FM newswire for 19 November – news you can use

Today’s broadsheet from the FM website pressroom. 

  1. Links to interesting news and analysis
  2. Quote of the Day – seeing America more clearly from a distance
  3. Plus, an Afterword

(I)  Links to interesting news and analysis

(a)  After 8 years of war, somebody asks about the bills:  “High Costs Weigh on Troop Debate for Afghan War“, New York Times, 14 November 2009 — We are a superpower, and can fight so long as our creditors loan us the money.

(b)   Speaking of our war’s cost, here’s the best analysis done so far:  The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11″, Amy Belasco, Congressional Research Service, 28 September 2009 — Every dime borrowed from competitors and potential enemies, galloping insanity at work.

(c)  “Communing with the Great Purple Father“, Fred Reed, Fred on Everything, 17 November 2009 — About America.  “The train ain’t got no driver and no tracks.”  From America’s sage.

 (d)  “Dumbest post of the day:  “Babe Theory of Revolution and 2010“, Don Surber, 17 November 2009 — Self-explanatory.  Hat tip to Instapundit, who may have took this seriously.   Note that Surber has some good material on his site; perhaps he’s kidding here.  Or trolling for traffic, and succeeding!

(e)  Juan Cole updates us on David Kilcullen’s bizarre April warning that “Pakistan is in danger of collapse within months“.  As actual experts said at the time, Pakistan’s army has easily routed the Taliban in every engagement.  It’s vital to remember that our geopol experts predict and advise war at all times, just working their rice bowls.

 (f)  Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States“, Emmanuel Saez, 5 August 2009 — First world levels of income; third world income distribution.  Summary:

From 2006 to 2007, average real income per family grew by a solid 3.7% . Average real income for the top percentile grew faster (6.8%), further increasing the top percentile income share from 22.8 to 23.5%. Year 2007 is therefore the second highest year on record since 1913 almost equalling 1928, the record year when the top percentile share reached 23.9%.

Even within the top percentile, the gains from 2006 to 2007 are extremely concentrated. The top .01% (top 14,988 US families, making at least $11.5m in 2007) share increased from 5.46% in 2006 to 6.04% in 2007 leaving well behind the 1928 peak of 5.04 percent.

(II)   Quote of the Day – seeing America more clearly from a distance

Excerpt from a letter to the London Review of Books from R.W. Johnson of Cape Town:

David Bromwich writes as if Obama’s main problem were a deluded search for bipartisanship in the face of intransigent Republican rascals – Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, Fox TV and so forth (LRB, 22 October). It might be better to admit that the left has deluded itself into believing that Obama, a nice, eloquent young man from Harvard with no gubernatorial and little legislative experience, has some sort of magic wand, when the truth is that he’s out of his depth.

He is, unfortunately, just one more Democrat who campaigned on a promise to change everything about the way Washington works. However popular that theme may be, it is ignorant and naive. The Washington political system has proved to be extremely resilient. You can huff and puff about change and chant ‘Yes we can’ as much as you like but the system will remain resolutely intact. History shows that the politicians who get results are the ones who understand the system best and are the best at making it work for them. LBJ is the classic example.

… As it is, here we are with Guantánamo Bay still in operation, the Afghan war likely to go on and get bigger, no progress at all in the Middle East, US unemployment over 10 per cent and healthcare perhaps already doomed. The collapse in Obama’s ratings suggests he could well lose the mid-term elections.

… It’s extraordinary how the Democrats keep on doing this.

… The common factor, of course, was that both Carter and Clinton were Southern governors of smallish states in which the governor gets his budget through and then uses his patronage to do whatever he wants, utterly dominating the state legislature. Both seemed to imagine that being president wouldn’t be very different and that you could use cronies for everything. Obama’s own background as a community worker and campaigner isn’t any more appropriate, and giving foreign affairs over to Bill Clinton’s wife may not have been clever: thus far her diplomatic abilities don’t appear much greater than they were in healthcare reform. I fear a great disappointment is in the making.

(IV)  Afterword

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11 thoughts on “FM newswire for 19 November – news you can use

  1. From Quote of the Day:

    David Bromwich writes as if Obama’s main problem were a deluded search for bipartisanship in the face of intransigent Republican rascals

    That is actually Obama’s main problem, in a nutshell. He’s trying to be bipartisan with people who don’t consider him a legitimate president. If Obama discovered a way to turn dirt into gold, conservatives would say that he was trying to destroy our nation’s fertile soil.

    He is, unfortunately, just one more Democrat who campaigned on a promise to change everything about the way Washington works. However popular that theme may be, it is ignorant and naive.

    It’s not naive to believe you can change a system. The proof is the last eight years. The Bush administration actually changed our system in some quite significant ways, increasing the ease of wiretapping and surveillance on citizens, creating a completely new class of person under US law, the “enemy combatant”, and giving the executive the ability to transfer US citizens into that category essentially at will. The supposedly monolithic, intransigent “system” rolled over and played dead. The Bush administration quite successfully pushed the US government in a more authoritarian direction. It is, therefore, possible for an executive to change the system.

    The common factor, of course, was that both Carter and Clinton were Southern governors of smallish states in which the governor gets his budget through and then uses his patronage to do whatever he wants …
    Obama’s own background as a community worker and campaigner isn’t any more appropriate

    What is his point? Reagan was an actor and a governor before becoming a very successful two-term president. George W. Bush was also the governor of a Southern state known for its authoritarian style of government before becoming a two-term president. It is as if conservatives have lost the ability to remember beyond one year ago.
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    FM reply: Your point about Reagan and Bush is not really accurate.
    * Reagan was politically active, as speaker and campaigner, for 25 years. He served as Gov of California for 8 years, the largest State by population and GDP, the 3rd largest in area — bigger in most respects than most nations.
    *Bush Jr served 8 years as Gov of Texas, our 2nd largest State in both population and size. He also had an active business career for 2 decades (1979-1993), and much campaign experience (his own in 1978 and both his farther’s for president).

  2. > He is, unfortunately, just one more Democrat who campaigned on a promise to change everything about the way Washington works.

    Maybe he even believed it sort of. But the fact is that everyone campaigns on changing the way Washington works simply because the pantomime is what the voters require.

    A good part of what is termed ‘bureaucratic’ inertia is really due to the political costs of doing something. America is not Japan where the bureaucracy is it’s own kingdom, or France with it’s famously cliquey bureaucrats that all went to school together.

    You see many problems in the US where everyone wants a solution and sometimes (but rarely) they even agree what the solution is but enough people are against it implicitly because of all the other things they value more highly.

    Just look at the political discussions – one long collective whine about the problems but throw a solution in there and it’s a grenade.

    The politicians cant ignore the implicit values when crafting a policy they need not only to have a policy for the problem that looks good in the context of the problem but it has to look good from the context of most of the interlinked values.

    The danger in these ideological log-jams is not only does nothing get done but some leaders come to the conclusion that they need to game the system to get anything done – hide the reality from the people, break laws, etc etc. In the end some bright authoritarian spark will think if democracy is the fundamental problem maybe it needs to be suspended for a while.

    > David Bromwich writes as if Obama’s main problem were a deluded search for bipartisanship in the face of intransigent Republican rascals

    Those rascals wouldn’t mean a thing to Obama if they didn’t have blocks of votes behind them.

  3. From #2

    Just look at the political discussions – one long collective whine about the problems but throw a solution in there and it’s a grenade.

    Sure, but unfortuneately, now we are at a point where we actually need solutions. So we should be asking ourselves, how can we deal with the concussion wave and the flying fragments of metal?

    Those rascals wouldn’t mean a thing to Obama if they didn’t have blocks of votes behind them.

    They have blocks of voters but they don’t have majority blocks of voters. Last time I checked, in a democracy or republic, a policy supported by the majority should be able to be implemented unless it is shown to run counter to the constitution of that republic or democracy.

  4. For 1B: a bit of reference as to the scale involved in our spending on Iraq (roughly ~$700B out of the $1T total). Assume that nuclear power breeder reactors [1] cost $7/W. (Thats a slightly high estimate, BTW, when dealing with this large a number of reactors).

    Then the nearly $700B used in Iraq could have been used to build 100 GW of nuclear power with a lifetime-secure fuel availability.

    Iraq’s oil production is ~2 million barrels/day. A barrel of oil is ~6e9 J of energy, so Iraq’s oil production’s’ complete power output is about 1e11W or about 140 GW of power in the form of oil.

    If the (unstated) goal of the Iraq portion of the activities was to capture the energy output of Iraq for our own purposes, we did a pretty crappy job of it, as the amount we spent to invade Iraq could have instead been used to almost completely REPLACE the energy output of Iraq (albeit in the form of electricity rather than liquid fuel, but still)…

    [1] Breeder reactors are very Very VERY bad from a proliferation standpoint as the reason they produce as much fuel as they use is they convert uranium to plutonium and then consume the plutonium.

    Yet at the same time, because they effectively generate their own fuel from an otherwise unusable component (U238), they are effectively “lifetime free” fuel. And the plutonium proliferation concerns don’t matter when you are talking about the United States.
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    FM reply: Thanks for providing this valuable perspective. The trillion dollars or so spent on the war on terror could have increased America’s national security far more if spent in other ways. Yet we blew the borrowed money like drunk sailors, without any thought or discussion on altnerative courses of action.

  5. >They have blocks of voters but they don’t have majority blocks of voters

    I’m not so sure, sure when you have a problem you have a majority doing something it but show me an actual “plan” that has a majority.

    >After 8 years of war, somebody asks about the bills

    Looks like a bit of an underestimate and then when you throw in Mc Crystals new strategy of having 2 to 3 civilian contractors doing the build stage of “secure hold build” for every 1 soldier doing the securing it balloons right out – double or triple the amount. The military are the cheap ones.

    On every front from North Korea to Israel to Afghanistan Obama isn’t having any more luck then W did. Now comes the interesting stage does he do nothing like W, listen to the FP fringe and try their wacko illegal ideas. It’s almost too much to hope that he might try something different.

    >The trillion dollars or so spent on the war on terror could have increased America’s national security far more if spent in other ways.

    Just putting it in the bank would have been a net win.

    What s forgotten about the neocons is that things were going downhill in 2001 and they tried to do something about it. Of course they stepped on the accelerator – but now they have been wrestled from the drivers seat, US influence isn’t rising in the middle east, it is still rolling downwards just not so fast.

  6. This was actually my dad’s perspective before the stupid Iraq mess started:

    “Which would do more damage to our enemies? Invading Iraq or replacing Iraq?” was his phrasing I believe.

  7. >The trillion dollars or so spent on the war on terror could have increased America’s national security far more if spent in other ways.

    Gee, strengthen ourselves, instead of try9ing to weaken our enemies? Nah, that could NEVER work :P

  8. “Gee, strengthen ourselves, instead of trying to weaken our enemies? Nah, that could NEVER work :P”

    Before one can take steps to strengthen oneself, one must first acknowledge that one is relatively weak and needs improvement.

    If it is your position that the rest of the world needs to be transformed to be more like you, then you are not going to be able to acknowledge that you also may be one who needs improvement.

    It’s all very Socratic – the first step to wisdom is recognition of one’s own folly.
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    FM reply: As Spock said, logic is the beginning of wisdom.

  9. “almost equalling 1928, the record year when the top percentile share reached 23.9%.”

    “History Does Not Repeat Itself, But. It Sure Does Rhyme”
    — Mark Twain.

    These parallels between then and now continue to blow me away. It’s like a Star Trek episode where we’re caught in a temporal rift, doomed to re-enact the same disaster again and again, with minor variations.
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    FM reply: Star Trek references automatically win “best of thread” awards! Note this is also like a nightmare version of the movie “Groundhog Day.”

  10. From FM reply to #1: “Your point about Reagan and Bush is not really accurate. …”

    You know what, you’re right. I don’t know that much about Reagan’s or Bush’s early years.

    I still don’t understand why “Community Organizer” is seen as an insult. Isn’t that exactly what we need, on some level?
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    FM reply: While it’s nice to have a president who did charitable works (innoculate the poor, feed the hungrey, get out the vote for Democratic Party candidates), it provides no useful experience for the leader of a superpower. Setting policy for a nation or world, drafting legislative compromises to build a coalition, bending a recalcitrant bureaucracy to one’s will. It does not even teach one the basics of management: building and retaining a team, when/how to hire and fire.

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