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Candide’s Latest: November 28, 2006


Glimmers of Democratic Intelligence
Alcee Hastings, Doing the Right Thing?

Fox News--yes, even Fox News gets its half Euro's worth here--is reporting that "House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi will meet Tuesday with Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings, and those with knowledge of Pelosi's thinking told FOX News that Hastings will be told he is not going to be the next chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Though no formal decisions have been announced and Pelosi aides say the situation remains fluid, they suggest that the meeting at Pelosi's Capitol Hill office was requested by Hastings so he could bow out of the race before Pelosi denies him the job. "He knows he's not going to get it," said one senior House Democratic aide. "The question is why he didn't bow out long ago."" In comments over the weekend, Hastings left the impression he was resigned to not receiving the chairmanship from Pelosi, due in large measure to his impeachment from the federal bench in 1989 for conspiring to accept a bribe from two convicted racketeers, and then, according to the Senate impeachment trial, lying to cover it up." The full story...

Bernanke Channel
When Economists Turn Weather Forecasters

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke just appeared before the National Italian American Foundation, as good a place as any to deliver his latest weather forecast. "The deceleration in economic activity currently under way appears to be taking place roughly along the lines envisioned," he said, as if he or anyone else in his positiona year ago had envisioned 1.6 percent GDP growth; of course, what fed chairmen and their Wall Street acolytes "envision" is always what the latest economic indicators say about the previous three months. Wait, it gets better. According to the AP dispatch on his speech, "The slowdown in the once sizzling housing market could turn out to be deeper than expected, putting an even greater drag on overall economic activity. Or, Bernanke surmised, economic growth could rebound more strongly than expected, which could lead to a flare-up in inflation. "A failure of inflation to moderate as expected would be especially troublesome," he said." In other words it could rain. It could also be sunny. It could be somewhat windy. It could be cool, or hot, or somewhere in between. And this is the "smartest-ever," $180,100-a-year Fed chairman.

Income Inequality, Cont’d
Bush’s Tax Scam

The storyline on the economy from the White House has been that rising incomes and lower taxes have benefited Americans in the last five years. In reality, the median wage in the United States has fallen every year of the Bush administration, stabilizing last year (but not quite rising again the way it was rising in the late 1990s). Incomes have risen in 2005, but that’s not the whole story. In typical cheerleading fashion, the Wall Street Journal notes that “job and wage growth still look good. The unemployment rate fell to a five-year low of 4.4% in October, and the average wage was up 3.9% from a year earlier.” And those are the numbers the White House is pointing to. But don’t be fooled. Take the long view. And the long view shows how the Bush tax cut has done nothing to improve most Americans’ standards of living. The ever-vigilant David Cay Johnston in The Times:

Despite significant gains in 2004, the total income Americans reported to the tax collector that year, adjusted for inflation, was still below its peak in 2000, new government data shows. […] Total reported income, in 2004 dollars, fell 1.4 percent, but because the population grew during that period average real incomes declined more than twice as much, falling $1,641, or 3 percent, to $53,974. Since 2004, the Census Department has found, the income of the typical American household has grown along with the rise in average incomes but at a slow pace that, until recent months, had barely kept ahead of inflation. […] The overall income declines of that extended era came despite a series of tax cuts that President Bush and Congressional Republicans promoted as the best way to stimulate both short- and long-term growth after the Internet bubble burst on Wall Street in 2000 and the economy fell into a brief recession in 2001.

The White House is blaming the decline on the stock market crash of 2000, when $7 trillion did evaporate. But that doesn’t take care of the fundamental difference between then and now: the tax cuts were designed as a boost to ordinary Americans. They have been anything but, even as incomes started rising again in 2004:

Incomes in 2004 did rise above those in 2003, with an overall average gain of 6.8 percent. The average year-over-year increases from 2003 to 2004 ranged from 1.8 percent for the poorest fifth of Americans to a 27.5 percent increase for the top tenth of 1 percent. But those gains were not enough to make up for the drop in 2001, the further drop in 2002 and the almost unchanged overall income total in 2003, when only the top 1 percent made any significant gains, primarily by selling assets at a profit to take advantage of lowered tax rates on capital gains that took effect that year.

And here’s the really long view, going back to 1979, the last year when income inequalities were heading in a more just (that is, narrowing) direction, ahead the reversal of the Reagan years:

Over all, average incomes rose 27 percent in real terms over the quarter-century from 1979 through 2004. But the gains were narrowly concentrated at the top and offset by losses for the bottom 60 percent of Americans, those making less than $38,761 in 2004. The bottom 60 percent of Americans, on average, made less than 95 cents in 2004 for each dollar they reported in 1979, analysis of the I.R.S. data shows. The next best-off group, the fifth of Americans on the 60 th to 80 th rungs of the income ladder, averaged 2 cents more income in 2004 for each dollar they earned in 1979. Only those in the top 5 percent had significant gains. The average income of those on the 95 th to 99 th rungs of the income ladder rose by 53 percent, almost twice the average rate. A third of the entire national increase in reported income went to the top 1 percent — and more than half of that went to the top tenth of 1 percent, whose average incomes soared so much that for each dollar, adjusted for inflation, that they had in 1979 they had $3.48 in 2004.

Hezbollah Straw Man in Iraq

And now, time for a few strategic leaks to the press. Here's what we find leading the Times this morning:

A senior American intelligence official said Monday that the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah had been training members of the Mahdi Army, the Iraqi Shiite militia led by Moktada al-Sadr,” the Times reports. “The official said that 1,000 to 2,000 fighters from the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias had been trained by Hezbollah in Lebanon. A small number of Hezbollah operatives have also visited Iraq to help with training, the official said. Iran has facilitated the link between Hezbollah and the Shiite militias in Iraq, the official said. Syrian officials have also cooperated, though there is debate about whether it has the blessing of the senior leaders in Syria. The intelligence official spoke on condition of anonymity under rules set by his agency, and discussed Iran’s role in response to questions from a reporter.

Could you maybe tell us what the agency is? Of course not. There’s only this: “The claim about Hezbollah’s role in training Shiite militias could strengthen the hand of those in the Bush administration who oppose a major new diplomatic involvement with Iran.” In other words it’s a well-timed plant that doesn’t address these questions: so what if Shiite fighters are training in Lebanon? Would it be any different if they were training in Basra, in southern Iraq, in Bahrain or Teheran? Or Syria, where plenty of fighters are seeking safe haven? Obviously not. This is an army of straw men, an attempt to make something seem more dire than it already is. The problem isn't where the fighters are training, or by whom they're being trained. It's America's inability to make a whit of difference anymore, unless the Bush administration is willing to end its infantile good-versus-evil approach and negotiate with whoever is part of the warring formula to get at a solution. The Times, by letting itself be manipulated once again on behalf of the administration (it's had good training back in those WMD days) and playing up the story, is showing either partisanship or stupidity or both.

Hezbollah's Outward Bound program

Neocons Today, Neocons Tomorrow, Neocons Forever

Last week Joshua Muravchick, the Geraldo Riovera of neo-cons, gave us this howler: “We must bomb Iran.” It must be sweeps. This week he gives us this:

So, is neoconservatism dead? Far from it. Neoconservative ideas have been vindicated again and again on a string of major issues, including the Cold War, Bosnia and NATO expansion. It is the war in Iraq that has made “neocon” a dirty word, either because President Bush’s team woefully mismanaged the war or because the war (which neocons supported) was misconceived. But even if the invasion of Iraq proves to have been a mistake, that would not mean that the neoconservative belief in democracy as an antidote to troubles in the Middle East is wrong, nor would it confirm that neoconservatism’s combination of strength with idealism is misguided. Neoconservatism isn’t dead; it can be renovated and returned to prominence, because, even today, it remains unrivaled as a guiding principle for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and beyond.

The outlandishness of those 138 words is too much even for my French roast to handle, but let’s take a crack at a couple of things here. The Cold War’s strategy was out of the neocon playbook? You mean we pushed democracy on the Soviet bloc by invading and imposing our western-style governments out there? Strange. 1989 is a bit fuzzy, but I remember something about an implosion after fifty years of containment—not a neocon idea at all, unless the neocons are now claiming George F. Kennan as one of their own (he’d be turning in his grave). Rather than speak in generalities and name-drop, let’s be specific about what Kennan did think. He was, for those of you a touch too young to remember, the architect of containment going back to his days in the Truman administration. Addressing the collapse of the Soviet Unionin a column in 1994, he essentially took on the Muravchick line of thinking:

Those of my opponents of that day who have survived into the present age would say, I am sure: “You see. We were right. The collapse of the Soviet system amounted to the unconditional surrender we envisaged—an involuntary one if you will, but surrender nevertheless. And we paid nothing for it.” To which I should have to reply: “But we did pay a great deal for it. We paid with 40 years of enormous and otherwise unnecessary military expenditures. We paid through the cultivation of nuclear weaponry to the point where the vast and useless nuclear arsenals had become (and remain today) a danger to the very environment of the planet. And we paid with 40 years of Communist control in Eastern Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, the damages of which to the structure of civilization in those countries we are only now beginning to observe. We paid all of this because we were too timid to negotiate.” [My italics.] We will never know who was right and who was wrong in this disagreement. The one course was tried. Its consequences, good and bad, are now visible. The other course remained hypothetical. Its results will never be known.

It’s been a habit of neocons to, like the predators they are, co-opt other people’s ideas as their own where it suits them, or manipulate those ideas to fit their agenda. Muravchick is among those who did this best, especially when it came to the cold war. He helped turned the Reagan administration’s nearly disastrous track into a triumphalist, conscious, unilateral strategy, as if Gorbachev and 50 years of containment had never existed. Now he’s at it again regarding Iraq and the repositioning of the neocons’ disastrous philosophy in action into some sort of preordained natural law, into a success only masked by its utter failures, if only we looked closer, waited a while, and let a few more tens of thousands of people die in the name of the cause. But negotiate? Never! Bomb, bomb, bomb!

 

Civil War Imminent, Annan Says

From the Post: "The Iraq Study Group began two days of intensive behind-closed-doors deliberations yesterday as the White House conceded that Iraq has moved into a dangerous new phase of warfare requiring changes in strategy. In a sign of the growing global concern about Iraq's fate, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan appealed for immediate steps to prevent the country from crumbling into all-out civil war. "Given the developments on the ground, unless something is done drastically and urgently to arrest the deteriorating situation, we could be there. In fact, we are almost there," Annan said when a reporter asked about the prospects of civil war in Iraq." And from the London Times: "In the war for Baghdad, mosques serve as garrisons. Sunnis use religious sanctuaries as strongholds to fight for mixed neighbourhoods. Shia extremists convert their mosques and prayer rooms, called husseiniyas, into execution chambers."

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