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    • The Slow Bipartisan Slide to Authoritarianism
      The funniest thing about Trump are those who feel he is of a piece, separate from American history, and somehow a break from it.  That this government is significantly qualitatively worse than those that came before, rather than an extension of it. (A good example is immigration policy, in which Trump is somewhat worse than […]
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Lions, George Bush and Libya

I’m in the middle of the third part of The Last Lion:Winston Spencer Churchill.  Midway, actually.  Get it?  Ok, never mind.

Anyway, the third part is riveting.  No, seriously, I’m completely engrossed with the story of WWII.  I am my father’s daughter.  This part starts after Britain declares war on Germany and makes Churchill prime minister.  Churchill rallies the country with inspirational speeches and vows that Britain will not go down like Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and France.  Wait, was that everyone?  No, indeed, there was much more to come.  The Brits looked across the channel at all the carnage and slavery and starvation and brutality and decided they were going to gird their loins and tough it out.  Then came the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, The Blitz, the destruction of Coventry.  Thousands of British lives were lost in incendiary bombs during nights of terror while the country waited for the invasion they knew Germany was planning.  And then there was the British navy, number one in the world, being picked off boat by boat, ship by ship, in the north Atlantic by German U-boats, battleships and bombers.  The carnage was horrific.

Meanwhile, Churchill was on his own.  No other European country was going to come to his rescue.  After years of appeasement, the ability of the military to respond to German aggression was very weak.  The RAF had far fewer planes, the navy’s ships were old, the army’s tanks couldn’t compete with the German panzers.  Churchill begged the US to send whatever was mothballed from WWI.  He turned British bases in the Atlantic over to America in exchange for some old rust buckets.  It wasn’t enough.  He pleaded with Roosevelt for help.  Britain was having trouble feeding itself.  He warned FDR that America was next, that Germany and Italy would come for them eventually.  But FDR had his own band of isolationists to deal with.  They held our country hostage and prevented any useful aid from reaching Britain.  Lend-Lease was only partially successful and Britain nearly bankrupted itself trying to purchase food and materials to ramp up weapons production.

Then came a series of British military disasters.  They initially had success in North Africa, but lost momentum to Rommel in Libya.  The Brits promised to defend Greece but after Yugoslavia signed the Tripartite agreement with Germany and Italy, then had a coup in protest, it was invaded by Germany, which rolled right on thru to occupy Greece.  Once again, the Brits had to evacuate – to Crete.  In Crete, German paratroopers captured a British airbase.  The RAF didn’t have the means to defend itself.  It didn’t have any arms.  The Brits evacuated to Egypt.  It was one retreat after another.  Pearl Harbor came as a blessing.  Finally, another country was going to share the misery.  But once the US got involved, it quickly found that it was no better off than the British.  With decades of appeasers running the show, the US military also didn’t have the ships, arms or aircraft to put up much of a fight.  If the Japanese hadn’t thought they were so far ahead of the game that they could afford to take a break refit their ships, the US might have lost all of the ships we had in the Pacific.

In the first months of 1942, Churchill was called by the House of Commons to account for all the military disasters.  Crete and Greece were particularly grating.  The Greek campaign was seen as unnecessary, especially because it was a voluntary action and it was a total loss.  But Churchill pointed out that the purpose of the campaign was to show the world that Britain was not just a sitting duck, it would resist assimilation.  Also, there was that whole business of the eastern Mediterranean.  If the area wasn’t secured for sea traffic, oil from the Persian Gulf and other goods, would have to go around Africa to get to England.  THAT’s why the British were in Egypt, to keep an eye on the Suez Canal.  That’s why they wanted to keep Tobruk in Libya.  It was the safest natural harbor in the area for the British fleet.  That’s why the Germans were bombing the shit out of Malta.  That’s why Churchill was hoping that Stalin was ready to fight Hitler in Russia, so Germany wouldn’t capture Iraqi and Iranian oil fields. By the way,  how many of us knew that when the Japanese declared war on us, it effectively cut off our rubber supply from Malaysia and that our cars and other vehicles were impacted by the Japanese navy threatening the trade routes?  I didn’t know that until yesterday.

And he was pissed off that he had to report this crap to the House of Commons because all they needed to do was look at a fricking map for the past decade to see that these areas needed reinforcement and military strength.  But while he spent a decade as a ridiculed back bencher, running around with his hair on fire about the evil brewing in Germany, he had to put up with a lot of snooty appeasers who thought keeping the peace so commerce could proceed without interruption was more important than a raving lunatic and his band of thugs in Berlin.

The House of Commons still couldn’t understand the Greek thing though.  Why pursue a battle if you aren’t sure you’re going to win?  He replied that if you have to know in advance that a win is a certainty, you never get off your ass to become a real threat.

So, now we come to our own Libya.  And I look at the map of all of the choke points in the world now for international shipments of oil and grain and all kinds of stuff and it’s really not all that different today than it was in WWII.

 

It’s still the Straits of Hormuz, the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal, Singapore and the South China Sea, the Dardanelles.  We may all divinely wish that the world didn’t run on oil.  I certainly wish it.  But the powers that be are determined to keep us addicted and, let’s not kid ourselves, we haven’t really had a choice of president since 1996.  The election was stolen in 2000, probably 2004, certainly something went terribly wrong in 2008 and that led to 2012.  George Bush was a disaster for us.  The Iraq War was a disaster for us.  Afghanistan?  It started off well but quickly devolved.  We needed to go to Afghanistan.

And now we come to Libya.  Libya, the same damn place that was such a mess for the Brits in 1941.  There were probably a couple of reasons to do air strikes in Libya a couple of years ago.  The first may have been the oil.  I won’t deny it but I don’t know.  Yeah, oil is evil.  I think I’ve already mentioned that.  The second was to avoid a humanitarian crisis.  Qaddafi was going to scorch the earth.  And no, we can’t save the world.  It isn’t our jahb.  But I will remind the reader that in this case, the pre-WWII hypothesis of the military specialists was that air bombers were king. You get your best bang for your buck with a bomber.  That’s not necessarily the whole story.  It did eventually require a massive number of bodies thrown at Normandy to finally take Europe back.  But that was then and this is now.  Air strikes are incredibly effective and in Libya’s most recent case, it finished Qaddafi off.

Should we have not done it because there is now a bunch of Libyans fighting amongst themselves?  Should we only get involved if we know that people are going to not misbehave when we have our backs turned? I don’t know but I suspect that crazy dictators do not take you seriously if you don’t at least put up a fight to show that you mean business.  That doesn’t mean we should have gone to Iraq.  We shouldn’t have gone to Iraq because there was no reason besides greed to go to Iraq. Saddam Hussein had no WMDs.  And apparently, we learned our lesson back in 1941 and we are no longer lacking in military prowess.  No one is going to catch us without enough armament to turn any offending country into a glass parking lot if that’s what we want.  I just hope we don’t want.

Now our biggest problem is we are waging a different kind of war in the US.  The bad guys are so clever they ask us to disarm ourselves in completely different ways.  They are using our own safeguards against us.  I guess we can debate whether Libya was worth it or not.  Or we can pay better attention to the new dictators who are slipping in and taking over our country without shedding any blood at all.  Well, not yet anyway.

Our finest hour is coming.

 

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Beautiful Theories Destroyed by Ugly Facts

The 2008 Primary Map. Take THAT, David Plouffe!

Edward Luce at The Financial Times wrote a piece called America: The Fearsome Foursome and it’s all about how everything in the WH is run by a small evil group to which no one we know belongs.  Yep, everything bad that has ever happened in the past year is the fault of Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett, Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod. It’s all because this Gang of Four are in campaign mode, a *brilliant*, scintillatingly genius, never-before-seen-by-the-likes-of-man campaign mode where they came from behind and fought the party establishment and conventional wisdom and the vicious media to overcome all odds and triumph to make their way to the highest office of the land.  It brings a tear to my eye, I tells ya’.  It’s like Mike Eruzione leading the US Hockey team to victory against the Russkis at the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980.  A Miracle! A Miracle!

Can we just cut the crap, please?

If the White House is in campaign mode, then Barack Obama is the campaign manager.  That’s how his campaign worked, according to David Plouffe in his book from just a few months ago, The Audacity to Win.  Barack Obama was a “hands-on” candidate and was the pilot of his campaign, according to Plouffe.  I would interpret this to mean that he approved of pulling his name off of the Michigan ballot, thereby screwing voters in MI and every Hillary voter in the country by extension.  And he must have been cool with the misogyny of the media too, right?  Some nice guy you got there for a president, eh?  By the way, Amazon’s review of the book is full of delightful details like:

Plouffe’s prose, alas, doesn’t much sweeten the deal. It’s filled with business-speak (“takeaway” used repeatedly as a noun, as in, “It certainly was not the chief takeaway from the debate”; gratuitous, macho-posturing profanity (“they picked Sarah goddamn Palin,” “let’s go win this [expletive] thing”); and a surfeit of baseball metaphors (“brushback pitch,” “unforced errors,” “[expletive] home run”).

If you’re looking for clues as to why this White House is screwed up, look no further than business jargon, that collection of “power words” that function as secret code words that identify the club members to each other but upon further investigation mean absolutely nothing.  Corporate culture is full of them.  When we hear our new CEOs say them during “Town Hall” meetings  and hear his sycophants dutifully repeating them in endless slide presentations, we start getting our affairs in order because the mergers and pink slips aren’t far behind.

Oh, yes, Obama is in charge all right.  His White House is painfully similar to a typical corporate executive department, which gives me a pretty good clue about who actually got him into office in the first place.

But let’s talk about the message that the FT piece sends.  In a nutshell, it sounds like Rahm Emannuel is ruining everything and that he’s not so good with 11th Dimensional Chess after all.

Well, there’s your problem right there.  According to most cosmic physicists, the human mind is incapable of understanding more than, oh, three dimensions on a good day.  Four is really pushing it for even the smartest among us.  Even Rahm.  11 is just beyond human comprehension.  It’s like, the geeks turn out these beautiful equations with some weird constant to the 11th power and they say, “Wow! That’s totally mind blowing.  WTF does it mean?  Hey, let’s go to Chuck’s for some wings for lunch.”  Those are the guys who can think to the 6th dimension.  (Or chemistry students who see that little “^” thingy in quantum chemistry and just apply it without really truly understanding what the f^*& that thing is and then burn the book after the final.)  That’s because, when you get into the REAL world, theories only get you so far after you graduate.  That’s when you have to apply your powers of observation and experience and refer to theory.

It’s cool to know some really great theoreticians and understand their work but when it comes right down to doing the day-to-day work, you read a lot of papers based on actual practice.  If the theory can’t be reduced to practice and the results replicated, it isn’t any damn good.

So, here we have a White House run by a corporate biz-speak accolyte, whose entire reduction to practice experience in applying the 11th dimensional chess game theory totals 142 days in the Senate. He has virtually no legislative experience to speak of.  I imagine his real skills are that he has mastered a certain attitude that is suave and debonnair (pronounced swave and de-boner for the uninitiated).  He looks like he swings a big dick.  He can use baseball metaphors with aplomb.  To get ahead, he’s charming to his colleagues (at first) and gets them to help him understand what they’re doing.  He gets them to share their secrets with him.  Then, as soon as he gets what he needs, he goes running to the guy two levels above him and has a chat.  Makes it looks like he figured all this stuff out by himself.  Says, “Her?  She’s good but she doesn’t really understand blah like you and I do.”  Pretty soon, the old chap is eating out of his hands.  (We corporate rats could write scads of papers on this technique, having seen it in action about a bazillion times.  And by the way, we’re getting really tired of it.  It’s costing us our jobs.)

And now his Fearsome Foursome is standing guard.  Ready to take a bullet for the guy, the one who is now in charge and is running everything, having gotten the confidence of the old guys.  They’re a slick bunch, that foursome.  They’ve got people actually believing that it’s not Obama’s fault that the country is the way it is and he can’t do anything about it.  He inherited this mess.  He didn’t make it messy.  It was BUUUUUSHH!

Yeah, like we didn’t see that coming.  It’s the reason why we didn’t want Obama in the first place.  We preferred the lady engineer who at least knew which mechanisms of government to push to get things done and looked like she read the papers and did her homework.

And it’s not Obama’s fault?  Please.  This is the job he wanted.  We all knew before he ran that the country was going to be a train wreck.  The Des Moines Register endorsed Hillary Clinton back in December of 2007 because they knew it was going to be a train wreck.  He inherited a train wreck and he knew it going in.  If he didn’t think he could do the job, he shouldn’t have run.  And Democrats who had been accurately predicting disaster for years during the Bush administration should have known better and not voted for him or promoted him and CERTAINLY shouldn’t be making excuses for him now.  Take responsibility for putting Obama in office and stop ignoring the ugly facts! It is a recipe for failure.

This is the real world in 4 dimensions with real people’s lives at stake.  It is not a game.

Addendum:

cx4800 found this video of the Des Moines Register endorsement from Dec. 2007.  The tone of the endorsement was absolutely clear: given the state of the country, this was no time to be day dreaming with Obama.  Obama knew full well that he was going to inherit a catastrophe and the Des Moines Register knew he wasn’t ready for it.

We *all* knew.

Wednesday: Rent and Taxes

You MUST pay the rent!

You MUST pay the rent!

Simon Johnson had a cryptic post at baselinescenario the other day about money managers and shareholders.  Naked Capitalism followed it up yesterday with a post about John C. Bogle, head of the Vanguard Group and his proposals for a new fiduciary relationship between money managers and their customers. One thing I found astonishing was that pension funds are charged something like .08 for a transaction but mutual funds of the type that many of us are forced to put our 401K money into are charged .61 per transaction.

In the past couple of days, I’ve been reading more references to the term “rent”.  In this context, rent is not simply what we pay to our landlord to keep a roof over our heads but, as I’m interpreting it, rent is a fee charged by an entity to make use of a service that they have exclusive control over.  (Dakinikat can correct me on this)  For example, when you use your debit card, you pay a transaction fee and that is a type of rent.  I’ve always assumed the rent in this case goes towards servicing the machines and the bank makes a ginormous profit.  Then there are those transaction fees extracted from us by our 401k managers.  And when I think about it, rents are all over the place and costing us more and more each year.  Think about your cell phone bill.  Ok, *don’t* think about your cellphone bill.  There are ridiculous fees for everything.  You get roped into a monthly charge for 400 minutes but find that unless you purchase unlimited texting, every SMS you send is going to cost a ridiculous amount of money even though those text messages hitch a ride on cell signals at virtually no cost to the phone company.

Then I started to think about all the privatization we went through in the Bush Era.  Remember when the Republicans were ready to privatize the national weather service to something like The Weather Channel?  Think about that for a moment.  We pay taxes already to keep the weather service and its spinoffs like the hurricane watchers in business and Congress was negotiating with a private company, who would have charged us additional fees, to provide that service for us.  But I think it’s even worse than that.  I have heard horror stories about companies such as Accenture bidding on projects like taking over human services databases in Texas and making a shambles of it.  I know from an insider how the IRS has been downsized and portions of its services sent to private contractors for high fees.

Funny how it seems like our taxes never appreciably decreased after Bush and the Republicans made government smaller, especially for those of us who live in states where the cost of living, and consequently salaries, are high.  I supposedly have more money in pockets, money that I can decide to spend better than the government and I spend a lot more of it in rent that every service provider manages to extract from me in little dribs and drabs.  It adds up, substantially.  And today, when I do my taxes (yeah, yeah, procrastination), I will once again be amazed that I fork out so much money and get so little for it.  I *thought* I was paying much less in taxes than my French colleagues until one of the expats told me that taxes here are much higher when one accounts for what she would get for that money in France.  Little things like decent healthcare, generous maternity leave, tuition at a public university that is really just a token.

But in any case, I’m sure it is no accident that rents to the private sector have increased to the benefit of our capitalist masters of government.   It makes me pine for socialism.

Presidentin’ Is Hard

20obama1480Though I make no claims of being a financial wizard, or a political maven, even I can see that all is not right on Wall Street, D.C. where the heart and soul of our country is on life support, currently being administered to by second graders who want to be doctors when they grow up.  And, I’m sophisticated enough to recognize that a lot of what I read about our dire national situation is presented in the media by people representing the political party so far out of favor they have to look to bloviating blowhards for advice, or worse, can be made to appear to need to do so.  I get that.  However, in spite of all that, the forces pretending to represent the white-hatted good guys in this classic Adventures in Administration movie, armed with their heralded sky-high approval ratings for their poor man’s Dark Gable leading man, simply can’t mount enough of a stampede to disguise the fact that the dustcloud that follows them like Charlie Brown’s pal Pigpen’s is not the result of riding hard and strong over the dusty trail, but merely the wispy smoke trails from their “throw ’em off the path,” hastily built, diversionary cookfire.  In other words, they got nothing.

Stalwart bastion of the Obamedia protection service, Salon Magazine, has an article by former Clinton labor secretary and Obacolyte, Robert Reich, in which he pitifully attempts to pooh-pooh rightwing claims that the Obamessiah himself is responsible for our economic woes by trying to lay them at the feet of the finger-pointers:

When it turns out that people like Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, who took home $68 million in 1997, was the only Wall Streeter in a meeting last September at the New York Federal Reserve to discuss the initial AIG bailout with Tim Geithner, then New York Fed chair, among others, at the very time Goldman was AIG’s largest trading partner, a distinct scent of self-dealing begins to emanate. When it turns out that Citigroup got a bailout deal last October far more generous than that given to any other distressed bank, when a top Citi executive was advising the Treasury and Fed, the scent increases. Goldman’s past CEO was treasury secretary at that time, by the way, and another former Goldman CEO was a top Citi official and also a former treasury secretary. I am not suggesting anything so crude as corruption. But could it be, given these tangled webs, that — innocently, unintentionally, perhaps even subconsciously — the entire bailout effort was premised on saving these companies rather than protecting the public? Or that the distinction between the two was lost, and still is?

Yet, Reich gleefully and disingenuously, ignores the fact that the people he’s defending his ObaMaster against are the people who funded his campaign.  Not only that, the central figure in Reich’s little morality play, Turbo Tax Timmy Geithner, tax cheat, (TTTG,tc)  has a family history of sorts with Barry Sutoro, and is currently employed as the Blameless One’s lapdog and whipping boy.  To point out that he may have colluded with the banksters against the public in ripping off the country on the other team’s watch is…well…stupid.

Why would anyone purporting to defend the Obama administration draw attention to the man quickly becoming the public face of its incompetence?  Especially when the author can’t even make it through to the end of his own piece without acknowledging at least some of the complicity of the Obama Drama Troupe?

The Wall Street and Republican media attack machine doesn’t know exactly what to make of this. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, along with CNBC, alternates between attacking Obama for bailing out Wall Street and excusing Wall Street’s excesses. But then again, Obama doesn’t seem to know exactly what to make of it either. He seems to vacillate as well — one moment scorning Wall Street, the next moment justifying further bailouts. I do hope he takes a firmer hand, drawing a clearer distinction and making a clearer connection between clearing up these financial balance sheets and helping average people. Otherwise, the next populist uprising will be born in this moneyed quagmire. It is here — within the muck that was created by AIG, Citigroup, Fannie and Freddie, other giant financial institutions, now in combination with the U.S. Treasury and Fed — that the public is most confused, bears its most serious scars, and is potentially most burdened in future years, by decisions still made in secret.

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The Day That Froze America In Time

Still Stuck Here

Stuck

Prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001, newly-selected President George W. Bush was enjoying a fairly decent approval rating of between 50-60%. Then, as he so heartlessly stated, he won the “trifecta.” And America was frozen in time, much as Bush was frozen for several minutes in that Florida classroom after the second of the two World Trade Center towers was hit.

After those attacks, George Bush had the full support of nearly every American – and, of our allies across the world, including Iran, which was led by a much more moderate faction at the time. And what did he do with this political capital? He spent it – and made sure that we would be mired in the 20th Century for the entire length of his Reign of Error.

Bush used Bin Laden’s attacks as an excuse to push America into a bizarre “war on terror.” This was, he warned, going to be a war that would take many years and be unconventional in its approach. What he did not tell us is that the “war on terror” would be used as an excuse to seize an unprecedented amount of executive power, invade a country that did not attack us first, and would actually INCREASE the strength of Al Qaeda and the number of terrorist attacks around the world.

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