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?