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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Sunday, 12 June 2005

Topic: Photos

Hollywood Today: Where Is Paris?

As mentioned previously, today was the day.

Hilton Grand Marshal in Gay Pride Parade
Sunday, June 12, 2005, ABC News Los Angeles
WEST HOLLYWOOD (CNS) — Paris Hilton will be the grand marshal in today's gay pride parade in West Hollywood, where about 300,000 are expected to line Santa Monica Boulevard as 35th annual event steps off.

Though some questioned the selection of Hilton, known for her heterosexual exploits, to represent gays, the 24 year-old model and reality TV star appeared enthusiastic last night when she made a brief appearance at the two- day Los Angeles Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual & Transgender Pride Festival. …
Walked down the hill to Santa Monica Boulevard at Crescent Heights Boulevard – few short blocks. Had the Nikon and all the lenses. Covered the staging area thoroughly. Watched a lot of the parade.

No Paris Hilton. Got there too late? She didn't show?

Oh well. As you can see in a new photo album (link below), some other folks will have to do. In addition to the amazing participants in the parade, you will find some of the local celebrities –

Former Grand Marshall of the parade, Mamie Van Doren -

Edith Shain who claims to be the nurse being kissed by that sailor in the famous end-of-WWII Eisenstaedt photo -

E.G. Daily - a friend of Paris - "Hey guys, I just got back from Florida where I played Paris Hilton's mom in the new movie 'National Lampoons Pledge This!' The most ironic part of the whole thing is my ex-husband Rick Salomon just happens to be the guy in the infamous x-rated tape with Paris and here I was playing her mom!! Crazy!!! We all ended up having a great time and the cast was awesome!" You get the idea.

And Ann Nicole Smith of course… Great Big Beautiful Doll: The Anna Nicole Smith Story - "She was the Guess! Girl. She was Playboy's Playmate of the Year. She is Anna Nicole Smith and this is the story of her meteoric rise to fame and her astonishing marriage to one of the richest men in America." Yep. Her.

Oh yeah, for the locals, shots of the new Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, of Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks (used to be chief of police – the LAPD man! - but the former mayor fired him as the parallels to Cleavon Little in "Blazing Saddles" were too much to bear), of Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky (great name, but a pain in person, as I found out a few years ago), of Gloria Allred – the famous attorney who once represented Michael Jackson, and Amber Frey if memory serves – a firebrand on women's rights and employment discrimination and whatnot.

The photo album is here – Paparazzi Time: Minor Celebrities and Major Oddities

The Great Big Beautiful Doll - Anna Nicole Smith – being eyed critically -

Posted by Alan at 16:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 12 June 2005 16:07 PDT home

Topic: For policy wonks...

But Wait! There's more!

In these pages there has been much, perhaps too much, on that Downing Street memo, revealed May 1 by the Times of London (UK, not London, Ontario). As early as July 2002 we were "fixing" the intelligence to support the predetermined policy – we had decided to go to war in Iraq and remove that government and occupy that country, even though we said we weren't set on doing that at all.

Yeah, yeah. So?

Sunday morning, June 12, we get two more memos. Yep, two. Even worse.

Bob Patterson emailed me about the first Saturday evening, but I was busy assembling the weekly online magazine and couldn't respond.

Okay, now that Just Above Sunset has been put to bed, as they say in the newspaper world, what is going on here?

The Times of London got their hot little hands on another memo, actually a briefing paper, prepared for Prime Minister Blair in July 2002 – saying Blair had, in April, agreed to join in with us in a war to take over Iraq, so, as the memo suggests, it might be wise to figure out some way to make it legal, somehow. Geez.

Someone is leaking to the Times - and no doubt has an agenda. A British Deep Throat who has a grudge?

The Times says, among other things, this -
The briefing paper, for participants at a meeting of Blair's inner circle on July 23, 2002, said that since regime change was illegal it was "necessary to create the conditions" which would make it legal.

... "US plans assume, as a minimum, the use of British bases in Cyprus and Diego Garcia," the briefing paper warned. This meant that issues of legality "would arise virtually whatever option ministers choose with regard to UK participation".

... The document said the only way the allies could justify military action was to place Saddam Hussein in a position where he ignored or rejected a United Nations ultimatum ordering him to co-operate with the weapons inspectors. But it warned this would be difficult.
Difficult? Yep. He kept letting the inspectors have more and more access.

Yes, yes – we all know Bush said, on July 14, 2003, with the Secretary General of the UN standing beside him, in the Rose Garden, "we gave him [Saddam Hussein] a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in." What? As Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, said back them - "Technically, he's obviously wrong, UN inspectors did obviously go in and then leave shortly before the bombing started. On the other hand, he was probably thinking of that time before the UN resolution when Iraq actually was refusing to allow the inspectors in, at least unconditionally."

Maybe. Now it seems it was part of a general approach worked out with the Brits a year earlier. You just have to make this seem legal, somehow. The "conditions" on the inspectors made the war perfectly legal. Given we knew, or a fact, that there were WMD there – tons of stuff as we "proved" - any restrictions or conditions Iraq wanted to discuss were exactly the same as not letting anyone from anywhere see anything at all. Same difference.

Whatever. No one cares.

As for the other memo, that's from the Washington Post, and it's also from the summer of 2002. Same deal. Different document.

But this one speaks not to motive, but to competence -
A briefing paper prepared for British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top advisers eight months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq concluded that the U.S. military was not preparing adequately for what the British memo predicted would be a "protracted and costly" postwar occupation of that country.

The eight-page memo, written in advance of a July 23, 2002, Downing Street meeting on Iraq, provides new insights into how senior British officials saw a Bush administration decision to go to war as inevitable, and realized more clearly than their American counterparts the potential for the post-invasion instability that continues to plague Iraq.

In its introduction, the memo "Iraq: Conditions for Military Action" notes that U.S. "military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace," but adds that "little thought" has been given to, among other things, "the aftermath and how to shape it."

… Saying that "we need to be sure that the outcome of the military action would match our objective," the memo's authors point out, "A post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise." The authors add, "As already made clear, the U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden."
The US military plans are virtually silent on this point…. No kidding. Well, we're working on it now.

Whatever. No one cares. We'll get it fixed.

Over at the Washington Monthly Kevin Drum explains -
One of the reasons the previous Downing Street Memo hasn't gotten much traction — and the reason these new memos will probably get limited attention as well — is that I don't think anyone really finds any of this a surprise. After all, previous evidence has already made it clear that George Bush was intent on war against Iraq almost immediately following 9/11. It was the first thing on Donald Rumsfeld's mind on 9/11 itself, and Dick Clarke has testified that hours later Bush himself was more eager to go after Iraq than Afghanistan — although the Iraq plan was subsequently delayed due to pressure from both Tony Blair as well as more levelheaded Bush staffers. Even so, by early 2002, with Osama bin Laden still on the loose, intelligence assets and special forces were already being moved out of Afghanistan and into the Iraqi theater.

By April it was clear to the British that war was inevitable, and in July they were discussing a strategy to use the UN as a cassus belli. In September Bush went to the UN as planned, and White House chief of staff Andy Card explained the timing with his famous statement that "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August." Two months later, Saddam Hussein allowed UN inspectors into the country, thus ruining the hoped for legal justification, and three months after that the inspectors still had uncovered no serious violations. Nonetheless, war commenced in March 2003.

Was the Iraq war a foregone conclusion by early 2002? Of course it was. These new memos provide further evidence of that, but I'm not sure there's anyone who really doubted it in the first place.
If you go to the Drum item he links to all the evidence.

Note: "Saddam Hussein allowed UN inspectors into the country, thus ruining the hoped for legal justification, and three months after that the inspectors still had uncovered no serious violations. Nonetheless, war commenced in March 2003."

It was all pretty obvious. And it doesn't matter.

Atrios disagrees -
Look, this is just bullshit. There are two sets of people here. One consists of inside the beltways types and assorted news junkies and the other consists of The Amerkin Public. The former knew the Iraq war was a foregone conclusion by early 2002, but didn't bother to tell the Amerkin Public. They still haven't. I knew the dance with the UN was bullshit and I tried to point it out, but my blog is not all-powerful. The American press did not bother to tell people. And, now, they still don't want to bother to tell people.

This isn't about attacking Drum, I've fallen into this trap before myself. Everyone should've known this in 2002. But, they didn't.

It's just like Russert calling the Downing Street Memo the "famous" Downing Street Memo? Famous to whom? To all the fuckers who didn't give a shit enough in 2002 to tell us what was obvious to anyone who was paying attention.
Maybe. But perhaps everyone, paying attention or not, knew we were going to take out Iraq and its leader, and just liked the idea – thinking knocking a few heads and killing a few foreigners would fell pretty good just about then.

How about this from "Adventus"?
… it isn't that people "didn't know." Frankly, they didn't care. They were all too willing to buy the line that Iraq was a threat, and behind 9/11, because it gave them something to use the military against. Armies are tools, at least in America. In Switzerland the army is a purely defensive proposition, but in America, we have to trot it out once in a while to be sure we can still scare people. Or just to throw our weight around.

It's not that people didn't "know." They didn't care. A military excursion, in the words of one Vietnam era general, presents the opportunity for a "pleasant outing for the troops." Americans like that idea.

When it turns into a bloody bog and men are dying by the hundreds, then we don't like it anymore. Twain wrote about it. The Civil War was all about that. Korea and Vietnam were more of the same. Why should the invasion of Iraq be any different?

The frightening truth is, Bush is the nation's Id. This is why the people continually respond to him, rather than get disgusted with him. But the Id can only sustain a response for so long, before the ego, and finally the superego, are disgusted and reassert control. In the Roman Empire, they called Bush's position that of "dictator." It was a special office created solely to consolidate all Roman military power under one person, who could rule without check and act for the defense of the Empire. But once the threat had receded, the dictator's office was dissolved, and power returned to the Senate. The concept is simple: when there is a serious threat, you need decisive action. Once the threat is gone, the need for action returns to more consultative hands. We may be heading in that direction again, but make no mistake: the American people will always appoint a "dictator" when they feel threatened, or just feel the need to be "dictator" to the world, themselves.
Oh, that's way too deep.

I'll not think about it. I need to grab the Nikon and walk four blocks down the street and check out this -

Hilton Grand Marshal in Gay Pride Parade
WEST HOLLYWOOD (CNS) — Paris Hilton will be the grand marshal in today's gay pride parade in West Hollywood, where about 300,000 are expected to line Santa Monica Boulevard as 35th annual event steps off.

Though some questioned the selection of Hilton, known for her heterosexual exploits, to represent gays, the 24 year-old model and reality TV star appeared enthusiastic last night when she made a brief appearance at the two- day Los Angeles Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual & Transgender Pride Festival.

"I love the gay community, I love you guys, I love your style," she gushed to the gregarious crowd. "You're hot, you're sexy."

… "I just don't know what anybody was thinking of. My jaw dropped when I heard it," Dan Berkowitz, a member of the West Hollywood Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board, told the West Hollywood Independent. "I'm sure she is a very nice girl and her mother is a very nice woman, but what they have to do with gay pride in West Hollywood or anywhere else is utterly beyond me."

Rodney Scott, board president of Christopher Street West, a Los Angeles- based volunteer group which organizes the festival, told the Independent that Paris Hilton would soon show her support and help raise awareness on gay and lesbian issues, such as same-sex marriage and adoptions.

"Paris has the opportunity to touch and communicate to a generation of people that I, as a 40 year-old man, won't be able to talk to," Scott told the Independent. "She has a fan base and audience base. When she talks about issues pertaining to our community, I believe it will have significant impact."

"If she was a lesbian, I think a lot of people would be happy," a woman at the festival yesterday said. Today's parade is expected to draw about 300,000 people. It begins on Santa Monica Boulevard at Crescent Heights Boulevard and goes to La Peer Drive.
Santa Monica Boulevard at Crescent Heights Boulevard down the hill three blocks, and right one block. I can do that.

As for the war and how we got there? What is there to do now?

I'll go for a walk.

Posted by Alan at 10:00 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 12 June 2005 10:16 PDT home

Topic: Announcements

Second Site: "But Wait! There's More!"

The new edition of Just Above Sunset, the weekly parent site to this web log, was posted just before midnight last night, Pacific Time. This is Volume 3, Number 24 - for the week of June 12, 2005

Can George Bush be impeached? In the in-depth feature this week find out, and note carefully what one of our own contributors has to say, an attorney who studied constitutional law under Peter Rodino, the man who chaired the impeachment committee in the Nixon case. Other current event topics touch on the fellows rewriting history - Nixon was a hero and anyone who says otherwise is a bad Jew, or something - and on the nationwide discussion of class, and on the medical marijuana ruling, and on how the press is doing, and on much more, including Bush and Rimbaud (see Language Notes). These are extended versions of what first appeared here.

In addition we have two "on the scene" reports, a media event and a report from Erotica LA. And Bob Patterson is back, channeling Raymond Chandler in one column and asking rather interesting questions in the other.

Features? Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, reports the sad story of a big change in Paris, with photos. There's a bit too about the book controversy - which are the most dangerous books of the last century? And in honor of the birthday of William Butler Yeats, the quotes are from him.

Extensive photo sections this week - for those of you elsewhere, surreal beach shots, and even more of them in a new photo album you can call up separately.

Check it out….

Current Events ________________

Revising the Past: Where Have All the Good Men (from Newark) Gone?
Chasing the Zeitgeist: "Are there no prisons, are there no poor houses?"
Jurisprudence: Gonzales v. Raich, case no. 03-1454
Press Notes: A Shift in the Wind?
Language Notes: Worlds Apart
Who We Are: Decline and Fall
Short Shot: Dispatches from Cincinnati

Speculation ________________

Clueless: The Evidence Mounts, and There's Nothing You Can Do With It
Impeachment: Fantasy of the Week (or of the Weak)

Reporting from the Scene ________________

Erotica LA: Freedom of speech is so American!
Sporting LA: "If you make the headline big enough…"
Click here to go directly there: < >

Bob Patterson ________________

Book Wrangler: Gumshoes - The Search For The Next Great Mystery
WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - "Wet the ropes!"

Features ________________

Our Man in Paris: Taps for Samaritaine (with new photos from Paris)
Mind Games: Dangerous Books and Mission Statements
Quotes: William Butler Yeats - born June 13, 1865

Beach Photography ________________

At the Edge: Surf and Sand and More
Color Studies: Long Late Light, and a Pink Church Reconceptualized
Botanicals: Rose Avenue in Venice Beach
Public Art: Claus Oldenburg, Frank Gehry and Jonathan Borofsky

And the link to the new photo album is in the left column on this page.

Ah, California….

Posted by Alan at 08:39 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 12 June 2005 08:40 PDT home

Saturday, 11 June 2005

Topic: World View

Language Notes: Worlds Apart

Last weekend, with Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, there was much on Dominique de Villepin (as I call him, the French anti – John Bolton) in Fallout from the French Kiss of Death and two other items. One suspects this wasn't widely read, even with Ric's amusing editorial cartoon from Paris. No one much on this side of the world, and particularly out here in Hollywood, really follows French politics, except for the few local French expatriates. And the circulation of the online magazine is small – edging up to 12,000 unique logons a month, with maybe a tenth of those from Western Europe. Ah, well. It is fun to write about such things, even if the readers are few and far between.

This week what is mentioned below is about far larger implications. It is about what we used to call different mindsets – really, about language and its uses. Our president, this Bush fellow, has not much use for language – as you see in the Bushisms that appear in these pages now and then. "It's in our country's interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm's way." - George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., April 28, 2005

You get the idea.

That is why it might be wise, or something, to consider this –

When Rimbaud meets Rambo
The new French Prime Minister's grandiose poetic style won't cut much ice with the White House action men
Ben MacIntyre – The Times of London (UK) - June 04, 2005

Who is this Rimbaud person? Doesn't matter. Read this and you'll get the general idea.

The sort of guys that run our government? – "At a NATO summit in Prague, Donald Rumsfeld was once forced to sit though a performance of modern dance and poetry. Asked for his reaction afterwards, he shrugged: 'I'm from Chicago.'"

On the other side? - "For George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld words are blunt instruments, used to convey meaning, not feeling. Actions speak louder. The President of France, by contrast, rocked by the rejection of the EU constitution, has attempted to shore up his Government by appointing a poet as his Prime Minister, a patrician intellectual in the French romantic mould, a true believer in the transcendental and redemptive power of words."

The appointment of Dominique de Villepin was intended to send the message that French exceptionalism is alive and well? That's what I was said in these pages here last weekend.

It's a cultural war.

So what does MacIntyre have to add?
"A SINGLE VERSE by Rimbaud," writes Dominique de Villepin, the new French Prime Minister, "shines like a powder trail on a day's horizon. It sets it ablaze all at once, explodes all limits, draws the eyes to other heavens." Here is a rather different observation, uttered by George Bush Sr in 1998, that might stand as a motto for his dynasty: "I can't do poetry."
Of course not.

As for the poetic language of Dominique de Villepin -
He speaks in a grandiloquent style that delights French audiences, but baffles most English-speakers. His high-flown rhetoric before the United Nations in the build-up to the Iraq war ("We are the guardians of an ideal") marked him as the political and cultural antithesis to the US, and his appointment is intended to send the message that French exceptionalism is alive and well.
And on the divide?
… poetry does not stir the soul of President Bush, unless you count the Bible and George Jones singing A Good Year for the Roses.

To the Anglo-Saxon mind there is something dodgy, even dangerous, in the man who rules the world by day and writes verses by night. As W.H. Auden wrote: "All poets adore explosions, thunderstorms, tornados, conflagrations, ruins, scenes of spectacular carnage. The poetic imagination is not at all a desirable quality in a statesman." Indeed, the precedents are not happy ones, for there is a peculiar link between frustrated poetic ambition and tyranny: Hitler, Goebbels, Stalin, Castro, Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh all wrote poetry. Radovan Karadzic, fugitive former leader of the Bosnian Serbs, once won the Russian Writers' Union Mikhail Sholokhov Prize for his poems. On the whole, you do not want a poet at the helm.
No, someone inarticulate is, perhaps, safer.

And the conclusion is this – that the appointment of Dominique de Villepin "is certain to increase the accusations of pretentiousness from the American side, and philistinism from the French. The chasm has never been wider, or more in need of a bridge. America's public image could benefit from a sense of imaginative wonder, a little more Rimbaud and a lot less Rambo."

I don't think that is the public image we want to project. In fact, this appeared June 7 and explains a lot.

Bush urged: 'Never apologize' to Muslims
Administration officials reportedly inspired by classic John Wayne movie
Some members of the Bush administration have taken a cue from a classic John Wayne Western and are advising their boss to take the film's advice – "Never apologize" – when dealing with Muslims, reports geopolitical analyst Jack Wheeler.

In a column on his intelligence website, To the Point, Wheeler explains Wayne's "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," made in 1948, though lesser known than many of the star's films, includes what's been called one of the top 100 movie quotes of all time.

Wayne's character, Capt. Nathan Brittles, who is facing an Indian attack, advises a junior officer: "Never apologize, son. It's a sign of weakness."

It's that attitude that some employees of the Pentagon, State Department and White House are urging President Bush to take when dealing with charges of Quran desecration and other allegations from radical Muslims. They've even sent a DVD copy of the film to the commander in chief. …
And they didn't send a copy of "Total Eclipse" (1995) - the story of Rimbaud's life in Paris with Leonardo DiCaprio as Rimbaud, David Threwlis as Verlaine and the French actress Romane Bohringer as Mathilde Maute, Verlaine's wife. The director was Agnieszka Holland, not John Ford.

A little more Rimbaud and a lot less Rambo? Not likely. Not likely at all.

Posted by Alan at 13:17 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 11 June 2005 13:26 PDT home

Friday, 10 June 2005

Topic: The Economy

Chasing the Zeitgeist: "Are there no prisons, are there no poor houses?"

The May 22 issue of Just Above Sunset was hard to assemble. The zeitgeist ("the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate" or, if you will, the spirit or "ghost" of the times, if that's what the German means) kept running away. Monday of the week I thought that week’s topic discussed everywhere would be the New York Times stirring up issues of class, but on Tuesday the Newsweek Koran story broke, and Wednesday everyone was talking about George Galloway blowing everyone away in the Senate hearing, on Thursday the talk was all of the responsibilities of the press and possible censorship, and Friday Laura Bush landed in the Middle East as probably the only person we could send there now without too much problem, and even then she had some trouble. As I said before, you can chase the zeitgeist all you want. It’s a slippery devil.

That week you could read A Touch of Class - a riff on the Times series and data tables Class in America: Shadowy Lines That Still Divide (May 15, with tables and interactive graphics here) – and by the way, in the Components of Class online thing I score in the 87th percentile (pretty classy).

In the item, Orwell came up. Lots of references came up. But a good deal of the discussion had to do with class mobility – not much of that these days – and why most of the heartland, or whatever we are now calling the fly-over part of America, those on the lower side of the economy, persist in supporting the current folks in power, who cut taxes for the rich and cut programs for those in the middle, and lower.

The whole discussion was buried by other issues that week, but in the last line there was the claim the issue would be back.

It's back.

Samantha Henig in the Columbia Journalism Review on June 5 notes that three major newspapers "decided within months, and even days, of one another to publish a major series exploring class in America."

The besides the New York Times?

- The Los Angeles Times "New Deal" series was last October (here).

- The Wall Street Journal published own "Moving Up: Challenges to the American Dream" on May 13 (here but you have to be a paid subscriber to read it). That seems to be the first installment of a series that will continue.

Henig's breakdown?
The Wall Street Journal led off its Friday the 13th sneak attack on the New York Times (newspapers love to play these Beat ya! games) with a headline (that left no doubt as to the series' premise: "As Rich-Poor Gap Widens in the U.S., Class Mobility Stalls, Those in Bottom Rung Enjoy Better Odds in Europe."

The piece, by David Wessel, effectively dismantled the idea of the American Dream with evidence that social mobility in the United States is no longer what it's cracked up to be. In fact, even "class-bound Europe" might offer more of an opportunity to scale the ranks than America. Although most Americans still cling to the idea that "their country remains a land of unbounded opportunity," as Wessel put it, leading economists and sociologists recently have accepted that not only does it matter who your daddy is, but it matters more now than it did thirty years ago.

? Two days later, the New York Times anteed up with a long, rather windy introduction to its own class series, an essay that was striking, among other things, for its lack of actual reporting. It, too, included the obligatory Benjamin Franklin reference, as well as quotes from Becker and Solon.

Once it was done clearing its throat for the entire length of its opener, the Times in subsequent parts of its series served up an avalanche of detailed, if largely anecdotal, reporting. But in the process it essentially abandoned the sort of critical analysis of class in America over the past few decades that the Journal and, earlier, the Los Angeles Times, had attempted. Instead, the Times set out to look at how class affects individuals. Not individuals in the aggregate, but rather a few very specific individuals: "a lawyer who rose out of an impoverished Kentucky hollow; an unemployed metal worker in Spokane, Wash., regretting his decision to skip college; a multimillionaire in Nantucket, Mass., musing over the cachet of his 200-foot yacht." Each day brought a new topic - health, marriage, religion, education, immigration, corporate nomads - with a new set of stories to illustrate how conceptions of class color each of those topics.
Much of the rest is a lengthy discussion of these techniques ? and worth a close reading if you are interested in how the press should or should not report ? but at least the topic is in the air again, or part of the zeitgeist.

But what was said, not how it was said, was more interesting ? and the local paper out here led the way -
? months before the New York Times and Wall Street Journal were exploring class, the Los Angeles Times was drawing some conclusions of its own - and timely ones, at that. Starting its series in the heat of election fever, the Times drew connections between the isolated rags-to-riches or riches-to-rags tales, the academic research showing stagnated social mobility, and the political implications of the two.

The first article of its series, by Peter G. Gosselin, published on October 10, 2004, called attention to a deliberate move by government leaders that began 25 years ago to rely upon and even subsidize the free market, while cutting back on government regulation and reining in social programs. The resulting economic makeover, Gosselin says, "has come at a large and largely unnoticed price: a measurable increase in the risks that Americans must bear as they provide for their families, pay for their houses, save for their retirements and grab for the good life." He questioned President Bush's campaign assertions at the time that "people are better off relying on themselves, rather than on business or government, in case of trouble" by providing both anecdotal and analytical evidence to the contrary.

Instead of just presenting individual anecdotes and relying on pathos to keep people reading, leaving the question of "but how do we fix this?" dangling unsaid, the Los Angeles Times dared not only to ask, but also to answer. ?
Why so many people less financially secure than ever before "even as the nation, by many measures, has grown far more prosperous." It was because of "a deliberate shifting of economic risks from the broad shoulders of business and government to the backs of working families."

So? Stop doing that.

In fact, the Los Angeles Times came back on May 15, the same day that the New York Times published its extensive overview of class, with an article (a special in the business section) examining the current administration policies - Bush's recommendations for Social Security, and the recent court ruling which permits "United Airlines' parent to dump its pensions on the federal government," thereby leaving "workers and their families bearing big new risks." It wasn't pretty. In other words, something is up.

Friday, June 10, in the New York Times, Paul Krugman in Losing Our Country decides to explain just what's up ? as each major newspaper on each coast is now working the issue.

? The middle-class society I grew up in no longer exists.

Working families have seen little if any progress over the past 30 years. Adjusted for inflation, the income of the median family doubled between 1947 and 1973. But it rose only 22 percent from 1973 to 2003, and much of that gain was the result of wives' entering the paid labor force or working longer hours, not rising wages.

Meanwhile, economic security is a thing of the past: year-to-year fluctuations in the incomes of working families are far larger than they were a generation ago. All it takes is a bit of bad luck in employment or health to plunge a family that seems solidly middle-class into poverty.

But the wealthy have done very well indeed. Since 1973 the average income of the top 1 percent of Americans has doubled, and the income of the top 0.1 percent has tripled.

Why is this happening? I'll have more to say on that another day, but for now let me just point out that middle-class America didn't emerge by accident.
So, as they said out here in Los Angeles, this is deliberate?

Well, yes (and the emphases are mine) -
Since 1980 in particular, U.S. government policies have consistently favored the wealthy at the expense of working families - and under the current administration, that favoritism has become extreme and relentless. From tax cuts that favor the rich to bankruptcy "reform" that punishes the unlucky, almost every domestic policy seems intended to accelerate our march back to the robber baron era.

It's not a pretty picture - which is why right-wing partisans try so hard to discredit anyone who tries to explain to the public what's going on.

These partisans rely in part on obfuscation: shaping, slicing and selectively presenting data in an attempt to mislead. For example, it's a plain fact that the Bush tax cuts heavily favor the rich, especially those who derive most of their income from inherited wealth. Yet this year's Economic Report of the President, in a bravura demonstration of how to lie with statistics, claimed that the cuts "increased the overall progressivity of the federal tax system."

The partisans also rely in part on scare tactics, insisting that any attempt to limit inequality would undermine economic incentives and reduce all of us to shared misery. That claim ignores the fact of U.S. economic success after World War II. It also ignores the lesson we should have learned from recent corporate scandals: sometimes the prospect of great wealth for those who succeed provides an incentive not for high performance, but for fraud.

Above all, the partisans engage in name-calling. To suggest that sustaining programs like Social Security, which protects working Americans from economic risk, should have priority over tax cuts for the rich is to practice "class warfare." To show concern over the growing inequality is to engage in the "politics of envy."

But the real reasons to worry about the explosion of inequality since the 1970's have nothing to do with envy. The fact is that working families aren't sharing in the economy's growth, and face growing economic insecurity. And there's good reason to believe that a society in which most people can reasonably be considered middle class is a better society - and more likely to be a functioning democracy - than one in which there are great extremes of wealth and poverty.

Reversing the rise in inequality and economic insecurity won't be easy: the middle-class society we have lost emerged only after the country was shaken by depression and war. But we can make a start by calling attention to the politicians who systematically make things worse in catering to their contributors. Never mind that straw man, the politics of envy. Let's try to do something about the politics of greed.
That's one angry Yale economist. But not far off the mark. As mentioned before, I have heard the same arguments from my conservative friends ? opposition to these ever-increasing tax cuts for the extremely wealthy is "class warfare" and just plain envy of those who did something with their lives, or inherited vast sums from someone in the family who once did something with their lives. Why should they support lazy people with no sense of personal responsibility. And so on and so forth?


Bob Herbert explained four days earlier in the New York Times - and cited the Los Angeles Times of all things - in The Mobility Myth -
The war that nobody talks about - the overwhelmingly one-sided class war - is being waged all across America.

Guess who's winning.

A recent front-page article in The Los Angeles Times showed that teenagers are faring poorly in a tight job market because of the fierce competition they're getting from older workers and immigrants for entry-level positions.

On the same day, in the business section, the paper reported that the chief executives at California's largest 100 companies took home a collective $1.1 billion in 2004, an increase of nearly 20 percent over the previous year. The paper contrasted that with the 2.9 percent raise that the average California worker saw last year.

The gap between the rich and everybody else in this country is fast becoming an unbridgeable chasm.?
And what do we have here ? is the right correct in sensing a vast left-wing anti-free-enterprise and union-loving media conspiracy? Are the poor revolting against their betters? (If so, they would have to account for the Wall Street Journal exploring the same topic ? but perhaps one can assume the Journal, as America's business newspaper, is worried that we might be facing a new and sudden scarcity of consumers with ready cash to buy this and that, and thus something really, really bad for corporations.)

A conspiracy? You might think so when Herbert says things like this -
?. The bottom line is that it's becoming increasingly difficult for working Americans to move up in class. The rich are freezing nearly everybody else in place, and sprinting off with the nation's bounty.

Economic mobility in the United States - the extent to which individuals and families move from one social class to another - is no higher than in Britain or France, and lower than in some Scandinavian countries. Maybe we should be studying the Scandinavian dream.

As far as the Bush administration is concerned, the gap between the rich and the rest of us is not growing fast enough.

? Many in the middle class are mortgaged to the hilt, maxed out on credit cards and fearful to the point of trembling that all they've worked for might vanish in a downsized minute.

The privileged classes, with the Bush administration's iron cloak of protection, avoid their fair share of taxes, are reluctant to pay an honest dollar for an honest day's work (the federal minimum wage is still a scandalous $5.15 an hour), refuse to fight in their nation's wars, and laugh all the way to their yachts.

The American dream was about expanding opportunities and widely shared prosperity. Now we have older people and college grads replacing people near the bottom in jobs that offer low pay, no pensions, no health insurance and no vacations.

A fellow named Mark McClellan, who was bounced out of a management position when Kaiser Aluminum closed down in Spokane, Wash., told The Times in the "Class Matters" series: "I may look middle class. But I'm not. My boat is sinking fast."
Yeah, so? "Are there no prisons, are there no poor houses?"

But the fellow who said that in the Dickens novel is not presented as the good guy for saying those words. (You could look it up.)

Times have changed since then. Actually, much said on the right, and by the administration, now sounds just like that ? and now such questions are accepted as simply urging people to accept personal responsibility, or suffer the consequences. Life is risk. Deal with it. And don't ask anyone to join you in sharing life's risks ? Americans believe in taking care of themselves.

A brief aside ? my conservative friend, as we shared a second or maybe third bottle of Tuscan wine, declared insurance, the whole design of shared risk pools for home and auto and healthcare and whatever, was just immoral. I think the idea was that every individual should be responsible for paying for what happens in life ? auto accidents, major and even catastrophic health problems and that sort of thing. If you don't have the money yourself to take care of such things, then that's your problem and no one else's, as otherwise you're just a parasite on the successful folks. Really? Ah, maybe it was the wine.

In any event, there is something afoot here with all this press.

Been chasing the zeitgeist. Finally caught something.

Posted by Alan at 20:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 10 June 2005 20:53 PDT home

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