Monday, October 27, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
On this subject, via Andrew Sullivan, I present an amusing little blog snippet on the place of piracy in Somali life today:
“In Somalia, there are over 2,300 maritime pirates who include trained military men, security experts, professional translators and experienced brokers […]”Obviously this anecdote has amusement value, but it also highlights the crucial point about deviant globalization, namely that the illicit economy, as it globalizes and professionalizes, becomes fundamentally inseparable from the licit economy, eventually erasing the line between the licit and the illicit, the normal and the deviant. The interpenetrations take place on multiple levels.
These organised, hi-tech gangs have managed to seize a Ukrainian vessel carrying tanks, arms, ammunition and military equipment and their ransom demands are high.
“These pirates have become rich and powerful and the owners of many commercial institutions,” he wrote.
“Pirate Jama Shino in the Somali town of Garowe, threw the most lavish wedding party for his second marriage and invited hundreds of people from the local authorities and among citizens,” Hussameddin wrote.
“The bride and the young women who attended the party, said: “Marrying a pirate is every Somali girl’s dream. He has power, money, immunity, the weapons to defend the tribe and funds to give to the militias in civil war.”
- On an economic level, deviant globalizers use the proceeds from illicit activity to leverage their way into legitimate commercial activities: As the article points out, Somali pirates have become "the owners of many commercial institutions." (Story reminds me of how Eazy-E used the proceeds from his crack business to fund the Ruthless Records rap label. Deviant globalizers always keep it real.)
- This interpenetration also operates on a political level, where mastery of the illicit economy gives these guys "power, money, immunity, the weapons to defend the tribe and funds to give to the militias in civil war."
- And finally (in what follows naturally from the first two points), the interpenetration operates at a cultural level, such that as the illicit economy grows, participation in it is eventually no longer even perceived deviant, and instead becomes the subject of "every girl's dream."
That last sentence is profound, and it suggests the limitations that race imposes on Obama even as he appears set to win this election. Obama's preternaturally calm demeanor is a necessary function of his race. Insofar as he allowed himself to get overtly angry -- or overtly funny, for that matter -- he would end up playing into dooming racial stereotypes. But the flip side of always appearing so calm and cool is that some people end up wondering if he's really fully human. A classic "Damned if you do, damned if you don't."
During the first Presidential debate, Obama spoke directly to "middle-class" economic anxieties several times, and he later attacked McCain for never even using the word. But Obama's middle class has no face, no name, no story. Even as he becomes more specific on policy, partly in response to criticism, he still has trouble making a human connection. Bill Clinton could always employ the drawl and roguish charm of Bubba to let the working class know he was one of them, but Obama's life story is based on upward mobility, on transcending his complex origins. There's no readily apparent cultural identity he can fall back on—no folksy or streetwise manner he can assume—that won’t threaten more white voters than it attracts.
One of the more subtle challenges Obama will face as President is that he's going to need at times to call on those emotional registers if he is to govern successfully -- cool and dispassionate are great character traits, but you lose power if you only can play one emotional note. So far it's not entirely clear that he's capable of that, or how the public would react to him displaying those more hot emotions.
The same article continues:
I wonder somehow if Obama might have done well to actually call out some of this masked racism from behind its veil. I say that mindful of the most amazing political anecdote I've heard in this campaign, concerning how a black politician can effectively win over the racist vote; from the Economist:
Gabe Kramer, the S.E.I.U.'s chief of staff in Columbus, told me, "You talk to people about the issues and the issues resonate. But what you hear people talking about on the street and on TV and radio is the other things. Is Obama like us? Does Obama share our experience of the world? Which is not the same thing as racism, but overlaps with it."
Virginia, once the heartland of slavery, elected a black Democratic governor, Douglas Wilder, two decades ago. Granted, Mr Wilder was more conservative than Mr Obama, and worked hard to charm working-class whites. According to the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, he once said to striking miners: "[I heard you boys] would vote for a nigger before you'd vote for a Republican, and I'm here to tell you that this November, you’re gonna get your chance."Of course, such knee-jerk anti-Republicanism is no longer present anywhere, so Obama couldn't play that particular card. But the story, apocryphal as it may be, nonetheless suggests an alternative mode for black politicians to discuss race.
It's only yesterday that the tangible reality of an Obama Presidency started to seem real to me. And in fact, I'm still not quite sure I believe that this country will really elect as President a black northern urban liberal (four strikes you're out?). The country I thought I knew doesn't elect someone like that President.
Of course, it's not the country I once knew: the Republicans and so-called conservative governance have so thoroughly fucked things up here that even the vast unreasonable masses realize that only a black northern urban liberal has a dirty snowball's chance in hell of pulling this country's collective irons out of the fire.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
On the other hand, I think that Powell's endorsement of Obama is much less of an event, and if anything simply demonstrates again how Powell is the very model of an "almost great" man. Had Powell decided to endorse Obama a month ago--immediately after the Palin interviews with Couric and Brown made clear what an absurd and irresponsible VP choice she is, but the polls were still very close--that would have shown some political courage, and would have made a more substantive difference to the campaign. But for him to do so now is simply unimpressive. Yes, he's coming down on the right side of what is frankly an obvious choice, but he's doing so only once there is no political risk to himself, only upside. If anything, Powell's decision to insert himself into the campaign at this particular juncture only fuels the racial ugliness which McCain has decided is his last worst hope to pull this thing out for himself.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
The October newsletter by the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated says if Obama is elected his image will appear on food stamps -- instead of dollar bills like other presidents. The statement is followed by an illustration of "Obama Bucks" -- a phony $10 bill featuring Obama's face on a donkey's body, labeled "United States Food Stamps."Today's GOP doesn't disappoint, does it?
The GOP newsletter, which was sent to about 200 members and associates of the group by e-mail and regular mail last week, is drawing harsh criticism from members of the political group, elected leaders, party officials and others as racist.
The group's president, Diane Fedele, ...said she doesn't think in racist terms, pointing out she once supported Republican Alan Keyes, an African-American who previously ran for president.
"I didn't see it the way that it's being taken. I never connected," she said. "It was just food to me. It didn't mean anything else."
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Hat tip: TPM
Update: I think part of the brilliance of imagining that clip as a rendition of McCainism is that the old Sixties "Batman" series was, to the best of my knowledge, the first time a genre parodied itself -- the corny dialogue, the improbable scenarios, the ridiculous clean cut nature of the heroes, etc.
Which is of course exactly what McCain's campaign is doing to the Atwater-Rove style of campaigning. I mean, isn't Palin a perfect camp version of GOP's archetype of the true American? She's beyond parody -- which is exactly the definition of campy.
Just the same way that the Batman series was actually making fun of the whole thing, I can't help but wonder if McCain isn't doing the same thing, albeit unwittingly. Then again, as Susan Sontag noted in her magisterial essay on the topic, "you can't do camp on purpose."
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
- Fact: Obama was in New York in early 80s.
- Fact: Various lefty organizations were operating in New York in the early 80s.
- Fact: Obama has never proven he didn't hang out or conspire with these lefty organizations.
- Conclusion: Clearly Obama has some 'splainin' to do.
Monday, October 13, 2008
LONDON (Reuters) - Great scenery and wildlife but financial situation in need of repair -- collect in person.Before you dismiss this as a mere joke (it is a joke, but like all good jokes, it is well rooted in reality), it's worth remembering that Iceland did sell off the research rights to the genetic map of its entire population. For details, see here.
Iceland, which is going cap in hand to Russia for a 4 billion euro loan to bail out its failed banks, was offered for sale as a wholesale lot on eBay on Friday.
Bidding started at 99 pence but had reached 10 million pounds by mid-morning on Friday.
Globally renowned singer Bjork was "not included" in the sale, according to the notice, but there were nonetheless 26 anonymous bidders and 84 bids.
"Located in the mid-Atlantic ridge in the North Atlantic Ocean, Iceland will provide the winning bidder with -- a habitable environment, Icelandic Horses and admittedly a somewhat sketchy financial situation," the notice read.
Bidders' questions included: "Do you offer volcano/earthquake insurance?", "Is it possible that my payment will be frozen?", and "Will you accept C.O.D. as a form of payment?"
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Sequoia Capital, one of the Valley's leading venture capitalists, puts out a deck telling its companies that they need to cut deep, to get to revenue neutrality (in a seriously down revenue environment) because there ain't any more capital coming down the pike for a long while.
Depending on where you sit, of course, this isn't necessarily all bad. For example, a friend of mine who just got her startup funded points out that for her this is good news. Her company is the first mover in their space, and this means competitors are unlikely to get funded by other VCs. So they expect to have several years to get their business right without a lot of competitors pressing them.
Update: Jim Fallows has additional color on the conversation that accompanied this deck. Net net: "We are in drastic times. Drastic times mean drastic measures must be taken to survive. Forget about getting ahead, we're talking survive. Get this point into your heads..."
Friday, October 10, 2008
Owning up to the geopolitical implications will be as painful for the rich nations as paying the domestic price for the profligacy. The erosion of the west’s moral authority that began with the Iraq war has been greatly accelerated. The west’s debtors cannot any longer expect their creditors to listen to their lectures. Here lies the broader lesson. The shift eastwards in global economic power has become a commonplace of political discourse. Almost everyone in the west now speaks with awe of the pace of China’s rise, of India’s emergence as a geopolitical player, of the growing roles in international relations of Brazil and South Africa.
Yet the rich nations have yet to face up properly to the implications. They can imagine sharing power, but they assume the bargain will be struck on their terms: that the emerging nations will be absorbed – at a pace, mind you, of the west’s choosing – into familiar international forums and institutions.
When American and European diplomats talk about the rising powers becoming responsible stakeholders in the global system, what they really mean is that China, India and the rest must not be allowed to challenge existing standards and norms.
This is the frame of mind that sees the Benelux countries still holding a bigger share than China of the votes at the IMF; and the Group of Seven leading industrialised nations presuming this weekend that it remains the right forum to redesign the global financial system.
I have no inhibitions about promoting the values of the west – of preaching the virtues of the rule of law, pluralist politics and fundamental human rights. Nor of asserting that, for all the financial storms, a liberal market system is the worst option except for all the others. The case for global rules – that open markets need multilateral governance – could not have been made more forcefully than by the present crisis.
Yet the big lesson is that the west can no longer assume the global order will be remade in its own image. For more than two centuries, the US and Europe have exercised an effortless economic, political and cultural hegemony. That era is ending.
Inevitably, the US, Britain and Europe are going to end up with nationalised banking systems in one form or another, and with governments guaranteeing not only their deposits but probably all their liabilities. The nationalisation will be a temporary emergency measure. But for some time at least the systemically important banks effectively are going to be public utilities and must be regulated accordingly.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Of course, this is the same guy who thinks the Doha Round is going to get done.
He suggested the crisis might be a blessing in disguise in the long term – to drive a "grand bargain" between the global players for a more coherent system of global governance.
That would include a new Bretton Woods pact to regulate the financial world, conclusion of the Doha trade round, a new post-Kyoto deal on climate change to bring in the US as well as China and India, and reform of the United Nations Security Council.
There would be benefits for developed and developing countries, he said. Maybe it is too fantastic to hope for. At the very least it would require the wholehearted engagement of the next US administration. Washington has long been resisting more regulated global governance. But maybe this time a homegrown US crisis will prove the trigger for a change of heart.
I was mindful of this uncomfortable parallel upon reading a post today from Sullivan, who argues that, "With the exception of America's superb armed forces... the US is now a banana republic." That exception that Andrew wants to make, though, reminds me of Helmut Schmidt's famous observation about the Soviet Union in the 1970s, namely that it was "Upper Volta with missiles." Is the U.S. now on the verge of becoming Burkina Faso with missilies?
Frank's an optimist: he thinks that global faith in unregulated capitalism and liberal democracy can be restored. I'm not so sure. But even Frank concedes that an American comeback will require fundamental changes, including abandoning the generation-long national nightmare of anti-tax and deregulatory jihad.Ideas are one of our most important exports, and two fundamentally American ideas have dominated global thinking since the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was elected president. The first was a certain vision of capitalism‹one that argued low taxes, light regulation and a pared-back government would be the engine for economic growth. Reaganism reversed a century-long trend toward ever-larger government. Deregulation became the order of the day not just in the United States but around the world.The second big idea was America as a promoter of liberal democracy around the world, which was seen as the best path to a more prosperous and open international order. America's power and influence rested not just on our tanks and dollars, but on the fact that most people found the American form of self-government attractive and wanted to reshape their societies along the same lines‹what political scientist Joseph Nye has labeled our "soft power."It's hard to fathom just how badly these signature features of the American brand have been discredited. Between 2002 and 2007, while the world was enjoying an unprecedented period of growth, it was easy to ignore those European socialists and Latin American populists who denounced the U.S. economic model as "cowboy capitalism." But now the engine of that growth, the American economy, has gone off the rails and threatens to drag the rest of the world down with it. Worse, the culprit is the American model itself: under the mantra of less government, Washington failed to adequately regulate the financial sector and allowed it to do tremendous harm to the rest of the society.Democracy was tarnished even earlier. Once Saddam was proved not to have WMD, the Bush administration sought to justify the Iraq War by linking it to a broader "freedom agenda"; suddenly the promotion of democracy was a chief weapon in the war against terrorism. To many people around the world, America's rhetoric about democracy sounds a lot like an excuse for furthering U.S. hegemony.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
The "end of the American era": this is what Reaganism has brought about. Even on its own malign terms, conservatism has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.
The incumbent Administration has distinguished itself for the ages. The Presidency of George W. Bush is the worst since Reconstruction....
The Republican disaster begins at home. Even before taking into account whatever fantastically expensive plan eventually emerges to help rescue the financial system from Wall Street's long-running pyramid schemes, the economic and fiscal picture is bleak. During the Bush Administration, the national debt, now approaching ten trillion dollars, has nearly doubled. Next year's federal budget is projected to run a half-trillion-dollar deficit, a precipitous fall from the seven-hundred-billion-dollar surplus that was projected when Bill Clinton left office. Private-sector job creation has been a sixth of what it was under President Clinton. Five million people have fallen into poverty. The number of Americans without health insurance has grown by seven million, while average premiums have nearly doubled. Meanwhile, the principal domestic achievement of the Bush Administration has been to shift the relative burden of taxation from the rich to the rest. For the top one per cent of us, the Bush tax cuts are worth, on average, about a thousand dollars a week; for the bottom fifth, about a dollar and a half. The unfairness will only increase if the painful, yet necessary, effort to rescue the credit markets ends up preventing the rescue of our health-care system, our environment, and our physical, educational, and industrial infrastructure.
At the same time, a hundred and fifty thousand American troops are in Iraq and thirty-three thousand are in Afghanistan. There is still disagreement about the wisdom of overthrowing Saddam Hussein and his horrific regime, but there is no longer the slightest doubt that the Bush Administration manipulated, bullied, and lied the American public into this war and then mismanaged its prosecution in nearly every aspect. The direct costs, besides an expenditure of more than six hundred billion dollars, have included the loss of more than four thousand Americans, the wounding of thirty thousand, the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis, and the displacement of four and a half million men, women, and children. Only now, after American forces have been fighting for a year longer than they did in the Second World War, is there a glimmer of hope that the conflict in Iraq has entered a stage of fragile stability.
The indirect costs, both of the war in particular and of the Administration's unilateralist approach to foreign policy in general, have also been immense. The torture of prisoners, authorized at the highest level, has been an ethical and a public-diplomacy catastrophe. At a moment when the global environment, the global economy, and global stability all demand a transition to new sources of energy, the United States has been a global retrograde, wasteful in its consumption and heedless in its policy. Strategically and morally, the Bush Administration has squandered the American capacity to counter the example and the swagger of its rivals. China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other illiberal states have concluded, each in its own way, that democratic principles and human rights need not be components of a stable, prosperous future. At recent meetings of the United Nations, emboldened despots like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran came to town sneering at our predicament and hailing the "end of the American era."
The only thing I would add is to this entirely fair account of conservative policy's substantive ruination of the country's finances, military capacity, and moral standing, is that conservative politics have also done grave damage to the tacit procedural norms that subtend functioning democracy. To paraphrase H.R. Haldeman, once the toothpaste of decency gets squeezed out of the tube of democracy, it's awfully hard to put it back in. The fundamental contempt for political decency and openness shown by Rove on the one hand and Cheney on the other may, in the end, be judged the worst thing of all about the Bush regime.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Monday, October 06, 2008
People are forgetting two things: Obama isn't running for President of New England & California, and he is black. He should be down by 20 points. He shouldn't even be the candidate. The fact that he is leading, even if by a small margin, is simply staggering to me, and people are taking it for granted. It's like trying to imagine what life was like before email, and yet for many Americans, racism is not a memory.It's a point well taken: the fact that a northern black urban liberal not only can get a major party nomination, but even looks set to win this race by several hundred electoral votes is a sign of just how profoundly conservatives have failed.
The same reader also notes another important benefit that an Obama administration might bring:
ps. i'm in rome right now, and as someone who sells American product overseas for a living, i'm here to tell you, we need Obama to win. when it's fashionable to be anti-american, it's fashionable not to buy american products, and the market for our crap has become increasingly difficult over the last 3 years. when i saw obama in berlin, and the spontaneous mobs that showed up to see him, all i could think of was, shit. if he can rally people around american ideals again, and 5% of them decide to have a hamburger, drink a starbucks, buy a pair of jeans and see one of our movies, it could really change things for us economically. point being, his global appeal is not just diplomatic and political, but economic as well.I wish I were quite so sanguine. I am afraid that the damage done to the United States by the conservative-nationalist party may take a generation to undo, if it is undoable at all.
Friday, October 03, 2008
Although I maintain my free market capitalistic bias (minus a non-transparent, unregulated credit default swap market) along with my imperialistic tendencies regarding national security, the post-cold war era of unilateralism has come with a severe price and has caused me to rethink the Bush doctrine (I still think I was born 2015 years too late)....The real tell on this email is that this friend realizes that the GOP in its current instantiation is incompetent and dangerous even in terms of its own ideology.
For me, social transformation trumps ideology for the good of the country - our country NEEDS this. What has shaped my view here is the fact I spent the first 21 years of my life living in the microcosm of military bases around the world in highly integrated societies that vaticinate what this country can become.
I just pray that health care does not become nationalized in the Canadian model.
The Republican party is devoid of any substantive vision and has been reduced to an anachronistic ideological land of recrement. As a marketer who takes his profession very seriously, I am offended by the GOPs core position on this entire election: NOT Obama.
(Nerdy modernization theory-related side note: "vaticinate," means "to foretell." I enjoy the suggestion above that the outcome of 28 years of Reaganism is that the U.S. no longer can envision itself as a model for others and instead, for the first time in our history, must consider that others will provide a model that we should follow.)
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Palin's incompetence: A feature, not a bug.
Some of my usual readers feel betrayed because I previously have written favorably of Palin. By changing my mind and saying so, I am viewed as a traitor to the Republican Party -- not a "true" conservative....
The emotional pitch of many comments suggests an overinvestment in Palin as "one of us." Palin's fans say they like her specifically because she's an outsider, not part of the Washington club. When she flubs during interviews, they identify with that, too. "You see the lack of polish, we applaud it," one reader wrote.