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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Is that a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper in your pocket?

I was rather ambivalent about Wolfowitz becoming World Bank president. There were certainly infinite reasons to criticize the move: no development background, never ran a large organization, a polarizing figure, etc. His only real contribution to poverty reduction at the time was to help kill lots of Iraqis, not exactly what the Bank had in mind. Still, how a highly professional organization would handle someone who was used to hyping Laurie Mylorie conspiracy theories in the bowels of the Pentagon was sort of beside the point for me at the time.

Sort of like if Bush was demoted to Secretary of Transportation for no reason. "Oh. Ok? I guess. He cant kill anybody there, right?"

Part of me (the naive part) held out hope that Wolfowitz, now isolated from means with which to destroy things, would finally match up his hitherto touchingly hollow concern for poor people with actual efforts, results, and so forth. I share his concern with corruption in the developing world, which erodes confidence in state institutions if not the institutions themselves, which is vital for development. This is not to excuse the tactlessness with which he pursued this campaign, which didn't differentiate enough between the petty and the grand.

But no, he fucked things up superbly, in a fashion that could not more clearly define a hypocrite. I'd call him the least likeliest sugar daddy ever, but after further consideration, seriously, what woman could resist this...

Meanwhile, sane people make the logical conclusions.

[above]: "Mmmmm....structurally adjust this, Mr. Wolfowitz."

Oh get the fuck out:

Paul Wolfowitz may be under increasing pressure as head of the World Bank. But aside from his girlfriend Shaha Riza – the Bank employee whose large pay rise and promotion on secondment to the State Department has generated the whiff of scandal – he still has at least one fan.

Writing about the controversy that has embroiled the former deputy defence secretary, one staffer wrote the following posting on the World Bank Staff Association website:

“I heard that they separated. Do you know whether Paul is available these days? I am currently at level GG. I would be willing to date him for a while provided I can work outside the Bank.

“A position at the State Department would be fine. Pentagon would be fine too although I would not want to go to Irak [sic] since I would want to stay close to Paul. I promise I will not ask for any promotion or salary increase. Please let me know.”

When the lonely heart failed to get a response, she weighed in again: “Could the Staff Association answer my previous comment and let me know whether Paul is available? I am an attractive swf GG-level economist in my late 40s.”

Caving, the SA responded: “Dear anonymous swf, matchmaking is not one of the services and [sic] SA provides to staff.”

Monday, April 16, 2007

dooH niboR

Finally got around to reading Perfectly Legal by David Cay Johnson, several years late, but at least at the most appropriate time of the year. Great book, despite the flamboyant subtitle, highly recommended. To summarize 300+ pages, there's been a massive redistribution of wealth upwards in the United States since the Reagan years through a slick combination of tax policy and the (non)enforcement of tax policy. Too many people think the opposite is true.

Whatever adverse impacts trade and globalization have had on income and inequality in the US, they certainly pale in comparison to what our elected officials have managed to do on their own.

Screwing America and not calling her back

Its affirmative action month or something at the Financial Times. Last week it was John Bolton, and now here's Rudy Giuliani to lay out a 4-pillar formula for fucking things up, which I assume hasn't been used on a country before. Wait, nevermind. Its the same thing president Bush has been doing for the past 7 years, minus the Christian fundamentalism. This is somehow supposed to augment his only national claim to fame--giving the appearance of having actually been doing something on 9/11.

Oh goddamnit, free hookers for everyone somehow did not make the list. Lost my vote.

My four pillars of American prosperity...

1. Reduce Spending Growth. Fiscal conservatives understand the value of controlling the size and cost of government.
Oh my yes, Rudy, they sure do. If only these "fiscal conservatives", whoever they are, had had an extended period of time to show us how well they'd handle things. Seriously, can we retire this bullshit caricature of Republicans as champions of responsible government and Democrats who throw benjamins at homeless people for fun. Its never been true, and never more clearly so than in this (thankfully) past period of Republican domination.

Giuliani is at least pretty honest about his intentions, mapping out a plan to further ignore big problems, solve non-existent ones, and thereby create more problems so he can ignore them.
He points out that 42% of the federal civilian workforce is due to retire in the next 8 years, and this is the perfect time to not hire anyone else, shrinking the government by "war of attrition." (And you always thought Paul Krugman was being shrill.) This isn't fucking Egypt, Rudy. Our government employees actually do stuff. Of course there's nothing wrong with shrinking the government per se, but the Republican idea of shrinking the government is in essence cutting or scaling back programs people like in order to finance things people don't.
2. Lower Tax Rates. Americans face a monster tax increase because of "bracket creep", the alternative minimum tax [AMT] and the expiry of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. This means cutting taxes just to keep even.
Uh, not even sure what this means. "Cutting taxes just to keep even"? Wtf? Tax cuts are forgone revenue, which means that without spending cuts, its only higher taxes in the future, plus interest on the debt you need to finance the cuts in the first place, which as he outlines below, he and his friends aren't going to help pay. Asshole.
[U]nder current law, the "death tax" will disappear for a year, in 2010, and then roar back to oppressive levels. This is unfair. Only Washington could create a tax incentive for death. If you have worked hard and played by the rules, your children should not have to sell the family farm or small business just to pay another round of punitive taxes.
Oh god, fuck you. Of course by "Washington" he means "Republicans", so uh, thats interesting? From rightly citing the AMT as an actual problem, which will start hammering middle and upper-middle class households in the coming years, he moves on to lobbying for further tax breaks for the super rich, then masks it with pseudo-populist bullshit about "family farms" and "small businesses". Farms make up a tiny fraction of the share of estates subject to the federal estate tax. Despite their best efforts, Republicans have never found an instance where a family farm was lost because of it. The bulk of the revenue comes from huge piles of inherited wealth, and anyone who argues otherwise is a lying sack. You want to argue whether its fair or not, at least keep the parameters on Earth.
3. Regulatory Reform. The US currently has a regulatory black eye. We are being hurt by heavy-handed regulators, laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley and an environment of hyper-litigation and shareholder lawsuits that can be poisonous to the private sector.
Yeah, didn't see that coming. There is a case to be made for scrapping reporting requirements of Sec. 404 of Sarbanes-Oxley for small businesses, which bear a regressive burden in relation to large companies, but there already is a movement to do that. Still always nice to know someone wants less regulation in the wake of the subprime meltdown.

Giuliani rounds off #4 with a pledge for, uh, sound monetary policy. A staple of campaign promises is apparently to promise things you have no control over, so well done there:
It is essential that its appointees are highly qualified individuals who understand that stable, low inflation is an input - not an impediment - to durable economic expansion and stronger economic growth.
Oh god, you're serious. As opposed to who? Greenspan? Bernanke? Virtually the entire economic community? Was the Fed Board of Governors infiltrated by hippies when we weren't looking? He could have switched sound monetary policy with free hookers and I'd have totally been sold.

Matthew Yglesias has more on Giuliani's plan to piss off everyone before primaries. Perhaps someone could tell him how elections work.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Why certainly I'll take off all my clothes!

A new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is out. If you're not familiar with the IPCC its the organization that Peggy Noonan wished existed, but was too dumb to realize already did. Also unbeknownst to Noonan was the fact that the IPCC had apparently been doing, uh, actual work, the entire time. No, really.

Anyway the new report focuses specifically on the likely impact of climate change and the vulnerability of human systems to these changes. I read much of the IPCC 2001 series reports for a research paper last year and was struck by how regressive the likely impacts would be. Even though upper latitudes are seeing the most significant warming (see pg. 5 of the report), the tropics are by far the most vulnerable, since they have the least capacity to adapt to the changes.

So while the 'benefits' of climate change accrue mainly to the higher-income countries in the upper lattitudes, the biggest losers are the poorest bits of Central and South America, but particularly Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Oh but don't worry, since per capita GDP in these countries is only a few hundred dollars, our 'benefits' of greater mineral access, year-round port openings, etc., will still look good in monetary terms compared to their losses. Human suffering is another matter.

Oh yea, and in another cruel irony, these countries of course contribute the least to greenhouse gas emissions.

Its not surprising that Republicans aren't exactly jumping out of their shoes to address, or even acknowledge this problem, since its practically a mirror image of any Republican-designed social policy of the last 30 years: redistribute benefits upward, let the masses 'adapt'. It's almost like God is doing the work for them! Neato!

So while James Inhofe, Michael Chrichton, and Dana Rohrabacher continue to grapple with dinosaur farts, actual scientists are sounding the alarm. And yes, they're alarmist in the same sense that a person on fire calling the fire dept. is alarmist.

The Economist has a good article about it, which interviews academics who reviewed the report prior to publication.

Breaking: Santa Secretly Supporting Grinch in Order to Undermine Himself, or something

For people who half-way know anything about Iraq, claims that the Iranian government is supporting Sunni insurgents against, presumably, the Shi'a-led government in Iraq should be met with, at the very least, "profound skepticism", as Juan Cole puts it. I'm anxious to know how much Gen. Caldwell actually knows about Iranian interests and motives in Iraq. Would he even pass the Sunni-Shi'ite test? (8/8, pwned!)

The two largest parties in the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shi'a bloc that controls parliament, are former Iranian-based Iraqi opposition groups, Da'wa and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). SCIRI and its paramilitary Badr Corps in particular have close ties to Iran's security services. With Iran's best friends (and our allies) controlling the government in Iraq, it seems a tad insane for them to be funneling weapons to Sunni insurgents who would no doubt blow up those friends with those very weapons. The claim sounds idiotic on its face, yet we've been hearing these accusations for at least a year now, and rarely is the obvious objection raised.

Fortunately we have intrepid 6-figure stenographers like Michael Gordon on the case. You know, people who understand "how journalism works".

Saturday, April 14, 2007


It seemed like only yesterday when John McCain could say virtually anything and the media treated him as some sort of deity.

Here's a typical blast from the past as McCain struggles to remember what he strongly believes about the war in Iraq.

No longer, it seems. There has been a collective media epiphany of late, perhaps helped by McCain's decision to air his delusions with theater instead of mere words, and of course the painful reality that stood in stark contrast to it all.

So yes, more of this, please.

*Lifted from Wonkette, via this this weirdo. I have named my girlfriend's cat "walnuts" in tribute.

I am the Walrus...

John Bolton offers the latest example of how the official enemies of the United States, or those of any other country for that matter, can react under pressure as any other state would, yet this somehow proves their nefariousness.

The Financial Times offered Bolton a space to blather on about the resolved hostage crisis (the British one anyway, you know, the one that matters, duh). I can only assume the FT was trying to boost the US employment rate as their editorial page is commonly stocked with people with functioning brains. Anyway, Bolton, amidst the tired themes of strength vs. weakness so common on the right, offers this analysis:
Indisputably the winners in Iran were the hardliners. It was Mr Ahmadi-Nejad who stood in the international spotlight for hours on end, who awarded medals to the Revolutionary Guards who captured the hostages, who announced the hostages' release and accepted their thanks.
No shit, John. You would think if the Iranian navy were cruising the east coast of the US, and Iranian soldiers were patrolling the borders of Canada and Mexico, that it would offer endless opportunities for hardliners in the US to score nationalistic victories on virtually any international incident.

Despite harping about the lessons of 9/11, our hardliners have failed to learn perhaps this most obvious of lessons: that external belligerence will rally a population around its most reactionary elements. Virtually any conflict has prominent actors who benefit from this reaction among their own population, yet they are the ones most blind to the same reaction in the 'enemy' population. That the US-UK military presence on Iran's borders and their accusations that Iran's government is fueling violence in Iraq is 'emboldening' Iran's hardliners shouldn't be at all surprising since they practically owe their good fortune to the belligerence of our hardliners. Zero-sum rhetoric like this always seems to lay bare the fact that each group needs each other to prosper.

The result, of course, is not only that assholes like Bolton and his counterparts in Iran may drag us into another unnecessary war, but that they're making it so much easier for Iran's reactionaries to crush the reformist movement we're supposedly trying to help. Could it be more obvious that our stance here has only strengthened their most uncompromising elements that in all likelihood do want to harm us?

UPDATE: A year or so ago it finally hit me. John Bolton had always reminded me of someone but I couldn't place it.

[Above]: John Bolton explains how crunchberries embolden the enemy.

Blogging Myself

Contrary to popular opinion, this has not resulted in blindness, hairy palms, or any other noticeable deformity.

For the first post I'd simply like to give readers (yes, all of you) an idea of where I stand politically. And since I'm lazy I'll just post this helpful chart and call it a day.

Fortunately this is right where I thought I'd fall. If anyone else is interested in seeing their political leanings in helpful proximity to Hitler and Stalin, and some other more obscure leaders (Romano Prodi? wtf?), go here.