A localised phrase from the Dictionary of American Regional English (Harvard Uni Press)

Call Hogs v. phr: To snore

(also Call Pigs, Call Cows and Call Dogs) and Drive Pigs (& varr.)

From the Scots ‘Call’ – To Drive and ‘Hog’ – Yearling Sheep (or in England, Pig) Frequent in Black Speakers and attested to in UK.

  • 1912 Folk-Speech, Green: ‘Call Hogs – to snore
  • 1946 – Really Blues, Mezzrow – Call some hogs.
  • DARE questionnaire – variations: Callin’ the hog, Calling hogs from the bottom, Driving Pigs (statistically dominant for black speakers).

Mainly – S. SE but scattered and widespread and regular in WV.

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Kepwies Like Watermelon: The Busts Keep Getting Bigger: Why?

In the June 14th New York Review of Books Paul Krugman, Professor of Economics & International Affairs at Princeton, and Robin Wells Krugman, former Professor of Economics at Princeton, place the return to avaricious profit in Wall St. in the context of a history of repeated Government Bailouts. 

Book Reviewed:

There is a repeated pattern – Financial Institutions over-reach, creating new instruments they don’t understand the risks of, ignore warnings as to such, rely on government help (aid and guarantees, placing tax-payers money at risk) and then once out of the woods ‘they went right back to denouncing big government and resumed the very practices that created the crisis

When have we seen this pattern?

  • 2008-09’s financial crash (Citigroup, BoA etc) and the 2011 attack’s on ‘banker bashing’
  • 1991’s junk-bond collapse due to the consequences of vast loan-financed overbuilding of commercial real estate in the 1980s (again Citibank) which require Federal insurance to avert a crisis.
  • 1982-1983 Latin American Debit Crisis (similar to the Greek EMU debacle of today) where banks, (again Citibank) were bailed out by huge US Govt. loans to foreign governments (bailing out the banks who they had debits with).
  • 1970’s Penn Central bankruptcy‘s impact on its lenders (again the nascent Citibank, then called First National City) requiring emergency lending from the Federal Reserve to avert bankruptcy.

So much for the ‘once in 100 year economic flood’.. The financial crash was.. ‘in fact, just the most recent installment in a recurrent pattern of financial overreach, taxpayer bailout and subsequent Wall St. ingratitude. And All indications are that the pattern is set to continue.’.

Madricks ‘Age of Greed’ is a ‘frustrating’ series of fascinating and disturbing vignettes which suggests not only a repeated cycle but that the busts keep getting bigger.  The primary thing to understand is that ‘it was not always thus..the US emerged from the Great Depression with a tightly regulated financial sector, and for about 40 years those regulations were enough to keep banking both safe and boring.’ The Age of Greed shows how, in the 70s and 80s this regulation unraveled.

The book emphasises how Nixon & Ford blamed economic problems on ‘big government’ rather than the actual ‘economic shocks’ – the OPEC crisis & Crop failures along with wage-price indexation. Republican Shtick and treasury / Fed ‘flip-flops’ (such as wage-price controls) under Nixon-Ford-Carter led to the public losing faith in Government.. ‘creating within it a ready acceptance of the anti-government message of Friedman and Reagan’. As Madrick describes ‘Reagan’s enormous capacity for doublethink and convenient untruths enabled him, the front man for business interests, to convince a credulous public that ‘government had become the principal obstacle to their personal fulfillment’.  The ‘Great Moralizer’ made unchecked greed and runaway individualism not only acceptable but lauded in the American psyche. Krugman & Wells commend Madrick’s analysis as show how partial ,flawed and ‘at odds with the data’ Friedman’s economics were.

1970s inflation undermined confidence in govt economic management, catapulted Friedman to fame and undermined the New Deal constraints on financial institutions by making it impossible to maintain limits on interest rates on customer deposits. Madrick tells this section by the story of Walter Wriston – head of First National City/Citibank from the 60’s to the 80’s and author of the famed quote (on sovereign debit) ‘Countries don’t go out of business‘.

Madrick marks Wriston as the epitome of the transformation of banking from cautious supporter of industry to free-wheeling independent profit centre, creator of crises and recurrent recipient of taxpayer bailouts. He opposed Govt. bailouts to industry (Chrysler (1978)) and opponents (Continental Illinois (1984)) while being in receipt of the very same to save his own company many times. First National’s issue of Certificate of Deposits (CDs) in 1961 was the first major crack in the New Deal’s bank regulation system. It side-stepped legal limits on interest rates. This use of ‘financial instruments’ has led to their constant use to avoid any regulations and constantly pile risks higher. In his time in control Wriston oversaw the Emerging Markets crash – a crash he had predicted would never happen.

When loads to Latin American Govt..s went bad, Citi and other banks were rescued via a program that was billed as aid to troubled debtor nations but was in fact largely aimed at helping US & European banks. In that sense the program for Latin America in the 1980s bore a strong family resemblance to what is happening to Europe’s peripheral economies now. Large official loans were provided to debtor nations, not to help them recover economically but to help them repay their private-sector creditors…But the loans came with a price, namely harsh austerity programs imposed on debtor nations – and in Latin America, the price of this austerity was a lost decade of falling incomes and minimal growth.’

Krugman & Wells notes that the political response to all these crisis has been ‘to shower more favours on the financial industry, dismantling what was left of Depression-era regulation’ and creating the ‘anything goes’ deregulated world of the 1990s onwards. This environment has already provided two huge bubbles – the tech bubble of the 1990s and the housing bubble of the 2000s. Madrick charts this period with profiles of men who have become increasing famed in the sub-prime era ‘ Angelo Mozilo (Countrywide Financial Services), Jimmy Caine (Bear Stearns) Dick Flud (Lehman Bros) Stan O’Neil (Merrill Lynch) and Chick Prince (Citigroup) as well as the man recreating the Friedman role with his ‘entirely undeserved reputation’ as economic guru Alan Greenspan.

Krugman and Wells point to Sanford I. (Sandy) Weill – who masterminded the merger of Citibank and Travelers / Smith Barney to create Citigroup and then became its CEO. They note ‘what is truly remarkable about that merger is that when Weill proposed it, it was clearly illegal. Smith Barney, a Travellers sub. was engaged in investment banking – that is putting together financial deals. And New Deal-era legislation – the Glass Stegal Act – prohibited such activities on the part of commercial banks (deposit-taking institutions) like Citibank. But Weill believed he could get the law changed to retroactively approve the merger, and he was right…. Weill ended his reign at Citigroup immensely rich but under an ethical cloud.

Why have these people been able to repeatedly act this way? Lack of Regulation and political contrivance, from both Republicans and Democrats, are the clear answers. ‘Undoubtably the most outrageous act – and the most economically damaging to the country – was Greenspan’s refusal to use regulatory powers at his disposal to rein in the exploding sub-prime market, despite being warned repeatedly that a catastrophe was brewing.

The authors note Madrick doesn’t deal with why regulators have abdicated responsibility, his book is more a catalogue of Greed.  Krugman and Well’s  reaffirm their previously presented belief that ‘white backlash’ against the Civil Rights movements transformed US politics and created the opportunity for a major push to undermine the New Deal. This combined with the metastasization of the influence of money in politics in the TV era has made deregulation the dominant meme.

Madrick’s subtitle ‘the triumph of Wall St. and the Decline of America’ is apt. Despite what business school academics claim the vast sums of Wall St. money did not improve America’s productive capacity ‘by efficiently allocating capital to its best use’.. Instead ‘it diminished the country’s productivity by directing capital on the basis of financial chicanery, outrageous compensation packages and bubble-infected stock price valuations.’  The USA ‘is ‘on track to spending the better part of a decade experiencing high unemployment, and sub-par growth blighting millions of lives – particularly the old, the young and the economically vulnerable.‘ The Democrats favour light regulatory reform, inefficient to tackle the problem and ethos of Wall St. and the Republican’s remain wielded to Reagan and Friedman: still blaming ‘big government’. ‘While proclaiming themselves defenders of the little guy, Republicans are currently hard at work undermining the Obama administrations consumer protections that would largely prevent a replay of the rapacious subprime lending.’

Madrick’s book is ‘a much-needed reminder of just how we got into the mess we’re in – a reminder that is greatly needed when we are still being told that greed is good‘.

Quote: Friedman proclaimed a creed of ‘greedism’ (our term) – that unchecked self-interest furthers the common good.

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A localised phrase from the Dictionary of American Regional English (Harvard Uni Press)

Cohooter:  (co var of ker & hooter  = noisemaker)

1 n. A sentinel for a flock of passenger pigeons

  • 1930 American Speech – (passenger pigeons) disappeared here about the middle seventies, and this word died out with them…. The pigeons fed in large flocks.. When feeding.. a flock would have from one to several old cock-pigeons posed on tall dead pines near by, watching. These birds kept up a constant calling, known from the sound as ‘cohootering’ and the sentinels were called ‘cohooters’.

2. n. A busy voluble leader in community affairs

  • 1930 American Speech – Fifty years ago in the central part of Maine, a person who made himself prominent in local matters was commonly spoken of as a ‘cohooter’. ‘Down to the Methodis’ old Deacon Blank is the head-co-hooter’ but the term was oftenest used of men, and of men who talked more than they worked, in my recollection. The word had nothing to do with the phrase ‘to be in cahoots with’. There was nothing derogatory about it save the whimsical implications that the person mentioned was both seen and heard.. it was about equivalent to the ‘bell-wether of the flock’. The people, on Penobscot.. applied the name to their neighbours who made more noise than they did work, and particular to those who in the prayer-meetings were constant exhorters.

3 v. verb of cohooter (2nd definition) – to go cohootering around – talking constantly and to little purpose

Mainly: Maine and surrounding areas.

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Drugs? Bust. The Epidemic of Mental Illness & The Illusion of Psychiatry

Over two editions of the  NYRB, Harvard’s Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, examines the ‘epidemic of Mental Illness’ in modern America as well as ruminating on the implications of the next edition of DSM, the industry bible at the heart of the prescription culture.

Books Reviewed:

1987 – 2007 saw the numbers qualifying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) increase nearly 2.5 times (1/184 in 1987 to 1/76 by 2007). In children the rate of increase was even more rapid: 35 times greater.  Mental Illness is now the leading cause of disability in children, well ahead of physical disabilities..for which the Federal Programs were created.

Treatment of mental illness is nearly always by psychoactive drugs. Most psychiatrists treat only with drugs, referring patients to psychologists or social workers if they believe psychotherapy is also needed. The shift from ‘talk’ to ‘drugs’ mirrors the shift to belief that mental illness is the result of chemical imbalance. A theory rooted in the marketing of Prozac in 1987. In the following decade the number of people treated for depression tripled. (A)bout 10 percent of Americans over age six now take antidepressants. Antipsychotics are now the top-selling class of drug in the USA.

Kirsch, Whitaker & Carlat agree ‘on the disturbing extent to which the companies that sell psychoactive drugs…have come to determine what constitutes a mental illness and how the disorders should be diagnosed and treated’. They also all dispute that mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Between 1954 & ’57 three drugs were launched to treat the then ‘three major categories of mental illness’ – psychosis (Thorzine / chlorpromazine), anxiety (miltown / meprobamate) and depression (iproniazid)… ‘and the face of psychiatry was totally transformed’. Initially developed to treat physical disorders each drug was found to calm (for psychosis and anxiety) or lift (for depression) mental states as a side effect. Research showed these, and their successors, were affecting the level of chemicals in the brain and the neurotransmitter levels (the alteration of which can be detected by analysis of spinal fluid) which are known to allow communication within the brain. From this a causal link was established:

Thorazine – lowers dopamine levels, treats psychosis therefore psychosis is caused by too much dopamine

Prozac – raises serotonin levels, treats depression therefore depression is caused by too little serotonin.

This instead of developing a drug to treat an abnormality, an abnormality was postulated to fit a drug.it was entirely possible that drugs that affected neurotransmitter levels could relieve symptoms even if neurotransmitters had nothing to do with the illness in the first place. Carlat puts it starkly – if pain relief was treated the same way then Opium would be mass prescribed since narcotic pain medications activate opiate receptors in the brain… and we would believe that fevers are caused by too little aspirin.

However more damming is the fact that 50 years of seeking to prove the chemical basis of mental disorder has produced nothing to substantiate it. Neurotransmitter function seems to be normal in people with mental illness before any treatment… there is no chemical ‘imbalance’ until you start taking medication.

That there is no science to prove the basis for medicating is of interest but less point if the drugs actually work. Kirsch’s book seeks to ask that very question for antidepressants. His 15 year study at Hull University started by examining 38 published clinical trials. These showed that placebo’s were 3 times more effective in treating depression than no treatment at all. However antidepressants were only 4 times more effective. Placebos were 75% as effective as antidepressants.  Kirsch then looked at unpublished trial records of the FDA.

To gain FDA approval for a drug all clinical trials must be submitted. If two of these trials show a drug to be more effective than a placebo then, generally, a drug will be approved. The number of failed trials is irrelevant and unpublished and classified as confidential proprietary information. Kirsch used Freedom of Information legislation to attain the unpublished trials for the six most widely used antidepressants (between 1987 and ’99) – Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, Serzone & Effexor. In total there were 42 trials. The majority were negative – they failed to show the drug more effective than a placebo. Overall placebos were 82% as effective as the drugs.  On the Hamilton Depression Scale (a score of the symptoms of depression widely used by the profession) the average difference between the drug and the placebo was 1.8 points ‘ a difference that, while statistically significant, was clinically meaningless.  All drugs were equally unimpressive in their effectiveness..yet because the positive tests were widely publicised the public and medical profession came to believe the drugs highly effective’.

In addition Kirsch found other drugs not considered antidepressants (synthetic thyroid hormone, opiates, sedatives, stimulates and some herbal remedies) as effective as antidepressants.  The ‘chemical’ impact – serotonin levels – was irrelevant to effectiveness.

A placebo was 75-82% as effective; another drug – one with side effects that a placebo lacks – was as effective as the prescribed medication.  This matched with the accepted feeling that antidepressants were more effective for severe depression cases – severe cases are given heavier antidepressants and thus the side-effects are more pronounced.  Tests using ‘active’ placebos (ones producing side effects) bore this out – there was no difference in effectiveness between the antidepressant and the active placebo.  Kirsch is a faithful proponent of the scientific method, and his voice therefore brings a welcome objectivity to a subject often swayed by anecdotes, emotions or self-interest.

Depression and schizophrenia has changed. Before they were episodic and self-limited – characterised by long periods of normalcy between bouts. Now they are chronic and lifelong and Whittaker purports this  as due to the long-term effects of the drugs prescribed to treat them. As a journalist rather than scientist his work is less rigorous than Kirsch’s but cites some important relevant authorities – Steve Hyman supports his assertion that long-term use of psychoactive drugs causes ‘substantial and long-lasting alterations in neural function’. These effects, the side-effects of the drugs and of the drugs needed to treat the side-effects result in daily cocktails of medication and increase the difficulty of getting off medication.  Removal of medication often doesn’t ‘restore’ the pre-existing ‘balance’ of the brain but rather leaves it unable to compensate for the sudden lack or surfeit of the ‘treated’ chemical. Whitaker is furious at this iatrogenic epidemic as well as at the huge impact that the medications side-effects, physical and mental, have had on the population.

Before drugs were introduced the profession had little interest in neurotransmitters or any other aspect of the physical brain. Prior to the mid-50s drug ‘revolution’ Freudian conflict was seen as the source of mental illness – this was illness of ‘the mind’ rather than ‘the brain’. From the 50s to the 80s psychiatrists became psycho-pharmacologists – concerned less with life-story and more with reducing symptoms of ‘chemical imbalance’.  As early as the ‘70s an anti-psychiatry movement took root, alarmed by the side-effects and the profession was in competition for resources from social workers. In addition there remained firm adherents to the Freudian / mind tradition. The result was the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) ‘vigorous effort to remedicalize psychiatry’  (Melvin Sabshin, Medical Director APA) via the MD’s weapon of choice – the prescription script. By fully embracing the biological model of mental illness and the use of psychoactive drugs to treat it, psychiatry was able to relegate other mental health care providers to ancillary positions and also able to identify itself as a scientific discipline’. The pharmaceutical industry soon made its gratitude tangible.

The device to enforce the biological model was the DSM – the book providing the diagnostic criteria for all mental disorders. The first two editions of the book (1952, 1968) were Freudian endeavours. DSM-III was pure ‘chemistry’. Published in 1980 it contained 265 diagnoses (83 more than DSM II) and was deliberately marketed not only to the medical profession but insurers, judges, lawyers, companies, hospitals, prisons, govt. agencies and any bodies concerned with citizens well-being. Consistency of diagnosis (reliability) was the key and matching diagnosis to drug the goal –see 2010 speech by APA president Carol Bernstein.  Reliability is NOT the same as validity. The problem of the DSM is that in all of its editions it has simply reflected the opinions of its writers. DSM-III has been heavily criticised as being the opinions of the then President of the APA, Robert Spitzer, who staffed its ‘research team’ with people he viewed as yes men. He would later brag ‘I could just get my way by sweet talking and whatnot’. By 1984 George Vailant, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, claimed DSM-III no more than ‘a bold series of choices based on guess, taste, prejudice and hope’.

DSM-III had no citations of scientific studies to support its decisions; the most recent edition has ‘source-books’ – presenting rationales and limited references. It remains far from being a scientific work referenced with evidence. It may be of much interest for a group of experts to get together and offer their opinions but unless these opinions can be buttressed by evidence they do not warrant the extraordinary deference shown to DSM.

DSM-III’s 265 diagnoses had grown to 365 by the time DSM-IV (TR) was published in 2000. Each new edition has produced a larger more expensive volume to be purchased by all the industries with an interest in the mental health machine. With over 1,000,000 sales its revenue is a major funding source for the APA. And membership of the editorial team has proved lucrative to members of a psychiatric profession already well-financed by pharmaceutical companies.  1/5th of APA funding comes from drug companies and Minnesota & Vermont’s ‘sunshine’ transparency laws have revealed that drug companies pay more money to psychiatrists than any other specialty field. Contributors to the DSM are seen as Key Opinion Leaders for the pharmaceutical industry – of the 170 who worked on DSM-IV-TR, 95 had financial ties to drug companies, including every contributor to the sections on mood disorders and schizophrenia.  56% of the APA members composing the work-groups for the forthcoming DSM-V ‘disclosed significant industry interests’.

Carlat is clear as to why his profession receives so much money from the pharmaceutical industry ‘our diagnoses are subjective and expandable, and we have few rational reasons for choosing one treatment over another’.  There are no objective signs or tests for mental illness – no lab data or MRI findings – the boundaries from normal and abnormal are unclear – leaving it possible to expand diagnostic boundaries and create new diagnoses that would be impossible in a field like cardiology.

Drug companies don’t limit themselves to funding psychiatrists. The fund patient advocacy groups and educational organisations. In 3 months of 2009 one company, Eli Lilly, gave over $1.2 million to 4 advocacy / patient support groups. These groups influence insurers to cover products and products ensure psychiatrists see more patients per hour than they would if they had to deal it ‘talk’. Carlat believes ‘scripts’ allow him an income of $180 per hour – he estimates he would be under the $100 per hour if he indulged in ‘talk’ therapy.  The quick matching of symptoms to disorders leaves most patients with multiple mental health ‘problems’ and multiple prescription medications to treat them (typically Celexa for depression with Ativan for anxiety and Ambien for insomnia and Provigil to combat the fatigue brought on by Celexa and Viagra for the other main side-effect.). In addition he states that within the categories of mental health disorders there is very little difference between the panoply of drugs. ‘To a remarkable degree, our choice of medications is subjective, even random. Perhaps your psychiatrist is in a Lexapro mood this morning, because he was just visited by an attractive Lexapro drug rep’

Work on DSM-V is ongoing and it is clear that DSM-IV-TR’s 365 diagnoses will be expanded on yet again. Even the chair of DSM-IV, Allen Frances, is highly critical of this, claiming it will be a ‘bonanza for the pharmaceutical industry but at a huge cost to the new false positive patients caught in the excessively wide DSM-V net’ (Psychiatric Times, 06/26/09). Certainly the net is going to be cast wide – Kupfer and Reiger, who lead the DSM-V project, made clear they viewed 30-50% of all patients presenting themselves for any primary health care to be displaying ‘prominent mental health symptoms or identifiable mental disorders’. It looks as though it will be harder and harder to be normal.

Of even greater concern is the rise in diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in children as young as two years old. Juvenile bipolar disorder prevalence jumped forty-four fold in 11 years (’93-’04) while autism went from 1/500 to 1/90 over the same period. 10% of US 10yo boys now take daily stimulants for ADHD and 500,000 US kids take antipsychotic drugs.  These diagnoses also go through ‘trends’ – ADHD’s pervasiveness was limited in time by the suggestion that many ADHD diagnoses were actually bipolar disorder and that it could be treated at infancy, leading to the rise of juvenile bipolar disorder which in turn has been ‘replaced’ by the ‘new monster’ of TDD (temper dysregulation disorder with dysphoria) which is scheduled to appear in DSM-V.

Two additional problems, welfare-entitlement and off-label prescription, compound the issue of children and mental health medication. David Autor makes clear that a family’s child qualifying for mental health drugs becomes ‘the new welfare’ – the family will be entitled to SSI, more generous than standard welfare, and often Medicare.  Hospitals and state welfare agencies have incentives to encourage uninsured families to apply for SSI payments since hospitals will get paid and states will save money by shifting welfare costs to the federal government. Rutgers University found that children from low-income families are four times more likely to receive the qualifying antipsychotic medicines than are privately insured children.

Rebecca Riley died aged 4 from an OD on Clonidine and Depakote which she was prescribed for ADHD and bipolar disorder from diagnoses she obtained when 2 years old. Clonidine was FDA approved for high blood pressure, Depakote for epilepsy and acute mania in bipolar disorder. She was also using Seroquel, approved for schizophrenia and acute mania. None was approved for ADHD or long-term use in treating bipolar disorder; none was approved for use in 4 year old children. Her siblings had similar diagnoses and were taking combination psychoactive drugs. Her family, save herself who was merely in the process of apply for such, were all in receipt of SSI. The family dispute accusations that they over-dosed their children.

It is illegal for companies to market drugs for anything other than their approved use. It is not illegal for physicians to prescribe drugs for anything other than their approved use.  In the past four years five firms have admitted to federal charges of illegally marketing psychoactive drugs… despite having to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to settle the charges, the companies have probably come out well ahead. Doctors could prescribe off-label so as to take advantage of new scientific evidence – that sensible caveat has become a marketing tool fit to be exploited by the highly subjective nature of psychiatric diagnosis.

Americans have come to believe that pills are more potent despite psychotherapy (talk) and exercise having been shown to be as effective as drugs for depression. Helping families in troubled economic circumstances should not be dealt with by diagnosing 2 year olds with ADHA and juvenile bipolar disorder – tutoring, after-school care and education would probably be less expensive… ‘but unfortunately there is no industry to push these alternatives’.  Rebecca Riley’s father was found guilty of first degree murder and given a life sentence without the possibility of parole, her mother guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to a minimum of 15 years. Her brother and sister are in state care.

QUOTE:  ‘I could just get my way by sweet talking and whatnot‘ – Robert Spitzer.

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DARE-STRACTION – Chokebore Britches

A localised phrase from the Dictionary of American Regional English (Harvard Uni Press)

Chokebore Britches – n. Trousers that narrow towards the bottom, esp riding breeches.

  • 1944 Western Words, Adam: Choke-bore pants – a name given the flare hipped, tight-kneed riding breeches of the Easterner.
  • 1958 Woods Words, McCulloch: Worn by dude in the woods, and much sneered at by loggers
  • 1959 Gunbarrel, Martin: She wore Chokeboard trousers, with wrap-around leggings, but her high-heel kid pumps left a two-inch margin of silk stocking exposed

Mainly – West.

See Also – Chokebore – a shotgun barrel that narrows toward the the muzzle.

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Shellac of North America: 1000 Hurts: Obama; his words and deeds.

In June 14th New York Review of Books David Bromwich, Sterling Professor of English at Yale, considers the conundrum of Barack Obama’s Presidency so far, resulting in a shellacking as comprehensive as any delivered by the polls or the pundits.

Walter Bagehot divided government into two elements – The Dignified and The Efficient. The Dignified concerned itself with ceremony, majesty, foreign affairs and state occasions, be they happy or sad; The Efficient with making laws, striking bargains between factions and party business. ‘Barack Obama from the start of his presidency has exhibited an almost exclusive taste for the dignified.’ He is slow to react, be it the Gulf oil-spill, the Fukushima disaster, the management of legislation such as Health Reform and even personal insults such as the Birther long-form distraction.  It also provides his opponents with swift victories in the court of public opinion – the Netanyahu entanglement is a prime example.

The spat between President Obama and Congress over the War Powers Act (1973) in regard of Libya shows the first sign of opposition to the aggrandizement of executive power begun by Pres. G.W.Bush. Obama’s response shows a ‘mixture of arrogance and disregard’ as well as highlighting the problems that arise from his propensity to be specific when he would be served to be vague. Libya was promised to be ‘days’ not ‘weeks’, it is now ‘months’.

Obama was in Brazil when he announced the military action against Libya – in keeping with his propensity to stay ‘away’ from Washington and present himself as a statesman above the ‘disagreeableness’ in Washington, in doing so he plays the ‘outsider’ card of Carter, Reagan, Clinton and G.W.Bush. Bush Snr knew he would never have been able to play that ‘role’.

While it was successful for Clinton and Regan it made Carter and G.W.Bush seem incompetent and disengaged.  The latter seems increasing applicable to Obama. ‘He retains the wish to be seen as a man above party; and a more general distaste for politics is also involved.

But what is Barack Obama if not a politician? He seems to suggest organizer, pastor, principle, values-counsellor or ‘moderator’ of national concerns. He has shifted from tours of town halls to televised speeches – Tucson Memorial (Jan 12), State Department (May 19) saw him move from the ‘problem’ of antagonism in national debate to the problem of the middle east: Being President of the world has sometimes seemed a job more agreeable to Barrack Obama than being President of the US.
This taste from global travel, being outside the Beltway and grand address matches his preference for symbolic authority of grand utterances over actual authority of directed policy. Is speeches cast him as a ‘holder-forth’ and yet ‘it is never clear what follows for him from the fact that the world is listening’.

His grand rhetoric on the modern world also sits ill with his bouts of spasmodic engagement and his vagueness in defining a policy jars with his wish to embrace a challenge.  The Arab spring has shown his universal rhetoric inapplicable to specific places such as Bahrain. However his Arab spring language shows his understanding of the American example of democracy as unique and the conception of the USA as ‘the most grown up country in the world’ and it has led him to several commands (Qaddafi must go; Egypt must begin (transition)) of dubious authority save that of belief in ‘the uniqueness of America’s example. He constantly endorses non-violence but regularly cites the American Revolution and the Civil war – both instances of the need for violence – as well as championing a violent rebellion. The point is worth making only because the contradictions – which seem to have passed into his thinking undetected – must have been instantly obvious to his Arab listeners’. 

As well as ‘American Uniqueness’ he also espouses the rhetoric of ‘American generosity’  – his Nobel speech was an example of this and oddly mismatched to the event. His portrayal of WWII, Korea and Kosovo as America willingly bearing its burden to help the world recalls William Gladstone’s portrayal of the British Empire:

  • “The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest – because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity”
  • “The high office of bringing Europe into concert, and keeping Europe in concert, is an office specially pointed out for your country to perform. That happy condition, so long as we are believed to be disinterested in Europe, secures for us the noblest part that any Power was ever called up to play.”

Both suppose ‘a policy of national self-interest will prove identical with a policy of international nobility and self-sacrifice’. It also assumes the whole world wants ‘commercial democracy’ (as far as it adheres to US interests).

Obama’s style has made him vulnerable to his opponent – The State Dept. speech on Israeli being an example – his general terms coupled with specifics such as reference to the 1867 boarders (with the caveat of ‘swap deals’ around such geography) was met by Netanyahu’s immediate rebuke of the ’67 map (with no mention of the swap deals) despite it being the basis for US-Israeli-Palestinian discussions for years.  The moderate Professor was in conflict with the immoderate street-brawler.

This altercation then aggregated over a series of public meetings – Obama’s further detailing of his policy to AIPAC 2011 Convention, Netanyahu’s repost to the same audience the next day and then, on the eve of Obama’s departure to speak to the Irish about the ‘O’bamas’ and ‘hope’, the skewering of he received by the rapturously received Netanyahu on Obama’s home court: Congress. Netanyahu ramped up his opposition to any of the Presidents subtleties and portrayed himself as the (all but) All American hero – his subtext was ‘we are the home of freedom and wisdom among the ancients, just as you Americans are among the moderns.’ His mix of ancient biblical language, American-Israeli machismo, laudatory salutations to the USA and personal tales of time spent in both lands received an impressive twenty-nine standing ovations. ‘(Obama) was utterly overmatched by Netanyahu’s speech to Congress. It is an unhappy fact of politics that victory goes to the pressure that will not let up. Netanyahu’s belief in his immoderate purpose is stronger than Obama’s belief in his moderate purpose’.

The position of a moderate who aspires to shake the world into a new shape presents a continuous contradiction. The moderate feels constrained not to say anything startling and not to do anything very fast. Obama is caught in this contradiction and keeps getting deeper in, like a man who sinks in quicksand both the more he struggles and the more he stays still.

Netanyahu by Larry Roibal

Netanyahu by Larry Roibal

Quote: It is an unhappy fact of politics that victory goes to the pressure that will not let up. David Bromwich.

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A localised phrase from the Dictionary of American Regional English (Harvard Uni Press)

Blind Tiger n. A place that sells liquor illegally,, a speakeasy. (DARE, vol 1, 285)

  • 1857 Spirit of the Times ‘I see a kinder pigeon-hole cut in the side of a house and over the hole, in big writin ‘Blind Tiger: 10C a sight’.. Says I to the feller inside ‘here’s your ten cents, walk out your wild-cat’ Stranger, instead of showin’ me a wild varmint without eyes, I’ll be dod-busted if he didn’t shove out a glass of whiskey. You see that ‘blind tiger’ was an arrangement to evade the law, which wont let em sell licker there except by the gallon’
  • 1951, Daniels Tar Heels, 9 – An old Negress let us watch her put the corks in blind tiger liquor bottles

Mainly S.W and S (FL, TX, MS, IN) but also along the west coast.

see also – Blind Pig (illegally made whiskey) and Blind Pigger (Person who sells illegal whiskey)

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