Nov 01 2012

Peter Coyote’s Failed Status Quo Exercise in Condescension

(2 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Cross posted at Voices on the Square

To start things off, I recommend first reading Cassiodorus's piece The case against the case for Obama even though I started mine about the same time he did. It's definitely quite worthy of checking out before mine because it has many apt points to it. My views are slightly in a different vein as I’m more of a mix of Jim Hightower and L. Randall Wray as one of my friends used to say so read his piece before reading my take.

Well I guess we knew it was coming. Matt Stoller's superb piece The progressive case against Obama was bound to exercise a reaction from the veal pen or hacktivist pen appealing to their own authority first hand to make sure you all know how serious their decisions to sell out are. The end justifies the means and in Peter Coyote’s case it is a failed exercise in condescension right off the bat. He claims he is making…

"The Progressive case for Obama"

So right off the bat we get an exercise in condescension—Peter Coyote is older than Matt Stoller so therefore his time working for CA Governor Jerry Brown must be more relevant than Matt Stoller’s past work including his tenure working for Congressman Alan Grayson. Psychologically one might think, as I do reading this piece, that Peter Coyote's arguments do not come from a position of strength behind them. Whether he realizes it or not, it lets you know how unserious Peter Coyote perhaps thinks of his own arguments right off the bat. After all, he must provide authority for them but not from historical facts of course, from his own resume.

I don’t blame him for trying, because this piece has got to be one of the flimsiest on record for Salon.com and I am a big fan of the magazine from Matt Stoller to Glenn Greenwald to David Sirota. Getting back to the piece, Peter Coyote wants you to know that of course he acknowledges some of Stoller’s critique as valid; he just thinks the ends justifies the neoliberal means.

Stoller argues, and for the record, I agree, that under President Obama’s administration economic inequity in America has grown to staggering proportions. He holds Obama personally responsible for turning down a deal from Hank Paulson where, in return for rapid distribution of the second round of TARP funds, Paulson would press the banks to write down mortgages and save millions of foreclosures. According to Rep. Barney Frank and Stoller, the president nixed this deal, saved the banks and screwed homeowners. This is a damning charge, and I’m embarrassed to say that I believe it is true. It is one among a number of charges against the president that discourage and offend me: his reversal of single-payer healthcare, extra-judicial killings; the extension of imperial presidential powers and extensions of needless secrecy and attacks against whistle-blowers, the reliance on predator drones and death lists, to name a few.

Oh but of course he agrees with Stoller, just not enough to really care about home owners getting relief from being swindled from the housing bubble. A housing bubble in which the FBI put 80% of the blame on the Banks working with the Mortgage brokerage and appraisal industry to float the bubble while piling massive amounts of debt say 700 billion worth onto consumers telling them their rising equity would take care of it all. It didn't work out that way, but remember Peter really cares about all of these issues, just not enough to take a stand for them, always followed by a "BUT" and a Machiavellian screed while pretending to care about those in need.

Peter Coyote cites the Powell Memo in 1971 as the point in time where the corporate plutocracy started to get a hold of our democracy. Despite there being a framework that was followed in that memo much of our democracy was already captured by the big trusts during the Gilded Age. Anti labor interests bought off the United States Congress which led to the decline of organized labor power and a trade deficit starting in the late 60s before the Powell memo to now. It's interesting that Peter Coyote cites the conservative revival after Barry Goldwater's defeat in 1964 as a model we need to follow without mentioning the Taft Hartley Act or what former President Truman called the slave labor bill which spawned many of the right to work laws and states we know of today.

This was a major blow to the only bulwark of resistance to the Robber Barons that culminated with the rise of the Industrial Workers of the World and the American Federation of Labor and labor leader Samuel Gompers whom was supported by progressive President Teddy Roosevelt whom went to bat for the AFL in the Supreme Court. Local progressives across the country pressured FDR to adopt the Wagner Act within the New Deal and that was a major victory hard fought first locally and then nationally from the Progressive Era such as Senator Robert M. Lafollette of WI to Genora Dollinger in the events leading up to the Flint sit down strike until the Wagner Act reached the halls of Congress and passed. This is not insignificant. Only then was labor the law of the land.

Because of the Taft Hartley Act, businesses no longer had to structure their makeup with representatives from labor unions at all as was stipulated in the Wagner Act which prevented workers from being fired for joining a union. Funny thing about the Wagner Act, it was spawned from the same culmination of local victories and local politics Peter Coyote tell us we need to focus on again like activists on the right did after Barry Goldwater’s defeat. What he leaves out is that those culminated victories can all go away in an instance at the federal level if you don’t demand adherence to your platform from the top and that’s exactly what happened to labor progressives of the Progressive Era, because Congress does write the laws of the land and that affects all local politics everywhere when they are bought off. In 1947 enough sellout Democrats overrode former President Harry Truman’s veto of the Taft Hartley bill thus making organized labor a mere shell of what it was in 1947.

The Employee Free Choice Act is just a small step to combating Taft Hartley to keep management from coercing and threatening employees during the voting process when it comes to whether a workplace is allowed to form a union or not. Despite cosponsoring the bill and claiming to put on his favorite walking shoes and march with organized labor supporting it, President Obama has done absolutely nothing for the EFCA and it is now dead for the same reasons Taft Hartley passed over Truman’s veto. Democrats sold out. President Reagan followed through on his anti-union rhetoric when he called for the firing of every worker in the air traffic control union on strike. That’s the sad difference. Republicans fear their base. Democrats loathe their base, and with sophistry like this coming from Peter Coyote trying to rewrite history in favor of election time excuses, is it any wonder how Democrats get away with treating labor the way they do?

To discount this as I'm sure Peter Coyote will try, ignores how in some ways money had less disclosure rules back then and could literally be dropped onto the desks of Congressman and Senators undisclosed. Money has always been a problem in politics ever since the 1886 corporate person-hood decision in Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad. This isn't some new dynamic President Obama has to face. Teddy Roosevelt faced the actual J.P Morgan and his railroad monopoly Northern Securities and became President when William McKinley was shot. Despite that danger Teddy Roosevelt proceeded and became successful in breaking it up like he succeeded in passing the Sherman Anti Trust Act used to break up. J. D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil. Maybe Peter Coyote is unaware of this, but being President is always dangerous no matter whom the President may be. That danger is certainly no excuse for not representing the people instead of Wall St as Peter claimed when he implied President Obama had no choice. Big Money has always ruled the day from the past to today where taking a stand is more important than ever.

Perhaps Peter is unaware about the economic problems regarding debt deflation 101 with regard to the bubble? He should get on that. It's not a problem one can pretend to care about. As Michael Hudson aptly termed, "debts that can't be paid won't be paid so it actually was important that Obama refused Hank Paulson's offer to write down mortgages. That decisions caused and still is causing untold pain morally and to our economy as that spending goes into a debt hole choked off by interest as well. Maybe Peter Coyote thinks writing a piece pretending to care or understand this problem is enough, but the fact that he dismisses this point after pretending to care shows through his actions that he really doesn't.

This is quite an ignorant and disingenuous statement.

I mention this, because there is an unsettling “personal” quality to Stoller’s assault on the president; an imbalanced, somewhat adolescent tenor to his outrage at the fact that the president could have once used illegal drugs but is currently the titular head of the War on Drugs. By making him single-handedly responsible for having “delivered” all current afflictions to America, Stoller simultaneously demonizes the president and makes him more powerful than virtually any figure in our political history.

Recognizing the reality that this administration promised not to overstep state laws on marijuana dispensaries anywhere but did anyway and hired lobbyists of private prisons pushing the drug war to new heights at the federal and by that the state level, is not an assault. President Obama is the head of the executive branch. Maybe Peter Coyote needs a crash course in civics? These are basic facts about our government and it was well within the president' power to keep his word and influence over his DOJ in his branch that he is executive of. There's nothing contradictory about what Matt Stoller pointed out.This is just a regurgitation of the lazy "You just want a dictator!" argument we hear all the time from the Obama faithful.

If Peter spent more time studying the executive branch he would know that it was entirely reasonable to not raid state marijuana dispensaries or employ private prison lobbyists that lobby states to lock up more people on drug offenses, especially the African American population Peter claims to care about. All this information is backed up in this piece I wrote to people like Peter Coyote who pretend to have principles and pretend to care about the Drug War.

Don't Pretend You Care About These Issues When Defending the President

Here is a handy excuse that can best be demolished by FDR biographer Jean Edward Smith who details how despite FDR belonging to the Wall St class that many in the New Deal coalition such as Joe Kennedy belonged to, he still passed the Glass Steagall Act separating commercial and investment banking so they coulnd't gamble with depositors money anymore along with FDIC and SEC(now toothless thanks to Bill Clinton and Al Gore's new theories on regulation that were adopted) among other things Wall St hated.

Despite raising unprecedented amounts of money from “the little people,” 60 percent of Obama’s first presidential campaign was funded by big donors. He was Wall Street’s darling, and his payback to them was junking his campaign financial advisers and putting Timothy Geithner in charge to ensure that Wall Street’s interests were met. Is this surprising? This is how the politics of capital works. This is why the Commission on Presidential Debates forced the League of Women Voters out of managing the debates so that they could control the narrative and exclude third-party candidates. Did Mr. Stoller actually ever assume that a single man would be able to rein in the military-industrial complex and Wall Street? That would have been delusional, and whatever the president’s real strategies may have been, he was not helped by the defection of most of his supporters, who after the election returned to the Internet and blogging, while public spaces became colonized by Tea Party wing-nuts.

Whether Peter Coyote likes it or not or understand this or not, the time was ripe for Obama to choose whomever he wanted to. Also then Senator Obama promised not to have people from the Clinton white house such as Larry Summers(whose flawed advice brought down Long Term Capital Management boxing in former CFTC regulator Brooksley Born who warned about it) during the primary. Bottom Line: history proves Peter Coyote wrong. FDR knew how to use a crisis and Obama wasted this crisis and it was President Obama's decision to do so. If Presidents who make it into office with help from Wall St like our President always have to do most of what Wall St's bidding there would have been no President FDR or New Deal which the business community hated for the most part even though parts of it were friendly to them.

Smedley Butler revealed the Business Plot to assassinate FDR before the 1933 reforms were passed yet somehow FDR found it within himself to keep going.   In 2008 the public was ready for the lords of capital who were on their knees begging for a bailout to have some accountability thrown towards their way and a real bank rescue like FDR's bank holiday or no bailout at all. That's why TARP failed at first. Peter Coyote can play games and pretend all he wants that this wasn't the case but it most certainly was. He basically ignores this administration's abysmal legal record by any legitimate metric and it's understandable why he did.

Let's talk about what's really delusional; the fantasy that moments of crisis are not opportunities for progressive change like the New Deal and subsequent Keynesian golden age or regressive change like the Great Divergence(1979 to now) to how the Bush administration was able to exploit 9/11 to give us the police state Obama is expanding as we speak. Let's hear Peter's rationale on that:

The best moment for change is actually a crisis.” Stoller’s assertion sounds good, but is it true? In my youth, young radicals refused Hubert Humphrey’s compromised liberalism and wound up with Vietnam scarring the nation for the next decade. We made the perfect the enemy of the good. The real crises upon us are global warming and extreme environmental degradation and the implications are profound and life-threatening.

Hmm, really? Hubert Humprey, the candidate who didn't speak out against the war in Vietnam until the 1968 campaign was essentially over? That pragmatist? And there was also the tragic assassination of Robert Kennedy who would have likely beat Nixon? RFK was running because Vietnam was already scarring the nation which is why Senator Eugene McCarthy's strong showing in New Hampshire pressured LBJ to step down. This is what Peter Coyote calls pragmatic? But he's such an old hand! Of course he knows more about this than I do because he is older than me as well.

I wrote a detailed piece about the reason income inequality is the way it is and the trends within the Great Divergence started and it had everything to do with Reagan and the Friedmanites exploiting the stagflation crisis at just the right time to spread disingenious propaganda about Keynes and the Phillip curve discrediting Keynesian economics as a whole even though it never did. They just used the crisis to pretend it did and it worked. Therefore I have to lay down the economic and historical facts for those like Mr. Coyote that are in denial about this.

People That Excuse Wasting the Crisis in 2008 Don’t Get to Lecture Anyone

Speaking of the Great Divergence, that is where the sordid tale of how to use a crisis for monetarist evil comes in. In 1971 Nixon basically ended the reserve peg of US dollars to gold which made up the Bretton Woods system and the whole system ended. The turbulence of the international adjustment to floating exchange rates was a big factor along with the oil shock of 1973 that led to the stagflation epidemic.


Regardless of what you hear, there was nothing the Fed nor any neoclassical/Monetarist economic theory could have done to prevent it, but given that the original Keynesian Phillips Curve technically didn’t coincide with the results of this supply shock, a massive successful propaganda campaign to discredit Keynesian intervention was successfully waged globally, but especially in the US and the UK.


Brilliant Modern Monetary Theory economist Bill Mitchell explains:


The CON merchants who buttress the neo-liberal ideology


The rise in acceptance of Monetarism and its New Classical counterpart was not based on an empirical rejection of the Keynesian orthodoxy, but in Alan Blinder’s words:

was instead a triumph of a priori theorising over empiricism, of intellectual aesthetics over observation and, in some measure, of conservative ideology over liberalism. It was not, in a word, a Kuhnian scientific revolution. 


The stagflation (coincidence of inflation and unemployment) in the 1970s (the so-called shift in the Phillips curve) associated with the OPEC ructions led to a view that the OECD economies were failing and provided a strong empirical endorsement for the Natural Rate Hypothesis, despite the fact that the instability came from the supply side.


Any Keynesian remedies proposed to reduce unemployment were met with derision from the bulk of the profession who had embraced the new theory and its policy implications. The natural rate hypothesis now became the basis for defining full employment, which then evolved to the concept of the NAIRU.


It didn’t have to be that way, but third way Democrats left an opening for this non empirical economic garbage to be pushed onto the US and the world. Jimmy Carter was able to capitalize on the moral crisis the country was in after Nixon, Vietnam, and Watergate to stake to an election victory, but sadly Carter showed the first third way to abandon full employment policies. This move rendered the Humphrey Hawkins Full Employment Act toothless at the chagrin of Keynesian Neo Chartalist economist James K. Galbraith who helped write the law. True blue Keynesian Democrat Hubert Humphrey also tried to convince Carter to fight for its full implementation to no avail.


Sadly, much like our current president, Jimmy Carter bought into the Monetarist economic garbage of austerity and balanced budgets even though the Bretton Woods system ended ending the need for such a thing (because no more gold had to be dug up to put in bank reserves or sent off because of trade imbalances of our current account). So then this epidemic continued and Carter eventually brought on Paul Volcker with his brutal anti-inflation campaign at the Fed impoverishing what was left of US industry and unions basically winning the 1980 election for Reagan before it begun.


I don’t think I need to tell you what happened next, but from 1979 on wages went flat and all income gains went to the 1%, .1%, and .01% shown by the Great Divergence above. Bill Clinton and the Congress he worked with would exacerbate this trend finishing much of what Reagan started destroying the New Deal regulations of 1933. This fueled while two more credit bubbles while masking the lack of real income for the 99% further creating the conditions that would lead up to the great housing bust of 2008.

So now you know just how much Peter Coyote doesn't know about why we are where we are and what an opportunity was wasted we won't get again for some time. We wasted our crisis whether he is aware of political and economic history or not. As far as climate change is concerned NASA scientists James Hansen informs us that once the Keystone pipeline is completely signed off on, that is endgame for climate change and Obama already signed off on the southern half. That doesn't sound like a strong progressive case for Obama to me. Another game he plays in this piece is to deny the historical significance of the election of Barack Obama to the highest office in the land as the first African American President. There's the contradiction.

In Peter Coyote’s world, the pressure from the people during this time was just not strong enough so that President Obama could actually be the President he campaigned to be even though it was the downturn of the economy that really elected him. Yet we must support President Obama in 2012 anyway because of the historic nature of his Presidency Peter Coyote and other apologists who make this excuse don’t really believe in after all. Therefore it’s hard for them to make a progressive case for it.


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  1. priceman

    I have been warned. We’ll see what happens after this BS election.

  2. BobbyK

    The Progressive Case For Obama is …. well … fear based.  

    More: ignore the facts,  get in line, the other guy is worse crap we’ve been hearing for decades.

    Fear fear fear. Fear fear fear. …While I can’t argue over the facts that Stoller points out, if people listen to Stoller it could conceivably throw the election to Mitt Romney with more disastrous consequences…. Fear fear fear. Fear fear fear. Oh and by the way did I mention fear. Scary fear. Be afraid. Fear fear fear. Don’t listen to that Stoller guy, I’m a seventy year old monk.

    Coyote’s Case


    The best moment for change is actually a crisis.” Stoller’s assertion sounds good, but is it true?


    No one will lay down and die (or abandon their families) for an abstact goal. But unless we can guarantee livelihood to the millions who are currently engaged in destructive planetary practices, we are out of luck. Exacerbating that dilemma by provoking a political crisis is a guarantee of wasting another 10 years while reactionary forces and stopgap measures take short-term dominance over common sense and common need. Doing it in a country awash with guns, anxiety, fears or rapid social change is a recipe to re-create the streets of Syria and Lebanon at home.

    Many of Obama’s constitutional violations that disturb Stoller and myself are barely known and understood by the general populace. It will take decades of education to build understanding of their importance and constituencies for them. However, education, carbon, global warming, nuclear issues, the rights of women, immigrants, minorities, etc., are immediate and pressing. In triage terms, an Obama presidency will allow time to work on these issues without sentencing another decade to the negative consequences of panic, despair and chaos.


    You take what you can get, and you organize to protect yourself. To deliberately create a political crisis as an organizing tool sounds remarkably like the old Marxist saw of “heightening the contradiction.” Been there, done that. It’s tough being human. Picking one’s way through reality moment by moment requires delicacy and finesse


    Yes We Can? Lol.

    The meat of Coyote’s argument is that social upheaval is scary. If a president actually delivered progressive change there would be a civil war and we’d end up burned up and bombed out like post WWII Europe. He’s a.a.a.f.f.f.f.f.r.r.r.a.i.d.

    To summarize Coyote in two words: Re-elect Hoover.

  3. TMC

    I read all three articles and so much wanted to write about them and have not had the time. Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving this the justice it so deserves. Also, congrats to Cassiodorus for the front page of his analysis of Stoller v Coyote at FiredogLake. We do rock. :-)

  4. TMC

    by the “King Of Sewage” kos is a badge of honor for those of us on the True Left.  

  5. BruceMcF

    It doesn’t distinguish between toxic waste and material useful for a biogas digester.

    Hence my preference for “Agent Orange”.

  6. priceman

    Calling the neighborhood watch on anyone from the left who dares step foot without an Obama sign. That’s a sign of the times.

  7. priceman

    And thank you and I’m glad you weathered the storm! Indeed, congrats to Cass for that.

  8. joe shikspack

    the public is not “educated” enough to understand the constitutional violations that obama is committing.  the public will not be “educated” enough to understand the constitutional violations that obama is committing until the current power structure and it’s media handmaidens are successfully challenged and overturned.

    so coyote’s solution is to vote for the power structure that keeps people stupid.  brilliant!

  9. BobbyK

    FOUR MORE YEARS! and YES WE CAN! all the way to the slaughter house.

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