Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Guest: Professor Eric Alterman

This Just In! Michelle Bachmann is bat-shit crazy. (Though most of us already knew that.)

It always seems that the response to the State of the Union address is more interesting than the address itself and this year we get two! One from Paul “Guess who’s not going to be “president” Ryan and the other from Michelle “Makes most of the Tea Partiers look sane” Bachmann.

Besides Michelle Bachmann’s camera/teleprompter problems, goth eye make-up, and pronunciation problems, you had the speech itself:

And I believe that America is the indispensable nation of the world. Just the creation of this nation itself was a miracle. Who can say that we won’t see a miracle again? The perilous battle that was fought during World War II in the Pacific at Iwo Jima was a battle against all odds, and yet this picture immortalizes the victory of young GIs over the incursion against the Japanese. These six young men raising the flag came to symbolize all of America coming together to beat back a totalitarian aggressor.


Product DetailsProfessor Eric Alterman joins the show to talk about his new book Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama.  In the book Professor Alterman makes the case that many of the concessions that President Obama has made are largely due to a political system that is rigged against progressive change. Sam makes the case that some of this is Obama’s doing by surrounding himself with enemies of the progressive agenda.

Sam then reads from an email by journalist Kevin Baker rebutting President Obama’s State of the Union address around the topic of “American Prosperity.” Some seem to discount the roles that Unions have played in building the middle class. The email is not online so please listen to today’s podcast to hear Sam read and comment.

You still have a chance to name The Majority Report Post Show! Hop over to this thread to nominate what you want this part of the show to be called or just vote for your favorite!

Today’s Post Show was a little shorter than usual since Sam has to hop on a train to DC for the Families USA Health Action Conference but he certainly had time to take listener IMs. Not sure how to IM Sam? We put together a quick How To on setting up Instant Messenger with the AIM Express app.

Tomorrow Sam will have Jame Hamsher on to talk about the incident at Quantico over the weekend.

Parting thought: Did john McCain have any idea where he was last night?

Is he asking Joe to smell his finger?

Listen to clips of the show via Official.FM

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40 Responses to Wednesday, January 26, 2011

  1. Dr Radmanthys says:

    Good morning! Hoping the show will end with “Just Coffee Klatsch with Sam Seder” today…

  2. Peaches!

    mornin gang!

    • E Rock says:

      morning jimbo, wheres my quote of the day?

      • eya E Rock!

        “As the custodians of a government empowered to represent their interests, the citizens of a democracy must face the world as adults – not like children sitting in a Sunday school or watching some big patriotic movie. What should stir public outrage – and what does, despite TV – is the subversion of democracy; and when that crime does not work anybody up, and only then, it will be time to call it quits.”

        Mark Crispin Miller – “The Bush Dyslexicon”

  3. Morning all.

  4. heh!

    Sarah the gush pot!

  5. ^..^~~~~crazy Bachmann!

  6. Thank you Sammy, give Obama some love! I thought it was a fucking home run!!

  7. Obama Forces Republicans Into a Corner

    President Obama “put Republicans in something of a box last night,” The Note observes.

    “He oozed optimism, telling Americans in the last moments of his speech that, ‘From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.”

    “On the other hand, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who gave the Republican response and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who delivered what was billed as the Tea Party rebuttal, both focused on the negative — crushing deficit, the debt crisis, the ballooning size of government.”

    First Read notes

    Ryan’s speech “was gloomy, especially compared with Obama’s positive and forward-looking address… This will ultimately be a challenge for the Republicans competing against Obama in 2012. How do you both criticize his policies and chart a new course, but also remain optimistic? Ryan has a fairly sunny nature, and he had a hard time looking optimistic. This is NOT going to be easy for the actual presidential field.”

  8. /Media Matters rocks!

    Right on. Expose the phony-corporate-left and then let’s all eat cake!

    Damn it’s early…where can I can some good coffee? Oh look here…this is great

    Finally got a pic up at my site. It’s me and my twin brother ‘J’. Can you guess which one’s me Sam?

  9. sophia says:

    Someone PLEASE teach Alterman how to speak into a phone/radio mic /whatever properly.

    I guess I should be grateful that he’s not stuffing his face this time.

  10. and the left needs MORE money!

    • E Rock says:

      “What does Canada want?”

      “More Money!”

      “What do you mean more money?”

      “Well you know, more money! Give us some of that Internet money. Yeah, internet money!”

      God I love south park.

      • actually

        at this point i’m a US citizen only

        however in a few months i should have dual citizenship.

        • E Rock says:

          lol well I was not commenting on your being Canadian jim(had no idea). what you said about more money reminded me of a funny South Park bit where Canada goes on strike and demands more money.

          Btw, Id move to Canada if it was warmer and had beaches. I just cant leave the nice mixed weather in Maryland.

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  12. Reality is depressing.

  13. Boehner’s tears: alcohol and/or depression

  14. Dr Radmanthys says:

    I think it should probably be noted in the description of this show that Eric Alterman didn’t watch the SOTU address. Although I can’t really blame him, I find the pageantry around the president annoying and essentially undemocratic. Obviously it’s easier to swallow when you agree with some of what he says (unlike with Bush), but too much like a monarch speaking to his subjects for me.

    • I think Alterman is brilliant, but kind of a joker. Dr. R. did you watch the SOTU?

      I hear you, but for me its a big deal to listen to what the president says. I mean when Bush was president, you could literally recite what he said and people would be like, “no way, thats fucked up!” it is much better now to have a figurehead that presents an image that we can be proud of.

  15. dogfido says:

    I think it will become apparent that Obama is just a bagman for the super rich. He just doesn’t want it to be too obvious. He wants a place in History. He needs to be primaryed for the sake of the left.

  16. With the wrong camera thing Bachmann actually reminded me of the old Monty Python bit with the “silly” candidate who seems to be operating on his own rules of gravity (go to 2:20 @

  17. William Hurley says:

    The Baker e-mail you read on today’s program was outstanding stuff, Sam. Thanks. It was a polemic that provided an incisive, dynamic lift – and clarification – of the structural themes struck by Alterman.

    The coda to Baker’s missive is, to my analysis, beware of distraction. The distractions are many, and enumerating them here is to aid them before identifying the obstacles in plain-sight in the metaphorical road ahead.

    Those obstacles can be summed up as this, China and the nations operating within its sphere of influence will not hesitate to shut the doors to “globalization” dependent nation’s and non-native businesses. Protectionism, as we in the US/Europe define it is merely paternalism in Chinese eyes. As such, competition is decidedly not advantaged by “being better”, it pivots on being good enough to stand apart.

    Being distracted by the distractions drives policy options that target the wrong problem in whole or in proportion. Either way, time, resources and capital – political and economic – are consumed with marginal return.

    As someone else asked, can you make Baker’s message accessible?


    • I don’t disagree with the arguments about trade policy. I have a problem with taking away from the message that Obama gave about education and investment in technology.

      The things that Obama mentioned specifically, electric cars, high speed rail access, internet access, these are all good for jobs, as far as I can see. Am I missing something?

      Go ahead and make your policy points about trade, but don’t shit on a good message in the process.

      • All of those things are good, but the idea that any of that will prevent our descent into permanent third-world status is a fairy tale.

      • William Hurley says:

        Actually, JR, I think we’re in violent agreement as to the projects, some of which you listed, but for different reasons.

        Which of the infrastructure undertaking will necessarily make the US equal to if not more competitive with China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, or even Germany? None, truly. But, they’re still needed because this nation will need to address the economic and social realities of greater dependence on domestic consumption and production future forward.

        As the economy is situated today, exports and imports are crucial elements of our economy. In the immediate present, or as George Lopez says “right now, right now”, exports are the driving force behind the minor manufacturing sector up-tick. Present behavior is not a trend, certainly not one upon which to build it and hope they will come capital projects. Much of what is exported can and will be provided by suppliers closer to (geographically or politically) the Chinese Sphere.

        If our political leadership, Democrats alone or “it’s a miracle” time GOPers too, realize the impending shift in orientation to a balance of economic activity that’s predominantly domestically resets the table as to which infrastructure investments make the best sense for the long run (2-5 decades). The so-called BRIC block will not “out compete” us, nor do I think they’re trying to. As I wrote above, “good enough” is good enough for them to stand apart from the US, and other potential hegemons, while providing the necessary socio-economic complexity that delivers good standards of living therein. A relative peerage, if you will. But, a peerage that’s balanced by protectionist self-interest and the chase to innovate new energy and bio-medical autonomy.

        And those are merely the “ante”.

        Consider that Google, with a market cap that’s top 5 globally, has less than 20,000 employees in the US. Neither Google nor Facebook, stale but high profile examples, so not view the US as their “growth” markets. As such, even if both remain successful, US based hiring will be nominal and most likely highly specialized. In what is likely a counter-intuitive potential, the better and more reliable US internet backbone and last-mile performance is, the more likely it is that these service-based businesses will need fewer not more workers. That’s just one paradox of “effective, efficient” technology.

        I said I’ll keep it short, so I’ll end with this, though this post is clearly already bereft of clarity and coherence.

        As Baker’s letter spoke to, having more people building, servicing and/or inventing things does not necessarily lead to economic prosperity nor, more importantly, quality of life improvements for the majority of citizens. The opportunity, or counter-pressure as Alrermann called it, maybe found in domestic economic retrenchment. Meaning, that if (or when IMO) Chinese and its sphere straight-arm US business interests – not unlike Japan’s Meiji oligarchs did to German, Austrian, British and American businesses, experts and financiers in the 1890s-1910s, those corporate refugees will need to come home to roost and conduct business. That need is a point of opportunity for the application of pressure – wage concessions, health care, education – a labor/capital partnership to remake the nation.

        But, starting from fallow ground with what is practically ancient infrastructure and a “teach to the test” quality workforce will cripple our prospects and denude the opportunity to force a domestic peerage between labor and capital in the implied vision articulated by Baker.

        • All we can say for sure about infrastructure can be summed up in two points-

          1- It will provide jobs for workers, from manual labor, to engineers like me, up to the VPs who are my bosses, up to the big construction companies like CONTECH.

          2- The improvements will be designed to improve the quality of life, which often will translate into direct monetary return on investment in the long run. simple example: high speed tolling technology

          While I agree with the essence of the trade argument you make, there is some uncertainty out there in terms of how other countries will play their hands.

          • William Hurley says:

            Again, JR, I find myself to be very much in agreement. A nation-wide effort aimed at “refreshing” the dilapidated and in many cases century old roads, water, sewer, electrical and waste disposal infrastructure is necessary as an ante for civilized society in the 21st Cent. (Sorry for sound too Bullworth-y). Such an endeavor create opportunities such as you enumerate – not to diminish them in any way – but also for the practical implementation of technologies and processes that are presently stuck “in the lab”. Personally, I’m an enthusiast for “superconducting”-like solutions that can replace portions or all of the Edison era tech, copper & retransmission, while also proving itself appropriate for small appliance use in commercial or household settings.

            But, consider the goals behind Brazil’s nation-wide push to exploit sugar beets as fuel. The details of getting from concept to the present state of use are voluminous and complex – even contradictory in light of the politics and social needs. Still, one can affirmatively assert that Brazil has effectively instituted a means of energy autonomy which allows that nation to draw on oil/gas as conditions demand but can generally rely on its own novel alternative. Additionally, Brazil is not – as a national priority – reorienting their economy to be a “sugar beet/ethanol” exporter. Autonomy, national self-determination seem to be the real goals.

            I don’t want to belabor that example or project larger geo-pol-econ complexities onto it. That said, Brazil’s relative energy autonomy is paying social/economic dividends now and facilitates it more sophisticated posture vis-a-vis the global economy as it’s economy grows and standards of living increase.

            I’m not suggesting that geo-econ relationships will or might change abruptly, though that “Black Swan” must be part of the calculus. As any one familiar with contemporary JIT supply- and value-chains knows, single-source dependence is a critical process flaw. Rare Earth elements anyone?

            Lastly, construction is an awesome means to create work across a rich division of labor with good pay up & down the skills ladder. Construction is also – as you well know – task/project driven. Using the things you and your professional peers design and build is as critical if not more so as is its making. It is in this necessary second step that Obama’s speech fell short and is exactly where Baker’s historical references to employment and standards of living for most Americans gainfully employed from the Gilded Age to Eugene Debbs’ Prsidential runs to enfranchisement of unions with FDR’s election.

    • Sam,

      Please, get permission from Baker to publish that letter. It would be great to have a link to share (and point back to the Majority Report, of course). I don’t care if you have permission, actually. I won’t ask any questions; I’ll just link to it.


  18. Smack-dab says:

    The notion that education is the key to our future is nonsense. We have plenty of educated people right now who can’t find work. Making more educated people only means more people with massive student loan debt that they can’t pay. We need jobs first then the educated will come to fill those jobs, not a supply side solution.

    Relying on innovation is also nonsense. You can’t plan on innovation, it either happens or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t there’s not much you can do to make it happen as sometimes there’s nothing to innovate. It’s also pinning one’s hopes on a magic thing that’ll save your company/country rather than building a strong economic foundation. And as it is now, our innovations just get made in China anyway.

    Free trade always means one side gets the bad deal, it’s just now we are on the bad deal side.

    • What you are saying is totally insane. You can refer to some of the points I made above to William Hurley.

      Please take no offense when I say that this is the king of single-minded thinking that ruins out politics. Furthermore, I’d say you are disregarding the value of science, which is our only tool for survival.

      In the world of engineering its a plain fact that foreigners work harder on average. When you go to MIT or Cornell or any of the best engineering schools in the country, look at the students, look at the professors. Do the math. The Universities that do the best research have no choice but so set standards on test scores, etc, because they need to attract the best. Same with Google.

      • You are both right. Education and Industry, one is no good without the other, and neither guarantees the other.

        The highly educated innovate, but they do not necessarily produce, or purchase. Ideas and creativity do not create jobs alone, industry is needed to bring those ideas to market. Trade and Labor legislation and progressive tax policies are required to protect industry, and keep profit distributed diversely and flowing in the economy.

        All together they create a self-sustaining market of innovation and production with an economy strong enough to support it, but miss one of these components, and the system eventually fails.

  19. Juvenal says:

    Kevin Baker’s SOTU e-mail.

    Dear Mr. @%$#%#,

    Thanks for the kind words. It was nice of Sam to be concerned about protecting my piece, but I wrote it free of charge, for a group of politically minded friends who call ourselves the Ice House Gang. Please feel free to disseminate it as widely as you like, as long as you attribute it to me. We’re looking to possibly get a blog going soon, and it would be good to get the word out.

    My original e-mail follows. The “quotes” from the speech are not exact, I’m afraid, but they are true to Obama’s meaning:

    The real problem with Obama’s speech tonight was, once again, the historical narrative that he led off with, and that he is determined to have us believe.

    That is:

    Once upon a time, Americans had all sorts of really good jobs because “they only had to maybe compete against their neighbor,” and they could count on getting ahead if they worked hard, “and maybe even see life improve for their children.”

    But then “over the course of a single generation, came great technological changes.” Steel mills “that had been employing thousands, now only needed hundreds of workers.” Countries such as “China and India” started “making adjustments, and teaching their kids math.”

    Americans suddenly found themselves competing with the whole world, and that’s been really tough, especially since our kids have gone from best-educated in the world to only ninth. But fear not. We “still have the best innovators in the world, the best colleges and universities. We still lead the rest of the world in patents.” All it will take is a lot of education, a little social investment here and there, some strict budget-minding, and…voila! We’ll beat anyone on this planet!


    Well-intentioned though it may be, this whole narrative makes no sense on the face of it.

    So, back in the good old days, we were the best at everything, but we did well only because “we just had to compete against our neighbors”?

    Say what? Which is it? Were we the best, or were we not?

    China and India sure did make changes. But of course the Chinese have been “teaching math” since long before the rest of the world knew the Americas existed, and didn’t India invent it? Were the changes so much better education, or the fact that the two countries emerged first from under Western thumbs, and then from suffocating systems of caste and communism over the course of the last couple generations?

    And how DID we fall behind? I mean, while still having the world’s best universities, best innovators, most patents, etc.?

    What Obama’s pseudo-history conveniently ignores is that what really changed is not Chinese students buckling down to their algebra homework, or “sweeping technological changes in the course of a generation.” What changed was government policy.

    American workers have ALWAYS operated in times of rapid, sweeping technological change. They’ve ALWAYS competed with other countries, in one way or another. And they’ve generally done pretty well.

    The reasons they did well included the fact that for most of our history, our government protected our industries against competition from countries with desperately underpaid labor. And because the people running the industries kept inventing new stuff, and ploughing money back into their American industries, instead of shipping their plants overseas and devoting all their time and capital to figuring out new financial Ponzi schemes.

    Still, though, the old America that Barack Obama refers to used to be plagued by constant, wrenching depressions. And those old industries didn’t necessarily help people make a good living, or improve their children’s standard of living.

    Being a steelworker, or an auto line worker, doesn’t INHERENTLY pay well. In fact, for many decades, such jobs didn’t pay much at all.

    Then the people who did them organized themselves, and forced higher wages out of owners (who didn’t have the option of searching out child slaves abroad), and elected representatives who defended and extended their rights.

    THAT’S the “magic formula” that American prosperity came out of. Innovation, education, inventiveness—sure. But also industrial policy, unionism, protectionism, real patriotism, and all those other things that Barack Obama and the whole, lovely class he hails from don’t want to hear about because they might chip away some small portion of their staggering wealth.

    But without acknowledging that narrative—without letting that narrative guide our future actions, which is the whole reason to learn history in the first place—we’ll just keep butting our heads against the wall.

    We can make our kids do math problems until their fingers’ fray…and they still won’t be able to compete with sweatshop dictatorships where workers make 20 cents an hour.

    We can talk all we want about making social investments…and they will never be made, as long as the financial oligarchy which has severed all bonds of loyalty to this nation continues to co-opt and buy off our leaders.

    But hey, in the meantime, let’s find common ground: fire all the teachers!

    • There is no denying Baker made some good points in his essay.

      “And how DID we fall behind? I mean, while still having the world’s best universities, best innovators, most patents, etc.?”

      Baker focuses on the negative for no good reason. The president did say something about unions being critical. That’s about as in-depth as the issue warrants on this stage at a time when polarization is just not cool. I also believe that the uncertainty in the reaction of other countries to protectionism is real, so you tread lightly.

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