Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunday Reading

The Brittle Grip, Part 2 — Josh Marshall on why the wealthy feel so threatened.

If you’ve been in the media slipstream today you know the outrage and mockery directed at Tom Perkins, one of the world’s wealthiest and most successful Silicon Valley venture capitalists, for an oped he wrote in the Wall Street Journalcomparing the rising critique of income inequality and “the 1%” to Kristallnacht. Just so we’re all on the same page, Kristallnacht (“the night of shattered glass”) was essentially the opening act of Hitler’s Final Solution. It took place on November 9th and 10th, 1938. This claim manages simultaneously to be so logically ridiculous and morally hideous that Perkins deserves every bit of abuse he’s already receiving.

But I think we’re missing the point if we see this as the gaffe of one aging, coddled jerk. Because it’s only a more extreme and preposterous version of beliefs that have become increasingly widespread in the wealthiest sectors of American society, especially since 2008 and the twin events of the global financial crisis and the election of Barack Obama.

Let me state the phenomenon as clearly as possible: The extremely wealthy are objectively far wealthier, far more politically powerful and find a far more indulgent political class than at any time in almost a century – at least. And yet at the same time they palpably feel more isolated, abused and powerless than at any time over the same period and sense some genuine peril to the whole mix of privileges, power and wealth they hold.

There is a disconnect there that is so massive and glaring that it demands some sociocultural explanation. I’ve written about this before. But I confess not terribly well because I’ve found it a difficult issue to get my arms fully around and to reorient my focus on day to day events to the longer horizon. But I do think it’s one of the core political and economic issues of our time and deserves real explanation.

I first started noticing this when I saw several years ago that many of the wealthiest people in the country, especially people in financial services, not only didn’t support Obama (not terribly surprising) but had a real and palpable sense that he was out to get them. This was hard to reconcile with the fact that Obama, along with President Bush, had pushed through a series of very unpopular laws and programs and fixes that had not only stabilized global capitalism, saved Wall Street but saved the personal fortunes (and perhaps even the personal liberty) of the people who were turning so acidly against him. Indeed, through the critical years of 2009, 10 and 11 he was serving as what amounted to Wall Street’s personal heat shield, absorbing as political damage the public revulsion at the bailout policies that had kept Wall Street whole.

Let’s start by stipulating that no one expects the extremely wealthy to react happily to mounting discussion of wealth and income inequality or left-wing diatribes about “the 1%.” But again, the reaction is extreme and excessive and frequently runs into less comical versions of Perkins’ screed, with weird fears of persecution and threat from the folks who quite truly rule the roost.

Read the whole article.

The Republicans Could Still Win — Molly Ball at The Atlantic reports that for all their gaffes and failed re-branding, they can still win elections.

The members of the Republican National Committee gathered in Washington this week. On Thursday, Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and former presidential candidate, was the featured speaker. “The Democrats,” Huckabee declared, “want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government.”

The creepy, condescending-uncle image, the retrograde attitude toward sex: Huckabee managed to illustrate exactly the phenomenon he was trying to decry, the perception that Republicans don’t know how to talk to or about women. Democrats were gleeful. Within hours, liberal groups had bombarded reporters with outraged statements, the White House press secretary had called the remark “offensive,” and MSNBC was playing the clip over and over (chyron: “HUCKED UP”). “If this is the GOP rebrand a year later, then all they’ve gotten is a year older,” gloated the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The “rebrand” Wasserman Schultz referenced was undertaken when Republicans, smarting from the loss of the presidential election, embarked on a course of soul-searching. A report commissioned by the RNC, the Growth and Opportunity Project, would soon deliver the bitter verdict that the party was widely viewed as a bunch of “stuffy old men,” and that major changes in orientation, rhetoric, and tactics would be needed if the GOP ever wanted to win another presidential election. (Sample: “There is growing unrest within the community of Republican women frustrated by the Party’s negative image among women …. Our candidates, spokespeople and staff need to use language that addresses concerns that are on women’s minds in order to let them know we are fighting for them.”)

But while Democrats fixate on what they consider the GOP’s failed makeover, Republicans have moved on. The delegates at Thursday’s RNC meeting weren’t brooding over the party’s lack of reorientation. They were getting upbeat briefings about how far the party has come in the past year and how bright the future looks. As Massachusetts Republican committeeman Ron Kaufman told me, the time for “painful self-examination” has passed. “Now we’re implementing it, and it’s going to pay off. Everything couldn’t be better right now for us.”

He’s not wrong. Without changing a thing, Republicans are very well positioned for the midterm elections this year and even for the 2016 presidential election. As the University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato recently noted, Republicans are almost guaranteed to keep the House of Representatives in November; they have about a 50-50 chance of taking the majority in the U.S. Senate; and they are likely to keep their majority of the nation’s governor’s mansions. The erosion of public trust in Obama and Democrats spurred by the botched introduction of the healthcare exchanges continues to reverberate in public polling of contests up and down the ballot, erasing the public-opinion edge Democrats gained from the government shutdown and tilting more and more contests in the GOP’s favor, according to Sabato, who on Thursday revised his ratings of three Senate contests, tilting all of them more toward Republicans.

One Word, 6 Million Times — Jodi Rudoren tells of a book that memorializes the Holocaust.

Jews - 6 million 01-26-14There is no plot to speak of, and the characters are woefully undeveloped. On the upside, it can be a quick read — especially considering its 1,250 pages.

The book, more art than literature, consists of the single word “Jew,” in tiny type, printed six million times to signify the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust. It is meant as a kind of coffee-table monument of memory, a conversation starter and thought provoker.

“When you look at this at a distance, you can’t tell whether it’s upside down or right side up, you can’t tell what’s here; it looks like a pattern,” said Phil Chernofsky, the author, though that term may be something of a stretch. “That’s how the Nazis viewed their victims: These are not individuals, these are not people, these are just a mass we have to exterminate.

“Now get closer, put on your reading glasses, and pick a ‘Jew,’ ” Mr. Chernofsky continued. “That Jew could be you. Next to him is your brother. Oh, look, your uncles and aunts and cousins and your whole extended family. A row, a line, those are your classmates. Now you get lost in a kind of meditative state where you look at one word, ‘Jew,’ you look at one Jew, you focus on it and then your mind starts to go because who is he, where did he live, what did he want to do when he grew up?”

The concept is not entirely original. More than a decade ago, eighth graders in a small Tennessee town set out to collect six million paper clips, as chronicled in a 2004 documentary. The anonymity of victims and the scale of the destruction is also expressed in the seemingly endless piles of shoes and eyeglasses on exhibit at former death camps in Eastern Europe.

Now Gefen Publishing, a Jerusalem company, imagines this book, titled “And Every Single One Was Someone,” making a similar statement in every church and synagogue, school and library.

While many Jewish leaders in the United States have embraced the book, some Holocaust educators consider it a gimmick. It takes the opposite tack of a multimillion-dollar effort over many years by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum here, that has so far documented the identities of 4.3 million Jewish victims. These fill the monumental “Book of Names,” 6 1/2 feet tall and 46 feet in circumference, which was unveiled last summer at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

“We have no doubt that this is the right way to deal with the issue,” said Avner Shalev, Yad Vashem’s director. “We understand that human life, human beings, individuals are at the center of our research and education. This is the reason we are investing so much in trying to retrieve every single human being, his name, and details about his life.”

Mr. Shalev declined to address the new book directly, but said dismissively, “Every year we have 6,000 books published about the Shoah,” using the Hebrew term for the Holocaust.

The book’s backers do not deny its gimmickry — Mr. Chernofsky used the Yiddish word “shtick” — but see it as a powerful one.

Ilan Greenfield, Gefen’s chief executive, noted that there is a blank line on the title page where people can dedicate each book, perhaps to a survivor like his mother-in-law.“Almost everyone who looks at the book cannot stop flipping the pages,” he said. “Even after they’ve looked at 10 pages and they know they’re only going to see the same word, they keep flipping.”

Doonesbury — Change of plans.

4 barks and woofs on “Sunday Reading

  1. Tom Perkins gets no sympathy from me. His analogy is ridiculous and untrue. It demeans all those who suffered and lost their lives in World War II. It makes him sound like a selfish, mean spirited little man. I think he should work the drive through at McDonald’s for a month, live off only off his earnings, and then come back and talk to us. I bet his perspective would change a bit.

  2. Wow, maybe Perkins really does have a guilty conscience? (I know, that silly optimist inside needs to get back in her closet, lol!) I mean, the only similarity I can see ‘twixt the poor Jews enduring Krystalnacht and the 1% is that BOTH were accused of running the financial system for their own benefit alone. Thing is, that was not true of the German Jews, but it could well be true of the 1%ers of America. Maybe he is just terrified someone will take a one-time wrong conclusion and draw a correct one?

  3. Every country, every region has a history of genocide. Why don’t we talk about when it happened here. Let us not forget how and why it did. And what we need to do to not create a culture where it could happen again.

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