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December 2008 Archives

December 1, 2008

The Salisbury stakes

Which is the higher good -- better death stars or more storm troopers?

Our green, human-scale emperor-elect Obama has long since made the obvious white-hat choice: more storm troopers.

If you're running the world, the smart way you hope to move incrementally, step by step, toward the only one final solution, all the while remaining up close and personal -- Empires like that don't drop bombs. They wear... boots. They don't fly in -- they walk in.

But can he win anything this way? Or just create more quags? The world's already pockmarked with blue-helmet fancy-boys trying to keep emerging states from killing off signifigant parts of themselves -- and to little effect. So why add something like an Obama's Raiders to that mix?

My guess: Mr Milk Chocolate Caution just ... won't.

The other night I heard from my inside source on nat-sec matters, Mister Y, the man at the bottom of it all, down there at Foggy Bottom. His money line:

"Look for a second '34, Owen -- a turning point of empire, as we look inward for a spell. You know, good neighbor gone global."
"Watch as the whole occ-occing of sand-dune country gets a wind-down. We'll pull back, at least till the rest of the world's great states at the edges of our empire get itchy and gutsy enough to... you know... get us riled."
Yeah. Maybe. But we're playing the Brits' role in this production, not New Deal America's.

So: "splendid isolation", anyone?

December 2, 2008

The best of both worlds

Some of my Free Alterations Feminist (FAF) friends are actually happy about Hillary being Obama's secretary of state. These folks voted for Hill in the primary -- somewhat against their own better nature, I think, but hey, identity is thicker than water. Or even blood, come to think of it.

They were also happy, perhaps even relieved, to vote for Obama in the general election -- a black guy is not a bad second-best to a white woman, if you're a white woman keeping score on the identity plane, and Obama, of course, is, with all respect to Hill, a much fresher face. No wonder, either, considering the hard time poor Hill has had to serve.

But now my FAFster friends get the black guy and the white woman! Who could have foreseen such a happy consummation? Win-win, as they used to say in the executive washroom.

There may of course be people in the world who don't see it quite this way. But if you just build a high enough wall, you won't have to worry about them.

Whistling past the graveyard...

... of Pwog hopes is one Robert Creamer, on Alternet:

Clues Obama Won't Govern Center-Right

Should progressives beware? Has Barack Obama suckered them into supporting a President who will really govern from the "center-right"? The short answer is no.

The long answer is another 1,000 chirpy words from the Creamery. Sample:
... all of the polls show that the November election represented a complete repudiation of right wing Bush-Cheney top-down economics and their Neo-Con foreign policy....

Obama ran a campaign that clearly and unequivocally described priorities that will turn American in a fundamentally progressive direction. His cabinet picks indicate that he will surround himself with people who have experience ... But they do not in any way diminish the fact that America is demanding -- and Obama intends to enact -- a sweeping progressive program the likes of which we have not seen since the New Deal.

...Barack Obama will not govern from the "center right", but he will govern from the "center". That's not because he is "moving to the center". It's because the center of American politics has changed. It has moved where the American people are. It once again resides in the traditional progressive center that has defined America's promise since Thomas Jefferson penned its founding document over 200 years ago.

There's a phrase that often occurs to me when I read this kind of dribble. I sternly ration myself to one use of it per year, and now is the time:

Where do you start with this stuff?

Granted that the public is in some sense to the left of the elites -- a proposition I have no problem believing -- how on earth does Creamer manage to infer the further proposition that Barack will do the public's will -- that he "intends to enact" what the public wants?

You can read the whole thing if you like, but I'll tell you right now, Creamer doesn't bridge the logical gap. He doesn't even try to. He just asserts it: the public wants change. So Obama will obviously "enact" change.

It simply must be so.

Don't even get me started with that vomitous high-school graduation stuff about Marse Tom Jefferson and the "promise" and the "founding document" -- I don't have enough carpets that I can afford to eat any of them.

A moment of wild surmise

The fun thing now is wondering about the personal chemistry between ha-Moshiach and Hillary.

To borrow a phrase from Obie: As I have said consistently... the only good thing about the New York Times is its photo editors, who just never get it wrong. The front page of this morning's print edition carried a photo -- unfortunately not available online, and even better than the one above, good as that is -- of the Great One and his new SecState.

In the printed photo, they're standing closer together than I've ever seen a president and a cabinet officer stand. Their hands are tightly clasped together, positioned right over Obie's hipbone. They're staring deep into each other's eyes. Hillary's back is arched and her nice abundant poitrine appears to be pressed rather emphatically against the one fastened button on Obie's beautifully-tailored jacket. He seems suddenly unmindful of the media around. Her chin is tilted up, her lips... but no, I can't go on.

*Wipes sweat from brow*

I hope it happens. Lord knows Hillary is entitled, after how many years of arid marriage to the self-infatuated, heedless, ungrateful Bill. And it makes a nice mirror image of the long-suspected Georgie-Condi connection. (I must say I envy Obie more than Georgie, if the parallel holds.)

Even the Times' print reporter saw something, and the editor let it pass, with characteristic Times hedgery softening the outlines of the story:

Mr. Obama gave [Hillary] an opportunity to make a statement from the lectern, something he did not do with any of his economic appointees last week, and she promised to give “my all” to him ....

The body language was friendly and appropriate, if not necessarily personal. Standing behind Mr. Obama during his remarks, Mrs. Clinton nodded as he spoke of the nation’s challenges; after the event ended, the two walked out of the room arm in arm, her hand gently patting his back.

Get a room, you two!

December 4, 2008

Mission accomplished

I was talking recently with a friend of mine -- call him Matt. Matt is too old and cynical to be an Obamaniac, but he was an Obama voter.

He was just fine with Obie's cabinet and staff picks. After a certain amount of delicate probing -- at least, I hope it was delicate -- Matt finally allowed as how he really didn't care that much about the Iraq war, or about universal health care, or even about the never-specified "change" that Obie kept promising us. "Change? Come on. That was just a campaign slogan," he said.

I gingerly advanced the idea that many Obama voters might have simply been looking for a person like themselves. Matt stared at me with a look of frank incredulity. "Well, yeah," he observed, with an airy wave of the hand.

Matt -- who himself has a managerial job -- also felt that Obie would be a better "manager" than Bush, and that his appointments reflect this managerial savvy. Bush, Matt felt, has been a horrible bungler.

This line of argument interests me greatly. Were the Bush guys bad managers? This doesn't seem self-evident. They accomplished everything they wanted to accomplish. Yeah, the poor and black parts of New Orleans ended up under water -- but taking care of poor black folks was never a high-priority item for them, any more than it was for Bill Clinton. And we ended up mired to the hip in the Middle East -- which is, I think, just where they wanted us, and just where Hillary wants us too, if her record in the Senate means anything.

To be sure, the "economy," as we still quaintly call it it, crawled up its own asshole and vanished like the Cheshire Cat, in the latter days of Bush's watch. But is this Bush's fault? Or is this the culmination of, what, thirty years of market-cultism, under Republicans and Democrats alike?

I suggested this thought to Matt. He didn't like it. But then, he's still employed.

In the course of our conversation, it became clear to me -- belatedly, but then I'm pretty thick -- that Matt thought I was beating a dead horse. Dude! -- his facial expression said -- the election is like, so over. We won!

On to the next thing!

December 5, 2008

Got your bumper sticker, right here:

From Mike Flugennock:

Interesting times

"So here’s what I’m wondering: will it, in fact, even be possible to pull the economy out of its nosedive before unemployment goes into double digits?" That's the terrier of Times Square, columnist and antigolemist at the Grey Lady, Princeton professor of economics and this year's miss faux-Nobel, Paul Armitage Krugman.

Past 10% unemployed already baked-in, Paul? Then the coaster is about to pick up speed, and it's too late to pull out of this nosedive now.

Today, the aggregate job shuck by corporate Amerika is running at about half a million a month.

Now we got a very active job market. The system usually turns over 20 million positions a year. That means each month, at the present rate, maybe 1.8 million jobblers jump ship, or get pushed out over the rail. Add in about 150k new arrivals and re-entrants, and even ignoring the 6 million seriously unemployed already out there, thats nearly 2 million new folks each month lookin' to get into a new job.

But the system right now don't want 2 million new hires. The system only wants 1.3 million. So after sloughing off the dropouts -- the ones that have officially stopped lookin' -- we end up with about 650k newbies without a job to call their own.

Now my figurin' tells me that an unchecked free-fall US economy will produce a peak point total for nationwide once-and-for-all net lost jobs of around 15 million (creatively destroyed positions, I hasten to add, victims of that cannibal king Progress).

Fifteen million jobs lost, before corporate Amerika "feels safe enough" to sustain "present staffing levels" indefinitely. In other words: left to itself, the system will take us toward Depression levels of joblessness.

At today's rate, we'll take 30 months to reach bottom. That's long enough for Emperor Obama to meaningfully intervene.

But, fellow critters, it won't happen that slowly. The system ain't linear. Expect further acceleration in job drops this winter -- maybe up to a million-man month, and as soon as February.

That means too soon, as St Pauly girl seems to be sniffin' in the wind. It's proably too late now, no matter what Abe Redivivus does -- just like the war of southern secession.

Too late, baby, too late to avoid the deeper than necessary jobless pit. No dembo recovery package will kick in fast enough. By the flowers of May... ugh.

These dynamics are taking us into unknown territory. It's quite possible, by hitting the million-a-month level on the early side -- say, by Groundhog Day -- our job market might hit a system phase change where qualitative morphs hit the dynamics. One thinks of the credit sector this past September.

Research project: find the Great One's peak drop and scale 'er up to now. Inevitably, piling up all these lost-job souls stokes hotter flames elsewhere -- or rather, everywhere, or at least everywhere wage households' dollars once reached. Positive feedback frenzy, anyone?

December 6, 2008

They just won't go away

"Change" was the Democrats' mantra during the campaign. After Election Day, they dropped that, with eye-blurring speed, in favor of "experience". Now they're talking about making Caroline Kennedy Senator from New York, in Hillary's place -- Caroline, who represents neither change nor experience. Presumably some third abstract quality will have to be invoked. What do you want to bet it's "charisma"?

The choice theoretically rests with David Paterson, Democratic governor of New York, who succeeded to that office recently after echt merit-baby Eliot Spitzer was found to have a rather louche erotic life. But presumably Obie will have something to say on the subject as well.

One of the pressures impinging on Paterson, according the New York Times today, is the Gender Nationalist lobby, AKA the FAFsters. Evidently the thinking in circles like NOW is that Hillary's seat -- I mean her Senate seat, not her own dear little long-suffering tush -- is Woman Property now.

I was talking about this today with a FAFster friend of mine. She tartly observed, "How many senators are women? Is it half?"

Fair enough. Who can, or would, object to gender equity? Caroline certainly won't be any worse than Hillary was, and if they went on and replaced Chuck Schumer with a woman -- any woman, chosen at random, fer Chrissake -- we'd almost certainly gain by the exchange.

What bugs me, though, about this FAF line of reasoning is its one-dimensional focus on superstructure, and its high comfort level with every aspect of the status quo except the remaining gender differentials. Getting women into the Senate, and the White House, and the Pentagon, and the CIA is the FAF mission; once accomplished, progress is thought to have been made, even if these institutions continue to operate on pretty much the same basis that they always have.

As a lefty and devout egalitarian, I'd like to feel that I have more in common with feminism than I can have, as long as feminism is defined in a way that not only accepts but embraces every other aspect of existing power relations. It's hard for me to be pleased that anybody -- man or woman, Jew or Gentile, barbarian or Greek -- wants to swell the ranks of my enemies.

In one way, Caroline Kennedy really perfectly exemplifies the problem. She's a woman -- so far so good. But she's also rich, she's a lawyer, or so they say, and most of all -- she's a Kennedy.

Are we never, never to have done with this legion of pests? -- now in, what, its fourth generation from old Joe, the gangster and Nazi sympathizer (shown above in the bosom of his altogether too numerous family).

The Party of Change seems in fact to be very much a party of property interests. The FAFs must have a few Senate seats, and the Kennedys are owed one too. Voila Caroline -- a twofer!

December 9, 2008

Young David Sirota thinks God
Must find it exeedingly odd...

David Sirota doesn't miss much. He's noticed that the Democratic Party has declared open war, war to the knife, against what it calls the "left":

Seems to me that House and Senate leaders have declared an all-out war on "the Left." ....

Here's this excerpt from the Washington Post (h/t FDL):

[O]ne Senate Democratic aide said bluntly: "The left has been foiled again. They can rant and rage but they still do not put the fear into folks to actually change their votes."

Here's the Hill newspaper today:

Democratic leader says party won’t turn left

As the House prepares to elect its leaders, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is challenging the idea that the expanded Democratic majority and its leaders will make a hard left turn.

To show that these aren't errant, uncommon statements, make sure to read Glenn Greenwald's review of how this hatred for "the Left" now reaches all the way to the top of the new Obama administration through Rahm Emanuel.

[I]t's pretty odd that only two weeks after a landslide election that saw a huge ideological progressive mandate, Democratic congressional leaders think it's a great public message to declare jihad on progressives.

I think David is odd. He's surely well-informed enough to know that this is standard operating procedure for the Democrats.

But in all fairness, he is onto something -- though it's not what he thinks it is.

In earlier years, Pwogs had to wait until after Inauguration Day to be disappointed. Now, with the generally faster pace of events -- due probably to the atom bomb, or maybe that Internet thing -- they can have the satisfaction of receiving their inevitable kick in the teeth much more promptly.

More explicitly, too. This suddenly popular trope among the old Donkparty stagers of berating the "left", even before their man has been sworn in is, I think, a straw in the hot air of no mean consequence. It attests bleakly to the radically enfeebled state of "left" Democrats.

These people's pathologically perseverative commitment to lesser-evillism has now landed them in the unenviable job of almost-perennial whipping boy. (They do get a few dry old bones thrown to them in primary season, whenever the Democrat is not the incumbent, and on this scanty fare they must nourish their delusions from one decade to the next.)

Why, though, do the alpha donkeys feel the need to drive the point home so explicitly, and so publicly? Why not just fuck the Pwogs quietly, rather than talking about it -- as has always been the case in previous Democratic administrations? The election is over -- those half-a-dozen Angry White Guys who might have been swayed by this tactic have already cast their ballots for whomever.

I suspect they're just having some fun, and the Pwogs are now so inconsequential that they can afford to have it. It's good to be the king -- again. Yeah, during the primaries and to some extent during the election, they had to keep their hatred and contempt for the Pwogs a little muted. Now they can indulge themselves -- and people who can indulge themselves, generally will.

December 10, 2008

The course of true love

A lefty friend of mine observed today, a propos Barack and the Left: "The wedding isn't till January but the honeymoon is already over."

This way to the egress

Everywhere, numbers -- dark-smelling economic numbers -- pour out on us from our newspapers.

But for a moment, let's wave 'em aside.

These numbers, however they run, however they mean, however they show our betters making a hell of things here on rock three -- they'll not change for the worse just 'cause we few ignore them awhile. What will be, will be, Obama... eh?

As Paul Samuelson, the great and terrible neoclassical theorist, once said: "After all, economic history is just one big numerical example after another."

Let us, as scientists, rise above this midden-heap of numbers to the algebra of all possible societies.

Sam's science -- alas, my science, the dismal science -- looking down from its Platonic platform on high, despite much media-induced popular belief to the contrary, actually gets what's up these days -- at least when the dismal science is fully awake and using its latest formalisms and data streams, and as long as it places itself in the hands of able souls with the best of Ivy training like Stiglitz and Summers. Scientifically speaking, lots of folks -- maybe even 'enough folks enough of the time' -- more or less understand how our economic world runs itself, and where it's got itself into, and where it's likely headed further into. But then, as Dr Marx famously observed, the point -- the really big point, where the wheels hit the road, is -- to change the fucking numbers.

In that light, and to change theistic systems, all our Joshuas must betray their Moses. Even if the great Moses, Keynes himself, seemed to show us all a foolproof way to take the dismal permanently out of the dismal science, it's only too apparent these days that Keynes' present crop of Joshuas ain't up to the task of conquering Palestine for us promised people of earth, the wretchedly jobbled masses.

For instance: we had a one-year warning about the horrors that beset us now. We saw this coming way back in August 2007, and nonetheless that warning led to what? A 12 month Sitzkrieg, till bam! we're faced with the hot-footed, maybe too late, maybe just-in-time scrambles of this past September and October -- a whole year later and only after the full force of the gathering shock waves were already whacking the shit out of our hi-fi sector.

Why this Pearl Harbor-like lapse?

Because, despite a thousand highly placed plaints of "who knew" from the likes of the bonded one, Bobby Rubin, the dirty fact is they all knew. They all saw it coming, the tower trolls. In fact some have known for so long they forgot it a couple of times along the way. They knew and they did nothing, because they preffered this massive global catastrophe to the alternative.

And the alternative is...?

Here is what the science sez:

We have it in our latent power to construct a global macro system -- run on Keynes-Lerner-Vickrey principles -- a global macro system where such absurd self-induced economic contractions as the present imbroglio wouldn't even get underway. Comrades, come the day of final action, we can build a worldwide no-bubble zone, a worldwide no-stagnation zone, no runaway-inflation zone, and last but far from least, a worldwide no-unemployment zone. Yes there could be right here even with all the natural restrictions of our joint human condition, earthwide hyper-employment, through fairly elementary macro mangement of effective demand, so long as we maintined a fairly smartly co-ordinated pricing system.

And here's the bazooka shot to Wall street and Babbitville alike: we could have this, coupled with steady but rapid productivity growth.

But here's the rub: if we did these easy-to-cook-up moves, we'd destroy -- even without intent -- the corporate system that runs all things marketed round here.

The core insight: forget prosperity for ever and for all. The present system couldn't even survive constant full employment. If the job market were forever overflowing with job opportunity, in remakably short order our leading corporations would soon enough begin to founder. Their raison d'etre, their vast and deeply artificial irrigation system of private profits would begin to dry up. Any value produced not caught as wages would rush out of the system straight into innocent consumer surplus. Without the ability to make the sack scary, the bastards at long last would be left, God forbid, to drink only of the exiguous trickle of rewards due them for actual innovation.

"The horror! The horror!" as Harold Geneen might say. A system without a plethora of carefully crafted rent sumps is a system that turns limited liability corporations into dinosaurs.

This sometimes clever, sometimes brutal job rationing system is the one motive force absolutely necessary to fill and sustain the above mentioned profit sumps, AKA market driven oligopoly profits. And so it shall remain so as long as personal earnings from the labor of others are around to warm the bedrooms of widows and orphans. And other shareholders as well.

We live inside, under, and through this system, but without personal culpability. We aren't to blame. The trolls themselves aren't to blame, not at least at the one-at-a-time corporate level. No. The evil is in fact today lovingly enforced by job scarcity's younger brother, centralized credit rationing, the system's Holy Ghost power, that keeps alive the mechanism of surplus margins inside corporate revenue boundaries. Which is to say: the credit ration system, by pulling in its markers, usually can keep wages the hell out of profit's hair.

To travel to even a higher platform, feature this, my friends and fellow befucked-niks: even if you get to the mountaintop -- even if you take on all the power of mankind, strip away nation-states and go to a one world system where equality of race gender and creed radiates like sunshine itself -- if in a moment of Burkean lily-liveredness or Dickensian nostalgia or fondness for the once great and powerful, you keep intact our large limited liability corporate critters, then not only will they regain control earthwide, they will resurrect the job scarcity system by whatever means availible. And with time and fair sailing you'd once again begin to experience its opposite, sudden heavy seas -- rapidly developing, excessive, non-efficiency-enhancing job shucks; and they'd emerge as quickly and as senselessly and as massively as any of today's recurrent draftings into the armies of idleness.

December 11, 2008

Gatekeepers facing eviction?

A fellow-member of one of my lefty mailing lists passed along a begging letter he received from Alfred H Bloom, the president of his atra mater, the formerly very self-satisfied Swarthmore College:

Swarthmore has benefited from a continuing tradition of generous philanthropy and has over the years enjoyed exceptional investment success. The College has held prudently to a conservative spending rate on its endowment during years of excellent return so that it would be well positioned in years of disappointing performance....

Nevertheless, the almost 30% decline in the endowment from its June 30 value of $1.4 billion has been much steeper than anyone anticipated....

Effective immediately, the College will pull back from all non-essential construction work, refrain from initiating any new programs, and stringently evaluate any faculty or staff hiring....

Over the coming semester we will develop a contingency plan for more significant reductions in the budget, which the College will begin to implement if by this time next year the College's financial situation has not improved.

It's an ill wind that blows nobody good. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the "current decline in financial assets," as Bloom old-maidishly calls it, ruined every elite private college and university in the nation? Low Library converted to low-rent housing!

Oh I'm licking my chops here. The spirit of '68 walks again, wearing the stolen clothing of Efficient Markets.

December 12, 2008

The foursquare gospel

Recovery, relief, reform, reconstruction: We need plans for all four now!

Lots of folks seem to pick one over the rest, or confuse 'em one with another.

  • Recovery: an immediate return to full employment globally by massive deficit spending now.
  • Relief: a tax rebate plan over four years to shift trillions in national debt burden from households to Uncle Sawbuck.
  • Reform: harness the free-range corporations to the national plow and tax wealth like a borrowed mule.
  • Reconstruction: This is a two-parter: 1) A 4-year plan to build a green American production platform, and 2) a balanced-trade dollar.
Here's a fr-instance: Nelly-bell winner Joseph A Stiglitz poses relief against recovery:
In America today, with an overhang of household debt and high uncertainty, tax cuts are likely to be ineffective (as they were in Japan in the 1990s). Much, if not most, of last February's US tax cut went into savings...
-- Ineffective, he means, at stimulating spending needed to spur recovery. Right. But still much needed to provide debt relief. Uncle has to take down both these targets, by big working-class tax cuts and massive direct spending of his own -- or even, okay, indirect spending through the states.

Stig would have us pull off a revenue-neutral tax shift from the small skilled workers to the portfoliate and the high-fee professionalate. Fine, but two-phase it, Stig: Now relieve the wagery with a massive payroll tax holiday, plus -- why not? -- a rebate of the entire content of the Social Security trust funds.

"You earned it, you damn well need it, so I'm givin' it back, cowpokes."

Critique of critical criticism

Just thought I'd pass along this bulletin I got from my pal Herbert Nott Sorrell (grandson of his late great namesake):

McDonald's isn't lovin' free choice for its employees. Over the weekend news broke that the fast food giant is organizing its store owners to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act. McDonald's has reportedly even formed an "internal response team...to actively participate in the opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act.

Write to McDonald's and say employees need free choice - we'll send your letters to McDonald's headquarters to make sure they get the message....

In Solidarity,
Michael Whitney
Change that Works

The purple wave also rises? I doubt it. But a target of merit indeed is Herr Baron von Ronaldstein. Target his archepelago of drivethru greaserias, and you target the Ford of fast foods ... right?

Dogs vs. progs...

... that's the preview for the winter House session. It'll be donkey time, all the time, but will Babbit Blue beat Parlor Pink?

My hunch: the fight will fizzle, as the economy ever more dramatically spins into hibernation for our forecasted three winters in a row.

Unlike my fearless Duce here at SMBIVA, Father Boone of Boone Hollow, I see too much hell and high water ahead for the dogs. Despite past victories and many a naughty bark, watch out: by February they may feel a very deep urge to ... croak.

That's a lot of nuts

Worth deeply noting: China is about to join the cascade of international contractions, and in a starring role. The Washpost reports:

"The impact on China, one of the rare lights in an otherwise gloomy global economy, is particularly troubling. Beijing announced yesterday that its November.... imports [fell] 17.9 percent.... growth there is slowing to its lowest level since 1990."
That is, under 4%. Whoa! Recall the brass-band talk in our elite press about the great Han stimulus package a month back? The boys in Beijing rolled out a plan equal to "...roughly 7 percent of its gross domestic product," in each of the next two years, "to construct new railways, subways and airports...."

Yup, tons of infrastructure shit. Sounds bold, eh? It's like Uncle spending a trillion a year for two years. On "railways, subways and airports." Man, that would be the day, wouldn't it?

Less than meets the eye here, alas. Once you shave off the stuff already in the hopper, and compare this plan to China's looming output gap, it won't be nearly enough, by my estimates or anybody else's.

China needs to force back through the system more like 30% of its GDP (yes, 30%) and it'll need to be in additional household spending.

The problem is that even if it wanted to, China, like Hooverian America circa 1930, doesn't have a personal income tax, or sales and property tax system combined, big enough to pull off that large a rebate.

Now of course the system has at present a fiscal surplus; hence the ease with which bold increases in infrastructure spending can be financed. But there are 750 million peasants out there waiting.

The export sector is the culprit, of course. Formerly able to suck up Gargantuan piles of surplus workers and a massive (40% of GDP) accumulation of surplus funds, now it's like a Keynesian nightmare over there. No one ever on earth has seen an economy this size, moving this fast, hit this hard of a wall.

It ain't likely to end well.

The great unanswered question: why didn't the ever so modern and clever economic authorities over there see this coming, and begin to switch over as much and as fast as possible to domestic-driven growth, maybe 4 years ago? You know -- get household spending up from under 50% of GDP to say 65%; create a safety net; a tax and transfer system; etc.

I have some ideas on this subject, but they'll have to wait for another post.

December 13, 2008

The American Dream: fat and unhappy

I read this item with the deepest possible pleasure:

Controlling for demographics and income, homeowners do not report higher levels of well-being by any measure in this data set. In fact, they report to be less healthy, derive less joy from love and relationships, spend less time with friends and on active leisure, and also experience less positive affect during time spent with friends. Their time use patterns reveal little evidence of them being "better citizens"....

[H]omeowners derive more pain (but no more joy) from both their home and their neighborhood. They are also more likely to be 12 pounds heavier.... The average homeowner .... is also less likely to... enjoy being with people.... Overall, these results point to negative feelings... related to homeownership, although less healthy individuals might have self-selected to be homeowners.

I'm such a giddy optimist: I can actually hope that the long-overdue collapse of the house market will exorcise the idiotic, stultifying American fetish for "owning" these shabby knocked-together hideous mashups of low-grade pinewood and sheetrock. (The quotes around "owning" are there because nearly all supposed and self-described owners actually live in a mortgaged house whose real owner is the bank.)

Now if somebody would just study the psychic damage arising from the other great American fetish, the automobile....

Now, we torture

Experience, it seems, also counts a lot in discharging the important civic functions of torture, kidnapping, and privy murder:

House Democrat urges Obama to keep Bush's intelligence chiefs

The House Intelligence Committee's top Democrat said Tuesday he has recommended that ... Obama keep the country's current national intelligence director and CIA chief in place for some time to ensure continuity in U.S. intelligence programs....

Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said he also recommended... that some parts of the CIA's controversial alternative interrogation program should be allowed to continue....

Lawmakers have battled the last two years over whether the CIA should be required to follow the Army Field Manual when conducting interrogations. The Senate Intelligence Committee, for example, approved a fiscal 2009 intelligence authorization bill with language prohibiting U.S. intelligence agencies from using any interrogation method not approved by the Field Manual.

But Reyes opposed adding such language in his panel's version of the authorization bill, which the House approved over the summer.

Recall that this is the same Reyes handpicked by Nancy Pelosi (over equally crazed Jane Harman) to head his committee after the last-but-one Most Important Election in History, the '06 midterms.

I wonder when the Obama Kids will figure out that they voted not just for Mr Clean, but for Silvestre Reyes?

Dotheboys Hall, B. Obama, Headmaster

It's hard to keep up with the relentless drumbeat of sourly satisfying news about Obama's appointments, actual and potential. I'm only now getting around to reflecting on the glorious possibility that Obie might actually appoint the Childgrinder of Tweed Courthouse, Joel Klein, as secretary of education.

Klein, a corporate lawyer, was put in charge of New York City's schools by that Napoleonic poison toad Mike Bloomberg. The two of them share a religious commitment to standardized testing as the Holy Grail of education.

Of course this is also the Bush administration's approach, embodied in No Child Left Alone -- er, Behind.

In fact there's an almost complete elite consensus viewing education as a kind of industrial operation: a child-processing facility that takes in raw material (sentimentally referred to as "children") of various types and levels of quality, pulverizes them, sifts them, separates the fine-grained from the coarse, and packages them into citizen-units ranging in price from the deluxe to the unlabelled-generic -- and by the way, generates a fairly high proportion of factory-seconds and rejects in the course of its workings.

You can see why a bloodless corporate honcho like Bloomberg might like this picture -- a δημοβόρος βασιλεύς , as Homer says, a people-eating king. But merit babies like Obie are right there with 'em. For folks in this latter category, the only thing more sacred than the Supreme Court is the Scholastic Aptitude Test. (To be sure, these kind-hearted humanists can be counted on, as always, to emit a high faint yesbutnik squeak, if you squeeze them, like one of those toy mice that cats are expected to like. But that, and a high-school diploma, will get you -- bupkis.)

It may not be Klein, of course. It might be Obie's old Harvard and Chicago buddy Arne Duncan, Klein's counterpart in Chicago.

Duncan is easily summed up: he is to Klein as Chicago is to New York.

December 18, 2008

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!

By my lights, Dani Rodrik is a fine political economist. He recently posted at his site this interesting calculation:

"How much of a boost to economic activity will a fiscal stimulus provide? For those who believe that we have entered a Keynesian world of shortage of aggregate demand -- me included -- the answer depends on the Keynesian multiplier.

The size of this multiplier depends in turn on three things in particular, the marginal propensity to consume (c), the marginal tax rate (t), and the marginal propensity to import (m). If c=0.8, t=0.2, and m=0.2, the Keynesian multiplier is 1.8 (=1/(1-c(1-t)+m)). A $1 trillion fiscal stimulus would increase GDP by $1.8 trillion....

Now suppose that we had a way to raise the multiplier by more than half, from 1.8 to 2.8. The same fiscal stimulus would now produce an increase in GDP of $2.8 trillion -- quite a difference. Nice deal if you can get it. In fact you can. It is pretty easy to increase the multiplier; just raise import tariffs by enough so that the marginal propensity to import out of income is reduced substantially (to zero if you want the multiplier to go all the way to 2.8). Yes, yes, import protection is inefficient and not a very neighborly thing to do -- but should we really care if the alternative is significantly lower growth and higher unemployment?"

Kewl, eh?

Cosmopolites, beware! The dark shroud of protectionism looms near.

Here's the flip side: raise the system to the global level, where there are no imports or exports only internal planetary trade. The propensity to import naturally goes to zero (unless some Venusians turn up who want to sell us cars), and you get the same powerful results as by sliding lower down to national protectionism.

If the earth's 200 nations formed a more perfect union, say, like the Terran federation of nation-states, then we have again the robust fiscal multiplier 2.8....

O brave new world!

Depressing non-depression economics

Here's Brad 'Pugsley' Delong at his best and brightest:

"Let me try my hand at a definition of non-depression economics.

Non-depression economics believes that:

Short-run economic policy should be left to the central bank-- the legislature and the executive should focus on the long run and keep their noses out of year-to-year fluctuations in employment and prices.... The highest priority for central banks should be to maintain their credibility as guardians of price stability. Once that highest goal has been achieved, central banks can turn their attention to trying to keep the economy near full employment."

There you have it: the mind of a Clinton neoliberal in the time of hi-fi cholera, a born designated driver: "Where to, Mistah Madoff, suh?"

How halcyon and wistful, eh?

December 19, 2008

United for Pajamas (UFPJ)

I wouldn't have thought it was possible for UFPJ to be an even more narcoleptic lapdog for the Democratic Party after the election than they were before. But I was wrong. According to one of my lefty correspondents,

UFPJ recently defeated a proposal to support a united anti-war march in Washington D.C. on the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war, Saturday, March 21, by a vote of 111 to 49. Instead, United For Peace and Justice voted in favor of their program "Yes We Can... End the War" for a Saturday April 4 march on Wall Street, focusing on the recession.
Another correspondent adds:
It's true. I was there.

Supporters of March 21st asked that that action not be counterposed to April 4th -- and we still don't see them as counterposed. The UFPJ leadership insisted they had to be. Their arguments in favor of April 4th were that the focus had to move away from the war. In the words of UFPJ-NYC leader Leslie Kielson, "we're used to being in opposition, to being an antiwar movement. Now we can be proactive," because "we're in a new period."

And the idea of a march in DC -- instead of NY, where April 4th will be -- was vetoed because it would seem to be opposing Obama.

Over and over the need to realize "this is a different moment," to be part of the "Obama movement," was stressed.

After the vote on these two actions was taken, at a workshop on the economic crisis, I said that it would be great to get unions involved in April 4th and bring their demands for the kind of jobs and services they need for their members and communities (sounds pretty proactive to me!).

Unfortunately UFPJ instead is only calling for a 25% reduction in war spending (which would probably leave us at levels of 4 or 5 years ago). So rather than integrating the war and the economy in a genuinely progressive way -- i.e. no troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and jobs and services for all who need them -- they will demonstrate where, and with only those demands, that they feel won't anger Obama.

Socialistworker.org had a reporter at UFPJ's recent convention, who tells a melancholy tale:
THE MAIN U.S. antiwar coalition, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), held its national convention in Chicago on December 12-14.... [T]he conference drew only 248 attendees, fewer than at its convention last year. Such a low turnout should come as no surprise; UFPJ has not called a major national antiwar demonstration in close to two years and has invested the bulk of its forces either directly or indirectly in campaigning for the Democratic Party....

At the convention, the majority of UFPJ's leadership and featured speakers argued forcefully that the antiwar movement should credit itself for helping get Obama elected and be encouraged that we will now finally have an ally in the White House.

"We have elected the most progressive mainstream politician imaginable," declared William McNary, president of USAction/TrueMajority, at the opening plenary. McNary went on to describe Obama as our "quarterback"--and say that the movement's task is to "block" for him.

On the same panel, Antonia Juhasz, an activist and author of The Bush Agenda, argued, "Barack Obama has a fundamentally different approach to Iraq and the war in Afghanistan. He has a fundamentally different approach to imperialism. He has a fundamentally different approach to the oil industry...."

[T]he convention marked a turn in UFPJ's past practice of focusing specifically on the war in Iraq. Now, UFPJ proposes to broaden out to highlight economic justice, racism and climate change, among a host of other issues.

"Only a new compact, a real compact with a handshake between social movements from the bottom up--especially the antiwar, economic justice and environmental movements--can begin to achieve a better, safer future and deliver on the truly radical promises of the Obama presidency," said Tom Hayden... now a Democratic Party activist....

[A] proposal to incorporate opposition to the war in Afghanistan was approved. "UFPJ demands immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all occupying forces from Afghanistan," reads the amendment. "We will make this demand along with immediate withdrawal from Iraq the central focus of our organizing and actions."

UFPJ's leadership clearly didn't want to come out for immediate withdrawal, which puts the coalition explicitly at odds with the Obama administration's plans. But sensing that this was broadly popular among the delegates, the program committee decided to accept the caucus' language as a friendly amendment, and thus avoid a vote on the issue directly....

Initially, UFPJ had called for mobilizations during the week of the anniversary of the Iraq war. Two other antiwar formations--the National Assembly that met in Cleveland this past summer and International ANSWER--put out a call for an ad hoc coalition of all antiwar groups for a national demonstration on March 21 in Washington, D.C.

UFPJ's leadership didn't respond to this call for unity, and instead proposed local actions on March 19 and a spring national mobilization in New York City on April 4. Asserting that the antiwar movement alone isn't capable of mobilizing sufficient forces and would risk alienating the Black community if it directly confronted Obama, the New York City march will have a slogan "Yes we can...End the war"--but will emphasize a broad range of issues....

[S]upporters of UFPJ's leadership spoke of the importance of broadening the constituency and agenda of UFPJ. But the logic of their position was to insist that no antiwar demonstration take place in Washington....

Tom Hayden! Perfect. Was it Gore Vidal who once observed that "Tom Hayden is the type of guy who gives opportunism a bad name"?

The wheels on the bus...

Our old pal Mike Flugennock sends along his visual comment on Obama and his self-immolating fan club of Pwogs:

December 23, 2008

Could be worse. Could be worse.

Matthew Yglesias has found something to like about Obama's cabinet and staff appointments:

[Obama's appointments are] on average to the right of the average Democratic member of congress. It’s worth understanding, however, that the same methodology would lead to the conclusion that Obama’s cabinet is to the left of the veto points in congress.

Those points are the median member of the House (a Blue Dog) and in the Senate either a centrist Democrat for things requiring a majority or else someone like Susan Collins to break a filibuster. It’s those characters who determine the scope of what’s possible legislatively. And though I think progressives will have many disappointments in the coming years, many more of those disappointments will come because something good Obama proposes gets watered-down in congress than because congress wants to do something good and somehow gets thwarted by the White House.

In other words: Obama may be dismayingly right-wing, but he's still not as bad as Congress. What a relief! We sure dodged a bullet there!

December 27, 2008

Happy Hanukkah, from holy Zion

240 dead so far, in an Israeli aerial bombing attack on the Gaza Strip, launched with characteristic shit-on-the-carpet coarseness by the Boers of the Middle East on December 27. Joy to the world, peace on earth, light in the darkness, goodwill toward men? Not if the soldiers of Zion have anything to say about it.

They're droll, the Israelis. This little exercise in technologically-mediated risk-free mass slaughter has a "code name", as every self-respecting massacre must: Operation Cast Lead. A slightly opaque phrase unless you happen to have heard the Hanukkah song that refers to "cast-lead dreydels".

So it's a little Hanukkah celebration: spin the dreydel, kill a few dozen Palestinians, spin, kill, spin, kill. This is the meaning of the Festival of Lights in Israel: God miraculously gave us the ability to murder anybody we want, anytime we want to. Baruch atah Adonai!

I was trying to think of parallels. Hiroshima? Wrong scale, and too off-the-scale. Dresden or Coventry? But those took place in the setting of a relatively evenly-matched conventional war between states.

Then it came to me: Of course.


A faraway people, of whom we know nothing

Here's Mister Hope and Change responding to the Israeli Condor Legion's famous victory in Gaza:

Obama 'monitoring' Gaza strikes: spokesman

HONOLULU, Hawaii (AFP) — US president-elect Barack Obama is "monitoring" the deadly violence in the Gaza strip....

In a July interview with The New York Times, Obama said he didn't think that "any country would find it acceptable to have missiles raining down on the heads of their citizens," in reference to rockets fired from Gaza into Israel.

"If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that," Obama said. "And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing."

Sounds like the Jerusalem Boers got the message, Obie.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post dolefully opines:

Israeli Airstrikes on Gaza Strip Imperil Obama's Peace Chances

Israel's airstrikes on Gaza yesterday.... could scuttle any hopes the incoming Obama administration harbored of forging an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal....

"Now I think what the Obama administration faces is at least two years or more before they can really think of having any serious movement" on the peace process," [said Anthony H. Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies].

That must be a load off their minds. Talk about dodging a bullet.

December 28, 2008

What, me worry?

From TPM Cafe:

Obama Refuses To Endorse Gaza Attacks PLUS Young Jewish Bloggers (Klein, Yglesias and Ackerman) Do Us Proud

By M.J. Rosenberg - December 28, 2008, 10:42AM

On Meet The Press this morning, David Axelrod was asked about Gaza by David Gregory....

Axelrod said, predictably, that we have one President at a time. He also said that Obama understood the "urge" to respond militarily.

"The urge." That's it. None of that "of course Israel has the right to defend itself" stuff which was Bush's response to everything....

When Obama feels strongly about anything, the "one President at a time" mantra is abandoned. When he wants to avoid being boxed in, he invokes it. Under pressure to follow Nancy Pelosi's example and just endorse the attack, Axelrod punted. Big time. I hope the Israelis understand what this means.

I wish Axelrod said more but, in this case, silence was golden. Axelrod sent a signal. After Jan. 20th, America will be an "honest broker." That is what both sides need.


The oldsters are cheering on the Gaza attacks but the Jewish "best and brightest" think ethically and not ethnically....

"I hope the Israelis understand what this means." I dare say they do, MJ. Your capacity to find good news in the Obama herbal-tea leaves, no matter how they fall, is an inspiration to all of us.

The "best and brightest" to whom Rosenberg refers all take pretty much the same line: the Israelis are being silly and short-sighted, if not downright "idiotic". The Gaza attacks are not in their interest. If only Matt Yglesias vel sim. were in the Israeli cabinet, the Light Of The Nations would be pursuing a much more intelligent and nicer strategy.

Considering that stunts like this are the way that Zionism took state power in the first place, and has sustained itself there for my lifetime, and has successfully beaten off during that time every remote chance of peace breaking out -- considering all these things, the "idiots" in Jerusalem might have some justification for thinking that they understand their bloody brutal business better than a troika of underage beautiful-soul yesbutnik bloggers like Klein, Yglesias, and Ackerman.

December 29, 2008

Is he Thwackum? Or is he Square?

"Today, many experts believe that unemployment could reach 10 percent by the end of next year and our economy could fall $1 trillion short of its full capacity."
That's Obama's head econ-con Lawrence Summers, lowballing the gathering tempest.
"The Obama plan represents not new public works but, rather, investments that will work for the American public. Investments to build the classrooms, laboratories and libraries our children need to meet 21st-century educational challenges. Investments to help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil by spurring renewable energy initiatives (many of which are on hold because of the credit crunch). Investments to put millions of Americans back to work rebuilding our roads, bridges and public transit systems. Investments to modernize our health-care system..."
Reading Larry the Swine's hortatory squealfest, my mind ran off towards those two great advisors to Squire Allworthy, Mr Square and Parson Thwackum...

... grappling with the age-old question "Can any honour exist independent of religion?"

Whilst we numberless orphans of the storm are blown from pillar to post, we're to be comforted by thoughts of Obama's econ-con dream team fashioning a squared-circle rescue (albeit behind the great veil of discretion) -- a plan that preserves all our tiny souls' civic virtue and yet extends to us a generous secular grace.

"Some argue that instead of attempting to both create jobs and invest in our long-run growth, we should focus exclusively on short-term policies that generate consumer spending. But that approach led to some of the challenges we face today -- and it is that approach that we must reject if we are going to strengthen our middle class and our economy over the long run..."
Stuff of that sanctimonious type, coming from the likes of dear Larry, and his Thwackum-ish counterpart Parson Paul Volcker, evokes a pretty clear picture of 20 million bounced-out Toms and Mollys, empty bags in hand, each on their own winding sorry road to an indifferently cold and wanton patch of London town.

December 31, 2008

Happy Progressive New Year

That is the mausoleum of the appointee-in-limbo to Obama's Senate seat. Thank you, IOZ.

Our progressive friends have managed to navigate all the shoals of dissonance so thoughtfully provided by President-to-be Obama and the Democratic Party. They'll get through this too. But in the spirit of generosity, I'd like to suggest that Roland Burris's mausoleum is not testimony to the creepy vanity of a massively self-important individual. Rather, it's the symbol of an epic struggle. A transformative struggle. If there were no mausoleum, then there would not have been a struggle. And the world would be a different place. It's possible that it wouldn't even exist. Then where would we all be? We wouldn't exist! Therefore it's better to accept any apparent imperfections and not hold out for purity.

If that doesn't work, click heels three times, repeat the magic formula, "Democrat in name only, Democrat in name only", and remember: disassociation in time saves dissociative meltdown.

Big white brother and little brown brother

Okay, so I'm convinced uncle Obama could pull us out of the dive, acting solo and using just the budgetary levers of taxes and expenditures -- so long as he's bold enough. And in consequence, if we wallow long in this coming jobless pit, I can rightfully lay the blame on the good emperor hisseff.

But what of, say, the leader of Cambodia operating with no limitless dollar mine to tap? Can he or she be blamed if the gathering depression lingers on past next year in that small and much-tasked country?

The privateering pattern is clear: in high times, the transnational free-range corporations fly in to places like Cambodia with their international credit and their cutting-edge technology and their first-rate organization, but when the great sucking sound begins, and the rip tide is in the offing -- they fly right on out, collapsing the local asset markets and taking much "domestic paper capital" back with them to the Manhattan metropole and its imperial dollar.

Moral: the tangled web in the end snares the threadwalking fly.

Here is the great and glorious Keynes, circa deep dark depression days:

"I sympathize, therefore, with those who would minimize, rather than with those who would maximize, economic entanglement among nations.... I have become doubtful whether the economic loss of national self-sufficiency is great enough to outweigh the other advantages of gradually bringing the product and the consumer within the ambit of the same national, economic, and financial organization. Experience accumulates to prove that most modern processes of mass production can be performed in most countries and climates with almost equal efficiency.... let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonably and conveniently possible, and, above all, let finance be primarily national..."
Mr K not a globalizer, eh?

Back to Cambodia. Now I have a history with this place and its brief essay into radical autarky back in the 70's, so I think of it often when the wild and wooly down side of "limited liability internationalism" raises its head, like it has recently. One has to wonder if Keynes meant this passage above to apply to the likes of today's descendent of Pol Pot's Democratc Kampuchea. More broadly, can we say the periphery of the earthwide Yankee empire is safe for practioners of Keynesianism?

Can little brown states run like big white ones do?

Let's begin by doubting it.

To be continued...

Another low dishonest year ...

... going out as it came in:
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade...
You know the rest. And it's all, or almost all, wrong, really, though it comes to mind so forcefully. I'm not on 52d Street -- thank God -- and I'm neither more uncertain nor more afraid than usual. Rather less, if anything. It's not the end of a decade, and there's been nothing you could really call clever for quite some time now.

Dishonest, yes, and low, low, low. Plenty of that. Never a shortage.

As I sit here preparing to say a very willing goodbye to a very shabby year, Uncle Sam's beloved serial-killer nephew in the Middle East continues to rain explosives on the people of Gaza. The New York Times publishes an op-ed by Benny Morris -- Benny Morris! -- explaining why Israel is so "frightened." Mister Clever Hope Obama has given the massacre as clear and bright a green light as any blood-simple gang of thugs could hope for.

And of course the American "peace" movement is -- keeping its peace.

But look on the bright side. Hamas will recover, but house prices probably never will, in my lifetime anyway, and people like this...

... are really, really pissed off.

Clio is a cruel goddess, but she's not all bad. She likes to give us the odd Cervantean belly laugh in the course of her operations.

Happy New Year, one and all.

No, seriously.

About December 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Stop Me Before I Vote Again in December 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

November 2008 is the previous archive.

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