Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Chickens roosting and roasting

It is pointless to speculate on what will happen next—one can hardly keep up with all the Nobel-prize-winning economists offering their highly varied opinions.

On the other hand, it is pretty clear what occurred yesterday when the political class split down the middle over the Wall Street bail-out. There is a massive crisis of confidence among them equivalent to the universal distrust among the banks. Just as Morgan Stanley refuses to lend to Citibank, which refuses to lend to Barclay’s, no one among the Republicans, the Democrats, senators, congressmen, Bush Administration figures or mid-level bureaucrats trusts anyone else as far across Washington as they can throw them.

Thus the result of systematically lying and scamming for the last eight, indeed thirty years, bamboozling us with spin, cooked up intelligence, refried statistics and partisan opportunism dressed up as patriotism. They got so used to their post-modern rewrite of reality that they can't tell fact from fiction any more.

It is grimly hilarious to hear conservative Republicans admit they don’t believe the wolf story peddled by Paulson as the Democrats compare the power grab over Wall Street to the unitary executive established after 9/11 to facilitate the bogus conquest of Iraq.

We put up with Bush and now must suffer the consequences. By ‘we’ I mean both those who celebrated him and those who enabled him by refusing to resist, both John McCain and the ineffable Pelosi who suddenly gave vent to her outrage two years too late.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

The sniff test

At times like these everyone’s an expert, and I am guilty as charged by the mere fact of running this public exercise in narcissism. Having said that to deflect criticism of pulling the following out of my behind, I boldly predict, guess at and prognosticate the following:

Obama has now established himself as presidential, whatever that has come to mean in the minds of my fellow bipeds. The balance of uneasiness between him as a non-white, relatively unknown guy with a Muslim-sounding name and the far deeper uneasiness produced by the governing screw-ups has shifted decisively against the latter and towards the skinny guy.

Upcoming polls will reflect the loosening of the rock and debris underneath the fragile Republican apparatus, and this will occur even before the world-historic humiliation of Sarah Palin next week. She should insist Biden appear in a swimsuit to at least win in one category. Wall Street’s tsunami will pale before the mountainous wave of laughter to greet this hubristic monument to misjudgment.

Thus do I stick out my neck. I promise not to erase this post if proved wrong and forced to rediscover humility.

The hustle culture

A veteran economist on finance today:

“The greed-is-good doctrine associated with extreme laissez-faire economics has trashed the need for individuals to worry about integrity. They don’t need to be concerned about their reputations; they just need one deal or one year at the top and they need never work again. The incentive structure has so departed from one of the principal norms of fairness—proportionality between value added and reward—that it has eviscerated trust relationships and integrity.

“Everybody tries to ‘game’ the system on their route to vast personal fortunes—whether short-selling, packaging up dud mortgages as prime mortgages or telling lies about their financial viability—and the result is that the system is getting wise. The best course today in any financial transaction is to presume zero integrity. Credit is drying up and with it the very lifeblood of the economy.”

Thus Larry Elliott in The Guardian. Meanwhile, we read in the NY Times of Friday that Arkady Abramov and Marina Gavrielova bilked $360,000 from our state’s welfare system by claiming she was a destitute single mother and obtaining food stamps, welfare, rent supplements and other benefits over a six-year period. What’s the difference? The similarities are much more obvious: you figure out where the controls are weak and extract wealth at the expense of anyone who actually works for a living or who can’t make it on their own.

The result in both cases is that any attempt by the state to provide a reasonable way of life for the majority or to help the needy is undermined. Just as the breakdown of traditional business fairness and trust lay the groundwork for the extreme fragility of today’s hyper-leveraged market, as Elliott astutely recognizes, the Abramov-Gavrielova scam infuriates the taxpayer, turns everyone into a suspect and weakens the safety net for those truly in need.

Earmarks are another facet of this phenomenon as institutionalized theft debases our legislative branch. The citizenry is justly enraged but misidentifies the culprit. By stacking the deck against any chance of mass social service reform such as national health care, the laissez-faire, pro-business crowd leaves room only for piecemeal, localized programs packaged as payoffs to politico-entrepreneurs, either Bridges to Nowhere or, in the best cases, a few bucks for the senior citizens center—but only if you are in the game and turn a blind eye to the massive looting at the top.

The fact that a huge spending bill laden with Christmas tree ornaments slipped through Congress this weekend just as the Wall Street bailout was being finalized is a sign that business as usual persists despite the crisis atmosphere. The lawmakers are as addicted to the regular injections of illicit cash as are the staggering banks, and the pain is not yet great enough to pave the way for a new modus operandi.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Latest—$700 billion not enough

What if we let Wall Street nurse at Treasury until it’s dry, and still nothing happens?

That’s a question popping up with dismaying regularity on the economics blogs and financial pages. They say the weight of the rotten ‘assets’ pulling the banks into the abyss is so overwhelming that the Paulson plan wouldn’t absorb but a fraction of them and won’t get bank lending out of the ICU.

Naked Capitalism says the loans that could qualify under the Fed buyout scheme actually total something like $4.5 trillion, or over six times what the government wants to throw at the problem.

Another common thread (contradicting what I wrote 12 hours ago) is that time is truly of the essence. Some blogs warn that Monday could be too late if the unraveling isn’t halted.

I don’t pretend to be any more than average in financial literacy, so maybe they’re right. However, if Armageddon is imminent anyway, wouldn’t it make more sense to have a Treasury with a couple of quarters still in its pocket? Does it really make sense to shoot off the last weapon in our arsenal?

The IMF (no less! We’re getting advice on our meltdown from the IMF! God is great!) warns that throwing the lifebuoy to illiquid banks may make matters worse in the long run. It, characteristically, advises us to swallow our pride, feel our pain and let the moribund patients die. By declaring certain banks survivors and taking the rest out back and shooting them, the government would end the guessing game and maybe restore confidence in the few left standing.
That approach would certainly be more popular with the public. Firing squads! Yes!

Absent arguments

Since the people running Barack Obama’s campaign must be pretty smart, I assume that the replies that I would put into his mouth have been considered and rejected for lacking resonance among the undecided.

For example, what’s all this talk about the ‘success’ of the troop surge in Iraq? The most dangerous country on earth, cities that are hollowed-out shells, 4 million destitute refugees too terrified to come home, ethnically cleansed neighborhoods where death squads roam the streets, three hours of electricity per day, unemployment at 60 percent and stacks of cash disappearing from every government ministry? We should be proud of this record? John McCain is, but he never has to explain why.

Instead, Obama weakly concedes that the surge has ‘worked’ because fewer American troops are getting blown up. What a pathetically racist commentary on the mindset of our countrymen that hundreds of Iraqis can die invisibly and their country destroyed, but the peace of the cemetery that we bring them is dubbed ‘success.’

On domestic affairs McCain sounded like Ralph Nader in describing his long fight against the party in power to the point that you had to remind yourself that he belongs to it. Why did Obama let him get away with that again and again? I didn’t hear a single reference to the Republican Party as the culprit for our economic ills whereas we’ve all heard the Democrats characterized as the ‘tax and spend’ party so long that we have permanent grooves in our brain.

You also heard nothing about McCain’s sorry record of complicity and chumminess with the most corrupt figures in the savings and loan scandal even though we’re living through the repeat of that episode multiplied by a gazillion. The Obama campaign must have decided not to attack his record on that for a reason—one which escapes me just now.

Over and over we witness the Democrats on the defensive about trying to make government work for us and provide for our crucial needs. In the old days candidates had to run as far possible from public services because, um, black people used them, and looking like you defended that population was a guaranteed election-loser. Are we still there despite the vicious dismantling of the state by these highway robbers? If so, it’s a sorry reflection of the backwardness of our shared assumptions and the underlying racism that continues to infect our society and its discourse.

Friday, 26 September 2008

One thing at a time

Digestion of the presidential debate later. I’m still extracting nutrients from the latest flood of opinions on the Wall Street bailout. Now that we’ve had a couple more days to mull over this thing, I think we’re being railroaded.

Anything that should save the financial markets’ collective heinie could certainly wait another week to get right. If that is not the case and the whole ship could sink in a matter of hours, that sounds like an argument against doing the bailout at all for the simple reason that the ship may well sink anyway AFTER we’ve tossed $700 billion down the hidey-hole.

It was scandalous for Paulson and Bush even to attempt to put their first proposal over on us, which was to just haul winevats full of cash to the floundering banks in exchange for crap, thereby rewarding their bankers friends’ historic mismanagement and greed with one fortune each. What planet do these guys live on?

But the new, improved version isn’t much more palatable. Sure, there’s a provision to give the government equity stakes, but there’s zero precision about what prices we’re going to pay for these toxic assets, or who will make that decision. Even worse, there’s no guarantee that the financial arteries will then become unclogged.

Meanwhile, more radical suggestions are circulating, and in another week or ten days these might start to get some traction if the hasty deal isn’t already packaged up. Once the Great Bipartisan Act has been completed, the state coffers may well have nothing left to work with even if the dissident ideas suddenly look brilliant. And as several have already said, There won’t be an Act Two to this tragicomedy.

In conclusion, slow down this sucker. Haste makes mega-waste.

Meeting the enemy

Here’s a total fantasy that will not emerge from the mouths of congressional Democrats:

How about instead of sucking the $700 billion from the hapless current taxpayer, insisting that Bush and Paulson reverse course on their 2001 giveaway tax break to the rich to pay for their mega-miscalculation? That should put about a trillion new dollars on the table, just enough to bail out the fancy-pants billionaires who have been getting all the gravy for the last two decades.

And here’s the prescient Nouriel Roubini, upon whose words the financiers now hang (after ignoring his warnings for years):

“The Treasury plan is a disgrace: a bailout of reckless bankers, lenders and investors that provides little direct debt relief to borrowers and financially stressed households and that will come at a very high cost to the US taxpayer. And the plan does nothing to resolve the severe stress in money markets and interbank markets that are now close to a systemic meltdown.”

Philip J. Cunningham at Global Affairs compares the current cliffhanging to the “bureaucratic sclerosis and insider mismanagement that led to the demise of the Soviet Union.”

Indeed, we have become the mirror image of our hate-object. Even Saint Ronald would be taken aback as his disdainful words about the collapse of communism sound suspiciously applicable to ourselves.

Sly plan, bozo operation

Although it’s hard to read through the confusion at this moment (5 a.m. Friday), so far it looks as though McCain cynically decided to insert himself into the financial crisis negotiations despite understanding zip about any of it so that he could snatch some political benefit and get his asphyxiating campaign off life-support. If it ends up turning the meltdown into a depression. . . oh well!

So much for ‘Country First.’

The situation does lend itself to demagogic grandstanding, and a clever politician could have made serious hay out of it while avoiding blame. McCain, however, has now proven that he is not clever. As a strategist he is, in fact, a total dufus.

My take on his flat-footed manuevering is that he now has the worst of all possible worlds. If the deal is arranged and goes through, which will require that the hold-out Republicans clamber on board and share in the ignominy, McCain will look like an opportunistic politician who held up the train so he could get some camera time.

If the deal collapses, what’s left of Wall Street could quickly follow. Guess who’s going to take the blame for that?

Had McCain taken a no-bail-out position from the start and argued consistently that the financial and political elites were leading the country in the wrong direction, he might have taken a lot of heat, but average citizens who find the rescue of the bankers hard to swallow (i.e. all of us) could have felt he interpreted their doubts.

Instead, he pretended to be all about compromise and unity while doing the opposite. He ran to Washington to throw a spanner into the negotiations, thus emboldening the Ron Paul wing of the Republican Party and queering the deal. The faux-populist conservatives get a couple of days to rail against the hit on taxpayers, but the Democrats aren’t going to be happy about signing on to an unpopular scheme while their adversaries get to play both sides against the middle and run against ‘corrupt Washington politicians’ like McCain pretends to be doing.

What was shaping up as an unpalatable but unavoidable dose of a bitter tonic that everyone could swallow in unison could now turn into a vicious food fight across the aisle while the financial markets gear up for the bloodbath of the century. All because John McCain wants to be the big guy in charge and have everyone suck his dick. Excuse my French.

[Update] An anonymous Democratic staffer quoted by Sam Stein on the Huffington Post put it nicely:

"Bush is no diplomat, but he's Cardinal freaking Richelieu compared to McCain. McCain couldn't negotiate an agreement on dinner among a family of four without making a big drama with himself at the heroic center of it."

Thursday, 25 September 2008

A picture is worth 1000 words

Can we now stop hearing about Bill’s cool speech at the convention and how loyal he is to the party ticket?
Do you have a big, smiley, public meeting in the crucial home stretch of the campaign with the guy you want to lose? No. Conclusion: he doesn’t.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Zombie speaks from beyond the grave

Seeing Bush’s glazed stare into the camera as he intoned his lines, I couldn’t help but imagine Sarah Palin handling a major crisis after McCain’s batteries run down and she’s forced to accede to the throne. Her style of reading from the teleprompters undoubtedly would give the commentators several hours’ worth of material.

It’s a fair comparison because four years ago a lot of foolish people were convinced that Bush was their guy because he made them feel just great. That’s what Ronald Reagan did before him, and that’s what the Arctic Lady is supposed to do now. So if your politics is basically about who makes you feel warm and cuddly, if it’s a comfy feeling you want and you prefer white people on the TV screen, then McCain/Palin is your ticket.

On the other hand, if you find any of this talk actually reaches down into your daily life in a tangible way, that prospect may not be quite so attractive.

I love the call for bipartisan unity when the Republicans are getting their butts handed to them on a platter and have to admit they have nothing to show for their decade in power except total disaster on all fronts.

As Juan Cole points out, McCain’s calling for the two candidates to suspend campaigning and deal with the Wall Street meltdown is tantamount to an admission that we currently have no president on active duty. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

Meanwhile, McCain is a cynical piece of work to hear Obama’s suggestion that they depoliticize the debate on the bailout package and then launch it to the press as his own (McCain’s) idea. That way he gets to score a cheap political point while pretending to be non-political.

Might have worked had he not gone a step further and shown that he’s scared shitless to face O in a debate on the merits.

Personally, I can’t wait for the Biden-Palin face-off. It’ll be kind of like hunting wolves from a helicopter.

Truth and/or Consequences

In any crucial moment of crisis, there are always reasonable debates to be held on what policies to pursue. But there is also an even more legitimate discussion required on who should be the one to pursue them.

This latter discussion has been too absent from the rhetoric on the Iraq war, and now a similar blind spot is appearing with respect to the Wall Street debacle. Instead of parsing the relative merits of the ‘surge’ and its dubious claim to success, we should be concentrating on who is responsible for the world-historic calamity created by the Iraq conquest in the first place. No one involved in starting that fire should be anywhere near the effort to put it out. They have simply forfeited any claim to common sense and competence.

Similarly, the spectacle of Henry (Hanky Panky) Paulson bringing the ‘solution’ to Capitol Hill in the form of a blank check of $700 billion with zero oversight over how he spends it would be laughable if it were not so likely to succeed. But aside from the particulars of this astonishing power/money grab, WHO THE FUCK IS PAULSON TO BE ASKING FOR IT?

One can reserve judgment on Bernancke’s role at the Fed as he inherited the mess and hasn’t been on the job that long. But Paulson and his bosses at the White House should be run out of town on a rail. Everyone responsible for this shameful looting of our financial system should be told to get out of the way and let an adult take over.


Meanwhile, financier wizard Warren Buffet points the way to what the U.S. government should be doing. Buffet, who does not confuse his business and charitable operations, bought a $5 billion stake in Goldman Sachs and becomes part owner of same. He plans to make money on that deal, and the Treasury could do the same instead of handing out billion-dollar bills.


Absolutely every piece of evidence of how the bail-out is playing on Main Street suggests that the potential for a populist uprising against anyone associated with it—including one B. Obama—is huge. Careful.


What if the whole panic turns out to be a false alarm? There is a tiny little precedent called weapons of mass destruction we could be recalling. The Bushites used that to grab huge new powers; now we have a ‘financial collapse’ just around the corner, which justifies turning over the constitutional power of the purse to an appointed Treasury secretary. Does this stink?

Monday, 22 September 2008

Whither, whither/Dump Paulson

So many opinions, so little time. My synthesis:

Paulson and Bush are not going to get away with an Iraq-style invasion of the capital markets with taxpayer money. The idea of seizing the state treasury to bail out rich bankers (and the guy down the street who bought a great big house he couldn’t pay for) is generating a populist reaction that threatens to turn into a tidal wave.

On the other hand, they will get the go-ahead in some form. However. . . .

It may not work. Then what?

Next chapter: run on the hedge funds.


Facts about Henry Paulson:

Became Treasury Secretary on May 30, 2006, leaving position of CEO of Goldman Sachs, Wall Street brokerage house now scurrying for protection from the Mommy State.

Previous Goldman CEO was Jon Corzine who resigned after buying the governorship of New Jersey.

Net worth estimated at over US$700 million.

Served as assistant to John Ehrlichman of Watergate fame in the Nixon White House 1972-73.

Traveled to China over 70 times during his days at Goldman Sachs to oversee transfer of American manufacturing base to that country in exchange for bonus billions for Wall Street. According to the Daily Telegraph, has ‘intimate relations’ with the Chinese elite—entirely appropriate given that they have joined together to merrily fuck workers on both sides of the Pacific.

THIS is the guy we are entrusting with our finances? THIS is the one who should get the $700 billion checkbook from taxpayers?

Who’s for firing this creep?

Blame for the Medicine

Okay, I’m trying to keep up here. As best as I can see, these are the issues for the week to come:

What are the devilish details of the Paulson bail-out? Are we going to give yet another blank check of unimaginable size to these screw-ups? Given the Democrats’ consistent buckling on the issue of funding for the Iraq war, the answer is probably yes. Intimidating them with the threat of blame for any consequences of a delay should work quite easily.

How will it play politically? The McCain-Palin duoply, in true demagogic fashion, surely will feel restrained by no responsibility to the nation when they see the chance to rally the troops to resent the bailout as a huge government program funded by a megatax. Will they then shoehorn responsibility for the debacle onto the opposition party? Why wouldn’t they?

Ergo, two problems, one financial, one political. If Obama navigates his way through this minefield, he’s a double genius.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Did I take LSD in my sleep?

Who can keep up these days as the surreal becomes everyday?

The Arctic Lady: this cannot be real, and yet it is. A ruthless, backwoods politico whose cluelessness is matched only by her boundless self-confidence is about to be made president? An ignoramus who couldn’t find her way to Seattle without GPS is to direct our foreign policy? A nasty ideologue and religious fanatic who got down with her husband’s business partner and whose kids are out of control is to determine how we organize our society? A novice who saddled her miserable strip-mall town with a white elephant hockey stadium is to take over a 12-trillion-dollar economy in the midst of worldwide financial meltdown? People applaud these ideas?

Something is seriously wrong with a country that isn’t dismissing this stunt as a bad joke. [Jay Leno: Sarah Palin hasn’t been to the UN yet, but in all fairness she is a regular at the International House of Pancakes.]

The champions of free-market fundamentalism nationalize the commanding heights of finance. Even Salvador Allende didn’t manage such an extreme version of socialism. The McCainites who created this gigantic rip-off of first the consumer and then the national treasury now clamor for the masses to be protected against high taxes, of which they are about to apply $500 billion to rescue their banker friends. Drowning workers nod in agreement.

Smooth-ass commentator David Brooks, pretending he is not a partisan Republican, accuses both presidential campaigns of being moronic and infantile on the Wall Street chaos and insists that Obama be more serious, sober and policy-oriented. That way, he can lose. McCain fires off populist one-liners against his own policies.

Anyway, back to Sarah Palin, a Dalí-esque sketch emerging from an opium-addled nightmare: this joke on wheels is the ghost of the absurd Ronald Reagan resuscitated as mega-farce. It’s an offer to welcome death painlessly buried in comfortable fantasies. Are we that far gone?

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Adult supervision needed

You have to sympathize with the TV commentators these days as they search through the rubble of their standard commonplaces for someone to explain what on earth is going on in our economy and what is to be done about it. There’s just so much intoning of the mantras about ‘sound fundamentals’ (that already got McC in big trouble) and dispensing of the usual steady-hand-at-the-helm bromides you can dish out when the facts are in such sharp contrast.

One can troll for hours through the TV channels and the newspapers these days and hear nothing new. In fact, for all the fresh insights offered, I could put on a business suit and dispense learned commentary myself.

In times like these one doesn’t turn to one’s buddies at the VFW hall or the other PTA ladies because one knows perfectly well that, despite their cozily familiar faces, they don’t have any answers. In more optimistic times it was perhaps comforting for people to put an uncurious adolescent like W in charge because in certain essential ways he was like them—provincial, complacent, self-absorbed. Now, however, the need for real expertise is palpable.

I suspect that’s why the presidential poll numbers have swung back to where they were three weeks ago, even without the impact of the latest Wall Street panic. Palin may be an amusing figure, but laughing at war, bankruptcy and unemployment doesn’t make them go away. Even her most sympathetic backers know that. The Arctic Lady might well beat Obama on American Idol, but little by little the popularity-contest aspects of this race are evaporating.

Monday, 15 September 2008

The Invisible Fist

If Wall Street’s broken legs aren’t enough this time to permanently cripple our ideological lockstep about free markets and bad old government interference—or at least jostle it a tad—then I won’t live long enough to ever see it.

The Dow Jones off 500, two of the smug, old-line brokerage houses head down in a poophouse, Washington scrambling to hold back the deluge and a prominent economist suggesting that clever sorts will be putting their cash under the mattress—maybe I should run downtown to watch the first ruined financiers leap off tall buildings a la 1929.

So much for the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith regulating markets the best of all possible ways in the best of all possible worlds. More like the All-Too-Tangible Knuckle Sandwich getting wedged somewhere the sun does not tend to shine.

Will someone please pull out the underappreciated Robert Kuttner from the academic obscurity in which the punditocracy has allowed him to estivate and have him repeat what I heard him say on C-SPAN a year ago: that the financial system was cruising for a mighty fall?

Kuttner explained that all the fancy derivative instruments had jacked up financial flows into the trillions of unreal dollars, setting the stage for just what we are seeing. He didn’t insist it was going to happen, but he said the conditions were ripe for it and in plain view for all to see.

Seeing, however, is not believing as the past eight years have taught us. People will persist in believing what suits their worldview, long past its consume-by date.

Or as Pierre Tristan put it brilliantly: McCain-Palin are America’s Bridge to Nowhere, pointing the way toward the mirage of what it wants to see. However, mirages are dangerous when teetering over a precipice.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

The Crumble—early signs

The danger of turning the presidential election into Palin v. Obama was that if Miss Alaska implodes, the disaster ahead for the Repubs will be far worse than the dignified defeat they were looking at two weeks ago. One hesitates to predict anything this year given the nonstop surprises, but enough creaks can be heard already to suggest that the ice holding up the Arctic Lady may be about to develop some serious crevasses.

I particularly like this from Bloomberg that the McCain campaign has invented crowd-size numbers out of whole cloth. So maybe the massive turnouts to see the wondrous, teleprompter-reading Sarah P are a hoax. How droll.

Or there’s this revelation in Saturday’s Washington Post that Supermom’s study tour to Ireland—a key state in complex international political issues, in case you didn’t know—was actually an airport layover. (I’m not making this up.) Ditto her ‘trip’ to Iraq, which apparently was a quick stop at a Kuwait military base. Oh well, those Ay-rab countries all look alike.

Pile these juicy teasers onto the baldfaced lies about the Bridge, the earmark fantasy, the steady leaks about her unlovely leadership style, unanswered Troopergate questions and who knows what all else that we can’t even imagine yet, and I dare to wonder if we are not about to witness a cataclysmic meltdown. I plan to call it The Garden of Earthly Delights. Heironymus Bosch hell will be nothing to the pain McCain will suffer if he comes to regret his two-week wonder.

Friday, 12 September 2008

On bended knee

Here’s a tidbit from the Wall Street Journal of September 9th about a series of weekend telephone calls by Treasury Undersecretary for International Affairs David McCormack. He rang up:

‘. . . foreign central banks and other overseas buyers of [Freddy and Fanny’s] securities or debt to reassure them of the instruments’ creditworthiness’.

Do tell! A top government honcho is spending his Saturday sweating on the phone like a homeowner staving off foreclosure. And may we ask to whom might he have been talking to shore up our nation’s finances? Pray continue:

‘Over the weekend, Treasury officials called sovereign-wealth funds in Abu Dhabi and elsewhere in the Middle East’.

So there we have it: after eight years of Bush’s reckless tax cuts, record fiscal and trade deficits, and stupidly profligate warmaking, we are now officially in hock to the Arabs because we’re broke. Paulson then pulls the plug on the quasi-governmental housing agencies and guarantees their debt with our tax money so that certain unnamed ‘foreign central banks’ don’t pull the plug on us.

In short, after decades of American-led, IMF-managed monetary dictatorship over the world’s poor and their weakened states, it is we ourselves who are now beholden to the wealthy and must obey.

‘And so the whirlygig of time brings its revenge’.—William Shakespeare

Postings for Sarah

Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post says Palin might be just the pick to take over the failing Lehman Brothers investment house. She doesn’t have experience in finance, but she can talk to investors about dressing a moose and take their minds off the millions of dollars they’re losing.

That brings up some other ideas for places the Alaska governor could make her unique mark. How about president of General Motors, which is about one chest-hair from going down the tubes? I’ll bet car buyers everywhere would be turned around pretty quickly if they knew Sarah was up there deciding on the next line of Cobalts and shaking up the Detroit bureaucracy. Who cares if she thinks global warming is God’s will?

Another possible slot for Mrs Palin is Secretary-General of the UN. While she doesn’t seem to know anything about foreign countries, she’d have plenty of seasoned advisors there to help her out while catching up. And if there’s one thing people all over the world have in common, it’s raising children—just where Sarah’s experience trumps all the other conceivable candidates.

If that’s too much of a leap for someone not in the UN system, maybe she could start out as head of UNESCO. After all, she attended a half-dozen colleges and probably a few high schools too if anyone could find the records. That right there gives her an insight into varieties of educational experience.

Maybe even that would be a stretch, so I suggest we start thinking about some prep work as president of Princeton or Yale. She might not know much about academic research or professional training, but she sure knows how to shoot down those prissy liberal elites, probably even without a teleprompter.

So I’m fairly relaxed about the outcome of the election. Even if she doesn’t manage to become vice president, the country, the world for that matter, has plenty of places for a deserving, down-home mom to step in and take over. And they all provide child care.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

One year of Biped Twilight

As I just finished the New York Century 100-mile bicycle ride, this week marks the end of the first year of this blog. Very few people have made comments here, and please don’t be offended when I say I am glad. Those few responses have been thoughtful. But I have seen how many blogs fill up with endless harangues that are as tiresome as a barstool argument among drunks as well as occasionally slanderous and vile. Which is not to say that I wouldn’t read them if they appeared here. However, as it stands I don’t have to. Good.

If I felt more energetic, perhaps I would make some attempts to attract a wider readership, come what may. For personal reasons that is not in the cards right now. Nonetheless, it seems an appropriate moment at this one-year mark to ask who out there is reading what I have to say. I know some and I suspect most of you personally, and you kindly offer your reactions and comments in emails and telephone calls.

However, just for fun I would like to ask of those of you who visit this site regularly or from time to time to write me an email at the account associated with this blog (tfrasca@gmail.com) and tell me something about why—a tiny little unscientific poll of those of you tuning in to Biped Twilight.

As for the Century ride, it was stunning once again: the winds and rains of Tropical Storm Hanna had blown out to the Atlantic, and the air was fresh and autumnal. My friend John and I lost the trail at one point and added five or six miles to our route, but we still pulled into the Harlem finish line at 5.30, a half-hour before closing time. My knees were wobbly on the subway stairs for two days afterward; otherwise, all body parts survived intact. Can’t wait to do it again next year.

What Obama didn’t say on Letterman

Question: What would you have done differently had you been president on September 11th seven years ago?

‘George Bush took his eye off our attackers by invading Iraq. But he also split this country down the middle and said if you didn’t agree with everything the Republicans said and did, you were somehow un-American. He said the enemy isn’t bin Laden, it’s Europe and half the American people. I don’t believe that.

‘Bush and the Republicans said they knew what to do, and if you didn’t agree, you were somehow disloyal. You didn’t put ‘Country First’.

‘They turned us against each other in time of war. That was wrong.

‘They turned 9/11 into a partisan battle cry and dressed up every failed policy as a patriotic litmus test, with half the country failing it.

‘They wanted you to think that Tom Daschle was as dangerous as the Taliban. In fact, a lot of the time they seemed more worried about Tom Daschle than about Osama bin Laden, and they said you should be too. They won elections that way for a while, but the Taliban are doing better than ever.

‘Another thing, Dave, is that I wouldn’t have sold America’s soul by making the torture of defenseless detainees official policy. They got a lot of dubious intelligence from that, and they believed it all because they wanted desperately to justify the invasion of Iraq. But we lost the moral high ground, I don’t care how many Christian beliefs we candidates profess.

‘In short, I would have been a leader for all Americans, not just those who agreed with everything I did. I think we’d be better off today’.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Too much

Don’t confuse me with someone who has faith in bipeds, but I do remain capable of astonishment, which will only be amplified by several orders of magnitude if the Sarah Palin circus is sustained for two additional months and results in her becoming Vice President. The flimsiness of this gimmick is apparent for anyone not in a coma, and now we will have a chance to see whether the swayable muddleheads in the undecided column can be bamboozled with a good show. Or not.

One staggers under the weight of all the hypocrisies and double standards operating in this cynical climate:

After a season of harping on Obama’s inspirational qualities, we now have a candidate (from the party of movie star Ronald Reagan) who could fit onto Desperate Housewives.

After insisting that Obama tour the war zones and show his seriousness in the foreign policy arena, we’re now to accept Palin as vice president based on a tourist jaunt to Ireland.

After belittling Obama’s short tenure in Washington, her stint in the backwoods is to make us smile confidently.

After denouncing big government, taxes and liberal money-spenders, we’re to swallow a governor who passes out welfare checks to every state resident.

After a half-century of insisting on DIY self-improvement without government handouts, we get sneers about ‘community organizers’.

After two terms of a presidency that installs the torture of defenseless detainees as official state policy, we are to coo and sigh over their worship of the sanctity of ‘life’.

And if anyone who gets tapped by the most reactionary party in the western hemisphere can be called a ‘maverick’, then I need a refresher course in my mother tongue.

The whole thing is too ludicrous to contemplate, for which I advise the sending of donations and attention to any good summer fiction still in the magazine rack. One must protect the remnants of mental health while this challenge to sanity drags on.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

A mystery

I understand why politicians are timid about criticizing Bush’s policy on torturing defenseless detainees and throwing disappeared people into dungeons for years on end—obviously it opens them up to the ‘soft-on-terrorists’ charge and the tired arguments about the ticking-bomb scenario. That explains—though it doesn’t morally excuse—the squishy Democratic ‘opposition’ to these repugnant practices.

But I am completely puzzled by the non-response to things like Bush’s embrace of Libya’s Muammar Khaddafy. What possible reason is there for holding back from making political hay out of Condi Rice’s visit to celebrate the guy whose employees allegedly blew down a civilian airliner?

There’s reason to doubt the official line on the Lockerbie jetliner bombing, but imagine how it would work if we were in an Obama administration, and the Republicans were itching to get back into power. The opposition bench would be standing in line for hours to denounce the coddling of a Muslim leader accused of the murder of American citizens. The Rove operatives would have a field day.

Why are the Democrats are stuck in the role of loyal opposition while the Republicans get to exploit foreign affairs for quick gains at home even if requires cheap demagogy and screws things up in the long term? Why isn’t there any criticism of the huge debacle in Georgia that steadier hands could have avoided? Even Joe Biden, who certainly could something to say on the issue, only criticizes the Russians while keeping mum on the Bush team’s massive incompetence. I find it completely puzzling.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Bring back Sarah!

I’ll bet I’m not the only observer of the soporific read-through by John McCain tonight asking himself why the party didn’t put Palin at the top of the ticket and demote the doddering headliner to ribbon-cutting at the Sioux Falls Pickle Pageant.

Actually, I’m stunned not only at the halting, uncertain delivery by the Republican candidate but the droopy, spiritless prose cooked up for him by his supposed expert speechwriters. I can’t imagine that anyone not already in the bag for the red ticket could bear to sit through half of it.

You’re not supposed to say this, but McCain’s wobbly performance has got to raise the question of his health to even a casual observer. If that’s the level of enthusiasm he can crank up for the crowning achievement of a politician’s life, we’ll need an EMT revival squad backstage at the upcoming debates.

The speech isn’t over as I write this, so I will tune in to the follow-up commentary to see if the chattering classes are living on planet Earth. Anyone who tries to defend this D-minus dissertation should be on the waiting list for a brain transplant.

Curled-lip syndrome

One of the oddest moments of last night’s Meet Sarah Palin pageant was the sneering contempt expressed for the concept of ‘community organizer’ as the convention hall took apart Obama’s thin record of accomplishments as compared to the impressive C.V. of the mayor of Wasilla.

It was pretty clear that no one in the sea of white faces had much use for that function or, for that matter, much idea of what it might entail, which says a lot more about them than about Barack Obama. I guess if you belong to the Rotary Club, the VFW, the Caucasian race and donate cash to the local Republican Party to boot, you wouldn’t have much need of an advocate with a Harvard law degree.

No doubt a lot of the white America represented there has no clue why a community might need the services of a young, educated outsider, which means the people sitting in that hall, despite their fun trip to Minnesota, generally don’t get out much.

A more chilling spectacle was the fury expressed at the news media for daring to ask unfriendly questions about the little-known Sarah. It’s a sign of deeply reactionary politics when outrage against the newspapers reaches that pitch. I witnessed it in South America when the supporters of military dictatorship suddenly felt the ground shift beneath their feet and uncomfortable hidden truths filtering out.

The backers of military fascism even shouted the same slogan to The Enemy (reporters)—‘Tell the truth!’—as they did last night. It was an ironic cry, to say the least, in a country where regime opponents were secretly tortured and dropped into the ocean from helicopters. Similarly, the Friends of Sarah may be soon be getting a good deal more of that commodity than they really want.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Republican Convention—Day 1½

Fred Thompson’s detailed description of the abuse John McCain suffered in the Hanoi Hilton sounded familiar. In fact, it was the exact playbook from Guantánamo, Bagram Air Base and the other secret dungeons and drop sites around the world where similar treatment is meted out to ‘The Enemy’. I suspect that the irony was lost on that crowd.

The Republicans listening with rapt attention to the torture chronicle probably would argue that because terrorists attacked civilians and killed innocent Americans, rough stuff is both justified and necessary when tracking down their confederates—especially given the ever-popular ‘ticking time-bomb’ scenario in which torture extracts useful information and prevents new attacks.

But John McCain’s job was to drop bombs on North Vietnamese civilians from an airplane. To use the Cheney-Bush-Thompson argument, the Vietnamese legitimately decided to torture McCain because he might have known military information that could have helped them respond to the next round of deadly attacks—in fact, Thompson just finished saying that he did.

So we can’t have it both ways: if it is okay to torture suspects in Guantánamo, it must have been okay to beat up John McCain. Unless the conventioneers choose to claim that Americans are a special class of human being with a special set of rules—rather an odd position for the righteous defenders of the human fetus.

Unity Day

While it is certainly entertaining to watch John-the-cool, -the-experienced, -the-tested, -the-presidential flounder in the murky yellow babypool of his campaign, far too little attention is being paid to the deep divisions within present-day Republicanism.

This is odd coming after the non-stop speculation about whether the Clintons and the Obamanians were heading for Donnybrook in Denver. But it turns out the political crevasse of today is on the GOP side.

McCain’s goofball move in bringing Sara-the-Hair aboard ship and promptly sinking it wouldn’t have happened if the party had been capable of letting him have Lieberman, his first choice. That would have given him the tough-guy national security team he feels most comfortable in and allowed him to stage his own bomber-boy routines on aircraft carriers.

It probably wouldn’t have worked, but it does play to his strengths. At the least he would now be talking about his imprisonment in North Vietnam rather than teen pregnancy.

But the religious ideologues weren’t going to sit still for a Jewish abortionist, and nobody was too charged up about the other options, either. The aberrant Palin choice followed, to the delight of the Bible-thumpers.

Splitsville. No one else could be too pleased with this move, and the neocon megapatriots must be furiously rewriting their martial-arts script with Obama as the neophyte wimp too naïve to stare down the enemy. Kinda hard to sell that when your team’s No. 2 is just back from the hospital with a fifth baby.

While the Republicans put on a show of unity, their party is creakier underneath than the Greenland Ice Shelf. If they weren’t all reading from the same playbook, the TV pontiff-commentators might be examining the floes.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Purloined Politics

If Palin’s religion had had its way, people with vaginas wouldn’t be taken seriously for two minutes, much less become state governors. But now that others have hacked out a path through the brush, she can waltz along it on platform heels. Will any significant numbers of women fall for this pathetic gimmick?

There’s something particularly disgusting about evangelical females who show their faces after a lifetime of complicity with a movement based on undermining women. They side with the oppressor, then happily snatch the spoils of the battles others fought.

There are plenty of parallels from the shifting sands of our racial politics. Back in the 1960s and ‘70s when white supremacists could no longer save segregation and its privileges, they turned their sights on affirmative action. Dixiecrat diehards like Thurmond and Helms cleverly tapped the outrage of their confederates with tales of unfair ‘reverse discrimination.’ It was key to the Nixon-era Republican strategy that turned the South red.

But of course it is exactly the reactionary elements themselves who commit the worst crimes of racial tokenism as when Bush 1 put the sniveling lapdog Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court. Now we have the equally grotesque spectacle of Sara Palin within striking distance of the White House. After millions of women struggle for decades for a modicum of equality, the prize goes to a reactionary babe who dug in her heels all the way.

It’s appropriate that cowards from the back row like Thomas and Palin should scoop up all the goodies because we celebrate and admire theft. After all, we live in a society that rewards Wall Street sharpies and buyout specialist with the fruits of the labor of thousands of blue-collar workers, whose companies they acquire and strip for quick billions. Then they’re lionized in the business press, and their wives become fashion mavens whose charity affairs are the season’s hot tickets.

Palin and Thomas are the philosophical equivalents. They do no work, then exploit the system’s need for a turncoat.