Friday, July 30, 2010
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Great-Aunt Mary used to play her numbers every week. This was in those halcyon days before powerballs and hundred-bajillion dollar jackpots, when sometime during the evening news they'd cut to a goofy studio with a bell-jar air-blower contraption, a lot of ping-pong balls bouncing around wildly, and a great theme song (see it here), to do the lottery drawing and then the "Big 4". Anyway, one of my uncles once suggested to her that she'd increase her chances by buying more than one ticket. So she did. The next week, she bought twenty. All with the same number.
Woody Mattchuck© is now on the cusp of embracing the Albert Speer model of economic development. Charlie Davis politely--too politely, if you ask me--points this out to the little sociopath, who swiftly twatted back, pulling the liberal's most potent trump, The Krug Man, as in: even Paul Krugman agrees that war spending can have a stimulative effect. (Davis notes that Nobel Paul's post doesn't support Yggie quite so much as Yggie thinks.)
Now far be it from me to question the collective wisdom of the Times' hiring department and the Norse Dynamite Commission, but any case that war spending is universally rather than very particularly and very occasionally stimulative is easily falsifiable and demonstrably untrue. Modern warfare tends to impoverish nations, even the victors, and the example of the United States after World War II is a glaring historical outlier, not a repeatable model. (That war destroyed all of the competing industrial economies; the United States acquired a set of tributary European vassal states; the only potential competitor, the USSR, was set back two generations by its catastrophically Pyrrhic victory; etc.) But we hardly need turn to history, to which Yggie is in general woefully, willfully blind. Present circumstances thoroughly debunk the claim. In the past decade, the United States has spent roughly one trillion dollars--$1,000,000,000,000, boys and girls--on war. Please show me the accrued economic benefit of that spending. Oh, you can't? What's that you say? You say that this spending has taken place concurrently with the greatest economic decline since the Great Depression? Why, that's impossible! That would mean that . . . oh, my. Perhaps "reality" doesn't quite have that liberal bias after all.
(By the way, economics proposes itself as a science. It is really a collection of nostrums wrapped in an Excel worksheet and then hazed about with a white smoke of academized jargon to give it the appearance of a mystery cult. Economic illiteracy--what Yglesias accuses Davis of--sounds like an insult, but it's really like accusing someone of Klingon illiteracy. In certain circumstances you might regret not speaking a made-up language, but as a general life condition, you're probably better off.)
Anyway, Yglesias doesn't even understand the Keynsianism for which he claims to speak. He certainly doesn't understand the multiplier effect. Keynes never proposed that spending was universally stimulative nor yet that the heedless outlay of public funds would necessarily catalyze the private economy. He was a product of an industrial age, and he argued that the government could spend money in such a way as to stimulate production; that this would stimulate the growth of industry; that the growth of industry would drive employment; that the growth of employment and wages would expand consumption; that employment and consumption would drive more production and expansion; and so on. But whatever you think of the merits of this argument in an industrial economy is irrelevant, because where spending is unrelated to productivity, productivity is untethered from production, and production is unmoored from employment, there is no multiplier. There is just worthless money printed on one end, and a dead Afghan on the other.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Gary Shills tried to tell him, yessir, he did! But Obama just wouldn't listen! He wouldn't! Anyway, Shills:
But now we are ten years into a war that could drag on for another ten, and could catch in its trammels the next president, the way Vietnam tied up president after president.Yeah, well, look, this to me is the strongest possible case for continuing the war in Afghanistan. If it manages to destroy the Presidency, the United States, and our system of government, then perhaps all those peasants will not have died in vain.
Katrina vanden Heuvel, publicatrix of the Donk, uh, organ, The Nation, one of the sheepdog organizations that herds the rump of the party back toward the fold whenever those flanks start to look a bit . . . gibbous, well, here she is in the WaPo, speaking for herself:
I hope the ensuing discussion will lead President Obama to understand that the human and financial costs of continuing on this path far outstrip any conceivable security benefits. In fact, it is clear from the granular details in the war logs, and especially in the sections about collusion between Pakistan intelligence services and the Taliban, that any homeland security provided by the war is significantly undermined by the anger and resentment -- and armed resistance -- of our Central and South Asian hosts. And the evidence that U.S. troops have sanitized accounts of bloody scenes they've left in their wake underscores that our presence in Afghanistan is counterproductive.Go tell it on the mountain! This is a curious conceit, isn't it? The public revelation of information to which the administration has always been privy will spark a "discussion [that] will lead President Obama to understand . . ." Does it even make sense? I suppose it is, at least, a testament to the overinflated self-regard of the vanden Heuvels of the world, to suppose that if they jabber persistently enough, the emperor will come to know what he's always known. There actually seems to be broad confusion among the President's supporters on this fact--so resolutely have they self-identified with the man that they have half-accepted the crazy notion that the military and "intelligence community" kept this information classified . . . from him. The lesson; no, the message; no, um, the takeaway of the leaked documents is not: if only they knew how badly it's going, how hard it's going to be, then the administration would bring an end to the conflict. Rather, the takeaway; no, the message is that even knowing how badly the war goes, they persist. The lesson is not the Administration's blindness, but its dogged intransigence, its total commitment to the endeavor, regardless of the means or outcome, regardless of the possibility of reward, regardless of the cost, regardless of suffering, regardless of sense and duration. The United States has an institutional commitment to the occupation of Afghanistan. It can't be argued out of it.
When, by the way, was the last time your hosts engaged in armed resistance? I know that I make it a general rule not to break out the Stinger missiles at a dinner party nor to strap dynamite to my boyfriend and send him into the dining room when the guests have stayed past their espresso. Such would be . . . counterproductive!
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
To sum up all; there are archives at every stage to be look'd into, and rolls, records, documents, and endless genealogies, which justice ever and anon calls him back to stay the reading of:—In short there is no end of it;—for my own part, I declare I have been at it these six weeks, making all the speed I possibly could,—and am not yet born:—I have just been able, and that's all, to tell you when it happen'd, but not how;—so that you see the thing is yet far from being accomplished.Given my position on The Media, I find the somewhat obsessive, uh, obsession with the mainstream press' hypocritical standards regarding anonymity and pseudonymity a bit confounding. Every once in a while, though, even I have to chuckle ruefully at a forehead-smacker:
-Sterne, Tristram Shandy
“We don’t know how to react,” one frustrated administration official said on Monday. “This obviously puts Congress and the public in a bad mood.”This curious case of hidden identity occurs in a fairly remarkable exercise in self-reflection, whereby the principle American organ for reporting on a cache of tens of thousands of leaked, formerly secret documents makes the principle line of inquiry the potential effect that the reporting of said documents by such paper will have on the public, as speculated upon by government officials, and how this will in turn affect the actions of these same, speculative officials. In other words, the newspaper asked the government how it would be affected by the way it imagined the public might react to information that the newspaper itself is about to report. (Take a note, Nolan.)
I guess it would be simpler to report the information contained in the document, observe the resultant public reaction and the subsequent government response, and then report on what you've observed, but it wouldn't be nearly so much fun.
Monday, July 26, 2010
Last week, it was the Washington Post’s big series, Top Secret America, two years in the making. It reported on the massive security shadowland that has arisen since 09/11. The Post basically showed that there is no accountability, no knowledge at the center of what the system as a whole is doing, and too much “product” to make intelligent use of. We’re wasting billions upon billions of dollars on an intelligence system that does not work. It’s an explosive finding but the explosive reactions haven’t followed, not because the series didn’t do its job, but rather: the job of fixing what is broken would break the system responsible for such fixes.This is excerpted from a longer piece that Rosen wrote about wikileaks, which is actually worth reading. (Via Greenwald, by the way. However . . .
"We're wasting billions upon billions of dollars on an intelligence system that does not work." What do you mean, we? What do you mean, wasting? What do you mean, does not work?
Institutions, like organisms, seek survival for themselves and their descendants. One of the conceits at the heart of most theories of government, which has perhaps reached its apogee in this age of technocratic, managerial liberalism, is the idea that institutions are fundamentally instrumental. To an anarchist, this is a flatly silly proposition. (An analogue might be a Christian trying to get an atheist to concede that life has a "purpose.") Institutions aren't simple tools. Organizations aren't implements. And when a sufficient number of institutions coexist, they function like an ecosystem. They neither work nor do not work. They survive, reproduce, replace, predate, evolve, alter, consume, and grow. They are no more responsive to the individuals contained within than a person is to a single cell.
On a more practical note, I continue to be charmed by the base assumption that if the CIA (or whomever) says that their job is to gather information to protect the United States from its enemies, then this is so. Well, first of all, who are these enemies? Why are they enemies? Why should we assume the NSA (or whomever) is interested in whom they say they're interested in anyway?
So look. You have organizations that were constituted largely in secret for purposes that may, in fact, have little relationship to what Whitehousespokesperson or Undersecretaryofdefenseivewhatnot says they were, which, once constituted, proceeded quite heedless of what their ersatz original raisons d'être were, and which now constitute an ungovernable, boundless, self-sustaining, self-referring system of unimaginable complexity. So, you know, you can't fix it. I guess you can pray for a solar gamma burst or an asteroid.
And clearly, you have to listen to what they don't say. They don't say, Oh, this information is wrong. It's fraudulent. It's incorrect. It's inaccurate. In fact, in a perverse and unintentional way, they testify to its validity when they say, Oh, the release of this information is going to put lives at risk. Like the professor says, this reflects the understanding that if people knew what was really going on, they'd turn against it. But I think it goes deeper still. I think it's an error to believe that the Administration and its Pentagon do make or can make some clear distinction between the publicly acknowledged war and the secret reality of it. One of the first lessons you learn in any large agency or organization that values the partitioning, compartmentalization, and controlled dissemination of information is that the organization will quickly come to believe its own obfuscatory bullshit. In the effort to concoct a believable story and to assemble the evidence in such a way as to gird its believability, they come to believe their own press releases. The incantatory repetition--this is not the whole picture, this is not the whole picture, this is not the whole picture--of the limits of leaked documents represents a legitimate moment of cognitive dissonance. The Administration is saying: this is not reality as we wish it to be, therefore it is not reality. Really it's just indicative, once more, of how thoroughly, banally ordinary Obama is, how similar to all his predecessors, the latter Bush most of all. Bush preferred to couch his unreality in a high moral dander, while Obama prefers a sort of managerial proceduralism that he, like many second-rate intellects, mistakes for deliberation and deliberateness, but at root, he is equally a fantasist.