Trip Report: Netroots Nation (part II)

By lambert strether

Part I of this post considered Being, Doing, and Writing. In each section, the theme of Agency was important, but in two senses: 1. The power to act on behalf of a principal, and 2. The power to act, as such. In Doing, especially, we see many agent/principal issues, if we view citizens as the principals (“We the people do ordain and establish”), and elected officials, union leaders, political operatives, etc., as their agents. (Or not. See at “pitch.”) But Writing, or at least blogging, is for me agency in sense two: The power to write in one’s own voice, and to find a public. Finally, Being shows the interplay between the two senses: Trade shows, because of travel, the buzz, the foraging, and the caffeine, always seem to reinforce one’s power to act; but one attends a trade show on behalf of a principal. More centrally, the alienation I felt came from the sense that many around me must have given trust and loyalty to principals whose actions and policies are inimical to me; yet I was present as an independent agent with the capacity to reflect on my experience. (As before, I’ll paraphrase and patch all the panel discussions from my notes.)

IV. Fucking

“I deserve good things. I am entitled to my share of happiness. I refuse to beat myself up. I am an attractive person. I am fun to be with.” — Sen. Al Franken (D) as Stuart Smalley

So, leaving the blogging panel early (Writing) I moved on to the sex panel. Because I came in late, I missed the introductions, and was present only for the discussion and Q&A. So I’ll keep it general, and fill in the blanks that I didn’t see in the discussion, but I’ll have a lot more questions than answers. We seem to be turning to the touchstones of Greek classics lately, so I’ll start by quoting Sappho as translated by Guy Davenport:

Eros makes me shiver again
Eros gall and honey,
Snake-sly, invincible.
Strengthless in the knees.

(Compare Barnard. I prefer Davenport’s live metaphor, “gall and honey” to Barnard’s “bittersweet,” and snake-sly, invincible is way more snaky than strikes.)

The panelists seemed to share a common desire for “sex positive” discourse; at least two compared themselves to the “cool sister,” the one who explains, from personal experience, what “good sex” can be, and that it’s OK, more than OK, to have it. (It may be that they saw the Democratic Party as the cool sister for the country, or at least its youth. I’m not so sure.) I’m of at least three minds here.

To begin, “sex positive” discourse (expressing “the full dignity of sexual agency,” as one panelist put it) strikes me as banal. “Snake-sly, invincible,” sex can be a gift from the Gods, an affliction, a joy, a poison; sex is pitiable, enviable, elastic, ecstatic; comic, tragic; dull; a duty. Is it truly possible to talk honestly of “gall and honey” and be “positive”? Isn’t that spectrum a little compressed? Can sex, like slow food, be “good, clean, and fair”? (If so, would sex stay that way?) I understand (“think of the teenagers!”) the pragmatic reasoning here, but “sex positive” strikes me as very much like the progressive version of a Noble Lie.

Then again, “sex negative” is banal and immoral; one panelist pointed out that abstinence programs delay the “strengthless in the knees” onset of sex just by a year, and that by fostering ignorance such programs foster disease and unwanted pregnancies into the bad bargain, thus neatly creating a self-licking ice cream cone of negative sex outcomes and the need for funded programs to reinforce expectations of negative outcomes (“Many people trying to fix the problem in a way that makes it worse”).

And then again… “Coming out,” which many on this panel have done. Whatever else “coming out” may mean, it makes a positive statement about whom one wishes to have sex with. I’m old enough to remember when the phrase did not exist, and that it now does, and that the coming out process is approaching normalcy as a rite of passage, is a triumph of courage, persistence, principle, and organizing skill — of agency — that we would to well to emulate in other spheres. The panel, with many on it who were out, could not have existed so easily, thirty or even twenty years ago.

There is not too much love in the world.

* * *

There was a lively and funny question and answer session, but I’ll fast forward to what I see as the flash point for “sex positive” discourse and for progressive/left/prefigurative thinking about sex generally:

Sex work, possibly so-called (I’m probably missing nuance here on first, second, and third waves, and the “sluts” discourse, but here goes.) One comment from the floor: “Many sex workers don’t identify as feminists, because they don’t see themselves as victims and don’t want to be rescued.” Another: “Can’t we all get along? Feminism doesn’t welcome sexual agency. But we’re all fighting for bodily autonomy.” A third: “If a woman possesses more than three condoms [why three?] that can be used as evidence that she’s a prostitute.” (“So go to CVS, buy a box, and turn yourself in!”)

Comment from the audience: “Sex work is work.” If so, is sex work “sex positive”? Ever? Is sex work a case of exercising one’s “bodily autonomy”? If so, is wage work? (And is sex work a subset of wage work? A superset? An intersection?) Is sex work something that you’d go to your “cool sister” for advice on? If you were that sister, what would you say? Does sex work partake of “the full dignity of human agency,” and, if so, in which sense of agency? If dignity can’t be achieved without agency, then why not take sex work out of System D, and make it legal? Then again, should selling kidneys be legal? Why or why not? During the discussion, I googled around to find out what the libertarians had to say, and found this panel at the 2012 NJ Libertarian Party Convention: “Kate D’Adamo – “Sex Worker Rights and the Path to Decriminalization.” Can we imagine such a panel at Netroots Nation 2013? How about at the Democratic Party Convention? No? Is that a good thing? Then I looked for the Greens. A draft of the Green 2010 Platform treats the term “sex work” as problematic, and puts it under the heading of Violence and Oppression. The final 2010 version bypasses the sex work discussion, and calls for adopting the Swedish model, which criminalizes the principals who purchase services, instead of criminalizing the service providers (the agents). Is that a good compromise? Is it a compromise?

And lest it be thought that we wander too far from the subject matter of this blog, let’s remember that sex scandals are a staple of discourse in official Washington, and not just when what happens in Cartagena doesn’t stay in Cartagena. Finance-oriented client #9 — well before nemesis overtook him — was given a T-shirt that read: “Hubris is terminal.” So Marcy Wheeler’s tweeted snark — “Last night, if I had the chance, I would have asked @AGSchneiderman if he was Client #13” — had more than a little truth potential. Can there be a power structure that doesn’t use sex and sex work as a tool for compliance? What would a power structure like that look like? What would sex look like?

As the moderator remarked: “Progressives don’t have talking points on sex, and progressives don’t have a shared vision around sex.” Indeed. The Republicans do: “Sex negative” (except for gay, closeted sex, of course, or sex with sex workers when one of their own is the principal). The Libertarians seem to (“Liberty!”). And the Greens seem to have arrived at a considered policy position. But not the Democrats/progressives/left. And we’re supposed to be the smart ones!

V. Spending

“But the dealers and usurers will cry out that what is written under hand and seal must be honoured. To this the jurists have given a prompt and sufficient answer. In malis promissis. Thus the theologians say that some people give the devil something under hand and seal signifies nothing, even if it is written and sealed in blood. For what is against God, Right and Nature is null and void. Therefore let a Prince who can do so, take action, tear up bond and seal, take no notice of it, etc. …”–Martin Luther

Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute ran a panel on the Fed, with Karl Smith (once of Modeled Behavior, now of Forbes), Matt Yglesias (Slate), and Lisa Donner (Americans for Financial Reform). I want to move along to Schneiderman, and it’s hard to see what value I could add for NC readership on the Fed anyhow, so I’ll just point to one major disconnect:

The panel was agreed that, basically, the entire economic establishment had boarded the #FAILboat well before the financial crisis. Konzcal quoted Greenspan’s famous except of course now forgotten “state of shocked disbelief.” Smith noted the dilemma of the economics professariat: “Accepting they were wrong and created a massive global disaster is really hard.” Matt Yglesias (and good for him) described the Fed’s policy this way: “It’s better to have millions of unemployed than have gas prices tick up. They’re crucifying the country on the 2% inflation threat.” And: “Mass unemployment is a crime.” That’s true, and all panelists agree that the Fed has the policy tools to alleviate unemployment. As Konczal pointed out in his opening remarks: “These are political choices.”

Again, the Fed knows how to reduce unemployment. But, as the panelists also said, using almost identical language throughout the hour, “the Fed chooses not to.” But doesn’t it make more sense to use positive language, regard the Fed as fully empowered moral agents, and say “The Fed has chosen permanently high unemployment.” And then ask why?

That’s the sort of question I’d expect to be asked at a panel titled: “Why the Fed is the Most Important Economic Issue You Know Nothing About.” But the question wasn’t asked. On the one hand, mass unemployment, loss of dignity, loss of homes, loss of health, depression, suicides. On the other, letter writing campaigns about financial transation taxes. Dodd-Frank. I’d like to believe that there’s help on the way. From this panel, there isn’t. Problems and solutions are completely incommensurate.

Anyhow, near the hotspot where I’d caffeinated myself in the morning there was a mile-long glass display case of full of chocolates, so I blew my budget on a slab of toffee. It was pretty good, and lasted for about five minutes. Then it was gone.

VI. Winning

“I tried to like you, boy, and I just couldn’t work it out.” –John D. MacDonald, Bright Orange for the Shroud

In the evening, Eric Schneiderman gave the opening keynote after a long build-up, complete with comedian, which I’ll skip, except to say that I had a nice little nap while Tammy Baldwin was speaking. I could see why funders might think Schneiderman’s worth backing, especially as opposed to a communist like Elizabeth Warren. He’s obviously smart, he can be funny — “The conservatives act like there are some pages in Genesis the rest of us missed: Thou shalt not eat shrimp, and thou shalt not regulate derivatives” — and he can put together a sustained, cogent argument in clear language. Of course, Schneiderman does look like the sort of undertaker who tries to upsell you to the $5000 casket when all you want for your “loved one” is cremation, followed by scattering the ashes, but presumably that can be fixed in time by the right “team.”

We had some advance notice that there would be some direct action during his speech, and indeed there was. As Scheiderman began to speak, audience members at one table shouted “Jail the banksters!” and held up signs (I which I later saw were printed by PCCC, and good for them). Massocchio covers the same ground in a fine report, but I’m going to give more detail on the talking points, because I suspect this was a dry run, and we’ll hear the rhetoric again. For all I know, there’s a transcript somewhere, but take this as a record of the talking points that came through.

SCHNEIDERMAN: “Netroots you have helped me in every aspect of my work.” “Movements create leaders, change consciousness, open possibilities for the future.” Movements always emerge from grassroots activity.” “I reject the great man theory of history.” “Speaking candidly, our officials are inclined toward caution” [irony!] “They give us what we make them give us.” “You lead, leaders will follow.”

[Lambert here. Spoiler alert: This is a recapitulation of the “Make me do it” argument that Obama fans deployed in 2009-2010. The problem — even if we don’t consider “hope and change” and the subsequent sidelining of Obama for America as a gigantic bait and switch operation — is that there’s little evidence that mere voters can make Obama do anything. (Bundlers have better luck, and even they haven’t done all that well.) Take health care reform — please: The outside game that single payer advocates perforce played didn’t affect ObamaCare at all. But the inside game played by public option advocates didn’t affect ObamaCare either, though it did suck all the oxygen away from single payer; Obama had betrayed them for Big Pharma from the beginning. Surely there’s more at work than “caution” here?]

SCHNEIDERMAN: “Give it up to the movement conservatives! This movement not Reagan is what has derailed our progress toward [shouts] — Thank you. We were getting to them. I’m glad you pay attention to pushing elected officials.” FDR: “I want to do it now make me do it.” Norquist: “We know what direction to go. We just need a President to sign this stuff.”

[This is an ingenious deflection. If elected officials are corrupt or malfeasant or non-responsive, it’s the voters who are at fault for not pushing them! (Just as long as they don’t run afoul of the NDAA, or an over-zealous bankster.) Come on. I can see how this would be true in marginal cases, but when Schneiderman signs onto a deal that puts a $2000 price on fraud, what pressure exactly would have caused him not to do that? It’s as if I (the principal) hire a contractor (an agent) to paint the walls in one of the rooms of the house. We shake hands, I hand over a deposit. I show him the room, he lays down the dropcloths and starts doing prep. At the end of the day, I check back. There’s a brush stroke on the wall the size of a postage stamp. “You need to make me paint the whole wall!”

SCHNEIDERMAN: “We are in a unique position to build a movement for economic justice.” “A movement transforms the way people think.” “Two kinds of politics: Transactional and transformational.” “Transactional gets the best deal given the givens. Transformational gets a deal where tomorrow is better than today. Changes the narrative of assumptions people make about politics and human nature that prevent progressive policies.”

[Schneiderman seems to forget that he is a rotating hero who has already rotated.]

SCHNEIDERMAN: “The greatest damage of conservatives is that they lead people to embrace policies that hurt them.” [George Lakoff. Shopworn talking points from 2008.] “But give due repect for their transformational work. They convinced people that unions, the institutions that created the middle class, are bad for the middle class.”

[Card check. Obama’s no-show in WI.]

SCHNEIDERMAN: “The conservative movement blew up the economy.”

[All the players and owners of both legacy parties since the neo-liberal ascendancy began in the mid-70s blew up the economy, every time there was a bubble. The conservative movement pitched in, but they didn’t repeal Glass-Steagall, pass TARP, or pass HAMP. True, the conservative movement hasn’t prosecuted a single bankster CEO for accounting control fraud, but then nobody has, unless Schneiderman got a memo I didn’t get, or Obama had one of them secretly shot. And the conservative movement didn’t retroactively legalize thousands of frauds on the court for robosigning, didn’t give the destruction of the public land title system the seal of approval, or end the rule of law. That would be down to Obama, whose “mortage settlement” Schneiderman proudly supports. Say, does Schneiderman’s Mortgage Task Force have an office and a phone yet? How the heck are we supposed to “make them do it” if they don’t even have a phone? Should we take the Acela in hopes of running into him? Maybe in shifts? Adopt entartisme? Help me out, here, Eric. I’m dying.]

SCHNEIDERMAN: “Most Americans are asking for change.” “People get that there’s growing inequality, and want to get back to a tradition of reaching for greater equality.” “As in the 30s we have opportunities.” “The most important thing about the New Deal is that its architects did not view it as a list [of policy proposals]. “Americans embraced the idea that I do better when my neighbors do better.” “Transformation of consciousness.” “Crisis creates opportunity.” “Caught up in the day-to-day, we miss the transformational battle.”

[So where does putting a $2000 price on fraud fit in with transforming consciousness? And how does that help my neighbor?]

SCHNEIDERMAN: “My office is investigating the bubble and and the crash in the mortgage market.” [No mention of fraud]. “The goals: 1. Accountability, 2. Help for homeowners, and 3. Everything out in the open so the other side [sic] can’t rewrite history.”

[Let me know how that works out. Putting on my tinfoil hat, I suspect Obama has some mid-level bankster trussed up in the trunk of his limousine for possible use as an October Surprise, when in case of emergency he (I assume he) will be handed over to Schneiderman’s Task Force for prosecution. There doesn’t need to be any investigation because the investigation necessary for such a purpose has already been done. Hence no phone. FWIW!]

SCHNEIDERMAN: “Teachers and firefighters didn’t blow up American economy.”

[Of course not. That’s why we saw Obama helping out with SB5 in Ohio and the Wisconsin recall. Oh, wait…]

SCHNEIDERMAN: “In some cases [do they have names? Like with “vs.” in them?] illegal conduct [by whom, exactly?] caused [how?] the bubble and the crash.” “The worst for me was in 2004 when the Feds refused to regulate predatory lending but preempted the states from regulating.” “Each victory is a transaction made possible by transformational work.” “I became Attorney General after the crash, and began to understand the path of destruction.” “Then I heard of the mortgage settlement and the deal was not adequate. What the banks wanted was a broad release.” “So I refused to go along, and was isolated with a few AGs like Beau Biden [applause] and we won.”

[You won? By what metric? If everything’s out in the open, where can I find it? And if homeowners are getting any real help, you’d have mentioned it, right? And who, exactly, has been held accountable? Oh, wait, I know the answer to that. It’s us, because we haven’t made you do it.]

SCHNEIDERMAN: “Then OWS exploded onto the scene and gave voice for demanding accountability.” “‘We want accountability, and we want equal justice’ all say, even though they might not think go to Zucotti Park.” “This is transformational work and not transactional, that accountability and inequality are back on the national agenda.” “Your work, I am confident, led to Obama’s SOTU statement, “there has to be one set of rules for everyone.” “Second New Deal.” “Are you in?”

[Of course I’m not in. Why would I be in? Here’s the baseline: Bankster CEOs in orange jump suits doing the perp walk on national TV for accounting control fraud. Not small fry. And not fall guys. When that’s done, maybe we can get to work on solving real problems.]

SCHNEIDERMAN: “Thank you for pushing for every greater equity.”

[You’re welcome.]

SCHNEIDERMAN: “I assure you that people are ahead of the politicians.”

[They’re not even on the same race track, which cuts both ways.]

SCHNEIDERMAN: “Communication, investigation, exposure.”

Let me know how it works out. Schneiderman to the press after the speech:

“Nothing’s off the table now. Nothing’s off the table.”

Except what the statute of limitations is taking off the table, of course. And Massochio says Schneiderman’s been running the transactional vs. transformational riff for some time. Ah well.


I started out by saying that Democrats subtract value from the political work that ordinary citizens do; what the Democrats did to the people who stood in the snow in the Wisconsin recall is a clear example. An even more clear example is the betrayal of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of first- and second-time voters with the “hope and change” con in 2008 (though fortunately not all of them are disillusioned, and some of them moved on to Occupy). In both cases, the apparatus of the Democratic Party turned into a roach motel for progressive energy; a “process decoy” as some would say. In Ohio, SB5 worked exactly because the election was not personalized in the form of a party candidate, and the message stayed crisp because the Democrats were not there to blur it.

If I sound dispirited, that’s because I’m dispirited about Democrats and about NN. When I think about the work that people are doing on the ground, outside the party structure, or using the parties for their own ends, I’m encouraged and awed. That’s agency.

I should end by mentioning something NN did that was really, really good. They started the keynote evening by inviting union workers from the Westin, the Biltmore, and the RI Convention Center up on the stage. The workers had been fighting to regain their benefits, pay, and jobs, and NN used its market clout to help them. That too is agency, though of course the workers are the principals. And again, I’m grateful to Yves for sending me, to NN for letting me in, and for your patience, readers, as I slowly worked my way through this report.

Travel tip: airbnb worked great. It’s the only good reason I’ve ever found to have a Faceborg account, other than giving the Stasi advance notice of my every move, of course. Kidding!

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Dan Lynch

    Lambert wrote: ‘the Fed knows how to reduce unemployment. But, as the panelists also said, using almost identical language throughout the hour, “the Fed chooses not to.” But doesn’t it make more sense to use positive language, regard the Fed as fully empowered moral agents, and say “The Fed has chosen permanently high unemployment.”’

    Not sure if Lambert was faithfully reporting what he heard the panel say, or agreeing with the panel, or both ?

    MMT says there is little the Fed can do. The Fed cannot increase aggregate demand or create a Job Guarantee.

    The Panel’s blaming the economy on the Fed conveniently takes the blame off Obama. That’s a feature, not a bug.

    1. TK421

      Let’s remember, Obama chose Ben Bernanke to hed the Fed during his term. Bernanke told anyone who would listen that he had no intention of fighting unemployment (and there are things he could do, I believe) during his re-confirmation period. So blaming the Fed should mean blaming Obama as well. He was quite happy to have a Fed chairman who doesn’t care about unemployment.

    2. YesMaybe

      So would Keynes, and so does Krugman for that matter. I’d say it’s a feature. Here are some points roughly on a continuum:

      1. Recognizing growth isn’t sustainable and adapting to the new regime (e.g. acting likes it’s 1972, when Limits to Growth was published).
      2. Recognizing that growth is not the most important thing (e.g. acting like it’s 1958, when The Affluent Society was published).
      3. Recognizing that there is such a thing as a liquidity trap (e.g. acting like it’s the late 1930s when Keynes’ work was getting around) and the fed can’t solve all problems.
      4. Claiming the Fed can fix unemployment and is simply refusing to (I don’t really know when such a notion came on the scene).

      It seems the folks at netroots are at 4, whereas reality demands 1.

    3. josh

      The Fed used to be able to affect aggregate demand. Policy has disconnected our financial system from production and employment. At one time, throwing money at banks would ease capital investment for individuals and productive sectors. Now it just pads Wall Street bonuses and inflates the prices of derivatives.

      Whether the Fed actually cares about increasing aggregate demand as opposed to shoveling money to banks is a separate issue.

  2. Aquifer

    re riff on sex – seems to me “sex”, at least in this country, if not all over, is overrated and undervalued …. As Jeff Goldblum put it in The Big Chill, rationalizations are more important …


    “Accepting they were wrong and created a massive global disaster is really hard.”

    I have noticed that this is a pretty good description of many ’08 Obama supporters, as well – goes along with that little link in Links on how “being smart” tends to get in the way …

    “It was pretty good, and lasted for about five minutes. Then it was gone.”

    Yeah – a pretty good description of what O’s supporters must feel ….

    So, my question is, how many “diagnostic” tests will we conduct and how many “positive” (as in pathognomonic) results must we have before we decide it is time to act on the diagnosis of cancer? Or, as Stein would say, “throw the bums out”?

    Are “transaction” and “transformation” our only 2 choices – how about “transition”?

    How many more coals must we bring to Newcastle before we acknowledge that coal is the problem, and once having acknowledged that, how much more masochistic must we be in continuing to wallow in the mines, obviously quite willing to be shafted all along the way …

    “Transaction” – agreeing on the price of the coal
    “Transformation” – digging the hole in the landscape
    “Transition” – moving beyond the mining paradigm

    Is it pride, is it hubris, is it masochism? Why can’t we “move on” to doing what we need to do? Are we really that “smart”?

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      To admit one’s error, especially due to self-deceit, vanity, or faith in a grifter, wounds one’s “pride.” It is true: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” One who cannot “move on” in the face of shame is likely “petit/petty.”

      Courage requires us to pick up the pieces and “glue them to the sticking place” through an act of will, in the profound sense conveyed by Rollo May in his timeless study, “LOVE AND WILL,” worthy of serious attention always.

  3. LeonovaBalletRusse

    Lambert, you surpass yourself in excellence. What next?

    Dr. Mate, among others, must have keen insights into “sex work,” since so many who have “chosen” this “profession/trade” were subjected to sexual abuse in childhood. The “die of desire” is cast in childhood.

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      RE: Lambert’s “transactional vs. transformational” link — follow Truthout list past Schneiderman to Rebecca Stolnit’s piece on “The Butterfly and the Boiling Point.”

  4. Jill

    Here’s something that I find truly galling: “Matt Yglesias (and good for him) described the Fed’s policy this way: “It’s better to have millions of unemployed than have gas prices tick up. They’re crucifying the country on the 2% inflation threat.” That is just bull shit. The Fed’s policy is about shovelling money to those who stole it, lost it gambling, and need to have their losses covered. Steal, lose, recoup from taxpayer, repeat. That is the reason the 99% are being cruicified.

    I agree that unemployment is a crime but Matt and other left wing luminaria will never openly admit who is causing it. Netroots is showing its roots–lefties like to have “thought leaders” whom they worship in lieu of thinking for themselves. NR is recruiting those “leaders”, putting them on display at its conference to up their leftie cred.

    Their “leaders” work for the powerful– to keep them in place, to obfuscate what is happening.

  5. Jill


    I’m feeling particularly cynical today so I can’t agree with you on this. Gas prices as an explanation of the Feds’ action is what the CIA would call a “limited hangout”.

    The govt. knows that denying the level of unemployement just won’t work for them now. Too many people are suffering. They have to acknowlegde it but they have to manage our response to it–hence, it’s gas price fear. Instead it should be–We are kleptocrats who want to take every last dollar. We know how to take it and we will take it. Piss off!!! (Mr. Diamonte pretty much laid that out in his testimony.)

    Voters would react differently to the truth than to the limited hangout version of causation.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I’m trying to reproduce what they panelists said. My personal belief is that permanently high DISemployment is the preferred policy of the elites. As you say, it’s got nothing to do with gas prices — unless Bernanke is even more delusional than we think. (Atrios has flipped to thinking Bernanke is evil, not stupid, reinforcing the idea that DISemployment policy. And who cares if some animals suffer and die? Culling the herd is necessary!)

      That said, it’s good that Yglesias et al recognize the suffering. It’s a first step. Of course, that could all turn into Pontius Pilate-like hand-washing, but I’d rather have that than Randroid triumphalism. I suppose.

      1. LeonovaBalletRusse

        They definitely are in “culling of the herd” mode. Georgia Guidestones. Why do all of these tendencies toward dictatorship happen in Georgia?

      2. Jill


        I want to clarify my earlier statement because I can see how it would be interpreted in a way I didn’t mean.

        I don’t agree with you that Matt’s statement is a good step forward. I feel it is a limited hangout. But I don’t find your statement galling. I find Matt’s statement galling.

        It’s difficult for me to see how anyone who is sincerely trying to understand the state of affairs in our nation could attribute unemployment to the Fed’s fear of gas prices. I understand this isn’t your position, it’s Matt’s.

        Sorry if I wasn’t clear before. We just disagree about Matt.

    2. Rehabber

      Structural unemployment does also benefit the elite class in that those dependent on largesse and/or constrained by debt burdens are both distracted from what’s going on around them and easier to control.

      1. TK421

        Not only that, but the more out-of-work people are, the lower the cost of labor is. It’s easier to find people who will work for peanuts when there are lots of desperately unemployed workers out there.

  6. MontanaMaven

    Thanks for the first hand reporting. I posted a piece over at your website before I read this. We both used “the roach motel” metaphor. I like it. Places like Naked Capitalism are like wearing a gas mask when we do have to infiltrate. I’m glad you were wearing yours.

    I recommend Doug Henwood on “Walker’s victory un-sugar-coated”.

    In Doug book 1997 “Wall Street”, he called the derivatives mess. This is a must read book. A year ago he warned about the Wisconsin uprising turning “to mush” by the AFL-CIO and the Democratic Party. His “Left Business Observer” is a great read.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      That would be “our” website MM ;-) Although with the campaign load and the still invisible site redesign and upgrade I have not posted as much as I should. Thanks for the links!

    2. LeonovaBalletRusse

      The “roach motel” metaphor is a staple in Reggie Middleton’s pantry also.

  7. TK421

    I would be hesitant to adopt the “Swedish model” regarding prostitution. This viewpoint assumes that prositution and sex trafficking are one and the same, and they are manifestations of evil men’s desire to dominate and destroy women. In reality, sex trafficking is nowhere near as common as Swedish model proponents claim, there is a world of difference between sex trafficking and prostitution, and men go to prostitutes to have easy, no-strings-attached sexual encounters rather than to exert control over the women of the world. If you want to know why prostitutes really chose that job, just ask them–many of them have blogs in this age. I don’t patronize prostitutes, but if someone else wants to that is fine with me, and directing law enforcement at victimless crimes does nothing at all to help victims of sex trafficking.

    I’m disapointed that the Green Party would sign on to this fallacy, but no one is perfect.

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      Professional prostitutes serve men who shun intimacy/involvement, who want to feel “in control.”

      1. Nathanael

        So what? If men with emotional issues want to pay for the temporary illusion of control, let them. As long as the rights to good working conditions, unionization, and the right to refuse clients can be guaranteed for the sex workers (rights which *aren’t* guaranteed right now) why would you make it illegal?

        Everything I’ve read from blogging prostitutes supports the “worker rights” model of prostitution policy. So your clients are mostly messed-up, self-deluded men. Criminalizing that isn’t really helpful.

    2. enouf

      I concur (almost wholly), however i disagree with this part;

      … In reality, sex trafficking is nowhere near as common as Swedish model proponents claim, …

      (Not that we even disagree)
      Although i admit i have no idea who these “Swedish model proponents” are, nor what their exact claims are, nor what in the world one (prostitution, prohibition for victimless illegalities — see WarOnDrugs) has to do with the other (violent and vicious control through Aggression) …Child- Slave- Sex- Trafficking is quite horrifically prolific (sadly) throughout the globe.


      p.s. You might agree — perhaps i misread, or misunderstand your original statement — and Yes, ’tis a pity the Greens would adopt such a platform, though i can see it mirroring the “Go after the Employer to stop illegal immigration” model.

  8. Hugh

    Schneiderman is just a third tier Democratic snake oil salesman. Apparently, that is all Netroots Nation rates nowadays.

    As someone once said, “When it come to sex, we are all hypocrites.” Being trapped in a room with a bunch of soi-disant progressives (or any other political grouping) discussing sex sounds like my version of h*ll and brings up all kinds of images of Sartre’s Huis clos.

  9. Rehabber

    On the Fed’s purpose – I suspect the Fed is trying to maintain the greenback as world reserve currency and is wiling to sacrifice anything else.

  10. Dan Kervick

    I second the points made above on unemployment and the Fed. The Fed’s ability to alleviate unemployment is quite limited. This neo-monetarist exaggeration of Fed powers has taken off in the last couple of years because a lot of people in power or close to power want to take the pressure off politicians. The politicians have massive tools available to them that they are choosing not to use; the Fed is a convenient scapegoat.

    Republicans in Congress? Economically ignorant and malevolent cretins who are intensifying unemployment on purpose both to advance their political goal of dumping Obama and to pursue the long term goal of drowning what the government in a bathtub and transforming what is left of American democracy into a system of untrammeled private ownership. They should be dragged out of the Capitol and flogged.

    The President? An obsequious coward who is unwilling to make a frontal assault on said Congress, who is dependent on financial sector titans for political support, and who is attempting to court moderates by signing onto the “out of money” theme of the debt hysterians.

    Pundits like Yglesias? Part of the group that gets invited to WH strategy conference calls and is taking its marching orders from the WH.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I guess I don’t focus so much on the mechanics (making me analytically sloppy, OK, point taken!). It seems to me that permanently high DISemployment is the policy. Whether the Fed has the tools, or only thinks they have the tools, isn’t relevant to the reality of the policy (which, whether they’re managing it from self-delusion or real understanding) seems to be working just fine.

    2. Mark P.

      “…a lot of people in power or close to power want to take the pressure off politicians. The politicians have massive tools available to them that they are choosing not to use; the Fed is a convenient scapegoat.”


    3. Nathanael

      Ability or legal authority?

      Since the suspension of the rule of law by the Supreme Court in 2000, ratified by Bush and Obama, there is a sharp distinction between legal authority (the Federal Reserve has little legal authority to relieve unemployment) and ability (the Federal Reserve has massive ability to relieve unemployment — it could just print money and hire people directly).

  11. knowbuddhau

    Thanks for making plain as day the sleight-of-hand in the “make him do it” narrative.

    Thoroughly enjoyed this report, esp the part where you write:

    [This is an ingenious deflection. If elected officials are corrupt or malfeasant or non-responsive, it’s the voters who are at fault for not pushing them! (Just as long as they don’t run afoul of the NDAA, or an over-zealous bankster.) Come on. I can see how this would be true in marginal cases, but when Schneiderman signs onto a deal that puts a $2000 price on fraud, what pressure exactly would have caused him not to do that? It’s as if I (the principal) hire a contractor (an agent) to paint the walls in one of the rooms of the house. We shake hands, I hand over a deposit. I show him the room, he lays down the dropcloths and starts doing prep. At the end of the day, I check back. There’s a brush stroke on the wall the size of a postage stamp. “You need to make me paint the whole wall!”

    HA! I love it. Right this minute, I’m in my second week of waiting for the email that will tell me precisely when and where to start a two month house-painting gig on an estate on a neighboring island.

    If I don’t make the contractor send me that email, it’s my fault, and mine alone, that I’m chronically underemployed. OTOH, in reality, if I get too insistent, I’ll get no job at all. What a lovely Catch-22.

    I’m getting a vaguely religious vibe. Imagine POTUS as an incorrigible sinner, going through the motions of praying to his god not to be led into temptation, but to be delivered from evil.

    Pity poor POTUS! We, his putative creators, perennially fail to make him be a saint, so it’s not his fault that he goes and sins some more.

    Does this apply to mythical “job creators” as well? If we don’t make them give us not just dead-end wage-slave jobs, but genuine livelihoods, then it must be our fault that we’re getting sold down the river.

    Reminds me of Henry Giroux’s recent articles on the personalization of systemic failures.

    [Also, a belated thanks for posting “Straight to Hell” on Memorial Day Weekend. Very happy to say, I saw The Clash live in Seattle on the Combat Rock tour. As a son of a Vietnam vet, that track always brings tears to my eyes. I suppose it’s my dad’s personal fault for not making POTUS not send him to war.]

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Got a link on Henry Giroux? One potential lesson from OH vs. WI (see previous post) is that personalization leads right to partisanship and from there to a legacy party roach model.

      “Principles not personalities.”

      1. knowbuddhau

        For starters, there’s

        I’m thinking esp of “The Scorched-Earth Politics of America’s Four Fundamentalisms” [06 March 2012

        Market Fundamentalism

        A number of powerful anti-democratic tendencies now threaten American democracy and at least four of these are guaranteed to entail grave social and economic consequences. The first is a market fundamentalism that not only trivializes democratic values and public concerns, but also enshrines a rabid individualism, an all-embracing quest for profits and a social Darwinism in which misfortune is seen as a weakness, and a Hobbesian “war of all against all” replaces any vestige of shared responsibilities or compassion for others. Free-market fundamentalists now wage a full-fledged attack on the social contract, the welfare state, any notion of the common good and those public spheres not yet defined by commercial interests. Within neoliberal ideology, the market becomes the template for organizing the rest of society. Everybody is now a customer or client, and every relationship is ultimately judged in bottom-line, cost-effective terms. Freedom is no longer about equality, social justice or the public welfare, but about the trade in goods, financial capital and commodities.

        As market fundamentalism ensures that the logic of capital trumps democratic sovereignty, low-intensity warfare at home chips away at democratic freedoms, while high-intensity warfare abroad delivers democracy with bombs, tanks and chemical warfare. The cost abroad is massive human suffering and death. At home, as Paul Krugman points out, “The hijacking of public policy by private interests” parallels “the downward spiral in governance.”(13) With the rise of market fundamentalism, economics is accorded more respect than politics and the citizen is reduced to being only a consumer – the buying and selling of goods is all that seems to matter. Even children are now targeted as a constituency from which to make money, reduced to commodities, sexualized in endless advertisements and shamelessly treated as a market for huge profits. Market fundamentalism not only makes time a burden for those without health insurance, child care, a decent job and adequate social services, but it also commercializes and privatizes public space, undermining both the idea of citizenship and those very spaces (schools, media etc.) needed to produce a formative culture that offers vigorous and engaged opportunities for dialogue, debate, reasoned exchange and discriminating judgments. Under such circumstances, hope is foreclosed and it becomes difficult either to imagine a life beyond capitalism or to believe in a politics that takes democracy seriously.

        When the market becomes the template for all social relations, the obligations of citizenship are reduced merely to consumption, while production is valued only insofar as it contributes to obscene levels of inequality. Not only the government but all the commanding institutions of society are now placed in the hands of powerful corporate interests, as market fundamentalism works hard to eliminate government regulation of big business and celebrates a ruthless competitive individualism. This type of strangulating control renders politics corrupt and cynical. Robert Kuttner gets it right when he observes:

        One of our major parties has turned nihilist, giddily toying with default on the nation’s debt, revelling in the dark pleasures of fiscal Walpurginsnacht. Government itself is the devil…. Whether the tart is the Environment Protection Agency, the Dodd-Frank law or the Affordable Care Act, Republicans are out to destroy government’s ability to govern … the administration trapped in the radical right’s surreal logic plays by Tea Party rules rather than changing the game … the right’s reckless assault on our public institutions is not just an attack on government. It is a war on America.[14]

        In the land of the isolated individual, everything is privatized and public issues collapse into individual concerns so there is no way of linking private woes to social problems – the result is a dog-eat-dog world. Moreover, when all things formerly linked to the public good are so aggressively individualized and commercialized, it leaves few places in which a critical language and democratic values can be developed to defend institutions as vital public spheres. [Emphasis added.]

        However, I’m not so sure the administration is “trapped in the radical right’s surreal logic….” If it is trapped, it’s one the Wall Street Dems have set for themselves, as described by Jeff Cohen in a 3 Feb 2010 interview on The Real News Network.

        “Progressives and the Democratic Party (Part 2)”

        [JEFF COHEN:] What’s not talked about as much is that there was a parallel movement that started in the 1980s, which was to take the other major party, the historic party of the people, the Democratic Party, and turn it more toward the corporate right. And what happened in the 1980s�and it was in fear of these same forces�labor unions, new left, antiwar, environmentalist, feminist. There was this sense that the Democratic Party was too allied with these movements, these social movements that were representing millions of people, so the Democratic Leadership Council was set up. It was set up, funded by oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, tobacco companies, some of the biggest companies in the country. It was largely a corporate front inside the Democratic Party to fight the movements in the Democratic Party and move the leadership of the party toward corporate prerogatives. Who were the leaders of it? Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Joe Lieberman. These were three of the big figures, and, of course, they were the presidential and vice presidential candidates in ’92, ’96, and 2000. So it was, frankly, a very successful movement.

        Well, let’s update the Democratic Leadership Council. In 2000�. And they set up a few other groups, think tanks, that would push what was their agenda, so-called free trade, deficit reduction, budget balancing, and taking on the teachers unions, school vouchers. So now let’s move to 2006, and a new group is formed as part of this constellation of moving the Democratic Party to the corporate right, and it’s a group called the Alexander Hamilton Project of the Brookings Institution. And the director of it is Robert Rubin, who had been the Treasury Secretary for Clinton, had been at Goldman Sachs and, later, Citigroup. Roger Altman had been US Treasury Department under Clinton.

        And there’s an amazing thing. And this group is set up for budget deficit, international trade, taking on the teachers union, and they had their founding meeting in April 2006. And only one US senator shows up to speak at this founding meeting, and that’s a very new senator, Barack Obama from Illinois, who’s only been in Washington a little over a year. So for a lot of us who were tracking Obama in 2007, of course he got a lot of $25 and $50 donations from people that really wanted change they could believe in, but in 2007, way before he was a front-runner, he was out-fundraising all the other candidates from Wall Street.

        And it was something I’ve never quite been able to figure out. There were two presidential candidates from the state of New York, Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton, and Obama was out-fundraising them from Wall Street early in ’07. Now, Wall Street money and corporate money always goes to the front-runner. Obama was getting this money before he was the front-runner. So the missing piece to the puzzle is this clip where Obama is the only senator who shows up at the Alexander Hamilton Project.

        [VIDEO] SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): Thank you very much. I would love just to sit here with these folks and listen, because you’ve got on this panel and in this room some of the most innovative, thoughtful policymakers. I want to thank Bob and Roger and Peter for inviting me to be here today. I wish I could be here longer.

        [Emphasis added. Paragraph breaks added for clarity.]

        1. knowbuddhau

          Breaking ’08 Pledge, Leaked Trade Doc Shows Obama Wants to Help Corporations Avoid Regulations

          A draft agreement leaked Wednesday shows the Obama administration is pushing a secretive trade agreement that could vastly expand corporate power and directly contradict a 2008 campaign promise by President Obama. A U.S. proposal for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact between the United States and eight Pacific nations would allow foreign corporations operating in the U.S. to appeal key regulations to an international tribunal. The body would have the power to override U.S. law and issue penalties for failure to comply with its ruling. We speak to Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, a fair trade group that posted the leaked documents on its website. “This isn’t just a bad trade agreement,” Wallach says. “This is a ‘one-percenter’ power tool that could rip up our basic needs and rights.” [includes rush transcript]

        2. Aquifer

          Thanx for the Real News link! It fills in the blanks for me. I remember the discussion in ’08 about the Dem primaries being a battle “for the soul of the Dem Party”, when it seemed to me it was a battle for the leadership of the DLC – and Obama won, for awhile ….

  12. Mel

    “To begin, “sex positive” discourse (expressing “the full dignity of sexual agency,” as one panelist put it) strikes me as banal.”

    L’enfer c’est les autres. By its nature sex drives people to get mixed up with les autres. It’s always going to be complicated. “Sex good” discourse is probably a necessary — simplification.

    Lots of social control works by taking people’s sex away so it can be sold back to them. The “sex bad” discourse is the justification for the taking. You’ll never get good decisions from an electorate that’s being dragged around in that way.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I think I’m a meliorist. I would go so far as “Sex often better.” I realize that’s not especially marketable… Adding, at least “sex negative” doesn’t domesticate, unlike “sex positive.”

      * * *

      “Lots of social control works by taking people’s sex away so it can be sold back to them.”


      “Lots of social control works by taking people’s _____ away so it can be sold back to them.”

      Only “lots”?

  13. fairleft

    Not Schneiderman: “They convinced people, including President Obama, that unions, the institutions that created the middle class, are bad for the middle class.”

  14. René

    “Can there be a power structure that doesn’t use sex and sex work as a tool for compliance?”


    “What would a power structure like that look like?”

    Instead of a pyramid it would look like a circle.

    “What would sex look like?”

    Something between frigidity and perversion, more natural, more beautiful, and simply more.

    (search: OSHO SEX)

  15. Min

    “all panelists agree that the Fed has the policy tools to alleviate unemployment.”

    Really? How come? Where is the evidence?

  16. Nathanael

    Off topic.

    In historical analogies, I’m seeing very close similarities between Barack Obama and Millard Fillmore.

    The Democratic Party may well break from its internal fractures before the Republican Party breaks from its fractures. This would be dangerous, as the Republican Party leaders will seize the opportunity to abolish democracy before their party loses popular support.

  17. enouf


    Just wanted to say a hearty thank you — i really like your writing style, and wish i had that talent (though i do have others ;-)). I especially like your [interjected comments] heh; I read as far as the Schneiderman drivel (and quickly scrolled over the vomit) and almost missed your comments – fortunately (for me) i had a second skim over and noticed. I wonder what it might take to ever have some sort of *real dialogue* with genuine answers/replies .. sigh .. i fear it shall not happen for centuries, if not millenia.


  18. ohmyheck

    Yay! I’m on vacation and so happy to read Lambert liveblogging NN….srsly grateful. Kick some ass, please. You have plenty of targets. I have a personal list of names, if you get bored. ;-)

  19. Ms G

    Lambert, Thank you for your incisive report from the trenches. Between your report and the Dimon-Senate performance yesterday I’m wavering between really depressed and apoplectic. Your laser focus on the two themes of politicians telling non-bundler citizens “you have to make me do it and if I don’t it’s your fault” and the deliberate DisEmployment policy that is beyond doubt in effect was especially trenchant. And who knew that a discussion of sex would rate a panel at this event soi-disant focused on the real pressing issues in our republic. Did anyone raise the point that when it comes to white collar types and politicians a sexual indiscretion is often a career ender whereas destroying the economy and our social fabric result in promotions, bonuses, taxpayer bailouts and “get a room” seances at Senate Hearings? Just wondering :)J’adore l’Amerique.

    Well done. And thanks Yves for sending Lambert on this mission.

  20. buyusedcar

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