December 29, 2008

"Free Market"

This is an extremely rare edition of "No, not what digby said."

Writing about the dominance of conservative messaging on the economy in the latter half of the 20th century. She quotes a guy who makes a sweeping and false statement, about Keynes dominating the first half of the 20th century and Hayek the second half, noting that it is not clear that it is "exactly true." As part of that correction, she notes:

Free market fundamentalism (which Hayek didn't actually believe in --- he was more of an evangelical) has certainly been the order of the day for at least a quarter of a century and animated the arguments of the aristocracy(.)

It's important to realize that while this is the message of the Republican party, and of other conservatives, it is not their policy position. Free market fundamentalists abhor concentration of economic power, in oligopolies as well as in the state. American conservatives, especially those in the Republican party, are better characterized as, for lack of a better word, fascist. Crony capitalism is a euphemism for this, with the false implication of competition implied by "capitalism." They believe in the adoption of policies that encourage the formation of oligopolies, and that intertwine those oligopolies with the government.

The taxpayer's role is the same as the consumer's role--to provide monopoly pricing and profits to companies protected from free market competition. You see this everywhere. From the taxpayer's perspective, you see this in the replacement of civil service functions by private no-bid contracts, telecommunications companies integrated into the intelligence community, Blackwater, Haliburton, and pretty much all of the military procurement budget.

From the consumer perspective, you see it in the abuse of patents in Big Pharma's interest, elimination of the public domain from copyright law, preservation of monopoly pricing in telecommunications, cable television, practical exemption from anti-trust law, giving away television spectrum, regulations designed to create barriers to entry by new firms and lots of little policies like not allowing people who intend to leave timber standing to participate in the bidding process. Or not allowing the cattle farmer to note on the label of his beef that he tests all his cattle for mad cow disease, not just the federally required sample.

It's very bad that this meme--the idea that American conservatives favor free market solutions--has been allowed to so completely penetrate discussion about economic and regulatory policy. It's simply not the case that Republicans are free market advocates any more than they are free trade advocates. There may have been some possibility for making this claim before the 2000 elections. But with control of all three lawmaking branches of government by Republicans, free market policies were rejected, while policies designed to encourage greater industrial concentration, less competition, and greater concentration of wealth were embraced.

All of these policies had the effect of making government larger, more intrusive, and directly engaged in providing revenue from general revenues to oligopolistic corporations. There is no "free market" in these policy positions.

[Update: some minor edits for clarity]

December 20, 2008

Over/Under: 50,000 Soldiers

Joe Klein's Iraq update pushed me to unwrap the Jan/Feb issue of Foreign Affairs. I wanted to see how the main reporting organ of the Serious People in the Washington Foreign Policy Community was projecting the future of Iraq. There it was, an article by Richard Haass, President of CFR and Martin Indyk , "pro-Israel lobbyist," and current director of Brookings' Saban Center.

Ever since Cheney remarked that he expected the US to draw down its force commitment in Iraq to 50,000 troops, in six months or so after the fall of Baghdad, I believe the US has been committed to this force level. There are a number of reasons to hold to this belief. The permanent military bases house that many soldiers. Barack Obama has been very cagy in the positions he's taken, speaking always of "combat troops." Iraq has no national defense force, no air power, no armor, no logistical capability, and I strongly doubt the country has a functional chain of command. The US foreign policy establishment would regard this endeavor as failed if the result were not an Iraq allied with the US government, which is impossible if the elections are actually free and open.

The Washington Post op-ed Joe Klein cites, penned by the joined at the hip Senate trio of McCain Lieberman and Graham includes this remark:
Based on our observations and consultations in Baghdad, we are optimistic that President-elect Obama will be able to fulfill a major step of his plan for withdrawal next year by redeploying U.S. combat forces from Iraq's cities while maintaining a residual force to train and mentor our Iraqi allies. We caution, however, that 2009 will be a pivotal year for Iraq, with provincial and then national elections whose secure and legitimate conduct depends on our continued engagement.

So here's what the Haass and Indyk had to say (my bold):
But the situation remains fragile, and the need to pursue a host of second-order tasks should preclude more than modest reductions in U.S. combat and support forces in Iraq through 2009. By mid-2010, however, the Obama administration should be able to reduce U.S. forces significantly, perhaps to half their pre-surge levels. This would be consistent with the accord governing the U.S. troop presence that is currently being negotiated by U.S. and Iraqi officials. In the meantime, the highest political priorities will be ensuring communal reconciliation and an equitable sharing of oil revenues. Diplomatically, as reconciliation gains traction, Iraq's Sunni Arab neighbors will have to be persuaded to work with Baghdad's Shiite-led government.

Yep. We're still at 50,000 troops or so. So much for Iraq's sovereignty. 50,000 "residual" troops, with tanks and planes, "supporting" and "training" them is the goal, is certainly not what the majority of Americans, and a larger majority of Iraqis, would describe as withdrawing from Iraq.

And there's a special bonus!   In order to keep Israel safe from Iran's still non-existent nuclear capability, a nuclear umbrella must be extended. And, to match fiction for fiction, Israel should be provided with an anti-ballistic missile system:

Preventive military action against Iran by either the United States or Israel is an unattractive option, given its risks and costs. But it needs to be examined carefully as a last-ditch alternative to the dangers of living with an Iranian bomb. To increase Israel's tolerance for extended diplomatic engagement, the U.S. government should bolster Israel's deterrent capabilities by providing an enhanced anti-ballistic-missile defense capability and a nuclear guarantee.

These people are completely insane. It's like walking into an updated version of Dr. Strangelove.

But the skinny is, yes, indeed, the occupation will continue. The over/under bet is still at 50,000. And Foreign Affairs will take the over.  

December 15, 2008


First, pardon the format changes. I'll be fiddling some more with this template, but at least the fonts now seem to be in control.

There's a question I've been asking, in different forms, for about four years now. (The oldest versions are in the lost archives of Talking Points Memo. Lesson: Do not trust any server but your own.)

I asked it here, last week, and in Swampland comments a day or two ago.

Today's version goes like this. The end result in Iraq is supposed to be an elected government, a sovereign state that does not have any effective national defense force, with no American "combat troop" presence that is allied with the US.

Because this is pretty clearly defines a null set of outcomes--no representative government in Iraq could be pro-American, given recent past history, America's tight relationship with Israel and the affinity of the majority Shiites with the Iranian government--I've been asking what we really should expect to happen in Iraq in the medium to long term.

Today, Joe Klein provides some of the euphemisms that will be used to describe the permanent occupation of Iraq.
(G)oing forward, the relationship between Iraq's security forces and the U.S. military--locked in by spare parts, logistics and training regimes--could be every bit as significant as Iraq's fraternal Shi'ite ties with Iran.
What this actually means is that the US will have  a significant troop presence, including armor and air "training" forces for Iraqi's who aren't allowed to fly planes or drive tanks.  The logistical tail for this force will continue to be provided by the US military. And, naturally, the US will play a critical role in deciding who will be allowed to be a candidate for the positions of Prime Minister and President.

Any bets on the over/under for June 2010?  I'm going with 50,000. That's the number the permanent bases were built for. That's the number Cheney said the US would draw down to in a few months, after Saddam's capture.

It will be interesting to watch how the euphemisms grow, flower, and take seed in the media.   It will also be interesting to see whether Iran will sit still for this.  It's no wonder that, worldwide, the US is seen as the most pressing threat to peace.

December 14, 2008


My nominee, anyway. Peter Baker

Obama's core political advisors were circling the wagons:

Even though Mr. Obama had no known personal involvement, the Clinton veterans understood that was only part of the issue. They had Mr. Obama publicly declare he had never spoken with Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich about the Senate appointment. They imposed a cone of silence on colleagues so they would not make a remark that could come back to haunt them. And they ordered an internal inquiry to document any contacts with the governor’s advisers.

Republicans were ready to pounce, rushing out statements linking Mr. Obama to Mr. Blagojevich within an hour or so after the governor’s arrest was reported. They too knew the script and that any opening must be exploited. Politics in this hyperpartisan age, after all, is the ultimate contact sport.

So we have Republicans making baseless attacks. And the media reporting those baseless attacks. What does this mean?

Indeed, except for brief interludes, Washington in the last decade has been governed by a climate of anger and animosity, a modern-day tribalism pitting faction against faction that some trace to the days of the impeachment.

Right. While the current president has routinely flouted the law, treated Congress with contempt, refused to comply with subpoenas all with the support of bloc voting Republicans, we can be sure that both sides are to blame. 

Indeed. Our usual NY Times expert on partisan Democrats speaks out:

It definitely poisoned the well on both sides,” said Representative Peter T. King of New York, one of the few Republicans to vote against impeachment. “Without getting into the merits of anything, there’s no doubt there were Democrats waiting from the day George Bush took office to even the score for Bill Clinton. And Republicans are the same today with Barack Obama and the Rod Blagojevich scandal.”

Right. We'rre talking about the Democrats who took impeachment off the table, the Democrats who caved on major policy decisions ranging from the botched invasion and occupation of Iraq to providing immunity to telecommunications companies that violated the law and the Constitution with a domestic spying operation..

And now, Obama is apparently contributing to this poisoned environment by having the termerity to suggest that the baseless charages are, well, baseless.

Of course, the baseless impeachment, unpopular and fruitless--conviction was impossible--poisoned the political environment, but didn't do much damage to Clinton.

In some ways, Mr. Clinton emerged better off than his foes. He remains on the world stage and, with Hillary Rodham Clinton about to become secretary of state, is opening a new chapter. Most of those who pursued the charges have retreated from public life.
Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston and Tom DeLay, the House Republican leaders at the time, all eventually resigned under pressure for various reasons. Only 3 of the 13 House Republican “managers” who prosecuted Mr. Clinton in the Senate trial will still be in Congress when Mr. Obama is inaugurated.

Imagine.  The two former speakers who, having been sexually involved with a staffer,  pursued impeachment because the president was sexually involved with a staffer.   And this didn't work out well for them. The other guy, Tom Delay, crowed about his crookedness,  and is on his way to hoosegow. 

Of course, Republicans acted from high-minded principle when they impeached Clinton, just before picking the staffer shtupping Livingston:

But those managers still believe they did the right thing holding a president to account for breaking the law. “It was a high-stakes battle over historic American values, the rule of law and the Constitution,” former Representative Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said in an interview this year. “I hope that will be the first line of history — it was a battle over values of extreme importance. Having said that, I think the second line will be that partisan differences meant that they were unable to find a bipartisan solution.”

The bipartisan solution, of course would have been to skip the baseless and doomed impeachment effort.

But the impeachment represented the triumph of partisanship on both sides of the aisle, a partisanship that remains today. Democrats made a calculated decision to stick by a president of their party no matter his transgressions and to promote partisan division in the Congressional proceedings so they could discredit the other side. Republicans were so intent on turning out Mr. Clinton that they turned away from opportunities for a bipartisan solution.

(emphasis mine).  That Baker can write this speaks volumes about the Clinton rules, or, as the Blago angle keeps being pursued, the Democratic rules.  It's not like Baker is unaware of Bush's transgressions.

The result has been a distaste for impeachment but little appetite for consensus. Liberal Democrats agitated to impeach Mr. Bush in connection with the Iraq war, warrantless surveillance and interrogation policies, but party leaders had no interest in going down that road again. “Although there are powerful arguments that President Bush has committed high crimes and misdemeanors, there are questions about whether it is prudent to do so,” said Bruce Ackerman, a Yale Law School professor.

So the dirty fucking hippies believed, as Patrick Fitzgerald said last week, nobody is above the law.  The supposedly hyperpartisan atmosphere in Washington made it "imprudent" to impeach the president. Those sternly worded letters from Henry Waxman were pretty much equivalent to the unending, baseless political accusations aimed at Clinton. Sternly worded letters are pretty much the equivalent of accusations of murder and an endless fishing expedition by a special prosecutor.

So now's the time to chime in with the next key Republican talking point--that impeaching Bush for breaking the law would impeachment over "policy differences."

Mr. Bush’s defenders would strenuously disagree. In their minds, the very talk of impeachment over policy differences represents the real cost of the Clinton clash. Mr. Bush, after all, campaigned for office promising to sweep out the toxic atmosphere in Washington, only to find that his disputed election had further polarized the capital and the nation. As he prepares to take leave eight years later, he calls his inability to change the political climate one of his regrets.

Of course, what Bush did when he took office was to do all he could to promote that toxic atmosphere, by making appointments and adopting policies that were more consistent with a landslide than a popular vote defeat. And the effect of the Clinton impeachment was to so politicize the act that even when we had a president who would have been, and should have been, justly impeached, he was allowed to flout the law and behave in the most authoririan of ways.  There have now been two impeachments in American history, both for political purposes, which has stripped the nation of its power to remove a corrupt, authoritarian president from office. 

It is, in the end, worth noting that when historians do look back, wondering what happened to Congress in this time period, they will spend their time trying to understand why the Republicans chose this president over their country, their constitution, and, for many, their seats.  There are many dirty hippies angry at Nancy Pelosi's inaction after a clear message from voters in 2006.  But the real culprits were the Republicans, who have become so partisan, so polarized that there is no Howard Baker, no Bill Cohen in the party any longer.

They are going to need wankers like Peter Baker if they are to be anything other than a dwindling regional party of modern Know-Nothings.

Media Matters expands on this.

December 13, 2008


My comment on an Yglesias post was kinda terse.

But the characteristic of the Obama campaign was pretty simple. They were trying to win. They weren't trying to retain their cred, if they lost. They weren't using the well-worn strategies of the past. They weren't mindlessly sucked into new media.

The were running to win. Not IA or NH for its own sake. But the nomination. Not the daily news cycle, but the Presidency.

We can only hope that a similar focus extends into the Presidency--that Obama has a four year vision, not a news cycle vision.

December 10, 2008


I'm starting to get an Alice in Wonderland feeling about plans for a US withdrawal from Iraq, under the SOFA, following Obama's "combat troops" out in 16 months in the context of the reality of the Iraqi situation.

So, I'm thinking maybe I'm just wrong about stuff, that I've not been keeping up. But, as far as I can tell, the context is still:
  • Any government, no matter how representative, will have Shiite Arabs running the country, with a practically autonomous province run by Sunni Kurds (with Kirkuk in dispute).
  • There will be no Iraqi national defense capability, to speak of--no air, no armor, no logistical capability.

  • The US and Israel are quite unpopular in Iraq, and will be for the foreseeable future

  • The Iraqis expect to have actual elections
I do not see how an Iraqi government emerges, within this context, that remains allied with the United States, in the absence of occupation forces.  Any such government would have to be selected in some way other than through a representative electoral process. I suppose that the US can continue to play its pre-election role in Iraq that the clerics play in Iran through the next election, but after that, I don't see how that can happen. 

The original plan, of course, was to install a pro-American, English-speaking*, strong man with trappings of apparent elections, but with a result, as Cheney said in 2003, acceptable to the US. NOT like those Palestinian elections. Leaving aside the insane idea that this strong man was supposed to be Chalabi, I don't see how a pro-American (and hence, pro-Israel) government can possibly come to and hold power in Iraq.

I also don't see how relations between Iraq and Iran do not become closer.  Again, this would conflict with the need for a continued US/Iraqi client-state relationship.  Even a government installed by the US, propped up with "foreign aid" and supported, in defense terms by air and armor placed over the border would find it difficult to support US bellicosity with Iran.

Now it may be that Obama will retire the Axis of Evil, and try to improve relations with Iran. This certainly is an overripe prospect; the question is whether it has rotted out entirely, as the US position has weakened, steadily if not precipitously, in the region.  It may be that Governor Richardson's idea of a regional security pact may be negotiated, with Syria, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia agreeing to leave a defenseless Iraq alone.

But even so, I simply don't see how the US can withdraw and not leave Iran as the major player in the region, with, at best,  a face-saving agreement with Iraq that is pretty much limited to oil concessions.  And that's the best case scenario.

The worst is an eruption of civil war by proxies of the surrounding states, with the possibility of the conflict crossing borders along ethnic lines, with Saudi Shiites and Turkish Kurds drawn into the conflict, while the isolated, but still angry Sunni Arab Iraqis keep things complicated in Baghdad.

What's bothering me here, more than anything else, is the absence of any discussion of these issues, publicly.  Contingency planning for these instances have to be going on, even if nobody is telling the president about them, right?  A real plan is being worked out to not make things still worse, even if that does mean a much diminished US role?  The possibility of a two-state solution in Israel as part of an overall plan to tamp down the violence is being discussed?  Right? By somebody who has some idea about what they're doing?

*It's ridiculous that this seems be a required criterion for American support of a ruler.  It enormously limits the possible candidates.

December 8, 2008


I cannot believe Bill Keller, NYT Executive Editor, said this referring to Obama:

And even your most devoted admirers don't want to rely just on you for word of what the government's up to, and what it means."

Tell that to Risen and Lichtblau.  And to all of the people who voted for Bush, not knowing of his illegal surveillance.

Link, so you know I am not making this up.

Glenn Greenwald, digby talk about Versailles. Seems over the top, sometimes. 

It's not.

Billy "Big Government" Kristol

The countdown is at 5 more flaccid, ill-reasoned pleas for conservatives to find some semblance of rationality, influence, and  a vague consistency with some revamped verdict of fifty years of lying rhetoric.  Today's is particularly funny.

First off, he admits (discovers, apparently) that the central theme of conservativism--small government--has always been, well, a lie.

It turns out, in the real world of Republican governance, that there aren’t a whole lot of small-government Republicans.

Five Republicans have won the presidency since 1932: Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes. Only Reagan was even close to being a small-government conservative. And he campaigned in 1980 more as a tax-cutter and national-defense-builder-upper, and less as a small-government enthusiast in the mold of the man he had supported — and who had lost — in 1964, Barry Goldwater. And Reagan’s record as governor and president wasn’t a particularly government-slashing one.

Even the G.O.P.’s 1994 Contract With America made only vague promises to eliminate the budget deficit, and proposed no specific cuts in government programs.

It's true, Billy. Not one Republican Senate, not one Republican Congress, not one Republican President, has ever proposed a budget smaller than the one the year before.   Turns out the real difference is that conservatives are all for big government, they just don't want to pay for it.

If you more or less accept big government, you’ll be open to the government’s stepping in to save the financial system, or the auto industry. But you’ll tend to favor those policies — universal tax cuts, offering everyone a chance to refinance his mortgage, relieving auto makers of burdensome regulations — that, consistent with conservative principles, don’t reward irresponsible behavior and don’t politicize markets.

This one is sort of a laff riot.  Universal tax cuts while the budget grows. So we can strike that "fiscally prudent" bit off the list too.  And, yeah, he really did put "save the financial system" in just before he said "don't reward irresponsible behavior."

Like Douthat yesterday, it's really remarkable to see these guys squirming, trying to revive their bumper sticker policy-making.  Their positions never really made sense, but they were protected by always being able to blame the branches they didn't control from letting true conservatism flower.   So they never truly had the opportunity to deregulate, to cut taxes for the rich, to show the power of  the marketplace to create jobs and fuel robust economic growth. 

Until they did.

It turns out there is still one principle left intact--the mine-shaft gap.

Billy's close includes:

You might then suggest spending a good chunk of the stimulus on national security — directing dollars to much-needed and underfunded defense procurement rather than to fanciful green technologies, making sure funds are available for the needed expansion of the Army and Marines before rushing to create make-work civilian jobs. 


Douthat Compromised

Yesterday Ross Douthat had an absurdist op-ed in the NYT, where he claimed that pro-choice folks are "absolutist" while the generous,  thoughtful and carefully reasoning pro-life people were seeking compromise.

Well, first, what digby said.

But the ball is in the court of the anti-choicers. They refuse to accept the compromise that has been written into law stating that abortions can't be easily obtained after the first trimester and more recently can't be obtained at all after the second. That's a compromise and a very real and serious one. And it's not enough. In fact, nothing will be enough until abortion is outlawed.

And then they will begin the war on condoms in earnest. In fact,
they've already started.
This is a pair of key points. First, Roe v Wade IS a compromise, a compromise between the pregnant woman and the developing fetus.  It's a compromise that reflects the broad public consensus of safe, legal, rare and early.  Second this is not about abortion. It's about reducing women's status, removing their authority over their reproductive lives. Abortion is just the ickiest part of this, so that's where they focus.

The "compromise" Douthat seeks does not reflect the actually difficult social issue of the status of a developing fetus viable some time before birth versus a woman's right to control her own body and her own reproductive decisions.  The "compromise" he is talking about is having the state regulate who is eligible to exert this control.

Barely nubile young women raped by their fathers whose lives would be endangered by the pregnancy qualify.  After that, eligibility should be determined by how the pregnancy happened.  Parental notification to discourage teenagers.  Waiting periods. Mandatory "counseling."  He doesn't mention shunning, but I'm sure it's on his list.  It's this kind of thinking that made (shockingly) Sarah Palin a heroine, because of her daughter's commitment to "abstinence" and the pregnancy that so frequently results.

This isn't  a serious argument.  The column is labored, because he has to dance around the obvious compromise, the one that has always been on the table--improved sex education for teens, and public health measures to ensure broader availability and use of contraception.  

If this were really about abortion, there would be condoms in every pew.