Sunday, July 12, 2009

Off For The LHAT Conference

I won't be posting for the next week or so, because I'll be at the League of Historic American Theatres conference in Cleveland. If you want to learn more about the conference, and the League, click here. I look forward to sharing what I see and hear when I return next week.

Friday, July 10, 2009

And All You Need To Know About The Stimulus

This is the best article I've seen so far about the various criticisms of Obama's stimulus plan. There's a good case to be made, in my opinion, that anything simultaneously attacked by the far left and the far right is probably something that's right on target.

I could live, however, without the conservative lectures on public debt. Not that this isn't a problem, but the overwhelming majority of the debt we have was run up in no small part because their number two hero, relying on the advice of their number one hero, said that deficits don't matter. I guess they only matter to the GOP when they're not enabling their need for power.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Everything You Need To Know About Alaska's Ex-Governor

I don't like to even mention her by name, because even doing that gives her more publicity than she ever has had any right to deserve. But this article tells you everything you REALLY need to know about S.P..

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The End Of Capitialism? (Part 2 And Counting)

Just when you think Republicans and conservatives have run out of ways to bankrupt our country and our lives, along comes this piece of nonsense from the New York Post. I supposed that I shouldn't be surprised; the Murdoch-owned tabloid has been an outpost of comic-book journalism for years (as well as editorial hypocrisy: family-values editorials mixed with topless-bar ads). But the author of this piece, John Crudele, has generally proved in the past to be one of its better writers.

The unsurprising aspect of the article, however, lies in the nature of its economic-bailout prescription, which is a variation of an idea that comes up from time to time in right-wing circles (and, sometimes, left-wing ones as well): easy access to retirement savings, typically framed as short-term "loans" that would have to be paid back at some point.

The obvious objection to this is that it would further weaken the banking industry and Wall Street, by allowing everyone to simultaneously raid the last stable asset in the American financial system. Banks would have even less money to lend, which would send interest rates skyrocketing. And, as interest rates go up while the stocks and bonds in pension plans are liquidated, privately-owned companies would have an even harder time raising capital to survive, let alone expand.

This is another illustration of how the classic vision of capitalism as a system based on personal initiative, hard work and thrift gives way in reality to a world in which something closer to piracy prevails: borrow and spend (and, when that fails, steal and spend). In the Reagan (and even in the post-Reagan) era, this generally has taken the form of highly leveraged buyouts and mergers, typically creating large amounts of short-term wealth on paper, but ultimately producing only unemployment, monopolization and, ultimately, bankruptcy.

I sometimes think about George Bernard Shaw's joke about Christianity--the only thing wrong with it is that it's never been tried--and conclude that it has at least as much applicability to capitalism as it does to anything else. Let's face it. It's hard to work, to take risks with little or nothing to fall back on, to forgo short-term pleasure in favor of long-term gains. It's much easier to focus on the next fifteen minutes, and hope that the day of reckoning never comes. Except that it does. And, to paraphrase Keynes, sometimes in the long run we're not dead when it does.

Ultimately, there is no easy road. Working hard, working together, paying for what we need and not what we want, and planning for the uncertainties of life are the only ways to get out of the current crisis. Sorry, Mr. Crudele, but there are no pain-free solutions. There are only the right ones.

And, by right, the last thing I mean is extremely right.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Robert McNamara And The Limits of Bipartisanship

Reading the obituaries for Robert McNamara over the past day or so reminded me of Lyndon Johnson's primary reason for forging ahead down the road to disaster called Vietnam: fear of being tarred by Republicans as being insufficiently anti-Communist. How might American and world history be different had Johnson realized that doing the right thing (i.e., ending the use of American lives as guerrilla fodder to support a corrupt regime) outweighed any kind of pretense about partisanship ending at the water's edge? How might they be different if Jimmy Carter had realized the same thing, with regard to American aid and comfort for the Shah of Iran and his family? And, more recently and even more painfully obvious, how might they be different if Congressional Democrats had called the Bush-Cheney bluff about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

I do not believe that the leaders and, more importantly, the peoples of other nations are particularly impressed when Americans stand together for the sake of a mistake (apologies for the paraphrase, Senator Kerry). I think they are more likely to be impressed when we choose one or more leaders who believe that truth and justice, even when deeply divisive, are more important to the American way that unity achieved through partisan bullying (and a second paraphrase apology to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who deserved the belated rewards they got for creating Superman).

Which is why I'm hoping that having a different kind of President is having the potential to make American and world history different in the right way. It looks like that might be a possibility.
We'll see.

As for McNamara himself, he seems to have been belatedly aware of the egregious nature of his tenure as Secretary of Defense, and he obviously spent much of his post-LBJ career attempting to atone for it in some measure, especially in his work at the World Bank. It's worth remembering, too, that he was one of the men who helped the Kennedy Administration and the world step back from the brink of disaster during the Cuban Missile crisis. I'm forced to confess that there may be a bit of self-interest in that observation: in preparing to play Dean Rusk for a local production of "The Missiles of October," I read Robert Kennedy's "Thirteen Days." However, thespianism aside, I'm happy to recommend the book (if you haven't read it) for any number of reasons--not the least of which is the testament it serves to the difference between being tough and being belligerent.

It's a difference I hope President Obama continues to remember.

Monday, July 6, 2009

At Least You're Still Alive ...

... so, David Vittner, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, John Ensign and Mark Sanford, consider yourselves lucky.

Who would have thought politics was safer than sports?

When All Else Fails, Lie

You know the climate change deniers are losing the battle when they are forced to result to baldfaced lies like the one in this letter to the editor in yesterday's Baltimore Sun. It seems too obvious to point out that the real issue is not the presence of carbon dioxide, but the relative proportion of it to other chemicals. Not to Mr. Schvimmer, apparently, who may be either ignorant or lying.

"We are being had," sir? Only if we listen to the likes of you, and some of the more economically powerful interests in this country who have been pushing this same message for some time. The rest of us can only hope that the U.S. Senate, currently considering the climate change bill passed by the House of Representatives, turns 200 deaf ears to your dissembling.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The End Of Capitalism?

My friend John Tierney recently included a link in his blog to the following Web item. It's well worth a look all by itself. For me, the irony of this lies in the fact that the same basic argument had occurred to me, but someone else beat me to it with regard to putting it on the Web. Well, all I can say is, this is what happens when you don't post anything for an entire month or more!

Of course, it's perfectly true that a publicly-sponsored optional health insurance plan would no more destroy the private health insurance industry than the existence of the Postal Service threatens the existence of UPS and FedEx. What is amazing, however, is the fact that the Republican Party, the supposed ultimate defender of capitalism, is willing to make such an argument in the face of evidence to the contrary. They probably don't realize it but, in effect, Republicans in Congress are revealing the fact that they have absolutely no faith in the theory that supposedly gives their party its raison d'etre.

Put this in the context of their explanation for the end of the Cold War: the view that unfettered capitalism, led by an unapologetic defender of capitalism in Ronald Reagan, inevitably crushed the lesser system of Communism practiced in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In making this argument, they were essentially standing Marxism on its head by claiming that capitalism was the inevitable "end of history."

Well, inevitability apparently isn't what it used to be, if you believe the likes of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell--who, along with the GOP colleagues in the House and Senate, benefit from the most generous health insurance plan in history, paid for with the very same tax dollars that they don't want to use to insure you. Reminds me of those arguments they used to make for "school choice," in the form of vouchers for private schools (priced at the level where they basically become federal aid for religious school's, but that's a topic for another day). Remember? "We want all Americans to have the same choice that Chelsea Clinton has." Leaving aside the obvious fact that the vouchers they wanted to offer you wouldn't have paid for more than five minutes at Sidwell Friends (where Chelsea went), this argument underscores the hypocrisy of their current arguments about health insurance and the public option.

John, you're right. They are scumbags.

And, apart from that, a belated Happy 4th to all, especially to those in uniform, who deserve all the health care we can give them.