Tomgram: William Astore, Rebuilding America, Remaking Ourselves

September 24, 2008

[Note to TomDispatch Readers: Again, thanks to all of you who offered your hard-earned dollars to help this site via the new “Support TomDispatch. Resist Empire.” button. Believe me, that was truly appreciated. Be forewarned, I’m traveling this week and may turn out to be an even worse correspondent than usual for those of you who write in. Last week, I also appealed to all of you to consider writing friends, colleagues, relatives to suggest that they go to the “sign up” window at the upper right of the TomDispatch main screen, put in their email addresses, and sign on for the new, snazzily updated site mailing that offers notification whenever a post goes up. (Word of mouth is, of course, still the major kind of publicity this site can afford.) A number of you did so and TD got a small flood of new subscribers. So, many thanks indeed! If some of you meant to do this and didn’t quite get around to it, now’s as perfect a time as any. Lots of good posts upcoming, so please pass the word!]

When you can read a piece headlined in the Wall Street Journal, “Worst Crisis Since ’30s, With No End Yet in Sight” — with passages like, “Fed Chairman Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, walking into a hastily arranged meeting with congressional leaders Tuesday night to brief them on the government’s unprecedented rescue of AIG, looked like exhausted surgeons delivering grim news to the family” — you know you’re at a new moment in our history. Recently, thinking about the American experience in the 1930s, I was wondering why the present administration was now so willing to throw vast sums at the speculators, who thought nothing of the rest of us in their high times, and not even crumbs to Americans; why no one calls us to “the colors” of civil society, as Franklin D. Roosevelt did then. Fortunately, along came TomDispatch regular William Astore with the following post, based on memories of his father’s days in the Civilian Conservation Corps. (That program, which put so many Americans to work rebuilding the country, was, by the way, the one New Deal initiative that even Republicans, even the fiercest opponents of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came to admire.) Tom

Hey, Government! How About Calling on Us?

Reviving National Service in a Big Way

By William J. Astore
Lately, our news has focused on tropical depressions maturing into monster hurricanes that leave devastation in their wake — and I’m not just talking about Gustav and Ike. Today, we face a perfect storm of financial devastation, notable for the enormity of the greed that generated it and the somnolent response of our government in helping Americans left devastated in its wake.

As unemployment rates soar to their highest level in five years and home construction sinks to its lowest level in 17 years, all our federal government seems able to do is buy up to $700 billion in “distressed” mortgage-related assets, bail-out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (at a cost of roughly $200 billion) or “loan” $85 billion to liquidate insurance giant AIG. If you’re Merrill Lynch, you get a hearing; if you’re just plain Marilyn Lynch of Topeka, what you get is a recession, a looming depression, and a federal tax bill for the fat-cat bail-outs.

But, amazingly enough, ordinary Americans generally don’t want bail-outs, nor do they want handouts. What they normally want is honorable work, decent wages, and a government willing to wake up and help them contribute to a national restoration.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


McCain Goes Over-the-Top Negative

July 29, 2008

John McCain’s angry side is coming out in ways that puzzle those who’ve known him, writes Brent Budowsky in this guest essay.

Also, read “Americans Move Left; NYT Misses It”: Polls show American shifting left on issues, but the New York Times calls that moving to the center, as Jeff Cohen notes.

For the full stories, go to Consortiumnews.com.


Tomgram: Rick Shenkman, American Stupidity

July 2, 2008

[Note to TomDispatch readers: With this post, TomDispatch is shutting down for a few days. Expect the next piece on July 7th or 8th. With the sunny days of summer ahead, what could be better — consider this a last holiday hint — than picking up a copy of this site’s new book, The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire, before you head for… wherever it is you’re heading, including the backyard. Tom]

The buck stops… well, where does it stop? And who popularized that phrase, anyway? Herbert Hoover, J. Edgar Hoover, Harry S. Truman, George Washington, or none of the above?

Wait, don’t answer! The odds are — as Rick Shenkman, award-winning investigative journalist and founder of the always provocative website History News Network, tells us in his new book Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth about the American Voter — you’ll be wrong. And when you realize the depths of the ignorance so many Americans take into the voting booth, you may indeed wonder, as Shenkman does to great effect in his new book, where indeed the buck stops.

So here we are heading toward another July 4th, that glorious day when American independence was declared and the Liberty Bell rang out to the world — the first of which didn’t happen on July 4th, the second of which was made up “out of whole cloth” in the nineteenth century in a book for children (but you knew that!). Think of today’s post as a bit of counter-programming to our yearly summer celebration of history, a way to ponder what exactly, in the 8th year of the reign of our latest King George, any of us have to celebrate. Consider instead the state of our national brain, preview Shenkman’s new book (which should set anyone’s mind spinning), and, while you’re at it, watch his recent interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show by clicking here. Tom

How Ignorant Are We?

The Voters Choose… but on the Basis of What?
By Rick Shenkman

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” — Thomas Jefferson

Just how stupid are we? Pretty stupid, it would seem, when we come across headlines like this: “Homer Simpson, Yes — 1st Amendment ‘Doh,’ Survey Finds” (Associated Press 3/1/06).

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Tomgram: Mark Engler, How to Rule the World After Bush

May 19, 2008

A mere eight months to go until George W. Bush and Dick Cheney leave office — though, given the cast of characters, it could seem like a lifetime. Still, it’s a reasonable moment to begin to look back over the last years — and also toward the post-Bush era. What a crater we’ll have to climb out of by then!

My last post, “Kiss American Security Goodbye,” was meant to mark the beginning of what will, over the coming months, be a number of Bush legacy pieces at Tomdispatch. So consider that series officially inaugurated by Foreign Policy in Focus analyst Mark Engler, who has just authored a new book that couldn’t be more relevant to our looming moment of transition: How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy.

The question Engler is curious to have answered is this: If Bush-style “imperial globalization” is rejected in January, what will American ruling elites try to turn to — Clinton-style economic globalization? Certainly, as Engler points out, many in the business and financial communities are now rallying to the Democrats. After all, while John Edwards received the headlines this week for throwing his support behind Barack Obama, that presidential candidate also got the nod from three former Securities and Exchange Commission chairmen — William Donaldson, David Ruder, and Clinton appointee Arthur Levitt Jr. The campaign promptly “released a joint statement by the former SEC chiefs, as well as former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, that praised Obama’s ‘positive leadership and judgment’ on economic issues.”!

The United States, however, is a very different creature than it was in the confident years when these men rode high. Now, the world is looking at things much differently. Let Engler explain… Tom

Globalizers, Neocons, or…?

The World After Bush

By Mark Engler

Picture January 20, 2009, the day George W. Bush has to vacate the Oval Office.

It’s easy enough to imagine a party marking this fine occasion, with antiwar protestors, civil libertarians, community leaders, environmentalists, health-care advocates, and trade unionists clinking glasses to toast the end of an unfortunate era. Even Americans not normally inclined to political life might be tempted to join the festivities, bringing their own bottles of bubbly to the party. Given that presidential job approval ratings have rarely broken 40% for two years and now remain obdurately around or below 30% — historic lows — it would not surprising if this were a sizeable celebration.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.