September 2008

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I feel safer already

FakeSarahPalin.

Best-of-greed

I just like that headline and wanted to write it down while it’s still in my front-of-mind. Feel free to re-use it.

The #4 item on Twitter (behind Bailout, McCain and iPhone) is Selamat Hari Raya. #5 is #atlgas, for gas in Atlanta.

Got an email from my sister Jan the other day. She’s a Navy veteran who knew McCain, along with other notables. She’s also quite astute about politics, and follows it more closely than I do. I asked her if it’s cool to pass the email along, and she said yes, so here goes…

After seeing the visuals of yesterday’s (Thursday’s) White House meeting, I came to a conclusion: The Republicans need McCain to lose. Not in a landslide, just narrowly; but they really want and need him to lose.

Why? Well, first of all, because they don’t like him, or Palin. And they don’t think he represents their interests or true conservatism. And they know he is unpredictable and uncontrollable. And old and aging fast in the stress of campaigning, which does not bode well for life in the oval office. So if he dies, there would be Palin, which does not bear thinking about for them: she would set the case for leadership by women and neocons both back a generation and make the GOP the laughing stock of the world.

But the best reason to want McCain to lose is because they know that whoever wins this election will have four years of no-win:

  • even if the bailout works, the economy will be a mess and hard times will hit everyone (but economic advisors and pundits)
  • recovery of Katrina is still stagnant and the real extent of the Texas coast’s devastation is just coming to light; the new President will have to do the recovery right this time, which will cost billions
  • at the best in Iraq all four years will be an expensive extraction quagmire
  • our military will be struggling with recovering from this war’s damage for at least 4 years, if not the next decade
  • Afghanistan is going to be a very hard war and Pakistan is on the brink of radicalism
  • Iran will be very eager to test the next president;
  • Kim will die and North Korea is a great, and dangerous, unknown that will cost us manpower and money to either keep isolated or help restorePutin will take the opportunity of our distractions to expand Russia’s power and influence and control
  • Labor’s time is up in the UK
  • Chavez will challenge the new president for supremacy in Latin America;
  • Global warming will become more and more visible and action more urgent and because of the delays of the last 8 years, action will be more expensive
  • Social security and medicare will be taxed beyond capabilities because bulk of the baby boomers who will become eligible
  • taxes will have to go up, for some folks anyway
  • because there will be no funds for the new President’s promises or programs, education, health care and infrastructure will not be addressed as aggressively as they should and the people will feel betrayed

So whoever is elected this time will, at best and with superb leadership, management and luck, avoid a real disaster and might just be able to start us on the road to recovery. But it will be a time of fingers in the dike, not developing a real flood control system, not visibly anyway.

So in 2012 an opposition candidate will be able to ride in on the white horse of told-you-so and have a good chance of winning.

And right now there are at least two generations of Republicans in congress, governors mansions and the private sector, just salivating at the thought of 2012. And very willing, almost eager, maybe even praying, for McCain to give them that chance.

I think she might be right. On the phone she just told me to notice that Rove is quieting down. Check the trend chart here.

Tags:

Quote du jour

Shel Israel: I think that www.whitehouse.gov should just show the Fail Whale from now through the next inauguration.

Bail Off

The bailout was shot down in the house. Redraw your own conclusions. Mine is that it’s a Bad Thing.

Upsiding

Eric Norlin points (via Howard Linzon) to this piece by Andy Kessler. Eric’s summary: Smile. Think abundance, not scarcity. Get optimistic. I’m an born optimist, so this has an appeal.

Saint Paul Newman

Great remembrance of Paul Newman by Manohla Dargis in the NY Times. (I’d like to beg forgiveness for the annoying login required by the Times, but I won’t. It’s just plain wrong for the Times to retain that friction after it’s bothered to open its content anyway.)

My own favorite Newman moves are later ones: The Verdict, Nobody’s Fool, Empire Falls. As a journalist, I have a special appreciation for Absence of Malice, where the best performance actually belonged to Wilford Brimley, playing himself, essentially. In it Newman is by turns both passionate and, as Dargis puts it, cooler than dry ice.

He was, finally and enduringly, a good man. You knew that. It came across in his acting and his life. He’s a guy I wish I had known. Sad to see him go.

In his comment here, Mike Warot encourages me — and the rest of us — to watch this video by Karl Denninger, whose blog is here.

I did. It’s good. But I’m not sure Denninger is right. Or all-right, let’s say. Just somewhat.

Here’s the problem as I currently see it. (And I’m no economist. This is just me, one citizen trying to make sense of something that I’ve hardly paid attention to in the past. So take this with an acre of salt if you like.)

Yes, the system is rigged and corrupt. Yes, the Fed and Treasury have been messing up for decades. (As Kevin Phillips will tell you.) Yes, federal power has gone over the top here. Whoever heard of the Office of Thrift Supervision before it swooped in and sold WaMu to JP Morgan Chase? At least there’s some common sense involved with banking, and “trift” (a term that now feels euphemistic in a statist way, like “corrections”). Banking got sucked into runaway shell games, in which empty vessels multiplied and divided, as whole institutions with MBA-packed buildings grew to manage and manipulate them. Solidity and liquidity were both replaced by gasseosity — but in sectors of Xtreme Arcana that nobody outside fully understood. Thus we’ve had inflation for years, and have put off facing it, because it was hidden and the System seemed to be working.

Meanwhile the whole country became infected with the sickness of making money only for its own sake, backed by little resembling work or manufacture — a trend we’ve been seeing since the Carter administration.

The “free market” in finance has always been rigged by its Alpha beasts, its lobbied legislators and its regulators, to favor growth. But lost in this long round has been elementary horse sense about what’s actually valuable, what actually produces goods and services, what’s free and what’s not. Growth in this long round has had many costs, and we’re not even close to visiting all of them.

Perhaps it’s in our nature, with economic evidence going back to tulip bulbs. But I think it goes deeper than that. Our species pestilential and rapacious on a scale the planet has never seen before. It can rationalize chewing irreplaceable valuables out of the ground and seas, using them up and spreading its wastes everywhere. This cost-blind nature — is made manifest in a financial system that best rewards games built on games that are almost nothing but rationalizations — worse, of a sort that only its rationalizers can understand. The financial sector has become a casino in which the highest rollers have bought the house and rigged every game to pay off by splitting winnings to bet on other rigged games, while the rest of us say “Great!”, because we’re in there playing too: betting on worthless stocks, buying overpriced houses on easy credit with negative equities, running up credit card bills while thinking nothing of paying monthly interest rates north of 20%.

This “free market” was a free-for-all in which even its hands-off regulators participated. All while the country went from being the world’s leading manufacturer and creditor to the world’s leading out-sourcer and debtor — with the load now running into the dozens of trillions of dollars. Remember that we voted for the people who presided over that.

It’s tempting to blame and punish, but that isn’t what we need now. What we need is for credit to keep moving while the financial sector gradually shrinks to sane dimensions, with value that rises from 1/1 relationships between reality and perception — or at least a fair chance that good ideas will turn into good business. (I don’t want to throw smart investor babies out with the dumb investor bathwater.)

I don’t know if this $.7 trillion bill will do that. I do have a strong hunch about what will happen if it doesn’t. Or if we do nothing and let nature take its course. The entire financial sector will collapse, and the government won’t be able to print enough money to pay off its own and everybody else’s creditors, starting with China. Businesses of all kinds will close, and all but a few public utilities will cease to run smoothly. With weak manufacturing, absent small farming and other graces of traditional functioning societies, we’ll fall into a depression as bad or worse than the Great one. Cities will fail and crime will go rampant. And we’ll bore our grandchildren with stories of what it was like to hike ten miles through the snow to work at the only shit jobs that were left.

I believe this is what Warren Buffett also sees when he compares the current crisis to Pearl Harbor. I believe Buffett because he got wealthy by being sensible and prudent, and very much not of a type with those that have made a mess of the financial system.

Or so it seems to me on a Sunday morning just short of the precipice.

Oh, and I don’t hear either candidate talking about what’s really going on here. Nor do I expect them to.

Stephen Lewis latest, New York Women: Self-Vetting, My Aunt Estelle, and Haikus for Sale, visits the locus and origins of his firmly grounded sensibilities — for example, our distinctly New York senses of humor and our mutual stubbornly-held convictions that work involves heavy-lifting and adding of value rather than flim-flam, image building, and manipulation.

The first comment says the post “flows as naturally as anything I’ve read”. Agreed. The second is my reminder to us both that there’s still another connection, through Nathalie Goldman’s Writing Down the Bones.

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