Hog is dead--long live Hog!


Monday, August 28, 2006

[Economy]

Tanking?

Two recent items caught my eye. Offered without much analysis, because that's what I have time for:

1.
With the economy beginning to slow, the current expansion has a chance to become the first sustained period of economic growth since World War II that fails to offer a prolonged increase in real wages for most workers....

The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity — the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation’s living standards — has risen steadily over the same period.

As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s. UBS, the investment bank, recently described the current period as “the golden era of profitability.”

At the very top of the income spectrum, many workers have continued to receive raises that outpace inflation, and the gains have been large enough to keep average income and consumer spending rising.

2.
Sales of previously owned homes plunged in July to the lowest level in 2 1/2 years and the inventory of unsold homes climbed to a new record high, fresh signs that the housing market has lost steam.

The National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday that sales of existing homes and condominiums dropped by 4.1 percent in July from June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.33 million. That was the lowest level since January 2004.
The latest snapshot of housing activity was weaker than analysts anticipated. Economists were forecasting the pace of sales to fall to 6.55 million.

The inventory of unsold homes in July rose to a record high of 3.86 million. At the current sales pace, it would take 7.3 months to exhaust that overhang. That is the longest period to exhaust the supply of home since the spring of 1993.
And anyway, what analysis do you need? It doesn't take a John Bates Clark Medal winner to put these two together.

Friday, August 25, 2006

[Politics]

Religion and Politics

Since some Hog readers don't make it to BlueOregon:

Religion and politics have always mingled in American life, generally uneasily. Periodically, populist ferment fuels a Christian revival and a re-entry into the political realm before burning itself out on its own inflexibility. As a response to the Gilded Age, prairie populists led by William Jennings Bryan used the language of Christ to stand up to corporate power and usher in the progressive era. Said Jennings famously at his 1896 presidential nomination: "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."

Christians have lately been animating the other team, the wire-rimmed accountants from an earlier era banished from the party. But as with the 20th-Century's Bible-fueled populists, the current crop may have run up against a ceiling of support as they push their inflexible agenda relentlessly forward. Bryan's sometimes brilliant career ended ignobly,on the losing side of the Scopes "Monkey" trial. Since Bush's re-election, Christian fundamentalists have found themselves defending creationism, Terri Schiavo, and absolutist views on abortion. But is the tide really turning?

According to findings released yesterday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, the answer may be yes.

The most blunt measures don't show much of a change: 67% of respondents consider this a "Christian nation" (up from 60% a decade ago, but down form 71% last year), and slightly more people think religion's influence on government is shrinking (45%) than growing (42%). Perhaps most strangely, fewer people today think the GOP is friendly to religion (47%) than last year (55%).

But drill down into the numbers and a pattern emerges: the heretofore cohesive Christian voting bloc is now fracturing into three groups--evangelical Protestants*, mainstream Protestants, and Catholics. The slip in support for the GOP is happening among Catholics and evangelicals (both down 14%), but not among mainstream Christians (down just a single percent). While Pew hazards no guess as to why support is slipping, it doesn't seem unreasonable to suggest that evangelicals are feeling dejected after failures by the all-Republican government to repeal Roe, add intelligent design to school curriculums, and so on.

Further evidence of this fracturing coalition appears in a fascinating series of questions Pew asked about science. Only 28% of evangelical Protestants believe in evolution as compared with majorities of Catholics (59%) and mainline Protestants (62%). A large majority of Americans believe global warming is happening (79%), but evangelicals are the most skeptical that it is caused by humans--just over a third as compared with mainline Protestants (48%), Catholics (52%), and "seculars" (62%). Hard to say where Buddhists, like me, fit in--not to mention Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and so on--but I think I get the picture. (Statistical insignificance is an apt description of just about all the groups I belong to.)

It's still early in the game. Pew looked for evidence of an emerging "religious left," but couldn't find many people who identified themselves this way (7%). Part of the problem seems to be that while the "conservative" in "conservative Christian" might modify either one's theological or political orientation equally well, there's less coherence among "liberal" Christians. Some are poltically liberal but theologically conservative and vice versa.

Whether a religious left is emerging as an identifiable group or not, this study may be documenting the first stages of the fracturing of the religious right. Already Republicans have begun rolling out the usual religiously-divisive wedge issues. We'll see in November whether those newly-disenfranchised evangelicals turn out again to vote against gay marriage.

_______________________
*Pew links and uses interchangeably "Biblical literalists" (those who believe the Bible is the actual word of God) and evangelicals. While there is strong overlap, not all self-described evangelicals are Biblical literalists.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

[Foreign Policy]

Bombing Iran and the I Don't Want No More Wars Blues

Just listening to an old Meet the Press on my iPod (all the kids think I'm a hip olderster with my iPod on the bus, but they don't know it's the dulcet tones of Tim Russert serenading me), and some idiot Republican or another was asserting that come November, the scared masses will again fall in line and cast ballots for the Cheneyites because "the Democrats have no unified plan." Maybe so. I've given up extending benefits of doubt to the US electorate. But let's get off Iraq. If the Dems have a brain, they'll not only say they'll get us out of Iraq and back into the business of stopping terrorist attacks, but also this: a vote for the GOP is a vote for bombing Iran. Who knows, maybe that'll settle down America's panic-fueled bloodlust.

Later, I switched the iPod over to a happier place and found John Lee Hooker's fantastic "War is Over (Goodbye California)." Couldn't help but feel some echo of politics in the lyrics--
The war is over,
I'm broke and I ain't got a dime
Well all my money's gone
and my friends don't know me no more
(Just change the third word to "ain't" and you have a fine description of the American voter in 2006.)

Friday, August 11, 2006

[Eulogy]

Jerry Baum.

Last month my favorite college professor died. His name was Jerry Baum, and he was an English lit professor at Lewis and Clark College. I think teaching was what paid the bills--but social justice and community activism was his real vocation. Although we didn't bump into each other, he was apparently active in community based organizations. (And he walked his talk, tool--literally. In college, I was shocked to learn that he had given up his car years earlier to support public transportation.) He was one of the kindest, most gentle men I ever knew.

In class, he refused to call himself the professor and considered us all equals. He described himself as the moderator of the class. Although we were in the computer age (late 1980s), he requested that we write our papers by hand so that he could get a sense of our personalities. As an avowed anarchist (I think he was actually more of a latter-day socialist and humanist), he refused to grade our papers--and his classes were all offered "pass/fail" (everyone passed). Anyone could take his classes, enrolled or not, students of the college or not.

He led my friend's overseas trip to England, and they went straight to Edinborough, Scotland, where he taught them labor history. Many of their classes were taught at pubs.

The occasion I remember him most distinctly was when he popped his head into the booth during my radio show at KLC, the college radio station. I was playing Billie Holiday, and he smiled with great relish, held up the record (it was all vinyl back then) and said, "Subversive." I loved him for that.

The last time I spoke to him, maybe five years ago, I mentioned that I was a former student, and I could see he didn't remember me. Understandable, given the space of time since we last had a class together and the number of students he had in his 30+ years as a professor. Interestingly, this didn't seem to matter. He put his hand on my arm and asked what I was doing. I told him I was a researcher at the School of Social Work and he smiled and nodded. "Good," he said.

Rest in peace, Jerry. I'll crack an ale and toast you, wherever you are--
[Satire]

Daily Show Turns the Rhetoric Back on the White House

In one of the sharpest commentaries yet on the deeply, deeply cynical language and policies of the Bush White House, Jon Stewart and Aasif Mandvi riff on the "opportunities" presented by the Israel-Lebanese War. Youtube video follows the transcript.
PRESIDENT BUSH (on video) : This is a moment of intense conflict in the Middle East. Yet our aim is to turn it into a moment of opportunity.

CONDI RICE (video): What we're seeing here, in a sense, is the grow--the birth pangs--of a new Middle East.
-snip-

JON STEWART: He is Aasif Mandvi, and he joins us from Beirut. Thank you for joining us. Aasif, do the people of the Middle East share this administration's clearly more optimistic view of the conflict.

AASIF MANDVI: Oh, absolutely, Jon. It's not often that an entire region is given this kind of chance. Every day the outdoor markets and cafes explode in anticipation. We're like children on Christmas morning. From what I'm told. It's very exciting.

STEWART: Really? The violence and the instability doesn't color that view?

MANDVI: No, no--not at all. As one gentleman told me while standing in the smouldering remains of what was once his village: "you can't get hummus without mashing some chick peas."
STEWART: Really? Because when I see the news, Aasif, people are really ... they seem angry; people are screaming angrily.

MANDVI: Well what did you expect? As Secretary Rice said, we're going through some birth pangs here. And you know how people tend to scream and say things they don't mean when they're in labor. Nonsense like, "how could you do this to me?" Or, "Death to America." And then, once the baby arrives, all is forgiven. What we're going through is exactly like that. I mean, we all understand it in exactly those terms.

STEWART: Aasif I'm--forgive me for asking this, but-- [Sound of bomb exploding] Are--are you okay?

MANDVI: (Shaking head dismissively) Oh yeah, I'm fine. That was just an improvised explosive opportunity. I believe it was filled with what sounded like the flying shards of a better tomorrow. I can't wait to see what will rise from the ashes. (Crosses fingers) I hope it's a parliament.

STEWART: There's no resentment there that these changes that are being brought were perhaps foisted upon the region?

MANDVI: No, no not at all. Over the years, we've grown accustomed to thinking of ourselves as you think of us--tiny abstract drops in an oilfield of possibility. Whether redrawing our borders without regard for ethnicity or religion, or experimenting with unfamiliar forms of governance. We always welcome a chance to test the latest theories of your political scientists.

STEWART: That's an incredible way to look at a terrible situation.

MANDVI: Well, I'm sure it's not different from the way your nation views the events of September 11th: tough day; great opportunity.

STEWART: I don't think we, I don't think we really look at it like that.

MANDVI: Oh? Well. I guess not everyone knows how to respond when opportunity knocks their house down. Jon?

STEWART: Thank you very much, Aasif. That's Aasif Mandvi.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

[2006 Primaries]

Lessons of Lieberman's Loss.

Joementum, we barely knew ye. Okay, we knew ye a damn sight too well, but that's not what the man wrote. Anyhoo, various takeaways, as I sees 'em:
  1. The loss is a barometer of exactly nothing. Lieberman is unique in the Democratic Party and raised unique ire. Bum-rushing Joe was like finally barring the embarrassing uncle from family events where liquor is available. By about 2002 he'd overstayed his welcome. If we must find greater meaning, it's that Democrats have apparently not slipped completely into affectless Bush-induced catatonia. Or at least in Connecticut.
  2. Of all the Dems piling off the Lieberman bandwagon and onto Lamont's, Hillary Clinton gets the award for most biting rebuke: she gave Lamont five grand.
  3. Lieberman and his apologists call his showing impressive and above expectations. To the contrary, he is one of the only Senators in the past half-century to be defeated in a primary, and two months ago, he had a 25-point lead on a candidate who's never held public office. Yesterday I predicted the vote would be closer than people expected because people were, frankly, expecting way too much: he's a three-term sitting senator, for God's sake, and he had every Democratic politician in the country voicing public support, along with the most popular Dem in the country (Clinton) stumping for him. This isn't just a loss, it's a humiliation.
  4. For signs that the Dems are in a mood of change, look not to Connecticut, but Georgia, where Cynthia McKinney lost. Dems are, possibly, now fed up enough by incompetent leaders that they're willing to throw the bums out and run someone they can stand. Not exactly a national profile in courage, but when you're in the gutter, any move's an improvement.
Done.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

[Primaries 2006, Lieberman]

"Events Around Me Have Changed."

Joe hasn't changed, it's the world that's turned on him. And about time. Whether Joe wins today or not (I think his odds are a lot better than the polls indicate), the days of the DLC's politics of appeasement are done. This was a group that, in the mid-80s, was formed as a reaction to the Reagan revolution and the loss of Reagan Democrats to the GOP (Lieberman is a charter member and past chair). Somewhat reasonably, the DLC wished to abandon the hard edge of very far left (violent Maoists in the 70s, for example) and find a liberal platform a majority of Americans could embrace.

The critical flaw was that the DLC didn't chart a new course, it tried to sneak what it (and its corporate backers) thought were the choicest bits. Prepare now for your jaw to drop as I cut-and-paste the group's current mission. (cue your Duran Duran album, cause we're going back in time):
In keeping with our party's grand tradition, we reaffirm Jefferson's belief in individual liberty and capacity for self-government. We believe that the promise of America is equal opportunity for all and special privilege for none. We believe that economic growth generated in the private sector is the prerequisite for opportunity, and that government's role is to promote growth and to equip Americans with the tools they need to prosper in the New Economy. We believe that government programs should be grounded in the values most Americans share: work, family, personal responsibility, individual liberty, faith, tolerance, and inclusion.
Sounds like something you might find at the Heritage foundation, the conservative think tank that helped guide Reaganism. And in fact, it is. From their mission (and color coded for extra emphasis):
We draw solutions to contemporary problems from the ideas, principles and traditions that make America great. We are not afraid to begin our sentences with the words “We believe,” because we do believe: in individual liberty, free enterprise, limited government, a strong national defense, and traditional American values.
Joe Lieberman came to the Senate in 1988, just at the moment the DLC's message was gaining currency among Democrats. Through 2000, its views were ascendant. But then, a funny thing happened on the way to Florida: Democrats recognized that they had been supporting Republican enablers who, since 1980, had delivered but one president and steadily eroded the power of the party in Congress. Worse, Dems, compromised by their DLC leadership, stood for nothing.

Recalling the Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he praised Bush and scolded Dems, Lieberman recently admitted:
I wasn't thinking as a Democrat. I was thinking as an American senator who went to Iraq and saw some progress and wanted to report it to the American people because I feel so deeply that the way this ends will have serious consequences for the future of this country.
He damn sure wasn't thinking as a Democrat, and his derision for his party--whom he apparently thinks don't feel "that the way this ends will have serious consequences for the future of this country"--is why he's being challenged. Despite his polite demeanor and fussy modesty, Lieberman is no less arrogant than the man he supports in the White House. The cost, to the country and the party, has been catastrophic.

So good luck to the fine citizens of Connecticut in sending the arrogant, clueless Senator packing.

Friday, August 04, 2006

[Israel]

Things I Think About Israel

Deep thoughts on the Israel, in no real order.
  1. There's nothing inherent about Israel; nothing says it has to continue to exist.
  2. The invasion of Iraq, predictably yet ironically, has endangered Israeli sovereignty by radicalizing Muslims worldwide and emboldening Israel's neighbors.
  3. The US is a toxin across the Middle East and is more likely to worsen conflict with diplomacy or engagement--which is a great irony (if not surprise) given the overwrought rhetoric and arrogance of the neocons who thought they were bringing light and goodness to dem stoopid Mooslems.
  4. What the hell is wrong with the Europeans? Given the US inability to manage things--given that we can only make them worse--some other neutral broker needs to step in. Is there a law that says it can't be someone besides the US?
And now perhaps I will go back to the sabbatical advertised at the top of the blog. Perhaps.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

[Israel-Lebanese War]

The Morality of No Sides.

Where, exactly, do you date the start of the Muslim-Israeli conflict? The answer to this question has a lot to do with how you characterize the morality of the conflict. If you go back 3,000 years, you probably side with the Israelis, who saw their homeland shrink due to incursions by neighboring tribes and eventually, the Romans, who expelled the Jews in 132 BCE. (Who was there 3,001 years ago? History does not record.) If you date it to the 1947 UN Partition of Palestine, you probably support the Palestinians (and see later seizures of Egyptian, Jordian, and Syrian, and Lebanese land of evidence of Israeli illegitimacy).

The history of humans is one of war and conquest, of displacement and subjugation. The entire New World has risen on the burial mounds of great nations. There is precious little land in Europe, Asia, or Africa that has not seen the race, language, or religion of its leaders change violently under this commonplace historical upheaval. Yet we move on, burying the bloody hands of our ancestors, if not our memory of their struggles. From time to time, the memories overwhelm a region and we witness, mouths agape, atrocity we didn't remember humans had the capacity to commit.

In most of these cases, the rest of the world has the remove to avoid taking sides. It is obvious that trying to sort out who committed the first offense is beyond our legal and historical capacity. Not so with Israel. As I watch the horror unfold, I rarely see anyone exercise this remove. Worse, this is one of the few global conflicts where people seem to have forgotten that it is possible not to take sides: you're either "for" Israel and its "right to defend itself" or you're against it. I have watched as liberals, who cannot sanction so much of what Israel has done--the wall, the subjugation of Palestinians, the displacement of Palestinians, the use of illegal settlements, and now the indescrimante bombing of Lebanon--go mum because neither can they sanction a terrorist organization like Hezbollah.

Good liberals, more than ever, are the hope for peace in the Middle East. Bush and his neocon advisors have an Old Testament view of foreign policy: for them, violence is itself a cleansing moral act. "Terrorists" must not only be vanquished, but punished. It is not enough to reach a peace, we must have absolution. It is a mindset that demands taking sides--there can be no "moral equivalencies."

But it's the idea that there is a moral player in this mess that is at fault. No one's hands are clean, inside or outside the Mideast. Almost every nation on the planet has participated in this disaster, and we are all culpable for the deaths that have resulted. The only path out is serious, painful diplomacy that has at its core the fervent belief that punishment cannot be a part of the solution. The problem is taking sides. The solution is abandoning them. If there is any chance for the cycles of retribution to end, it's not in finding the source of the intial slight and righting historical wrongs, it's in finding our common humanity, putting aside the identification with the hatred, and agreeing to forgive and move forward.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

[Cuba]

Fidel is Dead.

Okay, that's an opinion, but come on--no audio, no video, not even a snapshot of him exiting the hospital? I think the long transition has begun. Leaves and old lefty--opposed to both despotism and the abuses of capitalism--ambivalent. I suspect that Cuba's story is about to take a radical turn. Will what follows be better than what has been? History will record.