June 23, 2011
I like reading Paul Krugman's blog, "The Conscience of a Liberal," because it's so unrealistic and out-of-date that it offers the anodyne pleasures of watching the original "The Twilight Zone" on Netflix, which is something else I do for the sake of nostalgia. The Krugman blog is often the first draft of the columns that appear twice-weekly in the New York Times, but it's on the blog that Krugman can give vent to his prickly, invidious and arrogant nature. He's constantly calling people "stupid," deluded, et cetera, particularly anyone on the political right. A lot of fun.
I don't think Krugman makes any sense whatsoever. His economic "models," as I suggest above, seem based on an American economy which existed during my (and Krugman's) youth, when America was a manufacturing, job-creating powerhouse, which it certainly is not anymore. As David Stockman keeps pointing out, the actual number (not percentage) of employed people in the United States is less now than it was over ten years ago, despite population growth of about 30 million people during that time. Another way of conceptualizing the same kind of data is to look at the Fed's chart of percentage of the civilian population with jobs. I'm not quite sure how the data translate to an unemployment rate of only 9.1%, but I suppose that's what Hilda Solis gets paid the medium-sized bucks for: to help her boss with his reelection chances, and a UE rate with a single-digit handle is certainly better for those.
I don't really blame Mr. Obama for much of this. He inherited this mess and there was not much chance he could make substantial inroads on the manifold ills of the Amerian economy in 2-1/2 years. What doesn't help, however, is that he's surrounded himself with learned, Keynesian-oriented economists and advisors, and these people believe in only one thing: growth in GDP. Resource constraints, global warming, destruction of the oceans, overpopulation, environmental degradation, animal habitat destruction - all of this is quite beside the point. One thing matters, to Krugman and all the rest: if you take our phony GDP (artificially inflated because the formula includes government spending, which in the case of the federal government includes a budget comprised of 42% borrowed money), the only relevant question is, can we get that GDP to grow by 3% this year so we're "succeeding?" Also never mind that GDP, that most indiscriminate of measurements, includes all the trash we call an economy: credit default swaps for gargantuan amounts written for bettors with no conceivable interest in the outcome of the success or default of the "insured" party other than a gambling motive; commissions "earned" on the sale of utterly worthless bundles of crap mortgages; and all the rest of the stuff. It all counts toward GDP, including the manufacture of the latest generation of Predator Drones so that Arabic-speaking people can be incinerated from the air conditioned comfort of offices in the San Joaquin Valley.
It's been said a million times by others, but it's true nonetheless: the political perspective always needs to focus on the next election cycle, which means that "solutions" are only considered if they have some effect within two years, at the very outside. My greatest, single disappointment with Barack Obama is that he decided to play this game and become simply another shuck-and-jive politician, fiddling with statistics, lauding nonexistent "recoveries," and shaping his policies toward the creation of election-ready "images." Thus, tough on Terror, strong on defense, conservative on the social agenda (religion, gay rights, abortion, marijuana laws) and all the rest of the illusions which helped to get us into this quagmire.
In other words, simply another run-of-the-mill, uninteresting, frankly dull, utterly useless generic politician. I am, indeed, amazed that it came to this, but that's where it is. When he talked about Change, I thought there was a chance, however remote, that for once a national politician with the wind at his back might take a shot at really leveling with the American people. I mean, that graph up above - as the navigator tells Major Kong in "Dr. Strangelove" as the fuel leaks out of the B-52 after the missile attack, "I'm sorry sir, but those are the numbers." We're trying to run the same old "growth" economy that Krugman is still writing about (last extant in the 1960's) despite the arrival of peak oil, of international labor arbitrage, of offshoring of factories, of 90% depletion of the world's oceans, of dangerous levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, of food shortages, of epidemic illness from industrialized food production, of endangered supply lines because of competition from Asian nations for the world's remaining readily-accessible petroleum reserves. In other words, there is no talk of Adaptation to a changed environment, even though the American people, taken as a whole, would welcome such talk And a species which does not adapt to environmental changes goes in one direction only - toward extinction.
Obama surrounds himself with legacy advisors from legacy industries and institutions, all the people (like William Daley from the Chicago political machine and JP Morgan as his Chief of Staff) who simply tell him ways to keep the old system staggering along, just long enough to get Barack to November, 2012, and let Obama cross the finish line of reelection, just like the two previous Presidents before him. In other words, reelection for the sake of reelection.
It's an amazing incongruence between the American people and the "image" of the American people that must exist inside the Washington, D.C. Beltway. I actually think that most average American commoners have figured out what's going on in our economy, about why it's in such dire shape. If 42% of the adult (older than 16) American population (again, see above) does not have a job, you have a tremendous cohort of people who would be pretty willing to try anything, don't you? Let's paint every roof in America white, as Steven Chu suggests. Let's retrofit every house with double-pane windows and insulation, and place solar panels on every conceivable location. Sounds good to us! We have the manpower, we've got the idle workforce, we need to conserve all of the energy we can. Let's build bike lanes as they do in Holland, let's build high speed rail as they do in China. Let's move toward localization of food production and get rid of agribusiness and cattle feed lots. Let's do all that, here in America, instead of worrying whether we can protect Europe's 1.3 million barrels per day from Libya so that Europe doesn't begin encroaching on our imports.
It's why two-thirds of Americans oppose the Afghanistan war - the populace is beyond caring whether AfPak, or whatever, is of "strategic importance." What Americans know is that the war's a waste of money we don't have, as a vast part of the military budget is a waste of money we don't have. Yet Obama is convinced, because he's fallen under the sway of the Fun House Mirror used in D.C. to figure out what people "actually" think, that unless he acts like George W. Bush and wins "his" war, as Bush "won" Iraq, then he can't win reelection.
There is, in other words, no actual plan. Maybe someone can dream up another Bubble. The dot.com boom bolstered Clinton's terms in office. Then it burst and we had a recession and falling tax revenues. Then Bush engineered the housing bubble. It burst, we entered a Depression, and tax revenues fell even further behind the unrealistic spending built on serial bubbles. And now, with neither a Bubble nor Lawrence Welk on the horizon, it's back to Plan A: fake it till you make it to reelection.
June 21, 2011
My tables—meet it is I set it down
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain—
Shakespeare, Hamlet. Now that sucker could write.
An old buddy told me he awoke at 3 am in a worried state of mind the day after he read the first of this (mildly) obsessive series on Obama's illegal war in Libya. Since this stalwart fellow (a friend of 50 years duration) is anything but an alarmist, I myself began to reflect further on the deeper implications of Obama's penchant, increasing day by day, to do anything he damn well pleases on the executive/commander-in-chief front.
A couple of things occurred to me: taking the country to war is, and ought to be, a very big deal. And the second, disconcerting thought was that the only real government institution capable of reining Obama in is that pathetic, dysfunctional congregation known as the United States Congress. This is not a happy confluence of factors to ponder on this warm summer night, for surely Obama is as aware as this lonesome blogger that Congress simply cannot act in a cohesive, principled manner, has not for a very long time, and so the President (in his thinking) may as well play directly to a wider audience with a policy, and a war, that he calculates increases his electability (which, it is becoming obvious, is his only guiding principle in office), and if it's illegal, well, that's okay. The important thing is how it looks.
Congressman Ron Paul, who has vaulted to the front of the Republican pack of Presidential candidates (mirabile dictu), wrote a piece on Counterpunch which begins:
Last week I joined six Republican and three Democrat colleagues to file a lawsuit against the Obama administration over its illegal war against Libya. Now that more than 90 days have passed since the president began bombing Libya, no one can seriously claim that the administration has complied with the clear requirements of the 1973 War Powers Resolution.(Paul also uses the word "chutzpah" to describe what Obama has done, which I think is a nice touch, and somewhat surprising for a Rep from Texas.) The above is not bad and certainly better than nothing, but here's the thing: once again, the implication is that a President can fight any war he wants, against anyone, anywhere, because he's in a bad mood, or didn't like something someone in a country said, or because the country "tried to kill my dad" (in Bush's formulation), and that's okay for 90 days, but after that, the President needs authorization (and money) to keep going. That is simply not what the Constitution (Article I, Section 8, par. (11)) and the War Powers Resolution say.
Maybe Paul only means that under any interpretation of the War Powers Resolution Obama is now outside the permissible scope of a Presidential unilateral decision to go to war in the absence of Congressional authorization, and with that statement I also agree. But the other point is not really subtle, and it's not difficult to figure out. What you need is what Bush called The Google, and you need to know (not actually, but it helps) that the federal laws of the United States are kept in several shelves of deep maroon books called the United States Code Annotated (each book about the size of a church hymnal), and you can then type in the words "War Powers Resolution," and bingo!, you will have done all of the research I ever did on this subject. Which is to say, I read the damn statute. And if you do, almost the very first thing you'll read in the substantive part of the statue is this, in 50 U.S.C.A. 1541:
(c) Presidential executive power as Commander-in-Chief; limitationThe constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to
President Obama did not run into legal trouble because he carried on this Libyan war for more than 90 days without Congressional authorization; the war is illegal because he never consulted with Congress on the necessity of the war before he initiated hostilities and obtained statutory authorization (as required by subsection (2) above), which is the only possible basis for proceeding in these circumstances. Hell, even Bush & Cheney obtained authorizations for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They weren't exactly honest about how they went about that, but at least they checked the box.
One grows very uneasy indeed thinking about a President, especially in shaky economic times, when the country is in bad shape and fractured along partisan lines of division, becoming too amenable to the dictates of the generals and the military establishment. Congress needs to take control. Mr. Mumbles and The Diva need to call out their own party's leader on this blatant illegality and act more like the statespeople who saved the country during Watergate, and less like con artists figuring out a way for their guy to get away with something.