Sunday, January 20. 2008
Got to the end of the week and found I hadn't flagged a single web article. The main reason is that I haven't been looking much. I might write this off to having had a miserable week. Indeed, I've spent very little time at the computer, which is likely to make Jazz Prospecting another casualty, and when I have surfed I've mostly been chasing down loose ends on year-end poll 2007 records. But I also haven't liked much of what I did find, not least because so much of what I've seen just rehashes what we already know. On the other hand, the constant reiteration of nonsense is getting really tiresome. A good part of the blame here can be laid on the presidential primaries, which appear to be dedicated to lowering everyone's grasp on reality. But all sorts of stories have become numbing. For instance, I was only vaguely aware that Bush went on a Middle East tour -- no one I read regularly paid any attention to him, and Bush popped up in the Wichita Eagle only when he announced an arms sale to Saudi Arabia. The numbing insists that violence is down in Iraq even on days when 80-90 are killed. The numbing passes over anything Israel does in Gaza. There are stories that should have some traction, but they seem to disappear without comment. The week started with the New York Times doing a feature on Iraq War veterans who killed again after returning to America. You'd at least figure someone would point out how that disproves the old saw about fighting over there so we don't have to here, but I didn't find a link either to the article or to any subsequent discussion. The Times had a piece today on the fire sale of US corporate assets to foreign businesses -- especially sovereign funds that had been holding shrinking dollars. There's a lot more that can be done with that story, but thus far I'm not seeing it.
One of the big unexamined stories of the whole Bush era is what has happened to the dollar. Economists like to say that a lower dollar helps exports (and therefore jobs), but that assumes that you're building exportable products, which isn't really the case in the US. One way to show this is that the declining dollar hasn't had any effect on the current accounts balance: we still import much more than we export. You'd think that the decline of the dollar would be of utmost concern to the supposed beneficiaries of the Bush regime, the rich, since they're the ones with the most dollars to lose, but you never hear about that. On the other hand, they at least get to sell their assets to foreigners with real money, at what appears to be a tidy profit -- so are they really coming out ahead? And even if they are, what does that mean for the rest of us? There's a lot there to chew on.
Another real question beneath all the surface nonsense is what are the real costs of Bush's War on Terror? A couple of years ago Joseph Stiglitz worked up some relatively obvious indirect costs like veterans disabilities and debt service and came up with a $1-2 trillion figure. Revisiting his figures today will show that we're closer to the upper bound of his assumptions than the lower, but you have to wonder whether he factored enough stuff in. On the low end, take those murders the Times has been documenting. On the high end, look at the effect of the debt and the export of wealth on the value of the dollar and everything that entails. One thing we've started to notice during the Bush years is that the US is starting to take on traits of a third world country: oligarchy, corruption, cronyism, foreign ownership, militarism, an encroaching police state, illiteracy, rampant crime, population growth. One can find stories on all these things (e.g., murder increased by 65% in Wichita last year), but not on how they all fit together.