September 07, 2007

Somewhere Over the Benchmarks

The Labor Department reported today that the U.S. sustained a net loss of 4,000 jobs last month, despite an earlier estimate the economy would increase payrolls by 100,000. The unemployment rate stayed the same, since 600,000 people "left the job market," whatever that means. Lost their minds? Turned to a life of crime? The stock market reacted by plunging about 200 points on the bellwether Dow Jones. Financial experts with a vested interest in pimping the vitality of the levitated economy, which depends entirely now on a positive outlook among American consumers (as does the rest of the world's economy -- it's all up to you Mr. & Mrs. Smith: are you going to buy that four-piece sectional or not?), were quick to point out that none of these numbers means anything, that all is well, that the economy is strong and "robust" (everything these days is robust), and we should not panic and think that the American economy (and thus the world) is headed for a Depression, because Bernanke may lower the discount rate by 50 basis points later this month and that should take care of everything.

I don't see how there can be any inherent strength in the American economy left, in my admittedly undegreed opinion (I mean, I have a couple of degrees, but they're not from the Stanford Business School). The USA built a Potemkin village of an economy by mortgaging all of its real estate through the use of recycled dollars returning from China, but I'm wondering if Bernanke can actually resort yet again to the same strategy in the face of a cratering U.S. currency. He may have no choice, of course, because Bush, who hit the 500-day mark today (so my National Nightmare Clock tells me), is going to look more ridiculous than usual asking for another $50 billion to invest in Iraqi oil futures on behalf of Exxon, Texaco, et alia, if it appears that the U.S. is about to go belly up. Not that it would deter him in the slightest, but I'm thinking that even this most unconscious of leaders (who apparently thought, while he was in Australia addressing APEC, that he was in Austria speaking to OPEC) must have some sort of upper limit for cognitive dissonance. You have probably noticed by now that Bush is not the most original of thinkers. If U.S. military occupation in Iraq is not working, his go-to solution is to increase the size of the U.S. military occupation. Thus, flooding the economy with cheap money by means of running $800 billion trade deficits in tandem with half-trillion dollar budget deficits, all against a national debt of about $9 trillion, is Bush's sole economic initiative for what you might call the American People. The upper echelons of large American transnational corporations, which are Bush's actual constituency, are interested also in the American populace as a segment of their world market.

I don't know what you call this system of government we've evolved into (even though I do have a degree in that subject). "Fascism" gets thrown around, but I've never thought that was apt. That's just American overreaction, a precious tendency to overvalue our troubles. Fascism, in the good ol' Hitlerian and Mussolinian way, always involves guys with thick necks and big boots beating the crap out of the domestic citizenry. I'm reading the second volume about the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans, Cambridge historian and personal hero (he was the principal defense witness in the David Irving trial), and he makes a very interesting point. Up until the Great Depression of 1929 and following, the Nazis were a marginal political party in Germany, controlling less than 3% of the seats in the Reichstag. After the bottom fell out of the German (and world) economy, the Nazis made their move, and Hitler complemented his political intrigue in Berlin by rounding up the Communists, Social Democrats and Centrists, beating and torturing them, and cramming them into concentration camps. Now that's what I'm talkin' about.

From a historical perspective, the acute danger to the United States probably will follow in the wake of Bush's misrule in the U.S. His indifferent approach to America's real problems, which are now beginning to surface definitively, has laid the groundwork for a very regressive and authoritarian regime. I will credit Bush with helping us get used to the idea of disappearing freedoms. The middle class is sinking beneath a tsunami of debt, our educational standards are going to hell, more and more people lack healthcare, and the looming nightmare of Baby Boom retirement en masse, seen against a backdrop of unsustainable debt, means the entitlement programs, on which most retiring Americans will depend for basic solvency, may evaporate.

When and if those distressing trends reach full materialization, we will see just how "resilient" our constitutional form of government is. I suspect there is going to be the same sense of injured pride and resentment as was found among the Volk in Deutschland in the early Thirties. A once-great power, still armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, now humbled by a failed war and a rusting economy, will look around for scapegoats. That could get very dicey. Anyone wishing to write a dissident blog under those conditions might want to reconsider. Bush is not Hitler, after all. Bush is a spoiled dilettante with no sense of mission and no real agenda, except for self-aggrandizement. Hitler was the real, horrific thing, and the possibility exists that somewhere out there in the vast American hinterland there is a charismatic lunatic with just the right combination of ruthlessness and fanaticism to take advantage of what America may become, and to summon the aggrieved populace toward a dark future.

September 03, 2007

George Bush's Iraq, or Why Studying Matters

A friend and witty observer of the geopolitical scene writes to the Blogmeister here at the Pond:

" a loyal reader, could you please let us know how L. Paul Bremer the sixteenth is the chosen fall guy for Iraq going to hell. it all woulda worked out if we had only kept all major thugs in their positions of power; i think that's the message. instead, the way it is being put forth, L. Paul (sorry! maybe he's L. Paul the fifteenth - forever getting my Yale legacies and bow ties all mixed up) got on his cell (this was in pre-IED days, that mahvelous acronym even David the Latin General Petraeus had never heard of before this REALLY FUN INVASION for guys like General P)...anyhow L.Paul the thirty-seventh gets on his cell and in perfectly fluent Arabic, at least from the script MacKenzie consultants put together for him - with a part of their fee being generously provided by America's favorite flag-wavers - Halliburton, Inc. - so L. Paul the twenty-ninth says in arabic to nine thousand Iraqi generals and colonels and majors longing for freedom and a chance to go to the Super Bowl, L. Paul the ninth, he says, "you're fired." If we only could have stopped him! Then every single one of those longing-for-freedom generals and colonels and majors would have written go-to-the-ballot box pamphlets so Iraqis living in Vancouver, Canada could weep over the wonders of democracy. Plus, this sacred Army that L.Paul the twenty-second fired would have made sure no damn sectarian religious violence ever would have taken place, they would have got the oil up and flowing, and all the girls in Iraq would have become fashion models, as there most certainly would have been a military ban on burkas." (
Reprinted without permission.)

As we anxiously await General Petraeus's doctored-up and bowdlerized report, which has been seditiously anticipated by the GAO report and by a leaked and undrylabbed version of the Pentagon report (that is, a version prior to a working-over by the Bush Fantasists, maybe like Philip Cooney, the petroleum industry lawyer who rewrote James Hansen's too-dismal dispatches on global warming, edits which have probably been of scant comfort to Yucatan residents during this hurricane season) - we might, moving past this digression, consider this colorful kibbitzing, centering as it does on what I like to think of as the central fallacy of the Grand Misadventure in Iraq, the If Only We Had Fallacy. The IOWH Fallacy has served as the central thesis of a whole shelf of books on Iraq, such as, most notably, Thomas Ricks's fine book "Fiasco," the title saying practically all there is to say. Ricks's book, as do such movies as "No End in Sight," goes into excruciating, exhausting, eye-crossing (was looking for that 3rd "e") detail about the key "early mistakes" of the Iraq Occupation. If only we hadn't disbanded the Iraqi Army, if only we hadn't de-Baathified the government, if only we had guarded the Baghdad Museum and not just the oil ministry, if only we had listened to General Shinseki, if only we hadn't hired 22 year old American interns to occupy such positions as Minister of the Iraq Economy, if only L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer had not been such a predictably wussy Ivy League silver-spoon bowtie-wearing horse's ass.

Here's the relevant If Only: if only we hadn't invaded Iraq. Stop right there. Now it's true that makes for a short book. I could write that book; in fact, I just did. "If Only We Hadn't Invaded Iraq," by Waldenswimmer. The book would consist of a cover and maybe a title page. Reporters such as Thomas Ricks, or the fine duo of Michael Gordon and General Bernard Trainor, who wrote "Cobra II," which is like "Fiasco" only with more footnotes, are more market savvy. They saw through the financial problems of the one-page (one-line, in fact) book, and realized that their talk-show appearances would have been severely limited. Casual buyers at Borders and Barnes & Noble (soon, I understand, to be Barnes&Borders or Borders&Noble, which might lead the way to consolidation of a lot of things: WalMart + CostCo = CostMart; General Motors + Chrysler = General Chrysler; McDonald's + Burger King = King McDonald - why do we have all those meaningless choices anyway? And then why not simply consolidate all these outlets into one enterprise called The American Company Store, and sell everything there, and be done with it, once and for all? another digression, of course, leading us back to our buyers at Borders/Barnes...) would browse the "New Nonfiction" table, pick up the book, read it in its entirety, and put it back down. Wouldn't that curtail sales? You betcha it would. So you see, Ricks (a Pentagon reporter for the New York Times with many valuable "contacts") and Trainor, a retired general, of course, really don't dwell on what you might otherwise think is a pivotal issue, invading a "sovereign" country in violation of international law, a "nation" of warring tribes which have not gotten along for about 1,500 years, which are still having homicidal arguments about things that happened, oh I don't know, in 732 or so, a country held together by baling wire and duct tape and the police state apparatus of Saddam Hussein -- and an invasion, furthermore, on the basis of fraudulent evidence about nonexistent weapons and completely bogus connections to 9/11 - it was the way we did it that matters, and especially allowing a guy who wears construction boots with his pinstripe suits and repp ties, all beneath that fashionably long mop of thick Waspy hair. Are we clear here?

What bullshit. What a waste of paper and celluloid. What a colossal waste of money for everyone who bought those books or saw those movies. True, they demonstrate the incompetence of the Bush Administration. Also, lying in the tropical sun all day will demonstrate for you the skin-damaging properties of solar radiation. We didn't need Iraq to prove Bush doesn't know what he's doing and that he's indifferent to everything except corporate cupidity; Katrina did that for us. The focus on "Bremer's mistakes," as my witty correspondent points out, simply confuses the issue. The invasion and occupation of Iraq were never going to work under any circumstances. We could have sent one million troops; we could have guarded all the armories; we could have sent an American Legion of Museum Curators to personally babysit every last precious antiquity in the Baghdad Museum; we could have kept the Iraqi Army completely intact; we could have avoided throwing all the babies out with the Baath water. And Iraq would look precisely as it does today. Iraq was centrifugal destruction waiting to happen. The essential difficulty is not described in the books written after the invasion (with the notable exception, perhaps, of Peter Galbraith's book The End of Iraq) but in all the books written about Iraq before the invasion which Bush & Co. never bothered to read, such as David Fromkin's "A Peace to End All Peace." In this, the fiasco in Iraq is the perfect metaphor for modern America.

I hope, Aurie, this answers your question. I return now to the Bean Field and to working on the re-fi of my subprime mortgage.