Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Somebody get that king some clothes!

While Hillary Clinton runs around the world kissing ass, I've been entertained by the latest wikileaks. It's always amusing when people get caught talking behind other people's backs — provided, of course, that the tongue wagger is not oneself — but so far I haven't seen any startling revelations.

Sarkozy's, Merkel's, and (especially) Berlusconi's "character flaws" have never been especially well hidden, and the State Department employees who decided to enshrine them in diplomatic cables should be reprimanded for wasting time belaboring the obvious. Russia under Putin is a mafia state, as any Westerner who has done business there can tell you, and it doesn't require much imagination to infer that the Sunni leaders of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are not at all happy about the prospect of Shi'a Iran having nuclear weapons. And, yes, both Maliki and Karzai are corrupt. Big news.

It also wasn't much of a secret that the Obama administration has been bribing foreign governments to accept internees from Guantanamo. (Kuwait's interior minister, by the way, came up with what I think is a pretty good idea for getting rid of the ones who are dangerous, but can't be prosecuted because of fuck-ups by the Bush administration: drop them off in an Afghan war zone where they are likely to be expeditiously killed.)

We await further revelations — although the New York Times, which received the documents in advance and is participating in their recission, let it drop in an editorial today that this time, at least, there's nothing about torture or rendition. If the Times isn't lying, that's good news.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Correction to the previous post

In yesterday's post, I said that liberals "don't believe in violence." What I should have said is that they "don't believe in violence at home." History shows us that they don't especially mind exporting violence to other countries, especially in the developing world, and especially if they can dream up some "moral imperative" for doing so — or can sign on with some conservative think tank's "moral imperative" so as to avoid appearing weak or unpatriotic.

If some of the yahoos who think they are "conservative" (because there's nobody to tell them they're just working class heroes co-opted by the corporate cabal) decide to go out shooting liberals, there would be little of value to mourn. If the liberals shot back with guns instead of columns in the Washington Post and interviews on MSNBC, I might hold them in slightly higher regard — not much higher, but slightly higher.

Maybe I've said this before, but here it is again, perhaps in a slightly different format:
  • If you support the Republicans and you are not rich, you are an idiot. They've been promising you those socially conservative "reforms" for decades, but they never come through.
  • If you support the Democrats and you're not on Chuck Schumer's speed-dial, you're wasting your time. They've been promising you those liberal "reforms" for decades, and they haven't come through since the Johnson administration.
  • If you move your vote back and forth between the corporatist parties based on their policy pronouncements, I feel sorry for you. Policy pronouncements, even in the short run, mean nothing.
  • If you move your vote back and forth based on your perception of the personality characteristics of the candidates, you're an idiot. They're all lying to you — not just words, but faces and body language as well. Haven't you figured that out yet?
I don't own a gun, mostly because I don't want to be tempted to blow out my own brains (and I haven't been a happy camper for quite a while, if ever.) Comes the revolution, though — if it ever comes — I guess I'll head out to a gun show in some NRA compliant state and buy myself some unregulated firearms. Probably I never could get anywhere near anybody I'd really like to shoot, but without the appropriate armaments there's no chance at all.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Where is the Class War?

We hear people on the right yelling "class war" with a boring regularity. Those of us who have been paying attention are inclined to believe the class war is over, and that the working and middle classes have lost.

There still are plenty of warriors out there, though, often quite well armed. There are hunters, rifle clubs, militias, street gangs, and no shortage of individual angry paranoids — many with combat experience. They could stir up some extremely severe civil unrest if they got it into their heads to just start shooting in a concerted way, but except for the drug gangs shooting each other and some of the paranoids shooting their families, co-workers, and the occasional abortion provider, things are unnaturally quiet.

To a large extent, the liberals have to take the blame. They have perpetuated the ridiculous belief that we can get what we want and need by voting, and that shooting our corporatist oppressors and their toadies is just not done. The ones most likely to shoot anyone for political and economic reasons don't even have a clue whom they should be shooting, and dream about taking potshots at immigrants and Democrats.

Okay, some Democrats might deserve it, but not for the reasons their assassins would have in mind.

The main thing that keeps a perfectly justifiable class war from happening is that there's nobody left to tell the people with the guns who they ought to be shooting. They won't get it from their corporatist media, their corporatist drug cartels, nor their supremely corporatist NRA. Organized labor — what remains of it — has been co-opted. "Progressive" campus groups were suckered into working for corporatist Obama, and now they've gone back to their keggers.

The so-called "left" has fragmented into feminists, environmentalists, "free speech" advocates, gay rights activists, anti-war activists, immigration reformers, and scores of other single-issue ax-grinders, incapable of recognizing that their common enemy is world corporatism — and that fascism, over six decades after World War II, has triumphed. The other problem with the "left" is that they're liberals, and "don't believe in violence." Where are the goddamned Communists when you need them? Is everybody who owns a gun and understands that "the man" is not his friend in prison on drug charges?

Oddly enough, I think the best chance for class warfare might be in China. New to capitalism, their elites haven't learned to hide their corruption as well as ours do.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Bowles-Simpson Proposal

Maybe I haven't tried hard enough, but I can't seem to find a complete copy of the deficit reduction proposals of the co-chairs of the President's committee. There are some proposals here, some there, depending on who happens to be ranting, but the document itself is very hard to find.

Based on what I've read in various places, Bowles and Simpson have some ideas that are worthy of discussion. They recognize that a balanced budget is impossible without cuts to defense, Social Security, and Medicare. They recognize that taxes, overall, have to go up — no matter how many unlikely spending cuts are enacted. The responses from both liberals and conservatives were entirely predictable and, needless to say, entirely incompatible.

It's safe to say, though, that nothing much is going to emerge from this particular committee beyond the recommendations of the co-chairs. There is no way in hell that fourteen out of eighteen members will agree on a single program. Just the same, we can try to evaluate the proposals center-right Bowles and further-right Simpson propose.

Cutting tax rates and eliminating many deductions sound fair until one notices that the deductions proposed for elimination are those that most benefit the middle class. To my eyes, it looks mostly like a continuation of the transfer of wealth from the lower 99% to the top 1%.

Pers0nally, I've never thought the deduction for mortgage interest was fair to renters, but rather than drop the whole thing immediately I'd be more inclined to cap it, so that the major benefits are confined to mortgages on more modest homes. Eliminating it entirely right now would make the problems in the housing market even worse.

Predictably, I have no problem with cutting spending on so-called "defense," and would like to see even larger cuts, including the complete shutdown of the military base on Okinawa. Let Sarah Palin keep an eye on the North Koreans from her front porch. As I've argued before, I'm also in favor of lifting (actually, eliminating entirely) the cap on income subject to payroll taxes.

Gradually raising the age at which one could collect full Social Security benefits over the next sixty-five years doesn't even deserve a comment, but the justification offered for the proposal does — the idea of longer life expectancy. Look at the data and you will discover that it's not poor people living longer, it's rich people — people for whom Social Security payments are not nearly so important.

Finally, counting on the provisions of "Obamacare" to put a noticeable dent in Medicare spending is ridiculously optimistic. The only way to take a real bite out of health care expenditures is by adopting single payer.

Since Congress is not likely even to adopt even the Bowles-Simpson ideas — nor whatever the full commission finally agrees to, if it ever agrees at all — it's a dead cinch that my ideas are going nowhere.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Divided Government

First, let's get past the idea that we've had anything other than divided government over the past two years. Even when the Democrats had sixty members in their Senate caucus, getting all sixty to cooperate was nearly impossible. Getting any significant legislation enacted — the foremost being the health care and financial reform bills — required watering that legislation down to an extremely thin gruel.

Now that the Republicans have taken the House, I suppose we can expect a string of ideologically pure bills to emerge, designed primarily to embarrass the President and make him look weak. Making Obama look weak has not been terribly difficult to date, and unless he stops trying to "compromise" with people who refuse to compromise, he will go on looking weak in the future.

In the new Senate, it is not hard to imagine the Republican minority scraping up four Democratic votes to pass bills that come from the House, especially if they dealt with social issues (or weakening financial reform.) Could Senate Democrats scrape up forty-one votes to filibuster a bill supported by some of their own number? It would be very embarrassing to have Democrats accusing Democrats of causing gridlock.

Wouldn't it be easier just to let the bill go to the President for a veto? Actually, using his veto power is something that could help Barack Obama look stronger.

A bigger problem Obama will have to face will be attempts to defund his programs — the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau comes to mind, along with aspects of the health care bill. When that happens — and it will — Obama will have to find ways to fight back. He will have to show some real passion, and be willing to go on the attack in the public arena.

It will be interesting to see an enlivened, energized, angry Obama. If we don't get to see that, it just will be pathetic.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

"Independent" Voters

I've been trying to figure out how Democrats crashed and burned so badly this week, and I'm afraid the answers are unpleasant and disheartening.

Barack Obama provided precious little leadership. Americans like strength in their leaders — or at least the appearance of strength — and we didn't see much of that from Obama. (W, you will recall, always acted strong even when he was acting like a total asshole.) Strength is what attracts the so-called "independent" voters. If they had any concept of policy differences, they couldn't possibly swing back and forth between increasingly polarized political parties — they'd be able to figure out which party had their best interests at heart, and stick with it.

Some people vote Republican for good reasons. The best reason is that they are rich. Republicans have been good friends to the rich for decades now, which is not to say that the Democrats have not been good friends to the rich as well — just not quite so good.

Another reason people vote Republican is because they are religious. Granted, the GOP has been promising to overturn Roe v. Wade for roughly a generation of aborted babies now, and never actually come through, but hope does spring eternal. Oh, yeah, and then there's the matter of the faggots. Well, I suppose if you think voting for a Democrat consigns you to hell for all eternity, voting Republican makes a certain sort of sense.

Anybody who does not fit into the aforementioned categories must automatically be consigned to the third "r" of Republicanism: they're retarded. (Note to the politically correct: I am not using this term with reference to persons with severe intellectual disabilities, persons who, hopefully, are not voting at all. Rather, I use it to describe people who fall into the normal range of cognitive functioning but still don't know shit from Shinola. In this sense, "retarded" describes so called "independent" voters.)

Add to that the absence of the youth vote from the midterm election (no good parties or concerts), the absence of the black vote (perhaps they figured out Obama's not really black), and a shift in the female vote (like, what have the Democrats done for them lately), and the tale is told.

A Japanese style "lost decade" of deflation won't do us fixed-income retirees any harm at all, and quantitative easing might boost stock prices enough to maintain the values of our TSAs. Hell, quite a few of us are likely to be dead before it's all over. On the other hand, those of us who have kids still in the labor market will continue to chew our knuckles.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Let us assume, as Ben Bernanke apparently has, that the new Republican majority in the house is sincere in its desire to reduce the deficit by cutting government spending without raising any taxes. What will that mean?

Primarily, it will mean continued economic stagnation. Bernanke has suggested for months that monetary policy alone is incapable of getting business to start spending and hiring again. The $600 billion of quantitative easing announced yesterday — $900 billion, if you include the reinvestment of returns from mortgage-backed securities — is best compared to a "hail Mary" pass in the final seconds of a football game. It probably won't work, and it may turn out that the negatives outweigh the positives, but the Fed had to try something.

Both short-term and long-term interest rates already are super low. Big businesses are sitting on piles of cash, and really don't need more. There's no reason to expand if the demand for your product isn't there. Smaller businesses, which need loans primarily to tide them over until the economy improves, can't get them from the banks. Banks don't lend money to businesses that aren't making money, and they won't be making money until demand picks up.

The greatest benefits from this new round of quantitative easing will accrue to the financial industry. Since the Fed is not allowed to lend money directly to Treasury, it has to go through intermediaries like Goldman-Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Those intermediaries, of course, collect substantial fees for their "services," fees which help to swell executive bonuses. In the meanwhile, our trading partners will be understandably miffed at us for devaluing our currency again, and will find ways to retaliate.

The greatest risk is that the Fed inadvertently will create more inflation than it means to, without boosting business activity. Some of us are old enough to remember the stagflation of the seventies. It wasn't fun.

In the meanwhile, it's clear there won't be any meaningful fiscal policy coming out of a divided Congress — if we manage to avert total gridlock, it will be a minor miracle.