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Thu Oct 17, 2013 at 02:38 AM PDT

The Story of the Shutdown

by dsmetis

I was there, on the ground, in 2009, when President Obama took the oath of office. I remember the palpable sense of deflation as he gave his first inaugural address. After a campaign where he clearly seemed to get it, he didn’t get it.

What the country needed right then was a narrative, a story. Here’s how we got here. These are the malefactors. Here is what we will do to win back our country.

Those were dark days. Frightening. The banking system was falling apart. Unemployment was spiking. The global economy was on a razor’s edge.

And there was a story to tell. There were malefactors. There was a path. But the path needed a story, a true and compelling story, to carry us through, to win the day.

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Fri Oct 04, 2013 at 04:56 AM PDT

The Devolving Debate

by dsmetis

At the very depths of the catastrophe in 2008, I went with my father to the best (and only decent!) restaurant in Toledo, an expensive steak house. The place was mobbed, with a 45-min wait, and the bar was SRO. So he looks around and says, "What recession?"

We have managed to hide the pain in this society. We have allowed people to live their lives in a suburban cocoon, never seeing unemployment, homelessness. First the Great Recession, then destructive austerity at the state level, then the "turn to the deficit" in 2010. Now the sequester, then a federal govt shutdown, and next is default. At each stage the right wing can look around and say, "See, we are still fine."

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Wed Jan 23, 2013 at 05:51 AM PST

On the Filibuster - Do the Math

by dsmetis

So I finally dragged out a spreadsheet and figured out exactly what the filibuster means, mathematically.

Take a minority of Senators, mostly representing low-population states in the south and the Corn Belt, and give them the power to stop everything. In this case, you can build a filibuster-safe minority with Senators representing under 30% of the population.

But wait, these Senators weren't elected unanimously, so let's assume they won by an average of 70-30, so now we're hanging around 20% of the US population.

Not done yet - turnout isn't anything like 100% ... so maybe they represent 15% of the US population.

Look, I understand that the Founders wanted the Senate to be deliberative and they wanted to protect the rights of the Minority, but to allow a 6th of the country to run roughshod over the rest of us, that's a different matter.

I say, end the filibuster entirely. It's time to allow the country to get on with the matter of governing.

(Of course, these days, these 41 Senators probably really represent about 1% ... their actual constituency. But sadly that could be said about the entire Senate.)

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Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 01:21 PM PST

44 for 44

by dsmetis

I just gave DailyKos $44 in honor of our 44th President.

We did something real here, we DO something real here.

Join me.  

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Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 04:19 AM PST

A Second Enlightenment

by dsmetis

History had an arrow. When I was younger, it had an arrow, a direction. It pointed toward inclusion, and social equality, and justice.

Human achievement had an arrow. It pointed toward knowledge, and science, and understanding.

And in the long run, when you back up far enough, I suppose it still does.

But for the life of me it has felt like we lost our way. For the past 30 years, there has been a reactionary force in this country (can we stop calling it "conservative", please?) trying to hold back the floodwaters of change.

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Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 04:35 AM PST

Conservative Brains

by dsmetis

Krugman's blog post today led me to this excellent analysis of conservative partisan groupthink by Chris Mooney.

Mooney finds that conservatives are immune to facts and reasoning, and are only more immune as their level of education increases:

I can still remember when I first realized how naïve I was in thinking—hoping—that laying out the “facts” would suffice to change politicized minds, and especially Republican ones. It was a typically wonkish, liberal revelation: One based on statistics and data. Only this time, the data were showing, rather awkwardly, that people ignore data and evidence—and often, knowledge and education only make the problem worse.
It got me thinking.

My 20-something son has dismissed strongly partisan progressives as equivalent to strongly partisan conservatives, but I've always believed in my heart of hearts that there is something essential that separates us. The nuclear power example cited in Mooney's piece is a terrific one, because the stereotype of the knee-jerk liberal collapses when you see the change in attitudes among the left on this topic.

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Thu Nov 17, 2011 at 07:51 PM PST

Redistribution by Any Other Name ...

by dsmetis

OWS has taught us something useful. People are generally open to the idea that things aren't fair, and they haven't been for a long time.

Right now, that unfairness is often expressed as income inequality, but the sum of 30 years of growing income inequality is severe wealth inequality. With the collapse of the economy and the spike in unemployment and underemployment, it's been made much more severe, especially when you consider houses underwater and ballooning student loan debt.

This morning, Paul Krugman linked to a blog about how sovereign debt is eliminated: by default, taxation, or printing money (inflation). Each of these choices picks winners and losers. Default harms bondholders, taxation (depending on progressivity) harms citizens, and inflation harms rentiers (by reducing the real value of borrowed money).

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Mon Oct 17, 2011 at 04:19 AM PDT

Declare Victory and Change Direction

by dsmetis

In the early 70s, as it became clear to everyone that the Vietnam War was unwinnable, people started searching for ways to shift US policy while saving face. Senator George Aiken (D-VT) suggested that we declare victory and go home:

The United States could well declare unilaterally ... that we have 'won' in the sense that our armed forces are in control of most of the field and no potential enemy is in a position to establish its authority over South Vietnam. [This] would herald the resumption of political warfare as the dominant theme in Vietnam.

It may be a far-fetched proposal, but nothing else has worked.

It's difficult for any Administration to abandon its signature policy and change direction, especially when that policy is an abject failure. So today I offer this recommendation to the Obama Administration: Declare Victory and Change Direction.

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On his NYT blog, Paul Krugman asks this question. This time, it's about WSJ predictions that QE2 would destroy the dollar and jack up rates on Treasuries. (They were wrong. They are always wrong.)

But I thought I'd try to answer his question.

My father is an on-going experiment in the value of public discourse. He is a "Kennedy Democrat," by which he means he hasn't voted for a Democrat since Kennedy. Jack Kennedy. He was a delegate for Humphrey in '72, but voted for Nixon. He was a delegate for Carter in '76, but voted for Ford! In that time, he made some money, got remarried to a physician with a deep conviction about abortion rights, and kept moving righter and righter. (Bizarrely, so did she.)

Now I'm always puzzled when the poor vote for Republicans, and I get voting your pocketbook when you make a lot of money. It's dispiriting but not shocking to want to pull up the ladder of opportunity behind you (see, for example, Thomas, Clarence). But there's a madness that's infected the Republican party in the past decade, and I was kind of shocked that my father wasn't, well, shocked. You see, he's reasonably well educated, well traveled, and well read in history.

So when I discovered, about 5 years ago, that he was getting most of his news from Faux News, CNBC, and the WSJ editorial page, I decided to start feeding him a more balanced diet. I started with a couple of documentaries ... Inside Job was the one that did the trick. Then I shared a little Krugman.

He read the columns I forwarded and always said something like this ... "I never liked Paul Krugman, but he's probably right about ... " I just rolled with it. But as the world came apart at the seams over the past 4 years or so, and as Krugman's columns were eerily accurate, the truth became harder and harder to resist. As an investor of some means, he had to admit that there was a disconnect between what he had been hearing from his traditional sources and the reality he saw himself. After all, they were cheerfully leading any listeners who followed their investment advice off the cliff.

He was often satisfied with anecdotal perceptions. I visited him in the spring of '09 and we went out for a steak dinner on a Saturday night in Toledo. The restaurant was packed. His response: "What recession?" I was relentless: "It's the only decent restaurant in town. And look around - are these the people you'd expect to be laid off? Of course they're out for dinner." He'd fly on an airplane and tell me it was packed. I'd remind him that the airline cut half the service on that route, and the plane only had 24 seats. I resisted the meme and reminded him that he lived in a rarified world.

Finally, in the last couple of months, I confronted him. I said, "Look, the world has changed. And your perspective has to change, too. Otherwise, you will be investing as if you inhabit a world that simply doesn't exist any more. And we'll get killed." The basic facts prevailed. We have begun to be able to discuss the world, and investment strategies, in a much more constructive way. That's because we now agree on a fundamental view of the world. Our facts have lined up.

This is incredibly important. It took 4 years, millions of dollars in real losses, and a general economic catastrophe on the scale of the Great Depression to get my father to abandon his false idols. His goals and objectives, his values, his personality haven't changed. But he now recognizes that the lies and distortions being peddled on the corporate news machine were just that.

Still, I don't believe it would ever have happened if I hadn't been there, every step of the way, demanding that he look at the world differently. The financial losses, the general economic disaster, these weren't enough.

So in my mind, we need a clarion call, a call to action, to speak out to our fellow citizens. We need to break down the barriers between the left and right and initiate a person-to-person dialog. We on the left need to appeal to our fellow citizens, to their humanity, their wisdom, their fairness. I don't know how to do this. It's incredibly time-consuming, and it can't work if you don't start with an underlying relationship like mine with my father.

But the short answer to the question at the top of this diary is this: Business people listen to the WSJ Editorial Page because nobody else is talking to them.

That needs to change.

Discuss

Fri Sep 16, 2011 at 05:36 AM PDT

The Loss of Memory

by dsmetis

I studied folklore and "oral literature" (ok, it's an oxymoron) in college. At the time, I was interested in closely parsing texts, in understanding the relationship between denotation and connotation in language, in how we might explore the subtext of these classical compositions to get greater insight into stories.

But I was a callow youth, so I didn't understand the larger issues. At a time when there was no written language, or when written language was technically impossible, especially for larger stories like the Iliad and the Odyssey, oral literature was a repository, the ONLY repository, for cultural memory, for history. Surely they weren't a factual history, but they were a place where a set of cultural values could be recorded and passed on from generation to generation. And so they were.

I have faith in a kind of cultural Darwinism: the stories that survived were the stories that mattered, whether because they were great stories or because they were useful vessels of cultural values. Anyone who listened to the Odyssey would have learned to be kind to guests and strangers and to value their home, their ancestors, their hosts.

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Sun Sep 11, 2011 at 04:09 AM PDT

Never Forgetting

by dsmetis

Abe Zelmanowitz was a friend of mine. Not a close friend. We worked together - he in the City and me up in Albany, but we had spent a few weeks when I'd worked with him in the City, and we were constantly on the phone.

He took his Judaism seriously. It was nearly impossible to find him after noon or so on Friday in the winters - he had to get home before sundown. I've never really gotten along with a serious Jew before - it sometimes feels like a repudiation of my choices as a non-practicing non-believer.

But Abe kept it low-key. He was warm, kind and funny. About 15 years older than my 42 years. I only learned later that he was never married, but he was the beloved uncle to a number of children.

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Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 06:27 AM PDT

Bizarre but Predictable

by dsmetis

After reading the bizarre letters the NYTimes published in response to Warren Buffett's call to tax the "super-wealthy", I wanted to roll some of the ideas around, try them out, kick the tires.

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