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January 2009 Archives

January 1, 2009

The bride of Jerry Lewis

I avoid the Mini-Me beat like a kerchief avoids the nose, but a comment here, among the rubble of Gaza, about a piece of gabble by Rachel Maddow -- the smirking success story shown at left -- hit a nerve.

Seems I retain some live ones even after all these years on the back burner.

It wasn't the combo of topic and talent that sent my higher fibers to zinging. It was just the damn talent herself ...it's like Curly hearing "Niagara Falls." Slowly I turn ... step by step ...

This lady of the lake originally got my goat over the holidays. I'm not a MSNBC watcher, so until the recent Yule season, I hadn't any notion that such as she existed on TV outside Sitcomville.

It was pure chance I happened upon her and her regularly cablecasted show. I was -- in all innocence and playfulness -- hunting in vain for what's his name, Keith Guberman or Luberman or whatever, inspired by a SNL skit.

But that's another story. At any rate I found this princess of whitebread self-satisfied fatuity instead, and what a rumpus she did make within my cerebrum.

Tell me, dear friends of SMBIVA, what in hell's bells is it about this pear of a wit that could possibly command an audience of any dimension? There are chef shows on the food network with more charisma in their sauce pans.

But that by itself, I hope, is not enough to set the neurons abuzz in my ghost box. No, it's ... well, I can't get my N-dimensional perceptron all the way around it actually, but suffice it to say Jerry Lewis now has a nonconsenting bedmate. She does to today what poor Telethon Jerry did to the 70s.

Wally Shawn: much smarter than Ehud Olmert

A recent piece by actor Wallace Shawn in The Nation is quite typical of much well-meaning but imbecile commentary, by American liberals, on the Middle East:

It is not rational to believe that the Palestinians in the occupied territories will be terrorized by force and violence, by cruelty, by starvation or by slaughter into a docile acceptance of the Israeli occupation. There is no evidence that that could possibly happen and mountains of evidence to the contrary.
I call this the Insanity Defense. What's happened to those Israelis? They're acting... crazy! Wally would rather believe that they've somehow gone off the rails than that they cold-bloodedly mean, and always have meant, to exterminate or chase away a whole people and take their land.

In fact they are acting, of course, under the plain ineluctable logic of Zionism, as clearly foreseen and bluntly articulated by Jabotinsky and Herzl and Ben-Gurion. They've acted on this logic for, what, three generations now, and made steady progress. Who exactly is going to stop them? Why should they fear that anyone might?

(Do you think they're worried about Obama? Puh-leeze.)

Benny Morris -- recently granted an exceptionally ample spot on the New York Times op-ed page -- has famously argued that the Palestinians are to the Israelis as, say, the Iroquois are to the Americans. History, to the defeated, may say alas but cannot help or pardon -- as the man said.

This is a deeply repellent and revolting argument, but face it, Wally: there's nothing irrational about it.

It's what all those Israel Bonds went to support. What did you think?

January 2, 2009


Here's a cogent comment on an earlier post:

Michael: you may be mistaking the final objective of Greater Israel with the partial objective of the current invasion of hurting Hamas, destroying its policing and aid-delivering abilities, deligitimizing it and reducing it to a complicit organization like Fatah. This is a hypothesis, and the strategy may not work, but it's not just a liberal delusion. See [Uri Avnery's] lead article on Counterpunch today.
Uri Avnery is a lot more sensible than Wally Shawn, and probably is in fact more intelligent than Ehud Olmert. And the piece is well worth reading. But there's still an odd line of reasoning in it:
Hamas has now become the current Satan, and the PLO is considered by many in Israel almost as a branch of the Zionist organization. The logical conclusion for an Israeli government seeking peace would have been to make wide-ranging concessions to the Fatah leadership: ending of the occupation, signing of a peace treaty, foundation of the State of Palestine, withdrawal to the 1967 borders, a reasonable solution of the refugee problem, release of all Palestinian prisoners. That would have arrested the rise of Hamas for sure.

But logic has little influence on politics.

"The logical conclusion for an Israeli government seeking peace" -- but they're not seeking peace. They're seeking victory on the classical Zionist terms, whether that means actual expulsion and/or slaughter of the Palestinians, or their subjugation into the complete powerlessness and non-resistance that characterizes an Indian reservation here at home (one of Benny Morris' favorite points of reference, by the way).

Avnery apparently thinks they may be sowing the wind and will reap the whirlwind, which may be true or may not. What, after all, would happen if they did frogmarch all the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians into Jordan and Egypt respectively? Would there actually be a price to pay, sooner or even later? One would hope so; but they might well get away with it. They've gotten away with a lot. Who's to say that won't continue?

Avnery also suggests that the Gaza campaign will turn into a repeat of the recent Lebanon debacle. Again, it might or it might not. Gaza's a lot smaller than Lebanon and Hamas, with all respect, is not yet on a par with Hezbollah. Taking calculated risks is what politicians and generals do for a living.

Avnery also points out -- correctly, I'm sure -- that this Gaza stunt is partly driven by the upcoming Israeli elections. But given the chauvinistic and bloody-minded theater of cruelty that constitutes Israeli political culture, this too is anything but illogical.

The point that seems important to me is that behavior like this, far from being illogical, is ineluctable. It's absolutely implicit in the whole Zionist project. What's illogical is the yesbutnik stance: Yes to the basic Zionist undertaking, but but but -- play nice!

* * * * *

By the way, that's Vladimir Jabotinsky shown above on an Israeli banknote. Benny Morris might say -- and he'd have a point -- that this is much like us Amurricans putting Indian exterminator Andrew Jackson on ours.

January 3, 2009

Considerably less evil than Satan

Hendrik Hertzberg contemplates Rick Warren and finds him less awful than Pat Robertson and James Dobson.

It would be hard to set the bar much lower. I suppose one could use Reverend Moon... In any event, on the risky assumption that the effort to elect Obama contained some smidgen of a hope that his election would advance liberalism, liberals are bound to be feel some disappointment at being presented with yet another leader whose strategy for advancing liberalism is the same tired, feckless, pointless and insulting tactic of cozying up to right wing cranks. In response to the disappointment, the liberal commentariat immediately scrapes the bottom of the rhetorical barrel. They've got nothing, already, but the comfort of crude relativism. The eight years they just spent inveighing against the futility of accommodationism, the stern admonitions against it, their dismay at eight years of Democratic "spinelessness", all forgotten. And Obama has yet to take office. Mark my words: they'll be biting the heads off chickens by the midterms.

There may be a golden opportunity in this for the Lakoffians. Hundreds of thousands of bewildered liberals are going to need soothing and perception adjustment. It's a Big Job, calling for cognitive policy. It needs someone who can say "It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again" in a way that doesn't cause too much upset.

Then as now

Never say our rulers aren't consistent. Here's fifty years of social control in a nutshell.

Alan Greenspan, 2007:

“I was aware that the loosening of mortgage credit terms for subprime borrowers increased financial risk, and that subsidised home ownership initiatives distort market outcomes. But I believed then, as now, that .... Protection of property rights, so critical to a market economy, requires a critical mass of owners to sustain political support.”
William Levitt (of Levittown), circa 1957:
"No man who owns his own house and lot can be a Communist -- he has too much to do."

January 4, 2009

Missing in action

The Gaza massacre is now in its ninth day. The boots are on the ground.

And the man shown above, usually so articulate and eloquent, remains mute.

Cat got your tongue, Obie?

January 5, 2009

Drones real and metaphorical

The rather gripping lede of a report today from Gaza by Safwat al-Kahlout in the Christian Science Monitor reads, "The Israeli drones are driving me crazy."

Me too, Safwat. Here's Daily Kos hero senator Harry Reid, on Meet The Press:

GREGORY: Let me ask you about the ground invasion into Gaza. Do you think on the part of this Israeli -- of the Israelis this was offensive or defensive?

REID: ... Let’s understand the background. For eight years they’ve been firing rockets into Israel. They’ve become more intense the last few months. Israelis have been killed, maimed and injured. Sometimes more than 200 a day coming into Israel.

If this were going on in the United States from Vancouver, Canada, into Seattle, would we react? Of course we do. [T]his terrorist organization, Hamas, has got to be put away....

GREGORY: And they’re in power in the West Bank.

REID: That’s right. and Israel, for -- since 1967, controlled Gaza. They gave it to the Palestinians as a gesture of peace. And all they got are a bunch of rockets in return.

GREGORY: So you think that Israel ought to move forward and try to remove Hamas from power?

REID: They have to....

GREGORY: Should there be an immediate cease-fire?

REID: If the Hamas organization will agree and there is some degree of certainty that they will follow through.... Otherwise, Israel has to continue till they stop the rockets and mortars coming into Israel, maiming, injuring...


REID: ... and killing Israelis.

GREGORY: So you’re in sync with the Bush administration on this point?

REID: Yes, I am.

Of course one expects Democratic politicians to slavishly regurgitate whatever the Israeli propaganda ministry scripts for 'em. But I have to admit, sometimes their grinning dog-faced shamelessness takes my breath away.

What? Labor? Sold Out? AGAIN?!

Belate-o-gram from the institutionalized class struggle:

Seems alas our top union mugs' beloved card check instant-organizing formula is heading for a fall, right off the senate docket, despite the piecards' massive dough and get-out-the-vote action this fall.

As GOP sandstorm Kim Stifle, er Straffel, shown left, puts it:

"It hasn't been much noticed, but the political ground is already shifting under Big Labor's card-check initiative. The unions poured unprecedented money and manpower into getting Democrats elected; their payoff was supposed to be a bill that would allow them to intimidate more workers into joining unions...."

For example, behold this Democratic water buffalo from the Duchy of Walmart, Senator Mark Pryor, shown left, who's got a fairly standard aisle double cross in the making. Again, Mizz Strassel sums it up for us:

"In 2007, Mr. Pryor voted to move card check, Big Labor's No. 1 priority. And why not? Mr. Pryor knew the GOP would block the bill, which gets rid of secret ballots in union elections. Besides, his support helped guarantee labor wouldn't field a challenger to him in the primary. Postelection, Mr. Pryor isn't so committed. He's indicated he wouldn't co-sponsor the legislation again. He says he'd like to find common ground between labor and business. He is telling people the bill isn't on a Senate fast-track, anyway."
One recalls the old line -- "honest pols stay bought" -- with a slow shake of the head.

Ahh, 'tis a low age of official progress we traverse. But still! Change awaits her cue in the wings.

Methinks 'twill take tons of Father Smiff's induced traffic jams on the corporate highways to bring her forth, though.

Elephant cover

"The fact is that recent economic numbers have been terrifying, not just in the United States but around the world. Manufacturing, in particular, is plunging everywhere. Banks aren’t lending; businesses and consumers aren’t spending. Let’s not mince words: This looks an awful lot like the beginning of a second Great Depression."
Thus saith Paul K of Times Square.

Again and again our man Kruggles of Rouge Gap -- butler to the thinking elite -- yelps into the gathering whirlwind his deepest-felt fear:

"I’m sure that Congress will pass a stimulus plan, but I worry that the plan may be delayed and/or downsized...."
... and by whom?

Why those terrible, awful, no good, very bad Republicans, of course:

"Look, Republicans are not going to come on board. Make 40% of the package tax cuts, they’ll demand 100%. Then they’ll start the thing about how you can’t cut taxes on people who don’t pay taxes (with only income taxes counting, of course) and demand that the plan focus on the affluent. Then they’ll demand cuts in corporate taxes. And Mitch McConnell is already saying that state and local governments should get loans, not aid — which would undermine that part of the plan, too."
Damn! These ruthless head table Dembos and their wise minions like Paul the K are willing to use the puffy bodies of just any old Repub from Babbit, Babbit and Bull as their "human shield" when they screw us -- as they surely will.

Argggh. It's a tactic worthy of ... Hamas!

Send in the clowns

Apparently the ballot-counters in Minnesota have declared Al Franken the victor in the Senate race there. This doesn't end the story -- the Republican will sue, and Franken's margin of victory is a matter of a few hundred votes.

Still, I hope he ends up going to Washington and serving a term. He'll be much funnier in the Senate than in his former career.

Strange place, Minnesota, where some few sparks of the old populist flame still faintly glow; but ever since the Democrats swallowed up the Farmer-Labor Party during the mid-40s revanche, the net effect of this honorable but threadbare legacy is to make Democratic candidates slightly more hypocritical -- during election season -- than they are in less favored states.

Along these lines, Franken really makes a perfect successor to another Minnesota clown, one of the original architects of the Democratic Anschluss of the FLP, shown below with a remarkably Strangelovian Werner von Braun:

January 7, 2009

"We calm and reassure...." (*)

This marvelous item came to my attention via Charles Andrews at the Monthly Review web site:

No Need to March, Says Obama Adviser

Valerie Jarrett, who will likely become a household name very shortly as she serves as a senior adviser and public liaison for President Barack Obama, says the landscape of activism may drastically change under an Obama administration as those who have traditionally fought to be heard will likely have seats at the table.

“You do not need to have demonstrations in front of the White House.... The campaign stood for change. It stood for a grassroots, bottom-up drive toward a better country. That does not have to be confrontational. It can be engaging....

[Obama's] strategy is, ‘Look if we all come to the table and we have a common goal of trying to solve a problem, there’s no end to what ordinary people can do....’”

Jarrett, [the] CEO of a real estate development and management company who’s already called the “first friend” to the Obamas, has not ruled out the possibility of even Jackson and Sharpton at the table in the White House.

Gasp! Even Jackson and Sharpton? Oh man, this is like, epoch-making. Bottom rail on top dis time, as the chap said to President Lincoln.

Meditate for a moment on this carefully crafted expression:

If we all come to the table and we have a common goal of trying to solve a problem...
If indeed. But what if some of the people at the table are the problem? Like f'rinstance -- the CEO of a... real estate company?!

Oh well, leave it to the magic man. Meanwhile, kick back, revel in the general glow of changiness, and pay no attention to the news.


(*) You remember the rest:

"... We embrace people with the message that we're all in it together. Our leaders are infallible and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong..."
-- the sinister Miles Drentell, memorable villain in the mostly forgettable TV show "Thirtysomething."

I didn't publish this photo...

... The New York Times did. So you guys from the ADL, don't call me; address your complaints to Pinch Sulzberger.

I have to admit, though: it made me laugh, in a characteristically saturnine way.

Gibbon, schmibbon

"We’re just one big seamless pay-to-play nation going the way of ancient Rome at an astonishing clip."
That's Pam Martens at Counterpunch, doing some asiding whilst running us all past the latest developments in the nation's Madoff moment.

Lines like that are a commonplace these days, aren't they? Cato-esque folks like to compare Uncle's present global hegemonion to that greatest of all occidental Imperia.

But even if we indeed are taking the Romish way to empire, why the fast decline bit? If FDR is our Octavian (shown above), then we got, what? 350 pretty damn good years of killin' and maimin' ahead of us. Oh, there'll be your basic ups and downs, sure, your Elagabalus-es and your Vespasians. But why all this hell-in-a-handbasket shit?

It's all pure hysterics. No, comrades, we'd best dig in for the duration -- maybe for the next score of generations. The Knievel Empire has a long run still ahead of herself as She-who-must-be-obeyed on the planetary daredevil circuit.

The good, the bad, and the pliable

-- Hello, I am Quisling.
-- Of course. And your name?

Thus Glenn Kessler in the Washpost:

Unintended Consequences Pose Risks for Mideast Policy
Obama Breaks His Silence, Vows to Work for Peace Deal

... After days of studied silence on the Gaza conflict, Obama promised yesterday "to hit the ground running" on achieving a broad Middle East peace deal.

"We are going to engage effectively and consistently in trying to resolve the conflicts that exist in the Middle East," he told reporters, adding that "the loss of civilian life in Gaza and Israel is a source of deep concern to me, and after January 20th I am going to have plenty to say about the issue."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to the United Nations yesterday to meet with Arab and European diplomats on possible terms of a truce, pressing the Bush administration's case that a cease-fire must be permanent and not grant Hamas the ability to rebuild its military arsenal. There is little indication that Obama and his team differ significantly from that approach.

Obama's a wonderful man: he can talk and talk without saying anything. This particular breach of silence amounts to a continuation of silence by other means.

The Kessler piece is rather interesting actually. It suggests that Israel's immediate goal in Gaza is to weaken Hamas politically enough for the quislings of Fatah to take control there and run the place for Israel's benefit, as they now do in the West Bank. In other words, this is a war for -- Fatah!

It's not as crazy as it sounds. And Kessler is undoubtedly right, too, that Obie is right on board this Bantustan/Petain strategy and the rivers of gore that will flow to float it.

January 8, 2009

The shit-eating US Senate

We shouldn't over-revere the Founding Fathers. Still, they built well, according to their lights. The US Senate, for example, was meant to be a bulwark against the dire peril of democracy, and it has served that purpose admirably. To that extent, the old boys in the wigs, wherever they may have gone, can be justifiably proud of their achievement.

But wouldn't they be a little embarrassed by the abject, cringing, servile boot-licking, and the gibbering, depraved, self-imposed and self-embraced imbecility that characterizes the Upper House in our day.?

Today's Senate resolution cheering on Israel's barbarities in Gaza(*) gives us a fine exemplum of Auden's lines --

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face;
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.
Connoisseurs of Doublespeak will find much to enjoy in this document. I'm not quite sure what my own favorite bit is, but this passage is a strong contender:
[The Senate encourages] the President to work actively to support a durable, enforceable, and sustainable cease-fire in Gaza, as soon as possible, that prevents Hamas from retaining or rebuilding the capability to launch rockets and mortars....
In other words: "cease-fire" just got redefined as "Israeli victory."


(*) Passed unanimously; Democrats and Republicans alike scrambled like Filene's shoppers for the privilege of fellating the Israel Lobby.

January 9, 2009

Obama(tm), the franchise

A good friend of mine contributed rather generously to the Obama campaign. (She's feeling a little sheepish about it now, I think, but still isn't ready to say so.) For her pains, she got a few hours of undoubted euphoria on Election Night, and then, today, her mailbox contained an "invitation" to "attend" the Inauguration -- which you didn't need an invitation to do, last time I went to one. (Nixon, '69. I wore a gorilla suit.)

We'll get to the invitation in a moment. What rather shocked my friend -- and delights me more than I can tell you -- was a little ugly smudgy gray-printed brochure, included with the pompous "invitation" itself. Here's the brochure's first page:

You can see all the pages here, if you have a mean sense of humor.

If not, perhaps you'd like to hear about some of the items being offered, as we "celebrate this historic event in US history"? (Think of that: a historic event -- in history, yet!)

But no, I can't do it. I look through the dismal kitsch on offer -- who, In God's name, and in what Prozacked twilight of the mind, designed that butt-ugly poster on the first page? -- and all I can think of is stuff that ought to be there and isn't. The Dead Palestinian Beanie Baby. Strictly limited to a few thousand per year!

Here's the "invitation" itself, in all its spreadeagle Caesarian splendor:

Actually, you need to see the seal a little closer. (Right-click and "view image" gets it really in your face):

What is it with Obama and seals? He has had this problem before. Is there an Albert Speer wannabe lurking in the Obama organization?

Or does the problem go... deeper? Imagery speaks a hell of a lot louder than words -- especially if your vocabulary is limited to half-a-dozen words: hope, change, smart....

To be continued.

January 10, 2009

Aryans and honorary Aryans

Lets call it the Dumbbell Axis -- the Jewish State as one bell and "Hindia" as the other. In the ongoing struggle to make the whole planet safe for limited liability corporate settlement, these two are Big Sam's best sidekicks.

Now I may scorn chatter over the Zionic placebo for personal reasons. But I'll make up for it with a Philippic over the subcontinent's "liberal" hegemon, possibly the conscience of the earth itself, the post-Raj Hindu chauvinist republic.

My old friend Mr Y, late of the state department's dirty-tricks staff, aka 'deep bottom', phoned recently (shortly after the recent Mumbai rumble and before his "official" resignation from the foreign service last week):

Y: "We gotta cadge those swami-soaked humanist fraud bastards into more border rattling nonsense -- really shake their neighbors up -- we need 'em to start taking a few chapters from the Mini-Me book of culls. Shit, man, it's in uncle's strategic interests -- takes the heat off us and our loser crusade up there in Kaboolaboolaville."

Me: "Really? Delhi another Tel-y? Why now -- and not say back in '63 or '71?"

Y: "Simple. We're in deeper around there now -- that Dulles do-little type crap is a one way ticket to nowhere. We gotta start by letting those urine-drinking Hindu-fundie weirdos loose. The Punjabi Pakis gotta get forced into blowing their misbegotten dogs' breakfast of a nation apart -- back into its primal constituents."

He went on, in a downright Nixonian geopolitical vein:

"The roof of South Asia is formed by Tibet and Afghanistan -- the Hindustanis need to blow that roof off eventually, but first they gotta shatter Pakistan. It's a bulwark of the status quo, a fuckin' turd in the drain of world-historical progress. Oh, and Israel isn't crazy about the Paks either. As you know."

Me: "And this is in Uncle Emperor's best interests?"

Y: "Absolutely -- we need a new Balkans over there -- a real mess. Either that, or China and Russia will be making muskrat love right in front of our faces."

January 12, 2009

Reflections on the crisis in American liberalism

Every time liberals win an election, a victory defined as a shoveling a Democrat into office, their intellectuals indulge in an odd, portentous imputation. They believe that the conservatives have lost in a very significant, very meaningful way, and that this loss is attributable to some dramatic failure in the conservatives' onto/epistemo constructs. They write well and often insightfully, but what it boils down to is that the conservatives have lost because they have bad cess in their heads, the poor things, and the bad cess has interacted with numinous forces to cause their defeat. It follows, then, in a scholarly enthymematic progression, that liberals have won because they have good stuff in their heads. The numinous forces have smiled. Needless to say, the conservative intellectuals indulge in the same game. However more of them get paid, they get paid more, they say "emergent" less often and they have a better understanding of their place in the food chain. They too elide a systemic critique, but more of them understand that's a job requirement.

In the recent election, the victorious liberal candidate out-fundraised, out-organized, out-charmed and out-maneuvered everyone who got between him and the presidency. There was no epochal clash of ideologies. An enormously talented, very good looking man sailed right by a sad collection of mentally unbalanced hacks, in his own party. On paper, his policies were quite similar to theirs. He was, simply, the better politician.

His conservative opponent had been delivered a bed shat in over eight years by Cheney-Bush and measured for him by Corporate Procrustes, who was determined to make sure it never fit, no matter how hard the poor sap abased himself. He had no principles left after a lifetime in politics, and no ideas with which to contest. So he offered up his self-regard. In the end, he became the useful idiot for a minor celebrity. No loss, none at all. Procrustes can work with Obama through the super yuppies from the Hamilton Project (motto: Your people, sir, is nothing but a great beast!).

It was a farce. The heirs of John Kenneth Galbraith did not square off against the heirs of Russell Kirk. Just try to imagine any of the popular pundits so much as referencing them in support of an argument, never mind attempting to explicate their ideas. Al Gore offered more ideological content in his loss to George Bush. There should be a clue in that. Hip urban intellectuals swooned over a man who read Stendhal. No one else was moved. Gore was ridiculed and subjected to endlessly petty, ideologically empty calumnies in the media. His supporters dutifully tracked all of them down. He rewarded them by caving in a noisy and craven fashion. Any takers on a bet that Barack Obama has read Galbraith? But he wisely stuck to platitudes and to being good looking. He won and as has already been made abundantly clear, his supporters can expect no more in his victory than they got in Gore's loss. To drive it home to them, he's using Rick Warren in the same way George Bush used John Bolton at the United Nations: as a living, breathing insult.

There is no crisis in American conservatism. The Republican Party has a human resources problem, a public relations problem and a brand identity problem. Talent is thin. They need to recruit. The brand needs to be adjusted to fit the needs of the organization in a way that does not alienate the consumers. The beshat bed left by Cheney-Bush has a new occupant already. Their revenue stream is secure. The managerial core is demoralized, but capable of seeing this through. It is a proud corporate concern with deep roots in the community. It can and will offer a robust, scalable nationwide management solution, with improved moral hygiene and fewer Big Gubmint calories than ever. If needed, and as needed, they can count on a hand up from their colleagues, offered for the good of the country, in the same spirit that got them the votes for the Iraq war, the continued funding of it, the Patriot Act, its extension, the slow sabotage of the factory farm schools, through NCLB, and their replacement with pay-to-play targeted training, the "self-regulating" financial services industry, the War on Drugs, the conversion of manufacturing to services, services to temping and temping to taking out loans for reeducation, etc. etc. A kindly hand, with many dimes in it to be displayed as tokens of managerial rivalry.

January 14, 2009

Here's another ball for your chain... schmuck!

The highly-educated econ-cons are dancing in the dark these days, and if they got a heart -- it scares 'em plenty.

Here's my recent favorite hair-standing-on-end conjecture by that everlasting friend of the little people, Paul K of Times Square and Nassau Hall:

"There’s been some talk about risks of deflation, but there’s one alarming comparison I haven’t seen made.... the CBO is currently projecting an output shortfall from the current slump comparable to the slump of the early 1980s. Actually, it’s very close....

Now here’s the thing: the slump of the early 1980s produced the Great Disinflation, which brought the core inflation rate down from about 10% to about 4%. This time, however, we entered the slump with a core inflation rate of about 2.5%. If we experienced a disinflation comparable to that of the 1980s, that would mean ending up with deflation at a rate of -3.5%."

Now I agree with St Paul here: one really ought to conjure seriously with this deflation warning. "Deflation," as ole Alan Greenspan was wont to remark -- "now that's real trouble."

Why? Well, first there's the obvious: one starts postponing purchases and that tends to build its own added downward price mojo, if an economy is already short on sufficient effective demand.

But more centrally, in a deflationary regime, where the real value of dollar denominated obligations increases right along with the real value of the dollar itself, the debt jacket harnessing us all gets to weigh heavier and heavier

Paul here is taking quite sharply, literally, and without offsets, a model of aggregate price level movement that the late (and not a minute too soon) evil dwarf Milton Friedman inspired with some vague verbal gestures back in the late 60's (yes, right in the heart of the topsey-turvey; the model was evolved by a bevy of other, more math-hungry dwarfs after that).

It postulates a so-called "natural rate of unemployment" (now, by the way, placed in our "real world" at 5% or so), and here's whats relevant about this "reasonable assumption": if an economy such as ours were to run a rate of unemployment higher than our "natural rate", then the core inflation rate (the rate of increase of our aggregate price level due to wage costs) begins to slow itself down; and if (like today) we start this higher than natural jobless period from very near the low end of the inflation range, and we proceed to run above our natural rate long enough -- well, we might travel down past the zero inflation point and right on into Bizzaro-land, right into deflation; nay, accelerating deflation, much as we experienced off and on for three years under Quaker apostate and bulwark of ordered liberty Herbert Zebulon Hoover.

Now that's taking the model very literally, of course, as one is wont to do when one's in the scary-story business, but even within the model, Paul K's conjecture from analogy to the 80's Reagan-Volcker Goetterdaemmerung hardly accounts for structural variations that might well exist in any market system's dynamic behaviour: far above zero inflation (mid 80's) vs. very near zero (nowsville).

My hero Abba Lerner felt there was no such sweet spot "natural " rate of unemployment, with inflation accelerating immediately to one side and disinflation just as immediately to the other side, no matter the initial rate of inflation.

Dear Abba suggested we might actually exist in this age of modern macro management on a kind of plateau between say 10-12% unemployment and 3-4% unemployment, where uncle's macro policy could stabilize the jobless rate more or less while simultaneously maintaining a given rate of price change (again more or less). He thought we could drift forward without much action either way, anywhere along that spectrum. That is, with anywhere between 15 million and 4 million jobless supplicants -- an 11 million margin of misery.

I think he was right. And I bet the system's corporate demigods will discover within the next three quarters or so that they're quite comfortable with an 8-10% jobless rate -- for a few years here anyway -- you know just till things settle down. The horrors of proximate job loss without the actual losing of one's job is a tonic to citizenship. In particular it gives the right kind of environment for America's jobbler zillions to get used to their freshly-poured, still-drying cement debt suits.

Maybe it's true, comrades -- maybe most of us wage freaks really do need a decent interval of hell's-doorstep pecuniary night sweats. Maybe we need to learn to be grateful to our Scrooges and our Mr Burns-es, grateful for our grossly liened-on home and shitpile job.

Next time: scarcity works; or, the cases of jobs and credit scores. Why "walking away" from a debt suit might require a far stronger job market and consumer credit market than Obigma's posse prolly has in store for us.

January 15, 2009


Latest from our pal Mike Flugennock:

All my goodhearted, decent, well-meaning Upper West Side friends are still sooooo looking forward to the Inauguration. The hicks are out! Complete sentences are in!

I mention Gaza, and I get these looks -- it's as if I just shat in the champagne punch.

Well. maybe he'll build an Autobahn

I remember a co-worker from some years ago, a German chap of a certain age -- born about 1928, I would guess. Let's call him Gunnar.

I got to know Gunnar pretty well. He wasn't a bad fellow. Thoughtful, well-read, enlightened, droll.

It took a long time for the unfortunate subject of Hitler to arise. I avoided it, and Gunnar certainly wasn't any more eager than I was to bring it up.

But one evening, after a beer or two or three, I can't remember how it happened, but the ill-omened name was spoken.

Gunnar submerged himself in his stein for a long minute, and finally observed, when he came up for air, that well, you know, the man wasn't completely bad. He built the Autobahn, after all.

I thought of this recently in connection with my giddy, happy, liberal friends, still all jazzed about Obama, and very peeved at me when I tactlessly mention the ongoing slaughter in Gaza, to which Obama and his entire party have given a very unequivocal green light.

Oh, I know. Obama isn't Hitler. Nothing like. Of course not. Hitler is the gold standard. Nobody is going to take his trophies away from him any time soon -- let's hope.

What interests me the mentality of my thoughtful, well-read, enlightened, droll Obama-ite Gunnars, who recognize, and quietly -- very quietly, perhaps even entirely in the deep quiet of their own minds -- deplore the bestial depravity of Israel, and understand that Obama is right down there with it; but who nevertheless think he's going to build us an Autobahn.

Or something.

Anything, really.

January 17, 2009

Our New Decider

President-elect Barack Obama pledged yesterday to shape a new Social Security and Medicare "bargain" with the American people, saying that the nation's long-term economic recovery cannot be attained unless the government finally gets control over its most costly entitlement programs.

That discussion will begin next month, Obama said, when he convenes a "fiscal responsibility summit" before delivering his first budget to Congress. He said his administration will begin confronting the issues of entitlement reform and long-term budget deficits soon after it jump-starts job growth and the stock market.

"What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further," he said. "We have to signal seriousness in this by making sure some of the hard decisions are made under my watch, not someone else's."


"Signaling seriousness" is a dull, infantile euphemism for switching from the metaphorical kicking of cans to the much less metaphorical kicking of teeth. Old stuff, as is the grandiosity of preening over a firm resolve to do something vicious. But in one sense Barack Obama remains a transformative candidate. Even George Bush couldn't destroy Social Security. It takes a very special Decider, one who can follow through on the very worst and make it his own. One who really does believe, as IOZ put it so trenchantly, "that the act of deciding exists independently of the decision itself, that the outcome is an invalid rubric for judging the appropriateness and rightness of the initiatory act."

Clinton Antagonizes Stooge Government

KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton's use of the term "narco state" to describe Afghanistan in a recent Senate testimony has caught the attention of her Afghan counterpart.

Foreign Ministry Rangin Dadfar Spanta said Saturday that it is "absolutely wrong" to classify Afghanistan as such, though the minister readily admitted that Afghanistan is a major producer of drugs.


I can appreciate the stooge minister's concerns. President-in-all-but-Oval Office-occupancy, Barack Obama, had promised to send more soldiers to Afghanistan as part of what looks increasingly like a CYA mission. The next station on the Change We Can Believe In express is minatory hand wringing and dark complaints that the stooge government is incapable of making effective use of the assistance because, you know, they're so corrupt and incompetent. After that, regime change, with hopes that better stooges can manage to stand up so we can stand down.

I think they're missing a trick. What they need is a Carl Levin-style demand that the stooge government give them some of the opium money to help fund the occupation.

January 18, 2009

The anti-meliorist junk sociology of Cass Sunstein

Sunstein, working for and with right-wing deregulatory think tanks, published a piece called "The Arithmetic of Arsenic", arguing that everyone needs to stop being so emotional about these things. We can't decide whether arsenic should be in our water based on fuzzy-wuzzy arguments about not killing people. No, we need to be hard-headed realists and decide exactly how much a human life is worth and whether filtering arsenic is worth the cost. In short, we have to do cost-benefit analysis.

Open Left diary

If you're a bit sleepy, Sunstein can seem quite reasonable when he's advocating the gentle nudge of a benevolent government. No one wants to be pushed around. Everyone wants good governance. They want to see it pursued with cost effectiveness, a light touch and soothing bromides. Mmm, most people could live without the bromides. In practice the ethic he espouses amounts to selective minimalism and malign neglect, both of which are weighted to shake out beneficially for concentrations of protected, privileged private power. Both of which he supports through narrowly focused jurisprudence. He labels his philosophy "libertarian paternalism". Love and oxymoronic nonsense will find a way. It's all about Benevolence and Pragmatism. Private power won't seek to regulate your snack breaks, within reason, and certainly not at the federal court level, except as needed to defend productivity, workplace harmony and possibly employee insurance costs; you won't thwart liberty through hysterical regulation of toxic dumps.

The diarist notes that it would be easy to dismiss Sunstein as an ingenuous, blinkered ivory tower type -- if he weren't about to take charge of regulatory oversight in the Obama administration. What can I say? He's right.

January 19, 2009

Barack Obama: the libertarians' best friend?

"We can't allow any idle hands," he said. "Everybody's got to be involved." -- Barack Obama.

Can't we just? I'm pretty sure we could if we tried, and I'm sorry to say there are many hands that should remain idle. Involvement in his nebulous understanding of service is not at all appealing either. He's a recruiting machine for the "leave me alone!" party.

Facts are of course no match for misanthropic platitudes uttered from on high, but what holds people back from productive volunteering has nothing to do with a desire for dissolute idleness or a commitment to suckling a poor civic spirt. The biggest obstacle is lack of time. The work week demands a lot from people. In many places it's hard to get to the places and people that need assistance. It's hard as well to find care for the family members who can't fully care for themselves. In spite of that, and according to the government's own figures, "In 2007, 60.8 million volunteers dedicated 8.1 billion hours of service to community organizations." That's formally reported volunteering and it's pretty good. Goodness knows how much more is done informally. On the wildly unlikely chance that it's not good enough, there are better ways to approach it than through sanctimonious eructations. Shorter hours, better pay and public transport would be a good start.

A private, personal matter

A City Council member from Jersey City was arrested over the weekend after patrons at a Northwest Washington nightclub complained that someone had urinated on them from the balcony, according to police and media reports.

A D.C. police spokesman said Steven Lipski was arrested about 9:50 p.m. and charged with simple assault. A police incident report, which did not name the suspect, gave his age as 44. Another police report listed Lipski as a resident of Jersey City. Public records for the Steven Lipski who sits on the Jersey City council list his age as 43 or 44.

Jennifer Morrill, a spokeswoman for Jersey City, said last night that she did not have all the details about what she termed a "private, personal matter." It would be "premature to make any kind of comment," she said.

Calls to the telephone number listed for Lipski in Jersey City were not returned yesterday. An e-mail also went unanswered. Irina Zaki, an aide to the Democratic councilman and educator, said she called him yesterday but received no answer.


The vast majority of Democratic politicians manage not to urinate on people. This can by no means be considered typical. My understanding is that the party frowns on it. They consider it shameful, reprehensible. It sends the wrong message.

"It's embarrassing for the city," said Jersey City Councilman Steven Fulop. "If you are invested in the city or are considering it, it sends the wrong message."

It sends the wrong message to investors.

January 20, 2009

This land is their land

I incautiously followed a link, just now, sent to me in an email, and nearly lost my breakfast. I warn you, this is not for the faint of heart:

(If you don't see the thing embedded above, and you're really a glutton for punishment, here's the URL):


On a slightly different note, the Washpost offers an opportunity for cognitive dissonance -- that is, if anybody were bothering to do any cognition:

Obama takes the oath of office under the tightest security for an official event in the city's history, with a large swath of downtown Washington closed to vehicular traffic. About 28,000 law enforcement and military personnel have been deployed in and around Washington....

The security force is more than 50 percent larger than the contingent assembled four years ago for Bush's second inauguration.

So let me get this straight: Mr Change and Hope has assembled a Praetorian guard for his Roman triumph bigger, by half and then some, than the one the evil fascist chimp, our own homegrown Elagabalus, laid on four years ago.

Is this is the kind of "progress" that "progressives" had in mind?

Oh, I know what you're going to say: Smith, save your breath. No height of absurdity will remain unscaled today, no abyss of bathos unplumbed, and as old Reagan memorably observed, facts are stupid things.

The mummy speaks

The smartest, hippest, coolest President ever. One of the most arresting speakers ever to seek, much less win, that office. And he just gave the dullest, blandest, most tedious inaugural address I can remember. (And I remember Eisenhower's second.)

What is it about the presidency? Is there some subtly stultifying vapor that outgasses from the Oval Office wallpaper, digging fingers of gelid imbecility into the skull of each successive occupant?

They dry out, they mummify. The overdone vulgar Pharaonic gilding of the office covers a shrunken dusty papery memory of what once was a man, its brains dredged out through the nose, its liver and lights extracted and canned the way my grandmother used to can peaches.

The mummy-makers seem to have done their work on Barack even before he was inaugurated. Hell, they must have started removing his viscera before he was elected. Mummification is not an overnight process.

It's probably worthwhile reading the tea leaves for a minute or two, though they contain few surprises. The Bush trope of a "war on terror" was fully embraced. People with longish memories were perhaps surprised to hear that American troops at Khe Sanh were, in some unspecified way, defending our liberties. And then, of course, the new man in the limousine talked a good deal about "hard choices", a very ominous sign. It's not hard to figure out for whom all the choices are going to be hard.

Normally I make it a rule not to listen to these things. I'd rather read the text -- set aside the speaker's adventitious personal charm, or lack of it, and see what he has to say.

As it happens, I couldn't help hearing this one. I was in a car, driving across the George Washington Bridge to pick up my daughter from school. (I always have the radio on when I drive, because I can't stand to think about the poor souls around me who do this every day).

I braced myself.

Who was it -- Oscar Wilde? -- that famously mused on the strange emotional power of bad music?

Reader, I was prepared to weep, and hate myself for weeping. One tries to keep clear of these orgies of collective emotion, but occasionally the waves will lap up to one's knees or thereabouts, in spite of one's best efforts. And if one has the odd Celtic gene, this sort of shabby facile weeping comes easy.

Instead, I nearly fell asleep and drove right off the bridge. It was an amazing, epoch-making, world-historical bore. A milestone in the millennial history of boredom. A bore that made Cicero and Demosthenes blush and hang their heads and resign their moldy old laurels to the new Bore-In-Chief, Imperator, Malleus Mesopotamicae, Pharaoh, Stultificus Stultificorum, Lord of the Upper and Lower Cliche, and oh yes, Defender of the Faith.

* * * * *

I dunno. Maybe he's a really crafty guy. Maybe he really is our next Roosevelt -- or Lincoln. Hell, why not? Life is full of surprises.

But I got the strange feeling today, as I listened to him, that Othello's occupation's gone. All the guy knows how to do is run for office -- and Lord knows he's damn good at it.

But what office is he running for -- now? Whom does he need to soothe and neutralize? Whom to woo? He's the Grand Turk. The harem is his. No wooing is required.

Certainly no wooing was done today, though it might have been intended. It was a little hard to tell from the broadcast I heard, but the assembled cheering squads sounded... underwhelmed. The mixer dude, a heavy hand on the rheostats, kept cranking up the crowd gain on the obvious applause lines -- and getting a clap here, a clap there. Both of 'em little old ex-CP Jewish ladies from the Upper West Side, if I know my claps.

The disappointing crowd response then led to a very sudden and obvious crankdown on the crowd mikes, over and over again: back to the new Decider, and Christ, let's hope better days are coming.

Or at least better lines. Godamighty, where's the fuckin' applause track?

I'm dyin' out here.

January 21, 2009

Social Security: Passive Aggressive Gutting & Perception Management

According to the court intellectuals from the Brookings & Heritage workgroup (pdf), the best way to approach gutting entitlements is through hostile, 'triggering-event' additions to the budget process and the elimination of the entitlements' automatic adjustments to keep up with real world costs. In this way they can avoid the appearance of explicit attacks. The people who perform the gutting can wring their hands and cry, "the Budget made us do it!". As the gutting unfolds, there would be no single activist decision anyone could point to. An explanation of what had happened would take time. Anyone trying to explain would have to be careful not to step on the brand-loyalty corns of the listeners.

Needless to say once the changes have been made, undoing the harm would require more effort than went into it. The defensive collegiality of the dirty legislators would work against it.

The wonks feel the decision to pursue passive aggression has been forced on them by the lack of a "level playing field". There is nothing quite like the endless search for victimology of court intellectuals. And typically, for court intellectuals, they're proud enough of their nasty, contemptible little planning sessions to make the results of them available for public consumption.

The first step toward creating a more level playing field and achieving long-run fiscal sustainability in the federal budget is to take the three major entitlement programs off autopilot. We recommend the following changes:

• Congress and the president should enact explicit long-term budgets for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid that are sustainable, set limits on automatic spending growth, and have a required review every five years. Since people depend heavily on these programs and plan their lives around them, they must be budgeted on a long-term basis and should not be adjusted frequently. Reviewing them every year like discretionary spending programs would cause too much uncertainty for retirees and place too great a burden on Congress. The three major entitlement programs should be budgeted for longer periods (for example, 30 years) but be subjected to review every five years. These five-year reviews would allow reconsideration of the trade-offs between entitlement spending and other purposes and might cause adjustments in benefits, premiums, taxes, or all three.

• The rules for the five-year review must include a trigger or action-forcing device that requires explicit decisions when projected spending exceeds budgeted amounts. The trigger might involve automatic benefit cuts or revenue increases (including premium increases) that could only be over-ridden by an explicit vote or enactment of alternative policies that would achieve budget outcomes similar to the automatic adjustments. Alternatively, the trigger process could require that a commission make recommendations for closing the gap to the president and Congress on which an up or down vote must be held. The trigger process that forces an explicit vote when the long-run budget for any of these programs is exceeded will dramatize the importance of modernizing these entitlement programs to reflect increased longevity, higher incomes, and the rising cost of medical care. If the public wants the increasingly expensive health benefits provided by Medicare and Medicaid because they judge them to be well worth the costs, then those benefits will have to be paid for with some combination of revenue increases and cuts in other spending.

• The long-run costs of these three programs should be visible in the budget at all times and considered when decisions are made. Benefits should not be increased—either at the five-year review or in between—without ensuring that they are fully financed.

The double-speak of fiscal responsibility is remarkable in itself, as sincere pecksniffian budget mania has never been anything but a disaster. The addition of egghead preening and gloating makes it sadistic.

Here's an idea: Spend and DON'T tax

There's politics of unity and there's politics of division.

Right now, Obama -- far from needing a 'bring us together' moment -- needs to apply a very heavy but shrewd dose of blunt patent class wedge politics, in the form of a big payroll tax cut. Forget the goo-goo crumbling-this and -that, and cut cut cut -- but cut the correct class way.

Despite what the matrons of a better America claim, hacking away at taxes is not just the free-range oligops' better gambit. Isn't it obvious that after 30 years of bipartisan burden shifting from progressive income taxes to regressive payroll taxes, there's a job-class kick-back cutback aching to happen?

So I submit it's time to reverse the 30 year payroll robbery at the heart of the big shift. As of today, sweep through the past 30 years of hikes and other finger-fucks, and retroactively cut the social security tax rate back to a pay-as-we-go pathway. And yes, as a result, rebate to the actual payers-in, as close as possible, the nearly 2 trillion dollar trust fund swindle ripped of their labor all these years.

Oddly enough, the banks' latest calculations indicate they're in the process of losing almost the same amount -- two trillion -- in unrecoverable usury losses, thanks to the grace-of-God implosion of the lot mortgage pyramid scam.

So Obama ought to say -- in that kewl way of his -- "Sorry, fellas, you'll just have to it eat them losses just like you ate them gains. That's the free capitalist way, no?"

Now a goodly chunk of the returned 2 trillion in the SS trust funds might go to paying down some of our millions of potential credit-renegade householders' debt load, and thus might reduce the big boys' losses indirectly (and the little guys' "pension portfolio losses" too).

But let's be real clear: the return of the funds is not recovery nor relief; it's equity -- "you earned it, so you get it back."

Uncle has plenty more dollars in his limitless digital tender mine to bring off a full, in fact a hyper-full recovery, and still set up a debt recycling system to relieve our zillions of mortgage-crushed cottagers too.

At any rate, the best debt relief program for job-dependent households is always by definition a steady job and a few pay increases. So lets give em a pay raise of 7% right now, by suspending their side of the social-security payroll tax, retroactive to last January; and keep it suspended till real median wage rates exceed the present real rate by 15% -- after which we can gently taper back in the FICA fuck over 5 years or so.

The Social Security retirement system is sound and doesn't need its present obscene two trillion in trust-fund backup. In fact it doesn't need any trust fund backup at all, ever -- but that's another story.

So Act One oughta be the fair payroll tax restoration act -- and Act Two?

Well that oughta involve a health cost freeze -- more on that in another post.

Brash colorful obvious class politics first -- that's the Reagan way, that's the winning way. Reward the base you'll need to go where you want to go. Do it first, do it fast, do it big.

We progs will need the jobbled majority with us all the way if we are to rebuild America green. So a big string of direct in-cash benefits must form our first acts, benefits fought for and won against -- despite -- in fact, exactly because of all the inevitable vehement boardroom clamour against it ringing through the mass media.

So is this something Obama is likely to do?

I dunno. But I suggest we measure whatever prudent "class neutral" national recovery plan he devises against this standard.

January 22, 2009

Take it easy, dude...

... You'll be going somewhere else, with a nastier climate, in a year or so.

So Mr Obama has sorta-kinda fulfilled one campaign promise: the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp is to be closed. Within... a year. How we would laugh at some foreigner seeking our approval with this kind of initiative. Ahmadinejad: Okay, I'll stop hanging gay guys.... Next year. But this year -- hoo-ha! Line 'em up and keep 'em coming!

Why it should take a year is a question of some interest. I am not the greatest administrator in the world, but I do believe I could do it in a week, or a weekend, given the resources available to a president of the US.

Obama's maiden executive orders -- about Guantanamo, and waterboarding, and "rendition," aka kidnapping -- have been greeted with much hosanna-ing. But as always with Obama, they're much hedged-about with reservations and weasel-words. It looks a lot like buying time. Whenever you hear about the formation of a blue-ribbon committee, check to see that your billfold is still in your pocket.

Here's some paraphrased text, courtesy of the Associated Press:

The order establishes a review process with the goal of disposing of the detainees before closing [Guantanamo].

The order sets up an immediate review to determine whether it is possible to transfer detainees to third countries, consistent with national security. If transfer is not approved, a second review will determine whether prosecution is possible and in what forum. The preference is for prosecution in Article III courts or under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), but military commissions, perhaps with revised authorities, would remain an option....

The order directs the secretary of defense to halt military commission proceedings...

...wait for it...
...pending the results of the review.
Well, prudence is a virtue. I mean, you wouldn't want to wind up a major criminal enterprise, just like that, without due reflection about the consequences.

Another Obama thunderbolt:

... requires that all interrogations of detainees in armed conflict, by any government agency, follow the Army Field Manual interrogation guidelines.
(Unless I misunderstood, I believe my radio transmitted Obama saying, at a press conference, that this ruling holds "for the moment". )
It also orders the CIA to close all existing detention facilities and prohibits it from operating detention facilities in the future.
Yet there will still be "detainees". So it would appear that the CIA has gotten a bit of a spanky, and its empire of dungeons and torture chambers has been reassigned to... whom? The Pentagon? Private enterprise?
Finally, the order creates a special task force with two missions. The task force will conduct a review of the Army Field Manual interrogation guidelines to determine whether different or additional guidance is necessary for the CIA. It will also look at rendition and other policies for transferring individuals to third countries to be sure that our policies and practices comply with all obligations and are sufficient to ensure that individuals do not face torture and cruel treatment if transferred.
That is to say:

1) The CIA, once it has stood in the corner for a few months, can still hope that better days will come again, and the fun with the funnels and the electrical wires can recommence. Meanwhile, there's always that Georgetown brothel -- you know the one I mean.

2) Rendition will continue. But in a nice way.

3) The military are blameless paragons -- the people who gave us Abu Ghraib are going to restore our good global rep, so wantonly sacrificed by the CIA.

January 23, 2009


"Recent news reports suggest that many influential people, including Federal Reserve officials, bank regulators, and, possibly, members of the incoming Obama administration, have become devotees of a new kind of voodoo: the belief that by performing elaborate financial rituals we can keep dead banks walking."
Recent reports of continuing CITI litter give our man in the Big Bagel, Paul Kibbler Krugman, fits -- because the new top team inside the beltway looks like they want to keep these big-time zombies going indefinitely.

The Babbits of Bumble Creek never tire of telling Uncle that he better not get into the "pickin' winners from losers" business -- and yet he keeps doing it, though he wants to believe, or wants us to believe, that he's not doin' it Hizz-seff.

Hence the zombies: Uncle will rebuild the credit conduits by working through allegedly animatronic Wall Street middlemen.

But... what if the animatronics are actually the pokes operating from inside the beltway and not the boardrooms of Wall Street?

Note this take by one James Surowiecki:

"I think that as the “nationalize now” meme has taken hold in the blogosphere, people are talking about nationalization “awfully casually" -- I think people are skeptical of it for two big reasons:

1) -- the general principle that private enterprise is typically better at efficiently allocating resources than government;

2) the idea of the state literally determining which companies and individuals do or don’t get credit is, even to a non-libertarian, at least a little troubling."

But! Brother Surowiecki -- just look at where we is at, by their guiding lights, right now.

Obviously, "efficiency allocating resources" -- right now -- must mean "stop allocating resources" -- eh? Yeah, go ahead, send us the 2 trillion in cash and 12 trillion in guarantees, but stop the music -- stop the system -- stop production -- time out -- you 15 million more jobblers, go sit in 15 million little corners somewhere, anywhere -- and wait till we get our balls back.

And damned if, despite the efficiency of idleness now, Uncle still wants his good hi-fi zombies to lend lend lend -- and he'll be damned if they won't.

Obigma's raiders won't N-word the big banks, even if the economy keeps sliding away into the drink like our calving icecaps. There'll be no red thread runnin' through here -- there will be no commanding-heights strategy 'round this White House.

The new powers that be will not choose winners from new beginnings. They won't rebuild the financial world out of shiny new creatures. These veteran magistrates, like some gaggle of tender old sluts, will keep on sticking with the losers -- as long as they're big enough.

Goliath's peace plan

Here's Obama's notion of settling the Gaza problem:

Hamas must meet clear conditions: recognize Israel's right to exist; renounce violence; ...abide by past agreements.... end its rocket fire; Israel will complete the withdrawal of its forces from Gaza; the United States and our partners will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime, so that Hamas cannot rearm.

... we look forward to Egypt's ... commitment to end smuggling from within its borders.

....As part of a lasting cease-fire, Gaza's border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce.... This assistance will be provided to and guided by the Palestinian Authority.

In short, the precondition for peace is... surrender.

Note that there's a great deal Hamas "must" do -- all of which amounts to ceasing national resistance. And in return, Israel must... must... why, you know, there isn't a damn thing Israel "must" do! Vague wishes, couched in the agentless passive voice, are expressed that the Palestinians might be graciously allowed to eat a little bit.

But they have to surrender first! And they also have to give up any notion of choosing their own leaders. That will be done for them, in fact already has been done, and if they don't like the Quislings of the "Palestinian Authority" -- well, too bad for them.

Is there anybody out there who can detect any difference between this line and the stuff we were hearing on the same topic from Bush?

January 26, 2009

Plan 9 from... somewhere

It's been years now -- and I've felt the lack like a hole square through my simple Celtic heart -- but finally last night the ghost of Hunter T returned to my bedchamber.

"Paine, you suckling porker you -- what's up? The Hill ain't your beat no more? The congress beneath your dignity or something?"

He did not wait upon my answer.

"Shit, I gotta rush this. It's unofficial -- my being here -- officially I'm playing stud poker with my buddy Rainer-Marie. He has over some loose-ass motherfuckers -- Luke Apuleius, Joe Addison, Bill Occam. I'm missin' this for you, Paine. And if the Angkor scans me while I'm here -- it's zoop! Back down to the pit, and pronto.

"Maybe you didn't grasp this back there, couple-three years ago, but I can't haunt anyone but Congress watchers. The triad is into pure mission focus -- god bless 'em -- and as a liberator, second rate, I'm assigned to visitatin' with scribes of the north american peoples' representatives only.

"Why, you ask? 'Cause -- err, um -- well that body in its profane wisdom ultimately must be the catalyst of the American people's salvation -- kinda like the Roman senate wasn't, vis-a-vis the imperial system and all. Only this time it's gotta be different -- this time the congress is gonna topple the unitary presidency -- or I'll fuck Ma Cass." I can't really quite capture describe this patter of Hunters -- it all came at me in shape-shifts, likea lunatic sampling of recollected voices. There was a fair measure of Clark Gable, and some offputting Gabby Hayes, and maybe a touch of David Brinkley, and lots, I mean lots, of Bob Reich for some reason.

"And now, you got this het hip Adlai type right up there in the White House ready to play the people's emperor bit. Seeing as the monocrats' monomania is ceaseless aquistion of more elbow room -- pushing the power envelope -- well this guy's gonna try pushin' into new regions.

"So madame speaker, the Nan there, with her hag closeups and lampshade suits and huge chest cones and all, needs to quit this bride of Frankenstein bit -- cut out the Gothic Boulevard, seven-veil act for Barack, and spend her quality time clawing up the GOP leadership like the wild bloody she-cat she is.

"Bypass the prez tango and just gain traction by hacking away at those closet-fruit top-shelfers across the aisle. Run the bastards back and forth through a shambles, put on an S and M show in the House like nothin' since Thaddeus Stevens ran things.

"Call it Congressional Reconstruction II -- the red states' reconstruction, the spiritual Dixie reconstruction. You got me? She needs by congressional action alone to organize all those mongrel sunbelt wage-class helots, the undocs, the brothers, all the busted rednecks and tattoo Annies alike into a national system of freedmens' bureaus -- and -- and -- Fuck! No! I'm getting recalled! Shit!"

And right then, poof! he disappeared.

I have no notion nor even the inkling of a notion where Hunter was going with all that.

I suspect I'd better attend to the house that Madison built once again, like I did through the election of '06, and hope that'll give Hunter permission to return and fill in the rest of the plan.

Soft money, hard line

An earlier post by your obedient savant here, calling for a huge rebate of the social security trust funds, caught the following comment -- right on its glass jaw, or at least so thought the commenter:

"Trouble is, there is no $2 trillion surplus to distribute -- it's already been spent. All there is are government bonds, and you have to stand in line with the Chinese and Arab oil states to get anything back from them."
A mass three-card monte game, this business of treasury bonds.

If you make the dollars, and they cost you nothing to make, where's the limit on 'em?

I know, I know -- shades of Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe's zillion percent rate of runaway inflation rise to spook you if any one mentions uncle's unchecked power of moneyfacturing: "It will lead to a collapse of the dollar system! What of the widows and orphans?"

Not at all. Like an occasional plebian armed uprising, what's so wrong about an occasional hyperinflation? It may water the tree of liberty -- long as the right people stay ahead of the curve, that is. The right people, to my way of thinking, are the low prolers and the other honest live-by-toil citizens of the Jacobin republic. It's just as easy to keep the ordered masses ahead of the wave as the high rollers.

"So," you say, "it's the kulaks and shopkeepers, the petty rentiers and such -- it's them that suffer from galloping inflations, eh, Citizen Paine?"

Not even. It's only creditors in all their shapes and sizes that suffer.

Inflation can operate like a debt cram-down. It can cut real debt burdens. In fact in the right hands, it could be the cheapest, fastest, fairest way to do it, if it's planned and taken step by step.

I throw this out as a challenge, like the guy in the dunking chair.

Thesis: Uncle can spend all he wants, so long as it's dollars, Worst case, he creates the conditions for total transformation, total liberation from the social debt harness.

Here's how: Uncle says, this inflation will be a deliberate policy, and by proper indexation all real wage rates and real savings and real pensions of all sweat-of-the brow breadwinner American jobblers can be maintained intact despite inflation's mighty surf.

The prudence of Scrooge McDuck only insures and protects the incarceration of society's producing classes.

January 28, 2009

Vicious Insolence

Here's Hillary Clinton giving us a crystal clear statement of the Obama administration's official position on the propriety of Israel's killing of well over a thousand Palestinians in Gaza, most of them civilians:

[W]e support Israel’s right to self-defense. The rocket barrages, which are getting closer and closer to populated areas, cannot go unanswered. And it’s, you know, regrettable that the Hamas leadership apparently believes that it is in their interest to provoke the right of self-defense instead of building a better future for the people of Gaza.

Unfortunately none of the reporters at this press conference felt it was necessary to ask Clinton 1) if Palestinians have a similar right to self-defense, 2) what it would take to "provoke" this right, or 3) how many Israeli deaths would be justified—and rationalized by the United States, rather than condemned—once it was provoked.

Courtesy of The Distant Ocean

What a perfect example of thoughtless, reflexive servility from the courtiers and thoughtless arrogance from the throne room. Secretary of State Clinton appears completely sincere: people whose position is comparatively weak have, by virtue of their vulnerability, no right to fight back. It's not even something that can be considered. The vulnerable must make the best of enforced participation in a hollowed out proceduralism. This is not a liberal belief, at least as liberalism is explicated by its adherents. It's very much the opposite, and in that lies the foundational problem of actually existing liberalism.

Ideology is not a consumer item that one shows to friends or hides from them as dictated by circumstances and peer pressure. For it to have any significance outside an appalling display of smugly constipated propriety, there has to be at least an effort to follow through on the core convictions. In liberalism, that means the rule of law as an enlightened means of accommodating conflicting needs, applied in an egalitarian manner, in which the judges themselves are judged according to how well they protect the most vulnerable. It is not rule enforced by whatever use of violence is expedient, with laws tacked on afterwards to justify it.

Today's dime's worth of difference is that might does indeed make right, provided that's not explained to the public by a fascist shit-flinging chimp.

Shorter Taylor Marsh


Juan Cole is objectively pro-wingnut


Claiming I said that makes him an unhinged wingnut.

Shorter Juan Cole

With all due respect to my colleague, an argument cannot be compelling when it doesn't touch base with the world as it actually exists.

Juan Cole

I agree with Professor Cole, in his own words, not my jesting reduction, but I'd stipulate that Marsh's argument was made in bad faith, from beginning to end, and intended to be disciplinary. It has the distinct whiff of punitive sectarian harangues.

Soothing the suckers

Reform is certainly needed, yet, for all the excesses and instability of finance, a complete clampdown would be a mistake. For one thing, remember the remarkable prosperity of the past 25 years. Finance deserves some of the credit for that. Note, too, that finance has always been plagued by crises, whether the system is open or closed, simple or sophisticated. Attempts to regulate finance to make it safe often lead to dangerous distortions as clever financiers work around the rules. If there were a simple way to prevent crises altogether, it would already be the foundation stone of financial regulation.

From the eternally gaseous pages of The Economist, where the geese that steal the golden eggs can count on a sympathetic hearing.

Fortunately, there is a simple way to prevent financial crises. Not all of them, certainly, but quite a few. The most important thing is to stop deliberately creating moral hazard. For example, when policy makers make a policy that turns out to be bad, they shouldn't receive jobs in academia, seats on boards of directors, newspaper columns, awards from think tanks and further opportunities to make bad policy. This sends the wrong message! When clever financiers violate the law, they shouldn't be given even more money, in personal compensation, and even more trust to play with other people's money. It confuses the poor things. They come to believe they're entitled to escape the consequences of their behavior. What's worse, the tender psyches of their admirers become bruised, soft and malleable to point where any con is acceptable to them, as long as it's delivered with the marketing they like most.

There is a real world model for dealing with situations like this. Noted philosopher Margaret Thatcher observed that it is wrong for people to cast their problems at society. They must learn to look after themselves; to take personal responsibility, because there is no such thing as society. I disagree with her on the non-existence of society, but that's a quibble as I'm sure she'd transcend ideology to agree in principle with me as regards the appropriate rewards for criminals. Expropriation of their ill gotten gains, performed as community exercise, by families and neighbors looking out for each other, with government exercising its prerogative for benign neglect, makes for a morally rigorous solution. It sends the correct message.

January 29, 2009

Clash of the titans

The debate these days among the econ-con pundicrats might be personified as a proxy-by-posse duel betwixt two demigods of the 1920's and 30's, Irving Fisher --

vs J.M. Keynes --

-- a duel in the sun between the patron saint of direct and borrowed gubmint expenditures, and the wizard of Flatlandian monetary magic.

We all know about Keynes and his liquidity trap, right?

Well, be prepared now to meet and greet doctor Irving Fisher, eugenicist, preacher's boy, and diet nut, father of a self-reported "both new and important" deflation debt dive bomb theory of depressions.

Two sides of the same coin? Are they both about the flaw at the core of a private credit based economy?

Not exactly -- there's enough difference between 'em to muster loudly opposing factions for today's great policy moment: Uncle as direct buyer of first resort for lots of real neat green stuff, vs. Uncle as buyer of last resort for all things figmentary and toxic.

Put that way, it sounds obvious who's the heel and who's the babyface. But not so fast, comrades.

Both men's models were designed in, by, and for the great depression. But by the time the war to end depression had subsided into a cold peace, Keynes and his "theory" were king of the planet, whereas Fisher, though home-grown and, in the roaring 20's, every bit as much of a superstar as Keynes (and a pro-business, anti-labor superstar to boot) found his rival paradigm largely unattended-to, not only in academia, but in leading American policy circles as well.

Up and down the line, it was Keynes' century, and so it remained, all through the Harry, Ike and Jack years. In fact, the triumph of Keynes and his postwar Hicksite followers was so complete by the time of LBJ and RMN -- in other words by amok time -- that even the Chamber of Commerce had its version -- though de-balled -- of Keynes.

"We're all Keynesians now," dear old Dick once glowered to the press.

By the high 60's, fiscal deficits had become the universal Rx for the system's mild macro slumps. Credit policy was left to the pinch-nosed, green-eyeshade guys, while the likes of Paul Samuelson and Jim Tobin carefully calibrated the nation's optimal federal deficits.

But Fisherian deflation theory, with its starring role played by the monetary authority, arrived or re-arrived back on the scene -- albeit as a late entrant after the kook-krieg of flame fanners and zoo-doers -- and Irv was a major beneficiary of the highly successful anti-Keynesian, anti-fiscalist campaign touched off by the deadly bottom-line events of the late 70's. Stagflation! The Waterloo for Keynes and his borrow-to-spend formula. And particularly during the Reagan salad days, a new macro mindset triumphed -- despite the evidence at hand, i.e. the economy roaring out of the 82-83 contraction, prolly more from a Keynesian huge deficit run and military buildup than through Kodiak Volcker's final removal of the figure-four credit lock he'd applied back in '79. But that's another story.

In retrospect, it would seem that the immiserating events of the failed Carter crusade had told an eternal truth: larger fiscal deficits as attempts to tune up job markets ultimately lead to uncontrollable wage-price cyclones. Cyclones like the ones that blew apart the late 70's also blew apart the city of light that Johnny K's acolytes were attempting to build in postwar America. The day of the money-base loons had arrived, and with them came the retreat of the Keynesians into post-Keynesians. Like monks in Ireland, they kept the candles of truth burning -- ahh, maybe with a bit of twist to 'em, I must admit.

The new respectable macro science found Fisher.

So what was Fisher's angle? His starchy Yankee values were repelled by handouts and confiscatory transfers, and building public pyramids in the wilderness, so he looks on first view like a nice antidote to the flippant gay British free-lunch advocate.

In the dark days of the depression, doctor Fisher, looking out his Yale office window at a misery visible, like any good scientist, tried to find a way to reconcile his deepest disciplinary prejudices with what he observed around him. The unorthodox virulence of the great contraction had shattered his boundless high spirits. After some false starts and fad fancies, our man, in a moment of clarity, built a simple model of explanation that -- worked.

He kept his model of the "real economy", the market-based production system, intact, but he constructed a new addition to his overlying credit system.

Short course:

Left to the whims and vaguaries of the unfettered market systems, both credit and production, any rapid accumulation of excess unsustainable private debt will lead inevitably to a period of "realization" and subsequent panic and crisis. And that leads on to massive asset liquidation, and from there we go into a protracted grinding deflation, a downward spiral where our already burdensome debt loads become ever heavier as prices and incomes and outputs fall, and consquently defaults grow ever bigger and spread ever wider.

Okay. So that's kinda kool. On rediscovery, who do you think became the number-one fans of this Fisher deflation model?

Ten years ago, that would be hard to pick. You got folks all the way from Krugman on the white-hat side, to Taylor on the black to pick from. But now, after all the swanning-about of the hi-fi credit system these last dozen years or so, paleo-Keynesians have sallied from the Ivy towers to do battle with the monetary macro-uber-alles crowd -- often, as in Krug's case, the paleos are reborn post-Keynesians. And all this, of course, gets muddled by the multitude of shallow syncretists attempting to blend the two sharply opposed equestrian schools into a common camel jaunt.

At one pole you got yer Fisherian policy camp calling for maximum balance sheet actions, versus those dauntless paleo-Keynesians calling for maximum infrastructure-building, benefit-extending, state-budget-boosting by means of federal budget busting, etc.

The credit economy vs. the production economy? Bankers vs hard hats?

Ah, if it were such a simple choice: Scrooge or the union kulaks -- who would not know which side to be on? But my friends, both sides dance inside the circle of doom.

Stay tuned.

January 30, 2009

Heaven can wait (and it will have to)

What hath the house donkery passed?

$607 billion in direct spending and appropriations and $212 billion in tax cuts. Those numbers are not even close to getting us halfway to heaven, and if heaven needs to be reached in one leap -- sorry, we ain't gettin' there.

Imagine, 11 blue dogs voted against it, while the repubs held solid -- zero repubs voting for it. On to the senate, where the same pattern would block it, and they just might -- yes even this stinker.

The rocky road, white house version:

"I hope that we can continue to strengthen this plan before it gets to my desk," Obama said in a statement after the vote. "We must move swiftly and boldly to put Americans back to work, and that is exactly what this plan begins to do."
Note the prez is calling it a "beginning". Hmmm.


My beloved payroll tax cuts? 500 dollars -- five Franklins -- for each of us jobblers. What's that, $65-70 billion? Only about a third of the tax cut's total value. Obviously we can expect this cut side to rise as the senate weighs in -- and their friends the corporate crazy cats oughta bag even more useless hog boodle, AKA "investment incentives".

About January 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Stop Me Before I Vote Again in January 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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