Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"You Are Not Free, And You Are Not Safe"

In 1900, the United States was a creditor nation: we loaned money to others, and invested both at home and overseas. We exported far more than we imported, in both raw and finished commodities. And we were on our way to becoming the most powerful nation on earth -- economically, militarily, and morally.

Fast forward 100 years. We are the world's largest debtor nation. We import far more than we export, with China being our largest source of overseas imports. And our entire economy is based on borrowing from other nations, with China being our second largest foreign creditor.

If you'd like to lie awake tonight, ask yourself: what would happen if China declined to buy any U.S. bonds whatsoever at the next bond auction, effectively declining to continue refinancing the national debt? Answer: our economy would collapse, Great Depression-style.

Or, for a less extreme example, ask yourself: what would happen if China unilaterally decided to discourage investment in its own stock market, depressing Chinese stock prices? It would be pretty to think that a slide in the internal stock market of a nominally insular, Communist country would be largely irrelevant to the capitalist West. But the truth is harsher, as demonstrated by today's worldwide slide in stock prices. China's government makes a decision about its own stock market, and our stock market takes a slide. Tomorrow, things will either continue to deteriorate, or China will take steps to reassure Western investors -- but which way things go will mainly be up to China, not to us.

Essayist and poet Wendell Berry, in his excellent collection of essays Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community, wrote this: "If you are dependent on people who do not know you, who control the value of your necessities, you are not free, and you are not safe." Until we can become self-reliant again -- not isolationist, but self-reliant, capable of controlling our own destiny as a nation -- we will remain unfree, and we will remain fundamentally unsafe, no matter how many nukes we possess. And that, in large part, is why free-trade, DLC Democrats are nearly as dangerous to America's well-being as the free-trade, corporatist Republicans they are copying.

UPDATE, MARCH 3: Next-day rise in US indexes notwithstanding, it's not over yet....

UPDATE, MARCH 4: Still not over... Others are acknowledging that China's woes are the world's woes (so is it "protectionist" to want to loosen that connection?)... And as Treasury yields decline, there'll be less incentive for people to buy them (i.e. to finance the continual expansion of the national debt), which means the face yield of G-bonds will need to increase, which will increase the national debt even more (just like your credit card balance will go up if the interest rate rises but you keep just paying minimums), and pressure will increase on our policymakers to eventually allow higher inflation to artificially reduce our debt load in real dollars. You can't take away just one card from a house of cards...

Friday, February 9, 2007

Tim Russert and the Fall of the Fourth Estate

Okay, I'm cribbing a title from a 2005 post at my calmer blog, NeoProgBlog, where I pointed out that the Washington media rely on access to power, rather than investigation of it, to get their stories. Then, Exhibit A were "reporters" Bob Woodward and Judith Miller. Yesterday, it was NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert, who admitted at the Scooter Libby trial that his conversations with politicians are presumptively off the record rather than on it (as the law and journalistic custom provide). Dan Froomkin does a good job blasting this. Props to Atrios for spreading the word. It remains to bloggers to be the outsiders digging for the uncomfortable truths; that isn't right, but it's true, and it remains our responsibility.

On that topic, by the way, the best reporting on the Libby trial is (surprise, surprise) being done by a blogger, Jane Hamsher at FireDogLake, who has been credentialed and is in the courtroom every day. It's well worth following.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

So IS Hillary Inevitable? Maybe Yes...

UPDATE, SUPER TUESDAY, FEB. 15 2008: In the original post, I argued that Hillary Clinton's nomination was inevitable UNLESS people "recognize her campaign for what it is, and fight for fair primary elections as hard as they're fighting for fair general elections." Back then, I thought the biggest danger was moving the large states' primaries early in the primary season, which would give a huge boost to the candidate with the most money to buy TV advertising. (Small states, and states with caucuses, are won with local activists and grassroots work; large states and states with primary elections are won with big advertising buys.) Back then, HRC had the most money, by far.

I didn't foresee that Barack Obama would raise enough money -- largely, no matter what Hillary says, from grassroots donations -- to compete with her financially, turning it into the two-candidate race I hoped for. But I was correct that Clinton still may get the nomination because the primary process is unfair. The unfairness, it turns out, is in the Superdelegate system and in Hillary's switch from supporting the disqualification of Michigan and Florida, to stealth-campaigning in those states, to now pushing to have them seated (guaranteeing her the APPEARANCE of having won the popular vote).

If you'd like to read more -- and see the evidence; I always cite my sources -- about this, either visit VichyDems' home page and surf from there, or follow these links:

--On Superdelegates, and the Michigan/Florida problem: Feb 14, Feb. 14 again, CNN, and USA Today (but y'all open those last two in new tabs and come back here, OK?)
-- On HRC's History of Trying to Rig the Election Before it Even Began: March 8-9 '06, March 11 '06
--On why Obama is the more progressive candidate, including the overworked "but Lieberman is his mentor!" meme that even I fell for, a year ago: April 3, Updated Feb 10;
--On electability, and why electability really matters this time around (think: McCain appointing two more Republicans to the Supreme Court, making it 100% Republican for the next 20-30-40 years?): Feb. 9 , Feb. 4, Feb. 11, Feb. 12, and the Wall Street Journal today
--General lists of links on these topics: Feb. 5, Feb. 2

Hope this helps. Thanks!

Matthew Yglesias has a good, but incomplete, analysis of the Hillary juggernaut on his site. His conclusion is that her receiving the Dem nomination is not inevitable. Mine is that it IS inevitable unless people recognize her campaign for what it is, and fight for fair primary elections as hard as they're fighting for fair general elections. And, as I explain in a comment I left on Matthew's site, the current front line in the battle to make Hillary Just Another Candidate (which is my only goal, not to take her down completely), is the movement to move California, New York and Illinois to the front of the primary schedule.

Yglesias writes:

There's been a slightly weird "speaking truth to non-power" moment recently in the blogosphere where MYDD's Chris Bowers has been joining Team HRC in trying to convince us all that Hillary Clinton has a daunting advantage in the upcoming primary race. I'm not buying it and neither is Jonathan Chait who notes correctly that her polling isn't nearly as good in the early primary states as it is in big, vague national polls...

I responded:

You're forgetting the recent move, which I can't but be suspicious about, to advance big-market states like NY, CA and IL in the primary calendar. On its face, this sounds small-d democratic, letting states with large percentages of the nation's population help make the decision. But actually, it's the Iowa caucuses that are most democratic, because they let real people get down with the candidates as people, one-on-one. The only way a candidate can deliver a message to meaningful numbers of people in large markets is through large media buys, which cost more money than most candidates have early in the primary season.

The real impact of making the large states important, early, is that it will favor candidates with early money. Edwards can't compete in California's expensive media market the way Clinton can. In fact, no one can compete, financially, with Clinton. Which is why I am suspicious of the early-big-state-primary movement: it smells like an attempt by insiders to stack the decks in favor of HRC. Which, if true, would be just another instance of her un-small-d-democratic tactics to secure the nomination as by right, as opposed to by fair election.

If you're in one of the big states that's vying for an early primary, please contact your state representatives and explain why that's a bad idea for democrats and Democrats alike. If the Democratic Party can't let the small guys have a fair chance, rather than just the wealthy and well-connected, then what the hell are we really about?