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    • What Would Chinese Democracy Look Like?
      A few months ago I read a couple of books by the Singaporean intellectual Kishore Mahbubani. In “Has China Already Won he discusses Taiwan. The one exceptional trigger for a war involving China is Taiwan. Most of the time, the Chinese leaders have a lot of policy flexibility. There are no strong domestic lobbies to worry about. But the one issue where the Ch […]
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Mad Men Season 4 Starts Tonight: Another Ibsen Play?

So, I’ve waited since last November for Mad Men to start again.  Withdrawal symptoms have been severe.  I saved some old episodes on my DVR and watch them whenever there’s nothing good on.  And, let’s face it, compared to Mad Men, nothing on TV actually comes close.  You can watch a Mad Men scene a zillion times and never see it the same way twice.  They’re densely packed with deep, chewy introspective goodness and symbolism.  Tonight is the beginning of season four and I am in Harrisburg visiting my Mom.

“Oooo, mum, Mad Men starts tonight!”

“Oh, I don’t get AMC with my cable package.”



I had the foresight to set my DVR at home but I may get the shakes before tomorrow.  Luckily, episodes will be available from iTunes.  Am I willing to spring a couple bucks to satisfy my fix?  You bethcha.

For those of you not hooked yet, Mad Men is the works of Henrik Ibsen set in the Manhattan advertisement business of the 60’s  and features significant angst in the suburban enclave of Ossining- er, or wherever Betty moved to.

The relationships to the Ibsen masterpieces are pretty clear.  Don Draper is a Peer Gynt who is trying to find himself.  Betty Draper is Nora Tesman of Doll’s House, a deeply unhappy child-woman who is trying to break free of cultural norms for her sex, and failing miserably.  She also shares the role of Hedda Gabler with Joan Harris, a smart, accomplished woman who married a surgeon she doesn’t love because she thought she was getting to be an old maid.  She doesn’t get the dream all the magazines promised her.  Joan is also the Christina to Roger Sterling’s Eylert Lovborg, a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth, a talent for charming the clients and the inability to say no to any impulse.  Then there’s Peggy, Don’s gifted protege who breaks with convention and becomes a career woman.  Is she a female Peer Gynt?  One of Ibsen’s poorer and lonelier, working-girl heroines?  Or did Mad Men’s creator Matt Weiner throw in August Strindberg’s Miss Julie in reverse as the theme for Peggy and Pete’s bad romance?

Many of these stories hit a critical point in last season’s finale: Betty learned Don’s secret, his real identity, and left him for Henry Francis, a Republican political operative.  Joan Harris smacked her loser husband in the head with a vase, parked him in the military and went back to work.  Don, Roger, Pete, Peggy, Lane Pryce and Bert Cooper fired themselves from the old firm and started a new one from scratch in a hotel suite.  Don headed off to a new bachelor pad and freedom from Ice Princess Betty.

So, what happens next?   Will Betty leave her Doll’s House behind or has she traded one Barbie Dreamhouse for another?  Will Don find a new woman in green?  Will Roger and Joan be able to work together without combusting?  What about Peggy and Pete?  And how will the events of 1964 affect the characters?  Will Don’s morning cough develop into something more serious?  Anyone care to speculate?

Get your Mad on.

Sunday Bake Off

Good Day Conflucians!! In my corner of the Blue Ridge foothills we had a heat index of 105 yesterday, and we’re getting there today. There’s a heat index of 107 over in Richmond with heat related fires already happening. I’m starting to feel like the Salvador Dali’s Melting Clocks painting above. My weather radio just blasted out a heat advisory just before it melted. I’m thinking of trying the old egg on the sidewalk test. But first, let’s check some news.

The war in Afghanistan is expected to worsen:

More NATO troops will die in Afghanistan as violence mounts over the summer, but Washington’s goal of turning the tide against the insurgency by year’s end is within reach, the top U.S. military officer said on Sunday.

The remarks by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, on a visit to the country, came as the Taliban said they were holding captive one of two U.S. servicemen who strayed into insurgent territory, and that the other had been killed.

It also comes less than a week since a major international conference in Kabul agreed that the Afghan government should aim to take responsibility for security in all parts of the country by 2014.

Mullen, who called the troops’ disappearance an “unusual circumstance”, said there would be more violent incidents to come, but the U.S. military was doing everything possible to find the missing men.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest of the 9-year war as thousands of extra U.S. troops, dispatched by President Barack Obama in December, step up their campaign to drive insurgents out of their traditional heartland in the south.

Last month was the deadliest for foreign troops since 2001, with more than 100 killed, and civilian deaths have also risen as ordinary Afghans are increasingly caught in the crossfire.

“As we continue our force levels and our operations over the summer … we will likely see further tough casualties and levels of violence,” Mullen told a news conference in Kabul.

We’ve heard rumors of this before, and the PR for it is obvious, so more news of BP’s CEO Tony Hayward stepping down comes as no surprise:

Tony Hayward’s departure from his job as BP’s chief executive will be at the center of the agenda when the company’s board of directors meets Monday night, according to a source close to the company.

The board is meeting in advance of Tuesday’s release of quarterly results, and the directors will weigh how best to confront or defuse criticism as the company unveils its best estimates of massive losses arising from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hayward, a geologist who has spent his entire career at BP, recognizes that he has become “a liability going forward” and is ready to step down, the source close to the company said. The source asked for anonymity because the company has not yet announced its intentions.

Your hippy dippy propaganda arm of the WH has an update on the gulf oil spill. Everything is grand of course, big concerts, all cleaned up, it’s all good. Here’s a bit I particularly liked:

As chief executive officer of America, Barack Obama has walked the factory floor when it comes to managing the federal response to the Gulf oil spill, going directly to front-line workers. He’s used wiles respected in the boardroom in wringing a $20 billion commitment from BP. But what was that talk about kicking butt? That’s so assembly line Ford Motor Co., circa 1930. And why on Earth did it take him so long to talk to BP’s chief? A real CEO would have had Tony Hayward on the phone in a New York minute. The president is not, of course, the head of a company. He’s accountable to the public in ways a chief executive is not to shareholders. Governance and politics differ from effective corporate management while sharing certain qualities.

The other, other most evil politician in the universe, Newt of course, will decide about running after the mid terms:

Republican former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich said Sunday that he will decide after November’s congressional elections whether to run for the White House in 2012.

Gingrich has openly explored entering the battle for the 2012 Republican nomination to challenge President Barack Obama, making recent visits to early battleground states Iowa and New Hampshire. Gingrich said he had been to 10 states in the last two weeks.

“I think that’s a decision we’ll make in February or March,” Gingrich said on “Fox News Sunday” of a presidential run. “This is a very hard family decision because it’s such a deep commitment, and it is so absorbing.”

What a piece of work. OK, that’s being kind. I think the Republican machine has already decided on Romney like the Dem machine decided on Reagan Bush Obama. But then again perhaps it’s still early.

European Banks went through the old stress test:

More than 100 banks in the US have now collapsed so far this year after another seven were taken over by regulators late on Friday – the same day that seven European banks failed a financial health check.

With rising bad debts tied to commercial and residential mortgages, the number of US bank failures this year is expected to exceed last year’s figure of 140. The largest of the seven US banks just seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – which acts as a receiver and protects depositors – was Crescent Bank and Trust Company in Georgia, with more than $1bn in assets. In all, the seven failed banks had total assets of $2bn.

In Europe, investors will have a first real chance tomorrow to react to the results of banking stress tests designed to ease concerns about institutions’ financial strength and exposure to debt-laden countries such as Greece.

Regulators assessed how banks would stand up to a double dip recession and a sovereign debt crisis. But several analysts questioned whether the tests were tough enough, since, for example, banks were only required to simulate losses on sovereign debt held for trading purposes and not on bonds they might hold to maturity.

Five of the seven institutions that failed the tests were Spanish cajas, or regional savings banks, with Greece’s ATE and Germany’s Hypo Real Estate being the other two.

And of course in other good news, Iran is putting some threats out there because the EU gave them more sanctions:

Iran has told the EU it will “regret” imposing its toughest economic sanctions yet to force Tehran to halt uranium enrichment and return to negotiations about its nuclear programme.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president, promised today that the Islamic republic would “respond strongly to any threat” hours before EU foreign ministers were to meet in Brussels to approve the sanctions. EU officials and independent analysts have described the sanctions as the “toughest ever” against any country, going beyond what was agreed by the UN security council last month.

The measure that will alarm Iran is the EU’s ban on new investment, technical assistance and technology transfers to its gas and oil industry, particularly for refining and liquefied natural gas. Iran is the world’s fourth largest producer of crude oil but imports 40% of its fuel because it lacks sufficient refining capacity.

“Anyone who adopts a measure against the Iranian nation … should know that Iran will react swiftly,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by Press TV, Iran’s English-language TV channel. “Experience shows such a reaction by the Iranian nation will cause you to regret it.”

Thomas Friedman who I normally disagree with, has an interesting article on the Dems (and everyone’s) failure to pass some sort of cap and trade bill:

We’ve basically decided to keep pumping greenhouse gases into Mother Nature’s operating system and take our chances that the results will be benign — even though a vast majority of scientists warn that this will not be so. Fasten your seat belts. As the environmentalist Rob Watson likes to say: “Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology and physics. That’s all she is.” You cannot sweet-talk her. You cannot spin her. You cannot tell her that the oil companies say climate change is a hoax. No, Mother Nature is going to do whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate, and “Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats 1.000,” says Watson. Do not mess with Mother Nature. But that is just what we’re doing.

Since I don’t have anything else to say, I will just fill out this column with a few news stories and e-mails that came across my desk in the past few days:

Just as the U.S. Senate was abandoning plans for a U.S. cap-and-trade system, this article ran in The China Daily: “BEIJING — The country is set to begin domestic carbon trading programs during its 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) to help it meet its 2020 carbon intensity target. The decision was made at a closed-door meeting chaired by Xie Zhenhua, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission … Putting a price on carbon is a crucial step for the country to employ the market to reduce its carbon emissions and genuinely shift to a low-carbon economy, industry analysts said.”

As we East Coasters know, it’s been extremely hot here this summer, with records broken. But, hey, you could be living in Russia, where ABC News recently reported that a “heat wave, which has lasted for weeks, has Russia suffering its worst drought in 130 years. In some parts of the country, temperatures have reached 105 degrees.” Moscow’s high the other day was 93 degrees. The average temperature in July for the city is 76 degrees. The BBC reported that to keep cool “at lakes and rivers around Moscow, groups of revelers can be seen knocking back vodka and then plunging into the water. The result is predictable — 233 people have drowned in the last week alone.”

A day before the climate bill went down, Lew Hay, the C.E.O. of NextEra Energy, which owns Florida Power & Light, one of the nation’s biggest utilities, e-mailed to say that if the Senate would set a price on carbon and requirements for renewal energy, utilities like his would have the price certainty they need to make the big next-generation investments, including nuclear. “If we invest an additional $3 billion a year or so on clean energy, that’s roughly 50,000 jobs over the next five years,” said Hay. (Say goodbye to that.)

There’s a lot more there.

Crazy Dowd has the results of her latest drinking binge, that is just too good to pass up. She’s saying the Obama WH is too white:

The Obama White House is too white.

It has Barack Obama, raised in the Hawaiian hood and Indonesia, and Valerie Jarrett, who spent her early years in Iran.

But unlike Bill Clinton, who never needed help fathoming Southern black culture, Obama lacks advisers who are descended from the central African-American experience, ones who understand “the slave thing,” as a top black Democrat dryly puts it.

The first black president should expand beyond his campaign security blanket, the smug cordon of overprotective white guys surrounding him — a long political tradition underscored by Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 when she complained about the “smart-ass white boys” from Walter Mondale’s campaign who tried to boss her around.

Otherwise, this administration will keep tripping over race rather than inspiring on race.

I’ll have what she’s drinking.

OK, there are a few items. I’d collect more but I’m starting to melt. Pile it on with what you’re finding along with your thoughts.

Revising History – Koolaid Edition

I got my BA in History. For a subject many consider boring (I don’t) it can get quite controversial when someone publishes material that casts new light on some of our old heroes. The story of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings is a good example.

But it’s one thing when new information expands what we know, it’s another when someone pushes propaganda in an attempt to change what we believe. A case in point is Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton is an imperfect human being. It is well established that he was unfaithful to Hillary on at least one occasion. He advocated some policies that were less than ideal. But when you look at his two terms in context and in whole, he did a damn good job.

Eight years of peace and prosperity. The largest peacetime economic expansion in our history, with the gap between rich and poor shrinking. Unlike those fiscal puritans Ronnie Raygun and the Bush twins, Clinton gave us surpluses instead of deficits.

Now it’s easy to understand why those on the right hate the Big Dawg. They despised him before he was even sworn in, and during his two terms as POTUS he battled them and won, over and over.

You would think that (especially considering who replaced him in the Oval Office) lefties would give at least a B+ to the only successful two-term Democrat since FDR. But no, instead many of them despise Bill Clinton for not being liberal enough. But in order to justify their hate they engage in some historical revisionism.

They blame him for the GOP taking control of Congress in 1994. But they ignore the conduct of the Congressional Democrats and the rise of movement conservatism. Those pesky voters had something to do with it too.

Our trade deficit with China has nothing to do with NAFTA, and the 1992-94 Democratically-controlled Congress rejected Hillarycare and refused to support allowing gays in the military. The Congressional Democrats avoided Clinton like the plague, so how can you blame him if he got reelected and they didn’t?

But even if the CDS lefties were 100% correct about Bill Clinton, all of this new liberal orthodoxy would make more sense if they weren’t supporting a conservative DINO who openly shows contempt for liberals and progressives.

Not only are we seeing statements like this one:

Some observers say no president and Congress have accomplished more since FDR.

but we’re starting to see Franklin Roosevelt recast as a (guess what) racist Republican! FDR is the closest thing we have to a saint in liberal ideology, and now the Kool-aid swilling Obots want to sully his name too.

Like Bill Clinton, we know why the right hates FDR, but to see alleged members of the political left excoriating him for being less than perfect makes no sense whatsoever. No, he didn’t single-handedly end Jim Crow segregation, but he did raise the standard of living for all Americans.

What makes even less sense is debating whether liberal economic policies (as exemplified by New Deal programs like Social Security) work or not. What’s next, revisiting the social and economic benefits of slavery?