Sunday, December 11. 2011
Before I get to the "scattered links I squirreled away during
the previous week," three pieces from the Wichita Eagle this morning:
Rick Plumlee: The Big Question: Was Iraq Worth It?: Front page lead
article, does a good job of mapping the costs back to Kansas, including
a full page of pictures of 50 dead Kansas soldiers:
Kansans have sacrificed for Iraq. Their bodies have been broken -- 409
have been injured. And 50 have died.
Now nearly nine years of war in Iraq is ending for the United States.
Only 12,000 troops remain, down from a peak of about 170,000 at the war's
height. Virtually all are expected to be gone by the end of the year,
except for about 200 attached to the U.S. embassy. The end comes with
a high price tag: nearly 4,500 American dead, a bill approaching $1
Was it worth it? No one knows better than those who sacrificed in
some way. Their feelings are mixed.
This is, of course, a most minimal accounting. The tally of soldiers
doesn't include the mental stress and fractures. The cash accounting
doesn't anticipate future care costs for those soldiers, let alone the
interest due on the debts for financing the war without taxes. Neither
begins to contemplate the opportunity costs: what could have been done
with the money and people had we not squandered it in Iraq. Let alone
the political rot: would Bush and the Republicans have won the 2004
election without the war? If not, would the economy have been spared?
Moreover, the article makes no mention of how the war affected the
Iraqi people, as if no Iraqis were killed, none displaced, no property
destroyed, no damage to their economy. Nor did the author make any
efforts to find pluses to balance off the negatives. All you get is
the occasional mother's sentiment that her dead son must have meant
to do something good, or the conviction of a "lifer" that her "passion
runs so much deeper after going over there."
And the article draws no conclusion. It's easy to accept ambivalence
because history itself is always fraught with trade-offs, but doing so
means learning nothing and allowing past mistakes to be reiterated time
and again in the future. But this isn't an unanswerable question: even
if you factor in every positive you can imagine, it is clear that this
war was wrong from the start, a disaster that could never be spun into
something worth the price. Failure to acknowledge that lets those who
launched it off the hook, and makes it all the more likely that such
mistakes will be reiterated in the future.
Douglas Birch: U.S., Iran Locked in Secret War: The web article
has a less provocative title -- "Loss of plane peels back layer in
US-Iran spying" -- but the paper title makes the key point: we have
locked ourselves into a long-term, self-escalating war with Iran,
for no particular reason other than a clash of attitudes. The US
feels no compunction about flying spy aircraft anywhere over Iran.
Iran, on the other hand, feels that its sovereignty is violated by
such flights. (The US would no doubt feel the same if the shoe were
on the other foot; thankfully, "American exceptionalism" exempts
the US from the notion that etiquette and ethics should bind any
two countries equally.)
Iran has charged the U.S. or its allies with waging a campaign of
cyberwarfare and sabotage, and of assassinating some Iranian scientists.
The U.S. has accused the Iranian government of helping kill U.S. troops
in Afghanistan and plotting to murder the Saudi ambassador in Washington.
"It's beginning to look like there's a thinly-veiled, increasingly
violent, global cloak-and-dagger game afoot," Thomas Donnelly, a former
government official and military expert with the American Enterprise
Institute, said at a Washington conference.
The covert operations in play are "much bigger than people appreciate,"
said Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser under President
George W. Bush. "But the U.S. needs to be using everything it can."
Hadley said that if Iran continues to defy U.N. resolutions and doesn't
curb its nuclear ambitions, the quiet conflict "will only get nastier."
[ . . . ]
Iran protested Friday to the United Nations about what it described
as "provocative and covert operations" by the U.S. The Tehran government
called the flight by the drone a "blatant and unprovoked air violation"
that was "tantamount to an act of hostility."
American officials said Friday that U.S. intelligence assessments
indicate that Iran played no role in the downing, either by shooting
it down or using electronic or cybertechnology to force it from the sky.
They contended the drone malfunctioned. The officials spoke on condition
of anonymity in order to discuss the classified program.
US-Iranian hostility dates back to the 1979 revolution against the
Shah, or more properly back to the 1953 CIA coup that overthrew a
democratic Iranian government installed a dictatorship under the Shah.
To prevent the CIA from fomenting a countercoup, Iranian students
took over the US embassy and held its staff hostage for over a year --
a rather embarrassing moment for the world's great superpower. Ever
since then the US has carried a grudge, but what's made it worse has
been Israel's decision to target Iran as its great existential threat,
beginning in the late 1990s -- way after the revolution, and indeed
much after the revolution started showing signs of moderation -- with
a series of faulty predictions that Iran would develop nuclear arms
"within five years." Israeli pressure stepped up considerably in 2009
when Obama took office and promised to work on a peace settlement
between Israel and the Palestinians. Since then Obama caved in to
Israeli demands, aided by an election (probably fraud-influenced) in
Iran that found anti-American rhetoric to be politically convenient.
So now, with hard-liners secure in Tehran, Jerusalem, and Washington,
we see this "cold war" redux. (If only some journalist had the
gumption to decry it as farce instead of tragedy!) Comparisons to
the U2 shot down over Russia in 1960 are à propos, but Iran doesn't
have the resources (or most likely the desire) to reply by stationing
missiles in Cuba. Indeed, Iran's relative vulnerability is what makes
this situation so dangerous: if only they did have nuclear weapons
Washington's warmongers wouldn't be bragging that "all options are
on the table."
Erica Werner: Obama Makes His Move to the Middle: Original title:
"Obama decides high-profile issues ahead of 2012."
On issues from air pollution to contraception, President Barack Obama
has broken sharply with liberal activists and come down on the side of
business interests and social conservatives as he moves more to the
political middle for his re-election campaign.
Without a Democratic challenger who might tug him to the left,
Obama is free to try to neutralize Republican efforts to tar him as
a liberal ideologue by taking steps toward the political center.
That, of course, is where he's always wanted to be. Werner, like
the Republicans, tries to make something of the decision to delay
the Canadian shale oil pipeline until after the election as some
sort of way of triangulating pro-environment interests, but misses
the most important point. Had Obama approved the pipeline, Bill
McKibben and company would still be protesting, and not just in
some general sense against the oil lobby but specifically against
Obama. In many ways Occupy Wall Street works in Obama's favor in
that it focuses attention on the banks' ability to manipulate
polticians of every stripe, making Obama's own exceedingly modest
gestures as reform seem downright reasonable. But the pipeline
was too clear cut an issue, and McKibben is so convinced of the
utter folly of digging up the world's largest shale oil deposit
and converting it to atmospheric carbon dioxide that he was never
going to drop the issue, least of all for the convenience of
Obama's reëlection campaign -- so the real story here is score
one for the protesters.
While we're still on the Eagle, here's Richard Crowson's editorial
cartoon this week (more on Gingrich below):
Mike Konczal: Frank Luntz, Occupy and the Battle for Economic Freedom:
Last week, Republican strategist and wordsmith Frank Luntz shared his
concerns about the Occupy movement with a group of Republican governors
in Florida. "I'm so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I'm frightened
to death . . . They're having an impact on what the American
people think of capitalism." Chris Moody wrote a
must-read article on the matter, including the ten dos and don'ts
that Luntz suggested to his audience.
As Seth Ackerman
pointed out, there's an entire industry around Democrats and liberals
trying to get an edge on Luntz with even more carefully polled wordplay.
However, by talking directly about the power of the 1 percent over our
lives, the broken political process, burdensome debts, and a collapsed
labor market, the Occupy movement has gotten Luntz's attention in a few
short months. As Ackerman puts it:
For twenty or thirty years, Democratic politicians . . .
have been paying what must amount to billions of dollars by now to
consultants, pollsters, and think tank gurus to tell them how to talk
to the public about inequality in some way that might spark sustained
public engagement . . . Then the Occupy movement comes
along and after two and a half months shifts the national consciousness
so palpably that Republican governors are scrambling to ask their
Rasputins how capitalism can be defended to their constituents back
Luntz suggests 10 sets of words, phrases, and concepts to abandon
and has some easily defended ones to use instead. "Jobs" and "entrepreneur"
are out. "Careers" and "job creators" are in.
[ . . . ] Luntz suggests retreating to "economic
freedom" as an easily defensible phrase conservatives can use to
describe the economic status quo. This is astute, as there's been a
long, 30-year conservative project to locate freedom in the laissez-faire
It hasn't always been this way. [ . . . ]
Economic freedom as freedom from coercion was once a core part of
progressive thought. Economic freedom as economic security was a
central part of the New Deal and Roosevelt's four freedoms. And
economic freedom as freedom from domination in the workplace is
a central aspect of what unionization brings to the country. This
was thought of as essential to the lives of the individuals and
democracy itself -- as Samuel Gompers said, "Men and women cannot
live during working hours under autocratic conditions, and instantly
become sons and daughters of freedom as they step outside the shop
Paul Krugman: Things That Never Happened in the History of Macroeconomics:
Mark Thoma, David Warsh
finally says what
someone needed to say: Friedrich Hayek is not an important figure in
the history of macroeconomics.
These days, you constantly see articles that make it seem as if there
was a great debate in the 1930s between Keynes and Hayek, and that this
debate has continued through the generations. As Warsh says, nothing like
this happened. Hayek essentially made a fool of himself early in the Great
Depression, and his ideas vanished from the professional discussion.
So why is his name invoked so much now? Because The Road to Serfdom
struck a political chord with the American right, which adopted Hayek as
a sort of mascot -- and retroactively inflated his role as an economic
thinker. Warsh is even crueler about this than I would have been; he
compares Hayek (or rather the "Hayek" invented by his admirers) to Rosie
Ruiz, who claimed to have won the marathon, but actually took the subway
to the finish line.
Paul Krugman: Send in the Clueless:
On the Republican presidential race:
So what kind of politician can meet these basic G.O.P. requirements?
There are only two ways to make the cut: to be totally cynical or
Mitt Romney embodies the first option. He's not a stupid man; he
knows perfectly well, to take a not incidental example, that the Obama
health reform is identical in all important respects to the reform he
himself introduced in Massachusetts -- but that doesn't stop him from
denouncing the Obama plan as a vast government takeover that is nothing
like what he did. He presumably knows how to read a budget, which means
that he must know that defense spending has continued to rise under the
current administration, but this doesn't stop him from pledging to
reverse Mr. Obama's "massive defense cuts."
Mr. Romney's strategy, in short, is to pretend that he shares the
ignorance and misconceptions of the Republican base. He isn't a stupid
man -- but he seems to play one on TV.
Unfortunately from his point of view, however, his acting skills
leave something to be desired, and his insincerity shines through. So
the base still hungers for someone who really, truly believes what
every candidate for the party's nomination must pretend to believe.
Yet as I said, the only way to actually believe the modern G.O.P.
catechism is to be completely clueless.
And that's why the Republican primary has taken the form it has,
in which a candidate nobody likes and nobody trusts has faced a series
of clueless challengers, each of whom has briefly soared before imploding
under the pressure of his or her own cluelessness. Think in particular
of Rick Perry, a conservative true believer who seemingly had everything
it took to clinch the nomination -- until he opened his mouth.
As for Newt Gingrich, he seems to be able to weather his insincerity
better than Romney while making more of his cluelessness than Perry.
(Krugman: "And my sense is that he's also very good at doublethink --
that even when he knows what he's saying isn't true, he manages to
believe it while he's saying it.") So he may be not so much what the
party faithful desires as the best they can do.
Also see Krugman's
All the G.O.P.'s Gekkos (as in Wall Street's "greed is good"
Gordon Gekko), although the only real contender there is Romney:
The Los Angeles Times recently surveyed the record of Bain Capital, the
private equity firm that Mr. Romney ran from 1984 to 1999. As the report
notes, Mr. Romney made a lot of money over those years, both for himself
and for his investors. But he did so in ways that often hurt ordinary
Bain specialized in leveraged buyouts, buying control of companies
with borrowed money, pledged against those companies' earnings or assets.
The idea was to increase the acquired companies' profits, then resell
them. [ . . . ]
So Mr. Romney made his fortune in a business that is, on balance, about
job destruction rather than job creation. And because job destruction hurts
workers even as it increases profits and the incomes of top executives,
leveraged buyout firms have contributed to the combination of stagnant
wages and soaring incomes at the top that has characterized America since
Now I've just said that the leveraged buyout industry as a whole has
been a job destroyer, but what about Bain in particular? Well, by at least
one criterion, Bain during the Romney years seems to have been especially
hard on workers, since four of its top 10 targets by dollar value ended up
going bankrupt. (Bain, nonetheless, made money on three of those deals.)
That's a much higher rate of failure than is typical even of companies
going through leveraged buyouts -- and when the companies went under,
many workers ended up losing their jobs, their pensions, or both.
For more on Gingrich, see
Alex Pareene: Newt Gingrich Will Babble His Way to the White House:
What Newt is good at -- and it's the exact thing Romney is awful at --
is defending himself against charges of apostasy. Gingrich has been all
over the political spectrum during his career, but when you try to nail
him on some sort of offense against conservative orthodoxy, he talks
his way out of it. Glenn Beck says Gingrich compared himself to Teddy
Roosevelt, lately a "Progressive" villain. Gingrich responds with a
history lesson and a defense of very basic public safety regulations
that no one would argue with. Beck criticizes Gingrich's support for
ethanol subsidies, Gingrich responds with crowd-pleasing nationalism
about competitiveness with Saudi Arabia and Venezuela and a bit of
When directly confronted with his attack on Paul Ryan's Medicare
plan, an attack that almost ended his campaign before it began,
Gingrich defended himself by saying that he was right and also he'd
vote for Ryan's plan.