The Great Leap Sideways

It’s actually some 30 years ago, but to me seems only yesterday that we were howling for Paul Volcker’s blood. As Fed chairman back in Carter-Reagan time he was the great deflator, ratcheting up interest rates and hurling widows and orphans out into the snow. And here he is now, the shining knight of the left, for months languishing in obscurity as head of the president’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board,  now mustered to Obama’s side to preside over the White House’s Great Leap Sideways into economic populism. He’s been  tasked with promoting legislation that will haul the banks back into the Glass-Steagall era when the paltry sums in your checking account weren’t immediately securitized and packaged into a CDO squared. We await the dispatchof Larry Summers, off on a secret mission to study the economy of the Aleutians and report back in a year, as the White House stokes the fire under Treasury Secretary Geithner for his secret bailout of AIG when he was chairman of the New York Fed.

Say this for the President and his political advisors. It didn’t take long for the message from Massachusetts to sink in, that voters across the board deem Obama a dud and creature of the banks. All the same, I don’t think we can have much confidence in the Senate to leap to the left with quite the same alacrity. That may be Obama’s secret thought, too. Only a few days ago chairman of the Senate Banking Committee Chris Dodd, securely stowed in Wall Street’s pocket and on his way to a profitable lobbying perch when he soon returns to private life, was expressing doubts about even considering legislation of this nature.

This being America, the U.S. Supreme Court returned fire that same Thursday with its Citizens United v. FEC decision striking down ancient laws and precedents and giving corporations  their First Amendment rights to have nine  fingers on the nation’s political windpipe instead of eight – which was the status quo ante  which editorialists bizarrely lament as a Golden Age of electoral probity, only now destroyed by Chief Justice Roberts and his black-hat gang of judicial activists.  There’s doleful talk of a “return to the era of the Robber Barons”.  I thought we had Barons’ Homecoming a generation ago, though Citizens United v FEC does, even more brazenly than usual, blare the message that in America corporations rule and that the Supreme Court is their errand boy.

Some try to garner comfort that the ruling applies to unions as well as corporations. Unions spent about $400 million in the 2008 election cycle, a collective expenditure that left them reeling. They face declining membership and falling dues revenue. Financially these are inauspicious times and the corporations simply have more swag.

Can Obama recover the initiative? This leap sideways in the direction of  the left comes eleven months behind schedule, and politics is an unforgiving time-keeper. He should have been holding that Thursday press conference last February, when he still had favorable winds in his sails.  Instead he wasted most of the year destroying all prospects for decent health reform. The best we can hope for now is rejection by the House of the Senate’s bill, with the whole awful package dumped in the shredder. Maybe the White House should try some new imaginative approach, like combining preventive health care with airline security. All people going through the TSA’s full body scans would get, gratis,  a full diagnostic printout, from teeth to tumors and the right to free consultations at health clinics run by the Department of Homeland Security.

“Disgusting Sinkhole of Racism”

I remarked on this site  last Wednesday, apropos la Coakley’s richly deserved humiliation that “Massachusetts [is] often categorized as the most liberal in the union. This is entirely untrue. It’s a disgusting sinkhole of racism and vulgar prejudice, as five minutes in any taxi in the state, listening to Talk Radio or reading the local newspaper, will attest.”

I thought I’d get some bleats about these aspersions, but it seems my sentiments, based on several summers spent in the Commonwealth back in the 1970s, are widely shared. CounterPuncher Dr Thomas Wilkinson sent these interesting reflections from Germany:

“As you say about Massachusetts, I can only repeat what I have said elsewhere. Massachusetts was born as a racist/ genocidal theocracy and the emergence of its slave  trading merchant class never altered much in the conscience of the Thanksgiving assassins.

“What makes Massachusetts seem so liberal was on one hand the constant comparison with the even more noxious parts of the US and the necessity of winning the war against organised labour after 1945. The slow process of deindustrializing and de-unionizing New England was accompanied by the media creation of a paper tiger called the ‘liberal Northeast’. Nothing in the history of the textile industry would support the claim that such a beast ever existed. Together with Rhode Island, Massachusetts sheltered much of the country’s pre-war elite giving the region an aura of privilege veiled in colonial mythology. Trading slaves was held to be “cleaner” than owning them– although I still think one of Massachusetts great contributions to US political struggle was Charles Sumner, who famously said of Southern terrorists trying to enforce slavery in Kansas that they were the ‘vomit of civilisation’– for which he was caned into unconsciousness by the regurgitated senator from South Carolina.”

Another regular CounterPunch reader is Charlie Ehlen of Louisiana, who dropped me this note ten days ago.

“I live in Pineville, Louisiana. I have lived in Louisiana since February of 2000. I had lived in southern California from April of 1959. I am a 62-year old former US Marine and a Vietnam veteran. I was a machinist until my back gave up and after three major surgeries have been declared permanently disabled. Unemployable in short.

“I am tired of the way our language has been abused to the point that I call it ‘bastardized’. I find the abuse of language disgusting in the extreme. If we continue to allow the language to be abused by our ‘leaders’ and news media among others, we will end up like Orwell’s “1984” and then it will be too late to do anything about it.

“We have to take a stand some place. Why not here, with this small thing? How hard is it to never use the term ‘homeland’? It is a rather recent addition to American English after all. Until the events of September 11, 2001 nobody referred to America as our ‘homeland’.

“I think it is time to reclaim OUR country and use its proper name, America, or the United States of America, or just the good old United States.

“Please join me in stopping the use of the term “homeland” when talking about America.

“If you want to read more of what I think, my little “corner” of the internet is at

Sour Grapes for Goldstone

The Goldstone Report has been excoriated by the Israel lobby, denounced by the US Congress and cheered by the left for its unsparing condemnation of Israel’s conduct during its onslaught on Gaza a year ago. But Goldstone insisted as part of his brief that he would equate the actions of the occupied with those of the occupier. This is the premise of his report, and in our latest, subscriber-only newsletter, Jennifer Loewenstein describes the consequences of this fatal flaw.

“Operation Cast Lead,” Loewenstein writes, “is rarely characterized as an act of illegal and unjustifiable aggression. In fact, ultimately Goldstone’s depiction of Israel’s assault on Gaza as exercising its legitimate ‘right to self-defense’ is entirely consistent with what both U.S. and Israeli governmental and media spokespeople claimed from the beginning. …The 36 war crimes selected for careful review by the Goldstone Commission were but a sampling of thousands of illegal and unspeakable acts of savagery committed against the civilian population of Gaza; indeed, they defined the operation by being the rule rather than the exception. The entire operation was one monstrous war crime, but this plain fact eludes Justice Goldstone just as it is overlooked today in our memorials and analyses of what happened to an imprisoned and defenseless population, 56 per cent of whom are children. The ‘defensive’ nature of Israel’s military operation is rarely questioned or even noticed, and because Justice Richard Goldstone himself never undertook to question whether Operation Cast Lead had any legitimate basis from the start, the overall legal value of the Goldstone Report is seriously flawed.”

You’ll find Loewenstein’s full, brilliant analysis in this latest, subscriber-only newsletter.  Also in this, issue Bill Hatch gives us a pitiless, hugely knowledgeable profile of California’s death plunge, the consequence of political domination of the state by the real estate speculators, acting in concert with big ag “farmers” hawking California’s second most vital resource after air. The Golden State is going the way Mesopotamia did at the time of the Abbassids 1,400 years ago, with excessive water use sucking the water tables dry and turning prime farm land into saline desert.
“The odds are better than four to one that by June 1 there will be a medical marijuana law in D.C.” Such is the knowledgeable estimate cited by Fred Gardner in his up-to-the-minute overview, in this latest newsletter, of the  marijuana reform movement, one year into the age of Obama. As Gardner makes clear, it’s overwhelming popular support for medical marijuana that is driving reform forward. The tide is sweeping the movement’s reform “leaders” along.

All this, plus Sousan Hammad’s report on the travails of Miss Palestine in this new edition of our newsletter.

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ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.