Friday, February 27, 2009
It's pathetic how hard CNBC tries to spin Roubini and Taleb's statements, and how hard they look for "glimmerings of hope."
One of the bubbly newsbabes even posited that since people are finally desperate enough to listen to Roubini and Taleb, that the market must have finally hit bottom. (Meaning, it's going to start going up). Taleb would have nothing of it. He said the system needs to be completely changed, change our culture, and live with less debt. And most important, Taleb said banks need to change their incentive systems, which encourage bankers to take on hidden risk in pursuit of short-term bonuses: "Wall Street can no longer operate like before." And: "Those who one day may need to be bailed out need to be nationalized now." The CNBC panel, which is used to kissing Wall Street's behind, was going nuts.
Roubini also favors government nationalizing the insolvent banks and then re-selling them. He said, "Cash is king," and he's not invested in the market. "We need more sustainable [economic] growth based on real investment in human and physical capital," not an economy based on unproductive housing or dot-com bubbles.
Nouriel Roubini and Nassim Taleb Spreading Doom & Gloom on CNBC
February 9, 2009 | CNBC
Saturday, February 21, 2009
By Courtney E. Martin
February 16, 2009 | Prospect.org
President's Day is an opportunity to bore children with that old story about George Washington and the cherry tree (entirely fabricated by Mason Locke Weems, a turn-of-the-century Deepak Chopra, by the way), save on the new car you've been eyeing (must we always link patriotism with spending?), and most important, reflect on the deeper meaning of being American.
Patriotism has gotten a spirited resurrection in the last year thanks to the longest and one of the most closely watched presidential campaigns in history, which led to an election with the highest turnout ever (128 million). From local restaurants to political blogs, water coolers to car pools, Americans were constantly chattering about who would be the best-equipped and most visionary leader for this country. We asked ourselves and each other, who do we want our president to be? The sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit core of these discussions was an even deeper question: Who the heck are we?
This is the question that has defined the ebb and flow of patriotism for the last century. In the 1930s and 1940s, loving your country was framed as the antidote to communism; President Harry Truman's obsession with pledges turned patriotism into a safety blanket. Sen. Joseph McCarthy took it to the next level, selling patriotism as more of a bromide than a blanket -- a sedative so effective it put even free-thinkers to sleep. Vietnam was the alarm bell that awakened a nation; young people all over the country questioned the wisdom of using patriotism as an excuse to kill innocent people. It wasn't until the attacks of September 11 that a 21st-century patriotism was born. On that day, we fled to public places -- parks and bars and churches -- and held hands with strangers. Despite the president's framing that the proper response to terrorism was consumerism and retaliation, Americans wrested a deeper meaning out of the unfathomable violence. We wanted to be together and safe.
But our precious opportunity to revitalize true patriotism was hijacked by a war-mongering administration and our own complacent fear. In the years that followed, hollow patriotism -- appeals to God and American values -- played on a loop that echoed with deadly hypocrisy. Over the last couple of years we began to collectively rise up in response to the Bush administration's infuriating policies and demand a more complex, more honest definition of patriotism from our nation's leaders. And finally, more than seven years after September 11, we got to experience rare unity in the form of Obama's landslide election, made possible by the efforts of average Americans.
Now here we are. After September 11 and its long fallout, after the most drawn-out campaign in history, after the inauguration of a new president, who are we? Improbably, we are less economically stable yet more hopeful than ever. We are the most racially diverse population in the history of the United States. We are wealthy and we are struggling, with not much in between. We are still shockingly segregated from one another -- socially, economically, interpersonally.
Today, patriotism means genuine, once-and-for-all integration. We can't keep waving our red, white, and blue flags in separate countries. We can't keep insisting that we are one nation, when, in fact, we are so very many separated largely by arbitrary but life-defining demographic differences.
Loving this country means not just loving and interacting with one segment of it. Long after Jim Crow and Brown v. Board of Education, we've been willfully segregated while spouting a lot of rhetoric about the "melting pot" and the "American Dream." In 2000 I met a little girl in South Africa who asked me in utter amazement, "So in America, people of different races all live right next door to one another?" I took a look around and had to tell her that, in the U.S., the segregation was not much different from Langa Township in barely post-apartheid South Africa.
Claims that Obama's presidency somehow marked the beginning of post-racial America highlighted, at worst, just how shallow our understanding of difference often is, and, at best, how hungry we are for actual integration. We know in our bones that America is defined by our diversity, that we are great -- not because of our economic wealth or our easily exported celebrity culture -- but because of our capacity to hold so many religions, so many ethnicities, so many philosophies and lifestyles, within our borders. But patriotism is best demonstrated by transcending the borders within our own lives, not sitting back in our own little silos.
To realize this definition of patriotism, we need the guts to walk up to people unlike us and introduce ourselves, the initiative to create authentic relationships with folks outside of our organic social sphere, the presence to recognize -- and this is how bad it really is -- that those who work for us or employ us, those who serve us or are served by us, those in both red states and blue are human beings with things to teach. Too often, class, race, political, and geographic differences still dehumanize us. The taxi driver is just hands and foreign music. NASCAR moms are just minivans and juice boxes. We neglect to discover the stories behind the stereotypes. Sometimes it feels as if we're moving too fast to be curious anymore, to look beyond the cultural shorthand.
In 2009, a year of so much peril and promise, it's time to define patriotism as our capacity to have social courage in our day-to-day lives, to learn from folks across the many fault lines that carve ignorance and indifference through America. We are only as patriotic as the company we keep, by which I mean, if you live in a homogeneous bubble, then you are missing out on the lived experience of what it means to be American today. Your understanding of this country is stunted and incomplete.
There are many things more patriotic than singing the national anthem or sporting a flag pin on your lapel: introducing yourself to a maintenance worker in your office building, calling up that diehard Republican cousin and asking her to breakfast, becoming friends with someone 30 years older than you or many tax brackets below you. And beyond the critical one-on-one interactions, it is profoundly patriotic to support big-picture policies that attack the class divide, strengthen public education, and fight discrimination on every level.
I cannot tell a lie. This country is amazing, but it's also still painfully segregated and will remain so until Americans collectively decide that true patriotism is treating one another -- regardless of status, political affiliation, or race -- like the potential teachers that we are.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
"We were told to take [TARP funds] so that we could help Darwin synthesize the weaker banks and acquire those and put them under different leadership," he said. "We are not even allowed to mention that. ... We were supposed to say the TARP money was used for lending."
By Nicole Garrison-Sprenger
February 17, 2009 | TwinCities.com
Unfortunately, South Carolina Democrat James Clyburn inserted a clause in the federal stimulus bill that allows a state's legislature to accept the federal funds even if its governor objects. The five GOP governors taking a "stand" against the stimulus know this, and know their "profile in courage" is a sham. They'll take those Big Gubument handouts, just like they always do. You watch.
By Paul Begala
February 16, 2009 | CNN.com
Editor's note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House.
Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina took umbrage at my writing that his approach to the economic crisis is to do nothing. I'll deal with his "ideas" in a moment, but first let me make a modest proposal:
If Republican politicians are so deeply opposed to President Obama's economic recovery plan, they should refuse to take the money. After all, if you think all that federal spending is damaging, there are easy ways to reduce it: Don't take federal money.
Gov. Sanford can lead the way. South Carolina should decline to accept any federal funds for transportation, education, health care, clean energy or any of the other ideas President Obama is advocating to fix the economy. And the rest of the GOP can follow suit.
Justice Louis Brandeis famously called states "laboratories of democracy." So let's experiment. Gov. Sanford can be the guinea pig. His Palmetto State already gets $1.35 back from Washington for every dollar it pays in federal taxes, according to 2005 numbers, the latest calculated by the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit tax research group.
South Carolina is a ward of the federal government. It's been on welfare for years. If Gov. Sanford is so all-fired opposed to federal spending, let's start by cutting federal spending in South Carolina. Otherwise, he's got about as much credibility on fiscal conservatism as A-Rod has on steroids.
Under the Bush-Sanford economic theories, South Carolina's unemployment rate has reached 9.5 percent -- among the highest in the nation. But if Gov. Sanford wants to continue those policies, good luck to him.
Make no mistake about it, Republicans like Gov. Sanford want to go back to the bad old days of George W. Bush. In his CNN.com column, Gov. Sanford expends 605 words attacking President Obama's plan to turn the country around after eight years of Bush-Republican-Sanford economics.
That is his right, but attacking President Obama's plan is not itself an alternative plan. Nor is dredging up hoary old gripes about the New Deal. Nor, indeed, is deriding neighborhood electric vehicles -- which create jobs, save money and reduce pollution -- as "streamlined golf carts." But that is what Gov. Sanford offers us.
Then Gov. Sanford turns to his ideas (keep in mind he was responding to my charge that he favors doing nothing). He devotes precisely one half of one sentence to his plan to save the world economy; 24 words that will create millions of jobs, restore liquidity to capital markets, protect investors and consumers, regenerate stagnant demand and restore the capitalist system. Here they are:
"... cutting the payroll tax, opening foreign markets through an expansion of our trade agreements, and reducing our corporate tax, which is among the highest worldwide."
Wow. As we say in the South, I've got the vapors. So cutting taxes and cutting trade deals will get us out of this mess? That's all we need to do?
We don't need to extend unemployment insurance, or update health information technology, or move to renewable energy or repair roads or rebuild bridges or modernize the power grid or prevent states and cities from laying off teachers and cops or any of the other myriad proposals in President Obama's plan?
To be sure, President Obama's plan includes tax cuts -- mostly for middle-class families. But cutting taxes on corporate profits is of little utility when there are no corporate profits to tax. And precisely with whom would Gov. Sanford cut these miraculous trade deals? In case he hasn't been watching CNN, the entire world economy is in the tank.
If cutting taxes for the rich and for big corporations and promoting foreign trade alone could energize the economy, we wouldn't be in this mess. But maybe Gov. Sanford is right. Let's keep our federal money -- give it to states where the governors will actually put it to good use. We'll let Gov. Sanford try his plan, we'll try President Obama's plan.
Something tells me Gov. Sanford won't take that gamble. Because for all his rhetoric about hating federal spending, he can't wait to get his hands on our money.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Obama and the Great Game
By Patrick J. Buchanan
February 13, 2009
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
By Fareed Zakaria
January 31, 2009 | Newsweek.com
In May 2006 a unit of American soldiers in Afghanistan's Uruzgan valley were engulfed in a ferocious fire fight with the Taliban. Only after six hours, and supporting airstrikes, could they extricate themselves from the valley. But what was most revealing about the battle was the fact that many local farmers spontaneously joined in, rushing home to get their weapons. Asked later why they'd done so, the villagers claimed they didn't support the Taliban's ideological agenda, nor were they particularly hostile toward the Americans. But this battle was the most momentous thing that had happened in their valley for years. If as virile young men they had stood by and just watched, they would have been dishonored in their communities. And, of course, if they were going to fight, they could not fight alongside the foreigners.
In describing this battle, the Australian counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen coins a term, "accidental guerilla," to describe the villagers. They had no grand transnational agenda, no dreams of global jihad. If anything, those young men were defending their local ways and customs from encroachment from outside. But a global terrorist group—with local ties—can find ways to turn these villagers into allies of a kind. And foreign forces, if they are not very careful, can easily turn them into enemies.
Reduced to its simplest level, the goal of American policy in Afghanistan should be to stop creating accidental guerrillas. It should make those villagers see U.S. forces as acting in their interests. That would mark a fundamental turnaround.
Let's be clear. The war in Afghanistan is not going well; almost all trends are moving in the wrong direction. But I don't believe it is a quagmire—yet. We still have time to focus our goals, improve our strategy, calibrate our means. The two men in charge now, Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, are extraordinarily talented. But what should they do? We need to overhaul U.S. policy in four steps, each more complicated than the last.
Do counterinsurgency right. Despite Petraeus's demonstrable success in Iraq, U.S. forces have to this point largely relied on more old-fashioned tactics—raids, search-and-destroy missions, air attacks. Partly this is because the U.S. military has deployed too few troops to hold territory that's been cleared. "In Iraq we do what we can, in Afghanistan we do what we must," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen explained in 2007. It is also because many American troops believe that they are chasing global terrorists who must be captured or killed urgently.
[Gee, I wonder where they got that idea.... - J]
Instead of aggressive and punitive—in military parlance, "kinetic"—operations, Petraeus's counterinsurgency approach emphasizes the need to make local populations feel secure. Troops are meant to live among the people, use less force, gain trust, not overreact to every provocation and be seen as a positive force within the community. Above all, the priority is to get local forces—in this case, the Afghan National Army and the police—to do as much as possible, even when the job might not be done as well as by foreign troops.
The number of additional U.S. troops needed is not large. Afghanistan is predominantly rural, and the large population centers that truly need protection are limited. U.S. forces would also need to control the key roads and transit points. In fact, the commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, has begun to focus his efforts on this approach. Between the addition of two to four more American brigades and a ramp-up of the Afghan Army, there should be enough troops to execute the strategy.
Strengthen the Afghan government. The central government is widely seen as weak, dysfunctional and utterly corrupt. Disgust with its performance has reopened the door for the Taliban, who are unpopular almost everywhere but who promise justice—albeit very rough justice—rather than the chaos of the Karzai reign. The international community should have considerable influence on this matter because the Kabul government, unlike in Iraq, has virtually no revenue sources other than foreign aid.
Unfortunately, so far many of the most corrupt elements in government are allies of the West and have gained a kind of immunity as a result.
The most immediate way to enhance the legitimacy of the Afghan government would be to ensure that both presidential and local elections take place this year without disruption, and that viable alternative candidates are free to campaign. But elections are only one form of political legitimacy in a country like Afghanistan. There should be a much more broad-based effort to reach out to tribal leaders, hold local councils and build a more-diverse base of support. The goal in Afghanistan should not be a strong central government—the country is decentralized in its DNA—but a legitimate government with credibility and local allies throughout the country. This is how Afghanistan was ruled before the wars that have consumed it since the 1980s.
Talk to the Taliban. The single most important consequence of the surge in Iraq was the fact that large parts of the Sunni community—including insurgents who had been attacking U.S. troops for years—reconciled with America and, provisionally, the Baghdad government. "The challenge in Afghanistan," Petraeus said in a recent interview with Foreign Policy, "is figuring out how to create conditions that enable reconciliation, recognizing that these will likely be different somewhat from those created in Iraq."
Timing is important. Petraeus argues that in Iraq, reconciliation became easier once the United States had regained a position of strength, having killed or captured many Sunni fighters. (And after many more were savagely killed by Shiite militias.) But the basic idea is obvious—to divide the enemy and thereby reduce the number of diehard opponents arrayed against you. The process of political bargaining goes on in every society during such conflicts. The goal in Afghanistan must be to separate, as often as possible, the global jihadist from the accidental guerrilla.
In America, this has turned into a somewhat ideological debate about "talking to the Taliban." Critics rage that this would be doing business with evil people. But in a country like Afghanistan—one of the poorest in the world—politics is often less about ideology and more about a share of the spoils. While some members of the Taliban are hard-core Islamic extremists, others are concerned with gaining a measure of local power—of access to money and clout.
[See, America's stupid foreign policy "debates" on FOX and talk radio, and Dubya's cowboyish pronouncements about catching and killing "evildoers" had actual negative consequences. Our media and our government need to make the American people smarter and better informed, not dumber and more reactionary. No terrorist organization that I know of has ever been "destroyed." Terrorist groups either lose support from their base, for various reasons, and wither away, or else their opponents lure terrorist leaders into a political process, whereby they become more responsible and trustworthy with a stepwise series of give-and-take gestures and compromises. Hell yes, we must try to negotiate with the Taliban. - J]
The most important departure from current thinking would be to make a distinction between Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The United States is properly and unalterably opposed to Al Qaeda—on strategic, political and moral grounds—because its raison d'être is to inflict brutality on the civilized world. We have significant differences with the Taliban on many issues—democracy and the treatment of women being the most serious. But we do not wage war on other Islamist groups with which we similarly disagree (the Saudi monarchy, for example). Were elements of the Taliban to abandon Al Qaeda, we would not have a pressing national-security interest in waging war against them.
In fact, there is a powerful military advantage to moving in this direction. Al Qaeda is a stateless organization that controls no territory of its own. It can survive and thrive only with a host community. Our objective should be to cut off Al Qaeda, as far as possible, from its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Deprived of local support, Al Qaeda would be a much diminished threat. Now, it is certainly true that some elements of the Taliban might be closely wedded to Al Qaeda. But others are not. Even the most hard-line Taliban—the so-called Quetta Shura led by Mullah Omar—have at various points made overtures to the Afghan government, always asking that they be distinguished from Al Qaeda. In Guantánamo, for example, Afghans who had played minor roles as drivers and servants for Qaeda officials have been treated just the same as 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Given that the United States is in its seventh year of war in Afghanistan, it might surprise many Americans to recognize that not one Afghan was involved at any significant level in the 9/11 attacks. Barnett Rubin, who has studied the region for decades and is chairing an Asia Society report on Afghanistan, makes the point more forcefully: "Afghans have played no significant role in any major terrorist attack before or after 9/11." This is true. All the plots that have been traced back to the region lead not to Afghanistan but to Pakistan, where U.S. officials acknowledge the top leadership of both the Taliban and Al Qaeda now reside.
Pressure Pakistan. When the United States invaded Afghanistan, it did not defeat Al Qaeda and its supporters among the Taliban. They simply fled to Pakistan, their original home. The story is by now familiar. During the 1980s, the Pakistani military—through its Inter-Services Intelligence agency—helped form militant Islamic groups to wage asymmetrical war against Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and against India in Kashmir. This strategy was financed by Saudi Arabia and the United States. It gave birth to the Taliban and helped provide Al Qaeda with a home when Osama bin Laden was expelled from Sudan.
It is crucial to recognize that the Pakistani military achieved substantial success with these militias. They bled India at very low cost, neutralizing New Delhi's much larger army, and chased the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. These represent the only two significant strategic successes for the Pakistani military in decades, perhaps in its history.
The American debate on the need to "press" Pakistan to dismantle these militias misses this point. Pakistan has long viewed its clients as having given the country "strategic depth"—keeping its historic foes, India and Afghanistan, off balance. For Islamabad to genuinely renounce these groups would require a fundamental strategic rethinking within the Pakistani military.
This is hard but not impossible. The civilian government in Pakistan, weak and ineffective though it may be, is allied with the international community on these issues. It too wants a Pakistani military that knows its boundaries, does not run militant groups and conceives of the country's national interests in less-confrontational terms. The United States has enormous influence with the Pakistani Army, though it has not always used it well. (When we cut off military-to-military relations in the 1990s, because of congressional sanctions against Pakistan's nuclear tests, we lost a generation of officers who felt betrayed by America.) If the military agrees to dismantle these jihadist networks—demonstrably—Afghanistan and India should respond with concessions to ease regional tensions. I don't want to make this sound easy. Of all the tasks that Petraeus and Holbrooke have, this one is the hardest. And yet, if the problem with Pakistan cannot be solved, the war in Afghanistan cannot be won.
Afghanistan is a complex problem, and progress will be slow and limited. But we need to stabilize the situation, not magically transform one of the poorest, most war-torn countries in the world in the next few years. It will help immeasurably if we keep in mind the basic objective of U.S. policy there. "My own personal view is that our primary goal is to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for terrorists and extremists to attack the United States and its allies," said Secretary of Defense Robert Gates last week. That is an admirably clear statement.
It is not that we don't have other goals—education, female literacy, centralized control of government services, drug eradication, liberal democracy. But many of them are objectives that will be realized over very long stretches of time, and should not be measured as part of military campaigns or political cycles. They are also goals that are not best achieved by military force. The U.S. Army is being asked to do enough as it is in Afghanistan. Helping it stay focused on a core mission is neither cramped nor defeatist. It is a realistic plan for success.
Dear Fellow American:
Please consider donating to the George W. Bush Presidential Library, which has been planned at Southern Methodist University in Texas, and is now accepting donations. The Library will "probably take some for foreign money," according to our esteemed 43rd President, but every dollar we Americans give is one less dollar required from our friends in Saudi Arabia to cover the modest $250 million price tag. The Library will include:
* The Hurricane Katrina Room, which is still under construction.
* The Alberto Gonzales Room, where you won't be able to remember anything.
* The Texas Air National Guard Room, where you don't even have to show up.
* The Walter Reed Hospital Room, where they don't let you in.
* The Guantanamo Bay Room, where they don't let you out.
* The Weapons of Mass Destruction Room, which no one has been able to find.
* The National Debt Room, which is huge and has no ceiling.
* The Tax Cut Room, with entry only to the wealthy.
* The Economy Room, which is in the toilet.
* The Iraq War Room. (After you complete your first visit, they make you to go back for a second, third, fourth, and sometimes fifth visit.)
* The Dick Cheney Room, in the famous undisclosed location, complete with shotgun gallery.
* The Environmental Conservation Room, still empty.
* The Supreme Gift Shop, where you can buy an election.
* The Airport Men's Room, where you can meet some of your favorite Republican Senators.
* The Decider Room, complete with dart board, magic 8-ball, Ouija board, dice, coins, and straws.
Note: The library will feature an electron microscope to help you locate and view the President's accomplishments.
The library will also include many Famous Quotes by George W. Bush ...
'The vast majority of our imports come from outside the country.'
'If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure.'
'Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.'
'No senior citizen should ever have to choose between prescription drugs and medicine.'
'I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy - but that could change.'
'One word sums up probably the responsibility of any Governor, and that one word is 'to be prepared.'
'Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things.'
'I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future.'
'The future will be better tomorrow.'
'We're going to have the best educated American people in the world.'
'One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures.' (During an education photo-op)
'Illegitimacy is something we should talk about in terms of not having it.'
'We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur.'
'It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.'
'I stand by all the misstatements that I've made.' (George W. Bush to Sam Donaldson)
PLEASE GIVE GENEROUSLY!
Jack Abramoff, Co-Chair
G.W. Bush Library Board of Directors
P.S. – Here is a very worthy proposal for donations in-kind to public schools in the name of George W. Bush's Presidential Library.
Isn't it interesting that "European socialist basket cases" Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Germany are in the top 7?