Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Carpetbagger Report � Give until it hurts? Not these days

The Carpetbagger Report � Give until it hurts? Not these days: "I fear that the cancer of extreme individualism, planted by President Ronald Reagan and nurtured by Bush I and now Bush II, has grown so much that it can no longer be excised from the body politic. . . If this is true, if we really have lost our national ability to sacrifice for the common good, we’ve lost more than Social Security and Medicaid. We’ve lost something vital to the American spirit. We’ve lost something that, in the past, made us a great and enviable nation."

This exemplifies an alternative to the coming of the storm, a narrative that accepts that the country has changed, and is not changing back any time soon. The extreme individualism, which characterizes Republican ideology, has its foundation not in the personalities of Republican Presidents, but in deep cultural shifts, which have been underway for a very long time.

Americans were once great joiners. Through most of American history, fraternal societies and organizations were vitally important and involved vast numbers. Heck, the "Sons of Liberty" and the Committees of Correspondence brought about American independence. No more. The Shriners, and Elks, and Tammany Hall are all but gone.

The American People are fat and lonely.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Mark A. R. Kleiman: Compromise or appeasement?

Mark A. R. Kleiman: Compromise or appeasement?: "What makes me saddest is that no one seems to care what the Constitution actually says on the subject. That's not a healthy situation for a constitutional republic."

The theme of this blog is expression of the rhetorical thesis that the right-wing Republicans will overstep in their program to build the fascist State, and in so doing, bring down their whole enterprise, shocking the country into supporting rationality, liberalism, motherhood and apple pie.

The trouble is, if rationality, liberalism, motherhood and apple pie are not supported in the first place, there's no context in which to overstep. Power is honored, principle is but a distant memory.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Conservative Overreach

The Washington Monthly: "Conservative overreach is clearly one of the best hopes liberals have at the moment, and anything that slows down their apparent desire to sail merrily over a cliff is probably a bad thing."

Once again a liberal Democrat calculates the politics, based on an assumption that the Republicans, busy building the fascist State, will go off a cliff. If the Republicans do not go off a cliff, and the fascist State is established, . . . well, let's not think about that.

Bush's Last Chance - Is the president finally ready to talk to Pyongyang? Let's hope so. By Fred Kaplan

Bush's Last Chance - Is the president finally ready to talk to Pyongyang? Let's hope so. By Fred Kaplan: "So, what should President Bush do? Stay on his high horse, refuse to negotiate (or, as he once put it, to 'reward bad behavior'), and watch one of the world's loosest cannons go nuclear? Or acknowledge the risks, get ready to be annoyed, and sit down at the table? There's still time, maybe one last time, to make a choice."

It is perfectly obvious, after even a few minutes of thought, that the U.S. should offer economic aid and security guarantees to North Korea in return for curtailing their nuclear program. There really is no other good option, and that a large part of the Republican Party, including Bush and McCain, as well as nutcases like Bolton, will not face up to it, reveals them to be hopeless incompetents.

Bush has, as far as I can tell, even spent even a few minutes in actual thought. Certainly, not about a matter of government policy. And, I doubt he will make an exception in this case.

Maybe his good luck will hold. I doubt very much that U.S. intelligence has any good assessment of real Korean capabilities. And, I don't know enough about the difficulties of building a bomb to know if they can really do it. The North Koreans do not have a depth of technical capability; this is not Russia, with vast resources and, poor as Russia is, with mathematicians playing chess on every street corner. North Korea is a country of 22 million, living in poverty so severe that a signficant part of the population is on the verge of starvation. They do have the ability to build ballistic missiles in small numbers; whether they could really build any significant numbers of bombs has to be considered dubious. The danger to the U.S. and the world is that they might, in economic desperation, put together a nuclear bomb or a "dirty" bomb, and sell it. The U.S. needs to have sufficient intelligence capability in the region to detect such an export and intercept it. Are we building such a capability? I doubt it very much.

And, the U.S. needs North Korea to accept economic aid of a kind, which will jump start the country's economic development. Any opening to the world is going to be subversive to regime. We should want to aid them, because aiding them undermines them, if done in the right way. Will we be that smart? Are you kidding?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Matthew Yglesias

Matthew Yglesias: "As I see it, three different things were at stake. One was the high-level principle about whether or not it was okay for the Senate to operate under Calvinball rules. Democrats seem to have made no progress on this front. Another was the low-level issue that several of these nominees, and Janice Rogers Brown in particular, will make horrible judges. Democrats gave ground on this front. In the middle was the pseudo-principle that the filibuster is a pillar of American democracy. It was here -- on the party's most questionable contention -- that they seem to have made all their gains. That seems pretty dubious to me. I would much rather have made 'concessions' on the filibuster as such as gains on the question of who gets to be a judge."

I am holding out hope that the moderate Republicans agreed, as is rumored, to vote Janice Rogers Brown down.

Democrats have repeatedly made the point that they have rejected only a small percentage of President Bush's choices, but no one makes the point that the Republicans, after rejecting 60 of Clinton's nominees, have not rejected a single one of Bush's. That's an appalling record. The Senate is not doing its job, if it takes its marching orders from President Bush. If the moderate Republicans reject at least one nominee, they will have demonstrated their willingness to do their jobs as Senators.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Paul Krugman forecasts Storm

America Wants Security - New York Times: "So where will change come from?

Everyone loves historical analogies. Here's my thought: maybe 2004 was 1928. During the 1920's, the national government followed doctrinaire conservative policies, but reformist policies that presaged the New Deal were already bubbling up in the states, especially in New York.

In 1928 Al Smith, the governor of New York, was defeated in an ugly presidential campaign in which Protestant preachers warned their flocks that a vote for the Catholic Smith was a vote for the devil. But four years later F.D.R. took office, and the New Deal began.

Of course, the coming of the New Deal was hastened by a severe national depression. Strange to say, we may be working on that, too."

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Almost Unnoticed, Bipartisan Budget Anxiety

Almost Unnoticed, Bipartisan Budget Anxiety: "With startling unanimity, they agreed that without some combination of big tax increases and major cuts in Medicare, Social Security and most other spending, the country will fall victim to the huge debt and soaring interest rates that collapsed Argentina's economy and caused riots in its streets a few years ago."

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Lance Mannion: No damn good

Lance Mannion: No damn good: "I am betting on their own stupidity and viciousness catching up with them."

Lance explains why his view that the his pessimism about the goodness of mankind, his "I'm not a the glass is half-empty-er. I'm a the glass is dirty and the milk in it has curdled and came from sick cows anway-er" view, leads him to expect the Republicans to bring themselves down in a giant crack-up.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Avedon at Eschaton reads the entrails


"One reason I don't think it's at all paranoid to suspect that the Republicans have deliberately taken over the voting system in order to cheat is that they keep doing things that don't otherwise make sense. . . .Conservatives have made good use of the filibuster over the years, on judicial nominations and a lot of other things. Are they absolutely certain no one will wake up and get rid of them? Or are they just sure that how we vote isn't going to matter?"

There is a part of me that says, maybe Bush has "won" two elections in a row by means more foul than fair. Maybe, he is gunning to appoint extreme right-wing justices to the Supreme Court.

The Stirling Newbery thesis would be that 2004 was a watershed election, that everything in American politics will flow from this foundation for the next 35 years. So, around about the time Social Security is "going bankrupt" in 2040, progressives/liberals may make a comeback.

Matthew Yglesias: What Not To Worry About

Matthew Yglesias: What Not To Worry About: "what if the GOP of the post-TR era hadn't abandonned the Bull Moose's legacy and the Republicans, rather than the Democrats, had emerged as the dominant force of mid-twentieth century politics"

The whole thesis of the "Coming Perfect Storm" is that liberals and progressives are naturally led toward a worldview, where they half hope and half fear that the inevitable bad consequences of Bush policy come together to discredit President Moron. But, what if Bush does not reap that which he sows? Matthew Y, is young, and self-absorbed, and may not yet fully realize that politics does not reward virtue reliably.

Democrats, naturally, feel that, in Clinton and Bush II, we have a stark contrast between good President and bad, but, obviously, many voters do not necessarily see things the same way. Conservatives have their own narrative, however divorced from reality that narrative may be. Given the right sequence of events, the Republicans will pin the consequences of Bush policies onto the Democratic Party.

I fear that Rove thinks of Bush as a McKinley, who lived. It was McKinley, with Hanna as Rove, and the good luck of the Gold discoveries of the 90's, which created the Republican majority, which ruled the U.S., 1896 - 1932.

Clinton is Grover Cleveland in that drama, not T.R.

T.R. and progressivism were a phenomenon. T.R.'s greatest contribution was getting Woodrow Wilson elected. It was Wilson, a man of ideas, who got the major elements of the Progressive agenda enacted, and who laid the intellectual foundation for economic liberalism and for idealistic internationalism in foreign policy.

The thing the Democrats most need to fear is getting elected, BEFORE Republican policy reaps its necessary consequences. If Democrats could magically ascend to power, tomorrow, and then, immediately began reversing all the Republican craziness, the political consequences for Democrats would be catastrophic.

Republicans are pursuing the course of policy, which they are, because it is a course without immediate pain, but they are well aware of consequences. Over and over again, on issues as varied as Social Security and RealID, Bush and his Congressional allies propose policies, which will be go into effect only in 2009, and Democrats seem not to notice the implications. If Democrats return to power, only to withdraw in ignominy from Iraq, to raise taxes, to burst the housing bubble, and to devalue the dollar vis a vis the Chinese yuan, they will be hooverized, and out of power for a generation.

If Bush can get top out the Federal judiciary with a radically conservative, Federalist Society majority on the Supreme Court and most of the Circuit Courts, they can afford to lose in 2008. If they can manuver the Democrats into taking responsibility for withdrawing from Iraq, for raising taxes and cutting social benefits, for devaluing the dollar, etc., the Democratic Party might never recover.

Saturday, May 7, 2005 The Quagmire : Politics The Quagmire : Politics: "The news from Iraq is bad and getting worse with each passing day. "

Well, duh.

The steady drumbeat of carnage ought to make an impression some day real soon now. As if. How long can the Bush Administration narrative about Iraq hold out against the reality of doing too little to accomplish their putative goals of creating a stable and democratic Iraq?

The Bush Administration chooses its public "goals" for their narrative power; their relation to the actual purpose of President Bush and his minions is solely their persuasive power in a narrative the American People will accept. The actual means applied in Iraq may be sufficient to accomplish the actual goal of President Bush, whatever that goal may be; the "Perfect Storm" expectation is based on the idea that things will spin out of control, and the actual results on the ground will deviate significantly from any conceivable, positive narrative, which Bush and the corporate right-wing media can spin out.

It is quite possible that the narrative-spinning power of the right-wing will not be significantly challenged by events in Iraq. I personally think that Bush is aiming at a weak and unstable Iraq, completely dependent on American military power. Certainly, that's what they have gotten, and I think it is fair to say that that is what they have been aiming at, despite whatever they have said about their ("our") goals.

The corporate right-wing media have been thoroughly primed for the script, which says, that the U.S. gave Iraq a fair chance at a stable, democratic regime, and the Iraqis have failed. The U.S. has generously offered its support, but the Iraqis have fallen short. This is the best that the Iraqis can do. Oh, well. The curtain is drawn across the manifest failures of the American military and occupation leadership. Oh, well.

Democrats are too stupid to carefully and consistently parse out a counter-narrative. They constantly fall into the ditch of blaming the Republicans for allowing their "ideology" to run wild. The Republicans only have an ideology, to the extent that they need one to spin out their narrative scripts. What they do is purely pragmatic, and aimed at the same goal in every case: transfer additional wealth, income and power to business corporations and the very wealthy.

Rolling Stone: " 'I talk to senior military people and combat commanders who tell me that the situation is much more precarious than admitted,' says Col. Patrick Lang, former Middle East chief for the Defense Intelligence Agency."

Rolling Stone quotes a U.S. Army officer, who knows what we are actually doing:

" 'Our policy is to make Iraq a colony,' he says. 'We won't let go.' "

The New York Times > Automobiles > Credit Rankings of G.M. and Ford Lowered to Junk

The New York Times > Automobiles > Credit Rankings of G.M. and Ford Lowered to Junk: "General Motors and Ford Motor lost their investment grade ratings Thursday, pushing two of corporate America's biggest borrowers into the ranks of junk bonds and rattling the financial markets with the message that the collective fortunes of the remaining two domestically owned automakers have sunk to their lowest points yet."

The implications of this are more serious than the non-expert might suppose. The auto companies have structured their business in the U.S. around the financing of auto purchases. It is the consumer financing arms of these companies, which have made a profit, not the manufacturing businesses, which the naive might suppose are the core of these companies.

Junk bond status, if it results in higher interest rates for the commercial paper, which these companies use to finance auto loans, may very well doom these giant corporations. Of course, that's a big if, but this is a step down a very steep path. And, along that path lies the potential for seeing their pension funds fail.

The broader problem, of course, is the American corporation has become, increasingly, in the typical case, either hollow or corrupt, or both. Corporate management has been allowed to run wild. They control the Media. They elect the President and the Congress of their choosing. They inflate their own salaries into the stratosphere, while holding down wages and looting pension funds.

If the "Perfect Storm" comes, it will be structures of corporate America, which collapse in the wind.

Friday, May 6, 2005

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Warren Buffett Joins the Order of the Shrill

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Warren Buffett Joins the Order of the Shrill: "I'm reminded of this letter that FDR wrote in 1924 to Delaware attorney Willard Saulsbury.

'I remarked to a number of friends that I did not think the nation would elect a Democrat again until the Republicans had led us into a serious period of depression and unemployment', FDR, Dec 9, 1924"

Bush as Hoover???

And, what happens if the chickens do not come home to roost until, say, 2009? Will the Republicans elect one of their own to take the blame, when the roof caves in?

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Greenspan Warns on Credit Derivatives

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Greenspan Warns on Credit Derivatives: "'We don't know what financial institutions might be underwater after a large sudden drop in the dollar or spike in interest rates.'"

Yeah, despite the optimism spreading out from good employment numbers, the likelihood of a dollar drop provokes other delightful speculation.

Matthew Yglesias: The Road Not Taken

Matthew Yglesias: The Road Not Taken: "'was this the only method available of aiding political reform?'"

This is a horrible question -- a total loser, except with people, who already agree with you. It takes you off into counterfactual speculation, where people's prejudices hold sway.

The critical question to apply to Iraq today is, "Is the U.S. promoting the development of a stable, democratic Iraq?" It is fine for Bush to say that's what he is doing, but what is he, in fact, doing on the ground? This is a question that goes to the interpretation of actual facts. Addressing this factual question opens the possibility of persuading someone, whose opinion may be based on misinformation.

When Bush says that he wants to "save Social Security," no sensible person takes him at his word. We examine whether his ideas and proposals are designed to "save" SS or, rather, and more accurately, to "phase it out."

Democrats need to start analyzing the situation in Iraq, with the same skepticism.

Bush, imho, is trying to create opportunities for corporate business interests to profit from corruption and he is trying to create a need for a permanent American military presence. He has done nothing to strengthen Iraq; he has increase electrical production or the supply of clean water -- the money appropriated for those purposes and many others has been siponed away by corruption. The Iraqi government is kept militarily and economically weak and dependent on the U.S., while the insurgency is allowed to simmer.

The Iraq policy is not unlike the Republican policy of raising the unemployment rate to dampen wage increases. No Republican President will ever say, out loud, that that is his policy, but everyone has done it since WWII. Bush will never say, out loud what his policy objectives are, but he will nevertheless employ means, which are appropriate to his unstated objectives. If his policy fosters corruption, then it is fair to infer that he wants corruption, he wants Halliburton et alia to profit mightily, as they have. If his policy fosters a weak Iraqi government, then it is fair to infer that he wants a weak Iraqi government.

It may be that Bush's Iraq policies will prove to be ineffectual, and that things will go badly. I don't think Bush wants an Iraqi civil war, or to have an Iraqi government ask the U.S. to withdraw. Those things may happen. But, I do not think the sole, or even primary, critical approach, should be to predict disaster. The primary task of policy criticism, at this point, ought to be, to infer from the means being employed, the objectives of the Bush policy, and to make those objectives known.

Thursday, May 5, 2005

Angry Bear

Angry Bear: "a revaluation of the Chinese currency is more likely to cause expenditure-switching away from Chinese production and towards production in other nations such as the U.S."

A lot of speculation on the role of international economics in the Coming Perfect Storm centers on the effects of an increase in the value of the Chinese currency relative to the U.S. dollar. This is critically important, because the Chinese and other Asian central banks have been buying up U.S. government debt in the last couple of years, at a rapid clip. The purchases of U.S. debt is what keeps the U.S. dollar/Chinese Renminbi exchange rate "fixed." Ditto for the Korean Won, the Japanese Yen.

China has maintained their own currency at a ridiculously low value relative to the dollar, in order to make investment in Chinese manufacturing for export to the U.S. (and to a lesser extent, Europe) almost fantastically profitable. That's why you can buy a toaster at a drugstore for less than $10, and why well-made clothes are so cheap that department stores are consolidating. And, it is why Chinese output and employment in manufacturing has been soaring.

When speculating about the likely effects of revaluation, it would be helpful if analysts kept in mind just how ridiculously undervalued the Chinese currency is, and why. The why is that manufacturing in most of China is still risky and costly, despite dirt-cheap wages. The Chinese must import a lot of expensive stuff, and not just raw materials, and manufacturers must overcome many obstacles to attain quality production, including on-again, off-again electricity, transportation snafus, etc.

At some point (and we may, in fact, be near that point), revaluing the Chinese currency will actually aid the Chinese, by reducing the cost of imports used in manufacturing and increasing the welfare of Chinese consumers, who depend on imports. Rapidly improving efficiency in the manufacturing sector may be able to compensate for a modest exchange rate adjustment. For the Chinese, exchange rate adjustment could trigger some short-term problems, but it has definite upsides: immediate increase in income from exports; immediate reduction in the cost of imports. For China, exchange rate adjustment could result in a small, but noticeable increase industrial profitability and consumer income.

The effect in the U.S. does not have any upsides to it. Oh, sure, we might get increased demand for U.S. exports, but the key word is "might." Major U.S. exports -- movies, airplanes, wheat -- are not all that price-sensitive. Meantime, we get to pay $11 for that toaster, instead of $10. Interest rates rise, even as the economy is hitting a "soft patch." The Housing bubble bursts, and employment in housing construction and appliances for new houses, plummets.

Right now, Americans are enjoying a $100 of income and consumption, while earning only about $90. Exchange rate adjustment for the U.S. means a reduction in consumer income of five percent or more. That's a lot of pain.

Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Fascism rears its ugly head

Daily Kos :: Political Analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation.: "'What about marriages where men just fuck their wife the ass?'

Some in the audience laughed. Some quite probably rolled their eyes. I myself was a bit taken aback and left wondering if the questioner couldn't have expressed himself differently before he sauntered away from the microphone.

And, then, I heard a cry: 'Hey! What are you doing? Let him go!'

The police (who were there in full force that evening to protect Coulter from the fatal threat of banana creme) had taken the questioner by the arms when he attempted to leave the auditorium after signaling to his friends that he was leaving. Two officers grabbed him and with an undeniably excessive amount of force pushed him out of the very same auditorium that he was exiting on his own."

While liberals are waiting for the whirlwind, they might want to consider that right-wing Republicans want to impose a fascist dictatorship.