Thursday, November 13, 2008

Reality you can believe in


A couple of quotes from two of my heroes, Nouriel Roubini and Tom Engelhardt: The title of Tom Engelhardt's piece is "Don't Let Obama Break Your Heart" and Roubini's title is, "The Dismal Outlook for the US and Global Economy and the Financial Markets".
Obama will inherit and economic and financial mess worse than anything the U.S. has faced in decades: the most severe recession in 50 years; the worst financial and banking crisis since the Great Depression; a ballooning fiscal deficit that may be as high as a trillion dollar in 2009 and 2010; a huge current account deficit; a financial system that is in a severe crisis and where deleveraging is still occurring at a very rapid pace, thus causing a worsening of the credit crunch; a household sector where millions of households are insolvent, into negative equity territory and on the verge of losing their homes; a serious risk of deflation as the slack in goods, labor and commodity markets becomes deeper; the risk that we will end in a deflationary liquidity trap as the Fed is fast approaching the zero-bound constraint for the Fed Funds rate; the risk of a severe debt deflation as the real value of nominal liabilities will rise given price deflation while the value of financial assets is still plunging. Nouriel Roubini

On the day that Americans turned out in near record numbers to vote, a record was set halfway around the world. In Afghanistan, a U.S. Air Force strike wiped out about 40 people in a wedding party. This represented at least the sixth wedding party eradicated by American air power in Afghanistan and Iraq since December 2001.(...) So, after January 20th, expect Obama to take possession of George Bush's disastrous Afghan War; and unless he is far more skilled than Alexander the Great, British empire builders, and the Russians, his war, too, will continue to rage without ever becoming a raging success. Finally, President-elect Obama accepted the overall framework of a "Global War on Terror" during his presidential campaign. This "war" lies at the heart of the Bush administration's fantasy world of war that has set all-too-real expanses of the planet aflame. Its dangers were further highlighted this week by the New York Times, which revealed that secret orders in the spring of 2004 gave the U.S. military "new authority to attack the Qaeda terrorist network anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States."(...) Domestically, it's clear enough that we are about to leave the age of Bush -- in tone and policy -- but what that leave-taking will consist of is still an open question.(...) All you had to do was look at that array of Clinton-era economic types and CEOs behind Obama at his first news conference to think: been there, done that.(...) How about former Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, those kings of 1990s globalization, or even the towering former Fed chief from the first Bush era, Paul Volcker? Didn't that have the look of previews for a political zombie movie, a line-up of the undead?(...) You could scan that gathering and not see a genuine rogue thinker in sight; no off-the-reservation figures who might represent a breath of fresh air and fresh thinking (other than, being hopeful, the president-elect himself). Clemons offers an interesting list of just some obvious names left off stage: "Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs, James Galbraith, Leo Hindery, Clyde Prestowitz, Charlene Barshefsky, C. Fred Bergsten, Adam Posen, Robert Kuttner, Robert Samuelson, Alan Murray, William Bonvillian, Doug & Heidi Rediker, Bernard Schwartz, Tom Gallagher, Sheila Bair, Sherle Schwenninger, and Kevin Phillips."(...) What Obama looks to have are custodians and bureaucrats of empire, far more cautious, far more sane, and certainly far more grown-up than the first-term Bush appointees, but not a cast of characters fit for reshaping American policy in a new world of disorder and unraveling economies, not a crew ready to break new ground and cede much old ground on this still American-garrisoned planet of ours. Tom Engelhardt

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If I were to make a synthesis of what the two pieces above portend, I would say that progressives have until 2010, barely two years, to make a real difference in the way the world works, because if the economy is as bad as Roubini says it is and if Obama is only going to use warmed over Clintonites to fix it, as Tom Engelhardt says, then the Democrats are going to lose control of Congress in the mid-term elections.

A narrow window of opportunity indeed, but probably the only window opened since the mid 1960s.

So, I agree with Tom Engelhardt that all those who have progressive agendas should press their cases hard and not give Barack Obama a minute's grace.

If progressives don't make a stink from day one we are going to continue with our endless wars, we will continue to torture, we will continue to aid and abet the endless oppression of the Palestinian people: and we will do all this while the Democrats political credit erodes as long discredited bubblemeisters run the world economy into the ground... And to top it off, this whole mishigos will be packaged as "change" and the Sarah Palins of this world will even call it "socialism".

That should not be allowed to happen. The next two years may turn out to be nothing more than what the president-elect calls a "teaching moment", but even that opportunity should not be lost.

So let Tom Englehardt's closing words resound in progressive circles:
Leave Obama to them and he'll break your heart. If you do, then blame yourself, not him; but better than blaming anyone, pitch your own tent on the public commons and make some noise. Let him know that Washington's isn't the only consensus around, that Americans really do want our troops to come home, that we actually are looking for "change we can believe in," which would include a less weaponized, less imperial American world, based on a reinvigorated idea of defense, not aggression, and on the Constitution, not leftover Rumsfeld rules or a bogus Global War on Terror.
At least, if nothing else, our beautiful English language should remain intact and it should remain clear what the word "change" actually means, even if finally, nothing, or hardly anything ever
really gets changed. DS


Vizsla said...



Either we turn left here, or we'll be in a world of hurt!

What's called for here is not speculative criticism of decisions and actions neither executed or announced, but the application of as much social and political pressure that can be brought to bear to move our ship of state towards vitality rather than moribundity.

Philip said...

On election night the first thing I heard about the plans for the new administration was "no retreads". So what were all those retreads doing lined up behind O?

P.S. Love the Krugman idea!