Archive for the ‘Recklessness’ category

Some Damn Foolish Thing In The Balkans

June 4, 2015

It’s getting interesting* down Athens’ way:

ATHENS — Greece on Thursday told the International Monetary Fund it would not make a $335 million payment due Friday, taking a little-used option to defer that payment and three others until the end of the month.

Coming amid tense debt negotiations with the I.M.F. and European creditors, Greece’s decision holds political and financial-market implications that are hard to predict.

There’s a historical resonance sounding in the brinksmanship going on here.  This isn’t just a matter of debt and punishment.  What’s at stake may extend as far as the post-war and then the post-Cold War idea of Europe.  That would be the one intended to prevent even catastrophically incompetent or indifferent rulers from lurching into any replay of the summer of 1914.

Ludwig_Koch_Die_verbündeten_Monarchen_1915

Here’s Krugthulu, just as worried as I am — and way better informed:**

There’s an odd summer-of-1914 feel to the current state of the Greek crisis. While some of the main players are, rightly, desperate to find a way to head off Grexit and all it entails, others – on the creditor as well as the debtor side — seem not just resigned to collapse but almost as if they’re welcoming the prospect, the way, a century ago, far too many Europeans actually seemed to welcome the end of messy, frustrating diplomacy and the coming of open war.

The most troubling sign to me is the persistence of the disbelief on the part of international elites/opinion shapers that the Greeks might actually bolt from the Euro.  Never mind the risk to  the various institutional ties that are supposed to hold Europe together in a way that bars future conflict, armed and otherwise.  The idea that someone in a dispute might do something you don’t like seems just too difficult to accept on the part of Greece’s negotiating adversaries.

But there is real hardship in Greece right now, and there has been for years.  Political imperatives matter too:  the Greek government is new, left-leaning, and in power because they explicitly promised not to make deals that would satisfy Germany at the expense of the Hellene in the street.  There really is no guarantee — and lots of reasons to believe the reverse — that this one little, broke country will actually do the bidding of its would be financial masters — and yet even the slightest sign that such resistance is real evokes a kind of bemused wonder.

You can see something of the cognitive dissonance even in the brief “breaking” story in the Times linked above:

Although the practice of bundling I.M.F. loan payments into a single sum during a calendar month is allowed under the fund’s rules, the last time that option was taken was by Zambia in the 1970s.

I’m sure there’s a kinder way of reading that sentence, but it hits my ear as “Greece has the right to do this, but they shouldn’t.”  Unwritten rules, old boy.  Unwritten rules.

I’m with Krugman:  whether or not Greece would be better off or not dumping the Euro, Europe and the world gain an enormous amount from financial stability — which would be badly shaken if it looked like Euro-troubles were about to overtake the currency union.  In other words, it looks to me like Europe (even Germany!) needs Greece at this moment at least as much as Athens needs Brussels.

But what do I know:  I once vowed as a blogger not to behave like a pundit, which is to say, to bloviate about stuff I know only superficially and at second hand.  One thing I do know about, though, and have written on, is World War One.  No one’s mobilizing at this moment, and historical analogies are always fraught on so many levels.  But still, the insouciance, the lack of imagination about consequences — that was overwhelming then.  I smell it thickening in the air now.  That’s not good.

*As in, “May you live in interesting times.”

**This was written last Friday, which is to say before this latest news dropped.

Image:  Ludwig Koch, The allied monarchs and their field-marshals in the First World War (Kaiser Wilhelm II of the German Empire with Austria’s Franz Joseph)  c. 1915

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What Do You Call It When A Herd of Pigs Takes Flight? A Wallow of Swine? A Flutter of Trotters?

July 14, 2011

Via GOS, further signs that the apocalypse is upon us — or at least is descending on the GOP.

Yup, Alan Simpson, Catfood Commissionaire Extraordinaire,  he of the milk cow with 310 million tits, has noticed that we might do with a bit more tax revenue just now, not to mention a Republican Party that actually, you know, cared about the country:

“The stuff that’s going on in my party, where the -– pettiness overcomes the patriotism -– it’s just disgusting to me,” he told ABC News. “Reagan raised taxes. We’ve never had less revenue to run this country since the Korean war.”

Also as noted in that DKos story, Bill O’Reilly — yup, that one — is calling for more revenue.  Admittedly, and unsurprisingly, his is the worst possible idea, a truly regressive 1% national sales tax.  Heaven forfend that he and his stratospheric income buddies should actually have to pay even proportionately in any tax plan, much less progressively.   But still:  BillO is saying we need to raise taxes — and in this as in so much else, there’s no such thing as being mostly virginal.  If a sales tax is on the table, then so is an income tax rate change, hedge fund loophole closing and all the rest.

And back to the point:  it’s getting to seem like the only ones who think that the GOP Congressional delegation could manage a rowboat, much less a country, is some falling fraction of that caucus itself.

I’d feel schandenfreude if I hadn’t sat with my college-bound nephew last night, reviewing yesterday’s events, and then feeling compelled to apologize to him for hideous mess we are preparing for him and his.  I couldn’t even think what I might say to my eleven year old.

But here’s hoping that we might just be seeing the collapse of the Grand Old Party.  There are lots of real arguments a true oppposition party could make that would matter.  But not the GOP as it now.  It’s tearing itself apart along lines long noted here and many other places. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch…but for this:

The collateral damage. What we don’t know yet is whether the current Republican Party will merely collapse in self-destruction, or will manage to drag the rest of us down in what would amount to a murder-suicide.

Image:  Éduoard Manet, The Suicide, 1877-1881.

Children With Matches, Playing in the Powder Magazine.

April 9, 2011

…That would be your present-day Republican party.

The just concluded budget skirmish was a mere amuse bouche to the gluttons-for-(other people’s)- punishment that is your modern GOP.   The New York Times reports today on what looks to be the mother of all budget battles to come over the vote to raise the debt limit.

I’m waiting for the chorus of the swaddled commentariat to tell us just how principled are Republican moves like these:

…they will again demand fundamental changes in policy on health care, the environment, abortion rights and more, as the price of their support for raising the debt ceiling

If they don’t get what they want, and actually block the Treasury from raising more obligations, then this is how the Grey Lady (no longer) of 43rd St. rather demurely describes the consequences:

Once the limit is reached, the Treasury Department would not be able to borrow as it does routinely to finance federal operations and roll over existing debt; ultimately it would be unable to pay off maturing debt, putting the United States government — the global standard-setter for creditworthiness — into default.

The repercussions in that event would be as much economic as political, rippling from the bond market into the lives of ordinary citizens through higher interest rates and financial uncertainty of the sort that the economy is only now overcoming, more than three years after the onset of the last recession.

That is:  with still achingly high unemployment; wage stagnation; food and energy cost hikes; the rise (again) of the financial sector’s share of corporate profits nation wide; the increasingly worn safety net and all that, the GOP is threatening to make life worse on just about every economic and social axis imaginable.

The irony is that it may be our last, best hope that the monied class will be able to tame the beast they’ve unleashed.  Here’s Jamie Damon, head of JP Morgan Chase and someone often seen as one of the non-monstrous Wall St. types:

“If anyone wants to push that button, which I think would be catastrophic and unpredictable, I think they’re crazy,” Mr. Dimon said recently at the United States Chamber of Commerce.

But the problem is that this is what he — and the rest of us — have to contend with:

Representative Mick Mulvaney… dismissed warnings about default as “just posturing,” and said Democrats should bear the responsibility for passing any measure to increase the borrowing limit.

“It’s their debt,” he said. “Make them do it. That’s my attitude.”

Except, of course, this “Democrats did it” nonsense is simply false.   Here’s the key part of the Times piece, an all too rare fact-based description of where our current debt comes from:

In fact, the debt was created by both parties and past presidents as well as Mr. Obama.

Of the nearly $14.2 trillion in debt, roughly $5 trillion is money the government has borrowed from other accounts, mostly from Social Security revenues, according to federal figures. Several major policies from the past decade when Republicans controlled the White House and Congress — tax cuts, a Medicare prescription-drug benefit and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — account for more than $3.2 trillion.

The recession cost more than $800 billion in lost revenues from businesses and individuals and in automatic spending for safety-net programs like unemployment compensation. Mr. Obama’s stimulus spending and tax cuts added about $600 billion through the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

The Times is being unnecessarily bipartisan here, certainly.  The two great leaps in debt as a percentage of GDP over the last several decades came under Presidents Reagan/Bush the former and then again, with turbojets, under Bush the Lesser, the undisputed heavyweight champion reckless spender.*

But the Times still got the key point right:  Obama-led policy has contributed minimally to the debt — probably too little in fact, when you recall that the stimulus money still hasn’t fully hit the street.

The debt limit is approaching now for two reasons more than any others:  years of incompetent, ideologically-driven GOP-led economic and tax policy — largely designed to transfer wealth from public to private hands and from the bottom and middle to the rich — and then the loss of revenue in the recession engendered by that shameful record of misgovernment.

So, to catch my breath, here’s the state of play:  we face a debt limit test very soon. Failure to raise it will cause significant harm to most Americans.  The GOP is playing Russian roulette with that test. This is not the behavior of people capable of governance.  They are hyperactive kindergarteners with a tendency towards pyromania.

There are surely real debates to be had.  We’ve got a long way to go to get to a satisfactory and ultimately affordable health care system.  We have to figure out how to be and feel secure without spending ourselves into oblivion.  It might be nice to figure out how to ease off an oil-centered energy path sometime soon…and so on.

But these are not discussions that can happen when one side is made up of inmates determined to burn down their asylum.

I’m not going to scream at the Democrats for perceived weakness, nor for a propensity to bargain badly.  We do not as a rule view damaging America in the pursuit of political advantage to be acceptable.  That leaves us vulnerable every time the GOP cozies up to barrel of dynamite, smoldering cigar in hand.

Even so, I do think that every political move from now to 2012 and beyond has to be considered in terms of how well it frames the GOP as an irreparably shattered institution.

There’s nothing left to save in the party of Lincoln. Whatever we can do to help them go the way of the Whigs, we must…

*The enormous increase in debt under Reagan, marks the point when we first were confronted with the great tax cut lie — what I think of as that huge steaming pile of that which emerges from the south end of a north facing horse captured beneath the Laffer Curve.  Reagan inherited a debt level of 32.5% of GDP from President Carter.  His tax cuts and profligate spending left us owing 53.1% of GDP at the end of his second term, and the Bush extension pushed that total to 66.1%.  Bill Clinton’s combination of tax increases and constraint on the rate of government growth (and, for the most part, a policy of minimal military recklessness) enabled him to leave office having pushed the debt back down to 56.4% — which model of prudent, small “c” fiscal conservatism was so wholly abandoned by Bush the Minimal that he left office having blown the debt up to unprecedented heights:  83.4%.

To sum up:  both parties have certainly played a role in the expansion of US national debt — after all, Democrats controlled one or both houses of Congress throughout the Reagan-Bush years.  But as far as presidents go, it’s all GOP since 1980…all except that spending undertaken in the last two years to dig out from the financial crater left by the utter failure of Republican governance.  So whilst I give props to the Times for highlighting the minimal contribution to the debt driven by Obama policy choices, they are a little too fair and balanced on the rest of it for my taste.

Image: Henry Holiday, The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits by Lewis Carrol, Fit the Seventh: The Banker’s Fate, first published 1876.

Hieronymous Bosch, Extraction of the Stone of Folly, (detail) before 1516.

I’ll Take Godwin for $1,000: Wisconsin Rule of Law Edition*

March 29, 2011

Via TPM, we find that Wisconsin Judge Maryann Sumi (echoing a commenter here, what a great name for a judge) has again enjoined the state of Wisconsin from implementing the union busting law passed in dubious battle last month.

Based on the following, I’m guessing she’s seriously pissed (a legal term of art, you know):

Apparently that language was either misunderstood or ignored, but what I said was the further implementation of Act 10 was enjoined. That is what I now want to make crystal clear…

adding that

Now that I’ve made my earlier order as clear as it possibly can be, I must state that those who act in open and willful defiance of the court order place not only themselves at peril of sanctions, they also jeopardize the financial and the governmental stability of the state of Wisconsin.

Most sentient puddles would conclude that perhaps they should obey the court’s order until the substantive issues had been fully litigated.  Governor Walker and his henchmen do not share that conviction:

But minutes later, outside the court room, Assistant Attorney General Steven Means said the legislation “absolutely” is still in effect.

Please note that the speaker quoted there is an Asst. Attorney General. As in a lawyer.  As in an officer of the court.

So, I guess this is the time to go all Godwin.  It is important to remember that authoritarians almost always use the simulacrum of law to provide a tattered aura of legitimacy for their lawless exercise of power.  Hitler did certainly; his critical powers derived from  grants by the Reichstag.

Please note:  I am not saying Wisconsin is going the way of Berlin, c. 1933.  I am saying that the disdain for the ordinary structure of governance and law is how people behave when democracy is an accessory, and not essential to the entire idea of legitimate authority.  Courts are convenient to such folks when complaisant, and superfluous if not.

To be sure, Walker is a pissant way out of his depth, but as many others have noted, he’s important precisely because he is so overt and obvious in his anti-democratic hatred of that messy business of governing.  He lets us see plainly what his slicker and more sophisticated co-conspirators plan to do:  achieve ends that could not command popular support on their own by any means necessary.

For that, I suppose we should be grateful to the claque of clumsy thugs now in power in Wisconsin.  They are showing us what lurks below the hood of the Republican machine. And so I’ll say to all those right bloggers who maunder on about Obamacare or the Libyan attacks or birth certificates or whatever, if you wish to invoke the words “rule of law” you better have something to say here.

Gotta give them time, I guess, but my bet is on crickets.

Image:  Lucas Cranach Allegory of Justice, 1537

*By the way.  I do know I’ve been conspicuous (as in, unnoticed) by my absence lately.  There have been two reasons.  The first is a press of work so insane that I have ended each day by curling up with a scotch bottle for the five spare minutes alotted me between unconsciousness and panic.

The second is that I occasionally have these funks brought on by the sheer catastrophe of the world.  Sometimes, the accumulation of stupidity, misery, disaster and sheer capricious accident/horror leaves me gobsmacked for something to say.

It’s been that way lately, and I cannot say how much I admire, for example, the front pagers and commentariat here who sustain articulate smarts and anger despite the evident awfulness of existence.  But I’m better now (though still wrecked by an insatiable inbox), so expect more Hitler references and baroque painting on a semi-regular basis.

You have been warned.

The End of Climate Science (and much more besides) in the Commonwealth of Virginia

May 2, 2010

Via Doug J, who got it from Thers, this report out of Virginia tells of the assault on (a) climate science and (b) academic freedom at the hands of Virginia’s new and very dangerous Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli.

The report itself is a bit annoying — it refers to a “smoking gun” coming out of the so-called climategate emails, for example.

That would be the smoking gun widely trumpeted by denialist blots (I actually like that typo, as I look at it, though I do mean “blogs”), and credulously repeated by some in the traditional mediahat has so far failed to materialize in two actual reviews so far conducted into the affair.

But perhaps the most insidious implication of Cuccinelli’s demand for…

…any and all emailed or written correspondence between or relating to Mann and more than 40 climate scientists, documents supporting any of five applications for the $484,875 in grants, and evidence of any documents that no longer exist along with proof of why, when, and how they were destroyed or disappeared….

…is that I can’t see how this doesn’t ensure the Virginia’s public universities will be unable to recruit top talent not just to climate studies, but to anything that could be imagined to deviate from the proper political line.

Anyone good enough to attract any other offer would be nuts to accept a publicly funded research job in the Commonwealth:  who knows when every three a.m. frustrated email may yet serve to identify your disloyalty to the Soviet the Attorney General’s office, or the legislature, or the Guardians of the Faithful the Virginia Republican Party.

Seriously, no snark at all: science has certain norms. High, really chief among them, is the commitment to free enquiry.

The reason is, or should be obvious:  once you start telling folks which answers are acceptable and which are not, you’ve just told those scientists under your power that they can’t think without thinking first whether those thoughts are acceptable.

And another thing: Cuccinelli may think he’s just stuffing climate change back in a box where it belongs.  He may actually hope that hounding Mann may scare others off from daring to probe temperature records, or increasingly detailed global models or what have you.

He probably has, in fact, at least in VA.  As noted above why would any atmospheric scientist, any geologist any planetary scientist whatsoever want to risk the career trashing experience of a full-on state-sponsored attack on your work, your records, your colleagues and students — just the time, years perhaps, lost to demonstrating to the political officer the orthodoxy of your views would be intolerable.

But why stop there:  how much of biology falls afoul of one unshakable principle or another?  I’m not sure Ken Cuccinelli knows how much of molecular medicine turns on evolutionary biological ideas, but the researchers know, and they may well wonder what part of that work might suddenly fall afoul of the legislature or law enforcement.

The long and the short of it:  I know that if I were the department head of research departments at major universities, I’d be eyeing Virginia’s schools with a view to poaching top talent.  If I were a young scholar being recruited by Virginia, I’d look at all my other options — even if one imagined that the crazy would never envelope, say, a lab studying quantum dots, who wants the aggravation?  Who would want to work at a place where a fair number of your colleagues are cowering, hoping that the wrath of the AG never descends on them?

I believe the technical term is a chilling effect.

And above all, if I were an aspiring graduate student with chops — why on earth would I think of signing on to a place where I never could know if or when my lab would shudder under siege for years in some know-nothing’s crusade?

I love Virginia.  I’ve got some family down there; U. VA is one of the nation’s historical and architectural jewels; the place is beautiful and so on.

But none of that pays the rent, or creates the environment in which killer labs do great work (and, in many fields, spin off ideas that turn into companies and useful things that lead to the betterment of the human condition).

The impact of this latest nonsense won’t be felt all at once…and if the pushback is really vigorous, it may not be nearly as dire as I’m imagining it now.  But it doesn’t take that much to turn a first rate research institution into something much less impressive.  And Cuccinelli is sure doing his best to set that process in motion.

A parting thought: not to go all quasi Godwin on you, but for a more extreme example of what happens when you go down this road, you might find Loren Graham’s underappreciated book The Ghost of the Executed Engineer instructive.  It tells the story of the most significant victim of Stalin’s cleansing of the ranks of his engineers of any deviant thought.  After that job was done, the Soviet Union continued to turn out extraordinary numbers of academically trained engineers.  They just weren’t much good, most of them.  The consequences of being too good were too obvious.

Image:  Fra Angelico, St. Lawrence before Valerius, c. 1440

Sad. I wanted to see the Grand Canyon again before I die….

September 30, 2009

…but I’m not willing to die to see it, either.

Arizona legalizes the carrying of concealed weapons into bars.

Oh joy.  Nothing like a little bourbon or beer to promote good decision making around tools of deadly force.

New Mexico — hell just about anywhere else — looks better and better.

Image:  David Lüders (c. 1710–1759): Bildnis eines vornehmen Knaben mit Spielgewehr und Hund.

Paul Krugman is wrong…Spinal Tap edition.

July 5, 2009

Sort of.

Under the headline, “Whom the gods would destroy….” he writes

… they first make Republican governors.

I mean, I suppose a classical education might incline you that way.  But watching the recent dances, be they tango,* or the funky chicken,**  I must say that the latest news has brought to mind nothing so much as a rather more profane instance of serial destruction.  That would be of course, the terrible fate that attended these people:

I mean, does Mark Sanford remind you more of Oedipus or of some bozo in a shower cap, gamely certain that he of all drummers can defeat the odds?

And Sarah Palin.  Is she Arachne, or some bozo taking a dive off a snare kit?

You make the call…but from where I sit, Paul Krugman does our friends waaaaaay too much honor.

*For the Hollywood version, happy ending variant, of the  Sanford moment, try this:

**And to capture the essence of  La Belle Sarah,  how about this: