Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Whiskey Bar: The Politics of Scarcity

Whiskey Bar: The Politics of Scarcity: "It's a little disconcerting to think that gas prices — not Iraq, not Katrina, not the extra-constitutional power grabs — could decide whether Shrub's presidency recovers or collapses into complete irrelevancy for the next three years. "


Monday, April 24, 2006

Economic hazards

The Carpetbagger Report » Blog Archive » 'Having trouble' at Treasury: "Rumor has it that Treasury Secretary John Snow will get the boot any day now. Part of the problem, apparently, is that the White House is reportedly 'having trouble' finding someone qualified who wants the job. That's not a good sign."

My previous post tried to riff off of Krugman's latest "things are worse than they appear" column on the trade deficit, to make the case that Bush economic policy could result in a meltdown and a political storm.

On the economic front, things are bad, but not acutely bad, and so not "obviously" bad, to the citizen or voter, who is not paying much attention. The U.S. is on an unsustainable course, as they say, living beyond its means and failing to renew its infrastructure. It is hard to know when the crisis will come, or even if a crisis will come. Things may just continue to deteriorate gradually, and various political narratives will be generated by the right-wing corporate media, which will blame inevitable abstractions, like globalization, about which government policy can do nothing.

The gradual decline in median household incomes has been small; it adds up, of course, but it is not dramatic and acute, and so, a political crisis never comes.

But, there is some non-zero chance that an economic crisis will come, in the Bush administration. And, one of the reasons is that Bush has no competent people in key economic policy positions. Snow, the Treasury Secretary, is an incompetent, and, on the second tier at Treasury, a lot of offices are simply empty. If there were a shock to the system, the Administration might not be able to contain it, and, in fact, might actually respond in a way, which made a small shock into a full-blown crisis.

The housing bubble has burst, and the yield curve has been inverted, and oil prices are rising. At the very least, an economic recession has to be regarded as highly likely. The possibility of a political or meterological event causing a spike in oil prices has to seem probable, and the possibility of a dollar crisis has to appear no longer remote. These are circumstances, which even an Administration lousy with technical, economic competence could screw up.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Paul Krugman: Things are worse than they seem

Economist's View: Paul Krugman: CSI Trade Deficit: "Right now, forensic analysis seems to say that the U.S. trade position is worse, not better, than it looks. And the answer to the question, 'Why haven't we paid a price for our trade deficit?' is, just you wait."

Bush Administration economic policies have been singularly ill-advised. And, they will have consequences.

But, those consequences, although certainly "bad", may not be sharp, or particularly soon. And, it is difficult to anticipate what narrative may be attached. The American middle class has seen the Republicans chipping away at their income and security for decades.

There is some non-zero chance, though, that a vicious circle is about to be triggered.

Trade is a big part of that. The country is living beyond its means. In quantitative terms, the American standard of living is about 6% hot air. If the hot air passes out of the bubble slowly, it might not be much noticed. If the bubble bursts, and we lose that 6% over some short period of time, people will very much notice.

nastier, poorer, weaker, dummer

The Blogging of the President: "It will be a nastier, poorer, weaker, meaner, dummer America. But that is what Americans want, because that is what they have voted for repeatedly for a generation. Like Madison, I regard anything that repeated majorities desire as de facto constitutional, even if I would rather not live under it."

Keeping Control

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall April 23, 2006 04:58 PM: "Keeping control of the House and the Senate is less a matter of conventional ideological and partisan politics as it is a simple matter of survival."

Theirs and ours, Mr. Marshall.

The Republicans will do whatever they have to hold onto control of the House and Senate.

Chances of losing control of the Senate are, unfortunately, remote, while the chances of a change in the House are only marginally better.

But, supoena power in the hands of Democrats could become a jawbone in the hand of Samson.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Bush: 'I'm the decider'

CNN.com - Bush: 'I'm the decider' on Rumsfeld - Apr 18, 2006: "I'm the decider, and I decide what is best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense."

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Flight Forward

Whiskey Bar: The Flight Forward:
"For Bush, or the neocons, or both, regime change in Iran not only may appear doable, it may also look like the only way out of the spectacular mess they have created in Iraq.

The logic is understandable, if malevolent. Instead of creating a secular, pro-American client state in the heart of the Middle East, the invasion of Iraq has destroyed the front-line Arab regime opposing Tehran, installed a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad and vastly increased Iranian influence, not only in Iraq, but throughout the Shi'a world. It's also moved the Revolutionary Guard one step closer to the Kuwaiti and Saudi oil fields – the prize upon which the energy security of the West depends.

By the traditional standards of U.S. foreign policy, this is a fiasco of almost unbelievable proportions. More to the point, the neocons may believe that unless they can do something dramatic to recoup those losses, they won't be able to safely withdraw large numbers of troops from Iraq, since they are A.) the only remaining source of U.S. influence in the country and B.) the only shield against Iranian infiltration of both Iraq and the Shi'a majority regions of Saudia Arabia and the Gulf emirates. Yet the military need for such a draw down becomes more critical with each passing day, as the all-volunteer Army is stretched towards its breaking point.

In other words, the administration, and the Pentagon, have gotten themselves into one hell of a jam – militarily, strategically and politically. As desperate and reckless as attempted regime change in Iran might seem to us, to the Cheneyites it may look like the only move left on the board.

Hersh suggests the neocons have convinced themselves that an air campaign against Iran would quickly lead to a popular rebellion and the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. Perhaps this is so, at least for the gullible and the ignorant among them (such as Bush.) Drowning men, after all, will clutch at straws.
Billmon is making way too much sense, here.

a move against Iran might be preceded by a major troop drawdown in Iraq (which, if my analysis is correct, would itself make war with Iran a strategic necessity in the eyes of the neocons.) Or it may be that Rummy and the gang intend to push through another of their 'minimalist' invasion plans (which may be one reason the chorus of military complaints about Rummy has risen to a howl.) Either way, it should not be assumed that the neocons are going to act in a military rational way. That's not what the flucht nach vorne [flight forward] is all about.

If anything, the same goes double for our boy king. If the institutional temptation for the neocons to seek redemption in a flight forward is powerful, the psychological motivations for Bush may be overwhelming. In his story, Hersh refers to Bush's alleged desire to make "saving Iran" from the Shi'a Hitler his legacy. But saving Iraq from the Baathist Hitler was orginally supposed to be his legacy. This is doubling down on a historically grand scale.

If Billmon is right, American Empire is about to flame out in record time.

This is Not a Drill ???

Whiskey Bar: Billmon says: "This is Not a Drill"

Billmon accepts the premise that Bush intends to make a massive strike against Iran. He cites, in addition to Seymour Hersh's piece in the New Yorker, a N.Y. Times op-ed, by Richard Clarke and Steven Simon, quoting,
. . . the current level of activity in the Pentagon suggests more than just standard contingency planning or tactical saber-rattling.
I have to admit that I simply cannot get my brain to accept the premise that Bush would launch what would, in effect, be a war, without the usual political drama. OK, maybe we are being treated to the usual political drama -- moronic pundits and politicians, including Democrats, reciting stock phrases and trying to look suitably sober and serious. But, I just do not feel it.

Billmon says Bush is not going to go to Congress for permission, because he does not have the political capital to get it, and his Administration has swallowed its own bogus theory of the unitary executive so thoroughly that it thinks it does not need Congressional permission for an act of war.

I just do not "feel" it. The scenario does not seem plausible to me. Invading Iraq seemed plausible to me at the time; I realized that incompetence and corruption would make a hash of it, but it seemed plausible. I understood the motivation; I understood how people could really believe that this was a necessary and logical step, even though it wasn't, really.

Striking at Iran does not have that "feel" to me. Iran, maybe, might get nuclear weapons a few years from now. Striking at Iran now will accomplish what, exactly? Can we possibly topple the Iranian regime, replacing it with a regime, which will not want nuclear weapons? The answer to that is clearly, no.

If struck now, Iran will simply try harder to acquire nuclear weapons. And, in the meantime, the gloves will be off. Geography gives Iran the ability to strike at the United States in Iraq and the Persian Gulf, an ability that we cannot eradicate. Attack them, and they will attack us there. Relentlessly. Forever and ever.

Even as big a moron as Bush is, surely he can see that?

I just do not see it actually happening.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

FOXNews.com : "GOP Campaign to Focus on Flag Burning, Gay Marriage, Abortion"

Let Billmon respond:

Iraq is in flames, Iran is a nuclear crisis (whether or not it need be) the immigration debate is raging, oil is at $70 a barrel, global climate change is accelerating, the post-Katrina recovery effort is floundering, there is no budget for the coming fiscal year.

And the Republicans are preparing [this] agenda for the fall elections

Iraq: Mistake or Betrayal

The cleansing power of the Coming Perfect Storm depends on the narratives we adopt about the events. These fables contain the morals and lessons learned.

Bush and Rumsfeld, "the architects of this unprecedented disaster", will not be held accountable, as long as the opposition takes the line that the war in Iraq was a mistake. This may seem paradoxical, but we are all human and we all make plenty of mistakes; mistakes can be forgiven, corrected.

The dynamics of the rhetoric, and the blame game, are perfectly predictable; the narratives could be written by machine. In the Left Blogosphere, there is already a decided split between those, who want to blame Bush et alia for incompetent execution leading to disaster, and those, who desperately want people to see and admit that the very idea of the war was a mistake. And, many on the Right have already successfully rehearsed the idea that it is only the Media's negativity, which is "losing" us this struggle. The Democrats are being set up by the Far Right, to be blamed for "losing Iraq", should we eventually withdraw completely.

If we really wanted to hold Bush, Rumsfeld, et alia "accountable" -- if we, sensibly, wanted to expel them from the Body Politic, as we sensibly should have expelled many of them, after Iran-Contra -- then we would have to take a different, harder narrative tack.

We'd have to say that "they" wanted the war they got -- there was no "mistake", except the one "we" made at the polls. The underlying implication has to be, always, that they do not want what we want, that they do not want the general good of the United States, they are not "loyal".

"We" would have wanted war, if the stories of WMD were true, so that is the story they picked. But, they were lying. They wanted war, for their own reasons, for "unAmerican" reasons, which they have never shared.

They wanted the oil. Not to pump it, and lower gas prices for their voters in Red America, but to avoid pumping it, to strengthen their OPEC friends in Saudi Arabia and Dubai at the expense of true-blue, and true-red, Americans. The threat that they saw in weakening sanctions was that Iraqi oil would return, in full force, to the world market, undermining Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Kingdoms and the American oil industry. They have succeeded. Saudi Arabia is stable; Dubai is buying our ports and building magnificent buildings; Exxon can hand out a $90 million retirement package, after racking up nearly $40 billion (with a "b") profits.

Iraq is weak, today, because they want it weak. A strong Iraq would ask us to leave, and begin pumping oil, ruining their plan. They funnelled the reconstruction money to their friends at Halliburton and Bechtel.

On its surface, the narrative I propose will seem, perhaps too facile. In fact, it can be elaborated and supported with great detail, because it, in fact, fits the known facts quite well. It is certainly more "True" than the Right-wing narrative, which blamed liberals for losing in Vietnam, by "forcing" Nixon to withdraw and by failing to support the troops, etc., and the similar narrative, which will blame the Media and the Democrats, should we eventually withdraw from Iraq.

Every time we say that Iraq was a mistake, we imply forgiveness and inclusion, we imply that Bush and Rumsfeld share our goals and value, though they are human and have mistaken views or deficient administrative skills. The harder tact, the harder narrative to sustain, is to assert that Iraq was not a mistake, it was a betrayal. Iraq was a betrayal of American interests and American values, by people, who do not share them.

Try it on for size. We can all be Michael Moore. And, maybe, we should be.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

An Iranian Missile Crisis?

An Iranian Missile Crisis?: "Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, makes a similar argument about Iran. 'I think of war with Iran as the ending of America's present role in the world,' he told me this week. 'Iraq may have been a preview of that, but it's still redeemable if we get out fast. In a war with Iran, we'll get dragged down for 20 or 30 years. The world will condemn us. We will lose our position in the world.'"

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Bush has cracked?

James Wolcott: The Curse of Terri: "The grip of fear can't be sustained indefinitely in an open society addicted to entertainment and diversion, and Bush's grip has cracked. He seems a shrugging, camera-mugging irrelevance when you see him on the stump now. It's as if he's trying to convince us he's still in charge, or perhaps trying to convince himself."

I wish I could share Mr. Wolcott's optimistic assessment of our fearless, lame duck's political status.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What if we started a nuclear war and nobody noticed?

Whiskey Bar: Mutually Assured Dementia: The incomparable Billmon imagines a nuclear strike on Iran, and sees no Perfect Political Storm following:

I think it's possible that even something as monstrously insane as nuclear war could still be squeezed into the tiny rituals that pass for public debate in this country – the game of dueling TV sound bites that trivializes and then disposes of every issue.

We’ve already seen a lengthy list of war crimes and dictatorial power grabs sink into that electronic compost heap: the WMD disinformation campaign, Abu Ghraib, the torture memos, the de facto repeal of the 4th amendment. Again, why should a nuclear strike be any different? I can easily imagine the same rabid talk show hosts spouting the same jingoistic hate speech, the same bow-tied conservative pundits offering the same recycled talking points, and the same timid Beltway liberals complaining that while nuking Iran was the right thing to do, the White House went about it the wrong way. And I can already hear the same media critics chiding those of us in left Blogostan for blowing the whole thing out of proportion. It’s just a little bunker buster, after all.

Why should anyone or anything change? When a culture is as historically clueless and morally desensitized as this one appears to be, I don’t think it’s absurd to suppose that even an enormous war crime – the worst imaginable, short of outright genocide – could get lost in the endless babble of the talking heads. When everything is just a matter of opinion, anything – literally anything – can be justified. It’s only a matter of framing things so people can believe what they want to believe. . . .

What’s truly scary, though, is the possibility that even though the other members of what we jokingly refer to as the international community don’t share Bush’s delusions, they may be willing to humor them as long as it is in their own narrow self-interest to do so (in other words, as long as they’re not the ones being nuked.) Maybe power really is all the justification that power needs. In which case the downhill path for America – the most powerful country that ever was – is likely to be very steep indeed.

Ezra Klein: The Perpetual Political Storm Replaces the Perpetual Campaign

Ezra Klein: Recovery Ain't Easy: "Bush isn't flailing because this White House is insufficiently politically adept. He's flailing because the major policies on which he's staked his presidency are self-destructing. Iraq is a bloodbath, the deficit threatens to swallow the country whole, the Middle East is less stable than ever, economic insecurity is rampant, inequality has risen, the government response to a national disaster was staggeringly incompetent etc, etc. So while any of [the ideas for personnel and PR shifts suggested by pundits] might result in a temporary bump, that spike would rapidly flatten under the perpetual stream of bad news. Fact is, Bush is proving that presidencies are about something more than communication strategies. This White House was predicated on the belief that policies didn't matter, only politics did. That's been disproven, they've found themselves unable to fight failure with photo-ops. And this country will be better for it."

Monday, April 10, 2006

Iran! Now there's a war worth having...

Eschaton: "Soon enough I suppose we'll find out if Bush is indeed insane, and whether or not the American people have finally had enough."

If Bush brings himself down with a war against Iran, it will give new meaning to the scope of overreaching in American politics.

What if they are really . . . ruthless?

WILL BUSH GO DOUBLE OR NOTHING? | TPMCafe: "What if they are really much more ruthless than that?"

"we could expect some new national security scare to shake up the political momentum towards the conservative political crack-up. I claim that is behind the rising drumbeat over Iran."

An attack on Iran would be foolish and wrong and destructive in so many ways, on so many levels, it is difficult to comprehend how we could even be considering it.

Sunday, April 9, 2006


Bush Didn't Bungle Iraq, You Fools
: "Bush went in for the oil -- not to get more of Iraq's oil, but to prevent Iraq producing too much of it."

And, he wants Iraq weak, so weak they will not throw us out.

The power of narrative

I think Bush and a large part of the political and economic elite are (literally) careless with the national interest. People, who are not part of the ruling class, and even most, who are, are not going to know the details of exactly how they are being careless, or what a more circumspect and prudent policy would look like. What Bush et alia are doing is in the narrow interest of the corporate executive class, and that's all Bush et alia care about.

Regarding the particulars of something like the Dubai Ports deal or the Lenovo deal, and its relationship with national security, the devil is in the details, details too fine to get accurate media attention. In the Dubai Ports deal, the ability of port officers to verify the security of port operations depends delicately on small points of leverage, like whether business records are physically located in the U.S. Nobody cares about these details.

At the other extreme, at the broadest economic level, the rise of companies like Dubai Ports World and Lenovo reflect the effects of both global economic development and the effects of the budget deficit, the trade deficit and the abysmally low savings rate in the U.S. These are all indicators of a general policy, which has the effect of reducing the "equity stake" Americans have in their own government and economy. The best of American manufacturing is now owned by foreign multinationals, and the financial foundation of the federal government is slowly being undermined. Without any deliberation, the U.S. has embarked on a policy of disinvestment in itself; the security of the middle class is sacrificed, the national infrastructure is allowed to deteriorate.

On an even higher level, with the Republicans and their constituents in the boardrooms of Corporate America preoccupied with disinvestment and the rape of the middle class, even larger issues looming across the horizon are neglected: peak oil, global warming, the revolution in microbiology, etc.

People are at least vaguely aware of all these issue, but most people do not pay enough attention to have even the vaguest appreciation of what might constitute a more prudential direction. Even if you wanted to explain it, how could anyone tease out the differences between general trends in economic development globally and the particular effects of the U.S. policy of self-disinvestment, in terms the man-in-the-street-watching-CNN-for-a-few-minutes-in-the-afternoon could figure out?

We actually have things pretty good for the moment. None of the problems confronting the country is acute or intense. The trade deficit actually benefits us, reducing prices at Wal-Mart. The budget deficit benefits us, reducing taxes. The worst effects of global warming are a generation away. The blowback from our belligerance -- domination of the Persian Gulf by a hostile, nuclear-armed Iran or Saudi Arabia -- is at least ten years away.

The expectation of a "coming perfect storm" has become a common trope, for those opposed to the Bush Administration, precisely because to give meaning to any assertion made to a human being, you have to have a convincing narrative in which to place that assertion in context. "Bush's policy is bad" has to be supported by a narrative, which connects the present policy to a future, undesired consequence, because the present is actually passably decent. Some consequences of Bush policy are immediate, of course; the super-rich and America's CEO's are enriching themselves, now. But, they are not impoverishing too many people in the present; they are stealing from the future, to be sure, but the stealing in the present is kept, mostly, under control.

The current unpopularity of Bush has as much to do with the price of gasoline in rural and suburban Red America as it does with the idealistic concerns of urban Blue State liberals, because gas prices are now.

Any sensible policy would be somewhat painful right now: higher prices on imports, higher gas prices in particular, higher taxes, more personal saving and less spending. Since most people are not paying attention to anything but their own pocketbooks and convenience, there's not much scope for conscious deliberation and consideration of political issues. What we get instead is Lou Dobbs, expressions of anxiety and angry irritation that the politicians in Washington cannot be relied on to take care of these things. A much larger part of the public is not even listening to Lou Dobbs. A large proportion of Bush-voters are lost to fantasies about the end-times, as Deepak Chopra points out, and as Kevin Phillips points out.

It is not that Lou Dobbs misstates or is right or wrong on the merits; it is that he is a strange kind of well-intentioned demagogue. Part of him thinks he is doing good, serious work; part of him has his eye on the ratings, and shapes what he says and does, for its "entertainment" value in titillating an audience, which is anxious, without fully understanding why it's anxious.

Human beings are wired (no doubt genetically) primarily for storytelling, and only incidentally for (scientific) analysis. Somehow, in human evolution, we got from the simple emotions of dogs and apes to storytelling and myth-making, and from there to scientific analysis; we got from millenia of creation myths and music and epic poems and Bibles, to Newton and Darwin; we stumbled from asking "why?" and answering with poetry, music, tragedy and symbolic art, to asking "how?" and answering with logic and measurement and calculus.

Television and other forms of modern communication have given us way more storytelling than we can handle. We are choking on our storytelling, and particularly the competition among narratives. The very awareness of the importance of narratives is fairly novel; Derrida and the notion of critical deconstruction is only a generation old. The power of narratives conveyed by radio gave us the Second World War, in a sense, just as television gave us the fairly peaceful Cold War, which followed -- not "causing" either conflict, but shaping and powering them in important ways for all sides. The roiling of the Islamic World, is one huge crisis of modernity, brought on by television and the conflict between what is seen abroad and what exists at home and what is taught in the ancient, sacred narrative of Islam. A part of American Christianity cannot reconcile its embrace of the meaning of Biblical narratives of creation with the analytic "how" of Darwin; for them, Darwin must be a morally meaningful narrative, if it really is scientifically valid.

The blogosphere, particularly the Left blogosphere, is engaged in a critical challenge to the power of the narratives spun out by conventional journalism, including television journalism, even while the Right continues to experiment with Rush and Bill O.

Figuring out not only what's wrong with Lou Dobbs, but what constitutes, and how to have, a responsible public discourse is the critical task for this decade and the next. It may well settle whether human beings can continue with modern democratic self-government, and whether human beings will be able to assume responsibility for governing life and the evolution of life on the planet, without bringing about economic, political and (not least) ecological collapse. Being able to detach (in the Buddhist sense) from our narratives, and to embrace (and master) objective, scientific analysis is an important aspect of that task.

Paranoia strikes Deep

Economist's View: Using Fear as a Weapon Against International Trade: "Using Fear as a Weapon Against International Trade"

The above linked post on Economist's View is about some wild-eyed, Lou Dobbs demonizing of international trade and globalization. It is hard to know whether the topic of that post is properly "free trade" or "paranoia". I am going to go with "paranoia".

Years ago, my best friend was a psychoanalytically trained psychiatrist, who was fond of saying that the first lesson at the Psychoanalytic Institute (and, remember, he really did train at one) was, "just because you are paranoid, does not mean that 'They' are not out to get you."

Paranoia is a psychological process, and its purpose is as a kind of defense against consciously unidentified fears.

Dobbs has become a spokesman for a fear that the political and economic leadership of the U.S. is not protecting the interests of the country-as-a-whole. Dobbs's version of that fear is not particularly realistic, but it derives potency from the very real facts, concerning the relationship of the elite to the poor and the middle class, and the country as a whole.

The corporate executive class, for the lack of a better term, have taken over, not only most large American corporations, but also the Federal government and almost all of the Media. The most reliable source of political campaign funds, they completely dominate one political party, and have compromised the other. And, they are quite obviously raping the country, shaping every government policy to benefit themselves. Their incomes have risen by multiples of multiples; they quite literally have taken every bit of economic growth for the last 5 years and funnelled it into their own hands. Meanwhile, unions are shrinking; pensions are disappearing, manufacturing is eroding rapidly, etc.

This is not some "grand conspiracy", but it is a powerful and effective social and political movement, which has not yet aroused any kind of effective counter-movement. The impulse to see a "grand conspiracy" a la Dobbs is, in a perverse way, a psychological defense; skeptics can dismiss out of hand the idea, for example, that Lenovo would be a conduit for Chinese spying on the U.S. State Department, and those expressing such fears, in a weird way, are seeking that kind of dismissal. The whole debate is a distraction.

One of the toughest realizations for any human being, even in adulthood, is to recognize that our parents did not always love us: that they were sometimes envious, resentful, even hateful, or just hopelessly incompetent, in the way they treated us, and, though, unconsciously, our memory of them is a touchstone of security, it is, to some extent, an unrealistic and even poisonous touchstone. It is practically a cliche to say that people, who were physically abused by their parents, often need to see that abuse as being for their own good (and, of course, they vote Republican).

Everyone takes their relationship with their parents into politics; we project our unconscious rationalizations of the parental relationship onto our relationship with the poltical elite, and especially, the President of the U.S. The variety of rationalizations, even more than abstract ideologies, mark out the spectrum of political attitudes and views. Read Mother Jones (the political magazine of a certain component of the Left), and you will immediately sense the anger against idealized parents, who failed or cheated; it is palpable, and look at the title of the magazine!

Mother Jones readers are an exception, but most people are uncomfortable with and will avoid, if they can, a clear-eyed acknowledgement that the country's elite, and particularly the President, is untrustworthy, by way of being either corrupt or incompetent. The President, George W. Bush, is both corrupt and incompetent, and in a big, big way. Bush, the first MBA President, represents and is a part of, the corporate executive class, which controls all the branches of government and all the giant business corporations. The ideological minions of that class, in the Federalist Society, are taking over the law, while their control of News Media is nearly complete. Big Energy, Big Media and Big Pharma, together, almost literally own the Republican Congress. Bush's economic policies benefit that class and its aspirants and no one else. And, if that were not enough, he's an ignorant moron, so his vision of the interests of his class is as narrow and destructive, almost as far from "enlightened", as is practical in American politics. The possibility of an enlightened elite, taking an interest in the general welfare, or the interest of the common man, is completely excluded by the leadership of this uncurious, narrow-minded man, a leadership, which reflects accurately, the dominating attitude of his chosen constituency, the have's and the have-more's.

Not so long ago, a large part of the population, deeply frightened, projected onto Bush, a "strength", "resolve" "moral clarity" etc. that was not there. In the last election, one of the best predictors of political allegiance was how pre-occupied you were with your own mortality; Rove & Co. cynically boosted Bush's poll numbers with terrorist alerts. And, it worked, despite being recognized, consciously, by at least some people in the Media. Now, we are struggling with the aftermath of that: the gradual dawning of awareness that Bush is a completely untrustworthy, incompetent, even sometimes malevolently selfish, individual. That dawning is the common theme of Katrina, of the leak controversy, of the Dubai Ports deal, of the pre-Iraq War memos, and on and on. And, it is the subtext for the immigration reform controversy as well as free trade and China relations.

The practical alternative to Bush and the Republicans -- I am referring the moderates in the Democratic Party, exemplified by the performance of President Clinton -- is, at best, weak tea. Clinton, cheerleading for education as a panacea and talking about a bridge to the 21st century, was, in my opinion, sincere, and basically right about the real economics, but not rhetorically compelling. The function of Dobbs in politics, it seems to my "paranoia", is to discredit and de-legitimate any Democratic, Clinton-like (and in my view, basically realistic) alternative to the Republicans. I am not saying Dobbs is anything but sincere, and, of course, narcissistically in love with his own persona and voice; I am cynical enough to believe he would be fired by CNN if he ever veered in a direction, which disfavored the Republicans too much.

We are approaching a very dangerous moment in American politics, when two-thirds of Americans believe the country is off "on the wrong track" as the pollsters say, and we have to cope with the daily spectacle of the naked corruption and incompetence of our leadership, and after a singularly unwise Administration has spent five years building the legal foundation for a fascist State.

I've read two very scary things in the last few days. One is the Seymour Hersh piece in the New Yorker, concerning Administration planning for a nuclear attack on Iran. The other is this brief piece:
by Deepak Chopra on the right-wing's attachment to apocalyptic thinking. Kevin Phillips, in American Theocracy, makes much the same point at greater length.

We live in scary times, and paranoia is a comparatively mild, though still irrational, coping mechanism. If you are confronted with paranoia, and inclined to dismiss or pooh-pooh the specific content, you might want to recall that that is what you are meant to do, what the paranoid individual is manipulating you into doing. The paranoid wants you to tell him that "they" are not out to get him. Cure lies in a different direction, though. The well-prepared psychiatrist tells the paranoid that "they" really are out to get him, but the tinfoil hat is not going to help, so, maybe, it is time to wake up or grow up or lay off the meth, and get real.

"Paranoia strikes deep in the heartland" is a lyric in some Paul Simon ditty, but, guess what?, it really does. The deep-seated fears of the American People that the country's ruling class cannot be trusted are like the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, waiting to fuel a giant Hurricane. They lie, like latent fuel, waiting for the Coming Perfect Storm.

Saturday, April 8, 2006

Nuke Iran!

US considers use of nuclear weapons against Iran - Yahoo! News:
"The administration of President George W. Bush is planning a massive bombing campaign against Iran, including use of bunker-buster nuclear bombs to destroy a key Iranian suspected nuclear weapons facility, The New Yorker magazine has reported in its April 17 issue."

Friday, April 7, 2006

Deepak Chopra: The Seduction of Apocalypse | The Huffington Post

The Blog | Deepak Chopra: The Seduction of Apocalypse | The Huffington Post: "Only time will tell how far the American people will go in tolerating a government run by irrational metaphysics, or at least deeply influenced by them."

It may seem odd to recommend reading Deepak Chopra, warning against irrational metaphysics, but here's an article worth reading. Kevin Phillips has put the topic front and center, with his book, American Theocracy.

A good deal of right-wing politics is deeply irrational, and has been for a long time. It was not always so, but at least since Ronald Reagan, there has always been an irrational thread. "Cutting taxes will increase revenues" was secular irrationalism. Republicans have built a whole political machine out of a false political theatre: a patriotism, which admires and elects cowards and draft dodgers, like Reagan, Bush and Cheney, while rejecting those, like Carter and Gore and Kerry, who have served honorably; a politics, which emphasizes "moral character", but ignores the pathological fantasizing of Reagan and the lying and deception of Bush; a politics of "life", which makes the foremost practitioner of the death penalty, President, and never protests, even when he "authorizes" torture and indefinite detention. The electoral base for all of this irrationality: ignoramuses and self-righteous fools, who can not stomach their own anxiety or reason their way from the front yard to the supermarket. Their solution: waiting for the apocalypse.

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

too collusive and contributor-driven

The Blogging of the President: Kevin Phillips:
"In my view, hitherto dominant U.S. national coalitions usually show signs of coming unglued even before the putative opposition develops a coherent program -- in 1856-1860, for example, and in 1930-32 and 1966-1968. Much of my interest is in that direction: to identify and encourage the Republicans and Republican-minded independents moving away from support of George W. Bush and his politics and programs. Many establishment Democrats have very little sense of these dynamics, partly because they have been complicit in many of the policy failures. . . .

"If the Democrats are to win, they have to turn their bases in the Northeast, upper Midwest and Pacific into a slightly larger bloc that takes more of the Midwest and expands into the southwest. My assumption is that centrist Northern Catholics and main line Protestants are becoming GOP weak links; and that if a major debate begins over George Bush's apparent belief that he speaks foir God, considerable numbers of evangelicals, fundamentalists and Pentecostals will become disillusioned and stay home.

"Thus, the challenge for Democrats during what should be tumultuous times in the next 6-8 years is to identify the issues that matter and hammer away at their mishandling. The outsider, progressive and populist Democrats can do this, whereas much of the Democratic establishment let itself become too collusive and contributor-driven to criticize. They remind me of the Rockefeller Republicans in the 1960s who did not want to seriously challenge the existing Democratic policies but rather to make the GOP much the same with a few caveats. Upheaval came only as they were pushed aside."

"too collusive and contributor-driven to criticize" Boy, he's got that right.

. . . it will never pass as vindication.

The New Yorker: The Talk of the Town: Steve Coll:
"The President and the members of his war cabinet now routinely wave at the horizon and speak about the long arc of history’s judgment—many years or decades must pass, they suggest, before the overthrow of Saddam and its impact on the Middle East can be properly evaluated. This is not only an evasion; it is bad historiography. Particularly in free societies, botched or unnecessary military invasions are almost always recognized as mistakes by the public and the professional military soon after they happen, and are rarely vindicated by time. This was true of the Boer War, Suez, and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and it will be true of Iraq. At best, when enough time has passed, and the human toll is not so palpable, we may come to think of the invasion, and its tragicomedy of missing weapons, as just another imperial folly, the way we now remember the Spanish-American War or the doomed British invasions of Afghanistan. But that will take a very long time, and it will never pass as vindication."

We're a whole country with no real excuse.

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall April 3, 2006 06:04 PM:
"The president, his key advisors and their public defenders keep looking over the horizon to history's more positive verdict on their gamble. But there's little reason -- either from what we know of this war or the evolving view of past wars -- to think this adventure will be remembered as anything but a disaster.

And yet, only last month the country was knocked off the rails into a dingbat debate about whether things were actually bad in Iraq or whether the media was just telling America things were going badly and hiding all the good news. We actually had that debate -- not more than two weeks ago. It's like the AIDS patient who desperately needs treatment but falls under the spell of some charlatan who gets him wondering whether AIDS actually really exists.

Only we're a whole country with no real excuse."

If anything saves this, it will be them.

Angry Bear: General Anthony Zinni, on Meet the Press, talking about Iraq:
"If anything saves this, it will be them."

"them", of course, refers to the American troops in Iraq, bravely, trying to survive.

Zinni was criticizing the strategic incompetence of the Bush Administration, which bungled the Iraq occupation and reconstruction, contributing mightily to the present, highly foreseeable situation.

In this analysis by Zinni, you can see the power of narrative on display. The most powerful rhetorical weapon the Republicans have, is the idea that the "outcome" in Iraq is not already known, that, somehow, someway, a Hollywood ending is still possible: some deus ex machina, some win-the-lottery, Rocky-esque sequence of events will rescue this reality, and turn it from a disastrous "outcome" into a difficult struggle, preliminary to a pleasing "ending".

Narratives are stories -- one damn fact after another, arranged to appeal to the myth-loving circuitry of our brains. Heroic myths are stories of character confronting challenge; the happy "ending" follows a climax, in which character is transformed by insight and the challenge overcome.

It is natural for patriotic Americans to wish to see our heroes in uniform participating in an heroic struggle, with a Hollywood "ending". But, that natural wish is interfering with a clear-eyed appraisal of what is going on. In a narrative, any damn "fact" can follow any other; narratives are not constrained by any physics or chemistry of cause-and-effect -- the appearance of "cause-and-effect" in narrative is just an illusion created by a persuasive narrator to teach a moral lesson through fable.

In the absence of some credible statement of aims, I think it would be best to assume that Bush hit the target he was aiming at, in Iraq. That is, Bush wanted a weak Iraq, which would require an American occupying force to remain in place for at least a generation.

An occupation and reconstruction, which succeeded in creating a strong Iraq -- a secure country with a functioning economy -- would have resulted in the American Army going home. A strong Iraq would ask us to leave.

Now, we are waiting for "social chemistry" to work itself out, to see whether a weak Iraq can survive, or whether a weak Iraq necessarily deteriorates into chaos, and the U.S. is forced to withdraw in ignominy, its "superpower" wasted and spent. And, will that final denoument happen in a dramatic way -- a perfect political storm -- which finally discredits Bush, even in the eyes of his supporters?

Monday, April 3, 2006

Kevin Phillips: "The Stuff of Nightmares"

How the GOP Became God's Own Party: Kevin Phillips:
The American heartland, from Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico to Ohio and the Appalachian coal states, has become (along with the onetime Confederacy) an electoral hydrocarbon coalition. It cherishes sport-utility vehicles and easy carbon dioxide emissions policy, and applauds preemptive U.S. airstrikes on uncooperative, terrorist-coddling Persian Gulf countries fortuitously blessed with huge reserves of oil.

Because the United States is beginning to run out of its own oil sources, a military solution to an energy crisis is hardly lunacy. Neither Caesar nor Napoleon would have flinched. What Caesar and Napoleon did not face, but less able American presidents do, is that bungled overseas military embroilments could also boomerang economically. The United States, some $4 trillion in hock internationally, has become the world's leading debtor, increasingly nagged by worry that some nations will sell dollars in their reserves and switch their holdings to rival currencies. Washington prints bonds and dollar-green IOUs, which European and Asian bankers accumulate until for some reason they lose patience. This is the debt Achilles' heel, which stands alongside the oil Achilles' heel.

Unfortunately, more danger lurks in the responsiveness of the new GOP coalition to Christian evangelicals, fundamentalists and Pentecostals, who muster some 40 percent of the party electorate. Many millions believe that the Armageddon described in the Bible is coming soon. Chaos in the explosive Middle East, far from being a threat, actually heralds the second coming of Jesus Christ. Oil price spikes, murderous hurricanes, deadly tsunamis and melting polar ice caps lend further credence.

The potential interaction between the end-times electorate, inept pursuit of Persian Gulf oil, Washington's multiple deceptions and the financial crisis that could follow a substantial liquidation by foreign"
For anyone with even a superficial knowledge of world and European history, the decline and fall of Great Powers is a familiar story. Bush, a history major at Yale, has been leading the U.S. into exactly that scenario, at a lightning pace.

The hardest thing to understand is that a lot of Republicans want this, what is happening. They look at Iraq and actually seem to believe the talk of "progress" or that that the American Media is cheering the terrorists, when it reports even superficially on the catastrophe, which has been the U.S. policy in Iraq.

Kevin Phillips' answer is that it is a combination of greed, short-sightedness and self-delusion, with the self-delusion supplied by the evangelicals.

I actually think plenty of self-delusion has been supplied by the secular leaders of the military-industrial complex. People like Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice are not religious nuts. Rumsfeld does not expect a second coming.

I understand Kevin Phillips' point about political coalitions, and how Bush, a failed President manages, nevertheless, to win elections. But, he makes excuses for a leadership, which is not particularly religious, but is mendacious in the extreme. Democracy does not matter to the Republicans: that's why they choose their rhetoric for effect, with no regard to the meaning or correspondence to reality. Religious extremism explains the followership of the Republican Party, it doesn't explain the leadership.