Wednesday, December 30, 2009

All For Naught

In this Getty image, U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement at the Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe Bay Monday on a failed bid to blow up a US-bound transatlantic airliner on Christmas Day.

These are the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands,
they are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing
or next to nothing.
If they do not enclose everything they are next to
If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle
they are nothing,
If they are not just as close as they are different
they are nothing.

---Walt Whitman

From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the form of things. By the time I was fifty, I had published an infinity of designs, but all that I have produced before the age of seventy is not worth taking into account. At seventy-three I have learned a little about the real structure of nature, of animals, plants, birds, fishes, and insects. In consequence, when I am eighty, I shall have made more progress, at ninety I shall penetrate the mystery of things, at a hundred I shall have reached a marvelous stage, and when I am a hundred and ten, everything I do, be it a dot or a line, will be alive.


Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

---The Red Queen

It's the time of summing up, and everybody wants to call it The 0 Decade. Zero. But as frustrating and maddening as these first 9 years of the millenium have been, mathematicians and meteorologists agree it takes 10 years to make a decade. So what's a group of 9 called? A nonet. None. Nine. Bah.

Alexander Cockburn's chilly summary at Truthout goes all the way back to 1970, and considers most jarringly what America would NOT be had Hinckley succeeded in killing Reagan. Other reviewers are content to tally up the social nothingness of the Bush 8 out of 9. But Obama is a major target of scrutiny...and that transparency must be getting the full X-ray treatment.

A week ago Sunday, Frank Rich declared Time Magazine's selection of Ben Bernanke as Man (in the sense of huMAN) of the Year was completely off the beam. His choice was Tiger Woods. Why? Because Tiger emerged absolutely as the best conman...and 2009 definitely was the Year of the Con. From Bernie Madoff to John Edwards, everybody was out to pick your pocket. And Obama? You betcha! "Though the American left and right don’t agree on much, they are both now coalescing around the suspicion that Obama’s brilliant presidential campaign was as hollow as Tiger’s public image — a marketing scam designed to camouflage either his covert anti-American radicalism (as the right sees it) or spineless timidity (as the left sees it)."

This morning Maureen Dowd may as well be working for Fox News as she refers to Barack Obama as an emotionless, "disembodied" Mister Spock. The current administration seems to share with the previous that it has the intelligence but doesn't have the intelligence. "If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?"

I've had similar concerns about President Obama's performance this year...and I've posted them online. Yesterday morning on the radio, those of us with such doubts got a substantial scolding. It happened on the Stephanie Miller program, a radical piece of broadcasting even by morning show standards. We hear an hour of it every weekday morning, from 10 to 11, on the unlikely WAIS, 770 AM, in the Athens area. I feel an affinity for Stephanie because she also is from the Buffalo area, and has a quality of outrageous zaniness one acquires looking for excitement in Western New York on a Saturday night. I also remember her father fondly, US Representative William E. Miller, a moderate-to-liberal Republican, which was a rarity in Upstate politics. Mr. Miller ran for the vice presidency on Barry Goldwater's ticket in 1964, and Stephanie jokingly ran for president in 2008, with Goldwater's granddaughter as her running mate.

But Stephanie Miller and her whole crew are on holiday this week, so it was a guy subbing for her who took us Obama doubters to task yesterday. His name is Hal Sparks and he seems to show up a lot on her show. He has a rather odd resume so far but I thought his comments were right on. He challenged us grass rooters, who worked so hard last year and then went home after the election and put our feet up. Now we're moaning that after 11 months we haven't gotten what we want yet from Obama, and vowing to vote for Nader next time. Sparks reminds us it's a lot harder to build up after something has been torn down, and the President still needs grass roots support. That doesn't just mean arguing with the rednecks at work. It means encouraging congresspeople who still are in there pitching for the program. It means active engagement with those who aren't. He said the Democratic Party and Barack Obama need even more help from us now than before.

Well, I hadn't thought about it enough that way I guess. So my summary is more along the lines of checking out what campaign promises Obama really made in the summer and fall of 2008. Has he kept to those promises or not? Does he deserve my continued support? To find out I picked up issue 1064 of Rolling Stone which contained an excellent interview with the candidate on the very eve of the election. Interviewing was Eric Bates, one of the many editors of the magazine. I have to confess surprise that Barack Obama has been consistent in setting about to do exactly what he said he would. There isn't sharp focus in the banking area I must say, but clearly the administration now realizes any bailout money has got to go to smaller hometown banks to lend to small business. Americans have got to have jobs and the opening for creation is in the area of renewable energy. Gore has been saying this for a long time, but now we're hearing it from the White House...and such talk has got to be encouraged.

There are things we can do around our towns. Everywhere people are learning about energy audits and how to save money on changing lifestyles and retrofitting buildings and homes. Local schools and churches need community involvement in learning how to do this. People are wondering about sustainability and if you look around, you'll find meetings being held. Attend them. Get involved. That spirit of enthusiasm and optimism we had during the campaign is going on there. Young people are at work and they're spreading the word among peers who still are learning the basics.

The Naughts are gone, and Twenty-Ten is the start of the Teens. It's a time of vigorous growth and development. It's a time of risk. It's the time for dedication to lasting values. It's time to fall in love. It's a wonderful time to be alive. Let's get busy!


Quinty said...

John Kennedy was in the White House three years. And we are still wondering what kind of president he would have been.

Combine a huge hangover with the Bush years with a sense of constant national emergency, a mood cultivated by a greedy and frivolous corporate MSM, with the actual size of the enormous problems we and the world face, with the promising charisma Obama offered in the campaign along with enormous deficits stifling much needed spending, plus a powerful rightwing point of view, and we have the lack of patience, uncertainty, and disillusionment we see all around us today.

I too am highly disturbed by Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan. I can see no sense in any of it and the war there is reminiscent of other senseless wars we have been in. Much too much too reminiscent.

His choice of an economic team is unsettling too. These men believed in deregulation and there doesn’t appear to be much of a fight for necessary regulation and oversight in either the Congress or the White House.

On healthcare Obama’s position may only reflect political realities. That case, at least, makes as much sense as any other theory. Conservative and reactionary forces are just too powerful in the Congress.

He could take a more progressive stance on gay marriage and “don't’ ask don’t tell.”

Fudging on Copenhagen was not a good idea. It revealed weakness and a lack of direction. Think healthcare has been a fight? This one regarding energy should be a whopper.

Regarding homeland security Napolitano’s happy face was a serious error too. It only created doubt and more uncertainty. Are they too incompetent?

But read some of the comments over at Truthdig or Common Dreams. There is a left out there which is ignorant, dogmatic, strident and blind. They are having a field day. (In fact, that left has always been around.)

The fact is we need to elect more progressives. Enough to defeat the conservative Democrats in the Congress. We can have the most progressive and politically savvy president in the world, but without the votes he can get nowhere.

But how to elect more progressives? If Obama fails, and he appears to be in danger of that, then blocks of American voters may become even more conservative. The Repubicans will say, see, this is what tax and spend socialism does for you. We need to cut taxes and deregulate. We need god and family values to return to our country. We need to go back to basics.

This argument may not be too compelling for you and me. But it works with a lot of people. So we should perhaps be asking ourselves, how do we get through this wall? When Roosevelt became president in 1933 he had 68 Democratic senators and a huge majority in the House. Today there are six or seven conservative Democrats who can derail anything which needs to be passed in the Senate. That’s the simple reality.

I think it is still too early to make any “final” judgment on Obama. What we should do is fight our enemies on the right, Democrats as well as Republicans, and collectively remind Obama of what needs to be done. Fierce hysterics - in an irrational national atmosphere cultivated by a corporate MSM - will help nothing.

So I agree with Richard.... Keep trudging, working, and our eyes open. In that regard I suspect Jazzo is ahead of me. I just sit around and write these stupid messages.

jazzolog said...

Well, I'm grateful for the comment...and certainly won't accept Quinty's reference to it as stupid. I really do recommend a reading of the Rolling Stone interview however. He seems almost entirely consistent to me.

We need to remember that during the campaign progressives had doubts about him. Now that he is producing the presidency that we thought then probably would happen, we go around condemning him for not doing things he never represented himself as intending to do. I say let's be calm and organize our thinking!

However, if one is intent on judging the first year severely, Jim Hightower's column yesterday provides a good model~~~

"In my travels, I've heard many cries of despair from you good folks about the timorous Obama presidency. On issue after issue, it's been go-slow and don't-rock-the-corporate boat. 'Where's the "audacity of hope?"' people are asking. 'Where's the "change you can believe in?"'
The answer is that in our country's democracy, audacity and change are where they've always resided: out there with you and me, at the grassroots level. For some reason, the guy who was elected by running from the outside is now trying to govern from the inside -- which is where change is taken to die."

Jim then provides 6 things you can do about it---besides blogging and writing comments. :-)

jazzolog said...

In the main entry I confess my major doubt about Obama's first year is in the area of banking. I see more concern about this everywhere. As usual, Frank Rich leads the charge. I'm saving this column to be able to Google the names he names of financial executives raking in the most profit from this Great Recession~~~

The New York Times
January 10, 2010
Op-Ed Columnist
The Other Plot to Wreck America

THERE may not be a person in America without a strong opinion about what coulda, shoulda been done to prevent the underwear bomber from boarding that Christmas flight to Detroit. In the years since 9/11, we’ve all become counterterrorists. But in the 16 months since that other calamity in downtown New York — the crash precipitated by the 9/15 failure of Lehman Brothers — most of us are still ignorant about what Warren Buffett called the “financial weapons of mass destruction” that wrecked our economy. Fluent as we are in Al Qaeda and body scanners, when it comes to synthetic C.D.O.’s and credit-default swaps, not so much.

What we don’t know will hurt us, and quite possibly on a more devastating scale than any Qaeda attack. Americans must be told the full story of how Wall Street gamed and inflated the housing bubble, made out like bandits, and then left millions of households in ruin. Without that reckoning, there will be no public clamor for serious reform of a financial system that was as cunningly breached as airline security at the Amsterdam airport. And without reform, another massive attack on our economic security is guaranteed. Now that it can count on government bailouts, Wall Street has more incentive than ever to pump up its risks — secure that it can keep the bonanzas while we get stuck with the losses.

The window for change is rapidly closing. Health care, Afghanistan and the terrorism panic may have exhausted Washington’s already limited capacity for heavy lifting, especially in an election year. The White House’s chief economic hand, Lawrence Summers, has repeatedly announced that “everybody agrees that the recession is over” — which is technically true from an economist’s perspective and certainly true on Wall Street, where bailed-out banks are reporting record profits and bonuses. The contrary voices of Americans who have lost pay, jobs, homes and savings are either patronized or drowned out entirely by a political system where the banking lobby rules in both parties and the revolving door between finance and government never stops spinning.

It’s against this backdrop that this week’s long-awaited initial public hearings of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission are so critical. This is the bipartisan panel that Congress mandated last spring to investigate the still murky story of what happened in the meltdown. Phil Angelides, the former California treasurer who is the inquiry’s chairman, told me in interviews late last year that he has been busy deploying a tough investigative staff and will not allow the proceedings to devolve into a typical blue-ribbon Beltway exercise in toothless bloviation.

He wants to examine the financial sector’s “greed, stupidity, hubris and outright corruption” — from traders on the ground to the board room. “It’s important that we deliver new information,” he said. “We can’t just rehash what we’ve known to date.” He understands that if he fails to make news or to tell the story in a way that is comprehensible and compelling enough to arouse Americans to demand action, Wall Street and Washington will both keep moving on, unchallenged and unchastened.

jazzolog said...

Angelides gets it. But he has a tough act to follow: Ferdinand Pecora, the legendary prosecutor who served as chief counsel to the Senate committee that investigated the 1929 crash as F.D.R. took office. Pecora was a master of detail and drama. He riveted America even without the aid of television. His investigation led to indictments, jail sentences and, ultimately, key New Deal reforms — the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Glass-Steagall Act, designed to prevent the formation of banks too big to fail.

As it happened, a major Pecora target was the chief executive of National City Bank, the institution that would grow up to be Citigroup. Among other transgressions, National City had repackaged bad Latin American debt as new securities that it then sold to easily suckered investors during the frenzied 1920s boom. Once disaster struck, the bank’s executives helped themselves to millions of dollars in interest-free loans. Yet their own employees had to keep ponying up salary deductions for decimated National City stock purchased at a heady precrash price.

Trade bad Latin American debt for bad mortgage debt, and you have a partial portrait of Citigroup at the height of the housing bubble. The reckless Citi executives of our day may not have given themselves interest-free loans, but they often walked away with the short-term, illusionary profits while their employees were left with shredded jobs and 401(k)’s. Among those Citi executives was Robert Rubin, who, as the Clinton Treasury secretary, helped repeal the last vestiges of Glass-Steagall after years of Wall Street assault. Somewhere Pecora is turning in his grave

Rubin has never apologized, let alone been held accountable. But he’s hardly alone. Even after all the country has gone through, the titans who fueled the bubble are heedless. In last Sunday’s Times, Sandy Weill, the former chief executive who built Citigroup (and recruited Rubin to its ranks), gave a remarkable interview to Katrina Brooker blaming his own hand-picked successor, Charles Prince, for his bank’s implosion. Weill said he preferred to be remembered for his philanthropy. Good luck with that.

Among his causes is Carnegie Hall, where he is chairman of the board. To see how far American capitalism has fallen, contrast Weill with the giant who built Carnegie Hall. Not only is Andrew Carnegie remembered for far more epic and generous philanthropy than Weill’s — some 1,600 public libraries, just for starters — but also for creating a steel empire that actually helped build America’s industrial infrastructure in the late 19th century. At Citi, Weill built little more than a bloated gambling casino. As Paul Volcker, the regrettably powerless chairman of Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, said recently, there is not “one shred of neutral evidence” that any financial innovation of the past 20 years has led to economic growth. Citi, that “innovative” banking supermarket, destroyed far more wealth than Weill can or will ever give away.

Even now — despite its near-death experience, despite the departures of Weill, Prince and Rubin — Citi remains as imperious as it was before 9/15. Its current chairman, Richard Parsons, was one of three executives (along with Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and John Mack of Morgan Stanley) who failed to show up at the mid-December White House meeting where President Obama implored bankers to increase lending. (The trio blamed fog for forcing them to participate by speakerphone, but the weather hadn’t grounded their peers or Amtrak.) Last week, ABC World News was also stiffed by Citi, which refused to answer questions about its latest round of outrageous credit card rate increases and instead e-mailed a statement blaming its customers for “not paying back their loans.” This from a bank that still owes taxpayers $25 billion of its $45 billion handout!

jazzolog said...

If Citi, among the most egregious of Wall Street reprobates, feels it can get away with business as usual, it’s because it fears no retribution. And it got more good news last week. Now that Chris Dodd is vacating the Senate, his chairmanship of the Banking Committee may fall next year to Tim Johnson of South Dakota, home to Citi’s credit card operation. Johnson was the only Senate Democrat to vote against Congress’s recent bill policing credit card abuses.

Though bad history shows every sign of repeating itself on Wall Street, it will take a near-miracle for Angelides to repeat Pecora’s triumph. Our zoo of financial skullduggery is far more complex, with many more moving pieces, than that of the 1920s. The new inquiry does have subpoena power, but its entire budget, a mere $8 million, doesn’t even match the lobbying expenditures for just three banks (Citi, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America) in the first nine months of 2009. The firms under scrutiny can pay for as many lawyers as they need to stall between now and Dec. 15, deadline day for the commission’s report.

More daunting still is the inquiry’s duty to reach into high places in the public sector as well as the private. The mystery of exactly what happened as TARP fell into place in the fateful fall of 2008 thickens by the day — especially the behind-closed-door machinations surrounding the government rescue of A.I.G. and its counterparties. Last week, a Republican congressman, Darrell Issa of California, released e-mail showing that officials at the New York Fed, then led by Timothy Geithner, pressured A.I.G. to delay disclosing to the S.E.C. and the public the details on the billions of bailout dollars it was funneling to its trading partners. In this backdoor rescue, taxpayers unknowingly awarded banks like Goldman 100 cents on the dollar for their bets on mortgage-backed securities.

Why was our money used to make these high-flying gamblers whole while ordinary Americans received no such beneficence? Nothing less than complete transparency will connect the dots. Among the big-name witnesses that the Angelides commission has called for next week is Goldman’s Blankfein. Geithner, Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke should be next.

If they all skate away yet again by deflecting blame or mouthing pro forma mea culpas, it will be a sign that this inquiry, like so many other promises of reform since 9/15, is likely to leave Wall Street’s status quo largely intact. That’s the ticking-bomb scenario that truly imperils us all.

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

jazzolog said...

Good friend Bob Sheak wanted to share these ideas~~~

I like Rich's reports. This report identifies why we should demand transparency from the financial corporations that received TARP money. Then, I would add, those who lied or misled shareholders and government committees should be prosecuted.

My big concern, though, is that the on-going focus on TARP misses the full impact of what federal government agencies did for the big financial corporations with taxpayer money. While TARP is rightly described by Rich and everybody else as a government bailout, it is only the tip of the money tsunami that, with no transparency for the most part, federal agencies gave out to the financial sector.

In the current issue of Mother Jones (Jan-Feb, 2010), the editors estimate "the real size of the bailout." The report there provides details of how much money was loaned, guaranteed, used to purchase of over-valued toxic assets, etc., by various federal agencies. Their estimate comes to $14.4 trillion, as of October 31, 2009. You can see the article at:

There is also a blown-up version of the "figure" from the article the graphically captures where specifically the $14.4 trillion came from at:

You can also see Nomi Prins' book, It Takes a Pillage, for an in-depth analysis underlying this almost unimaginable flow of taxpayer money to the elites in the financial sector, the very folks who created the economic mess we now have.

Nomi Prins also reminds us of some of the principal aspects of this mess in the following article, "Wall Street's 10 Greatest Lies of 2009" -

What does $14 or so trillion mean? I just checked out the US National Debt Clock. As of about 2:30 GMT, January 10, 2009, the US national debt stood at $12,291,420,883,125.44 - See:

The point: The $14 trillion plus our national government has channeled to the big banks and insurance corporations is larger than the national debt. Why? Because the $14-trillion is not included in the calculations of the national debt. Implication: Unless these big corporations repay this money, the national debt could double in the blink of an eye.

Compounding the mess, the Obama administration seems to be doing very little to fix this huge part of the economic crisis that is still bubbling out of control and outside of the public's purview. And we have a Senate saddled with rules that makes meaningful change virtually impossible.

Hope your day goes well.


jazzolog said...

Paul Quintanilla posted this comment at Upsaid~~~

No wonder that Americans don’t ‘get” the Wall Street financial collapse because it is so enormously complicated and abstract. After all, Wall Street is in the business of making money out of absolutely nothing.

“Slicing and dicing” assets, no matter what they are, worthless or valuable, in Wall Street’s eyes all that matters is how they can be exploited into creating fortunes. That is their esoteric game.

So we end up with an incredible alphabet soup of numberless “investment vehicles” which often have next to no tangible worth whatsoever.

According to Nomi Prins the cost of the meltdown came out to more than thirteen TRILLION dollars. TO THE TAX PAYER!

The Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, the FDIC, and the Congress were all instrumental in bailing out these immense financial institutions. How did they do it? With the same cunning legerdemain the hucksters made their money with in the first place. By simply gaming the system.

Nothing illegal in that. After all, they had simply changed the laws, deregulating the industry, making the huge scams possible. And those who came to Wall Street’s rescue knew how to do it since they all came from the same background, mostly Goldman Sachs.

Prins has become my guru on all this, in her book “It Takes a Pillage.”

I find reading it though somewhat dizzying, since this abstract, unreal world of high finance, at least for me, can be hard to follow. It requires a temperament which feels at home with such abstract financial manipulations, the art of turning little or nothing, even thin air, into money. There is nothing fundamentally logical about any of it. So we have a huge alphabet soup of incredible “investment vehicles” to slog through. And the jargon, as in most dishonest enterprises, is tongue twisting.

Prims is an odd Virgil to lead us through this netherworld. She has an acute ethical understanding of the terrain she describes yet she was once a top corporate officer at Goldman Sachs. How could that have happened?

This is indeed far from the normal world of most people, what Wall Street has done behind our backs. They even bought off the rating agencies which gave them their prime AAA investment ratings. The ratings which helped sucker investors into believing they were getting good deals: such as pension funds, hospitals, etc. Yes, it’s time we all know and grasp what they have been up to.

It’s an incredible story.

Let’s hope these hearings Rich describes are eminently successful.

Quinty said...

Prins emphasizes the need to return Glass Steagall. What did Glass Steagall do?

It separated commercial banks from investment banks, the former being banks where you make deposits into your savings account, obtain home loans, mortgages, etc.: the everyday activities we associate with banks. The latter permits financial speculations: the “slice and dice” mentality of creating SIVs (securitized investment vehicles) to flourish.

Why should such banking operations be separate? Because if they're not the investment bankers can use our savings accounts, mortgages, etc. as collateral for their speculations. And the FDIC will bail them out if our savings are lost.

SIVs - Don't you love the jargon?

Who invented the SIV? According to Prins, Michael Milken, who, when he got out of jail, found a spot in UCLA's business school. I guess he had a lot to teach. Look at all his disciples!

While there are members of Congress who understand all this, and would like to see re-regulation, the administration (look at who is in its economic team!) and the leadership do not appear to be eager to do anything serious to fix the fundamental problems.

Which means, of course, that once Wall Street gets back up onto its feet it can resume slicing and dicing assets with an ever expanding alphabet soup of SIVs. Why not? The tax payer provides the collateral. If they fail, we will bail them out.

And why bail them out? Well, among other reasons, they will be “too big to fail.” If the government doesn’t bail them out they could crash the economy. That is the wall they currently have us up against.

I see the loss of Byron Dorgan as extremely sad, perhaps tragic. On this he is firmly on our side and predicted much of what would happen years ago.

jazzolog said...

Here are Naomi Klein and Paul Krugman on Obama's plan~~~

We knew the spending freeze was going to come, but to me, it’s really striking. I think what this moment represents is the decision, which we all feared would come, to pass the bill on from saving Wall Street, from saving the elites of this country from their own mess, a bill worth trillions of dollars, to regular people in need in this country. I mean, that’s what a spending freeze really means.

And we have to look at it in the context of the debt crisis that is occurring at the state level. There’s deficit—huge deficits being run up. California is the most dramatic example, but you’re already seeing how students are facing things like 30 percent tuition increases. Women’s shelters are being closed. So, you know, when the President says freeze spending, that’s saying to the states, “We’re not going to help you. We’re not going to bail you out.”

So this is really—this, to me, all comes back to the top-down bailout that should never have taken place in the first place, the decision that was made to throw the taxpayer dollars at the banks, at the elites, no strings attached, not to help the people losing their jobs, losing their homes. And now the bill is being passed on, because the debt crisis, the private-sector debt crisis, which started this, the banks racking up these huge debts, was never solved. It was just moved. It was just moved to the public coffers.

And now Obama is—this is a Hoover move. This is a Herbert Hoover move. And I think we have to say very clearly, he is not FDR. And, you know, in the spirit of Howard Zinn, who passed yesterday, I keep thinking, you know, what would he say about the State of the Union? And I think he would tell us to refuse to pay this bill, that we need a debtors’ revolt.

jazzolog said...

Last week, the Center for American Progress, a think tank with close ties to the Obama administration, published an acerbic essay about the difference between true deficit hawks and showy “deficit peacocks.” You can identify deficit peacocks, readers were told, by the way they pretend that our budget problems can be solved with gimmicks like a temporary freeze in nondefense discretionary spending.

One week later, in the State of the Union address, President Obama proposed a temporary freeze in nondefense discretionary spending.

Wait, it gets worse. To justify the freeze, Mr. Obama used language that was almost identical to widely ridiculed remarks early last year by John Boehner, the House minority leader. Boehner then: “American families are tightening their belt, but they don’t see government tightening its belt.” Obama now: “Families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same.”

What’s going on here? The answer, presumably, is that Mr. Obama’s advisers believed he could score some political points by doing the deficit-peacock strut. I think they were wrong, that he did himself more harm than good. Either way, however, the fact that anyone thought such a dumb policy idea was politically smart is bad news because it’s an indication of the extent to which we’re failing to come to grips with our economic and fiscal problems.

The nature of America’s troubles is easy to state. We’re in the aftermath of a severe financial crisis, which has led to mass job destruction. The only thing that’s keeping us from sliding into a second Great Depression is deficit spending. And right now we need more of that deficit spending because millions of American lives are being blighted by high unemployment, and the government should be doing everything it can to bring unemployment down...

So we’re paralyzed in the face of mass unemployment and out-of-control health care costs. Don’t blame Mr. Obama. There’s only so much one man can do, even if he sits in the White House. Blame our political culture instead, a culture that rewards hypocrisy and irresponsibility rather than serious efforts to solve America’s problems. And blame the filibuster, under which 41 senators can make the country ungovernable, if they choose — and they have so chosen.

I’m sorry to say this, but the state of the union — not the speech, but the thing itself — isn’t looking very good.

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