March 06, 2010

Michael Moore stoops to assist

I watched with amusement last night as Michael Moore, in a satellite interview with Bill Maher on "Real Time," offered to replace Rahm Emanuel as Barack Obama's Chief of Staff. Moore was standing in front of Goldman Sachs in New York as he spoke, and the failure to enact any regulatory reform whatsoever in the last year was one of Michael's talking points. It's one of the things he's going to help Obama with when Moore becomes Chief of Staff, at a salary of $1 per year, sleeping on a cot in the White House basement.

This seems to be one of the recurring myths among liberals - that Barack just needs the right person whispering in his ear, and then all those dynamic changes we heard about during the campaign will begin to blossom like a host of golden daffodils in spring. I realize that Moore (who is represented by Rahm's brother Ari Emanuel, the flesh-eating super agent in Los Angeles) was simply looking for a little publicity. All in good fun.

His last movie, "Capitalism: A Love Story," didn't do all that well, and for good reason. It really wasn't a very good movie. If you want to understand the financial crisis better, try reading "The Quants" by Scott Patterson . That's what I'm doing. If you've ever wondered why the securities industry in the United States continues to exist, despite the fact that the major indices (Dow, S&P 500, Nasdaq) have been essentially flat (at best) over the last eleven years, the book will explain it for you. I mean, think about it: in real dollars, the markets have probably lost 40% of their value since they reached their high point during the Clinton years. So what are all those people doing? You can't buy long and hold and hope to get anywhere, the way the "stock brokers" of our fathers' generation recommended. The answer is that "Wall Street" (which is also headquartered in the richer areas of Connecticut and Southern California) was taken over by mathematicians, physicists, statisticians and game theorists. Although the overall motion of the markets is stagnant (because the United States itself is not really getting anywhere, and hasn't for a long time), within this stagnant pond are many opportunities to take advantage of the misery (mortgage-backed securities, for example, and credit default swaps, and front-running and various other forms of arbitrage), and all of this is enhanced by the use of High Frequency Trading, computerized algorithms and dark pools. Indeed, the whole system depends on such automation. Wall Street is simply a hi-tech casino gamed by very bright people who nevertheless periodically (1987, Long-Term Capital Management in 1999, 2008) create stupendous catastrophes because of the inherent instability and excessive complexity of the financial system. It's driven by greed, but greed isn't exactly the problem. The problem is that the United States has allowed its financial stability and prosperity to become completely dependent on such a sick arrangement, to the point that even "change agent" Presidents like Barack Obama kowtow to the powers that be and throw as much public money as possible at this Geek-infested Monte Carlo because we now think our survival depends upon it. And now the federal government is broke-ass, having taken on the fantastic debts associated with this dysfunctional system (and all the poverty and lost productivity the system caused) and well on its way to complete fiscal unsustainability.

But back to the main point. I wonder if Michael Moore realizes how utterly patronizing his idea is (I won't say "arrogant," because Mr. Moore doesn't strike me as arrogant, just a little naive and clueless, which is probably where Ari helps him so much. Moore doesn't understand how the system really works and so his "populist" ranting just sounds dumb.) It's a common meme, however; Barack is misguided, that's all, and I could straighten him out. Can you imagine saying something like that about Bill Clinton as he moved farther and farther to the "center" of the political spectrum? Neither can I. Moore is saying that Barack Obama is a somewhat lost, overwhelmed little African-American boy who needs guidance.

I really doubt that. I think the O Man is simply a lot more conservative and Establishment than "progressives" thought he would be. He's good on "progressive" issues like global warming and stem cell research (and science funding in general), but those are issues where he can find common ground with Joe Lieberman and Orrin Hatch. They're "safely" progressive ideas. For the rest of it, he's pretty much where George W. Bush was. Ol' W probably knew that, and I'm certain that Bush voted for Obama (he's come close to saying it). The older members of the Baby Boom generation who consider themselve old line Liberals (like your humble Blooger) grew up at a different time and under different influences. We make the mistake of believing that all "liberals" are alike, of whatever age or generation, and whatever their disparate influences. In truth, someone like Bill Moyers has a lot more in common with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. than Barack Obama does. Obama has a "pragmatic" and politically-determined view of civil liberties, for example, which would have completely appalled Dr. King.

Different strokes for different folks. If you want, you can see these developments as progress in a post-racist society. Increasingly, that's how I'm looking at it. As Woody Allen might lead in, people of all races, creeds and colors can disappoint the hell out of you in our free and equal opportunity society.

March 05, 2010

The sound of one cricket chirping

Glenn Greenwald, who has an annoying habit of being overwhelmingly right about practically everything, today takes on the apparent decision by the "Obama Administration" to reverse course and try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a military tribunal, presumably in a court room built just for such marsupial proceedings in Cooobah. While the volte-face is not a great surprise at this point, Mr. Greenwald criticizes President Zero in rather unsparing language:

If, in the face of "GOP demands" that Mohamed be denied a civilian trial, he again reverses himself -- this time on the highest-profile civil liberties decision of his administration -- he will unmistakably reveal himself, even to his most enamored admirers, as someone so utterly devoid not only of principle but also of resolve: you just blow on him a little and he falls down and shatters into little pieces.

Harsh, Dude. You're talking about an international rock star here. But I should rise to the challenge Greenwald poses, to Mr. Obama's "most enamored admirers," and not just dance around the actual, specific criticism by being all coy and snarky and everything. But first a little mood sound while I think:

Okay, I admit I got nothing. Mr. Greenwald also wants us to remember that the Democrats were totally up in arms when Karl Rove "interfered" with the august and sacred processes of the Department of Justice when Bush was in office, and yet here the reversal of Eric Holder's initial decision to try KSM in New York City is clearly a political calculation also coming from the White House, and more specifically from that cynical macher Rahm Emanuel, who just does not want to do anything, anything at all, that will disrupt his ongoing courtship of the Mighty Lindsey Graham for purposes of getting the "funding" for closing Guantanamo.

To that I say...well, cue the cricket again if you like.

It might be easier just to engage in a little ad hominem response to Mr. Greenwald himself. For example, he lives in Brazil now. He's an American citizen, but he lives down there somewhere, maybe in Rio. It's pretty easy to mount these broadsides from down there, I bet, but if I travel 150 miles north, south, or east, I will be in the heart of Tea Party country. (150 miles west puts me in the heart of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and that's a nonstarter.) So I'm judicious in my criticisms. Circumspect, objective. Frankly, I'm getting used to the idea that the Bill of Rights, such as it was, was kind of a pinko-semi-Commie list of narcissistic self-indulgences. There is no way the American people would ever approve such a list now, by popular vote, if only because there's a very slight abridgement of the right to carry fully-automatic weapons into the local bar & grill. I mean, you could read the 2nd Amendment that way, if you were so inclined (if you were "Far Left," in other words).

So rail on, Mr. Greenwald, from the safety of Ipanema. Here in the trenches, we know better than to give fair trials, or whatever, to terrorists. No telling what might happen, but one thing for sure that will happen is that Liz Cheney will say nasty things about whoever it is that permits such a thing. How would you like to deal with that, Glenn? Who needs the tsuras? So slurp your mojito and watch the thongs sway by. We'll handle Ol' Mastermind alright.

March 04, 2010

Hitting the wall

It happens sometimes, you just reach the end of your glycogen stores and crash. I can't think of much to say about the things I usually write about that really interests me at this point. The federal government has become functionally irrelevant to the American Commoner except as the one entity available which can leverage its dwindling credit to borrow money on the open market and ship it to the states. Think it through and you may agree with me. The states are mostly on the verge of, or actually in, bankruptcy, and (except for North Dakota) do not have a means of running budgets at long-term deficits. So it's up to Big Brother to operate its Big Payday Loan Company at the End of the Universe to scrape up money as fast as it can and send it out to the states. Otherwise, as bad as things are, they will get a great deal worse.

The Political Controversy Industry, meanwhile, must carry on with its usual function, which is to watch Washington, D.C. and comment on it. Those who say, with me, that D.C.'s function has dwindled to the governmental equivalent of Pledge Night on PBS must nevertheless say something every day about Congress, Obama, et cetera. This goes for the New York Times, the Washington Post, MSNBC, Fox, CNN, the Huffington Post, and all of the big-name bloggers (who write almost exclusively about national politics and finance). Everybody keeps their focus on the Big Picture only, the national scene, because that's the part that's "interesting" and newsworthy, although, to repeat, the federal government has absolutely nothing to do, at this point, other than to act as a line of credit. Thus, the Stimulus, Social Security and Medicare. The function of the feds in all three areas is exactly the same, collect money and ship it out.

The focus in Washington D.C. concerns mostly international conflict, Wall Street, health care "reform," and a few other fetishes, but these do not concern the American Commoner anymore. They are all conversations inside a bell jar of irrelevance. Millions and millions of Americans are out of work, many of them permanently, people are being turned out of their houses in droves, more and more people are unable to afford doctors, local public services are being eviscerated -- the list goes on and on in this Depression, which shows no signs of abating whatsoever (and indeed, cannot abate), and thus Washington's usual preoccupation with whether the elections in Iraq will be "fair," and whether some Afghan town called Marja or something has been "cleared, held and built" seems something of a cruel joke at this point, as if Washington is ignoring what is going on for the sake of being obtuse.

Whether the person being surveyed is a disgusted Democrat, a repelled Republican, a teed-off Tea Party member, or an indifferent Independent, the American people seem united (to the 79% level) with one thing and one thing only: they've had it with Washington, D.C. This seems like an entirely reasonable reaction. The federal government costs a lot of damn money and produces nothing whatsoever except the enrichment and aggrandizement of a group of insiders (Congress), and assorted fellow travelers in the defense and banking industries, who use the federal government's ability to tax (and to borrow) to ensure themselves of steady, opulent funding, whether or not the industries in question actually produce anything of value (which they do not). The American Commoner is not in any danger, at all, from any "foreign" power, and the terrorist threat pales in comparison to the domestic threat posed by increasing numbers of disenfranchised, destitute, desperate youth (or older, and well-armed as well). As everyone in the world knows, including all ordinary Americans, all foreign heads of state, Iran, everyone except a narrow band of war-game planners in the Situation Room at the White House, the United States can deal with any credible threat from any principality with one ICBM-carried hydrogen bomb. You know, like boom. This is so logical that everyone, everywhere acknowledges it except those currently requisitioning the Armed Services Committee for the newest generation of aircraft carriers.

Anyway, we're heading for sovereign default, along with many other fiat money-funded modern industrial countries, so the current insanity will have to transmute to some other, probably more decentralized form of insanity in the not-so-distant future, and then the swarm of opinion-peddlers, like a cloud of bluebottles smelling a fresher carcass up the dusty road, will fly away to that.