It is that time of year when columnists, pundits, movie critics and even bloggers tend to write "Best" lists for the preceding 12 months. This particular New Year's Eve we stand at the juncture of a truly great event, the End of the Bush Era in American Life. Perhaps then it is fitting to reflect on some of the singular accomplishments of the Bushian National Nightmare not only of this past year, but of the preceding seven as well.
December 31, 2008
December 30, 2008
As I begin writing this, Bush has 20 days and 9 hours left. While he has been preoccupied over the last month or so with environmental destruction of a truly deranged character (opening wilderness up to mining, for example, and Endangering Species already listed as Endangered Species under the Endangered Species Act), I suspect that the last 3 weeks or so are going to be devoted to business of a more personal nature. To wit, undertaking necessary measures to ensure his own freedom from incarceration over the balance of his life.
December 28, 2008
December 26, 2008
Perhaps it would be good, from time to time, to drop the grandiloquence and the witty turn of phrase and do more close-in legal analysis of some things which are in the public realm of discussion these days. Such as, gay rights & gay marriage, two issues given higher visibility by the nomination of Rick Warren as the Communicator with our Invisible Friend as the religious start of a secular proceeding next month. (First question: why are we praying at a state function? It's unConstitutional in the extreme.)
December 25, 2008
The story surrounding the birth of Jesus on December 25 in Bethlehem is occasionally worth a second look, as part of one's own maturation process, because so much of what we take for granted about the story is based on childhood impressions that, for one reason or another, we never bother to disturb with later reading. The birth is described in what Christians call the "New Testament" and what Jewish scholars call "Mishagoss."
December 24, 2008
In our new Gilded Age it seems that only the Robber Barons really make out. Reading about the pathetic saga of Bernard Madoff and his Ponzi scheme, one is led to think that in our society, where probably 99% of the populace go about their personal and wage-earning lives with integrity and a naive, trusting faith, that the Little Guy just doesn't have a chance anymore. Add up all the cons, frauds, schemes, deregulation over the last twenty years or so and you must come to the conclusion that in modern American society, only crime pays. Enron, the mutual fund scandals (inside dope to big investors, which Spitzer prosecuted - it's why he had to go), Martha Stewart, the subprime/Moody's/Big Investment Bank conspiracy -- these are headlines, but they barely scratch the surface. The truth is that the entire financial system in the United States, including these vaunted "markets" that Bush/Paulson want to prop up, are all absolutely rotten to their core. And in a decadent system where everyone has abandoned the idea of true productivity, the only people who are going to make money are the short-sell players (like John Paulson's hedge fund) and the crooks.
December 22, 2008
Habitual Swimmers at the Pond are aware of my contention that Paul Krugman, ace economics columnist for the stately New York Times, is occasionally displaced by his Doppelganger, a guy who's not too bright and uses Krugman's byline. Recently, I'm fairly sure the DG was in residence when Krugman wrote that the public debt was less important than people usually think because "it's basically money we owe ourselves." I appreciate that the man won the Nobel Prize, but unless he means by "public debt" only that part of the national debt which the U.S. Treasury owes to the various trust funds (e.g., Social Security) which have been systematically looted in order to run the military industrial complex over the last 30 years or so, then his remark makes absolutely no sense. At least 50% of the national debt is in the form of Treasury obligations (bills & bonds) of various maturities owed to private U.S. citizens and foreign citizens, banks and sovereign wealth funds. It's just - well, stupid to say anything else. And we're talking over $5 trillion, and of that amount over half is owed to foreigners. That is not money "owed to ourselves;" it is very real debt, and the obligation exists against a backdrop of the Obama Administration's determination to invest in a recovery plan which will cost, initially, at least one trillion dollars. And because of the many bailouts, TARP projects, promises to shore up the auto industry, etc., the deficit for fiscal year 2009 (which we're currently in) is clearly going to exceed a trillion dollars, by far the largest deficit (by a factor of two) in U.S. history, and almost all of that deficit is going to add to the real debt the country owes to real creditors. The recovery plan of Obama's first year will clearly result in a deficit for fiscal 2010 at least as large, which means the nationald debt at the end of 2010 will exceed $12 trillion, pushing $13 trillion, and almost all of the new debt will take the "real" form as opposed to the DG's idealized notion of illusory debt. Thus, we're looking at $8 trillion as the non-owed-to-ourselves part of the national debt, and that's difficult to laugh off the way Herr Krugman does.
Whatever the new administration does, we’re in for months, perhaps even a year, of economic hell. After that, things should get better, as President Obama’s stimulus plan — O.K., I’m told that the politically correct term is now “economic recovery plan” — begins to gain traction. Late next year the economy should begin to stabilize, and I’m fairly optimistic about 2010.
December 21, 2008
Somewhat more than a year ago my cousin, oft-published writer, musician, philosopher, wit and alumnus of the same demented Fundie denomination that so scrambled my early cognitive development, had the idea that we should attend a "reunion" of the 17th Street congregation of this very church. The 17th Street in question is on the western edge of the Mission District, not far east of Eureka Valley, and just a few blocks away from the heart of the Castro District, all of these locations in San Francisco. Trusting my older cousin's judgment, and not wanting him to go through such an experience alone, I tagged along. The congregation that used to meet at 17th Street now meets out at Lake Merced, along Brotherhood Way, in a soulless building, a giant A-frame, with an accompanying, depressing multi-purpose building. It was a foggy, cold day, which is to say: a day in San Francisco. The reunion started out with a Continental breakfast, a long table laden with the usual victuals typical of the denomination's Southern roots: ham, potato salad, fried chicken, strawberry cream pie. Looking at this array, my cousin said, sotto voce, "What Continent?" I told you he was a witty guy.
December 18, 2008
It has always been one of my tenets of analysis of the Bush Administration that Dick Cheney is perhaps the most overrated "intellectual" in American public life. There's no doubt he takes himself very seriously indeed, but it's also true that he's nearly always wrong.One of the most oft-cited examples from his errata sheet is his pronouncement that the insurgency was in its "last throes" right at the moment two or three years of nonstop mayhem in Iraq were about to begin, but that's just one of his credits. He was also dead wrong about his "no doubt" statement that Saddam had a nuclear bomb program. On and on. I suppose it's that growling gravitas he brings to all his nuanced utterances, all those prepositional phrases salted away in his long, intricate sentences, that give people the idea he's a trenchant thinker. Compared to Bush, who has trouble describing coherently what day of the week it is, Cheney seems like Sir Isaac Newton, but that's damnation by faint praise.
December 16, 2008
George W. Bush will remain the International Man of Mystery (how did he get where he is and why?) until the very end of his term, I suppose.. I thought his immediate reaction to having shoes thrown at him by an Iraqi journalist was trademark bizarre: he described the size (10) and then characterized the assault as indicative of the growth of democracy in Iraq. It's probably true that a journalist would not have thrown his shoes at Saddam Hussein, so I guess that's something. Throwing shoes at someone, however, and not just in Arab cultures where it has a special significance, is not, strictly speaking, simply the exercise of some First Amendment right. The guy was trying to hit Bush with his shoes, not just make a point.
December 15, 2008
Presidential Order Opens the Door to Considering Aggressive Techniques (U)(U) On February 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention did not apply to the conflict with al Qaeda and concluding that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or the legal protections afforded by the Third Geneva Convention. The President’s order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. While the President’s order stated that, as “a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva Conventions,” the decision to replace well established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody.
December 14, 2008
I came rather late to Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma," but it would be hard for me to recommend it too highly. A couple of well-read friends mentioned it at Thanksgiving. The book goes very deep; I can see why some people have suggested that Mr. Pollan should be Obama's Secretary of Agriculture, instead of the usual agribusiness shill from Monsanto or ConAgra.Perhaps there's hope. Barack's impending selection of Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy was nothing short of inspired, IMHO. It makes me wonder whether this can actually be the same country that gave us the Pre-Enlightenment Obscurantism of George W. Bush. The answer being, of course: No. As the Buddhists tell us, one can never step into the same river twice.
December 10, 2008
The Friedman Unit is now actively promoting Shai Agassi's Better Place solution to public transportation, I note wryly. The resident Pretentious Hysteric of the New York Times, in one of his fatuous sermons, informs us that Israel, in a consortium with Denmark and Nissan-Renault, is devising a nationwide grid of electric cars, with recharging stations all over the country powered by wind and solar power. Faithful readers of the Pond Scribbler's Almanac (these here pages) knew about this long, long ago, of course, but Tom's got a new angle: see, it's just like Apple with i-Tunes. The battery for the electric car is the iPod; the tunes are the...I forget, tell you the truth. I was getting nauseous. Friedman kept talking about "platforms" and generating "electrons" instead of electricity (see?! Tom knows his subatomic physics!) and all the other hi-techie baloney he dresses up his inch-deep grasp of technical matters with, and I started skimming. Point is, he tells us, it's a mistake to bail out Detroit if all Detroit is going to do is resume building obsolete combustion engine cars. It would be like investing in vinyl LP technology...
December 05, 2008
Yes, I agree that there is something beyond obscene about the recent news that President Nero and his wife Laura have just announced their happy news: they've bought a new home in Preston Hollow, North Dallas, for about $2.2 million. A specimen of the kind of McMansion they'll inhabit is featured to the left, the sort of energy-wasting, self-aggrandizing, ostentatious joint you'd exactly expect the Bushes to move into after leaving the White House. And leaving the United States, for the rest of us, a smoking ruin. They'll spend their weekdays there and then "weekend" at Prairie Chapel "Ranch," or at least George & Barney will. I suppose the consolation story is that Laura will finally achieve her breakaway. I shudder to think about the logistics involved in getting W, every single weekend, from Dallas to Crawford, if that's really how it's going to happen. The spoiled little scion is going to demand a helicopter ride, of course; he can't take any chances, not given his "popularity" ratings and the mobs of angry dispossessed he will leave in his ruinous wake. But if there's one thing we know about W at this point, it's that his new jolly life among the nouveaux riches of North Dallas will be entirely unperturbed by the collapsing American economy. Deep into his stupid, dreamless sleep he will fall every night, confident that History will judge him a magnificent leader. As my own personal hero Bugs Bunny used to say, "What a maroon."
“We have gone from recession into something that looks more like collapse,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief domestic economist at High Frequency Economics, referring to the accelerating job losses in recent months. New York Times, December 5, 2008.
December 04, 2008
I now see the key to success: development of my Brand. I have heard this word over and over recently in public discourse; for example, watching "60 Minutes" on Sunday, and its segment on Olympics swimmer Michael Phelps. Phelps has an agent devoted to promoting the Michael Phelps Brand. As an aside, I can offer Michael, who seems like an honest-to-goodness nice guy, a leg up on the whole brand thing. A blogsite name: OlympicSwimmer. What will I think of next?