Weekend Reading; see how the world changed last week

Contents

I.  The Trillion-Dollar War“, Reason (May 2008) – “The War on Terror is now more expensive than Vietnam or World War I—but the dishonest way Washington is paying for it may prove costliest of all.”

II.  The Uneven Playing Field“, New York Times Magazine  (11 May 2008) – An illustration of the militarization of our culture, as we raise girls to be warriors without a war.   Girls injured in pursuit of some unknown goal; how can this be worthwhile?

III.  “My ‘Racial Harassment’ Nightmare“, New York Post ( 9 May 2008) — Freedom slips away quietly, in incidents like this.

IV.  “‘Deafening’ silence on analyst story“, Politico (8 may 208) — Pity those of our fellow-citizens who rely on the major TV networks for their news, as they learn all the news that is “fit to see.”  We are forutnate to have so many information media; this is an important bulwark of our freedom.

V.  “Taking the War to the Mexican State, 4GW Style“, Zenpundit  (9 May 2008) — Excellent analysis of ominous trends in our southern neighbor.

VI.  “Taking stock of the dollar’s global role“, Brad Setser, RGE Monitor  (11 May 2008) — The role of the US dollar is imo one of the central geopolitical questions of our time, like the fate of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was before WWI. 

VI.  “The de facto nationalization of the global financial system“, Brad Setser  (8 May 2008) — Wave bye-bye to the global free market system.  This is imo one of the great under-covered stories of the decade.

The articles and excerpts

I.  The Trillion-Dollar War“, Reason (May 2008) – “The War on Terror is now more expensive than Vietnam or World War I—but the dishonest way Washington is paying for it may prove costliest of all.”  Could this money have better improved our national security if spent elsewhere?  Excerpt:

Should that {2208} funding be appropriated then the total price tag for America’s present wars will rise to at least $822 billion, approximately 80 percent of which will be spent on Iraq. … These runaway costs do not include a single dollar from the Pentagon’s annual operating budget, which in 2008 reached a whopping $481 billion. If the war were being accounted for based on a rational, transparent budget process instead of an opaque and politicized shell game, Americans would be painfully aware that we are now in the seventh year of what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has called a $1 trillion war.

How much money is $1 trillion? Enough to pay for the entire 1976 federal budget, adjusted for inflation. Enough to write a check for $37,500 to every Iraqi man, woman, and child. Enough to buy 169,492 Black Hawk helicopters, or 455 stealth bombers. Enough, in nominal terms, to pay for the entire federal government from 1789 to 1957. And it’s 10 times more than what specialists predict it would take to eradicate malaria once and for all.

To distract people from the real price tag of a two-front war, the president and Congress have used an unprecedented and fiscally irresponsible budgetary trick: a series of “emergency” supplemental spending bills totaling hundreds of billions of dollars. This scheme has allowed them not only to hide the costs of the conflicts but also to avoid painful budget choices while funneling billions of dollars in unvetted goodies to favored interest groups.

II.  The Uneven Playing Field“, New York Times Magazine  (11 May 2008) – An illustration of the militarization of our culture, as we raise girls to be warriors without a war.  Excerpts:

Everyone wants girls to have as many opportunities in sports as boys. But can we live with the greater rate of injuries they suffer?
 
… Playing through pain, rushing back from injury — a warrior-girl ethos — was ingrained in Janelle, just as it is in many young women. The more she was hurt, the more routine the injuries felt.

… In February, she competed again with her club team in the Score at the Shore College Showcase tournament in Tampa, an event that turned out to be a macabre example of the warrior-girl ethic — and a bizarre illustration of how youth sport exists within its own closed universe.

III.  “My ‘Racial Harassment’ Nightmare“, New York Post ( 9 May 2008) — Freedom slips away quietly, in incidents like this.  Excerpt:

In November, I was found guilty of “racial harassment” for reading a public-library book on a university campus.  The book was Todd Tucker’s “Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan”; I was reading it on break from my campus job as a janitor. The same book is in the university library.  Tucker recounts events of 1924, when the loathsome Klan was a dominant force in Indiana – until it went to South Bend to taunt the Irish Catholic students at the University of Notre Dame.  When the KKK tried to rally, the students confronted them. They stole Klan robes and destroyed their crosses, driving the KKK out of town in a downpour. 

I read the historic encounter and imagined myself with these brave Irish Catholics, as they street-fought the Klan. (I’m part-Irish, and was raised Catholic.)  But that didn’t stop the Affirmative Action Office of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis from branding me as a detestable Klansman.

IV.  “‘Deafening’ silence on analyst story“, Politico (8 may 208) — Pity those of our fellow-citizens who rely on the major TV networks for their news, as they learn all the news that is “fit to see.”  We are forutnate to have so many information media; this is an important bulwark of our freedom.

Even with countless media outlets available these days, a Sunday New York Times cover story could always be counted on to send a jolt through the television news cycle.  But apparently that’s no longer the case. Indeed, reporter David Barstow’s 7,600-word investigation of the Pentagon’s military analyst program – whereby ex-military talking heads, often with direct ties to contractors, parroted Defense Department talking points on the air – has been noticeably absent from television airwaves since the story broke on April 20.

While bloggers have kept the story simmering, Democratic congressional leaders also are speaking out, calling for investigations that could provoke the networks to finally cover the Times story – and, in effect, themselves.

V.  “Taking the War to the Mexican State, 4GW Style“, Zenpundit  (9 May 2008) — Excellent analysis by Zenpundit of ominous trends in our southern neighbor.

Mexico’s equivalent to an acting FBI director was assassinated earlier on Thursday, most likely by Zetasor similarly skilled team of hitmen working for one of several of Mexico’s crime cartels currently being pressured by recently dispatched Mexican Army troops.

Reminiscient of attacks on the Italian state during the 1970’s and 1980’s by leftist Red Brigades and the Mafia, the drug cartels of Mexico are hobbled neither by antiquated Marxist ideology nor old-time, rustic, crime family traditions. They are adaptive, professional, transnational in outlook and far better equipped than state police forces on either side of the border. Mexico’s corrupt political elite by contrast, cannot be bothered to restrain their greed enough to properly pay, train and arm the very security forces that defend their primacy.

VI.  “Taking stock of the dollar’s global role“, Brad Setser, RGE Monitor  (11 May 2008) — The role of the US dollar is imo one of the central geopolitical questions of our time, like the fate of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was before WWI.   Excerpt:

On the other hand, there is – I suspect – concern about the extent the US has come to rely on other governments rather than private markets for financing. A country that relies on other governments for financing – and to recapitalize its banks – potentially puts own policy autonomy at risk. And the US has traditionally valued its policy autonomy.

The US would like to maintain the dollar’s global status – and not run up ever larger debts to the People’s Bank of China and the Saudi Monetary Agency. Right now, though, the dollar’s global status hinges in no small part on their willingness to hold dollars. Seriously. Right now it is hard to overstate how much the dollar’s status hinges on decisions made by the King of Saudi Arabia and China’s Communist party. That Saudis are on track to add $200 billion to their reserves, and most will be dollars. The Chinese are on track to add $600 billion to their reserves (and perhaps more), and a large share will be in dollars. Those two governments alone could finance the US current account deficit if – and it is a big if – all existing holders of US assets were willing to hold onto their claims.

VI.  “The de facto nationalization of the global financial system“, Brad Setser  (8 May 2008) — Wave bye-bye to the global free market system.  The growing dominance of States in the global financial system is one of the great under-covered stories of the decade.  Excerpt (bold emphasis added):

China’s foreign asset growth seems to have picked up to an absurd $200b a quarter pace. We still don’t really know, as China hasn’t indicated exactly how much foreign exchange was handed over to the CIC in the first quarter. And who knows what will happen in q2. China’s trade surplus usually builds over the course of the year, but rising oil may start to bite. But for all the uncertainty, China’s official asset growth will still be strong.

And if oil prices average $110b a barrel this quarter – and if the per barrel price needed to cover the oil-exporters import bill is about $50 a barrel – the external surplus of the oil exporters in the second quarter should be above $200b. If oil stays at its current level for the summer, that surplus will only get bigger. And most of that surplus goes to the state in one way or another. Some countries use their central bank. Russia’s reserves were up by over $25b in April alone, Saudi non-reserve foreign assets increased by around $40b in the first quarter; others use a sovereign fund.

Barring a major change, the Gulf and China could easily combine to add close to a trillion dollars to their official assets this year.

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