Monday, June 28, 2010


I've been reading Nassim Taleb's Black Swan, and recognizing myself over and over in his descriptions of arrogant "experts" who prognosticate freely based on (internal or external) "narratives" drawn from unsubstantiated ideas about causality. I will attempt to subdue myself in the future, but after a long lifetime of enjoying the notion of my "superior intellect," it's likely to be difficult.

One of the good things about keeping a blog is that you can go back and quantify how often your predictions were correct and how often they were wrong. (Don't think I've forgotten my dire warnings of stagflation from early 2008 — I couldn't have been much more wrong about that.) A bad thing about a blog, of course, is that you can go back and edit yourself, but I don't do that. What's the point?

Well, two days ago, I predicted double-dip recession. Today, I asked myself why. Here's what I believe to be the answer.

It's that internal narrative, tainted by persistent depressive thoughts and general pessimism. I think of the worst possible outcome, and assume it will ensue. The good thing about this is that when worst possible outcome doesn't come to be, I can be pleasantly surprised; and when the worst does happen, I can have the satisfaction of having been right.

Of course, there's no reason for me to impose my negativity on others. In the future, I will cut back on the predictions. I will begin doing that when the government of the United States starts implementing its reforms of the financial system; and I will proceed at the same glacial speed. There are some things you just can't do all at once.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Crank up the deficit please

I won't even bother to comment on the financial "reform" bill that came out of conference — except to say that the banks that were too big to fail in 2008 are even bigger now, and that everything in the bill depends on the zeal of the regulators, who never were especially zealous in the past.

What really has me steamed at the moment is the Senate's refusal to continue Medicaid assistance to the states, and to extend unemployment benefits. This is not the time to force state and local governments to lay off large chunks of their workforces, nor to deprive an unemployed worker of the ability to feed the kids. Being "deficit hawks" makes sense for Republicans, of course. If they can prolong the national misery, they can pick up more seats in the midterm election. A double-dip recession probably could win them the presidency next time around. As for Ben Nelson, I suspect he's just an idiot.

Deficit cutting is getting quite fashionable, though, and even if the United States manages to continue some level of stimulus, Europeans are determined to move the other way. Aggressive budget balancing by the UK, Germany, and France almost certainly will push Europe back into recession. Given that it's a world economy now, they'll drag the rest of us down with them.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lesson for Today

Military leaders in the field should not go drinking with reporters from Rolling Stone, much less bring their asshole aides along to the party.

In the meanwhile, on the ground, the casualties keep mounting, the Karzai family continues to enrich itself at the expense of the American taxpayer, and Al Qaeda is blithely training its operatives in Yemen, Somalia, and probably other places around the world that most Americans never knew existed.

We can't police the world anymore — we can't afford it, and it just doesn't work.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Spill Speech

"God Bless Us, Every One!"
Tiny Tim

"Uh, yeah! Right!"
Barack Obama

Okay, I was not impressed. I was hoping for a little detail. No, I certainly didn't expect a proposal for a carbon tax, although that is exactly what we need to reduce our dependence on imported oil. An extra dollar or two a gallon certainly would do the trick, but politically, that won't work. You don't win elections by preaching abstinence to addicts.

What we got was just more of the increasingly boring Obama blather. (I thought of calling it "jive" rather than "blather," but it didn't rise to the level of jive — and jive really is best accomplished by black men.) Then there was all that "god" talk tossed in at the end. Is he still trying to win over states like Alabama and Mississippi? What an asshole!

What is needed is not talk — nothing will matter but action. Granted, the Brits will not be too happy if we bankrupt BP, but what the hell — they'll be pulling out of Afghanistan any day now anyway, and even though they steered clear of the euro, they'll still be stuck in the European debt crisis. "Bah, humbug," as Tiny Tim didn't say — nor did Obama.

Maybe he should run that quote by Rahm. Maybe that's what America is waiting to hear.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Meanwhile, back in Marja...

Last February, I grudgingly allowed that General McChrystal should get his chance at pacifying Marja. Well, he's had his chance. Before we escalate even further and move on to Kandahar, maybe it would be a good idea to see how Marja turned out.

The Taliban actually left for a while, but now they're back. The Afghan national police push the locals around during the day, and the Taliban do it by night. Oh, and remember that "government in a box" that was all ready to move in as soon as Marja was reclaimed? It seems the box must have leaked, because a good many of the officials never made it to Marja — they're still back in Kabul, although they are collecting their government salaries for doing such good work down south.

So the schedule for Kandahar has been pushed back a bit. I suppose there's no need for a "government in a box" there, because Ahmed Wali Karzai will continue to run the place just as he always has.

Making things even more interesting, U.S. geologists estimate close to a trillion dollars in mineral wealth is just waiting to be dug up in Afghanistan. Just think of all the splendid corruption that will bring. Hell, we couldn't even keep rampant corruption out of our own Minerals Management Service — and I really don't see a pack of Karzai cousins taking too much trouble to preserve the environment when the mining begins.

Well, at least they don't have an ocean to pollute.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Re: Bibi Netanyahu and the blockade

The world (excluding FOX news, of course) seems to agree that Israel kind of screwed itself by intercepting those blockade runners in a manner that might be considered a bit too aggressive. Whatever the facts are, however, Netanyahu comes out ahead.

Likud does best when Israelis feel most threatened. Whip up a batch of anti-Israeli rhetoric in the world media, and Israelis cling to their political party of war and antagonistic attitude like nettles to a wool sock. Bibi wins again.

In today's Times, Amos Oz lays out a road to peace — but it is not a road compatible with Likud domination of the Knesset. The right, in Israel every bit as much as in the United States, depends on fear to stay in power.

In the meanwhile, fear leaves the Obama administration virtually helpless. Can we afford to antagonize the Turks? The Jews? The Europeans? The fucking Republicans?

Maybe Barack needs to take a lesson or two from Bibi. Politics is not for the faint of heart, and "love of country" is just a way to hang onto the reins of power.