October 17, 2008

McCain's Scumball Moment: The "Health" of the Mother

McCain is such a wiseass that he's virtually certain to get himself in trouble whenever he strays from scripted phrases.  I imagine even his most devoted handlers cringed on Wednesday night when Johnny Mac flashed that ghoulish, creepy grin (kind of like a Jack-O'-Lantern with its mouth closed) and made air quotes of the phrase "health of the mother" in ridiculing a vote of Barack Obama regarding late-term abortion in Illinois.  Intellectually insecure guys like McCain use sarcasm and superciliousness to compensate for a basic inability to grasp subtle arguments because they're fundamentally incapable of discussing details of policy questions. McCain thinks that if he chortles and rolls his eyes we'll get the idea what Barack Obama is saying must be flawed. The real reason McCain operates that way, however, as his academic record shows, is that McCain is just not very bright.  He's bound to go off the rails and look like a dunce if he chooses to argue constitutional law with a constitutional law professor.

So what was McCain trying to ridicule with his air quotes?  He was trying to laugh off the Supreme Court decision by Justice Harry Blackmun in Roe vs. Wade, where Blackmun carved out an exception to the general ban on criminal laws against abortion as follows:  
"(c) For the stage subsequent to viability, the State in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life [p165] may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother."
So where the fetus is viable (can live outside the womb), the State has the option, if it chooses, to ban abortion except where the life or health of the mother is at stake.  This is what McCain was making fun of.  Imagine the demented cynicism it requires to put together the following scenario: a state chooses to make a constitutionally-required exception to its general ban on late-term abortions in cases where the health of the mother is at stake.  If the state is choosing to ban abortions at all, why would the state then make the "health or life" exception pretextual, that is, make the exception something that McCain could air quote?  Illinois State Statutes, Sec. 123:  "After viability of the fetus, an abortion is only permissible if the doctor is sure that live birth would strain the mother's back or hurt too much."  If a state wishes to allow late-stage or post-viability abortions, it can do so in a straightforward way.  Roe only limits the right of states to ban abortions where the fetus is nonviable.

McCain's argument implies that a state would pass a law with loopholes which a doctor and mother would exploit in a conspiracy in order to achieve compliance with an abortion restriction. Which the state didn't have to pass in the first place.  Logic tells us, nay compels the conclusion, that the result is precisely the other way: if a state is motivated to ban abortions after viability, then it will narrow the exception for "health or life of the mother" to the constitutional extreme, that is, make the exception as hard to use as possible.

Think this through and maybe you'll see what I mean.  It is yet another example of the many ways that McCain simply does not know what the hell he's talking about.  Like his argument about "Joe the Plumber," which McCain cited as evidence that Obama wants to "redistribute" wealth.  Earth to Dumbass:  the progressive nature of the income tax code does now result, and always has resulted, in the redistribution of wealth from the wealthy to the less wealthy.  That is why the home state of your beauty pageant running mate, Alaska, receives $1.83 from Washington, D.C. for every buck it sends to the capital.  I firmly believe that McCain does not realize that a progressive income tax has this inevitable effect, and that "redistribution" is not a new idea introduced by Barack Obama, but was inevitable once the 16th Amendment to the Constitution allowed an income tax in 1913.  This is because McCain married his income and his places to live and has simply never wondered how money works for everyone else.

If this idiot's elected, you can put away the deck chairs on the Titanic.  As George W. Bush said about the economy in general, this sucker's going down.

October 14, 2008

The Ungrateful Nouri Runs the Clock

I've been reading a biography of Nikita Kruschev, a man that American statesmen of his era were prone to underestimate.  Kruschev was indeed a rough character who was easily mistaken for a country bumpkin.  He received only a rudimentary education in the Ukraine and spent his youth as a sheep herder, farmer and coal miner, following in a family tradition.  After the Revolution he became active in Communist politics and moved quickly up the party ranks.  While never a sociopathic killer like his mentor, Josef Stalin, he understood that when dirty work had to be done, you did it.  Such was the world he lived in.  In the Patriotic War, what we in the West call World War II, Kruschev was instrumental in the defeat of the Germans, playing strategic roles in both the battles of Kiev and Stalingrad, where, in the fateful winter of 1942-43, the Nazis lost the war. When Stalin died, Kruschev outmaneuvered Lavrenti Beria in a high-stakes power struggle (Loser Dies) and became head of state.

I find tales of political intrigue in less "civilized" societies fascinating, because it's a world so alien from our own.  If John McCain peddles a lot of bullshit about Barack Obama's service for an education foundation set up by a friend of Ronald Reagan, on a board of directors with a "domestic terrorist" who was also asked to serve by the same foundation, millions of gallons of ink are spilled talking about this non-event, as Americans go into hysterics about how "rough" American politics has become. As if. In Kruschev's power play against Beria, Stalin's head of the NKVD (predecessor to the KGB), Nikita had his rival arrested, tried before a tribunal for "crimes against Soviet citizens" (in many of which Kruschev was complicit), and shot the same day the inevitable sentence was handed down.  Now that's playing political hardball.  By comparison, McCain is just an old grumpy man mumbling irrelevancies into the wind.

Americans think all this stuff is a big deal because, let's face it, we're softies.  We're the one major nation on Earth whose civilization was not destroyed by either of the two World Wars.  We have no collective memory of what it means to live in smoking rubble, with all conveniences and sanitation gone, with rampant disease, starving to death in a cold climate.  Great Britain, France, Italy, Central Europe, and most especially the Soviet Union, bore the brunt of the horror.  Millions of Americans, mostly men, fought in World War II, and a small cohort of these brave souls still live among us. They know what the horror of a full-scale modern war is.  But beyond them, 99% of Americans think an intolerable burden is a line for gasoline longer than two cars, or an interruption in cell phone service.

It doesn't stop us from thinking we're tough guys, though, or from thinking that Ivy League credentials are more important than street-smarts in the rough-and-tumble of international intrigue.  Which brings me back, as usual, to the Ungrateful Nouri al-Maliki.  We have always parried the game-playing of the Iraqis, who have used us more or less remorselessly since we went broke liberating them, with guys like J. Paul Bremer, he of the Brooks Brothers suits and construction boots (darling!).  Or General Petraeus, the Princeton PhD who has never seen a day of actual combat.  Our guys are clean-cut, straight-talking, ultra-civilized products of the best American institutions of higher learning (beginning with prep school on the East Coast).  Iraq has Nouri, on whose head Saddam Hussein placed a death sentence in 1980, forcing Maliki to continue his underground resistance against Saddam from the relative safety of Iran and Syria.

And how's that working for us?  Maliki continues to drag out the negotiations for the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in spite of the now-very-near expiration of the UN Mandate on December 31.  Nouri has already told the British contingent of 4,000 soldiers that they're free to go home now.  With respect to the American liberators, Maliki hedges his bets a little.  He keeps saying that after December 31, the United States "will lose its legal cover."  Is it just me, or is that an odd choice of words for a grateful client state to be using in negotiating an agreement whereby, at no cost to the Iraqis, America agrees to spend $10 billion a month and maintain a force of 150,000 soldiers in Iraq to secure the place?  

Lose its legal cover?  Who is Nouri's audience for such language?  Well, for one ayatollah I could name, al-Sistani, the chief poobah of Shia Iraq.  Nouri has been conferring with him and the Main Muslim is saying Yanqui Go Home.  Iran thinks that America has outlived its usefulness in the Middle East as well, and that's another important Nouri constituent.  Muqtada al-Sadr -- you have to ask?  So in this game of asymmetrical negotiating power, Nouri is playing it both ways. To the local Shia, Nouri's power base, who want us gone so they can more obviously resist all this nonsense about "assimilating" the Sunnis into the power structure.  Assimilating Sunnis is just to make us feel better, so John McCain can say we "won."  And to the Americans, because things are still a little dicey over there and Maliki could use the help.  He just doesn't want to guarantee the Americans they can stay till 2011, which is the way we want it, for reasons best known to George W. Bush.

Maliki has hung the negotiations up on the question of immunity for off-duty misbehavior by American GIs and contractors.  Generally speaking, American GIs are subject to local law under our standard SOFA pacts for crimes committed in other than a military capacity.  The Pentagon is not that big on subjecting Americans to the Draconian whims of a court run by mullahs.  You know, hands chopped off for petty theft.  No one even wants to think about the punishment for a rape.  So Nouri knows he's got a deal-breaker because he knows how squeamish Americans are about any situation where we don't have overwhelming superiority, or where we don't control the outcome.  He also knows that a SOFA is the only way for America to stay in Iraq, because the other route, an extension of the UN Mandate by Security Council, has one major obstacle.  All this stupid Red-baiting we've been engaging in, especially that mouthed by Dumb and Dumber (Bush & McCain), has succeeded in completely pissing off Russia, and they hold veto power over any such resolution.  Vlad Putin is going to do us a favor now?  (And what, exactly, did we get out of taunting the Bear?  A chance for McCain to relive the glory days of his virulent anti-Commie past?)

So what Maliki will likely get is an open-ended commitment from the U.S. to stay as long as Maliki feels like having us, but without America's "legal cover" for setting the terms of the occupation. Pretty rico soave, huh?  How the frick did he pull that one off?  Well, it's not anything he learned at Yale.  He just read his opponent better than we did.  He knew Bush couldn't leave Iraq precipitously because then Bush would have to say he "lost."  Ditto McCain, who needs the Iraq war for his campaign.  Barack Obama won't be in power till after the UN Mandate runs out.  I imagine that when Nouri eases back at the end of the day with a glass of mint tea and a lamb shawarma, he marvels at the box he's put the Americans in.  They spend all the money, their soldiers die, and they don't even get our oil.  And we tell them how long they're going to keep putting up with this.  People this dumb, he thinks, deserve nothing better.

The Nobel? Maybe Next Year

I am impressed that Paul Krugman, ace columnist for the New York Times, has just won the Nobel Prize for Economics. Although in graciously acknowledging this honor I can't help but feel the Nobel committee might have also considered my own stunning accuracy in predicting the Dow's plummet to the 9,100 level in a blog post many weeks ago, long before the Dow elevator passed the 9,100 floor on its way to the basement.  I would quote myself, but that seems unnecessary. Also, way too much work.  This is a blog, for crying out loud.

Nevertheless, there is more to maintaining a blog than simply basking in the egotistical glow that occasionally comes from a lucky guess.  Not much, but a little.  Thus, it seems appropriate at this point to elucidate some of the theoretical underpinnings of my theory for the benefit of a confused world.

First, unlike run-of-the-mill economists, those with jobs, for instance, I do not take seriously the "scientific" claims of economics.  I think the Nobel Prize should probably be in the same general category as the one for literature.  I noticed that Paul Krugman never figured out the Dow would hit 9,100 this year, the way I did.  He was more "generalized" in his comments about the economy; that way, you can never tell if he's right or wrong. That's the way all these guys play the game.

Me, I believe in numbers, so I gave one.  And The Formula:  14,000 - 4,900 = 9,100, where 14,000 was the Dow at its height; 4,900 was derived by halving the discretionary income of the American populace and multiplying this fraction by 70%, the percentage of the American economy attributable to buying stuff from each other, and winding up with 35% of 14,000, or 4,900. But I used letters for variables and equal signs, so the whole thing looked like algebra. My inputs were based on things I'd read, here and there, particularly Kevin Phillips and his work on the housing bubble.  Americans were getting about half their money from borrowing equity out of their houses, one way or another, during the "Bush boom."  All that money's gone.

I can practically guarantee you that the big rally on Monday was orchestrated by the Treasury Department and the Fed.  There was nothing real about it.  The Fed is printing money, giving it to the Treasury Department, and Paulson is manipulating the market with all his "discretionary spending money."  I don't think they're even going through the pretense of borrowing the money from "abroad" or from American investors or anywhere else.  They're running the printing press at a speed set just below the ignition point for paper money and letting 'er rip.  

There is one main purpose for this elaborate theater:  it buys time for the Bush Administration.  George W. Bush just wants to get out of town before (a) there are huge bank runs and a reversion to a wampum-barter economy last seen in the early 1600's in Pilgrim America (the best case scenario), or (b) [Bush's true paranoid vision] millions of destitute Americans arrive at the gates of the White House with pitchforks and torches.  It must be miserable for W to contemplate that after faking his way through the Presidency for almost eight full years, that he could find himself, with only 97 days to go, stuck in this awful mess.  I suppose nothing much disturbs his sleep, but if a nightmare did intrude, I guess it would be that archetypal vision where he's trying to get away, struggling to elude a monster trudging after him, and he just can't get his legs to go.  So he sits looking at a short-timer's calendar, dreaming of Dallas and a resumption of moderate drinking, of gaining as much weight as he wants, of not simply pretending to be folksy but of being the folksy cornball which his very limited intellect makes his natural style.  

It will be bliss.  And the only thing he's got to stave off for 97 days is the complete and utter collapse of Planet Earth's economic system, which has been brought on by his colossal ineptitude. Is that really so much to ask?

October 13, 2008

Comrade Bush Announces New 5-Day Plan

Washington, D.C. (Izvestia) - Comrade Bush, Premier and General Secretary of the Party, used the occasion of a state visit from Italy to announce in the Rose Garden today that Comrade Paulson's First 5-Day Plan for the Economy, which has not been tried, has not worked, and that in conjunction with other countries in the World Comintern, a new 5-Day Plan to save the world's economies would immediately be put into action.

Rumors circulated high in the Political Bureau that Comrade Paulson was now in disgrace because of his inability to make his First 5-Day Plan work during the first two days.  It is likely that he will be arrested and sent West for reeducation, after which he will become an internal exile.  Comrade Bush announced the details of the Second 5-Day Plan under which the Union of Socialist States of America will invest directly in the People's Bank and receive preferred stock representing the People's interests, with instructions to the Capitalist Running Dogs in nominal control of the People's Bank to start lending immediately to the proletariat.  

"The harvest looms," Comrade Bush intoned.  "The potatoes of the West will rot black in the ground if the peasants do not receive the money they need to fuel their tractors, to scythe the grain, and to load nature's bounty aboard the railroad cars that will carry this precious cargo to the tables of America's peasantry."
Italian Premier Berlusconi wept openly at his own rostrum, clearly moved by the poetry of Comrade Bush's words, not to mention his surprising grasp of Marxist ideology.  "Che uomo," he murmured, dabbing at his eyes.

"In this paradise of the proletariat which America is now and forever shall be," Comrade Bush boomed, warming to his subject, "the People's Congress and the Supreme Leadership shall join with the working class, clasping hands and marching forward until the final victory over the bourgeois and revanchist mercenaries of Wall Street and the decadent capitalists.  The banks shall be the People's! The great counting houses of New York shall be the People's! Insurance companies shall be the province of the Proletariat!  Transportation in the air, on the rails, shall be in conveyances owned by the mighty peasantry of the USSA!"

A great roar went up from the usually disinterested press.  In the general feeling of glasnost, even a question from a reporter was allowed.

"And Comrade Bush," the reporter asked, "health care as well?  The People shall finally have the socialized medicine they so desperately need, in this new era of the State providing all?"

"No," answered Comrade Bush.  "That will remain private."