Monday, December 31, 2007
The three leading Democrats, in contrast, continue to describe Iraq as an irremediable failure, despite the obvious comeback of the past year."
Sunday, December 23, 2007
FDChief commenting on Intel Dump on a Washington Post Op-Ed by the historian and fabulist, Joseph J. Ellis, titled What Would George Do? summarized the case quite well. [I have taken the liberty of a couple of very minor edits]
1. The notion that "anti-imperialism" is somehow hardwired into our political genes is risible. Here we are, the nation supposedly founded on the principles Englightenment liberalism, repeatedly debating whether or not it's a good idea for our government to spy on us and not even tell a tiny elite of elected representatives what is going on; whether or not certain kinds of torture are OK; whether or not we should simply "disappear" enemies into nameless prisons to be held forever without trial. This sort of debate suggests not that we can or cannot be an empire, but whether we're going to be a fairly enlightened, British-sort of empire or whether our model is going to be the Congo of Leopold's Belgium.
2. The corrolary of his point that "A republic, the world's first large-scale republic, simply cannot be an empire of the conventional European sort." can be turned on it's head to suggest that should we choose to become a straightforward global hegemon we are on our way to becomeing - to avoid shouting fire in a crowded theatre - something less than a "republic".
3. The unasked question in his thesis is "do we hve the political will to be a counterinsurgent in a shitty, beat-down Third World country with little or no chance of becoming anything better than a friedly dictatorship or a semi-failed state or collection of same?" When the prize here will be, not regional dominance (since even 50K troops in Iraq are unlikely to tame the regional power, Iran, much less circumcize resurgent Russia and dynamic China (either or both of whom might more legitimately claim the Gulf as within their Spheres of Influence, rather than ours) or pour water on the fire of Islamist jihadism, but rather a continued wearing commitment to a dysfunctional "ally", who is unlikely to provide us with more than marginal return for our blood and treasure.".
4. Two of the things I've always admired about [George Washington] were a) his pragmatism and b) his acute understanding of the power, and the danger, of armed force. Since the end of the Cold War a certain element of our society - OK, let's be honest and call it the pre-hominid wing of the Republican Party - has become fascinated, like a three year old staring at his first erection, with the potential for global domination in our military strength. I think Washington would have cautioned that our position of "hegemon" is poised on the perilous economic point of a rentier class as well as a rapidly shrinking manufacturing base thoroughly leveraged on offshore investment as well as set in a curious period between the fall of our Sassanid Persia -- The Soviet Union -- and the rise of the new Gothic and Hunnish powers which will inevitably follow. If we follow the advice of the Fred Kagans and Dougie Feiths we will surely fritter our power away in these and other pointless, high-cost, low-return Third World adventures which, by the time our new peer foes DO arise, will leave us as they left the British in 1914: overextended, with a "expeditionary" Army unprepared to meet the challenge of a conventional fight, and with a borrowed fiscal base primed for collase when the notes are called due.
Search for security - Paul Krugman - Op-Ed Columnist - New York Times Blog: ". . . it’s not getting better."
Click through for the breath-taking graphic.
What it amounts to is that the banking system will have to be recapitalized, to offset the enormous losses from the decline in housing prices and the resulting mortgage defaults. This re-capitalization is underway, carried out primarily by the Chinese and the Arabs, using their enormous stores of dollar assets.
The Larry Kudlows of the world will naturally continue to see this as good news, further confirmation of the basic soundness of the American economy. It is anything, but. The American economy is no longer "basically sound."
The Chinese and the Arabs cannot afford to have the now basically unsound American economy collapse prematurely, so they are stepping in to shore it up, in exchange for a more than healthy ownership stake. The end result will be that Americans will not own their own banking system, and the American economy will continue to decline.
So far, corruption beyond all precedent and unprovoked aggressive war supported by lies has not provoked a political storm. Maybe, a bad economy will not, either. The absence of a political storm is a death warrant for the independent American Republic.
Friday, December 21, 2007
A Movement Built To Last
The implications of Digby's analysis are truly frightening. The well-funded and disciplined Conservative Movement is changing some of the fundamental rules of the democratic political game in the U.S., and in ways the that effectively undermine the ability of this democracy to govern sensibly.
If scandal and policy failure cannot change minds, what will it take? If the minority does not fear electoral failure, and obstructs all policy change, how can democracy survive?
Sunday, December 16, 2007
The most important thing he says, though, is that he offers the insight that the Democrats have a way forward, if they can just get over the tendency of their current leadership to want to be Republican Lite.
The Democratic representatives in Congress have not heeded sane and sound advice from either their financial or progressive wings. Both look antagonistic, but in fact are making the same point.
The financial wing has said repeatedly that present interest rate and spending policies are not sustainable. That which can't go on, won't.
The progressive wing has said repeatedly that inflationary pressures on the working class, and this includes the vast bulk of the middle class, are unsustainably high. That which can't go on, won't.
The policy prescriptions that came out of this simple dual message are rather simple: end the war, pass universal single payor health coverage. The first will remove massive inflationary pressures on the economy, the second will control one of the most rampant costs afflicting the vasy range of Americans and reducing productivity and misallocating investment. The two represent, together, a shifting of the national effort away from making holes in walls in Iraq with bullets, and towards increasing American productivity.
Instead the Democratic Party listened to its pork wing. The pork wing saw how the Republicans were borrowing and squandering, and wanted to get in on the action. Lead by Rahm Immanuel and Steny Hoyer, with a big assist from Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, they bent the party on a self-destructive course of becoming That Other Republican Party.
Stirling, somewhat pessimistically seems to expect HRC to be crowned President by the Democratic Primaries. Even if she is, which I am beginning to doubt, the consensus of the financial and progressive wings will have considerable force. We have hope.
Via a commenter on Newberry's post, Tony Wikrent, a pointer to George Friedman's insight on who is stabilizing the U.S. financial markets (hint: it isn't the Fed).
The Perfect Storm of Campaign 2008
War, Depression, and Turning-Point Elections
By Steve Fraser
Will the presidential election of 2008 mark a turning point in American political history? Will it terminate with extreme prejudice the conservative ascendancy that has dominated the country for the last generation? No matter the haplessness of the Democratic opposition, the answer is yes.
With Richard Nixon's victory in the 1968 presidential election, a new political order first triumphed over New Deal liberalism. It was an historic victory that one-time Republican strategist and now political critic Kevin Phillips memorably anointed the "emerging Republican majority." Now, that Republican "majority" finds itself in a systemic crisis from which there is no escape.
Only at moments of profound shock to the old order of things -- the Great Depression of the 1930s or the coming together of imperial war, racial confrontation, and de-industrialization in the late 1960s and 1970s -- does this kind of upheaval become possible in a political universe renowned for its stability, banality, and extraordinary capacity to duck things that matter. The trauma must be real and it must be perceived by people as traumatic. Both conditions now apply.
War, economic collapse, and the political implosion of the Republican Party will make 2008 a year to remember.
The Politics of Fear in Reverse
Iraq is an albatross that, all by itself, could sink the ship of state. At this point, there's no need to rehearse the polling numbers that register the no-looking-back abandonment of this colossal misadventure by most Americans. No cosmetic fix, like the "surge," can, in the end, make a difference -- because large majorities decided long ago that the invasion was a fiasco, and because the geopolitical and geo-economic objectives of the Bush administration leave no room for a genuine Iraqi nationalism which would be the only way out of this mess.
The fatal impact of the President's adventure in Iraq, however, runs far deeper than that. It has undermined the politics of fear which, above all else, had sustained the Bush administration. According to the latest polls, the Democrats who rate national security a key concern has shrunk to a percentage bordering on the statistically irrelevant. Independents display a similar "been there, done that" attitude. Republicans do express significantly greater levels of alarm, but far lower than a year or two ago.
In fact, the politics of fear may now be operating in reverse. The chronic belligerence of the Bush administration, especially in the last year with respect to Iran, and the cartoonish saber-rattling of Republican presidential candidates (whether genuine or because they believe themselves captives of the Bush legacy) is scary. Its only promise seems to be endless war for purposes few understand or are ready to salute. To paraphrase Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for many people now, the only thing to fear is the politics of fear itself.
And then there is the war on the Constitution. Randolph Bourne, a public intellectual writing around the time of World War I, is remembered today for one trenchant observation: that war is the health of the state. Mobilizing for war invites the cancerous growth of the bureaucratic state apparatus and its power over everyday life. Like some over-ripe fruit this kind of war-borne "healthiness" is today visibly morphing into its opposite -- what we might call the "sickness of the state."
The constitutional transgressions of the executive branch and its abrogation of the powers reserved to the other two branches of government are, by now, reasonably well known. Most of this aggressive over-reaching has been encouraged by the imperial hubris exemplified by the invasion of Iraq. It would be short-sighted to think that this only disturbs the equanimity of a small circle of civil libertarians. There is a long-lived and robust tradition in American political life always resentful of this kind of statism. In part, this helps account for wholesale defections from the Republican Party by those who believe it has been kidnapped by political elites masquerading as down-home, "live free or die" conservatives.
Now, add potential economic collapse to this witches' brew. Even the soberest economy watchers, pundits with PhDs -- whose dismal record in predicting anything tempts me not to mention this -- are prophesying dark times ahead. Depression -- or a slump so deep it's not worth quibbling about the difference -- is evidently on the way; indeed is already underway. The economics of militarism have been a mainstay of business stability for more than half century; but now, as in the Vietnam era, deficits incurred to finance invasion only exacerbate a much more embracing dilemma.
Start with the confidence game being run out of Wall Street; after all, the subprime mortgage debacle now occupies newspaper front pages day after outrageous day. Certainly, these tales of greed and financial malfeasance are numbingly familiar. Yet, precisely that sense of déjà vu all over again, of Enron revisited, of an endless cascade of scandalous, irrational behavior affecting the central financial institutions of our world suggests just how dire things have become.
Enronization as Normal Life
Once upon a time, all through the nineteenth century, financial panics -- often precipitating more widespread economic slumps -- were a commonly accepted, if dreaded, part of "normal" economic life. Then the Crash of 1929, followed by the New Deal Keynesian regulatory state called into being to prevent its recurrence, made these cyclical extremes rare.
Beginning with the stock market crash of 1987, however, they have become ever more common again, most notoriously -- until now, that is -- with the dot.com implosion of 2000 and the Enronization that followed. Enron seems like only yesterday because, in fact, it was only yesterday, which strongly suggests that the financial sector is now increasingly out of control. At least three factors lurk behind this new reality.
Thanks to the Reagan counterrevolution, there is precious little left of the regulatory state -- and what remains is effectively run by those who most need to be regulated. (Despite bitter complaints in the business community, the Sarbanes-Oxley bill, passed after the dot.com bubble burst, has proven weak tea indeed when it comes to preventing financial high jinks, as the current financial meltdown indicates.)
More significantly, for at least the last quarter-century, the whole U.S. economic system has lived off the speculations generated by the financial sector -- sometimes given the acronym FIRE for finance, insurance, and real estate). It has grown exponentially while, in the country's industrial heartland in particular, much of the rest of the economy has withered away. FIRE carries enormous weight and the capacity to do great harm. Its growth, moreover, has fed a proliferation of financial activities and assets so complex and arcane that even their designers don't fully understand how they operate.
One might call this the sorcerer's apprentice effect. In such an environment, the likelihood and frequency of financial panics grows, so much so that they become "normal accidents" -- an oxymoron first applied to highly sophisticated technological systems like nuclear power plants by the sociologist Charles Perrow. Such systems are inherently subject to breakdowns for reasons those operating them can't fully anticipate, or correctly respond to, once they're underway. This is so precisely because they never fully understood the labyrinthine intricacies and ramifying effects of the way they worked in the first place.
Likening the current subprime implosion to such a "normal accident" is more than metaphorical. Today's Wall Street fabricators of avant-garde financial instruments are actually called "financial engineers." They got their training in "labs," much like Dr. Frankenstein's, located at Wharton, Princeton, Harvard, and Berkeley. Each time one of their confections goes south, they scratch their heads in bewilderment -- always making sure, of course, that they have financial life-rafts handy, while investors, employees, suppliers, and whole communities go down with the ship.
What makes Wall Street's latest "normal accident" so portentous, however, is the way it is interacting with, and infecting, healthier parts of the economy. When the dot.com bubble burst, many innocents were hurt, not just denizens of the Street. Still, its impact turned out to be limited. Now, via the subprime mortgage meltdown, Main Street is under the gun.
It is not only a matter of mass foreclosures. It is not merely a question of collapsing home prices. It is not simply the shutting down of large portions of the construction industry (inspiring some of those doom-and-gloom prognostications). It is not just the born-again skittishness of financial institutions which have, all of sudden, gotten religion, rediscovered the word "prudence," and won't lend to anybody. It is all of this, taken together, which points ominously to a general collapse of the credit structure that has shored up consumer capitalism for decades.
Campaigning Through a Perfect Storm of Economic Disaster
The equity built up during the long housing boom has been the main resource for ordinary people financing their big-ticket-item expenses -- from college educations to consumer durables, from trading-up on the housing market to vacationing abroad. Much of that equity, that consumer wherewithal, has suddenly vanished, and more of it soon will. So, too, the life-lines of credit that allow all sorts of small and medium-sized businesses to function and hire people are drying up fast. Whole communities, industries, and regional economies are in jeopardy.
All of that might be considered enough, but there's more. Oil, of course. Here, the connection to Iraq is clear; but, arguably, the wild escalation of petroleum prices might have happened anyway. Certainly, the energy price explosion exacerbates the general economic crisis, in part by raising the costs of production all across the economy, and so abetting the forces of economic contraction. In the same way, each increase in the price of oil further contributes to what most now agree is a nearly insupportable level in the U.S. balance of payments deficit. That, in turn, is contributing to the steady withering away of the value of the dollar, a devaluation which then further ratchets up the price of oil (partially to compensate holders of those petrodollars who find themselves in possession of an increasingly worthless currency). As strategic countries in the Middle East and Asia grow increasingly more comfortable converting their holdings into euros or other more reliable -- which is to say, more profitable -- currencies, a speculative run on the dollar becomes a real, if scary, possibility for everyone.
Finally, it is vital to recall that this tsunami of bad business is about to wash over an already very sick economy. While the old regime, the Reagan-Bush counterrevolution, has lived off the heady vapors of the FIRE sector, it has left in its wake a de-industrialized nation, full of super-exploited immigrants and millions of families whose earnings have suffered steady erosion. Two wage-earners, working longer hours, are now needed to (barely) sustain a standard of living once earned by one. And that doesn't count the melting away of health insurance, pensions, and other forms of protection against the vicissitudes of the free market or natural calamities. This, too, is the enduring hallmark of a political economy about to go belly-up.
This perfect storm will be upon us just as the election season heats up. It will inevitably hasten the already well-advanced implosion of the Republican Party, which is the definitive reason 2008 will indeed qualify as a turning-point election. Reports of defections from the conservative ascendancy have been emerging from all points on the political compass. The Congressional elections of 2006 registered the first seismic shock of this change. Since then, independents and moderate Republicans continue to indicate, in growing numbers in the polls, that they are leaving the Grand Old Party. The Wall Street Journal reports on a growing loss of faith among important circles of business and finance. Hard core religious right-wingers are airing their doubts in public. Libertarians delight in the apostate candidacy of Ron Paul. Conservative populist resentment of immigration runs head on into corporate elite determination to enlarge a sizeable pool of cheap labor, while Hispanics head back to the Democratic Party in droves. Even the Republican Party's own elected officials are engaged in a mass movement to retire.
All signs are ominous. The credibility and legitimacy of the old order operate now at a steep discount. Most telling and fatal perhaps is the paralysis spreading into the inner councils at the top. Faced with dire predicaments both at home and abroad, they essentially do nothing except rattle those sabers, captives of their own now-bankrupt ideology. Anything, many will decide, is better than this.
Or will they? What if the opposition is vacillating, incoherent, and weak-willed -- labels critics have reasonably pinned on the Democrats? Bad as that undoubtedly is, I don't think it will matter, not in the short run at least.
Take the presidential campaign of 1932 as an instructive example. The crisis of the Great Depression was systemic, but the response of the Democratic Party and its candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- though few remember this now -- was hardly daring. In many ways, it was not very different from that of Republican President Herbert Hoover; nor was there a great deal of militant opposition in the streets, not in 1932 anyway, hardly more than the woeful degree of organized mass resistance we see today despite all the Bush administration's provocations.
Yet the New Deal followed. And not only the New Deal, but an era of social protest, including labor, racial, and farmer insurgencies, without which there would have been no New Deal or Great Society. May something analogous happen in the years ahead? No one can know. But a door is about to open.
In the interest of giving all credit where it is due,
Steve Fraser is a writer and editor, as well as the co-founder of the American Empire Project. He is the author of Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life. His latest book, Wall Street: America's Dream Palace, will be published by Yale University Press in March 2008.
Digby at Hullabaloo:
"How Things Work"
A Democratic president, no matter who it is, is going to pay for the Republicans' sins. But it won't be just because the Republicans and Blue Dogs in congress suddenly "realize" they have co-equal power. I predict that the right wing noise machine will shout far and wide that the election was stolen (probably with the help of "illegal aliens.") The new president will not be allowed to weed out even one right wing plant anywhere in the executive branch without being accused of politicizing it. There will be no executive privilege as the courts rediscover their "responsibilities." Scientists and experts will all be accused of being shills for the liberal special interests. The president will be accused of violating Americans' civil liberties and destroying the constitution. There will be widespread accusations of fraud and corruption and non-stop investigations.
In other words the Republicans are going to accuse the Democratic president of everything we know the Bush administration did. And because it was never fully investigated or even fully discussed, people will lay the sins at the feet of the Democratic president and feel a sense of relief that the balance of power is being restored and Washington is finally being cleaned up.
The media, who know the real story (they helped cover it up, after all) will lead the charge. The GOP will feed them juicy stories with just the right amount of sexy detail and they will rush to tell the American people, gravely intoning their deep concern for the integrity of the office and "their town." (And the children...)
Atrios says this is better than the alternative, which is sadly true. The country can't survive another GOP administration right now. But Democratic presidents are going to have to learn that their most important and difficult job will be dealing with relentless baseless political attacks from the Republicans and the media. It's the way our politics are currently constructed. Republicans accrue vast amounts of power and wealth for themselves at the expense of the taxpayers, and the Democrats are expected to clean things up by paying the debts for them. The Dems don't do it out of altruism or commitment. They do it because they are held to standards of integrity and effectiveness that aren't expected of Republicans --- and they refuse to effectively fight them, even when they have the advantage.
Since the Democrats have shown no appetite for educating the public about what the Republicans have done these past seven years (and now time is running out) I expect they will squeak through the election by promising to move beyond the politics of division and pledging to move forward, not look backwards. (As the media keeps telling us ad nauseam: now that the Republicans are temporarily weakened by their own corruption and malfeasance, it's a known fact that the entire country wants to stop the partisan bickering and let bygones be bygones.)
And so the new Democratic president will be nearly paralyzed, standing there like a deer caught in the headlights when the Republican Semi bears down on him or her, horns honking and whistles blowing. If we're lucky, he or she will be agile enough to survive it for a term or two and the country will at least have a little time to take a short breather from the worst of the Republican treasury pillaging, disasters and unnecessary wars.
It's not a very uplifting or efficient way to run country, but it seems to be the way things work for the moment.
Monday, December 3, 2007
History only happens one way, but without some counterfactual context, an historical narrative loses all sense of contingency and choice.
The Right uses patriotic identification with national policy and historical narratives that hide choice and incompetence behind a narrative inevitability.
I object to the line of argument put forth by Tristero of Hullabaloo and Matthew Yglesias, which emphasizes that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was doomed from the start, and therefore, it is unnecessary to consider the role of incompetent execution in making the situtation in Iraq worse. I don't dispute that invading Iraq was a moral error (a war crime, in fact), as well as a practical error. I just think that the misjudgments and corruption was of a piece throughout America's adventure in Iraq, and the fact that American policy was catastrophically bad in both conception and execution -- that the policymaking as well as the policy were catastrophically bad -- is an important point. It is an important point, because the long list of Bush failures and errors and waste forms an argument, which can be accepted from a broad array of points of view.
A political storm is a moment, when large numbers of people realize that a policy is very, very bad, and turn away. They don't shed their diversity of worldviews in the process. So, the moral narrative has to be broad in scope, to rally a large majority to a consensus view, encompassing both a diversity of worldviews and a common realization. Lots of people are going to go on believing that invading Iraq could have worked -- there's a broad range of worldviews that embrace the potential necessity or efficacy of military aggression, and trying to disabuse people of such fundamental prejudices is futile. (And, besides, in some circumstances, they are right.) But, no one can honestly support a policy, which is advocated with lies and executed with rank incompetence and corrupt intent. And, for this realization to reach people, you need, not a compact argument alone, but a supporting catalog of abuse.
Today's revelation that Bush et alia have lied about the threat posed by Iran and muffed diplomatic opportunities leads Kevin Drum to produce such a catalog:
FWIW, this is one of the reasons I've never quite bought into Matt's "incompetence dodge" idea that success in Iraq was never possible. Sure, we couldn't have sent 500,000 troops, but we could have sent 250,000. And we could have made serious postwar reconstruction plans. And we could have stopped the looting before it spiraled out of control. And we could have reconstituted the Iraqi army and limited de-Baathification to only the highest echelon of Saddam-era officials, as the administration unanimously agreed to do until Cheney and Rumsfeld unilaterally overturned the decision. And now we can add to that one more thing: in the aftermath of our lightning victory in Iraq, Iran really was feeling some pressure and was willing to talk to us about halting their bomb program — and possibly cooperating in other areas as well. If you take all the stuff above, and add to it the possibility that the Iranians might have been — maybe grudgingly, maybe unreliably, but still — willing to use their influence to help us out with Iraqi players like Hakim and al-Sadr, who knows? Iraq might not have turned into a triumph, but there's a good chance it would have gone a helluva lot better than it has.
But like Matt says, the Bushies couldn't take yes for an answer. So we are where we are.
Meanwhile, Bush et alia have been campaigning for war against Iran.
This is, or should be, the "smoking gun" of the on-going Constitutional Crisis, which has been the Bush Administration since November 2000. Bush and his appointees have been lieing to the Congress and the American People about matters of war and peace, the gravest matters of national security and world peace.
Iran NIE highlights Bush White House’s mendacity
Impeach the bastard.
As a convention of journalistic practice, this assumption of partisan symmetry often results in almost comically bad reporting.
But, what interests me is that this convention has become, itself, a weapon of partisan advocacy. A Republican partisan can adopt the neutral voice, and use the unfounded assumption of partisan symmetry to push forward the Republican position.
Mark Kleiman provides the following link, where we find the Republican Bradley A. Smith, uses this tactic, to advocate for the systematic disenfranchisement of Democrats. It is a remarkable work in the art of political rhetoric:
What’s at Stake?
Sunday, November 25, 2007
The crabbed inability of journalists to write in a straightforward way in the face of sources determined to lie or obfuscate was on full display today, as the Washington Post reports that the U.S. is losing the war in Afganistan:
U.S. Notes Limited Progress in Afghan War: "The contrasting views echo repeated internal disagreements over the Iraq war: While the military finds success in a virtually unbroken line of tactical achievements, intelligence officials worry about a looming strategic failure. "
Saturday, November 24, 2007
It is worth remembering, at this point, that this mortgage banking crisis is the direct result of bad policy, of not regulating the banks to prevent their predatory and profligate lending.
The economy -- the Bush economy -- is falling to the mat. It is not a knockout, I think. But, it is the economic downturn, which will motivate an increasing political storm.
Friday, November 23, 2007
The debacle of Iraq has completely changed the way many at least some on the left talk about foreign policy, has midwifed the birth of a kind of left-wing realism. It is the left (or a portion thereof) that has taken up the mantle of the Reality-Based Community. In the same way that some conservatives (Larry Kudlow, for example) have begun to embrace a kind of unified-theory-of-nonsense embracing neo-creationism, the idea of tax-cuts as revenue-raisers, and the conviction that we are winning in Iraq, I believe there is an emerging group of left-wingers who are going to take empiricism seriously across the board, and not just when it comes to scoring points against the Bush Adminstration.
Friday, November 16, 2007
It is increasingly clear that by now that a severe U.S. recession is inevitable in next few months. Those of us who warned for the last 12 months about a combination of a worsening housing recession, a severe credit crunch and financial meltdown, high oil prices and a saving-less and debt-burdened consumers being on the ropes causing an economy-wide recession were repeatedly rebuffed [by] the consensus view about a soft landing given the presumed resilience of the US consumer.
But the evidence is now building that an ugly recession is inevitable.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Not all bad policy has such immediate consequences. And, plenty of bad policy, due to the ideological blindness of its progenitors or the self-interest of its beneficiaries, resists any accountability moment.
Joseph Stiglitz writes in Vanity Fair, on The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush
Monday, November 5, 2007
"After six years of propping up and making excuses for Pervez Musharraf, . . .
"Washington doesn't have many friends left to call on in Pakistan -- perhaps the No. 1 generator of anti-U.S. terrorism in the world today. That's the dilemma that democracy crusader George W. Bush faces after Musharraf, one of his firmest allies, took the dictator's path and declared martial law on Saturday. . . . "
"Musharraf has completely de-legitimized himself in the eyes of the Pakistani public, and Washington has virtually no friends in a part of the world where Al Qaeda has established a new safe haven. 'I agree with [Musharraf] that we are facing a political crisis, but I believe the problem is dictatorship, I don't believe the solution is dictatorship,' Bhutto told Sky News. 'The extremists need a dictatorship, and dictatorship needs extremists.'
"Americans have always been uneasy about dancing with dictators. But in the age of terror such a policy can be very costly. Musharraf's method of maintaining his thin legitimacy is an example of just how costly. In order to keep himself in power, Musharraf has cut deals with the Mutahhida Majlis Amal (MMA, or United Action Council), a coalition of Islamic parties, and barred the parties of his main secular political rivals, former prime ministers Bhutto and Sharif. This was an attempt to 'create the illusion that radical Islamist groups were gaining power through democratic means, thus minimizing the prospect that the international community—especially the United States while Pakistan offers support in the war against al Qaeda—would press for democratic reform,' scholar Husain Haqqani wrote in his recent book, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military. But because these Islamist groups have continued to grow in power and influence, they may no longer be controllable.
"The monster that Musharraf cynically nurtured to keep himself in office is now threatening him personally: Al Qaeda elements that have found increasing support in friendly areas of Pakistan controlled by Islamists have tried to assassinate him twice. Some U.S. officials now fear that that this nuclear-armed nation is teetering on the verge of chaos, and the result could be every American's worst nightmare: that nuclear material or knowhow, or God forbid, a bomb, falls into the hands of terrorists."
One reason, aside from the impotence of the Democratic Congress, that I know that The Political Storm has not swept America is the Giuliani Campaign -- really the whole Republican field apart from Ron Paul seems majorly detached from reality, but Giuliani is both the front-runner, and the Republican candidate most favored by Bush, himself. As digby at Hullabaloo puts it: ". . . it really appears to me that the Republicans may just nominate someone dumber than Bush and crazier than Cheney. And without the morals of either of them. How is that even possible? "
Friday, November 2, 2007
He explains why Cheney may have already won, or why he may well win the game, even as he loses power. Those, who follow have many strong incentives to mirror the behavior of Cheney, even in trying to reverse what he's done, and so may end up just accepting revolutionary premises Cheney has brought to American foreign policy and American conceptions government.
There's a strong case to be made that 2004 was the critical election, and the good guys lost, and there's no going back.
So many people seem to be hypnotized by the logic of illogic. Simply arresting Bush and Cheney and the rest and shipping them off to stand trial for war crimes at the Hague is apparently unthinkable. Simply withdrawing posthaste from Iraq is simply unthinkable.
Well, the U.S. has been going down the tubes, because so few have been willing to think. So, maybe it is time some started.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Atrios, aka Duncan Black, recovering economist, isn't often wrong on economics issues, but this comment was not particularly enlightening.
Here's the thing about the oil economy: for a fairly simple commodity, it is a long supply-and-value chain.
At one end of the chain, are the people, who are extracting petroleum as mineral wealth from the ground, and at the other end, are people, who invest in transportation and industrial infrastructure, which consume petroleum energy -- the people in James Kuntsler's suburbs and SUV's -- and, in between, a large infrastructure for processing (refining) and distribution.
Here's the thing about the refiners and distributors in between: If the world is at a Peak, that means that the world will never again be producing/consuming more oil than right now. So, there will never be more oil products to process or distribute, than right now. So, if you are a distributor, you have no incentive to add to your capacity, because the one thing you know abut the future is that your future capacity utilization will be lower than it is now.
So, yes, Atrios, supply disruption is built into the situation, at least right now, in the short run, because distribution and refining capacity is so highly utilized and so little investment is being made in expansion or, even, in the repair of marginal capacity, which might be near obsolescence and retirement.
The great danger of supply disruption is in that part of the supply chain. A hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico is a bigger deal, consequently, than war in the Persian Gulf. But, this is a temporary circumstance, which will change radically, as oil production declines quantitatively, and the refining and distribution infrastructure develops huge redundancies.
As production sags in the years ahead, the profit will go out of distribution. Declining quality of oil will push up the costs of refining, particularly the energy costs of refining. Refining oil products will become a much less profitable business as well, at least in consuming nations. The economics of refining will drive oil refining to the countries producing an exportable oil surplus, and the exporters will export product rather than crude.
The declining profitability of refining and distribution is not something I have seen discussed much, although I am sure people in the industry anticipate it in detail. The U.S. oil giants will probably migrate abroad, as Halliburton has already done. Those, which remain will decline precipitously as an industry. The Energy industry will be very powerful, as always, but the oil industry will be a sad, fading memory.
And, big surplus or high-idle capacity in distribution and refining will tend to dampen the effects of disruption. While inventory is inadequate, now, to buffer disruption, in the future, a distribution net with a high-degree of idleness will be able to cheaply hold and manage larger (relative to rates of consumption) inventories of crude and product. So, the threat of disruption will fade away.
The scenario favored by James Howard Kunstler and fans, of a huge escalation in oil price to an astronomical price, leading to total economic meltdown is just not a realistic prospect.
The global warming problem, however, may be exacerbated. Like a cigarette producer going down-market in search of addicts, oil producers will go to the relatively un-developed world with refined oil product, at an assured price, which does not require large investments. Oil will be the energy source of choice for the under-developed world -- which is most of the world, after all -- for the same reason that they favor cell-phones: if your society cannot afford or maintain a complicated infrastructure, the technology with the simplest infrastructure wins out.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
I increasingly fear that this may be the case. What ought to be an election year of revolutionary change appears to be heading toward a coronation for Hillary Clinton, and no change at all -- just a confirmation that all the horrendous changes, wrought by Bush and the Republican Thugs for Plutocracy, have become the new foundation stones of American Life.
The underlying dynamic, which is driving the greatest political storm in half a century into blowing itself out in irrelevance, is clear enough. Politicians recognize that Media blessing is more important to achieving office than the welfare of ordinary People, who remain sheepishly willing to respond predictably to the Media message machine.
George W. Bush is being disappeared from the presidential campaign and everyone's running against incumbent Hillary Clinton. Subtly, but relentlessly, the public psyche is being prepared to deny Junior ever existed. And it could work. For many different reasons, most Americans want nothing more than to forget George W. Bush was ever president. So, we see a very odd subliminal narrative taking shape in which the blame for the nation's failures of the last seven years is being shifted to Clinton (and the "do-nothing" Democratic congress) as if the Codpiece hasn't been running things since 2000. (Not that the radical wingnuts haven't always blamed the Clenis for everything, but the disappearing of Bush is a new element.)
I certainly don't blame the Republicans for trying to do it. It makes sense, since their boy is an epic failure and the original Clinton is still very present in people's minds. It will be quite a trick to pull off, but I can see the press already helping them do it. (Naturally.)
It's an interesting phenomenon and one for which I hope the Democratic strategists are prepared. Their underlying theme seems to be, "If you want change, vote Republican!"
Compare what the Economist said about Robert Draper's recent biography of Bush:
"Mr Draper captures the skill of Mr Bush's two presidential campaigns. In 2000 he beat an incumbent vice-president after eight years of peace and prosperity: the wry slogan among his inner circle was: 'Things have never been better. Vote for change.' Four years later, with the economy stalled and Iraq in flames, he won again. This time, the backstage slogan was: 'Things have never been worse. Stay the course.'"
It is said that it is good to be King. It is also good, to own the Media.
Monday, October 22, 2007
The Democrats have failed to force an end to Bush's adventure in Iraq, but Bush's policy is inherently self-destructive. It is almost as if Bush designed his own policy to provoke the Iraqis and their neighbors to expell the U.S.
Josh Marshall explains why: "the issue isn't really aggregate public opinion. It's the percentage of the 51% of the folks who get you elected. If 50% of them (25% of the electorate) say they want you out, you're toast. And that would appear to be what a lot of these folks [antiwar Republican legislators] are facing."
As the Los Angeles Times reports: "While most Americans want U.S. troops out of Iraq, Republicans remain solidly behind the president and the war. A recent CBS News survey found 58% of Republicans approve of the way Bush is handling the war, compared with just 5% of Democrats and 20% of independents. GOP politicians have defied that sentiment at their peril."
So, 25% of the population holds two-thirds hostage, because one Party depends so much on that 25%, and the cooperation of both Parties is necessary for Congressional action, at least until that captive Party is wiped out the polls.
Atrios points out another aspect of the dynamic, which is how all of this will be interpreted by mainstream Media pundits. The two-thirds have no voice in the mainstream Media. And, consequently, it is not apparent how the political issue will play out. The punditocrisy will certainly blame the Democrats, and insist that withdrawing from Iraq -- the only sensible policy -- is not practical or serious.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
"Bush's job approval rating fell to 24 percent from last month's record low for a Zogby poll of 29 percent. A paltry 11 percent gave Congress a positive grade, tying last month's record low.
"There is a real question among Americans now about how relevant this government is to them," pollster John Zogby said. "They tell us they want action on health care, education, the war and immigration, but they don't believe they are going to get it."
The dismal assessment of the Republican president and the Democratic-controlled Congress follows another month of inconclusive political battles over a future path in Iraq and the recent Bush veto of an expansion of the program providing insurance for poor children.
The bleak mood could present problems for both parties heading into the November 2008 election campaign, Zogby said.
"Voter turnout could still be high next year, but the mood has turned against incumbents and into a 'throw the bums out' mindset," Zogby said.
It is interesting to me that the approved Media narrative, in the mouth of Zogby in this case, is a partisan-neutral "thrown the bums out". After 7 years of the Republican corruption, incompetence and authoritarianism, it is "a pox on both your houses" that leading Media figures want to proclaim.
As I observed in 2004, the failure to oust Bush meant a political chemistry of dissatisfaction with failed policy has proceeded with a cork-firmly-stuck-in-the-bottle, the lid-clamped-on-the-boiling-pot. With the country's constitutional institutions of fixed terms in office, the Senate filibuster, and ideologically gerrymandered House districts, political change is dammed-up, bottled-up.
More from the survey:
"The national telephone survey of 991 likely voters, conducted October 10 through October 14, found barely one-quarter of Americans, or 26 percent, believe the country is headed in the right direction.
The poll found declining confidence in U.S. economic and foreign policy. About 18 percent gave positive marks to foreign policy, down from 24 percent, and 26 percent rated economic policy positively, down from 30 percent.
A majority of Americans still rate their personal financial situation as excellent or good, although the number dipped slightly this month to 54 percent from 56 percent. In August, 59 percent rated their finances as excellent or good."
Two-thirds of the population, week after week, month after month, year after year, live with the idea that the country, under this President, is "headed in the wrong direction". And, most notably, this level of dissatisfaction has been reached without the spur of an actual economic downturn. People are not necessarily doing badly economically. But, they fear the worst. And, for good reason. Still, I doubt that the level of political reasoning has risen. The Media, controlling the national discourse is hopeless: the dissatisfactions of two-thirds (!) are not represented on television news or radio. Consequently, a Zogby not only can, but is expected to, suggest that people's dissatisfaction ought to be bi-partisan in its focus. And, perhaps worse, people do not have to resolve their ambivalence: they can want to do something about Iraq and global warming, but still want cheap gas to drive to Wal-Mart. The intense political dissatisfaction of the country remains intensely and stupidly reactionary; there's no common ideological or partisan beliefs, on which foundation, a revolutionary change in political and economic policy could be founded.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
It's true and I have no sense of historical perspective on it.
Of course, politicians in every era and place have spoken gibberish, when it suited them, but Americans in the 21st century have adopted a political language almost devoid of analytical thought. It is as if every statement is an emotive 30-second commercial.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Every political storm targets some thing, which it aims to wash away. Whether the chaotic collective action, which is a political storm, can properly be said to have an aim, in the sense of intention, is a metaphysical question, with which I do not intend to be distracted. In the hindsight of history, political reaction, in its effects, can be usefully summarized, as if it had had an aim. Watergate aimed at removing Nixon; the American Revolution aimed at Independence; the Civil War aimed at the destruction (or preservation) of slavery, etc.
Viewed from the liberal blogosphere, the current political storm aims not so much at the removal of George W. Bush from power, as at the overthrow of the elite Media and its Punditocrisy. Journalism is a failed profession, in the era of Media celebrity commentary and millionaire pundits, and it has formed a powerful kind of breakwater, separating the Republican Party's leadership from the political storm.
President Bush, according to all the polls, enjoys the kind of popular approval ratings, which resulted in Nixon's resignation. Back in the Watergate day, every major newspaper editorial board in the country called for the President's resignation. Nothing like that is happening now, despite fully 50% of the population reporting strong disapproval of the President and his policies. And, the reason is quite obvious: those journalists, who dominate the nation's political discourse fatuously pretend that the President is not a liar and an idiot, leading an Administration of unfathomable corruption and incompetence.
The corruption of political journalism began when Reagan assumed office and lied (aka told fables) in speech after speech, and continued thru the Whitewater fake scandal bought and paid for by Richard Mellon Scaife, gave us the "election" of Bush and the "re" election of Bush.
Today, when Al Gore is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (in the same year, he won an Oscar!), we are reminded about the role elite journalists played in the "election" of George W. Bush in 2000. The cost to the country of that idiotic choice . . .
Scott Horton (Harper's Magazine) is scathing in his denunciation of the Washington Post's editorial page and commentators as the total hacks they are.
Brad DeLong notes that Andrew Sullivan is ethically challenged and wonders
"why the Atlantic Monthly thinks it is smart to take the reputational hit of employing a guy who says that he prints things he thinks are false. The only reason for anybody to read the Atlantic Monthly is if it warrants that it is publishing things by smart people who are trying as hard as they can to inform--not misinform--their readers. If that warranty is false or is even widely perceived to be false, it is unlikely to survive.
"Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?"
Digby at Hullabaloo notes that the Republican Party seems to be determined to follow the disastrous George W. Bush with a still more catastrophic choice, such as Rudy Guiliani: "Apparently it hasn't occurred to them that nominating the Village idiot might have been their first mistake."
Digby notes that elite journalists see no need to intervene in any way in a political process, which seems to be leading in the direction of making a dangerously fact-challenged fool, the most powerful man in the world:
I don't suppose any of the alleged journalists present could say anything. They are, after all, just there to get in their tedious, pre-fab gotcha questions from 1978, and tell jokes. Correcting the debater on his facts on current relevant issues during the actual debate (or even after it when they are all getting as much TV face time as possible and subjecting themselves to media of all kinds) is obviously not part of their job description. And anyway, if a rival does manage to bring it up, it's presented as "politics" and "he said/she said" unless a snotty operative can successfully turn it into some kind of "gaffe" or the right wing drags out the fainting couch and stages a ritual humiliation kabuki. Fact-checking? How droll.
In any case, the bar has been set very low for GOP presidents. Yet they seem to be able to set it lower each time. If Giuliani wins we will not only have an idiot for president we will have a dangerously unstable idiot for president who is even more arrogant and malevolent than the one we have now. I have a sneaking feeling "competence" is going to be the least of our problems.
Unless, anyone think that this liberal dissastisfaction actually has any mass appeal -- which, of course, it cannot, because genuine liberal opinion is scarcely represented on television, and, as we all know, "the Real World" only exists on television -- we ought to note, once again that Bush's popularity is better predicted by gas prices than any other issue.
Monday, October 1, 2007
"Let's go over that again. One excuse doesn't work, so they come up with another. And if that one doesn't fly, you can bet your bippy they'll find a third. The important thing is: sell the war.
"Got it? That means there is no real reason to go to war with Iran. If there was, they wouldn't be switching reasons when they don't poll well. Bush and Cheney just want to do it. That's all. They just want to.
"I can't believe this is happening. And I have no idea how this can be stopped. This is sheer madness, not only on Bush's part. A press that isn't howling loudly about this, a political class that isn't speaking up as one to prevent this, and finally, a public that can't be troubled to protest warmaking on a whim - the country is as insane as it was in the fall of '02."
For me, the Bush Administration plans for war with Iran simply do not have the air of reality about them. So, it is hard to take them seriously. But, of course, the Bush Administration, itself, is not breathing the air of reality, and nor are the sycophants and stenographers in the Media, who enable these propaganda campaigns, and, certainly, the Democratic Eunuch caucus is not grounded in reality, either.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Reader, AC writes: "Politics is the art of the possible. And when nothing concrete is possible, that leaves theater. I am baffled at Democrats' continual willingness to concede the stage. Veto or no veto, making the GOP filibuster a bill like Webb's is not pointless. It puts vulnerable GOP moderates on the hot seat, it puts the blame for obstruction on the minority where it belongs, and it may force a series of unpopular high-profile vetoes from Bush."
I agree with AC and the several other readers quoted by David Kurtz.
The great political storm is underway, and it needs drama. Does anyone know how to play this game? Cause 25 Democrats in the Senate voted to condemn an newspaper ad by MoveOn.org
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
After weeks of suggesting Democrats would temper their approach to Iraq legislation in a bid to attract more Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared abruptly Tuesday that he had no plans to do so.
The Democratic leader said he will call for a vote this month on several anti-war proposals, including one by Sen. Carl Levin that would insist President Bush end U.S. combat next summer. The proposals would be mandatory and not leave Bush wiggle room, said Reid, D-Nev.
"There (are) no goals. It's all definite timelines," he told reporters of the planned legislation.
. . .
When asked why Democrats won't soften the deadline, the majority leader said he doesn't have confidence Republicans are willing to challenge Bush on the war.
"I think they've decided definitely they want this to be the Senate Republicans' war, not just Bush's. They're jealous," he said with a smile.
The great P.R. offensive, associated with Petraeus's testimony got Bush a bump of only 2 to 3 percent in the polls, from just below 30% to just above 30%, while Democratic leaders in a supine position just made the base of the Democratic Party mad as hell.
It is time to fight. If the issue is the 2008 election, then Democrats should not be suckered into any bi-partisan cover for a disastrous Republican policy.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
"In the alternate universe that President Bush occupies, he gave a smashing speech . . .
"Over there, the people of Iraq need our help to save them from the al Qaeda terrorists who intend to overthrow their brave and united government on the way to attacking America. It's a battle of good versus evil. We have 36 countries fighting alongside us. And the fight is going very well indeed. Ordinary life is returning to Baghdad.
"A few more things about Bush's universe: There, the president can make things true simply by solemnly pronouncing them from the Oval Office. He can reach out to his critics just by saying he is doing so. And people believe him."
"President Bush's TV address tonight was the worst speech he's ever given on the war in Iraq, and that's saying a lot. Every premise, every proposal, nearly every substantive point was sheer fiction. The only question is whether he was being deceptive or delusional."
"Mr. Bush was clear last night — as he was when he addressed the nation in January, September of last year, the December before that and in April 2004 — that his only real plan is to confuse enough Americans and cow enough members of Congress to let him muddle along and saddle his successor with this war that should never have been started."
Sunday, September 9, 2007
Matthew Yglesias notes the association of Rudy Giuliani with Norman Podhoretz: "something's gone badly wrong with a country where a major political figure sees associating himself with this kind of lunacy as a smart political move"
Tristero at Hullabaloo has more on "Giuliani's Unhinged Adviser"
Saturday, September 1, 2007
Sunday, August 26, 2007
I can't help, but notice how it plays into a stab-in-the-back narrative: the Democrats, who want to withdraw are accused of wanting to set a "surrender date", as if we can't fail until we admit failure, and the admission of failure is the cause of failure.
Matthew Yglesias, bless his little heart, steps by this narrative blockade, to re-frame the General's view.
Matthew Yglesias: "General Petraeus thinks he's making so much progress that the war will need to continue twice as long again as it's already gone on. More to the point, once you're looking at that kind of time frame, all forecasts are nonsensical. We could leave tomorrow and ten years might be plenty of time for Iraq to descend deeper into civil war, for the civil war to end, and then for stability to emerge."
And, here's the money shot: "To say that our current policy is working and needs just ten more years to stabilize Iraq is lunacy -- just leaving stands a perfectly good chance of working just as quickly at radically lower cost."
I fully expect General Petraeus will be back to projecting no more than a Friedman Unit at a time, in his testimony before Congress in September. But, if not, these projections of 10 years in Iraq are a code the Democrats can work with. And, Yglesias shows how: doing nothing is a good "long-shot" strategy for a ten-year time period, and less costly than Bush's "long-shot" strategy.
Good-bye, permanent bases.
Friday, August 24, 2007
It's important to understand that the Republican Party is mostly an organized conspiracy to redistribute wealth upwards, that deceit is an essential element of their M.O., that the conservative movement is fundamentally radical and dangerous, that the national media have done an abysmal job of covering politics and policy, and that the Bush administration has overturned the basic norms of governance that have prevailed for decades...
Why Mr. Chait cannot bring himself to do a better job in the pages of the execrable The New Republic than he does in e-mail is left as an exercise for the reader.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Many bloggers noted this extremely powerful op-ed. It isn't just that the non-coms are questioning the War and the Surge and the whole Bush "strategy" -- it is that the non-coms are speaking sense.
The mainstream media have failed as a filter and a discriminator, in ways that have had profound consequences for the U.S. and the world. They (meaning the likes of Jim Lehrer, Wolf Blitzer and Tim Russert, among others) simply do not seem capable of correctly and sensibly sorting out, who is rational, truthful, benign, well-informed from those who are hacks and fools.
By and large, the mainstream media broadcast and write what they are told, no matter how deceptive or foolish. There are exceptions, but they simply serve to highlight the extensive dysfunction in place.
But, people are noticing. People read a great piece, and the great piece doesn't make news. And, people notice the Media is broken.
Maybe, there's a bit of progress underway.
Thursday, August 9, 2007
The always cheerful Nouriel Roubini explains all: "the vicious circle of a weakening US economy – with a housing recession getting worse and a fatigued consumer being at the tipping point - and a generalized credit crunch sharply increased the probability that the US economy will experience a hard landing. We are indeed at a 'Minsky Moment' and this recent financial turmoil is the beginning of a much more serious and protracted US and global credit crunch. The risks of a systemic crisis are rising: liquidity injections and lender of last resort bail out of insolvent borrowers - however necessary and unavoidable during a liquidity panic- will not work; it will only pospone and exacerbate the eventual and unavoidable insolvencies."
Joseph Stiglitz (via Mark Thoma):
"The story goes back to the recession of 2001. With the support of US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, US President George W. Bush pushed through a tax cut designed to benefit the richest Americans but not to lift the economy out of the recession that followed the collapse of the Internet bubble."
"Given that mistake, the Fed had little choice if it was to fulfill its mandate to maintain growth and employment: it had to lower interest rates. ... But, given that overinvestment in the 1990s was part of the problem underpinning the recession, lower interest rates did not stimulate much investment.
"The economy grew, but mainly because American families were persuaded to take on more debt, refinancing their mortgages and spending some of the proceeds. And, as long as housing prices rose as a result of lower interest rates, Americans could ignore their growing indebtedness.
"In fact, even this did not stimulate the economy enough. To get more people to borrow more money, credit standards were lowered, fueling growth in so-called "subprime" mortgages. Moreover, new products were invented ... making it easier for individuals to take bigger mortgages. ...
"Alan Greenspan egged them to pile on the risk by encouraging these variable-rate mortgages. But did Greenspan really expect interest rates to remain permanently at one percent - a negative real interest rate? Did he not think about what would happen to poor Americans with variable-rate mortgages if interest rates rose, as they almost surely would? ...
"Fortunately, most Americans did not follow Greenspan's advice to switch to variable-rate mortgages. Even as short-term interest rates began to rise, the day of reckoning was postponed... [But the] housing price bubble eventually broke, and, with prices declining, some have discovered that their mortgages are larger than the value of their house.
"Too many Americans built no cushion into their budgets, and mortgage companies, focusing on the fees generated by new mortgages, did not encourage them to do so.
"Just as the collapse of the real estate bubble was predictable, so are its consequences... By some reckonings, more than two-thirds of the increase in output and employment over the past six years has been real estate-related, reflecting both new housing and households borrowing against their homes to support a consumption binge.
"The housing bubble induced Americans to live beyond their means - net savings has been negative for the past couple of years. With this engine of growth turned off, it is hard to see how the American economy will not suffer from a slowdown.
"There is an old adage about how people's mistakes continue to live long after they are gone. That is certainly true of Greenspan.
"In Bush's case, we are beginning to bear the consequences even before he has departed."
The economic downturn will intensify the political storm building around Bush, and he will well deserve it, because it is all of his own making. But, what of those, who made Bush?
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Friday, August 3, 2007
As Mark Kleiman, from whom I steal my headline, puts it, "To those of who have been wondering when the insanity of the Bush Administration's fiscal management was going to catch up with us, the answer may well be: just about now."
The first sign of big trouble was the Bear Stearns hedge funds zeroing out, on July 18.
On Friday, American Home Mortgage closed its doors.
Bloomberg.com columnist Mark Gilbert, after toting up signs of credit instability worldwide, notes: "At least 70 U.S. mortgage companies have shut, gone bust or sold themselves since the start of last year, according to Bloomberg data. As Dennis Gartman, economist and editor of the Suffolk, Virginia-based Gartman Letter, is fond of saying in his research reports, there's never only one cockroach."
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Monday, the right-wing, corporate News Media catapulted the propaganda, and the blogosphere divided.
Glenn Greenwald, at Salon summarized:
I spent yesterday and today reading through virtually all of the writings and interviews of these two Brookings geniuses over the past four years concerning Iraq. There is no coherence or consistency to anything they say. It shifts constantly. They say whatever they need to say at the moment to justify the war for which they bear responsibility. It is exactly like reading through the writings of Bill Kristol, Tom Friedman and every other individual who flamboyantly supported this disaster and -- motivated solely by salvaging their own reputations -- are desperate to find some method to argue that they were right.
Even though I write frequently about how broken and corrupt our establishment media is, witnessing these two war lovers -- supporters of the invasion, advocates of the Surge, comrades of Fred Kagan -- mindlessly depicted all day yesterday by media mouthpieces as the opposite of what they are was really quite startling. After all, there is a record as long as it is clear demonstrating what they really are.
But in order to maximize the potency of their propagandistic Op-Ed, they proclaimed themselves to be "analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq" and -- just like that -- Americans hear all day about the magical and dramatic conversion of these deeply skeptical war opponents who were forced by the Grand Success they witnessed first-hand in Iraq, as much as they hate to do it, to admit oh-so-reluctantly that the Surge really is working! Well, if even these Howard-Dean-like War Opponents say it, it must be true. That was the leading "news" story all day yesterday.
I caught several carefully measured reactions at various magazine websites. George Packer, author of the Assassins Gate, and a recovering supporter of the war himself, wrote a note at the New Yorker, which basically invited people to consider whether O'Hanlon and Pollack, in their visit to Iraq, had been brainwashed by a carefully orchestrated dog-and-pony show, but concluded with this cya boilerplate paragraph:
O’Hanlon and Pollack have long been critics of the war. They are serious analysts and have nothing to gain by supporting the strategy of an Administration that they say has “lost essentially all credibility.” I don’t doubt that they believe what they saw and heard and wrote, and I’m certain that some of the gains they describe are real. I would like to know more about what they didn’t see and hear. At the heart of arguments over the war there has always been the question of what’s happening “on the ground.” It’s never been harder to find out than it is now, and in my experience, no news is generally bad news. Over the past four years, Iraq has humbled a lot of people. What’s missing from the Op-Ed is a necessary humility.
Matthew Yglesias, young and naive over at the Atlantic Monthly, initially snarked with abandon:
Meanwhile, it's worth noting the incentives that O'Hanlon and Pollack face. If they bow to reality and say the US should move rapidly to start cutting our losses in Iraq, then they're people who advocated in favor of a disastrous policy and this'll be bad for their careers. If, by contrast, they say the surge is looking good, and then work together with Bush administration officials and The Weekly Standard to construct a stab in the back narrative about Iraq, then they can hope to salvage their professional reputations at the expense of liberals.
(of course, haha, that's to imply that the policy analysis put forward by Brookings Institution foreign policy program people might be influenced by crass careerism rather than Very Serious Expertise but that's absurd, right, after all Very Serious People are above such things)
But, later in the day, Matthew was spanked by Jon Chait at The New Republic and Ross Douthat at his own Atlantic Monthly, and had to show humility. What did Jon Chait have to say?
It's hard for me to evaluate whether their argument is correct, but the on-the-ground evidence they present from their recent trip to Iraq deserves to be treated seriously.
In other words, Jon can't be troubled to be the least bit critical, but he knows that these Brookings guys are serious.
UPDATE: Greg Sargent at Horse's Mouth documents how the Associated Press has transmuted this one op-ed into a general narrative of critics seeing military progress in Iraq. And, how Anthony Cordesman's pessimistic, but very cautiously worded report on the same trip as O'Hanlon and Pollack, has been reported by the Washington Post as optimistic.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Powerful political storms almost always have an economic component, as background if not as a central element. Economic pain motivates some large part of the body politic to pay attention.
A remarkable aspect of the Bush Presidency has been the absence of serious economic pain. That all the gains of economic growth have gone exclusively to corporate profits and to the very wealthy has been a critical part of the context of dissatisfaction. That Bush policies have increased gas prices (and, not incidentally, energy company profits) has not gone unnoticed.
But, low unemployment has kept the intensity of economic dissatisfaction bounded, even while unhappiness about Iraq and Katrina and corruption have simmered.
A truly "perfect" storm will have a nasty economic component. See those dark economic clouds on the horizon?
Economist.com: "The greenback has never been further out of favour on currency markets. The Federal Reserve tracks the dollar's value against a weighted basket of seven currencies that are commonly traded beyond their respective borders. This index, regarded as a good gauge of financial-market sentiment about the dollar, has fallen to an all-time low"
Financial crisis just one 'Bear-like' event away: "A global financial shock is just one 'Bear-like' event away, economist Mark Zandi warned Thursday, giving it a one-in-five chance. In the current 'high level of angst' following the collapse of two Bear Stearns funds, the uncertainty caused by another hedge-fund failure could cause investors to freeze, he said. Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Economy.com, said he expects significant declines in home sales and prices in coming months to further erode mortgage credit quality. About half of the structured securities owned by hedge funds are in the riskiest tranches of complicated derivatives based on the subprime mortgages that are going sour quickly, he said. If there is a global financial crisis, he said he expected the Federal Reserve would ease, but questioned how effective it would be in restoring confidence in the U.S. financial system."
"Rough ride for U.S. stocks; selloff resumes"
Krugman had an excellent column on the origins of the present crisis is housing, oil and credit. And,he draws the political connection:
"what’s really striking is ... the current angst ... over two things that I thought had been obvious for a long time: the magnitude of the housing slump and the persistence of high oil prices. . . "
Over the last couple of years a peculiar conviction emerged among some analysts — mainly, for some reason, among those with right-wing political leanings — that the housing bubble was a myth and that the real bubble was in oil prices. . .
I didn’t think many people believed this stuff, but the market’s sudden freakout over housing and oil suggests that I was wrong.
Anyway, now reality is settling in. And there’s one more thing worth mentioning: the economic expansion that began in 2001, while it has been great for corporate profits, has yet to produce any significant gains for ordinary working Americans. And now it looks as if it never will.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
"It is the summer of our discontent, because we want an end to the decade of stupid, and yet, we keep waking up in stupid's America. . .
"Some people wait, and hope that the summer of our discontent will start the fall of the House of Bush. But if not you, who? If not now, when? If not by your hand, how? If not in the place where you live, where? If not for what we have seen and know, what?
"Tomorrow is another day. It can be the first day of you doing something, the next day of you doing something. Just don't let it be the last day of doing anything, or the next day of not doing anything, or the first day of not doing anything any more. And if what you have been doing hasn't been working, then maybe it is time to try something else. I was angry once, proudly shrill even. But that time is over, because it really is time to explain to the people, who don't approve of Bush, but don't yet want him gone, that he's never read anything not written on a baseball bat.
Which end of that bat are you going to be on?"
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Let's consider, Glenn Greenwald of Salon on "the credibility of war supporters"
At its core, the history of the Iraq War has been authored by an indescribably deceitful and very intellectually limited political and media elite, perfectly symbolized by Kit Bond. These are people who spent four years hailing the Great Progress the Leader was making in Iraq, claiming we were "clearing and holding" neighborhoods of all the Terrorists, that Freedom was on the March, that anyone who questioned any of this was either brainwashed by the war-hating media or a Friend of The Terrorists.
And now, four years later, with the War plainly having been a failure, and their assurances all exposed as false, what are they doing? Hailing the Great Progress the Leader is making in Iraq, claiming we are "clearing and holding" neighborhoods of all the Terrorists, that Freedom is on the March, that anyone who questions any of this is either brainwashed by the war-hating media or a Friend of The Terrorists. Nothing ever changes. It just plods along with the same idiot slogans and the same people spouting them. And they do it with no shame, no acknowledgment of their own past behavior, and no loss of credibility.
A political storm is a theatrical event, an event in social chemistry. The wind and rain are rhetorical and the landscape affected, philosophical. In the present political storm, it is not just politicians, who are subject to revolutionary pressure, it is the Media establishment. Increasingly, the problem -- The Problem -- is being defined, within the progressive blogosphere as well as the country at large, as an inexplicable and inexcusable conspiracy of mendacious stupidity between politicians and pundits, reporters and political operatives.
The increasingly threadbare narrative of "successful" war in Iraq has lost its political potency. In a political storm, events support adoption by the Public of an alternative narrative, which is not at all flattering to the powers that be. Of such transitions, revolutions are made. The alternative narrative to the detached-from-reality narrative of Bush and the "serious" establishment of foreign policy and media figures has become more and more sharply critical of those, who supported the war and supported Bush. The alternative narrative is revolutionary in its implications, not just because it offers no room for "bi-partisanship" but because it does not acknowledge any legitimacy whatsoever to the opinions of politicians or pundits of the Right.
Matthew Yglesias comments rather sardonically on the contrast between performance and reputation among figures of the political right:
"Michael Gerson, in his role as White House speechwriter, helped outline a foreign policy approach that, whether you liked it or not, was certainly audacious and new -- taking some strands that had long existed in US political culture and taking them much further than they'd ever gone before. If all this had gone well, Gerson could have left his government job and become a pillar of the Washington Establishment. Since it turned out to be a tremendous failure, instead he got a Council on Foreign Relations fellowship and a Washington Post column."
This kind of matter-of-fact acknowledgement carries the seeds of Revolution.
Remember that executive order about "Continuity of Government" that Dubya issued back in May? The one that put the prez in charge of running the government after a massive terrorist attack or other major disaster? And which gave the prez the authority to determine just what constitutes a major disaster? . . .
Here in Oregon, some people were sufficiently worried about the executive order that they asked US representative Peter DeFazio to look into whether anything sinister was lurking in order's classified portions, which describe in detail how the executive branch would run the government after a major disaster. DeFazio asked the White House to have those classified portions delivered for viewing in a special secured room at the Capitol building — a request that he's definitely entitled to make as a member of the House's Homeland Security Committee. After initially giving the nod to DeFazio's request, something — no one knows what — changed at the White House, and permission to see the classified documents was withdrawn.
Is it paranoid to take seriously the possibility that Bush and friends might let a terrrorist attack occur, and then use that attack as an excuse to overthrow the government?
Or, that Bush might precipitate a crisis over Congressional funding of government operations, and defy Congress and law, to seize funds?
Bush and the leadership of the Republican Party are evil. Let's just leave it at that, for the moment, shall we? The Revolution can wait until we truly need one.
So, when Fred Hiatt, at the Washington Post, editorializes on the Iraq War, which he and his newspaper have supported at every stage, blames the Democrats for playing politics with the war, by insisting on a policy of withdrawal, one should consider the source.
The perverse Republican hope appears to be that, by predicting that withdrawal will intensify the chaos and bloodshed in Iraq, they can insulate themselves from blame and responsibility for the whole, misbegotten, bloody exercise.
Those, who favor withdrawal, accept the reality that Bush's policy has been catastrophic, and accept that withdrawal will lay bare the total costs of catastrophically bad policy.
Those, like Fred Hiatt are too stupid and corrupt and foolish, to recognize horrifically bad policy and its consequences, want to continue to deny the reality of those consequences, by the expedient of extending a bad policy indefinitely. Not incidentally, Hiatt's rationalization furthers the Bush goal of keeping the U.S. in Iraq forever and ever.
The weakness of Iraq is a means to that end. Perverse and despicable use of power, it shows what a hopeless evil man Hiatt is, what evil people populate the whole of the leadership of the Republican Party.
I actually admire Phil Carter for his clean prose and analytical mind, but he gives a fine example in the case of the cited post of the bull excretions weighing down the debate over the Iraq War. So, it is with no sense of personal disrespect that I call him on this. Indeed, I pick on him, because he is definitely not one of the corrupt and stupid talking heads -- he is not Tom Friedman, for example.
Sensible discussion and assessment of strategy -- whether in business, politics or war -- is possible. Various kinds of strategy are legitmate subjects for research and teaching in academia, and large organizations depend on the ability of people to rationalize and elaborate a strategy into policy, and to execute the policy. In a society dominated by large enterprises and government bureaucracies, large numbers of people need to be familiar with the basics of strategic thinking and organizational policy. This is not a topic, which is only appreciated in the rarefied air of the Executive Suite and the Senate Chamber. It is a necessary element and aspect of our public discourse.
And, yet, America is bogged down in a hopeless and costly land war in Asia -- yet, again -- and the fault appears to lie, in part, with the breakdown of our public discourse. Political debate on strategy and policy has become a seriously faulty sieve, incapable of filtering out even the most least discriminating judgments.
Rather obviously, the political reporters snarking on about the price of John Edwards' haircuts, are not even going to be discussing serious policy issues. Pointing out the shortcomings of David Broder and Tom Friedman and other pundits I will leave to greater minds than mine.
But, I will take on the case of Phil Carter, and only because I could and do expect better from this accomplished attorney and former active-duty Army officer.
I submit that, aside from outright lies about Saddam's WMD and role in the 9/11 terrorism of Al Quaeda, one of the most noxious memes about the American policy in Iraq is that (ill-defined) "success" requires "more time".
There's an old joke about business strategy -- "High-quality, Low-price, or Soon: choose two" -- which embodies the truth that there are tradeoffs of a kind in project planning and execution, that put some outcomes out of practical reach, and one of the dimensions of trade-off is the time to completion. So, there's a basis for the intuition that "more time" may be one of the "resources" available for successful project management, and a trade-off exists between time and other resources.
There's another joke, meant to highlight that success in a single instance is not confirmation of the merit of a strategy: "Even a stopped clock is right twice a day." The deeper, unspoken insight is that a "good" clock has to be highly accurate, or it is useless -- a clock that is a little slow or a little fast will be wrong, for more often than a completely stopped clock. And, over time a slow (or fast) clock may tend to be increasingly wrong.
America's "strategy" in Iraq has been that of a slow clock, which has become more and more dysfunctional -- more and more inaccurate in relation to the true time -- the longer it has run. The U.S. has never had sufficient resources in Iraq to accomplish its purposes, and it has deployed those resources in ways, which are destructive to its ostensible purposes. This is true, with regard to both military and political strategy.
The U.S. did not have sufficient troops in the original invasion to secure Saddam's enormous stocks of munitions -- and did not secure those stockpiles, never mind the fantasy WMDs. The U.S. did not have sufficient troops, to provide simple security for civil society. The decision to disband the Iraqi Army compounded these deficiencies. The committment of resources to Iraqi Reconstruction -- including a generous $18 billion gift from the American People -- were not even barely sufficient to Iraqi's needs (estimated to be $60-$80 billion), and those resources were squandered in epic incompetence and corruption.
The consequence of these shortcomings in U.S. policy and resources has been a snowballing chaos in Iraq. The lawless looting, which followed in the wake of inadequate U.S.-provided security immediately after the invasion, undermined the rule of law and the economic basis of civil society -- it was not just ancient and priceless treasures looted from museums: buildings needed for public purposes and business enterprise were looted of their copper plumbing and electrical wire.
The inability of the U.S. reconstruction efforts to provide electricity has frustrated all the efforts to restart a productive, civil economy in Iraq. If Iraqis join the insurgency, it is, in part, because "insurgent" is the only paying job available -- and it is a paying job, thanks in large part to the generosity of President Bush's dear friends in Saudi Arabia, who are well overmatching the subsidies provided by Iran to the Shiites, we nominally support, and about which Bush's anonymous minions complain regularly. (If that sentence is hard to parse, it is because Bush is an idiot, and no summary of U.S. policy, as it exists, can be entirely logical.)
Efforts to suppress the insurgency with military means, which have continued even after the funds to reconstruct the country have been largely exhausted without result, have only served to further escalate violence and alienate the Iraqi People from the occupying Americans.
Every step along the way, the Americans have been falling further and further behind, through inadequate committment of resources, inadequate planning and incompetent execution of policy. American policy is not a stopped clock, it is a slow clock, which is more wrong every hour and day, it continues.
And, how is the disastrous "slow clock" policy of the Bush Administration policy treated in our public discourse. Well, Phil Carter, whom I do take seriously, treats it as a public relations problem:
The challenge facing Odierno, Amb. Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus is a daunting one: how to translate their operational picture into politically palatable and viable terms that will enable them to win the support of America's political leaders at home. My sense is that the only thing which will work in September is for Crocker and Petraeus to give a blunt, honest assessment of how things are going -- good, bad and ugly -- and then to request additional resources to achieve their proposed endstate. Anything less than that will
appear dishonest and intellectually bankrupt.
The "theatre review" style of punditry has claimed the otherwise admirable Phil Carter as a new victimizer. This is the same air-headed nonsense that praises the psychopathic, senile fool, John McCain, for his "straight-talk", instead of pointing out that he is bat-shit insane.
Crocker and Petraeus are likely to portray "blunt" and "honest" like practiced thespians, but the policy of the Bush Administration has been "dishonest and intellectually bankrupt" from the get-go, five years ago. What makes translating their operational picture into politically palatable and viable terms so challenging is that the operational picture, as is plain as day to anyone with even passing familiarity with actual facts, is that the policy, in any and all of its variations over five years, has never been viable.
In fact, one perfectly sensible interpretation is that Bush has always intended to stay in Iraq indefinitely, and the policy was adapted to the goal of a weak Iraq and a weak Iraqi central government. Only a weak Iraqi central government could be counted on to give consent to the U.S. military staying in Iraq. The strategy has failed, because an Iraq weak enough to want the U.S. to stay, is too weak to hold together.
Sensible people, who were paying attention, could see that the policy was not viable even before the war started, and the conduct of the Occupation and Reconstruction, simply confirmed that, as has been amply documented in several excellent books. The plain fact that the policy, as executed, is not viable has made continuation of the policy less and less politically palatable. Shocking, I know.
So, yes, Phil, making a non-viable policy appear viable is a daunting task. And, doing so, while not appearing dishonest and intellectually bankrupt will be challenging.
America will save, itself, when public servants no longer feel any obligation to accept such challenges, and when the Media no longer facilitate the pretense that the appearance of "blunt and honest" substitutes for the reality.