Negotiations between Apple Records, The Beatles, and Apple’s iTunes have been ongoing since the day iTunes opened its digital doors. More than once, over the years, rumors were rampant that a deal was imminent, only to learn that talks had once again fallen apart. Well, the day has finally come. Ten years on, Apple has, at long last, secured the rights to the music of The Beatles, and it is now available for download on iTunes.
In a joint announcement, according to The New York Times, Apple, EMI, the band’s record label, and Apple Corps, the band’s company, said the Beatles’ 13 remastered studio albums, the two-volume “Past Masters” compilation and the classic “Red” and “Blue” collections were on sale on iTunes as complete albums or individual songs. “I am particularly glad to no longer be asked when the Beatles are coming to iTunes,” Ringo Starr said in a press release. “At last, if you want it — you can get it now — The Beatles from Liverpool to now!”
The Beatles have held on to blockbuster sales four decades after breaking up — it has sold more than 177 million albums in the United States alone, according to the Recording Industry Association of America — and still commands untouchable cultural prestige.
Each album downloaded from iTunes comes with iTunes LP, which features lyrics, photos, and more. The Beatles Box Set includes the band’s entire catalog, plus mini-documentary features on each album, and the bands’ Live at the Washington Coliseum performance from 1964.
If you didn’t bite on last year’s remastered box sets, here’s yet another opportunity to bring your Beatles library into the 21st century with downloaded digital remasters of their entire catalog. I can almost see your iPod salivating at the prospect.
If this country really wants to honor our veterans, then we need to look beyond parades and flags and hollow platitudes, and do the right thing. We need to see to it that no returning veteran ever has to live in a car, or under a bridge, or in a refrigerator box. We need to provide the mental and physical therapies that will ensure they are fit, bodily, spiritually, and psychologically, to return to the society and the families they left behind and love. They deserve more than a cursory exam, a slap on the back, and a prescription for antidepressants.
This country loves to “honor” its fighting men and women. But ask any veteran who has returned with severe emotional, mental, or physical problems, and they will tell you that the glory and adulation ring false in the face of inability to find help for their struggles in an increasingly underfunded and understaffed veteran’s health system. Would your son, or daughter, or husband, or wife deserve the best possible care that we can summon? Then so does the vet whose name you’ve never heard, and whose family you don’t know. If you truly want to honor our veterans, listen to them. They will tell us what they need.
Bumper-Sticker Patriotism Is
No Way to Honor Our Veterans
I was 18 when President Carter rattled America’s saber. The Soviets had just invaded Afghanistan, and Carter wanted to show the Russians that we weren’t kidding around so he re-instituted registration for the draft. (He didn’t re-institute the draft, just registration for the draft.) I’d just finished my freshman year at Syracuse University and had a summer job in Boston when my 18th birthday came up. My parents insisted that I register at a Boston post office, using my Scarsdale, New York, home address and my Syracuse, New York, dormitory phone number in the hopes that it would somehow slow the draft board down should things escalate beyond boycotting the Olympics. I’m not my father, who served and fought in World War II, and I’m not my sister Debbie, who after graduating from law school signed up with the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps. I’m not my brother Noah, who after graduating from law school took a job with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office — rising through the ranks to the Organized Crime Division. (Much to our mother’s unhappiness, Noah would often be one of the very few people who knew where key prosecution witnesses were being hidden — making his throat a prime target for Luca Brasi.) And I’m not my mother, who taught public school in New York City her whole adult life in spite of having an education and a resume that would have allowed her to get paid a lot more for a lot less. To be clear, the most dangerous thing I do is get reviewed by the New York Times. When I sacrifice it’s by writing a check.
Not so for U.S. Army Sgt. Mike Pereira. Sgt. Pereira (who I’ll call Mike for the rest of this brief column because that’s what he prefers) enlisted when he was 18 years old. In 2005 and 2006 he was serving at the Bagram Internment Facility in Afghanistan where he analyzed who we’d just captured and why. His MOS (Military Operational Specialty) was 96 Bravo. “Nobody cared what my name was,” he says. “Nobody cared what my skin color was or if I believed in God. 96 Bravo was my contribution to the fight.”
Mike’s quick to tell you that he wasn’t ever shot at. “I mean we took mortars and rockets,” he says, his voice implying but nothing more serious than that. Okay, so except for the mortars and the rockets, Mike wasn’t fired at while he was in Afghanistan. He was honorably discharged, then hired by a civilian contractor working out of Fort Bragg. This time Mike went to Iraq, and he’d like me to not reveal any more information than this: It was once again his job to analyze prisoners. His interrogations took place in the ICU of the base hospital where he’d question prisoners who needed medical treatment. Once he saw an infant with no skin on his face.
Intelligence gathered from his interrogations would become operational the same night. That’s why he was riding in a CH-77 helicopter back to his base. “I wouldn’t worry unless any of them were worried.” The “them” he’s talking about were the Navy SEALs he was riding with. But suddenly the SEALs were worried. The large metallic box filled with supplies and attached to the bottom of the CH-77 was making the bird swivel like a pendulum. Outside his window, Mike saw a fire. “There are always fires in Iraq,” he says. “I don’t know why.” But this fire kept going past his window and past his window and past his window. The helicopter was spinning out of control. The SEALs were shouting.
“This is it,” he thought. “Right now.” And Mike blacked out.
He doesn’t remember how the helicopter got on the ground — just that he sat there under the stars breathing for hours. And that it took it him some time to understand that he wasn’t dead. Mike quit his job and came home to Bellingham, Washington. He and his girlfriend had saved enough money to go to school.
The first 30 days were fine. It was the 31st day that would get him. He took his girlfriend to a local movie theater to see Transformers. In the middle of the movie he experienced a dizziness that was completely foreign to him. He was anxious — “like when you’re thinking, ‘Did I leave the coffee pot on? Something’s wrong. Someone’s in danger.’” His heart started racing and he couldn’t breathe. He excused himself, went to the men’s room and splashed water on his face. His girlfriend took him home.
He went back to see Transformers again, having missed most of a movie he wanted to see. It happened all over again and, incredibly, right at the same moment in the movie, except this time Mike understood why.
Michael Bay had staged a helicopter crash.
Every day after that got worse. He told his father, “I feel like I’m dying.” He went to a doctor who gave him a Xanax and told him he should really see a doctor.
And it just kept on coming. He couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t eat, he couldn’t socialize with his friends and “listen to them talk about cars and style. I wanted to tell them, ‘I died.’” His family, “bless their hearts,” told him to give it up to God. His girlfriend “took a pretty hard hit from me” — something he won’t be able to get back. Mike told his girlfriend she had to leave — that he’s now a danger and is no longer in control of himself, and here comes some heroics from the girlfriend. She doesn’t go anywhere.
She tells everyone she can find that “there’s something wrong with my boyfriend. This isn’t him. There’s something going on.” And she takes Mike to a psychiatrist where he’s diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. Mike foots the medical bill.
He was introduced to Tim Nelson, a former marine who was good with returning vets with PTSD. The two would sit on a park bench for hours telling stories. He really felt like Tim Nelson was exactly who he needed to talk to and that Tim was helping.
Mike helped clean up the blood when Tim Nelson committed suicide by shooting himself in the face.
Mike was now certain he was going to suffer the same fate. He decided he needed to serve. He had to. That’s what he was trained for, and that’s where he was comfortable. He went to Big Brothers/Big Sisters to sign up. They loved him. A returning vet who didn’t drink or smoke. The 22-year-old kid behind the desk said:
“Listen, we just need to ask you three questions:
- Have you ever killed anyone? No.
- Have you ever been shot at? No, not really.
- What’s PTSD?”
Mike was denied. He had letters of recommendation from his doctors but he didn’t get the gig. Mike was dead, and nobody would believe him.
Least of all Eric Greitens. Greitens, a former SEAL, founded The Mission Continues, and somehow Mike found Eric Greitens. “You don’t need an MOS to serve,” Eric told him. “You’re going to be a leader. I promise you. In civilian life you’re going to be a leader. But first do what I tell you to do.” Okay. “There’s a 90-year-old woman who can’t stand up by herself. She lives in a hole. Go fix up the outside of her house.” Mike did as he was told, and soon he was joined by five other vets and five became thirty and one house became fifteen and fifteen houses became five blocks and weeds were pulled and fences painted and garages cleared out. Now Mike had a fellowship with the Mission — a monthly stipend so that he could go to school while he served, and at school he started to soar.
His girlfriend is now his wife and Mike is now the Director of the Fellowships Program at The Mission Continues. He still has hard days, but Mike knows he’s alive.
There have been more than Mike and Mike’s girlfriend, Tim Nelson and Eric Greitens. Mike’s serious injuries should have been diagnosed and treated way before he went to the movies.
I don’t have room here to talk about the tens of thousands of other Mikes. I don’t have room to fully talk about Specialist Jennifer Crane, who needed a permission slip from her parents when she enlisted because she was 17 and a half — who finished Basic Training on Sept. 11, 2001, and was deployed to Afghanistan less than two years later — who took mortar fire from the Taliban and who, after returning home with undiagnosed PTSD, slept in her car, turned to coke and paid for it first with her savings, then by sleeping with her dealer and then by sleeping with whoever her dealer told her to sleep with. Jennifer has five years clean now, is married with a two-year-old daughter and is the head of Give an Hour. She travels the country speaking to Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans with PTSD and addiction.
At Give an Hour and The Mission Continues they know what hardly any of us know — that 15 percent of American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan are suicides.
During Veterans Week you’re going to hear people — particularly those for whom Veterans Week merely means we’re one week closer to the Iowa Caucuses — tell us to “Support Our Troops.” And when they do I’d like us to politely ask them to put their pom poms down for a moment. I’d like us to tell them that if you really want to honor our troops you won’t use them for an easy applause line, that you won’t use them to get votes, or, most insulting to them of all, to divide us into real Americans and fake Americans. I’d like us to ask them what, other than saying it, are they actually doing to support our troops? I’d like to ask the people who say government’s bad what they think of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. When we’re fighting two wars, should they get more money or less? And where is that money going to come from — magic or taxes? Mostly I’d like to ask them three questions, but out of respect for President Bring it On, who couldn’t get it together to protect Florida from Alabama, I’ll skip the first two and just ask the bumper-sticker patriots Question #3: What’s PTSD?
If you have to turn to an aide for an answer to that, please get off the stage. There are real leaders like Mike and Jennifer we’d like to listen to. And that’s how you can support our troops.
I don’t know what a good Texas girl is doing reading The New York Times, but my dear friend Peggy sent me a link to this story. I think it’s right on target, of course, but I doubt it will find any traction amidst all the noise and the “Nazi,” “Socialist,” “Marxist” name calling. But, on the upside, the Republicans will take charge and we’ll have this economy humming in no time. It’s all good.
Can’t Keep a Bad Idea Down
I confess, I find it dispiriting to read the polls and see candidates, mostly Republicans, leading in various midterm races while promoting many of the very same ideas that got us into this mess. Am I hearing right?
Let’s have more tax cuts, unlinked to any specific spending cuts and while we’re still fighting two wars — because that worked so well during the Bush years to make our economy strong and our deficit small. Let’s immediately cut government spending, instead of phasing cuts in gradually, while we’re still mired in a recession — because that worked so well in the Great Depression. Let’s roll back financial regulation — because we’ve learned from experience that Wall Street can police itself and average Americans will never have to bail it out.
Let’s have no limits on corporate campaign spending so oil and coal companies can more easily and anonymously strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its powers to limit pollution in the air our kids breathe. Let’s discriminate against gays and lesbians who want to join the military and fight for their country. Let’s restrict immigration, because, after all, we don’t live in a world where America’s most important competitive advantage is its ability to attract the world’s best brains. Let’s repeal our limited health care reform rather than see what works and then fix it. Let’s oppose the free-trade system that made us rich.
Let’s kowtow even more to public service unions so they’ll make even more money than private sector workers, so they’ll give even more money to Democrats who will give them even more generous pensions, so not only California and New York will go bankrupt but every other state too. Let’s pay for more tax cuts by uncovering waste I can’t identify, fraud I haven’t found and abuse that I’ll get back to you on later.
All that’s missing is any realistic diagnosis of where we are as a country and what we need to get back to sustainable growth. Actually, such a diagnosis has been done. A nonpartisan group of America’s most distinguished engineers, scientists, educators and industrialists unveiled just such a study in the midst of this campaign.
Here is the story: In 2005 our National Academies responded to a call from a bipartisan group of senators to recommend 10 actions the federal government could take to enhance science and technology so America could successfully compete in the 21st century. Their response was published in a study, spearheaded by the industrialist Norman Augustine, titled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future.”
Charles M. Vest, the former M.I.T. president, worked on the study and noted in a speech recently that “Gathering Storm,” together with work by the Council on Competitiveness, led to the America Competes Act of 2007, which increased funding for the basic science research that underlies our industrial economy. Other recommendations, like improving K-12 science education, were not substantively addressed.
So, on Sept. 23, the same group released a follow-up report: “Rising Above the Gathering Storm Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5.” “The subtitle, ‘Rapidly Approaching Category 5,’ says it all,” noted Vest. “The committee’s conclusion is that ‘in spite of the efforts of both those in government and the private sector, the outlook for America to compete for quality jobs has further deteriorated over the past five years.’ ”
But I thought: “We’re number 1!”
“Here is a little dose of reality about where we actually rank today,” says Vest: sixth in global innovation-based competitiveness, but 40th in rate of change over the last decade; 11th among industrialized nations in the fraction of 25- to 34-year-olds who have graduated from high school; 16th in college completion rate; 22nd in broadband Internet access; 24th in life expectancy at birth; 27th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving degrees in science or engineering; 48th in quality of K-12 math and science education; and 29th in the number of mobile phones per 100 people.
“This is not a pretty picture, and it cannot be wished away,” said Vest. The study recommended a series of steps — some that President Obama has already initiated, some that still need Congress’s support — designed to increase America’s talent pool by vastly improving K-12 science and mathematics education, to reinforce long-term basic research, and to create the right tax and policy incentives so we can develop, recruit and retain the best and brightest students, scientists and engineers in the world. The goal is to make America the premier place to innovate and invest in innovation to create high-paying jobs.
You’ll have to Google it, though. The report hasn’t received 1/100th of the attention given to Juan Williams’s remarks on Muslims.
A dysfunctional political system is one that knows the right answers but can’t even discuss them rationally, let alone act on them, and one that devotes vastly more attention to cable TV preachers than to recommendations by its best scientists and engineers.
A dear friend sent me this article, with the following observations. “The Republicans run a better theater – told us LOUDLY in 2003 we were getting a refund, let us anticipate it for 3 or 4 months, made sure when it came that it had George W. Bush’s name written all over it so we knew exactly who was giving it to us – and it arrived as a timely reminder just before the 2004 election.
The Democrats are so stupid that no one even heard a press conference about this tax cut. The Democrats just don’t get the show business of politics anymore, and as a result, for all the good they might do, they will continue to be marginalized.”
From Obama, the Tax Cut Nobody Heard Of
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — What if a president cut Americans’ income taxes by $116 billion and nobody noticed?
It is not a rhetorical question. At Pig Pickin’ and Politickin’, a barbecue-fed rally organized here last week by a Republican women’s club, a half-dozen guests were asked by a reporter what had happened to their taxes since President Obama took office.
“Federal and state have both gone up,” said Bob Paratore, 59, from nearby Charlotte, echoing the comments of others.
After further prodding — including a reminder that a provision of the stimulus bill had cut taxes for 95 percent of working families by changing withholding rates — Mr. Paratore’s memory was jogged.
“You’re right, you’re right,” he said. “I’ll be honest with you: it was so subtle that personally, I didn’t notice it.”
Few people apparently did.
In a troubling sign for Democrats as they head into the midterm elections, their signature tax cut of the past two years, which decreased income taxes by up to $400 a year for individuals and $800 for married couples, has gone largely unnoticed.
In a New York Times/CBS News Poll last month, fewer than one in 10 respondents knew that the Obama administration had lowered taxes for most Americans. Half of those polled said they thought that their taxes had stayed the same, a third thought that their taxes had gone up, and about a tenth said they did not know. As Thom Tillis, a Republican state representative, put it as the dinner wound down here, “This was the tax cut that fell in the woods — nobody heard it.”
Actually, the tax cut was, by design, hard to notice. Faced with evidence that people were more likely to save than spend the tax rebate checks they received during the Bush administration, the Obama administration decided to take a different tack: it arranged for less tax money to be withheld from people’s paychecks.
They reasoned that people would be more likely to spend a small, recurring extra bit of money that they might not even notice, and that the quicker the money was spent, the faster it would cycle through the economy.
Economists are still measuring how stimulative the tax cut was. But the hard-to-notice part has succeeded wildly. In a recent interview, President Obama said that structuring the tax cuts so that a little more money showed up regularly in people’s paychecks “was the right thing to do economically, but politically it meant that nobody knew that they were getting a tax cut.”
“And in fact what ended up happening was six months into it, or nine months into it,” the president said, “people had thought we had raised their taxes instead of cutting their taxes.”
There are plenty of explanations as to why many taxpayers did not feel richer when the cuts kicked in, giving typical families an extra $65 a month. Some people were making less money to begin with, as businesses cut back. Others saw their take-home pay shrink as the amounts deducted for health insurance rose.
And taxpayers in more than 30 states saw their state taxes rise, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
That is what happened here in North Carolina. The Treasury Department estimated that the federal tax cut would put $1.7 billion back in the hands of North Carolina taxpayers this year. Last year, though, North Carolina, facing a large budget shortfall, raised a variety of state taxes by roughly a billion dollars.
“It was a wash,” said Mr. Tillis, the state representative.
The guests at the Pig Pickin’ rally here could rattle off the names of the House speaker and the Senate majority leader with ease, if with disdain, and were up on many of the political controversies of the day. They studied the campaign fliers at their tables, and pocketed the 1.5-ounce jars of strawberry preserves with special labels urging them to vote for Judge Bill Constangy for Superior Court (“Preserving Justice,” the labels read).
Many volunteered that they thought the Bush tax cuts should be extended for all taxpayers, even for the wealthy ones whom Mr. Obama would like to exclude. But few had heard that there had also been Obama tax cuts — which will also expire next year unless extended, but have generated far less public debate.
Bob Deaton, 73, who wore a “Fair Tax” baseball cap, was surprised to hear that there were tax cuts in the $787 billion stimulus bill, which was wildly unpopular with many at the rally even though roughly a third of it was in the form of tax cuts.
“Tax cuts?” he asked. “Where were the tax cuts?”
Ron Julian, 50, a Huntersville town commissioner, said he thought his taxes had gone up under Mr. Obama. And Mr. Paratore, a former Hearst executive, said he might have noticed the tax cuts if his paycheck had jumped more in the weeks before he retired last year: “I couldn’t even tell you what it was, to be honest with you.”
The Obama administration wants to extend the little-noticed tax cut next year. Jason Furman, the deputy director of the National Economic Council, said the administration still believes that changing the withholdings was a more effective form of stimulus than sending out rebate checks would have been.
“In retrospect, we think that judgment was right,” he said. “It’s harder to predict what’s good for politics. Ultimately, the best thing for politics is going to be helping the economy.”
But at least one prominent economist is questioning whether the method really was more effective. Joel B. Slemrod, a professor of economics at the University of Michigan, analyzed consumer surveys after the last rebate checks were sent out in 2008 by the Bush administration, and after this tax cut, called Making Work Pay, went into effect under the Obama administration.
After the 2008 rebates, he found that about a quarter of the households surveyed said they would use the money primarily to increase their spending. After the Obama tax cut took effect, he said, only 13 percent said they would use the money primarily to increase their spending. The Obama administration believes that people did spend the money, and cites analyses calling the cut one of the more effective forms of stimulus.
Mr. Slemrod said it was not unheard of for voters to miss tax cuts. Just a few years after a 1986 overhaul of the tax system made significant cuts to most people’s taxes, he said, a survey asked people what had happened to their taxes. “Most people didn’t answer that they went down,” he said.
Peter Baker contributed reporting from Washington.
This is an article from the October 15, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone.
Tea & Crackers
How corporate interests and Republican insiders built the Tea Party monster
By Matt Taibbi
Sep 28, 2010
It’s taken three trips to Kentucky, but I’m finally getting my Tea Party epiphany exactly where you’d expect: at a Sarah Palin rally. The red-hot mama of American exceptionalism has flown in to speak at something called the National Quartet Convention in Louisville, a gospel-music hoedown in a giant convention center filled with thousands of elderly white Southerners. Palin — who earlier this morning held a closed-door fundraiser for Rand Paul, the Tea Party champion running for the U.S. Senate — is railing against a GOP establishment that has just seen Tea Partiers oust entrenched Republican hacks in Delaware and New York. The dingbat revolution, it seems, is nigh.
“We’re shaking up the good ol’ boys,” Palin chortles, to the best applause her aging crowd can muster. She then issues an oft-repeated warning (her speeches are usually a tired succession of half-coherent one-liners dumped on ravenous audiences like chum to sharks) to Republican insiders who underestimated the power of the Tea Party Death Star. “Buck up,” she says, “or stay in the truck.”
Stay in what truck? I wonder. What the hell does that even mean?
Scanning the thousands of hopped-up faces in the crowd, I am immediately struck by two things. One is that there isn’t a single black person here. The other is the truly awesome quantity of medical hardware: Seemingly every third person in the place is sucking oxygen from a tank or propping their giant atrophied glutes on motorized wheelchair-scooters. As Palin launches into her Ronald Reagan impression — “Government’s not the solution! Government’s the problem!” — the person sitting next to me leans over and explains.
“The scooters are because of Medicare,” he whispers helpfully. “They have these commercials down here: ‘You won’t even have to pay for your scooter! Medicare will pay!’ Practically everyone in Kentucky has one.”
A hall full of elderly white people in Medicare-paid scooters, railing against government spending and imagining themselves revolutionaries as they cheer on the vice-presidential puppet hand-picked by the GOP establishment. If there exists a better snapshot of everything the Tea Party represents, I can’t imagine it.
After Palin wraps up, I race to the parking lot in search of departing Medicare-motor-scooter conservatives. I come upon an elderly couple, Janice and David Wheelock, who are fairly itching to share their views.
The Op-Ed below is by David Stockman, a director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan. His observations on the state of the American economy, and how it got to its present condition, are well worth reading. He does not exonerate Democratic administrations, but does lay much of the responsibility at the feet of his own party. Unfortunately, even though Stockman is a Reagan Republican, those who love to blame the entirety of our problems on the current administration, and who should pay the most attention to Stockman’s comments, will dismiss them completely. Partly because they are diametrically opposed to their firmly held biases, and partly because they are printed in Satan’s own newspaper, The New York Times.
Four Deformations of the Apocalypse
by David Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan
reprinted from The New York Times
IF there were such a thing as Chapter 11 for politicians, the Republican push to extend the unaffordable Bush tax cuts would amount to a bankruptcy filing. The nation’s public debt — if honestly reckoned to include municipal bonds and the $7 trillion of new deficits baked into the cake through 2015 — will soon reach $18 trillion. That’s a Greece-scale 120 percent of gross domestic product, and fairly screams out for austerity and sacrifice. It is therefore unseemly for the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, to insist that the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers be spared even a three-percentage-point rate increase.
More fundamentally, Mr. McConnell’s stand puts the lie to the Republican pretense that its new monetarist and supply-side doctrines are rooted in its traditional financial philosophy. Republicans used to believe that prosperity depended upon the regular balancing of accounts — in government, in international trade, on the ledgers of central banks and in the financial affairs of private households and businesses, too. But the new catechism, as practiced by Republican policymakers for decades now, has amounted to little more than money printing and deficit finance — vulgar Keynesianism robed in the ideological vestments of the prosperous classes.
This approach has not simply made a mockery of traditional party ideals. It has also led to the serial financial bubbles and Wall Street depredations that have crippled our economy. More specifically, the new policy doctrines have caused four great deformations of the national economy, and modern Republicans have turned a blind eye to each one.
The first of these started when the Nixon administration defaulted on American obligations under the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement to balance our accounts with the world. Now, since we have lived beyond our means as a nation for nearly 40 years, our cumulative current-account deficit — the combined shortfall on our trade in goods, services and income — has reached nearly $8 trillion. That’s borrowed prosperity on an epic scale.
It is also an outcome that Milton Friedman said could never happen when, in 1971, he persuaded President Nixon to unleash on the world paper dollars no longer redeemable in gold or other fixed monetary reserves. Just let the free market set currency exchange rates, he said, and trade deficits will self-correct.
It may be true that governments, because they intervene in foreign exchange markets, have never completely allowed their currencies to float freely. But that does not absolve Friedman’s $8 trillion error. Once relieved of the discipline of defending a fixed value for their currencies, politicians the world over were free to cheapen their money and disregard their neighbors.
In fact, since chronic current-account deficits result from a nation spending more than it earns, stringent domestic belt-tightening is the only cure. When the dollar was tied to fixed exchange rates, politicians were willing to administer the needed castor oil, because the alternative was to make up for the trade shortfall by paying out reserves, and this would cause immediate economic pain — from high interest rates, for example. But now there is no discipline, only global monetary chaos as foreign central banks run their own printing presses at ever faster speeds to sop up the tidal wave of dollars coming from the Federal Reserve.
The second unhappy change in the American economy has been the extraordinary growth of our public debt. In 1970 it was just 40 percent of gross domestic product, or about $425 billion. When it reaches $18 trillion, it will be 40 times greater than in 1970. This debt explosion has resulted not from big spending by the Democrats, but instead the Republican Party’s embrace, about three decades ago, of the insidious doctrine that deficits don’t matter if they result from tax cuts.
In 1981, traditional Republicans supported tax cuts, matched by spending cuts, to offset the way inflation was pushing many taxpayers into higher brackets and to spur investment. The Reagan administration’s hastily prepared fiscal blueprint, however, was no match for the primordial forces — the welfare state and the warfare state — that drive the federal spending machine.
Soon, the neocons were pushing the military budget skyward. And the Republicans on Capitol Hill who were supposed to cut spending exempted from the knife most of the domestic budget — entitlements, farm subsidies, education, water projects. But in the end it was a new cadre of ideological tax-cutters who killed the Republicans’ fiscal religion.
David Stockman, a director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan, is working on a book about the financial crisis.
Through the 1984 election, the old guard earnestly tried to control the deficit, rolling back about 40 percent of the original Reagan tax cuts. But when, in the following years, the Federal Reserve chairman, Paul Volcker, finally crushed inflation, enabling a solid economic rebound, the new tax-cutters not only claimed victory for their supply-side strategy but hooked Republicans for good on the delusion that the economy will outgrow the deficit if plied with enough tax cuts.
By fiscal year 2009, the tax-cutters had reduced federal revenues to 15 percent of gross domestic product, lower than they had been since the 1940s. Then, after rarely vetoing a budget bill and engaging in two unfinanced foreign military adventures, George W. Bush surrendered on domestic spending cuts, too — signing into law $420 billion in non-defense appropriations, a 65 percent gain from the $260 billion he had inherited eight years earlier. Republicans thus joined the Democrats in a shameless embrace of a free-lunch fiscal policy.
The third ominous change in the American economy has been the vast, unproductive expansion of our financial sector. Here, Republicans have been oblivious to the grave danger of flooding financial markets with freely printed money and, at the same time, removing traditional restrictions on leverage and speculation. As a result, the combined assets of conventional banks and the so-called shadow banking system (including investment banks and finance companies) grew from a mere $500 billion in 1970 to $30 trillion by September 2008.
But the trillion-dollar conglomerates that inhabit this new financial world are not free enterprises. They are rather wards of the state, extracting billions from the economy with a lot of pointless speculation in stocks, bonds, commodities and derivatives. They could never have survived, much less thrived, if their deposits had not been government-guaranteed and if they hadn’t been able to obtain virtually free money from the Fed’s discount window to cover their bad bets.
The fourth destructive change has been the hollowing out of the larger American economy. Having lived beyond our means for decades by borrowing heavily from abroad, we have steadily sent jobs and production offshore. In the past decade, the number of high-value jobs in goods production and in service categories like trade, transportation, information technology and the professions has shrunk by 12 percent, to 68 million from 77 million. The only reason we have not experienced a severe reduction in nonfarm payrolls since 2000 is that there has been a gain in low-paying, often part-time positions in places like bars, hotels and nursing homes.
It is not surprising, then, that during the last bubble (from 2002 to 2006) the top 1 percent of Americans — paid mainly from the Wall Street casino — received two-thirds of the gain in national income, while the bottom 90 percent — mainly dependent on Main Street’s shrinking economy — got only 12 percent. This growing wealth gap is not the market’s fault. It’s the decaying fruit of bad economic policy.
The day of national reckoning has arrived. We will not have a conventional business recovery now, but rather a long hangover of debt liquidation and downsizing — as suggested by last week’s news that the national economy grew at an anemic annual rate of 2.4 percent in the second quarter. Under these circumstances, it’s a pity that the modern Republican Party offers the American people an irrelevant platform of recycled Keynesianism when the old approach — balanced budgets, sound money and financial discipline — is needed more than ever.
David Stockman, a director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan, is working on a book about the financial crisis.
Ruth Buzzi’s Review is Making the Rounds
Originally posted on Amazon.com, Ruth Buzzi’s beautifully personal review of Dear Austin – A Letter To My Son has been picked up by the widely read, and highly respected literary blog, The New Book Review.
Ruth’s review includes a recounting of her own departure from home at the age of seventeen, with her father putting her on a flight to Los Angeles to attend The Pasadena Playhouse for the Performing Arts. She credits her father’s faith in her judgment, as well as her own drive and high goals, for her subsequent success in her chosen profession.
Read her entire review, and post your own comment, at The New Book Review.
And for those of you who know me well, you know that ain’t easy!
The emails, the Facebook posts, the private messages – the outpouring of kindness, good wishes, and even excitement over the release of Dear Austin – A Letter To My Son in paperback and digital editions has taken me somewhat by surprise. It could even mean that some of you really aren’t the raving asses that I thought you were. But I don’t want to jump to any conclusions.
I was genuinely touched by the overall reaction to the letter when it was first posted here a few months ago, and since. It has been read by several thousand people on this website, and linked to from several other sites around the world. I get emails from people I don’t know and will never meet, people I’ve been out of touch with since high school or college, and current friends and colleagues who relate moving stories and thank me for the letter. And, of course, there have been the occasional snarky comments.
But the response has been overwhelmingly positive, and in all honesty, it has all been a bit much to take in. And now your reactions to the book. I am almost speechless, another rarity for me, and truly humbled by the fact that so many people give a damn about the success of this little book. Some even willing to put out their hard-earned money.
I need to mention the work of Carl Bluemel, of Bluemel Creative, for the amazing job he did on the cover graphics and the book design and layout. Without his talent and expertise, this project would have been even longer in the making, and would not have turned out nearly so well. He is a patient and accomplished man.
As inadequate as it is, I can only say “thank you” to all of you. You make my life richer for being in it. I wish there were a way I could show my appreciation, but that would probably involve some kind of effort on my part and, as you know, I’m pretty busy.
Thank you. Seriously.
SORRY: I just got yelled at for not including a link to the book site. www.davidmperkins.com
All we really need is the right testing algorithm. Right? If we could just find that one magic (standardized) test, teaching could be completely automated. Done by computers. We could set up classrooms with 30 (or 50) computer terminals, put one IT guy at the front of the room, and then my friends you could just stand back and watch the learnin’ begin!
Once again, I owe my good friend and Texas educator, Peggy, for bringing this article by John Young to my attention. It is reprinted here from his blog, which is linked to below. He is a writer who should be read with regularity. And, someday, when I have a payroll, I need to put Peggy on it.
Public flogging of teachers continues
by John Young
I blame my mechanic — the fact that I don’t change my oil often enough, don’t check my tire pressure regularly, and don’t know my carburetor from my glove compartment.
I’m sure you will agree with me that my mechanic is solely to blame for any malfunction of my car. It can’t be that I invest too little in it, or that I take only passing interest in its interests — that is, until it doesn’t motor me to every chosen destination.
We need new accountability standards for mechanics. Assemble the lawmakers.
I’m serious here. Just about as serious as some policy makers are about education.
Those policy makers, and the citizens for whom they posture, blame teachers for all the ills of the schooling machine.
It couldn’t be any outside influences that affect learning — not the inattention of parents, not whatever roiling events outside school walls might make it difficult to learn, not too-crowded classes, not administrators and policy makers who don’t really get what teachers do.
Something very detrimental to learning has been happening under the guise of education reform for nearly two decades. Americans have been convinced that standardization is education. They have been convinced that the way to “excellence” is to treat children’s minds like one treats tomatoes during canning season.
In the process, too many Americans have swallowed the propaganda that those who don’t buy the standard (King James?) version of school accountability employed by state after state don’t support excellence.
In Florida a pitched battle rages over one more quest to reduce education to tomato paste on the butcher block of standardization. Reformers seek to pin teacher pay increases to test scores. The bill would require school districts to set aside 5 percent of their entire budgets starting in 2011 for “performance” pay increases. If they have any leftover money, they could use it to develop new tests, like end-of-course exams. Otherwise, they would have to give it back to the state.
The bill also would essentially rewrite the rules for teacher contracts. And in telling districts how they can pay teachers, it would wipe out considerations like advanced degrees and experience.
The most offensive thing about this is that it’s not really about education. It’s about a political vendetta. The party of Bush and Cheney and Limbaugh and O’Reilly has had it out for “teachers’ unions” from the day some marginally educated focus group said the term was disparaging enough to be gold.
So, we have people stepping up saying they know how to “fix” education. Even if they confuse teaching with conveyor-belt work. Even if they consider Sarah Palin learned.
Ah, standardization. I once heard a person say, seriously, that if only schools would be like the Army, our problems would be solved. You see, all enlistees have to learn how to assemble a rifle. Have to. And will.
But, then, education isn’t training. Education is a higher quest. Or, so we once assumed. Unfortunately, our political system has instituted a concept of schooling that casts students across a sea of bubble-in questions.
You say teachers oppose assessment? That’s the most ridiculous claim of all. I have a book that has 450 pages of really great assessments — classroom exercises that show if students are using critical thinking skills. It has activities which can make school fascinating and truly challenging. No one craves assessments — quality, diagnostic assessments — more than a teacher, or at least the vast majority of true classroom professionals.
The same goes for most mechanics. But I’m holding mine accountable for my inattention. If my oil pan ends up empty, heads will roll down at the shop.
John Young is a nationally syndicated writer who lives and teaches in Fort Collins, Colorado. He writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I know Texans don’t generally give a crap about what the rest of the country, or the world for that matter, thinks about us. But this time, they’re laughing at us and they’re a little bit spooked by us at the same time. And they’re not wrong. We might wanna take a few notes this time. Below, some reprinted observations by SF Gate columnist, Mark Morford. You know, San Francisco, where all those crazy hippies live.
By Mark Morford,
SF Gate Columnist
Hey, kids! Here’s something I bet you didn’t know: Black people? Back in 1800 or whenever? They liked being slaves. True! Many savvy, industrious Negroes actually volunteered for that fine, desirable position. It was a completely balanced, fair, hugely successful system, until those damn liberals came along and ruined everything. I know, right? What a shame.
Do you know what else? America was wholly victorious in Vietnam. It’s a fact! Kicked some serious enemy butt! Mission accomplished! Sure it was a little bumpy for awhile, but President Nixon, that great and wronged American hero, put us on the righteous path in the end, wrapped that sucker up beautifully and made America the noble Superman to the world. Hey, it’s the truth! You can look it up in your history textbook!
Even more good, newly historic news: Despite what you may have heard from the liberal media, America has very much won its recent, God-sanctioned wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Angry Allah loses again! Just look at this handy diagram on page 281, Figure 4-9. See those little dark-skinned bodies stacked up neatly beside that minaret? Right next to that completely unstaged photo of the toppled Saddam statue? Look how many there are! Graphs never lie.
Did you know, back in the frontier days, that Native Americans welcomed the white man with open arms? Absolutely true. Those poor, sunburned people were so beaten down and exploited by their oppressive dictator “chiefs,” they were forced to believe in all sorts of disgusting pagan sun gods and had to eat, like, rocks and snakes and stuff.
It’s no wonder they greeted proud, fair-minded American colonials as great liberators — yes! Just like in Baghdad! — and happily gave us free access to their fields and their women and their wonderful bead-making technology, in exchange for, you know, gin and fireworks. And casinos.
Never doubt America’s irrefutable greatness, kids. Our prison system, for example, is the finest in the world. Also, dirty Mexican people had no role whatsoever in the Civil War or U.S. history (except as troublesome immigrants, yuck), hip-hop music is in no way, shape or form to be considered a significant cultural movement — unlike totally awesome Country & Western, and the War on Drugs is going spectacularly well, thanks to our fine military, numerous Afterschool Specials and the deep love of Jesus — who, if you look really closely at those old photographs from the Bible, is clearly wearing a U.S. flag pin on his robes to go along with his friendly, competely legal sidearm. God bless America.
These irrefutable facts — and many more just like them — are brought to you by the Texas State Board of Education, packed like a jug of rancid tartar sauce with intellectually numb simpletons who smell like ignorance and taste like fear. The TSBE: We make revisionist brainwashing fun!™
Maybe you didn’t hear? The little item about how a small pod of pale ultra-conservatives in Texas has just demanded a whole slew of specific changes be made to history textbooks down in the Lone Star State? About how, in fact, nearly every change is a rather ridiculous rewriting of history and the language surrounding it, all tending to favor — can you guess? — white privileged capitalist males, a bitter Christian God, and a whitewashed version of history that never actually existed?
Not much shocking about it all, really. “Texas education” has never exactly equated with “intellectual range and nuance.” But there’s a big, ugly snag: Due to the state’s huge purchasing power, the decisions of these tiny-brained ultra-conservatives could well influence what goes into various school history textbooks nationwide.
So it is that that some inbred neocon beliefs about homophobic God and gun-loving country will ooze their way into the minds of unsuspecting youth in a completely different state say, 10 years’ hence, like a poison slowly leeching into the cultural water supply. Ah, Texas conservatism. It’s the new DDT!
What, too harsh? I’m not so sure. Yes, everyone knows that history is slippery and spurious to begin with, all about context and spin and who’s telling the tale. History is, after all, written by the victors.
What they don’t usually add is how history is then revised by the politicians, gutted by the church leaders, molested by the power mongers, skinned alive by paranoid militants, poorly codified by the speechwriters and then spun, torqued and diluted by countless mealy “experts” before being shoved down the gullet of unsuspecting youth, where it is partially digested like so much liquefied school lunch meat, only to be wrongly half-remembered later in life by the most insane among them, who then quickly gets his own talk show on Fox News. And lo, the circle of life continues.
Say what you will about standardized testing, draconian teachers’ unions, lazy tenured teachers, crumbling campuses, slashed budgets, et al. I can think of no better argument for mortgaging everything you own so as to afford a private/charter school for your kid than the disturbing fact that these Texas State Board mongrels might have any power whatsoever to shape young minds by way of further tainting the already wobbly, spurious historical record.
Maybe it doesn’t really matter. After all, it’s widely understood that, given the state of public education, children don’t really learn much in school anyway. The system is so problematic and the teachers union so dangerously obstinate, there’s a good chance your kid will never crack open one of these flawed, historically inaccurate textbooks in the first place. Small consolation indeed.
It’s not all dire and brimstone. Prior to this ridiculous move — and by the way, the board’s revisions still have to be ratified, so there’s a slim chance public outcry and a deep sense of shame at their own repellent personal politics will get them to back off — there’s apparently been a small amount of improvement in school textbooks over the years.
From what I understand, in the wake of wildly influential bestsellers like “Lies my Teacher Told Me” and the late, great Howard Zinn’s “People History” series, among many others, school textbooks underwent some significant improvements in the past couple of decades, slightly more multicultural and inclusive, balanced, realistic. Not nearly as thin, lopsided, sexist, jingoistic, myopic as they used to be. Is that damning with faint praise? Maybe.
Alas, if California weren’t so utterly broke, slashing education budgets and shutting down schools, maybe our fair state could launch a counter-attack, demand some reasonably accurate historic revisions in those selfsame texts. Time was when we had some killer purchasing power of our own. Remember? Yeah, me neither.
Sadly, from what I hear, California schools don’t even use textbooks anymore. Or classrooms. Or desks. They all disintegrated sometime back in 1987. History is now taught by means of sock puppets, toothpick dioramas and firecrackers. And gin.
Of course, I’m completely exaggerating. The changes the Texas Board is shoving through are probably relatively innocuous, just another toxic chemical added to the already lethal school lunch menu, one of a thousand, really. I’m sure everything will be fine. Kids won’t mind a whit that they’re being fed heavily processed, dangerous, non-nutritive mental crap. Hell, they’ll probably enjoy it. You know, just like all those happy, contented slaves.
Even though I still consider myself a Texan, I don’t live there anymore. I certainly don’t have any children in Texas schools, so how and what the Texas Board of Education decides to teach the children of their state really shouldn’t concern me. It shouldn’t. But it does.
The practical reason, of course, is that textbooks created for the education system of Texas inevitably end up in school systems across the country. It’s such a huge market for textbooks that the major publishers are willing to bow to their wishes when revisions to history are requested, and the rest of the country can take it or leave it. This is not the first time Texas has skewed history for children all over the U.S.
This time, it seems, Thomas Jefferson was getting way too much credit for his role as a founding father. Writing the Declaration of Independence and most of the Constitution clearly just makes him a glory hog. The Texas board wants his responsibility in the creation of this country pared down a bit. That separation of church and state thing apparently still pisses them off.
On the other hand, there are some important figures of the past that the board feels are getting short-changed at the checkout stand of history. Confederate President Jefferson Davis is one of them. The Texas board feels that Jeff’s presidency should be treated more on an equal par with Abraham Lincoln’s. I mean, it’s only fair. He was a president, too.
Another much maligned, and unfairly disparaged character from the more recent past is Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. The board feels he’s been poorly treated by historians, and would like to see his image rehabilitated a little. The fact that he was a demagogue, a drunk, and an unrepentant liar shouldn’t completely overshadow the possibility that there really may have been communists in the federal government. I mean, really. He could have been right.
There are over 100 such “adjustments” to the state curriculum by the board, and these aren’t even the most egregious. These are just the easiest to make fun of. And, I’m afraid that the impracticality of it is not what’s really gotten up my nose. I think it’s more emotional than that.
What has happened in Texas, again, is that a handful of appointed and elected political hacks with a social and political agenda have been empowered to second-guess and overrule the panel of professional educators charged with creating the social studies curriculum for the state’s school children. They have, once again, held the state up to national and international ridicule, but worse, they seek to cheat the children of Texas of an honest and unbiased education.
This board, without a single educator or historian among them, has chosen to rewrite history to suit themselves and their own narrow ideology. No one cares if they wish to go through life ill-prepared and ignorant. Clearly they don’t mind. But to impose systematic, state sponsored ignorance on an entire generation of school children is immoral.
Shame on them.
This small band of ideologues is being allowed to lead the next generation of Texans into intellectual bankruptcy. The parents of Texas expect and deserve better for their children. They need to stand up and demand it. Now. Before the books are printed.
“Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”
It’s a great quote, but it’s unclear who said it. It actually seems to be an amalgamation of two separate quotations. Author James M. Barrie, of Peter Pan fame, said “Be kinder than necessary.” But his advice stops there. Plato is quoted as saying “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Whoever pushed these two together actually created a more thoughtful and salient point. It’s worth remembering the next time you find yourself about to be ungracious with someone.
My dear friend Peggy, a fellow Texan, sent this to me today. I think it offers a lot to think about and, as you know, The New York Times suffers from very poor circulation so I thought I’d lend them the weight and influence of my blog. Thank you, Peggy.
The Axis of the Obsessed and Deranged
No one knows what history will make of the present — least of all journalists, who can at best write history’s sloppy first draft. But if I were to place an incautious bet on which political event will prove the most significant of February 2010, I wouldn’t choose the kabuki health care summit that generated all the ink and 24/7 cable chatter in Washington. I’d put my money instead on the murder-suicide of Andrew Joseph Stack III, the tax protester who flew a plane into an office building housing Internal Revenue Service employees in Austin, Tex., on Feb. 18. It was a flare with the dark afterlife of an omen.
What made that kamikaze mission eventful was less the deranged act itself than the curious reaction of politicians on the right who gave it a pass — or, worse, flirted with condoning it. Stack was a lone madman, and it would be both glib and inaccurate to call him a card-carrying Tea Partier or a “Tea Party terrorist.” But he did leave behind a manifesto whose frothing anti-government, anti-tax rage overlaps with some of those marching under the Tea Party banner. That rant inspired like-minded Americans to create instant Facebook shrines to his martyrdom. Soon enough, some cowed politicians, including the newly minted Tea Party hero Scott Brown, were publicly empathizing with Stack’s credo — rather than risk crossing the most unforgiving brigade in their base.
Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, even rationalized Stack’s crime. “It’s sad the incident in Texas happened,” he said, “but by the same token, it’s an agency that is unnecessary. And when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the I.R.S., it’s going to be a happy day for America.” No one in King’s caucus condemned these remarks. Then again, what King euphemized as “the incident” took out just 1 of the 200 workers in the Austin building: Vernon Hunter, a 68-year-old Vietnam veteran nearing his I.R.S. retirement. Had Stack the devastating weaponry and timing to match the death toll of 168 inflicted by Timothy McVeigh on a federal building in Oklahoma in 1995, maybe a few of the congressman’s peers would have cried foul.
It is not glib or inaccurate to invoke Oklahoma City in this context, because the acrid stench of 1995 is back in the air. Two days before Stack’s suicide mission, The Times published David Barstow’s chilling, months-long investigation of the Tea Party movement. Anyone who was cognizant during the McVeigh firestorm would recognize the old warning signs re-emerging from the mists of history. The Patriot movement. “The New World Order,” with its shadowy conspiracies hatched by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. Sandpoint, Idaho. White supremacists. Militias.
Barstow confirmed what the Southern Poverty Law Center had found in its report last year: the unhinged and sometimes armed anti-government right that was thought to have vaporized after its Oklahoma apotheosis is making a comeback. And now it is finding common cause with some elements of the diverse, far-flung and still inchoate Tea Party movement. All it takes is a few self-styled “patriots” to sow havoc.
Equally significant is Barstow’s finding that most Tea Party groups have no affiliation with the G.O.P. despite the party’s ham-handed efforts to co-opt them. The more we learn about the Tea Partiers, the more we can see why. They loathe John McCain and the free-spending, TARP-tainted presidency of George W. Bush. They really do hate all of Washington, and if they hate Obama more than the Republican establishment, it’s only by a hair or two. (Were Obama not earning extra demerits in some circles for his race, it might be a dead heat.) The Tea Partiers want to eliminate most government agencies, starting with the Fed and the I.R.S., and end spending on entitlement programs. They are not to be confused with the Party of No holding forth in Washington — a party that, after all, is now positioning itself as a defender of Medicare spending. What we are talking about here is the Party of No Government at All.
The distinction between the Tea Party movement and the official G.O.P. is real, and we ignore it at our peril. While Washington is fixated on the natterings of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Michael Steele and the presumed 2012 Republican presidential front-runner, Mitt Romney, these and the other leaders of the Party of No are anathema or irrelevant to most Tea Partiers. Indeed, McConnell, Romney and company may prove largely irrelevant to the overall political dynamic taking hold in America right now. The old G.O.P. guard has no discernible national constituency beyond the scattered, often impotent remnants of aging country club Republicanism. The passion on the right has migrated almost entirely to the Tea Party’s counterconservatism.
The leaders embraced by the new grass roots right are a different slate entirely: Glenn Beck, Ron Paul and Sarah Palin. Simple math dictates that none of this trio can be elected president. As George F. Will recently pointed out, Palin will not even be the G.O.P. nominee “unless the party wants to lose at least 44 states” (as it did in Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Waterloo). But these leaders do have a consistent ideology, and that ideology plays to the lock-and-load nutcases out there, not just to the peaceable (if riled up) populist conservatives also attracted to Tea Partyism. This ideology is far more troubling than the boilerplate corporate conservatism and knee-jerk obstructionism of the anti-Obama G.O.P. Congressional minority.
In the days after Stack’s Austin attack, the gradually coalescing Tea Party dogma had its Washington coming out party at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), across town from Capitol Hill. The most rapturously received speaker was Beck, who likened the G.O.P. to an alcoholic in need of a 12-step program to recover from its “progressive-lite” collusion with federal government. Beck vilified an unnamed Republican whose favorite president was the progressive Theodore Roosevelt — that would be McCain — and ominously labeled progressivism a cancer that “must be cut out of the system.”
A co-sponsor of CPAC was the John Birch Society, another far-right organization that has re-emerged after years of hibernation. Its views, which William F. Buckley Jr. decried in the 1960s as an “idiotic” and “irrational” threat to true conservatism, remain unchanged. At the conference’s conclusion, a presidential straw poll was won by Congressman Paul, ending a three-year Romney winning streak. No less an establishment conservative observer than the Wall Street Journal editorialist Dorothy Rabinowitz describes Paul’s followers as “conspiracy theorists, anti-government zealots, 9/11 truthers, and assorted other cadres of the obsessed and deranged.”
William Kristol dismissed the straw poll results as the youthful folly of Paul’s jejune college fans. William Bennett gingerly pooh-poohed Beck’s anti-G.O.P. diatribe. But in truth, most of the CPAC speakers, including presidential aspirants, were so eager to ingratiate themselves with this claque that they endorsed the Beck-Paul vision rather than, say, defend Bush, McCain or the party’s Congressional leadership. (It surely didn’t help Romney’s straw poll showing that he was the rare Bush defender.) And so — just one day after Stack crashed his plane into the Austin I.R.S. office — the heretofore milquetoast Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty, told the audience to emulate Tiger Woods’s wife and “take a 9-iron and smash the window out of big government in this country.”
Such violent imagery and invective, once largely confined to blogs and talk radio, is now spreading among Republicans in public office or aspiring to it. Last year Michele Bachmann, the redoubtable Tea Party hero and Minnesota congresswoman, set the pace by announcing that she wanted “people in Minnesota armed and dangerous” to oppose Obama administration climate change initiatives. In Texas, the Tea Party favorite for governor, Debra Medina, is positioning herself to the right of the incumbent, Rick Perry — no mean feat given that Perry has suggested that Texas could secede from the union. A state sovereignty zealot, Medina reminded those at a rally that “the tree of freedom is occasionally watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots.”
In the heyday of 1960s left-wing radicalism, no liberal Democratic politicians in Washington could be found endorsing groups preaching violent revolution. The right has a different history. In the months before McVeigh’s mass murder, Helen Chenoweth and Steve Stockman, then representing Idaho and Texas in Congress, publicly empathized with the conspiracy theories of the far right that fueled his anti-government obsessions.
In his Times article on the Tea Party right, Barstow profiled Pam Stout, a once apolitical Idaho retiree who cast her lot with a Tea Party group allied with Beck’s 9/12 Project, the Birch Society and the Oath Keepers, a rising militia group of veterans and former law enforcement officers who champion disregarding laws they oppose. She frets that “another civil war” may be in the offing. “I don’t see us being the ones to start it,” she told Barstow, “but I would give up my life for my country.”
Whether consciously or coincidentally, Stout was echoing Palin’s memorable final declaration during her appearance at the National Tea Party Convention earlier this month: “I will live, I will die for the people of America, whatever I can do to help.” It’s enough to make you wonder who is palling around with terrorists now.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Correction: March 2, 2010 The column by Frank Rich on Sunday, about the conservative movement, misstated the job status of Tim Pawlenty. He is the current governor of Minnesota, not former.
Here’s An Interesting Chart
It tracks U.S. Government revenue increases against U.S. Government spending increases going back through eight presidents. As you can see, the light blue bar represents the increase in revenue, and the dark blue bar represents the increase in spending by the U.S. Government during the tenure of each president.
The last one pretty well demonstrates what happens when you hand out multiple tax cuts while trying to prosecute two wars. Wonder if George understands now why he was the only president in history to do that? Even John McCain pointed out what a bad idea that was. Until he became a presidential candidate, of course. Then, he was of big fan.
Interestingly, one of the largest federal tax rate cuts in the history of this country came in the Revenue Act of 1964, under President Lyndon Johnson. And in case you’re wondering, we were not yet mired in the war in Vietnam when this took place. We were still only there in an advisory capacity. It wasn’t until 1965 that everything went to hell in Southeast Asia.
From Daily Kos
Washington Times: GOP lawmakers privately admit stimulus created jobs
by Jed Lewison
Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 08:42:03 AM PST
If there’s one thing that unites the Republican Party it’s that the stimulus bill was a job-killing piece of legislation that was the worst thing in the whole entire world for the economy, right? Or maybe that’s just what unites them in public, because in private the Washington Times reports they’ve been working overtime to get their hands on job-creating stimulus cash.
Sen. Christopher S. Bond regularly railed against President Obama’s economic stimulus plan as irresponsible spending that would drive up the national debt. But behind the scenes, the Missouri Republican quietly sought more than $50 million from a federal agency for two projects in his state. In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Mr. Bond noted that one project applying to the USDA for stimulus money would “create jobs and ultimately spur economic opportunities.”
Bond isn’t alone. Remember Joe “You Lie” Wilson?
Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican who became famous after yelling, “You lie,” during Mr. Obama’s addresses to Congress in September, voted against the stimulus. Nonetheless, Mr. Wilson elbowed his way into the rush for federal stimulus cash in a letter he sent to Mr. Vilsack on behalf of a foundation seeking funding. “We know their endeavor will provide jobs and investment in one of the poorer sections of the Congressional District,” he wrote to Mr. Vilsack in the Aug. 26, 2009, letter.
You see the pattern? Slam the stimulus in public, but in private, ask for stimulus funds to create jobs. For example, Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah:
On Feb. 13, 2009, Sen. Robert F. Bennett, Utah Republican, issued a statement criticizing the stimulus — but two days earlier, he privately forwarded to Mr. Vilsack a list of projects seeking stimulus money. “I believe the addition of federal funds to these projects would maximize the stimulative effect of these projects on the local economy,” he wrote.
And here’s even more quotes uncovered by the Washington Times in private letters written by Republican lawmakers seeking stimulus funds from the Agriculture Department:
Sen. Mike Johanns, Nebraska Republican: “The proposed project would create 38 new jobs and bring broadband to eight hospitals, five colleges, 16 libraries and 161 K-12 schools”
Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican: “It is anticipated that the project will create over 200 jobs in the first year and at least another 40 new jobs in the following years.”
Rep. John Linder, Georgia Republican: “the employment opportunities created by this program would be quickly utilized”
Kudos to the Washington Times for having done the leg work of filing the FOIA requests to expose these examples of Republican lawmakers talking out of both sides of their mouths, publicly lambasting the stimulus as a job-killing measure, but privately conceding that it actually created jobs. It’s hard to imagine a more effective way of demonstrating Republican hypocrisy on the question of whether the stimulus bill creates jobs, and Dems should remind them of it every waking day.
Reprinted from Daily Kos
After my annual physical, a little over a year ago, I was told that I needed to lose some weight and lower my blood glucose level. I was informed that I had slightly elevated blood sugar and my doctor warned that, if I ignored it and it continued to rise, it could grow up to become diabetes. My doctor’s a real buzzkill.
My two best friends on this planet are diabetic. They both have to inject insulin daily to keep their blood glucose levels in check. They seem to manage pretty well, but it’s a dominant factor in their lives. They have to think about it almost all the time. And I have apparently come very close to joining them. My first thought was, “Well, maybe this is not so bad. We could cut down our costs by sharing syringes.” Then one of them pointed out that, if I wasn’t one already, that idea alone would make me a moron. So, I dropped it.
I came home, got online, and started searching for the diet that would allow me to lose thirty pounds and lower my blood sugar without interfering with my penchant for eating Butterfingers and washing them down with Beck’s. Alas, I didn’t find it. My considerable and careful (seriously) research did however yield a diet plan that seemed to fit most of my requirements (sans the Butterfinger/beer snacks).
So, I zoomed off to Amazon.com and ordered The South Beach Diet: Super Charged by Arthur Agatston, M.D. This was, apparently, a new and improved version of the already famous South Beach Diet, with extra added super powers. While I was there, I also ordered The South Beach Diet Quick and Easy Cookbook by the same aforementioned doctor. The South Beach Diet promises to “show you how you can burn more calories and fat in less time, as you lose your cravings for sugary and starchy carbs, lower your blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and improve your overall health.” Just the ticket. How hard could this be?
My books arrived a few days later, and I began flipping through them. The recipes looked good, and there seemed to be very little that you had to give up entirely, and even those for only a couple of weeks. I read a little bit each day, but it began to look like this was actually going to require some action on my part. I hadn’t counted on that. Both books lay on my living room coffee table for several months. After all, I was going to do this, but I had to wait for the right time to start. Then, mysteriously, they got moved to a drawer, still in the living room, but out of sight. And then, inevitably, out of mind.
Before you could blink, another year had rolled by, and I found myself sitting naked on the butcher paper covered table in my doctor’s office, explaining why my blood glucose level was almost the same as the year before. Just as a side note, I find it difficult to explain anything convincingly when I’m naked. Goes back to high school, but that’s a story for another post. On the upside, I had lost ten pounds over the previous year, and he offered lukewarm commendation for that.
I slunk back home, rummaged through the credenza drawers, and resurrected my South Beach Diet library. It was time to get serious. Really. Luckily, this diet does allow you to eat most of the things you like, with some variations in preparation. For instance, steak is fine. Chicken-fried steak with country gravy, not so much. Anyway, because of this, my wife was happy to join me on the new regimen. She had no weight to lose, and as far as we know her blood sugar is fine. She was going for the “improved overall health.” Plus, I knew it wouldn’t last if we were preparing two different menus for every meal.
Before I discuss results, I should point out that this routine has been the easiest to follow and stick with that I’ve ever seen. You’re encouraged to eat three meals a day plus at least two snacks in between. The goal is to never let yourself become very hungry. It concentrates on high-fiber, nutrient-rich carbohydrates (from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains), good unsaturated fats, lean sources of protein, and low-fat dairy. And I promise that I have yet to feel deprived.
Beef, pork, fish, chicken, cheese, fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas, nuts, peanut butter, wine, light beer, and even desserts. It’s all here. It’s all okay. Like I said earlier, the things that you’re required to give up entirely are only disallowed for the first two weeks. After that, you start to add these things back into your meals. The premise is, that by this time you have lost any cravings for the “bad” things in your diet, and can now enjoy them as part of a balanced nutritional plan. There is even guidance for dining in restaurants. It’s really not that hard.
So, how have I done so far? Not bad. In the first week, I lost eight pounds. Over the next two weeks, I lost an additional eight pounds and my blood glucose level is down by six points. And I began reintroducing “forbidden” foods back into my diet after the first two weeks. Phase One, the first two weeks, is aimed at breaking your cravings. I am officially into Phase Two of the diet now, and will be until I reach my desired weight. I intend to lose another ten pounds. In Phase Three, there are essentially no restrictions on what you can eat, but you’re expected to have come to a truce with food by that time, and have reached a new understanding of quality and quantity. Your new eating habits are presumed to be second nature by then.
I have to say that I’m sincerely impressed with this approach. I’m never hungry. I feel better. And I’m beginning to look better, since the weight I’ve lost seems to be coming off my belly. You know, where I was storing the Butterfingers and Becks. As with most diets, the weight lost in the first week or two is largely water, so it’s important to stay well-hydrated and keep your electrolytes in balance. Take full advantage of the snacking aspect of the plan. It’s important not to let yourself become famished. And if you have underlying medical conditions, always ask your doctor if this kind of plan is right for you.
If you decide to give it a try, I wish you good luck. I will post updates here to let you know if I run into any serious drawbacks, and to let you know how I’m progressing on the weight and blood sugar fronts. Here’s to your health.
Update: January 31, 2010
I know I promised, in the article above, to keep you posted on my progress with the South Beach approach to health and weight loss, but I decided to wait until after my next visit to the doctor, so that I would have some concrete and verified numbers to report. I figured that would be better than a week-to-week “here’s how much weight I’ve lost” kind of post.
Well, I just got those numbers a few days ago; new lab results and a visit to my killjoy of a doctor. I have to say that he was much more pleasant this time, since my results surprised even him.
First, since I began to change my eating lifestyle in October, I’ve lost 25 pounds. Now, that’s not a record-shattering number by any stretch, but since my goal from the outset was to lose 30 pounds in total, it means I’m almost there. I’m down from a peak, about 16 months ago, of 241 pounds to a svelte 205. I lost ten of that before starting on the South Beach program.
Secondly, and probably more important than the weight loss, is the decline in my blood glucose levels. High blood sugar was the real impetus for my starting this whole experiment in the first place. In October, the number was 112. That number is still “normal” but it’s at the high end of the normal range. Enough so that my doctor was concerned about a “pre-diabetic” condition. I’m happy to report that my blood glucose reading earlier this week was a surprisingly low 88. I’m told that anything under 100 is good. You know, unless it’s 16 or something like that. Then, you pass out and lapse into a coma. But, 88 is very good.
An unanticipated, at least by me, side effect of all of this is that my overall cholesterol level has dropped by about 40 points to a healthy 155. And my LDL level (the BAAAAD cholesterol) is 103. My doctor informs me that 100 is the perfect LDL level. My blood pressure is 110 over 70, but it’s always been in that area, so that’s not new.
I feel better and, if I do say so myself, I look better. I rarely have that uncomfortable stuffed feeling no matter how much I eat, and during the course of this entire four months, I have never felt deprived of food. It’s actually kind of amazing, but true. And, I have started to wear some of my abandoned clothing. Things that had either become uncomfortable, or that made me look like I was shoplifting a watermelon.
I should also point out that, at the very beginning, I made the decision that the “diet” would not effect what I had to eat during Thanksgiving and Christmas. On those occasions, I ate pretty much as I always have, in terms of what I ate. I probably ate less, however, just because it didn’t take as much to make me feel full.
I had pumpkin pie and apple pie, ice cream, whipped cream, and eggnog, as well as cornbread stuffing all the usual Thanksgiving and Christmas fare. But, in each case, I indulged myself for only one day and then went back to my new routine.
My wife weighed herself on the day after Thanksgiving and was depressed to see that she had gained two pounds. I waited for a week after Thanksgiving to weigh myself, and had lost two pounds since the previous weight check. The lesson here – you wouldn’t weigh yourself with a tray of food in your hands, so why do it with the same food in your stomach? Weigh yourself when you will be encouraged, not discouraged. And don’t weigh yourself too often. Try to go two, or three, or even four weeks between weight checks. You will almost never be disappointed.
And a last side note; I sent a copy of the South Beach book to a family member who is overweight and diabetic. He was having some difficulty taking off the weight and bringing down his blood glucose levels. After less than one month on the South Beach program, he has lost 20 pounds and reports that his blood sugar level has “plummeted.” I’m sure he meant that in a healthy way.
So, that’s my update. I don’t have any negative things to say about the South Beach program. It’s a couple of books. No fees. No special meals to purchase. No meetings. And no bizarre or exotic foods to eat. There are support websites, official and unofficial, where recipes and advice are available, but whether or not you use them is up to you. I took a look around on the web, but the program book and the cookbook proved to be all that was necessary for me. For you? Maybe not.
If I’ve left questions unanswered, feel free to drop me a note and I’ll tell you what I know and what I think. I will close by saying that, if you’ve had a hard time staying with a weight loss program, or if your issue is also blood sugar, I encourage you to give the South Beach book a try. It’s a small investment – or even free if you visit a library. The payback just might be a healthier and better life for you. Good luck.
The South Beach Diet: Super Charged is well laid out and easy to understand. You don’t have to guess whether something is okay or not. There are specific lists of foods for you to “enjoy” and to “avoid” for each phase of the diet, as well as lists of foods to reintroduce into the next phase. There are sample menus for you to follow if you wish, there are recipes and shopping lists, and thousands of resources online that offer even more ideas for new dishes and menus.
The South Beach Diet Quick and Easy Cookbook offers 200 additional recipes, that can be prepared in thirty minutes or less, for breakfast, soups and snacks, salads, fish and shellfish, poultry, beef, pork, and lamb, vegetarian entrees, side dishes, and desserts. Each recipe includes prep time, cooking time, and a complete breakdown of calories, fat, protein, carbohydrate, fiber, and sodium per serving.
The South Beach Diet: Dining Guide is a roadmap to dining out. It gives advice on what the best bets are in most restaurants. You can reference by type of cuisine, by restaurant name, by city, or by “chain.” Hundreds of restaurants across the country are listed, including Chili’s, Macaroni Grill, Cheesecake Factory, Cracker Barrel, Lone Star Steakhouse, Luby’s Cafeteria, and even McDonald’s, KFC, and Jack in the Box. You can look up Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Italian and dozens of other cuisines. It’s a great tool to have when dining out, particularly early on in the program.
Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one. A broken down, burned out, booze-pickled, emotionally incapacitated country music legend swerves across the Southwestern U.S. in a prehistoric GMC Suburban (I think) playing one-night-stands in gloomy bars and bowling alleys, while steering his life directly for a cliff, where he is apparently content to fly off the precipice fully aflame and end it in a pathetic, almost unnoticed, explosion.
Jeff Bridges is Bad Blake, the aforementioned country music legend. Blake has clearly enjoyed better times but has stopped writing songs, taken refuge in the bottle, and trolls the substrata of the entertainment world living on memories of hits past. Meanwhile, a younger protégé, Tommy Sweet played by Colin Farrell, has hit the big time on the strength of Blake’s songwriting talents. Blake seems bitter.
The inevitable romantic interest for Blake is Jean Craddock, played persuasively by Maggie Gyllenhaal, as a Santa Fe reporter sent to interview Blake before a local performance. She’s the mother of a four-year-old son, with emotional baggage of her own, but she’s drawn to Blake despite their age difference and the fact that, during most of the film, he looks as if he smells like a ripe wheel of cheese on a warm day. Still, against her better judgment, they become involved. And, heartened by the only emotional connection he’s felt in some time, Blake seeks redemption in, and for, Jean.
If this sounds like a song you’ve heard, or a film you’ve seen before, you’re right. You have. But you haven’t seen it done this well since Tender Mercies in 1983, which won Robert DuVall a Best Actor Oscar for his turn as the drunken, washed up country singer. Maybe not coincidentally, DuVall is an executive producer and supporting actor in Crazy Heart. This is territory fraught with potential cliché, and they didn’t manage to avoid them all, but they did skip the big one, and first time writer-director Scott Cooper does an able job of steering clear of the ones that could have made this just an adequate film. The screenplay was adapted from the novel by Thomas Cobb.
What makes this film a must see, however, is the performance by Jeff Bridges. It may be the best of his career, even though he’s been Oscar-nominated four times before. The minor surprise here is that both Bridges and Farrell are good enough singers to be convincing in their roles. Not a great singer, Bridges nonetheless has a smoke and whiskey cracked, but resonant, voice that at times reminded me of Kris Kristofferson. Except that Bridges carries a tune a little better than Kris.
Bridges turned 60 a couple of weeks ago, and looks pretty good. Bad Blake is 57 in Crazy Heart, and looks an unhealthy 77. Bridges is completely convincing as Bad Blake, a man on his last leg, soaked through with alcohol, and beaten down by his own hand. But he can still croak out a poignant lyric in a quiet moment and make you believe it. And his rowdy, drunken stage performances are just as well done, and comically sad.
The songs, by Stephen Bruton and T-Bone Burnett, sound like genuine country hits that you’d swear you’ve heard on a jukebox somewhere at some time. Stephen Bruton, who was a close friend and collaborator of Kristofferson’s for years, died in May 2009 of cancer, just as the film was completing production. The film is dedicated to his memory.
Robert DuVall takes on a small role as Houston bar owner, and Blake’s best friend, Wayne. DuVall is always quirky and fun to watch, even in a secondary role. My old friend Beth Grant makes a brief appearance here as well, as a one-night-stand for Blake just before he meets Jean Craddock. She is always memorable in whatever role she takes on, and this one is no different. She commands your attention whenever she’s in the frame, and is always willing to offer herself up for a comic moment. And you will laugh.
This film came very close to not being released at all. Its distributor, Paramount Vantage, folded its tent before the film was completed and her parent company, Paramount Pictures, had no interest in the film. But neither did they want to give it up to another distributor. It seemed destined for direct-to-dvd release. Some skillful negotiations by Scott Cooper’s agent finally worked out a deal for Fox Searchlight to handle distribution. And we’re all lucky for it.
It will be just fine on DVD when it gets there, but this film deserves its time on the big screen. It’s good enough, and it’s important enough, and these performances are powerful enough to be seen in a real theater. That’s where good films belong.
The following video, from Newsweek, covers the highlights and lowlights of the first decade of the 21st Century in just 7 minutes. It’s not quite Cliff’s Notes, but it’ll do. It may be preceded by a 30 second commercial. But then, what isn’t? Enjoy.