Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bank Failures Planned

The Associated Press: "Federal bank regulators plan to increase staffing 60 percent in coming months to handle an anticipated surge in troubled financial institutions."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Getting the Iraq War Wrong

The 5th anniversary of the Iraq War has been an occasion for many half-baked apologies, for bad judgment in supporting Bush's ill-advised invasion and for continuing to support Bush's ill-advised and ineffectual occupation of Iraq, five years later.

The Small Wars Journal has done a convenient round-up of the day's op-eds. (SWJ Blog) Particularly prominent is a group of "liberal hawk" half-hearted, half-brained mea culpas at Slate.

Glenn Greenwald is pretty scathing on the lessons not learned.
Most of the pseudo-regretful war advocates oh-so-nobly blame others ("I didn't realize how incompetent the Bush administration could be" -- Jeffrey Goldberg; "I trusted Colin Powell and his circumstantial evidence - for a little while" -- Fred Kaplan; "I underestimated the self-centeredness and sectarianism of the ruling elite and the social impact of 30 years of extreme dictatorship" -- Kanan Makiya).

Some claim -- like the job interviewee who cites "excess diligence" when asked to name their worst fault -- that they were simply too starry-eyed in their Goodness and purity ("Maybe the fall of this horrifying regime would serve as an example to all the other despotisms in the neighborhood" - Josef Joffe). Only one of them candidly admitted that he was motivated by rage and a base desire for vengeance . . . .

But virtually every line of rationale is purely utilitarian in its reasoning. The most unadorned admissions of error amount to little more than a concession that they simply assessed the costs and benefits inaccurately. And even with that extremely narrow concession, none of them -- either in Slate or elsewhere -- even reference in passing the fact that the war they cheered on ended the lives of hundreds of thousands (at least) of innocent Iraqi citizens and caused the internal and external displacement of millions more. That just doesn't exist in the calculus.

More strikingly, not a single one of them appears to have learned the real lesson worth learning from the whole disaster: The U.S. should not -- and has no right to -- invade, bomb and occupy other nations that haven't attacked or even threatened to attack us. None of them say: "Wars that aren't directly in response to an actual or imminent attack shouldn't be commenced because doing so leads to the deaths of hundreds of thousands or millions of human beings for no justifiable reason." Not even the most regretful war advocate seems to have reached that conclusion.

Greenwald is a principled guy, who believes some of these people should get themselves some principles. Oh, and some practice reasoning from the same.

I don't know about the principles part, but I certainly agree that some practice reasoning would help.

Phil Carter of Intel Dump, whom I admire, rather weakly opines: "The invasion has had profound consequences for all involved, and I think it's safe to say at this point that the ultimate outcome remains in doubt." This is the kind of mindless acceptance of the conventions of narrative, which seem to grip so many in the discussion of Iraq. [Hint: this, here, today, is the outcome.] Phil goes on to quote his own Slate piece:

. . . Now, five years into the war, I remain torn between my initial support for the invasion, my frustrating experience as an Army officer on the ground, and my skepticism that we can build a viable Iraq. Security has improved, although it's not clear who or what deserves credit. The current reduction in violence has made the prospect of a stable Iraq seem possible, if not necessarily probable, because of the Iraqi government's continuing intransigence. But even if we had the patience and will to stay in Iraq for a generation (and I doubt we have either), I think the time has come to leave. The challenge will be to withdraw more responsibly than we went in.

All very pious and earnest, that Phil Carter, but it is a pose that seems determined to hold onto an innocence that is no longer defensible, and to prepare the ground for blaming others, for the greatest strategic military failure in American history. Maybe, I am reading too much into Phil Carter's rhetorical tact -- certainly I regard him as basically intelligent and honest -- but I don't trust him to not be promoting some stab-in-the-back crap five years from now. There's that sickening "even if we had the patience and will to stay in Iraq for a generation (and I doubt we have either)," which assigns to Bush's stupid and incompetent stubbornness national virtues, which are then denied to the country.

Sterling Newberry focuses on the reluctance to recognize the strategic incoherance that comes from the refusal to recognize that the war was a scam and remains a scam. Charles Gittings, :in a succinct blog comment summarizes the obvious, but frequently denied or overlooked:

"What we seen for fully five years now is that they are liars, incompetents, and war criminals, yet people are still wringing their hands over the delusional dilemma of how to get out of this festering mess, still offer no hint of a legitimate military objective, and still mostly ignore or downplay the obvious facts of the Bush administration's dishonesty, corruption, and crimes. It's really quite amazing."

Amazing, indeed. Scott Horton at Harpers notes that the Media refrains from responsible coverage of the Iraq War even now:

Now the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq would have been an excellent opportunity for a number of the papers and broadcasters to have looked back at their reporting from five years ago with a critical eye. It’s impossible to examine their performance and not conclude that they miserably failed their audience by converting themselves into a megaphone for the Bush Administration. There was a wholesale failure of critical analysis, and the results have been tragic. Even among those who supported and continue to support the war, there is a consensus view that the first two years of occupation suffered from a series of catastrophic management failures that should have been reported and discussed in the media, and were not.

I would in fact had even been satisfied if they skipped over the history lesson and went straight to the situation today. But alas, they can’t manage anything like competent reporting out of Iraq today either. What we see is all in terms of analysis of the success of the surge, which is positive news, but in the end not terribly significant. The bigger picture– the strategic aspects of Iraq policy, goes unexamined.

Aside from the short-term tactical successes, how are things going in terms of the longer-term strategic effort. What are the objectives, and how has the effort to attain them progressed over five years, or even just over the last year?

On that score we’d discover, of course, that the goal posts have changed dramatically over five years. Repeatedly the Bush Administration has abandoned its targets and set new ones, ever lower. The process of reassessment and lowering expectations continued even through this week.

Indeed, the narratives I see on cable news and in political news reporting and commentary are mostly sycophantic and brainless in the extreme, relaying press release talking points. Everyone is expected to acknowledge the "success" of the surge, but no one is supposed to notice the abject strategic failure or the serious injury done to the Army as an effective force, or huge diminishment of American prestige thoughout the world. Least of all is anyone supposed to notice that the Bush Administration has pursued goals with a high payoff to narrow interests at the expense of the national interest.

Welcome to the World Bush Made

Prof. Brad DeLong looks at the yield curve and finds the one month Treasury rate nearing the zero bound. Meanwhile, "the TED spread--the risk and liquidity premium big banks are demanding over Treasuries for the loans they make to each other" is jumping up to panic rates. Professor DeLong concludes: "Be afraid. Be somewhat afraid."

Deflation and descent into a prolonged recession, or inflation and ascent into a prolonged period of stagflation. Welcome to Bush World.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Why things are just all F*cked up

Sterling Newberry on Why things are just all F*cked up

This morning we get an ample demonstration of why the world is all fucked up from Slate.com. On the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, we get several people talking about how they got Iraq wrong. Instead, they get getting wrong wrong, and, frankly, the fact that all of them are still well paid members of
the commentariat, shows that America, and the American elites, have learned
absolutely nothing.

Let's start with why Iraq went wrong: it was a swindle from the beginning. . . .

The reality, and realism should be the stock and trade of a liberal hawk, is that Bush could not have executed on any
successful plan in Iraq, because he was not committed to success, but to his success. His success was to either create a permanent Republican majority, or protecting the downside, make it so that the next Democrat could do nothing
other than sit in a holding pattern until the next good hair Republican took office and started the attempt all over again.

So this is why we are in a mess: we don't have leadership, but salesmanship. These people don't represent any genuine vein of inchoate public opinion, but instead have the job of selling swindles to a public whose opinion is disorganized. The public, for its part thinks of things in different terms, and is often in capable of forming a coherent public counter weight to the manipulations of elites.

Instead the same people who got Iraq wrong are now trying to march to the front of the next parade. Slate itself is descending in a spiral. It has not given space to one critical voice that rose up against the chorus of of a neo-con America, and as such, it consists of people who are trying to tell us that they are qualified
to get things right, because they have such a long track record of geting things wrong.

Dominance of the Media by giant business conglomerates and the corporate executive class that runs them has created this situation, in which the public is intensely dissatisfied, but unable to think or organize effectively. Slate.com is just one manifestation of a badly broken Media, a Media broken on purpose.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Paul Krugman says we are suffering from a giant bank run
albeit on financial institutions that aren’t called banks — and aren’t regulated like banks.

Bank runs come in two kinds.

In some cases, the bank run is a pure self-fulfilling prophecy: the bank is “fundamentally sound,” but a panic by depositors forces a too-hasty liquidation of its assets, and it goes bust. It’s as if someone calls “fire!” in a crowded theater, provoking a stampede that kills many people, even though there wasn’t actually a fire.
In other cases, the bank is fundamentally unsound — but the bank run magnifies its losses. It’s as if someone calls “Fire!” in a crowded theater, and there really is a fire — but the stampede kills people who would have survived an orderly evacuation.
We’re in the second case. The Fed has spent the last 7 months trying to assure people that there isn’t any fire. But there is.
Worse yet, thanks to decades of deregulation, the theater doesn’t have a sprinkler system - and the town the theater is in doesn’t have a fire department.

And now we have to put together an emergency response.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


digby at Hullabaloo on FISA and telecom immunity: "I see no evidence from the presidential campaigns that Bush abuses will be confronted in the next congress either. Indeed, I suspect this was the last gasp of outrage at the constitutional shredding of the Bush administration."

Telecom immunity serves no function other than to prevent the Constitution from working, both in the sense of stripping Americans of Constitutional rights, and in the sense, that the system of checks and balances is stayed, preventing any kind of judicial scrutiny for Bush Administration law-breaking.

"I'm sorry to be so depressing about all this, but I just see no evidence that Democrats care about this very much. The usurpation of democracy and the constitution doesn't rate very high on their list of priorities . . . "