Category Archives: Politics


The market is shifting from Reverse into Drive, CEOs are being laid off by the Federal government, and capital is creeping out of the Sealy’s and Serta’s, and all Mr. Krugman can come up with is another deckchairs metaphor?

“It’s a plan to rearrange the deck chairs and hope that that keeps us from hitting the iceberg.”

I jest, and I think Krugman understands the capital markets better than anyone, but critique is always cheaper than praxis. Krugman was not appointed by the Nobel committee to be the world’s economist, though he seems to be knighted as such by the major media.

Stewart on CNBC.

If you want a good laugh-cry, check out The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on March 4, 2009. He skewers, in one fell swoop, Wall Street, Rick Santelli, and the horrible pundits on CNBC. UPDATE: Will Bunch, at The Huffington Post, provides great commentary on Stewart’s research-based reporting.
For those not in Canada, the video should appear here:
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After watching Obama on Tuesday night, I’m looking for answers as to who has their finger on how the global economic crisis will get resolved. A friend of mine, who works in politics in Washington, says that he thinks no one really knows what to do and that this crisis might be beyond our control, at least for now.
A list of recent articles and ideas around the poverty of our current response to the economic crisis, as follows:
Is philosophy a luxury good? at the Economist.
Oil’s not well in Canada by Frances Russell.
Asia Braces for Spike in Suicides Due to Economic Woes by Ling Woo Liu.
Feelings of despair by Paul Krugman.
Crisis of Credit by Jonathan Jarvis.

The Hope.

Having just watched the majority of Obama’s speech tonight, I recognize that his appeal to patriotism is as unique as his approach to the financial crisis. Throughout, Obama praised military service, community service, American automakers, the GI bill, and the halls of the Congress itself. He now wears the American flag on his lapel and his quick push into the Republican section of the Congress, following his speech, was a conscious attempt to appeal to those who would so easily dismiss his “Muslim” or “foreign” roots.
This is a real example of Obama’s genius. He is able to transcend the real differences between groups and ask a kind of “forgiveness” for his liberal indiscretions among his conservative colleagues – without at all admitted guilt or insecurity about his worldview. With great care, places himself in the center of the conflict in a highly personalized way that embodies the dialectic he represents. As a constitutional scholar, I’m sure that Obama was introduced to the idea that, by collapsing the old order onto the new, he can transform the material world and our relationship to history.
In fact, I think a argument could be made that Obama is in many ways a student of dialectical materialism, a fundamental component of historical Marxism, which states, in part, that everything is transmuted by our work and our relationship to nature – and that history reflects the massive transmutation of that relationship.

It is an eternal cycle in which matter moves, a cycle that certainly only completes its orbit in periods of time for which our terrestrial year is no adequate measure, a cycle in which the time of highest development, the time of organic life and still more that of the life of being conscious of nature and of themselves, is just as narrowly restricted as the space in which life and self-consciousness come into operation. A cycle in which every finite mode of existence of matter, whether it be sun or nebular vapour, single animal or genus of animals, chemical combination or dissociation, is equally transient, and wherein nothing is eternal but eternally changing, eternally moving matter and the laws according to which it moves and changes.
Fredrick Engels
Dialectics of Nature

And even better:

It shows that history does not end by being resolved into “self-consciousness as spirit of the spirit”, but that in it at each stage there is found a material result: a sum of productive forces, an historically created relation of individuals to nature and to one another, which is handed down to each generation from its predecessor; a mass of productive forces, capital funds and conditions, which, on the one hand, is indeed modified by the new generation, but also on the other prescribes for it its conditions of life and gives it a definite development, a special character. It shows that circumstances make men just as much as men make circumstances. [italics mine]
Karl Marx
The German Ideology


On the day of the inauguration, my dad noted on the phone to me that he thought that January 20, 2009, was a more important day in the history of the United States than the election of John F. Kennedy. For some reason, I was taken aback by this thought; afterall, Kennedy was a massively exciting figure during a complicated, transitional time in American political economy and culture.
But, in looking back a few days, I can see why my father says this and the photos he pointed me to on the Big Picture site confirm it. Because the world has become smaller (or flatter, or warmer, or more wired), the impact of Obama’s ascendency is simply felt more widely. Obama represents a fundamental shift in the way we perceive others in the world, peering at us as we peer at them.


What an incredible inauguration. Obama is fearless. He spoke truth to power while former President Bush sat next to him. He asked all Americans to help him solve the massive problems faced worldwide. He’s now walking down the street in the freezing D.C. cold as throngs of fans yell out to him. And, interesting to me, he launched a brand new White House website today, which is a thing of grace. Not least, he sent a crack team of his staff to get to work as soon as he was sworn in. What more can we ask of the man? Within 4 hours of his Presidency, he’s changed the country, forever.
P.S. The thing that brought me and many others to tears today were the words written by poet Elizabeth Alexander. Here’s her poem, called Praise Song for the Day:
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.
All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.
Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.
A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.
We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.
I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.
Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,
picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.
Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.
Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?
Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.


Years ago, in college, we talked about the theory of totality. At the time, in the late 1980s, the word “totality” referred to the full-on construction of reality that is mediated by corporations in conjunction with governments. The kern of the idea, based in left social theory, is that we are fully embraced by the entirety of corporate-created desire: every thought, feeling, deliberation, policy, and production (whether aesthetic or concrete) was fueled by the rationalization of generating profits, stabilizing dissent, and rooting out radicalism of any kind.
Obviously, the theory of totality is itself a kind of totality. Nothing can escape the reality of totality theory; we are all subjects to its work — and resistance, while not futile, is complicated and highly uncertain. The ideas behind totality and its many spinoffs are like those of many I know who believe that the systems in place currently are built to ensure continuity — and that there are even meta-systems of thought and governance that determine the progress of that continuity. These meta-systems appear, for all intents and purposes, to the outside world as conspiracy or on the order of conspiracy. To those who have knowledge of these meta-systems, they are more like proven theorems that have not yet been accepted.
I find it all very fascinating. With the coming economic recession/depression, people are talking about many of these meta-systems en masse and whether one or the other will either save us or destroy us. Massive spending. Massive taxes. Massive infrastructure. Massive muscle. There’s more than a bit of apocalyptic derring-do in all of the pundits arguing for massive activity to get us out of a massively complex set of problems: most recently, it’s been John Judis and Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic, and Paul Krugman, of course.
Massivity has become a new way to handle the crisis and I hope the economists and pundits are right. But I worry, deep down, that their ability to apprehend the entirety (but not the totality) of global finance and its complexity is not unlike that of people who think have a worldview based on some brand of totality). In other words, I’m wondering if the economists, who are paid to understand financial history and to get us out of the coming mess, are not fundamentally different from those who look at global systems and see conspiracy hiding in the darkness.
By no means am I associating Mr. Krugman with Sasquatch watchers. But, as much as I believe Krugman knows what he’s talking about, I worry that he’ll inevitably miss the mark as much as anyone who thinks they can see through an opaque reality.
Massivity, to me, is a new way of explaining how to solve a global crisis based on the proposition of normative economic knowledge.

Recessionary Inequity.

I just saw a headline in the New York Times online, reading Obama Warns of Prospect for Trillion-Dollar Deficits. It’s brought home to me what I’ve been thinking for some time. That the US Federal Government is now going to be forced into helping out major corporations because the government itself has been so eviscerated during the eight years of Bush rule. Had the government been running health care, building roads and bridges, and not fighting massive foreign wars, a deficit of a trillion dollars would not be either overwhelming or unrealistic. Instead, it would be considered a true investment in the future of the country and its young inhabitants.
But with so much having been given away to the banks, the insurance firms, and, soon, the car companies, the U.S. Government is essentially asking these market-based structures to do their work for them – keep people employed, ensure fiscal continuity, and set the agenda for the next dozen or so years of financial life. I’m not at all suggesting that, had the States been a socialist democracy, a massive deficit would be easier; however, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the lack of responsibility on the part of the country has resulted in even more massive future-based spending.
A diet of gluttony, under Mr. Bush et. al. (including Democrats in Congress), has taken its revenge on the body.

New Truth.

On this, the first day of 2009, I had the opportunity to watch An Inconvenient Truth paired with an episode of David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things. Both were shown on different CBC channels, in a possible attempt to swaddle the Canadian public in environmental awareness all at once, one one evening, at the beautiful start of the year. It was like a Polar Bear swim, an event that also happens today in colder climes, for the televisual brain. Going back and forth between the two channels, I watched as Mr. Gore analyzed the policies and illogic of 30 years of denial while espousing the hope of change articulated by Mr. Suzuki as he toured Europe’s windmill farms, bicycle paths, and solar-powered boats. The two shows, bookended by alternating commercials, mashed together like a song of hope for the year, and years, ahead.
Full disclosure: Mr. Gore is a client of mine.

Obama Bubble.

I can’t read or tolerate reading anything negative about President-Elect Obama. It’s not because I’m thin-skinned; rather, the man hasn’t stepped foot into the White House yet and already the media are holding him up to FDR-like standards.
But I do agree with many pundits that the first 100 days are going to be critical for his administration, not only to boost sagging economic morale but to keep American jobs on the table that will have been lost between now and mid-January. But I think folks need to be careful not to fall into a still-working campaign of fear and cynicism driven by the last election; afterall, questions are still being raised around Obama’s citizenship.
Steve Clemons, of The Washington Note, makes the case that expectations around Obama’s capacity are far too large and I believe he’s right. It’s driving both unrealistic expectations and setting him up for a fall based on the ineptitude of the current administration:

Clemons: I think that we’ve replaced the housing bubble in the United States with an Obama bubble. There are so many hopes not just in the United States but around the world that he’s going to produce in just sort of stunning ways on all kinds of policy challenges that are out there. As he begins to define and scope what his real priorities are and are going to be, and as he brings in his team, I think that that bubble is going to deflate. Bubbles, in the economic sense, can be very, very good. They can lay a lot of railroad tracks, they can create a lot of cheap I.T. infrastructure. Lots of folks will end up losing, but what’s going to be very important when Obama runs to the end of his honeymoon is whether he has created enough strategic shifts for the United States so that we can get back in the global game, and that there’s some resurgence of hope for the American and global economies.
And right now, I’m a real pessimist. The challenges he has are Herculean. I think when he comes into office, he has enormous support and he has got a kind of Reagan-like mandate in the sense that when Reagan came in after the Iran hostage crisis, high oil prices, high inflation and low morale in the country, Reagan had the ability to cite the crisis we were in as a way to break the bank on all the money he spent on defense. And Obama’s going to have that same ability to spend on infrastructure, keep the middle class working, but also to do other big shifts. I don’t know how long that is going to last, but he’s got to front-load it. If he goes cautious leading into it, I think the half-life of Obama’s strength and the bubble that he has are going to deteriorate very rapidly.

There’s no reason, politically or ideologically, for Obama to “go cautious.” He’ll be spending big and he has the political capital to do so. The question is where does he get the real capital to spend?