Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Here's to you dubya

I could never stand him. So long as we all remember that HE is what Republicans stand for, we may not vote so stupidly again. He's gone, a rain of shoes flying toward his vanishing back side. He was voted out only when the cumulative disruptions and damage of his egregiously incompetent and arrogant administration reached a level even Americans could connect to the vacuous ideological causes. But of all his harms, the last I shall forgive is the way he made us a worse natured country than we meant to be, the way he made our meanness, greed and fatuousness nakedly obvious to the world...we did vote for him when many already knew better. We behaved no better than countries we have been cheered for vanquishing.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Better than anything I will ever write

The text of Obama's inaugural speech:

Thank you, thank you.

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you, God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Let me oversimplify this for you

Debt is just another kind of tax..but one for which we tax payers get nothing in return for our payments, one that is appealingly cameauflaged to those who are just too selfish to pay taxes directly out of their own pockets.

The republicans have no standing to mount any objections to debt: they took it on faster in the  last 30 years than any other faction ever did.  Debt of record breaking proportions is now held out to be our only short term remedy to the wrecked economy.  I hope so but I am stocking up on canned goods and generators just in case.  When trying to distinguish between the nearly indistinquishable economic consequences of Republican vs Democratic administrations, it may help to weigh how much of the monies raised and spent came back to you in any material and beneficial form.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Smell the fascism

If it comes to the point where some bush league toady in a uniform gives orders to reenact the massacre at Kent State, will we finally see how fascism is seeping upward into our most important institutions? That we have people who bother to think about the possibility of regular army units unleashed on their own civilians ought to make all of us a lot more watchful of our military.

My alarm at this bit of news is probably a bit greater than yours because the potential for army regulars to be shooting at citizens is a rumor that should have just blown away on account of its own ridiculous implications and impossibility. But seems it won't go away.

The finger pointing in the aftermath of Kent State shootings did not feel like justice to either the Viet Nam war protest movement or its opponents. The questions we have to ask at the mere hint that we are a nation yet again preparing to kill our own civilians ought to be in more minds...maybe that would lessen the likelihood of history repeating itself.
  • Who gains from such unrest?
  • Who gains if the military must be visibly present on our city streets, armed and leathal?
  • Who wants this kind of control? Who thinks marshal law is good in any way or at any time?
  • Do those who brought so much economic pain and dislocation on us face gun barrels and tear gas as potential rioters would? Do they even get an indictment?
  • What will be the dividing lines between common soldiers and those that give the orders? Who are we if we are not all on the same side in this country?
  • What will voting or economic reforms mean in an era of marshal law?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Boy!, that is Rich!

Frank Rich spares you from reading some insanely odious propaganda your tax money has paid for. He dispatches with one quick cut a huge pile of shit the desperate Bush crafted to promote his "legacy" Bush kidding us? If you collect Nazi memorabilia or Joe McCarthy campaign posters, you could download this document for posterity. I can't imagine Obama would be so deeply sarcastic as to leave it up at its present URL.

Rich gives us the gist of the matter in one paragraph:
This document is the literary correlative to “Mission Accomplished.” Bush kept America safe (provided his presidency began Sept. 12, 2001). He gave America record economic growth (provided his presidency ended December 2007). He vanquished all the leading Qaeda terrorists (if you don’t count the leaders bin Laden and al-Zawahri). He gave Afghanistan a thriving “market economy” (if you count its skyrocketing opium trade) and a “democratically elected president” (presiding over one of the world’s most corrupt governments). He supported elections in Pakistan (after propping up Pervez Musharraf past the point of no return). He “led the world in providing food aid and natural disaster relief” (if you leave out Brownie and Katrina).

There is more well deserved scorn in the rest of the Rich piece and I agree with every word of its tone and substance. The question it leaves in my mind and I am sure many others share this puzzlement: Given that he was so very damaging and slovenly a leader, why did we never impeach him?

Obama in "oh twelve"

I offer the president elect a campaign slogan for his next election campaign. If Palin is the best the Republicans can do on that occasion, Obama can just stay at his desk and continue sorting out our messes and calming our nerves. But just in case, a bumper sticker may be handy:


A little ambiguous for you? I frankly think the country's fascist hankering, in the form of its now permanent Military Industrial Complex, is resistant to even Barak Obama's persuasions. I fear stimulus only saves economies that are sound except for want of a rational level of confidence...but the US has deeper woes, having run on empty right to the edge of physical exhaustion of some mineral resources and selfdefeating policies involving its intellectual resources. Of only the latter can we even hope for reversal.

I am half way through Greenspan's mea non culpa, Age of Turbulence, and I feel less inclined to hate on the guy than before. He is so much less arrogant than the total pricks like Cheney, Rumsfeld and Dubya with/for whom he worked. The constant surprise to the geek's geek of economics is that anyone took his advice: he claims he never felt anywhere near as confident of macroeconomic forecasts as others who clearly hung on his words...after carefully picking the words they would hang on to. My point is that not even for the smartest of us, do the complexities of our economic world afford any useful transparency. Greenspan only grew more aware of psychology as a determinant of economic outcomes late in his career. Obama is smart and less of an ideologue than Bush league henchmen but the bus is already plunging down the embankment as Obama takes the wheel. Softer landing maybe but only on a lower road. More certainty is not available. I expect that unless someone works a miracle on the ruinous materialism and consumerism that now define American character more than our claimed piety, hard work or intellectual freedom, Obama's hands are tied. We will go on wanting to have more and pay less and history will only accelerate its punishments for our childishness. It is effective politics to work the extreme factions toward the center and to steer middle courses no one faction loves but in which each faction sees some benefit. But compromises between the wishfulness of the entire body politic and fundamental physical limitations of resources are not possible and their simulation by denying reality has been shown to fail painfully.

We hear a clamour, right and left, to borrow on top of our mountain of borrowings so as to fund stimulus programs...yet I hear little of cutting our offensive defense budget. My job would be one lost in such cuts and yet I beg fate to be so good to us. Obama will not stem that flow of money wasted on weapons and world bullying.

In my admittedly dim view, if Obama actually tries to spell out for us just how hard we will have to work and how insecure we are, he will be hated for his message and his reelection in ought-twelve will not be a foregone conclusion.

Friday, January 02, 2009


Economics exhibits business cycles of some regularity or frequency. Stocks form small asset bubbles to the rhythm of these cycles. Other assets may participate to a greater or lesser degree. An engineer would observe that negative feedbacks or restoring forces must be at play some how, working against each other but out of phase so as to produce these oscillations which seem, primarily in hindsight, so predictable. The changing times and the technical resources and the speed of information conspire to change the frequency but one way or another excitements and depressions follow one another in our economies just as they do in some mental disorders of individuals.

What makes mighty sand dunes and the crashing ocean waves?   The steadyness of the wind, more than its strength, will find the harmonic of the medium, sand or water, and according to its steadiness, shape mountains in it to suit that harmonic.

Even without the blatant bias of tax law to help the rich and keep the poor in their place, we have always had rich getting richer [how old is that expression?]. It occurs to me that certain habits in commercial behavior or pecuniary personality traits, out of synch with the greed and fear of the mass of economic players, might be the more natural way of the wealthy than lobbying for tax loopholes.

If your habit was to not be caught up in euporias nor anxious to show off as much buying power as your neighbor, you might save liquid wealth while others use it to bid up inflating assets. Wealth defined as "having more money than you need for living expenses" is a definition that finds an alternately growing and shrinking population meeting its standards. What matters is what you do when you are thus "rich".

[btw, note in that Vaknin essay that he was calling "Ponzi scheme" on the whole of our vaporous financial market, well in advance of the collapses of the summer and fall and way ahead of the revelations that Madoff had made off with billions. He is, effectively, agreeing with Krugman that an unregulated market is an open invitation to and ultimately hard to distinquish morally from a Ponzi scheme. I particularly like the essay because it emphasizes the universal emotionalism and intellectual weakness of insecure humans that drunkens and finally unhinges our economy. Until our upbringings are founded on spiritually or psychologically healthy values , our markets will always be a way to stalk each other.  A basic econ lesson would suffice to show how irrational market bubbles are, but who thinks in terms of equations?]

If others become needy for liquidity while you have cash, if asset prices decline and by their very decline motivate the needy owners to dump their own goods driving prices lower "before it is too late" to cash in, then your savings can obtain a muliplied quantity of that asset so dearly bought at recent market peaks. It sounds too obvious: "buy low, sell high" but real people have too much herd animal and not enough selling discipline. Plan, on the very day you buy, exactly the condition in which you will sell AND a stop-loss. The wind is steady, the economies have had millenia of hungry people and middle men between the earth's bounty and the gaping mouths and bare shivering shoulders. With your discipline, now go surf those waves.

Is that cyclying behavior the natural consequence of capitalist systems  given the limitations of the humans who operate them?  The "obvious" superiority and appearant dominence of capitalism as the "end of history" has been pronounced by bullshitting Neocons. But conversion of the world to liberal democracy and capitalism is not a done deal.  This reality gap holds with an especially fierce irony for the economic and moral failures of the US, which for the last eight years has idiotically claimed to be the champion of those ideals even as it gutted them. My opinion FWIW, is that democracy is a fine idea and we should try it some time. Capitalism is not an idea so much as a label for the du jour mix of government support and proprietary rights that any given country uses to perpetuate the personhood of wealth...which is more or less the same as the personhood of personal power manifest in political terms. The basic flaw here is still the failure to see the psychological at work. The parties touting the political system do not realize how much they identify that system with themselves and its power with their power. They can promote liberal democracy so energetically because rather than the complex reality of culture change needed to make it work, they are merely promoting themselves.

The end of nature has also been pronounced.  Unlike the Fukayammering, that trend spotting has been amply confirmed.   With Obama's choice for the head of EPA, climate science has finally, pushed aside the oil-funded deniers. When too many mouths gape for food from a depleted nature, our steady winds become a cyclone, a vicious circle of unmet needs. That time is coming though it will not come all at once like $150/bbl oil. And when it comes, as intersecting trendlines dictate it will, then no amount of money is enough to buy food when one must grow it or yank it at gunpoint from the larder of a more prudent neighbor.   When the psychological value of money is no longer the quivelent of power and security, there will be and end to economic oscillating.