August 18, 2007

The MAD World Returns

August 18 (from the Los Angeles Times) -Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Friday reinstatement of the Soviet-era practice of having nuclear bombers routinely fly long-distance flights that bring them within striking distance of the United States and its allies.

"Today, just after midnight, 14 strategic missile aircraft, with support and fuel planes, took off from seven airfields across Russia," Putin said in televised remarks.

The White House sought to play down the Russian action, insisting that the resumption of flights did not indicate a worsening of relations or present a new strategic threat to the United States.


Well I assume then, that the planes will return automatically once they reach their failsafe points.


Well, sir, I'm afraid not. You see the planes were holding at their failsafe points when the go code was issued. Now, once they fly beyond failsafe they do not require a second order to proceed. They will fly until they reach their targets.


Then why haven't you radioed the planes countermanding the go code?


Well, I'm afraid we're unable to communicate with any of the aircraft.

(from "Dr. Strangelove," by Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, and Peter George.)


Oh come on, admit it. It doesn't make you unpatriotic at all. Your nervous system has been conditioned to Mutually Assured Destruction, and you were feeling a little disoriented, that's all. You're kind of glad that Putin, former KGB operative, is back in the nuclear game. The good news is that the Russian resumption of strategic bomber flights includes the Chinese, so now the assurance of destruction is...well, it's never been such a sure thing, put it that way. Granted, a little permutation crunching (as Buck Turgidson might have said) reveals that the addition of a third player to a game of nuclear Russian Roulette doesn't increase the danger by 50% (3 represents a 50% increase over 2, you're maybe thinking). Uh-uh. Ask Dr. Strangelove, as he twists sideways in his wheel chair, fits another cigarette into its black holder and stares at you with those dark photo-grays. Here are the possible misunderstandings: 1. Russia mistakes U.S. intentions, launches nuclear attack. 2. U.S. mistakes Russian intentions, launches nuclear attack. 3. Russia mistakes Chinese intentions, launches nuclear attack. 4. U.S. mistakes Chinese intentions, launches nuclear attack. 5. China mistakes Russian intentions, launches nuclear attack. 6. China mistakes U.S. intentions, launches nuclear attack. Oh, and while George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are in office, we have lucky #7: U.S. launches nuclear attack.

Let me tell you how you were unpatriotic. Remember those huge Ford Exterminator and Cadillac Escalation SUVs you were so fond of when you could still afford to gas them up? They made Russia rich. They made so much money selling oil they could afford to refurbish their bomber wings and build a lot more multi-megaton hydrogen bombs. So what was the point of Reagan bankrupting the U.S. by building up our military in order to bankrupt the Soviet Union by forcing it to build up its military? That's ...mad.

I think Vladimir is just pissed off because of two things. First, Bush is taller than he is. That's a rare thing, in international relations, but lately L'il George has been on a hot streak. Sarkozy, Gordon Brown, Vlad -- Bush could dunk over all of them, if he could dunk. I'm almost certain Angela Merkel could blow by W. and jam it home, but we'll never find out. The second thing Putin is testy about is Bush's anti-missile bases sitting right on the Russian border, which are designed to protect the U.S. and "the West" (Bush is never too subtle) from Iranian nuclear missiles. Putin has been undiplomatic enough to point out that Iran doesn't have any nuclear missiles because they don't have any nuclear bombs. Then he goes on to say that these "anti-missile" installations can also be "offensive" missile sites, and they're sitting right on top of Russia, reducing Russia's reaction time to say,... 12 seconds. Not to mention one other major irritant, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), which Bush unilaterally abrogated soon after taking office on the ground it was so 20th Century.

Well, guess what. The 20th Century, in stunning black and white, is back. It's all here again, baby. The fail-safe points. The inflight refueling. The sweeping radar. The flight crews waiting for the go code. The backyard bomb shelters. And for sixteen months or so, we're going to have all this and George W. Bush too. Duck and cover.

August 15, 2007

Rove Skitters Down the Gang Plank

Let us take a moment to consider the unconsidered, that Karl Rove left his position as Deputy Chief of Staff to the President not because he is concerned with the multiple investigations of his involvement in the usual dirty machinations which are his stock in trade, nor because he wishes to lower his profile in the face of a widespread perception that he has led the modern GOP to ruin. I suspect that Rove, rather more in line with his nature as a member of the genus Rattus Rattus, class Mammalia, order Rodentia, family muridae (black or "ship" rat) has noticed the water level rising aboard the Good Ship Fuckup captained by his ward and protege, George W. (for What?!) Bush. To wit, Rove's business has always been more closely aligned with toxicology than policy, and this gig as "Deputy Chief of Staff" is not really what Rove is all about. He's a slime merchant, and he is now concerned that his icky reputation is about to be permanently damaged by a too-close proximity to what lies dead ahead.

Bush's lone claim to legitimacy as a national leader has been, to the present time, a "good" economy. Certainly this is controversial; it is truer to say that Bush has created a tax regime and a trade policy that favor the super-wealthy and those involved in transnational business. They have done well. Corporate profits, particularly in such sectors as petroleum, are way up. To the extent that the economy functioned for the common man, it depended to a large degree on maintaining the pace of consumer spending on which 70% of the GDP depends. This, more than anything, is the reason that Bush thought the most patriotic response to 9/11, for an ordinary American civilian, was to go shopping. To shop, however, requires money, and since the American standard of living, in real terms, has been declining since about 1973, this has gotten harder to do. A temporary reprieve was achieved during the period between about 2000 and 2006 by a unique historical circumstance, which consisted of the re-fi boom, made possible by cheap money created by the reinvestment of foreign trade surplus (particularly Chinese and Japanese) into American T-bills, along with the usual sale of about one-half trillion in Treasury debt to these same foreigners to finance Bush's budget deficits (Bush illegally fails to count the confiscated Social Security surplus as part of the national debt, as Hale Stewart points out; the national debt has increased by about $3 trillion during Bush's 6 years in office, presenting so simple a division problem, even an American can do it). The Fed kept the prime rate low, the banks made cheap loans to Americans, cheap loans drove up the price of houses and created "equity" and the net result was a massive influx into the American economy, which some writers (such as Kevin Phillips) have estimated as equal to the amount earned as wages by Americans during the period between 2000 and 2005.

Bush benefited from these fortunate, unique and unsustainable circumstances. America, having danced a wild jig for the last six and a half years, must now begin to pay the piper. This is not going to be pretty. Wal-Mart and Home Depot (equivalent, in effect, to the "American economy") now forecast weak sales in the months ahead. The essential reason for this is that Americans don't have any money. If 70% of the economy depended on spending, and if roughly half the spending money has evaporated with re-fi extinction, then it is possible that the American economy could soon consist of the 30% of GDP not consumer-related + 35% (1/2 of 70) = 65% = Big Honkin' Recession. I am sure the picture is more complicated than this, of course, but the complications may actually make the situation more dire; for example, the interplay between consumer and non-consumer GDP may also drag the non-consumer element down, so that 65% is actually Best Case.

In grudging and horrified recognition (confused by heavy doses of denial) of these somber realities, the Dow Jones is tanking. Liquidity is drying up. Reset "subprime" mortgages, which form the rotten core of collateralized debt obligations and other derivatives, are falling into foreclosure in large numbers. The Fed is being asked to lower the prime, of course, and to give up the fiction that it has been curtailing "inflation" instead of retaining the minimum level feasible to continue servicing debt to its foreign dun-noticers. But how is the Fed going to face the Beijing Central Bank and inform our Commie loan officers that we're going to allow the dollar to weaken further? They're already growing restive with their paltry return, and if the U.S. is really going to stop taking shipment on all those $10 blow dryers, then what, exactly, is the point? You do not want to think about the consequences of a failure of the Chinese and other central banks to roll over their Treasury positions.

So Bush, in the course of allowing the U.S. economy to become completely hollowed out by trade imbalances, massive foreign debt, and job exportation, is nearing the end of the smooth part of his sailing. Whatever else we say about his First Mate, Rattus Rattus Rove, he's not dumb. He needs to finish that book and make a lot of speeches so he can establish big positions in Euros and the Yuan, and like all the other patriots on the captain's deck of the U.S.S. America, get ready to shove all the women and children out of the way so they can have the lifeboats all to themselves.