to themselves. (Certainly the populist streak of the Democratic Party is ancient history by now – Republican populists are total fakes, but Democrats are constitutionally incapable of telling anyone that.)

Is this sour grapes? Damn right it is! I would have been willing to work 30 hrs. a week doing internet stuff for 400$/ mo. plus medical insurance -- roughly what McDonald’s would pay. Did I have any realistic possibility of getting that? No. Maybe I’m just not good enough, but what about all the other people I mentioned?

George W. Bush should have been vulnerable during the 2004 election because of his favoritism toward the Saudis, and I spent a whole month documenting that and published the results here. But no one showed any interest and the Democrats refused to pick the issue up; when Michael Moore talked about the Saudis and Bush, the big Democrats ran home and hid under the covers.

The Swift Boat Liars played a major role in destroying Kerry’s campaign. Along with the now-retired Hesiod, I spent another month researching various smear groups of that type, and published the results here. Again, no interest from the Democrats, and I’ve been told that everyone in the Kerry campaign was told in no uncertain terms to have nothing to do with the blogosphere.

And the loser who made that disastrous decision is still doing very well for himself or herself, and I’ve given up even wishing for $300/ mo. They say that things have changed, but I don’t see it happening.

Posted by John Emerson at 11:45 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack | Link Cosmos