A Decent Day on the New York Times Op-Ed Page

I’m very hard on the New York Times from the left (I’m sure this has the Times’ top managers and owners trembling in their Guccis) and have been known to say that reading their often insightful liberal columnist Paul Krugman was the only reason left to read or buy the paper. 

I suppose it’s only fair that I acknowledge when the Times’ op-ed page has a decent day. 

Today was one such day and get this…Krugman was wasn’t involved.  I paste in (below) here (1) a useful column by centrist columnist David Brooks on the ridiculous deception involved in Barack Obama’s claim to be funded mainly by small donors – a core justification behind Mr. Hope’s decision to bypass the public presidential financing system and (2) a useful column by the liberal columnist Bob Herbert on how the U.S. invasion of Iraq was and remains very much about oil (something most ZNet readers knew back in March of 2003 and before).

Please note Brooks’ comments on (a) how Goldman Sachs threatens to "assume control over the whole darn" U.S. government and (b) how coordinator class (he doesn’t use that Michael Albert phrase but it applies) elites will hold sway over policy after an Obama victory and pretty much nullify Obama’s campaign rhetoric about capital gains tax hikes and increased union organizing rights.  

I could raise all kinds of critical issues from the left about the limits of these columns, noting for example that Herbert seems to have no sense (neither does his newspaper) of the key role that controlling Middle Eastern oil plays in sustaining U.S, imperial "critical leverage" over the broad political-economic practices and trajectory of competing industrialized states, but….what the Hell.  These two columns (the first one especially) add more to the existing narrow political cultiure than they take away from it. 

The Times had a good day…on the op-ed page at least.  It doesn’t happen very often. Maybe it’s just a matter of how even a broken clock tells the correct time for two minutes each day, but these two columns are worth reading:

Here are the columns:  

1."Obama’s Money Class"


New York Times

July 1, 2008

Barack Obama sells the Democratic Party short. He talks about his fund-raising success as if his donors were part of a spontaneous movement of small-money enthusiasts who cohered around himself. In fact, Democrats have spent years building their donor network. Obama’s fund-raising base is bigger than John Kerry’s, Howard Dean’s and Al Gore’s, but it’s not different.

As in other recent campaigns, lawyers account for the biggest chunk of Democratic donations. They have donated about $18 million to Obama, compared with about $5 million to John McCain, according to data released on June 2 and available at OpenSecrets.org.

People who work at securities and investment companies have given Obama about $8 million, compared with $4.5 for McCain. People who work in communications and electronics have given Obama about $10 million, compared with $2 million for McCain. Professors and other people who work in education have given Obama roughly $7 million, compared with $700,000 for McCain.

Real estate professionals have given Obama $5 million, compared with $4 million for McCain. Medical professionals have given Obama $7 million, compared with $3 million for McCain. Commercial bankers have given Obama $1.6 million, compared with $1.2 million for McCain. Hedge fund and private equity managers have given Obama about $1.6 million, compared with $850,000 for McCain.

When you break it out by individual companies, you find that employees of Goldman Sachs gave more to Obama than workers of any other employer. The Goldman Sachs geniuses are followed by employees of the University of California, UBS, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, National Amusements, Lehman Brothers, Harvard and Google. At many of these workplaces, Obama has a three- or four-to-one fund-raising advantage over McCain.

When he is swept up in rhetorical fervor, Obama occasionally says that his campaign is 90 percent funded by small donors. He has indeed had great success with small donors, but only about 45 percent of his money comes from donations of $200 or less.

The real core of his financial support is something else, the rising class of information age analysts. Once, the wealthy were solidly Republican. But the information age rewards education with money. There are many smart high achievers who grew up in liberal suburbs around San Francisco, L.A. and New York, went to left-leaning universities like Harvard and Berkeley and took their values with them when they became investment bankers, doctors and litigators.

Political analysts now notice a gap between professionals and managers. Professionals, like lawyers and media types, tend to vote and give Democratic. Corporate managers tend to vote and give Republican. The former get their values from competitive universities and the media world; the latter get theirs from churches, management seminars and the country club.

The trends are pretty clear: rising economic sectors tend to favor Democrats while declining economic sectors are more likely to favor Republicans. The Democratic Party (not just Obama) has huge fund-raising advantages among people who work in electronics, communications, law and the catchall category of finance, insurance and real estate. Republicans have the advantage in agribusiness, oil and gas and transportation. Which set of sectors do you think are going to grow most quickly in this century’s service economy?

Amazingly, Democrats have cultivated this donor base while trending populist on trade by forsaking much of the Clinton Third Way approach and by vowing to raise taxes on capital gains and the wealthy. If Obama’s tax plans go through, those affluent donors could wind up giving over 50 percent of their income to the federal government.

They’ve managed to clear these policy hurdles partly by looking out for tort lawyers and other special groups. But mostly they have taken advantage of the rivalry between the two American elites.

Over the past several years, the highly educated coastal rich have been engaged in a little culture war with the inland corporate rich. This is a war over values, leadership styles and social networks.

Socially liberal knowledge workers naturally want to see people like themselves at the head of society, not people who used to run Halliburton and who are supported by a vast army of evangelicals.

If the Democrats are elected, this highly educated class will have much more say over policy than during the campaign. Undecided voters sway campaigns, but in government, elites generally run things. Once the Republicans are vanquished, I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for that capital gains tax hike or serious measures to expand unionization.

Over the past few years, people from Goldman Sachs have assumed control over large parts of the federal government. Over the next few they might just take over the whole darn thing.


2. ‘Oh Happy Day’

It’s getting harder and harder to remain deluded. With each day comes new facts to drag our heads out of the sand.

Two weeks ago, The Times reported that four Western oil giants were on the verge of signing no-bid contracts that would return them to Iraq, the third-most bountiful petroleum playground on the planet. The deals, expected to be finalized in the next 30 days, were the kind of news that big oil lives for.

Giddy executives singing "Oh Happy Day" could be heard in the corporate offices of Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP, which had been shut out of Iraq for three and a half decades.

We also learned this week that a group of American advisers, led by a team from the State Department, played a key role in drawing up the contracts between the companies and the Iraqi government. Chevron and several smaller oil companies are also on the verge of signing contracts.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney, both former oil-company executives, have long tried to tell us this war was about terrorism, about weapons of mass destruction, about bringing freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people, about anything but oil.

Said Mr. Bush: "We cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

He didn’t wait. It didn’t matter that Saddam Hussein posed no imminent threat to the U.S. Or that Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The troops were sent into battle in early 2003 and there is still, after more than five years and more than 4,000 American deaths, no end to the war in sight.

One of the starkest examples of U.S. priorities came during the eruption of looting that followed the fall of Baghdad. With violence and chaos all about, American troops were ordered to protect one particularly treasured target — the Iraqi Oil Ministry. As David Rieff wrote in The Times Magazine in November 2003:

"This decision to protect only the Oil Ministry — not the National Museum, not the National Library, not the Health Ministry — probably did more than anything else to convince Iraqis uneasy with the occupation that the United States was in Iraq only for the oil."

How convenient that the peculiar perspective of the oil-obsessed Bush administration can now be put to use advising the Iraqi government on its contracts with big oil.

The contracts themselves are not huge. They are like the keys on a coveted ring that will begin opening the doors to Iraq’s vast oil reserves. As The Times reported Monday, "At a time of spiraling oil prices, the no-bid contracts, in a country with some of the world’s largest untapped fields and potential for vast profits, are a rare prize to the industry."

A prize, yes. But at what cost?

In addition to the terrible toll of Americans and Iraqis killed and wounded, the war in Iraq has diverted attention and resources from critical problems here in the U.S., where the housing market has been crippled, the stock market has tanked, gasoline has soared past $4 per gallon, unemployment is increasing and an extraordinary number of debt-ridden working families are staring into a financial abyss.

Even as oil companies are enjoying staggering profits, many Americans — in July! — are already worried sick about the potentially ruinous cost of heating their homes next winter.

And then there’s the so-called war on terror.

The latest news is that Al Qaeda, the terror network that actually did attack the U.S., has successfully regrouped in the tribal areas of Pakistan and has reconstituted its ability to institute terror attacks from the region.

For an administration joined at the hip to the oil industry, the lure of Iraq’s enormous reserves was stronger even than the impulse to conquer an enemy that murdered more than 2,700 civilians on Sept. 11, a toll greater than the number of Americans killed by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor.

Referring to Al Qaeda members who regrouped in Pakistan, The Times reported on Monday:

"Current and former military and intelligence officials said that the war in Iraq consistently diverted resources and high-level attention from the tribal areas. When American military and intelligence officials requested additional Predator drones to survey the tribal areas, they were told no drones were available because they had been sent to Iraq."

Who knows how long it will be before the U.S. disengages in any significant way from Iraq. What you can take to the bank is that this country will not make any major advances in energy policy, in health coverage, in rebuilding its infrastructure, in improving its public schools or in curtailing runaway public and private debt until our open-ended commitment to this catastrophic multitrillion-dollar war comes to an end.

How long will it take before that finally sinks in?


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