Stupidity and avarice, or… stupidity and avarice

One doesn’t need to go back very far in this blog to read how profoundly unhappy I am with Barack Obama.[1] I’ve been unhappy with his performance all along, but the truth is that he has been much, much worse than I anticipated in 2008, when even then, I decided I could not vote for him.[2] Yves Smith, at Naked Capitalism, captures a significant chunk of my feeling about Obama:

This election, despite [Mitt] Romney’s shambolic Presidential campaign (his London gaffes were epic), he’s running neck and neck with Obama. The fact that he has any hope is due to Obama’s fealty to big corporate interests, particularly banks, and his neoliberal instincts. In early 2009, with the financiers cowed and desperate, and the country eager for a new direction, Obama could have take far more decisive steps to right the economy. But again and again, Obama has sold out ordinary citizens, from folding on a proposal to tax to end the preferential treatment of incomes of private equity magnates (they structure their deals to get capital gains treatment when they have no capital at risk), to pushing through a mortgage settlement that did perilous little for borrowers but served as a back door bailout to banks, or his enriching Big Pharma and the health care insurer though the ACA.[3]

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  1. [1]David Benfell, “Entitlement and elections,”, July 12, 2012,; David Benfell, “Pot, Kettle, Black,”, July 13, 2012,; David Benfell, “Conservatives have only themselves to blame,”, July 18, 2012,
  2. [2]David Benfell, “No way,”, July 9, 2008,
  3. [3]Yves Smith, “Is Romney Going to Repeat the Palin Strategy and Choose Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi?” Naked Capitalism, July 30, 2012,

Assange in the murk

Whatever one thinks of the accusations against Julian Assange in Sweden,[1] or of the accusations against him in the United States,[2] the avenues currently being pursued by Ecuador, pursuant to Assange’s request for asylum, in attempting to resolve his fear that Sweden’s extradition request is a ploy for a U.S. extradition request expose questions that should trouble any fair-minded observer.[3]

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  1. [1]David Benfell, “The Great Feminist Smackdown: Rape Allegations against Julian Assange,”, December 21, 2010,; David Benfell, “Misconstruing Moore and Amnesty International: The case against Assange,”, December 27, 2010,
  2. [2]Philip Dorling, “US senator calls to prosecute Assange,” Sydney Morning Herald, July 2, 2012,
  3. [3]Paul Lewis, “Ecuador seeks to stop ‘evil’ of Julian Assange US extradition,” Guardian, July 26, 2012,

Morality for the masses

This post has been updated in line since it was initially published on July 23, 2012. This update includes two additional footnotes, disrupting footnote numbering. The publication date has been modified to reflect the change.

My mother has been toying with the idea of selling her house. I really don’t think she wants to sell; the place is more than just money to her, but rather an incredible amount of the turmoil, toil, and trauma that any middle class homeowner experiences over the twenty-plus years since she purchased it with her now-deceased husband. But she has to consider the idea. When she divorced my father (not her second husband, with whom she purchased the house), who would never permit her to work as anything other than a secretary, she was finally free to follow her calling into journalism, which while immensely satisfying to her as a profession, never paid much. I’m far from being in a position to criticize, even if I were so inclined; I did follow my father’s advice, and went into computer programming. It was the wrong path for me, I’ve bounced out of the high technology industry and landed hard three times now, I have never recovered financially, and though I’ve returned to school, I haven’t improved my career prospects. Meanwhile, for several years now, the newspaper business has faced stiff competition from the on line world. My mother, I think wisely, accepted a buyout from the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat in 2007 and retired as it began its spiral to evisceration and presumptive doom, but her savings and her ability to help me through my prolonged bout with apparently permanent unemployment are limited.

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Responding to Aurora, responding to Fort Hood, responding to Columbine

If you’ve been on the planet for any length of time, you’ve seen this before. The pattern goes something like this: Some deranged—whether legally so or not is beside the point—individual commits some outrage, killing or attempting to kill somebody, or some number of people, with one or more guns. People shriek and scream expressing bewilderment that the U.S. is so permissive about guns, that guns seemingly cannot be adequately regulated, that we really need to have fewer guns. Nothing happens. Until it happens again. Rinse and repeat, start again. One of many lists of mass killings with guns (arranged by number dead, the first I found with a web search):

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Conservatives have only themselves to blame

It’s not often I read columns by Ross Douthat. Even his latest column, for which I have praise, illustrates why: He relies on extreme right wing sources, like Real Clear Politics and the Weekly Standard for his information,[1] which frequently being fact-challenged, undermine his arguments. Reading one of those sources, in this case, the Weekly Standard opinion piece, by Irwin Stelzer, however, is a worthwhile reminder that you don’t have to be anti-capitalist like me to be utterly appalled by the moral hazard and the, in Stelzer’s words, “crony capitalism” that are hallmarks of recent policy.[2]

Of course, one need merely return the previous administration and its entirely unhealthy relationships with the likes of Halliburton and Blackwater to see that Republicans are far from saints when it comes to crony capitalism. And the bank bailout originated on that administration’s watch, moral hazard be damned, as well. But Barack Obama’s administration, too, must accept blame, for it has coddled these same banks, refusing to prosecute them for their roles in precipitating the financial crisis[3] and enabling the return of abusive compensation practices.[4] And Stelzer is not wrong to point to the dirty deal made with the pharmaceutical industry to gain its support for healthcare reform.[5] Stelzer’s argument thus depends upon a distinction between Republicans and conservatism that excludes even George W. Bush, even as the Political Compass pins both Obama and Mitt Romney deep in the authoritarian-right quadrant (figure 1; it is worth comparing this to candidates in the 2008 election, figure 2).

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  1. [1]Ross Douthat, “Mitt Romney’s Long Hot Summer,” New York Times, July 17, 2012,
  2. [2]Irwin M. Stelzer, “When Bankers Behave Badly,” Weekly Standard, July 23, 2012,
  3. [3]Gretchen Morgenson and Louise Story, “In Financial Crisis, No Prosecutions of Top Figures,” New York Times, April 14, 2011,
  4. [4]Louise Story and Eric Dash, “Banks Prepare for Big Bonuses, and Public Wrath,” New York Times, January 9, 2010,
  5. [5]Stelzer, “When Bankers Behave Badly.”

Pot, Kettle, Black

If it is possible to bring down presumptive Republican nominee for the presidency Mitt Romney on the basis of his record at Bain Capital, we may be seeing that moment now. My guess is that the impact will be muted. In June, the Washington Post reported,

While economists debate whether the massive outsourcing of American jobs over the last generation was inevitable, Romney in recent months has lamented the toll it’s taken on the U.S. economy. He has repeatedly pledged he would protect American employment by getting tough on China.

“They’ve been able to put American businesses out of business and kill American jobs,” he told workers at a Toledo fence factory in February. “If I’m president of the United States, that’s going to end.”

Speaking at a metalworking factory in Cincinnati last week, Romney cited his experience as a businessman, saying he knows what it would take to bring employers back to the United States. “For me it’s all about good jobs for the American people and a bright and prosperous future,” he said.

For years, Romney’s political opponents have tried to tie him to the practice of outsourcing American jobs. These political attacks have often focused on Bain’s involvement in specific business deals that resulted in job losses.[1]

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  1. [1]Tom Hamburger, “Romney’s Bain Capital invested in companies that moved jobs overseas,” Washington Post, June 21, 2012,

Entitlement and elections

“A new urgency has swept into President Obama’s campaign,” begins a story on the Hill,[1] as, in so many words, it has become apparent that defeating Mitt Romney will not be the cakewalk so many campaign workers seem to have presumed it would be. There is a sense of entitlement—a sense I last felt with Romney’s protracted effort to defeat primary challengers—that is palpable throughout the story.

It’s as if the president has done a good job and deserves re-election and, of course, good must triumph over evil. As if the first two of these were true and the last had any chance in a thoroughly corrupt political system that abandoned the last pretense of prioritizing people rather than the prosperity of the top 0.1 percent in the late 1970s.[2] It’s as if the ongoing state of war[3] in which countless innocents have been killed, maimed, and traumatized was a good thing. It’s as if embracing and extending the discredited policies of the Bush administration,[4] the same policies that were discredited six years ago,[5] was a sign that Barack Obama has delivered on his promises of “hope” and “change.”

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  1. [1]Amie Parnes, “New urgency for Team Obama,” The Hill, July 12, 2012,
  2. [2]Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010).
  3. [3]Roger Lee, “United States Military History,” The History Guy,
  4. [4]Justin Elliott, “The latest Obama cheerleader is … Dick Cheney?” Salon, January 17, 2011; Daniel Strauss, “Cheney: Obama has learned that Bush policies were right,” Hill, January 17, 2011,
  5. [5]Walter Shapiro, “A decisive year for ‘the decider’,” Salon, December 26, 2006,

Not for me

29 June 2012, morning

I’m in Chicago—or perhaps I should say Rosemont, a suburb of Chicago adjacent to the O’Hare Airport—for the 2012 Socialism Conference. I probably won’t do it again.

Don’t get me wrong. The sessions look wonderful. My hotel room is entirely comfortable. I am, as I write this, discovering whether Wolfgang Puck, the purveyor of coffee packets here, knows what coffee is—it’s actually difficult to tell because the usual U.S. palate for coffee demands that it be prepared much too weak. And oh my, this is weak.

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