Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Michael Tomasky: Welcome to America's hall of shame

At the British news (paper? foundation?) organization, the Guardian, Michael Tomasky: Welcome to America's hall of shame.

It is an interesting exercise, as the country struggles to throw off the corrupt and incompetent elite, who, at least theoretically, have been ousted from domination of some of the constitutional offices of political power.

The Perfect Storm came, brought political change, and now we are trying to write the moral of the story, the lesson to be learned.

It is telling that this column appears in a British publication, and an independent, non-profit one, at that, rather than an American outlet.

Moral Clarity

The Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip have become an interesting feature of the interregnum, when there's no American President to restrain Israel from ill-considered violence. At the heart of the Israeli justification for its attacks is an echo of the Bush Doctrine, and righteous insistence that what it is doing is morally justifiable, even if the results are gruesome and the strategic rationale is hard to find.

The fundamental derangement of moral analysis of foreign policy and war policy, that Bush brought to full flower, and which was greeted by his supporters as a refreshing "moral clarity" is getting a much needed critique, now, with Israel filling the role of proxy for the U.S.

I'm feeling under the weather (bad cold), so I'm going to be lazy about this, even though I think I ought to be ambitious in documenting what I take to be a very hopeful trend, in advance of the coming to power of a new, more liberal American Administration.

To represent the range of viewpoints, viewpoints I regard as somewhat morally confused, at best, I offer David Bernstein: "Boy, am I already getting tired of hearing this. The basic claim is that since the thousands of rockets that Hamas has lobbed into southern Israel have caused relatively few death and injuries--just some deaths and injuries, along with massive panic, children living in bomb shelters, thousands of shock victims, etc.--Israel has no right to respond with overwhelming force." David, a denizen of Volokh Conspiracy is fairly vicious, but he's bright and mostly rational. Somewhat to his left, Jonathan Zasloff at The Reality-Based Community has the same basic moral hangup, which is Hamas intransigent hostility to Israel's existence.

George Washington's warnings and U.S. policy towards Israel - Glenn Greenwald -

Matthew Yglesias » Problem Solvers:
. . . throwing up our hands and saying “it’s too hard!” isn’t an option. We can decide we don’t want to be involved, which would mean unwinding the ties of collaboration and assistance between the US and Israel, or we can try to play a constructive role in bringing an end to the conflict. I’m not personally sure of how you do that. But I’m quite certain that the first step would be pressing Israel — hard — to stop expanding settlements in the West Bank and start dismantling them. To show to Palestinians interested in a two-state solution (perhaps including some Hamas people or perhaps not) that there’s credibility on the other side. I think Israelis wouldn’t welcome such action by us, but ultimately it would be in their own best interests. On the other hand, those who really do think the best thing for the United States is to just wash our hands of the whole mess have an obligation to really stand behind that belief and urge us to wash our hands of the situation. But just proclaiming a pox on both houses while in practice heavily subsidizing one side isn’t a viable option.

EzraKlein | The American Prospect goes right to the core of moral clarity:
the intellectual clarity of the distinction is so far from the lived experience from the Palestinians as to be meaningless. He says Hamas would kill more children if they could. The Palestinians say the Israelis kill more children. Which is why Israel's attack on Gaza was so unwise. The Palestinians just watched the Israelis slaughter dozens of children, mothers, and other innocents. Protestations that they deserved it because Hamas threatens to kill Israeli innocents will not make sense to them. And so the battle will continue, with Israel's supporters comforting themselves by looking at Hamas's stated intentions and Hamas's supporters justifying themselves by pointing towards the fresh graves of their dead. I don't know how you reconcile the interests of a threatened nation with an occupied one. But you have to start by recognizing the lived experience on both sides, not just one.

This is such an important issue, I wish I was a better blogger, and healthier at the moment, so that I could pull together better this critically important discussion.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lesson of the Day: Stop Being Stupid -

Bob Herbert - ". . . we should stop squandering the nation’s wealth on unnecessary warfare overseas and mindless consumption here at home and start making sensible investments in the well-being of the American people and the long-term health of the economy."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Could that really happen again?

Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of The Washington Post for 17 years, through the Clinton Administration and most of the Bush Administration, recites, "If". Or something equally clueless. Could We Uncover Watergate Today? -
" . . . two young local reporters chasing hunches and scraps of information about a criminal conspiracy involving the highest officials in government, including the president? Could that really happen again?

There's no reason why not, even though so much has changed since 1972. New technology actually makes investigative reporting somewhat easier. We can now use computers and the Internet to search records and other information, and we can use pre-paid cell phones for conversations with confidential sources. Of course, an administration under siege would also have more sophisticated resources for investigating leaks and marshaling counter-attacks in the news media and the blogosphere.

Reporters working today on a story such as Watergate would be unlikely to be left relatively alone, along with their sources, for as long as Bob and Carl were. Now, from day one, the story would be all over the Internet, and hordes of reporters and bloggers would immediately join the chase. The story would become fodder for around-the-clock argument among the blowhards on cable television and the Internet. Opinion polls would be constantly stirring up and measuring the public's reaction.

So the conspiracy and the cover-up would unravel much more quickly -- and their political impact would probably be felt much sooner. Nixon was re-elected five months after the burglary in 1972, and Watergate was not much of an issue during the campaign. That would not happen today.

In an age when the media have been turned upside-down by the biggest shifts in audiences and economic models since the advent of television, my two biggest questions about whether we could still pursue a story like Watergate center on resources and verification. Many Americans, including opinion leaders in Washington and elsewhere, simply didn't or wouldn't believe The Washington Post's reporting about Watergate during its early months -- not until we were joined by the New York Times, Newsweek, CBS News, Judge John J. Sirica, the Senate Watergate committee and the special Watergate prosecutor.

In today's cacophonous media world, in which news, rumor, opinion and infotainment from every kind of source are jumbled together and often presented indiscriminately, how would such an improbable-sounding story ever get verified?

As newsrooms rapidly shrink, will they still have the resources, steadily amassed by newspapers since Watergate, for investigative reporting that takes months and even years of sustained work."

The News Media was handmaiden to the bogus Whitewater scandal, right through impeachment, and completely deaf to one huge Bush scandal after another. Words fail me.

The Rise (and Fall?) of Rove's Republic

Very much worth reading, to put the last twenty years, and maybe the next, in perspective.

Stirling Newberry: The Rise of Rove's Republic

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Dollar Crashes?

Jerome a Paris: "we're getting overwhelming evidence that the 'success' of the Anglo economies in recent years was counterfeit, that GDP growth was fake (even if its increasingly unequal sharing was very real), and that a lot of dollar-based and pound-based value is dubious."

There's some dispute about whether the dollar is really crashing, now. I have my doubts, but little expertise, so I will shrug my shoulders. But, the hard reality is the prosperity of the American economy under Bush has been exposed as a total fraud. The days of the dollar as a reserve currency are numbered, and the risk of massive sloshing about of accumulated dollars and dollar securities is very real.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


digby at Hullabaloo:
"The essential problem is that we all give the press the power to run our politics, both during campaigns and after. We applaud them when they go after those we hate and excoriate them when they go after those we like. And so does the other side. In the end, the media remain in the driver's seat, ginning up controversy and indulging their passion for worthless speculation and scandalmongering. We give them their power by not holding them to a common standard.

I'm as guilty of this as anyone, but I regret it. They are always going to be harder on Democrats than Republicans because there are corporate pressures as well as institutional and social pressures to do so. And frankly, DC Dems just don't have the killer instinct or the establishment clout to put the same kind of "pressure" on the press as the Republicans do. Until the press is reformed it remains an albatross around the neck of the American body politic."

The corporate Media, in all their hideous incompetence, were left unscathed by the fall of Bush in the election of 2008. They were left untouched by the political storm that followed as a consequence of bad policy on every front in the Bush Administration.

The Media were at fault in electing Bush (and defeating Gore). The Media were complicit in promoting the War in Iraq. But, more than anything else, the Media have prevented real scandal and moral outrage from having more of a political effect.

Media reform is critical to the country having a functional political discourse.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Finding the exit

James Hamilton:
"Why does this matter for what we do next? One view of the current situation is that the core problem at the moment is that consumers are too frightened to spend and banks too hamstrung to lend. If that was your view, you might think that the goal of policy is to spur households back into borrowing and banks back into lending. . . . my reaction is that it's neither feasible nor desirable to return to the . . . the low saving and high leverage that we saw in 2005, [which] were an anomalous departure from the likely sustainable steady-state values, and there will be no road that leads back to those from here.

If that's the case, then resuming economic growth requires replacing spending on consumption and residential fixed investment with nonresidential investment and net exports. But charting a course for how to get there is profoundly challenging-- what firm would want to invest in the current environment, and which country is in a position to increase their purchases from us?

So Plan B, at least in the interim, would seem to be an increase in the fraction of GDP devoted to government investment."

Not being able to return to the status quo ante leaves macroeconomic policy with no easy, conventional path forward. It's an ugly world, as Nouriel Roubini points out:
"The latest macroeconomic news from the United States, other advanced economies and emerging markets confirm that the global economy will face a severe recession in 2009. In the United States, the recession started in December 2007, and it will last at least until December 2009 -- the longest and deepest U.S. recession since World War II. By the time it is over, the cumulative fall in gross domestic product could easily exceed 5 percent. . .

With a global recession and fall in aggregate demand a near certainty, deflation -- rather than inflation -- will become the main concern for policy-makers. Rising unemployment rates will cap wage and labor costs, and further falls in commodity prices -- already down 30 percent from their summer peaks -- will only add to these deflationary pressures.

Policy-makers will have to worry about a strange beast called "stag-deflation" -- a recessionary combination of economic stagnation and deflation. . . .

Likewise, with household consumption and business investment collapsing, governments will soon become the spenders of first and only resort, stimulating demand and rescuing banks, firms and households. The long-term consequences of the resulting surge in fiscal deficits are serious. If the deficits are monetized by central banks, inflation will follow the short-term deflationary pressures. If they are financed by debt, the long-term solvency of some governments may be at stake unless medium-term fiscal discipline is restored.

Nevertheless, in the short run, very aggressive monetary and fiscal policy actions -- both traditional and nontraditional -- must be undertaken to ensure that the inevitable stag-deflation of 2009 does not persist into 2010 and beyond."

Politically, the turnover among Senate Democrats brought about by Obama's cabinet appointments means that the 2010 mid-term elections have considerable potential to bring back the idiot Republicans back to power in short order, if they fall short thru timidity or other unwisdom.

As far as I can tell, the American People have, by a margin of 7% or so decided, after the unfortunate experiment with George W. Bush, to give liberalism (at least the weak tea version of centrist, plutocrat-friendly Democratic Party liberalism represented by Obama) its chance, but Plan B, being readied as an alternative by the Republicans is an ugly American fascism, where the poor, gay marriage, reality and logical thought are the enemy. Its a narrow window of opportunity, politically for what must be an economic policy of the long-term.

In that light, Free exchange at labels James Hamilton's advice as Do Not Resusitate, and offers this sage observation:
"[Hamilton's observations] would seem to get at the heart of the various stimulus proposals. Some would have the government cut taxes, in an effort to boost private consumption or investment. As Mr Hamilton notes, however, we don't simply want to return consumption to previous, unsustainable levels. And savings rates are already quite high; new private saving would simpy add more money to the piles of reserves sitting limply in bank vaults, held there by terrified lenders. And then there's infrastructure spending.

It's interesting; much of the comparison of different stimulus options has focused on multipliers. But that variable alone leaves important variables out, namely, the state of the economy upon recovery. It could be poised for additional, and painful, adjustments of lingering imbalances. Or it could be buoyed by long-term investments made while borrowing is cheap. This seems like something worth considering."

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Seven Deadly Deficits

Joe Stiglitz:
"The good news about today's bad economic news is that we're being forced to curb our material consumption. If we do it in the right way, it will help limit global warming and may even force the realization that a truly high standard of living might entail more leisure, not just more material goods.

The laws of nature and the laws of economics are unforgiving. We can abuse our environment, but only for a while. We can spend beyond our means, but only for a while. We can free ride on the investments made in the past, but only for a while. Even the richest country in the world ignores the laws of nature and the laws of economics at its peril."

What If the Analogy is Wrong?

Economist's View: Fed Watch: What If the Analogy is Wrong?: "the coming massive US policy response is a desperate attempt to maintain a global economic structure that is fundamentally broken."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Domestic Transformation

Charles Krauthammer:
"Obama has the political power that comes from a smashing electoral victory. It not only gave him a personal mandate. It increased Democratic majorities in both houses, thereby demonstrating coattails and giving him clout. And by running on nothing much more than change and (often contradictory) hopes, he has given himself enormous freedom of action.

Obama was quite serious when he said he was going to change the world. And now he has a national crisis, a personal mandate, a pliant Congress, a desperate public -- and, at his disposal, the greatest pot of money in galactic history. (I include here the extrasolar planets.)

It begins with a near $1 trillion stimulus package. This is where Obama will show himself ideologically. It is his one great opportunity to plant the seeds for everything he cares about: a new green economy, universal health care, a labor resurgence, government as benevolent private-sector "partner." The first hint came yesterday, when Obama claimed, "If we want to overcome our economic challenges, we must also finally address our health care challenge" -- the perfect non sequitur that gives carte blanche to whatever health-care reform and spending the Obama team dreams up. It is the community organizer's ultimate dream.
. . . .

With the country clamoring for action and with all psychological barriers to government intervention obliterated (by the conservative party, no less), the stage is set for a young, ambitious, supremely confident president -- who sees himself as a world-historical figure before even having been sworn in -- to begin a restructuring of the American economy and the forging of a new relationship between government and people.

Don't be fooled by Bob Gates staying on. Obama didn't get elected to manage Afghanistan. He intends to transform America. And he has the money, the mandate and the moxie to go for it."

Ordinarily, I regard Krauthammer as borderline insane, but, in madness there is truth, and we live in hope. Maybe he's correct this time. Let's hope so.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Could Detroit Trigger a New Global Meltdown? - The Daily Beast

Steven R. Weisman - The Daily Beast: "Could Detroit Trigger a New Global Meltdown?"

Not an interesting article, really, and personally, I would be more worried about a domestic meltdown, but, yeah, a GM bankruptcy would be a devastating thing, with highly unpredictable knock-on effects in the present fragile economy.

Conventional Wisdom

Kevin Drum - Mother Jones Blog: Obama and Afghanistan: "This has now become conventional wisdom: the real problem is Pakistan. So far, however, in the same way that plans for rescuing General Motors rely mostly on handwaving about 'restructuring,' plans for solving the Pakistan problem rely mostly on handwaving about 'getting tough.' Unfortunately, hardnosed details on how this is actually going to work are pretty thin on the ground. If Obama wants public support for an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, his national security team better start providing those details pretty quickly."

The conventional wisdom on many of the country's problems is empty of critical thought. We've come to the point, where mere poses pass as policy advocacy. The parallel between Pakistan and General Motors covers a great breadth and depth of inanity.

It might be noted that the Bush Administration pretty much ignored both problems for eight years. Michigan has been in an economic depression for years. General Motors was losing buckets of money several years ago. And, Pakistan? Long before the "Axis of Evil" speech focused attention elsewhere, it was obvious that Pakistan was the principal source of nuclear proliferation, as well as the sponsor of the Taliban in Afganistan, among other sins.

But, the deeper problem, imho, is the complete absence of critical analysis and elementary fact verification in discussing these issues. It is all handwaving and dramatic poses -- that's all there is: attitude.

Presidents and the economy

One of the obstacles to accountability in politics is the adamant refusal of some pundits and academics to admit that politics has something to do with policy, and policy has consequences.

The increasing concern with income inequality has combined with the recognition that Democrats and Republicans are on opposite sides of a whole variety of issues that touch on income growth and stability. Duh.

But, progress in accepting reality runs up against strong prejudice in the form of what Andrew Gelman calls: "the general sense that presidents don't have much control over the economy"

\Gelman reflects on his own attitudes: "in 2006, I wrote, 'since 2000, we've returned to the general attitude that both parties have essential competence but have different goals. . . . we're used to thinking of presidents as fairly powerless surfers on the global economy, able to tinker with tax rates but not much more. . .' Things sure have changed in 2 1/2 years!"

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Are Our Children Learning, Yet?

digby at Hullabaloo: "Democrats are working very hard to discredit the very concept of ideology in favor of technocratic competence. And I would guess most Americans find that to be something of a relief by now. But I think it's as much a mistake to sweep this under the rug as it is to let bygones be bygones on the torture regime. There is ideology and then there is ideology and people should know the difference. These dogmatic deregulators and market fundamentalists ran a decades long experiment that failed on an epic scale. If the country doesn't understand what went wrong here -- if they get confused by complexity and propaganda --- there is every reason that the free lunch mentality these ideologues promoted will make a comeback the minute we see the light at the end of the tunnel. Ideology matters." and the first Obama scandal

How tall was King Kong? Correct answer: 13.5 inches

We've just had the genuine perfect political storm -- the inevitable blowback from abysmally bad policymaking creating a political backlash against bad politicians and bad political ideas, complete with failed wars and a collapsing economy, not to mention successful terror attacks and failed response to natural diaster. Now comes the synthetic political storm -- the hollywood sound stage version, created in miniature, with a fictional script, but videotaped with dramatic music and voiceover narration.

digby at Hullabaloo examines the's plan for the first of the Obama scandals:
"There you have it. The call to 'release documents.' The anonymous Democratic backstabber. The Republicans insisting on keeping the prosecutor (as if anyone's suggested anything different.) The thinly veiled accusation of stone walling.

This story seems to have hit at a perfect moment, when the press and the country are bored with bad news. So, perhaps it really will have legs. It's hard for me to see that, but the press is reporting this as if they are innocent bystanders when they are the one's trafficking in rumor and innuendo, so I'm not quite as sanguine as I was yesterday.

The question will be if the new president's enemies have any ability to keep the press fed. In that regard, Fitzgerald is a poor choice. He doesn't leak. Not that it will stop them from making stuff up."

The is staffed by journalists, who first achieved professional prominence manufacturing Clinton scandals in 1996-97. So, this shouldn't be a surprise. But, we will rue the day that the perfect political storm of 2008 stopped short of sweeping away the corrupt, incompetent Media establishment.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Capitalist Fools!

Joseph E. Stiglitz learns from the Perfect Storm:
"Was there any single decision which, had it been reversed, would have changed the course of history? Every decision—including decisions not to do something, as many of our bad economic decisions have been—is a consequence of prior decisions, an interlinked web stretching from the distant past into the future. You’ll hear some on the right point to certain actions by the government itself—such as the Community Reinvestment Act, which requires banks to make mortgage money available in low-income neighborhoods. (Defaults on C.R.A. lending were actually much lower than on other lending.) There has been much finger-pointing at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two huge mortgage lenders, which were originally government-owned. But in fact they came late to the subprime game, and their problem was similar to that of the private sector: their C.E.O.’s had the same perverse incentive to indulge in gambling.

The truth is most of the individual mistakes boil down to just one: a belief that markets are self-adjusting and that the role of government should be minimal. Looking back at that belief during hearings this fall on Capitol Hill, Alan Greenspan said out loud, “I have found a flaw.” Congressman Henry Waxman pushed him, responding, “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right; it was not working.” “Absolutely, precisely,” Greenspan said. The embrace by America—and much of the rest of the world—of this flawed economic philosophy made it inevitable that we would eventually arrive at the place we are today."

hattip to Mark Thoma and Economist's View

A National Disaster

CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider: "'An Obama job approval rating of 79 percent! That’s the sort of rating you see when the public rallies around a leader after a national disaster. To many Americans, the Bush Administration was a national disaster.'"

Hattip to Steve Benen

Monday, December 8, 2008

Trouble in the Obama Coalition

Obama's election was the climax of a process of political realignment in the U.S. Not so much a realignment of the Parties, as a realignment of the governing leadership.

The gradual morphing of governing coalitions is a constant in American politics. In 1992, Ross Perot stepped in from the center-Right and opened the door to Bill Clinton's President. Clinton was the last representative of the strategy of Democrats putting forward a relatively conservative, while Southerner to lead a Party that was increasingly liberal and non-white and culturally anti-Southern. Clinton was popular, but never got an electoral majority, and I am not one of those, who think Perot drew support from both Parties -- Perot drew away "independents" who would have voted Republican on election day, no matter what they may have told pollsters.

The 1994 Gingrich revolution was not just the triumph of the Republican Party, it signalled the triumph of the reactionary wing of the Republican Party. The post-WWII Republican Party was an alliance between conservatives and reactionaries, in which the reactionaries were mostly kept hidden. The experience of Goldwater in 1964 convinced many that the reactionaries were electoral poison, and, well in the 1970's and 1980's, a fair number of reactionaries were still voting Democratic for historical and cultural reasons. The "Southern Strategy" and the appeal to blue-collar, Irish-catholic "Reagan Democrats" gradually consolidated the reactionaries in the Republican Party. In the meantime, moderate, rational secular Republicans -- the realistic "liberal Republicans" like Nelson Rockefeller and Tom Dewey and moderates like Gerald Ford and Bob Dole, were becoming an increasingly extinct species. Gingrich's triumph signalled the ascendancy of reactionaries to the leadership of the Republican Party; the business wing stayed around to reap the benefits, but leadership in governance was in the hands of Tom DeLay, not Bob Michel.

The ascendancy of reactionary leadership in the Republican Party would continue, and was reinforced by the selection of George W. Bush as President, and Karl Rove's discovery that "the base" -- the authoritarian conservative Christian base -- could be motivated to vote in large enough numbers to win elections on the national level.

Governance in the U.S. since 1968, and even before, has been a "bi-partisan" affair. In FDR's World War II, bi-partisanship was national unity, and it was also a way to isolate the reactionaries and crazies, who were divided between the Parties. LBJ was still doing that to isolate the white supremacists in the Democratic Party, by working with liberal and moderate Republicans, to manage a centrist foreign policy and advance civil rights. Nixon and Reagan turned it around, and got into the habit of peeling off conservative Democrats in Congress to create majorities for conservative Republican economic programs. Bush enjoyed the support of corrupt, conservative Blue Dog Democrats.

Consigned to minority status, the Democratic Party became more purely ideologically liberal or progressive. But, the experience of Bush's Presidency, and its accelerating corruption and incompetence opened an opportunity to create a governing coalition in the Democratic Party, consisting of the progressive base, married to a moderate/conservative center. Obama was a master at cultivating an appeal to that moderate, secular pro-business segment of the political elite, which was disgusted with the Republican Right and ready to move into the Democratic Party.

The Democrats have a governing majority because the secular, rational, pro-business conservatives have moved into the Democratic Party from the Republican Party. And, because the liberals and progressives in the Democratic Party just managed to keep the Democratic Party a credible alternative to the Republicans, during the years when the moderates and conservatives in the Democratic Party were lending support to every crazy, stupid policy Bush proposed.

In other words, the Democrats, are, today, a governing Party coalition of liberals and progressives with moderate conservatives. Ideology in the Democratic Party is a two mode distribution. And, the Democrats got there, by, first, a long period in the wilderness, during which the progressive half of the Party was right about everything, preserving the Democrats as a viable alternative, despite the best efforts of Hillary Clinton and others to the contrary, and, second, by the willingness of principled, secular conservatives to migrate into the Democratic Party.

The struggle, now, is over who will lead in the dance between liberals and moderates in the Democrats' governing coalition. Will this be progressives leading conservatives? Or, moderates tolerating liberals along for the ride?

But, there are tensions.

Steve Hildebrand: A Message to Obama's Progressive Critics: "This is not a time for the left wing of our Party to draw conclusions about the Cabinet and White House appointments that President-Elect Obama is making. Some believe the appointments generally aren't progressive enough. Having worked with former Senator Obama for the last two years, I can tell you, that isn't the way he thinks and it's not likely the way he will lead. The problems I mentioned above and the many I didn't, suggest that our president surround himself with the most qualified people to address these challenges. After all, he was elected to be the president of all the people - not just those on the left."

Open Left:: Mandate Watch: Were Democrats Elected to Attack "The Left?" Part II:
"Most progressives questioning Obama have done so rather gently, and have done so on the pragmatic substance. For instance, people wondering about the appointment of Larry Summers to a top economic position in the White House have wondered whether it's such a good idea to empower an ideological free market fundamentalist (pro-free trade, pro-deregulation) whose policies as Bill Clinton's Treasury Secretary played a major role in creating the economic crisis. That is, most have wondered why Obama thinks that kind of ideologue is 'the most qualified person' to deal with our economic situation, rather than, say, a pragmatist like James Galbraith or Joseph Stiglitz who has been right all along."

Same thing for progressives concerned about the Iraq War. They have wondered whether the ideologues who got us into the war - who got us into the war on wholly ideological and non-pragmatic grounds - are really "the most qualified people" to get us out of that war. They believe that perhaps the pragmatists who opposed the war on the basis of a factual analysis of intelligence might be better suited to the task.

Are such questions really the inappropriate queries of a bunch of radical revolutionaries from "the left?" Or are the real fringe radicals - the real ideologues - those who say that we should all STFU and bow down to the Dear Leader? I think the latter, not the former - and I think Democrats (and especially the Obama team) who rightly protested Republican efforts to tar and feather Obama as a "socialist" should know better than to echo such silly, fact-free talking points. . . .

Last I checked, "the left wing of the Democratic Party" forced Democrats to take a stronger position against the war in 2006 and that was the key reason Democrats won Congress that year. Last I checked, "the left wing of the Democratic Party" has been the only voice in America that has been right all along in demanding more fair economic policies, an end to the war, better environmental laws, better diplomacy, etc. That is, as opposed to the Very Serious and Very Important D.C. elite who have been doggedly pursuing ideological ends, it has been "the left wing of the Democratic Party" whose policy demands have long been the most pragmatic, the most correct, and now not just positions held by those on "the left" but positions held by the vast majority of America.

Indeed, post-election polls suggest that because "the left wing of the Democratic Party" has been proven correct, Democrats are now in power.

digby at Hullabaloo on Hildebrand's letter: "Instead of writing a letter to, say, the actual people that are going to obstruct Obama's agenda, like the ones who will filibuster the auto industry rescue, Hildebrand finds it important to break up all gatherings of five hippies in a field. That's important to the survival of the nation. That's worth the effort."

TPM Election Central | Talking Points Memo | Top Obama Adviser Hits "The Left Wing Of Our Party" For Criticizing Cabinet Picks: "Really, one has to ask if Hildebrand is really trying to reassure 'the left wing of our party,' or whether he's trying to stir them up further out of some unknown political calculation or other. After all, many on 'the left' have also made Hildebrand's point: They've noted that Obama should be allowed to let his actual policies do the talking, while simultaneously asking completely legit questions about what his choices portend about the future direction of his administration. If merely asking such questions is enough to incite an attack on 'the left' from someone in Obama's inner circle, it seems reasonable to conclude that the motive here isn't to mend fences at all."

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Atrios links to Calculated Risk links to Charlie Rose interviewing Nassim Taleb: "Dr. Doom is an optimist!"

The basic message: "It is going to happen very quickly. It's going to be a lot worse."

Signs of the Apocalypse

In Hard Times, Is Best Buy’s Best Good Enough? -
“Out of this storm comes new operating models,” Mr. Dunn says. “The ecosystem is going to change. We see storefronts closing.”

For now, though, Best Buy has a potent weapon in its battle with the discounters and online sellers: its staff. Members of Best Buy’s sales staff, a k a “Blue Shirts,” go through a 20-hour training program, then spend two weeks shadowing an experienced sales staff member around the floor. Historically, the Best Buy training program has been so strong, some people in the industry say, that competitors often waited for Best Buy to let staff go after Christmas, and then snap them up.

Ms. Di Folco, the actress, says: “Most of the time, I find really informed people who can actually answer my questions. It’s like they seem to be electronic junkies versus kids wasting time at a part-time job they don’t enjoy.”

Its sales force may give Best Buy a competitive advantage even in a holiday season when many customers are interested in rock-bottom prices.

“The importance of the salesperson is directly related to the price of the product being sold,” says Chris Denove, vice president at J. D. Power & Associates, the consumer research firm. “If you’re talking about toothpaste or pencils, the salesperson is immaterial, but when you’re talking about high-end electronics such as flat screen TVs, the salesperson can be critical.”

20 hours of "training" is now an historically strong training program, and Best Buy's staff leads the industry. Good lord!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Into the Pit of Darkness

Econbrowser: The auto downturn is very serious: "The wrenching changes that might be immediately ahead could mark the beginning of a frightening new phase in the economic downturn."