Thursday, March 05, 2009

And On That Note...

...A random comment on a blog discussing the Stewart/CNBC piece from last night links to this great video from August of 2006. In it, Peter Schiff (president of a brokerage firm, libertarian, and well-known face on cable economic news shows) accurately predicts the coming economic meltdown with remarkable specificity. The other guest on the show, Arthur Laffer (of Reagan's Laffer Curve fame), laughs this all off and discusses how people are working two jobs not because of bad economic conditions... but because they love the low taxes. Genius!

I give Schiff credit for this (though I'm sure I disagree with his politics in many regards... he's not a fan of government intervention), though I don't think it took a genius to predict this outcome. Hell, I found in my blog archives here a July 2006 post in which I described the economy as "a well-stacked Jenga pile with no real substantive support". Am I an economist? Some brilliant analyst of world events? No, but a) I have eyes, and b) my head is not inside of my ass.

It's amazing how many people were in denial-- and, for the most part, still are-- about the serious, deeply-rooted economic problems staring them right in the face. This goes well beyond stock numbers and mortgages. It's about what our priorities are, what we produce and what we don't, our trade deficiencies, debt, a system that increasingly focuses on the top instead of the bottom, and more. And it seems that the worse things get, the more we lose sight of that bigger picture.

Like most Americans, I remain (cautiously) optimistic about President Obama and his ability to steer our country in a better direction. On many issues, he appears to be doing that. Still, many of his efforts-- ie. the stimulus bill-- are aimed at short-term aid rather than long-term programs and changes. Of course, his presidency is young, there's still time. It should be remembered that Clinton also inherited a bad economy (though nowhere near the level we are now) and turned things around, creating a celebrated expansion, and remains popular today. But he will never go down as an all-time great because, ultimately, he didn't make any fundamental changes to America in the way someone like Roosevelt or Kennedy did.

I have a few problems with Obama (he seems to be picking his Cabinet based on name recognition rather than specific expertise except on the energy and labor fronts, he's doubling down on Afghanistan without a real plan, and he allowed Republicans to water down a stimulus bill they were never going to vote for... and appears ready to make the same mistake again on health-care), but my biggest concern is that he will settle for competent, likable leadership rather than going big and changing the system in a way that will ensure that we don't have to keep having this same debate over and over again.

Call me greedy... I want a zeitgeist shift. This old one is getting really boring.

Jon Stewart Takes on CNBC, Conservative Dow Watchers.

I wasn't planning on blogging today, but last night was the best Stewart/Colbert one-two punch in months. First up, Stewart looked at CNBC's 'populist' uprising over President Obama's agenda, and provided a hilarious reality check on their economic genius. He followed this up with another segment on the conservative talking point that the ups and (increasing) downs of the stock market are a sign that America hates Obama, and an interview that helps put all of this into context. The entire episode is worth watching-

And over on 'The Colbert Report', Stephen does a brilliant sendup of the paranoid craziness of Glenn Beck. A classic. Watch that here.

There were many who wondered where Stewart and Colbert would find humor in the new Obama era (after all, he isn't an intellectually incurious disaster or a horny hillbilly like his two predecessors), and it appears that the increasingly insane remnants of what remains of the die-hard conservative base (see my latest adventures for an example) will be the gift that keeps on giving... for late-night political satire, and the Democrats as well.

Advice to Obama- let them rant and rave. You keep running the country. The contrast will, and is, speak volumes.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

This American Banking Collapse

Last year, public radio's (oMg socializzm!1!) 'This American Life' did a show on the housing bubble, how it related to the growing economic meltdown, and what it all meant for the average Joe. It was explained in a way that would allow anyone to understand it. Now, they have a done a similar followup show... this one focusing exclusively on the ongoing collapse of the U.S. (global?) banking system. If you've been listening to the cable news blather about these matters and found yourself growing dumber by the second, this is the antidote.

It's an hour long; listen to it in the background at work. Assuming you still have a job that is.

Look Out Obama... The GOP's Making a Comeback!

This past weekend was the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which I assume is basically Comic Con for hardcore conservatives. As you know, conservatives are making a comeback by defining themselves in opposition to the incredibly unpopular polices of President Obama. But surely they've redefined themselves in a larger ideological sense, right? Came up with some new old ideas and policies for this complicated new century? Well, let's check in...

A party that understands that its future lies in the capable hands of Sarah Palin, Joe the Plumber, Rush Limbaugh, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Bobby Jindal, and Newt Gingrich is surely headed nowhere but up.

My favorite part of CPAC is that a featured speaker was Jonathan Krohn, a 13-year old who wrote a book on defining conservatism. It apparently has something to do with "personal responsibility", which is the first phrase that comes to mind when I think of the modern Republican party. The Huffington Post interviewed him, who asked him how he got into politics. He responded, "I got into politics when I was eight years old.... And I got involved because I started listening to talk radio. It goes back to one event. The Democrats filibustered something in the Senate when I was eight years old. I don't remember what it was on and I didn't honestly care when I was eight years old." Yes, that's modern conservatism in a nutshell... a bunch of people don't really what they're angry about, or why, all that they know is that they are angry (Obama destroyed the economy!11). It's a party-- as even their de-facto leader Mr. Limbaugh proudly boasts-- of reactionaries, not thinkers.

President Obama is imperfect and has more than his share of serious problems (an increasingly embattled economy, Afghanistan, the coming health-care battle, climate change, etc), but I really don't think worrying about a GOP comeback is something he's losing sleep over right now.

Are We Really Leaving Iraq?

Some have been skeptical about President Obama's withdrawal plan announced last week (withdraw most troops next year with a 50,000 support contingent left behind, then remove the rest by the end of 2011). After the efforts by Bush and company to make sure our presence there is permanent, it's understandable. Juan Cole makes the case for optimism.

Now about that Afghanistan thing...