Tuesday, November 30, 2010


One of the stories I have let sail past me is the Wikileaks story. This issue strikes right at the heart of the sorts of cognitive dissonance we live with now. Which is to say one of, perhaps the biggest, disappointments with the Obama administration has nothing to do with increasing the deficit to stimulate the economy, or health care. That disappointment is the large scale continuation of business as usual in the executive branch. Now, the current Afghan surge is possibly part of that situation (that is sort of ambiguous), but the sorts of things revealed in the Wikileaks dump clearly is. Without having gone through them, I gather there have been secret talks where our middle eastern allies are pushing us to at least bomb Iran.

Glenn Greenwald has been covering this story, and delves into government and media reaction to the Wikileaks release. And to me, that is where things get interesting. The government is objecting to this theft of secret documents and the media is largely agreeing with them. Bill Keller admits to checking with the administration as it went to publish parts of the release, to make sure lives would not be endangered. So how is that different than Judith Miller publishing information about WMD's that she got from the (previous) administration without independent confirmation in the run-up to the Iraq war?

However, since this is the Obama administration, many people are caught between their automatic support for a Democratic administration and their desire to support whistle-blowers standing up to authority. Actually, I'll allow that any given person's support for Obama may be more nuanced than "automatic", but any one who steps back and tries to look at this situation dispassionately has to wonder why the Obama administration is acting so much like the Bush administration. Most nobody is stepping back. And that is a problem because it will have a further chilling efect on whistle blowers elsewhere in the government and in private industry.

The movie "Inside Job" also noted that many of Obama's top advisers, including Timothy Geitner and Lawrence Summers, have strong ties to banks and Wall Street (including sitting on boards). Now, I won't say that Obama's administration should have been a complete break with the past. But I think that an attempt at more balance, bringing in some people who were less inclined to place the financial industries' interests over the rest of the country, would have been a good thing. Increasingly, Obama is inhabiting the worst of all worlds. He is villainized by the right, excoriated by the Tea Party, and yet serves the interests of super rich and the military industrial complex. Can we get something, either Obama cutting his ties to industry and secrecy, or for the right to acknowledge Obama has done them a lot of good?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Back in time for Kelly


Yeah, I was out of town, visiting my brother, dad and cousin in the sunny South (where it was under 30 this morning). My brother asked if I would blog about my trip, and I may.

Meanwhile, though, I could chat a bit about Jack Kelly's Column today. My overall reaction is to say a word that Mr Kelly does not: "deficit". So many of the Republicans in general and Tea Party people in specific ran on reducing the deficit. Here's Jack Kelly suggesting the Republicans hold the Start Treaty hostage to a commitment to spend huge new amounts of money to modernize our nuclear arsenal. Kelly is worried that our aging arsenal will not be seen as a credible threat (because nukes deteriorate). Yeah, buit what would be the reaction to our suddenly having a new set of nukes compared to the Russian's old set. Kelly expresses concern about China being a threat, which it is to some degree. However, I am not sure that giving the Chinese a new reason to fear us is necessarily a good move. Our previous President showed a willingness to invade one country based on a flimsy excuse, and we could elect another Republican in 2012 or 2016. Perhaps Mr Kelly is thinking about a near version of mutually assured destruction, one where our nukes are weighed against our debt that China is holding. Except that in that case we have an incentive to nuke China to cancel the debt (probably what Kelly has in mind).

In any event, Kelly thinks the Senate should wait until January to vote on the Start treaty. After all, the people have spoken in that they elected Republicans such that they are a majority in House, and six new members in the Senate. The people have spoken, and certainly would not want the current Senate to do anything until it's new members are there. Except I think the people were lied to ("the Democrats have done nothing/have expanded government to a larger size than ever before") and misled. Now, you may disagree with that assessment, or say "so what, too bad". But I think I am entitled to say the Democrats should do now what they can as much as Mr Kelly is entitled to say Congress should defer to the (supposed) will of the people.

Kelly pretty much tries to mislead us in this column as well, intentionally or otherwise. For example, he takes pains at the beginning of the column to tell us the treaty itself is a bad treaty (not in our national security interests), and that he will get back to that. Then a bit later he says something about how progressives are frozen in cold war thinking, and repeats that the treaty is bad, as if he had made his case. Now granted, he then complains about China and about how ballistic missile defense might be harmed by the treaty, but if that is part of his case, he makes it in the most confusing manner possible.

And as far as ballistic missile defense goes, I have not heard of a successful test ever since the program was started during the Reagan administration. All it seems like is corporate welfare for defense manufacturers. Maybe it is time to scrap the program (remember - "deficit"?).

Kelly tries to flash his "national security" credentials today, but mostly shows himself to be a transparent shill for the Republicans. I do have to say, though, he risks angering those new darlings of the Republicans, the Tea Party, some of whom are ready and willing to cut defense as well as Medicare and Social Security.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

You can't always get what you want ....

but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you neeeeeeeeeeee-ee-eeeeeee-ee-eeeeeed (ooooooo oo oo oooooooo). *grin*

What to say about today’s Jack Kelly column ? Well, I majored in econ (as well as poli sci) as an undergrad (a quarter century ago) but would not call myself an economist. But I wouldn’t call Mr Kelly one either.

I will bring up my own favorite left field loony idea. Kelly brought up numerous critics to “quantitative easing”: the Chinese, the Germans, Republican leaders, the Chamber of Commerce and somebody called Charles Hugh Smith. The one group he failed to mention is the one group I have been suggesting he is court (although I confess I don’t know why he is doing that). And mind you the group is more of a loose movement that doesn’t have specific leaders or anyone that can set specific policy or even articulate agreed upon goals; they’re more like a mob that picks up a chant. The group of which I speak is of course the Tea Party. Both Sarah Palin and rand Paul have spoken out incoherently against Fed Policy. I couldn’t say whether any of Bristol’s dance numbers were supposed to be interpreted as comments on Fed Policy (instead of comments on how dumb we really are).

So can I say Kelly is wrong about the effects “quantitative easing” will have? No, I am not that smart, and to be fair, there are a fair number of critics besides the obvious opponents of the Obama administration like Republican politicians and their patrons the Chamber of Commerce. I can not see how the Fed’s ultimate articulated goal of stimulating commercial lending will affect the extremely high unemployment rate (15%) of Americans without high school degrees. As I have said before, spend money (maybe the same amount as would be spent on quantitative easing) on transportation projects that give hiring preference to people without high school degrees (if that is feasible to do). As an executive department decision, call it a defense priority (national emergency highway system) and let Defense run it.

And something like that may still happen if Congress gridlocks next year. Meanwhile, though, after watching “Inside Job” I am unhappy about feeding the banks even more money, especially since they aren’t lending with the first round of money they were given. But the banks are where commercial lending takes place, so I suppose we still need to deal with them.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Back again ...

Back again. I still remember the podcamp speaker who said she hates when bloggers apologize for not posting. Never the less…

I went to a movie yesterday – “Inside Job”. Do you know the story? It is a documentary on the financial collapse. Yeah, I knew a lot of the material, but hardly all. The movie was well put together. Perhaps in some ways too well, but mostly it was words speaking for themselves (if you will forgive the phrase). They had many of the individuals in the crisis, not necessarily the CEO’s of Morgan Stanley or Lehman Brothers, but they had the guy who designed the Bush tax cuts. They had a major financial lobbyist. So I think it is fair to say they had the other side (as well as Barney Frank and others). The movie maker (Charles Ferguson?) asked the questions, to be sure, but there was the other side. It is at the Manor and a Bridgeville Destina theatre right now, and well worth seeing.

By the way, the movie spared neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama, they both subscribed to what is becoming our prevailing wisdom of deregulation and coddling the damn financial companies. And speaking of the prevailing wisdom, the movie reserved a chapter (one of six or seven) to talk about how economics has been co-opted, how economists are literally bribed by financial corporations. As someone who hopes that academia can help us understand and find solutions, it was really disappointing to hear (I think it was) the chair of economics at Harvard say that he didn’t think professors should have to disclose their possible conflicts of interest.

Needless to say, at this moment I am even more suspicious (and disgusted) with the prevailing wisdom(s). I don’t like how the Democrats are echoing Republicans, and I am really, really pissed about what the Republicans said before and still say after the election.

And I will pause and pivot here a minute to give my usual Sunday comment about Jack Kelly. I didn’t comment on last Sunday’s column in part because it wasn’t that interesting. He wants Obama to set aside in 2012. How should I interpret that? He talks in a Republican tinged prevailing wisdom, so already his view of reality appears distorted. Is it that he just doesn’t like the black man? He says the Democrats (which by the way I think he means Obama) lost working class whites; but since he doesn’t have a citation, I would wonder who he means – actual Democrats or just independent working class whites. One thing to consider is that apparently Obama only won white males under 30 in 2008. A majority of white males above 30 supported McCain, so Obama and the Democrats never had them to begin with.

This week’s column does much the same for Nancy Pelosi. He suggests she should not run for minority leader, and as proof he says that she might be the most unpopular figure in the country – only 8 percent of independents approve of the job she is doing.

“Independents”? Are they somehow more important than the rest of us? Any discussion of independents makes me think of a character in “12 Angry Men”. The “ad” man (George Webber) was swayed by the last authoritative argument that he heard, so he switched his jury vote a couple of times. Independents were clearly swayed by the Republican’s version of “prevailing wisdom” in the recent election. I already mentioned what I think about the prevailing wisdom, even or perhaps especially if supported by academic economic opinion (especially a Martin Feldstein, although Bernanke and even Laura Tyson did not come off well in “Inside”.

Kelly said a couple of interesting things in the last couple of weeks. Last week he said (and I agree) he foresees gridlock in Congress for the next two years. This week he came roaring back to courting the Tea Party with this final remark:
“We cannot restore the republic our forefathers intended unless we limit the terms of members of Congress, and limit their ability to sell favors.”
Yeah, I don’t like earmarks much, although I understand that politicians first and foremost do want to be re-elected (for better *or* worse), and so want to bring home presents for their constituents. But at a deeper level, Kelly’s folksy BS not only doesn’t help address the current financial crisis, it actively prevents our finding real solutions.

That would be a good place to stop, but there is one more thing I want to put out there, a general proposal to alleviate unemployment. I believe I have mentioned before that the middle and of course upper classes are not suffering as an aggregate group, 4.5% and 4% unemployment for bachelors and graduate level degree holders. But for people who do not even have a high school degree: 15% unemployment. We also know we need to at least shore up if not improve our infrastructure. Let’s put them together, manual labor jobs with preference given to people targeted as need job experience and training for projects working on our roads and bridges. In fact, I could also see public/private partnerships for solar, wind or tidal power corporations. A win win that would help the people really hurt by the recession. Therefore without a chance.