“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, February 06, 2016

the naivete of peace

D.C., as we all know, swims in a culture of impunity. Denizens of the New Republic, who in the Bush years showed such a hawkish appetite for the invasion of Iraq that the jaws of the advocates seemed to be dripping with the blood – let me hasten to say, with the blood of freedom, free enterprise and muscular liberalism – are out in force throwing contempt on Sanders’ lack of foreign policy knowledge and … muscular liberalism.
This article from Business Insider is typical Clinton wants to lead in the Middle East, whereas Sanders idea that there could be a coalition between Iran and Saudi Arabia is just “puzzling”. Indeed it is, since it calls the game: do the Saudis really want to defeat Isis? After all that money from Saudi sources flowed to Isis at the beginning of their revolt against Iraq?

I agree with the criticism that Sanders is a bit naïve about foreign policy, in as much as he hasn’t oriented himself to pounding into the heads of the populace that negotiation is not a sign of weakness, but of humanity. But to see the Clinton camp, unquestioned, tell us Sanders wants to let Iranian soldiers into Syria, on “the very border of Israel”, begs questions of its own.
For instance, here’s one, a lonely one, so far unasked by any reporter that I can see:
What does Clinton think of the fact that the Cia has supervised Saudi training and arming of rebels in Syria in  2013?  Does she  think the Saudis are trying to forge a secular state in Syria?
Ah, but why ask that question – a question that has been answered in the past, with the Mujahedeen in Afganistan, and with Sunni insurgents in Iraq during the occupation, and the Saudi invasion of Bahrain during Clinton’s term of office at State – when it betrays terrible naivete! Why, everything will turn out for the best in the best of all possible worlds. In maybe fifteen years – about the amount of time  the US and all of King Saul’s army has been battling the Taliban in Afghanistan.

I do fault Sanders for not questioning this more. If, as the odds show, Clinton is nominated, there will not  be a chance again to question the utter bankruptcy of hawkish policy in the Middle East.  

Thursday, February 04, 2016

quid pro quo culture

The quid pro quo culture
Clinton’s response to the question about being paid 625,000 dollars for giving three speeches to Goldman Sachs stirred up some interest, and a lot of vitriol from Sanders supporters. While I understand the vitriol, I think it is important to broaden the response. Clinton didn’t invent this culture. She simply floats in it.
It is a matter not so much of being bought, but of being cognitively captured – which by easy degrees effects the career arc. Instead of using Clinton as an example, lets use Bernanke.
In 2009, the Fed, along with Treasury, engineered a controversial bailout of AIG. AIG was the party to financial instruments – bets – made, on a tremendous scale, by numerous counterparties. Among those counterparties was Citadel, a Chicago based hedge fund.
Now, Citadel was hit by the meltdown in 2008. According to Bloomberg Business:

“Investors in Citadel Investment Group’s two main hedge funds can take solace in the fact that 2008 has finally come to an end. Of course, that won’t ease the pain of seeing those two porfolios lose about 53% of their value going into the final week of the year.

Thus, there is every reason to believe that Citadel was on its last legs in 2009. But it survived. One of the bright spots in that year was that AIG, far from dealing with Citadel as a bankrupt insurance firm and thus paying out a penny on the dollar, dealt with Citadel as a company with the infinite resources of the U.S. Government behind it and paid out a dollar on a dollar – 200 million of them.
Thus, Citadel owes its continued existence, in no small part, to the decisions of Ben Bernanke.
And now Ben Bernanke is making a considerable sum – probably in the millions – working for Citadel.
Do I think that Ken Griffen, Citadel’s Daddy Bucks, sat down with Ben B. and said, you get us that 200 million and you have a job with us, wink wink? No, of course not. Rather, in the course of time, as Bernanke was feeling his way to the exit at the Fed, an offer to a highly respected figure in the financial community was perhaps made by some intermediary that led to Bernanke taking his job with Citadel. That’s how the revolving door works.

This is the problem that Sanders is hammering on. Clinton was not bribed to do anything in particular for Goldman Sachs. But it is very likely that Goldman Sachs will get a very respectful hearing when she is president. I expect she will be president, in fact. I am hoping that Sanders shrill denunciations make the relationship between the Clinton administration and the banks much less comfortable. 

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

morning in santa monica

Morning in Santa Monica. For a long time, now, I have been walking Adam to school and then returning home to work, or to read. I’ve been enclosed in a little capsule of winter routine. Today I decided to walk down to the ocean. The beach was largely empty – meaning, really, that there were few people there. I walked across the expanse of sand to where the bank over where the ocean was lapping up on shore, then loped my way down the beach, heading away from the pier, towards Malibu. I encountered birds, lots of seabirds. One colony of very large pelicans, five of them, with those faces, elongated, brightly colored, somehow reminiscent of an African mask, or of Picasso’s Demoiselles D’Avignon. Slightly frightening, the length of beak. As I passed them I actually glanced back, as if they might be following me.
I came upon a curlew. It was on the edge of the watermark left by the ocean, which at this hour was rumpled by low tide. It had the nice curved beak, not the sandpiper’s straight beak. I stopped. The curlew stopped. I began to think about the curlew’s life. We are told that the beasts of the air and those that creep upon the ground are driven primarily by sex and food. There’s some validity to that p.o.v. – it is one in which we have simply the species and the vehicle of the species, the contingent piece of it. However, what the p.o.v. doesn’t indicate is all the down time in between. This curlew, for instance, stopped perhaps because of me, perhaps because he just stopped. He was evidently having as much of a down time moment as I was myself. First, he waggled his tail, then he strutted a bit, then he stopped. He seemed to be contemplating his bill. If he were a character in a Victorian novel, I would say that he was contemplating his bill with enormous satisfaction.  He also had his head cocked in a certain way, so that he seemed to be listening to the ocean’s eternal laundering. Of course, I am aware that my ocean and my sounds depend entirely on my sensory equipment, which is at setting different from his. Birds, I have read, commonly hear sounds at a higher frequency than humans. If that makes sense. And of course the whole rods n cones arrangement of the eyes is different. The curlew was seeing or processing different pictures than I was. Probably it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to take what we know about bird physiology and fashion some Virtual Reality helmet so that we see and hear on the settings that they see and hear. Yet I don’t think this would get us too near what the bird – what my bird, the curlew – is like, to use Nagel’s phrase. It would be like reading a bad and misleading translation of a book from a foreign language.
The curlew, at rest, stood first on his two legs, then, after a while, on one leg only. I didn’t catch it when he lifted up the other leg. It happened in an instant. I must say that my concentration on the bird was interupted by glances up the beach, and oceanward. I wondered again when we were ever going to visit the Catalina Islands. I wondered about a few things that I decided were distracting me from the beach, like the news. Fuck the news.
Then the curlew was back in a two legged posture, and then it strutted down to the watermark. It stood there and the ocean came up and foamed around its talons. It was indifferent to the water. When the water receded, it started hunting with its curved beak in the sand, and finding things I couldn’t see. The vehicle was seized by the species urge. I bestirred myself and made off in the direction of the pedestrian bridge that is right after the repairs they are making to the entrance to the PCH at California ave.  When I got on the bridge, I saw two men filming a man and a woman. The man, a lanky, older white guy, bald, but with a fringe of somewhat ridiculous long hair, was doing a dance step in synch with a lithe younger black woman. Two steps to one side, two steps to the other side, throw your arms up. I could see the man was the worse dancer. I could tell the dancer from the dance easy enough. I interrupted the session and crossed over the bridge.
Those dancers, I thought. Species or vehicle, vehicle or species.