Friday, November 27, 2009

Debt, Doubt, Dubai!

It is hard enough finding a path of reason through the thickets of the American Now, or, put another way, a peak from which to survey the surrounding shifting landscape of events without having to account for foreigners. But our world is global, ha-ha, and a lot of stuff will blow in from nowhere to mess up the view.

Take Dubai, for example. Up until 24 hours ago all I knew about the small oil sheikdom was that it was building a sort of shiny concentration camp of wealth; a new international business headquarters--a desert Liechtenstein, a mid-East Miami Beach; a creepy city of the future, built by underpaid Asian laborers, designed to be a legit work destination for newly-formed Harvard MBAs and a shopping refuge for the more accomplished international money set. A year ago there was speculation Dick Cheney would buy a "vacation" home there.

Turns out it just went tits up, for all the usual reasons.

Usually surprise vies with speed in these collapses, One does not see the unexpected coming from a mile away, slowly anyway. But Dubai World's (if ever there was a hint of future trouble, maybe it's associating your civic name with the Disney Flagship) sudden "suspension" of debt payments announced on the eve of the U.S. and Muslim holidays has astonished the watchers, the most interested (or frightened) of whom are the Euro Banks carrying its $59 billion (UPDATE: make that maybe over $90 billion) debt.

Yesterday there was some question if this was a big deal or not. Structurally, I gather, that's hard to determine at this hour. Culturally, however? You bet your ass, as apparently many in the smooth money crowd have done already.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

This Is Just To Say . . .

I am tempted to go on at length regarding our dense contemporary politics, but will hold off, for now. I would like to suggest however, before several ideas completely congeal into received wisdom, that the pending senate debate over healthcare will provide handy cudgels to beat the Republicans' heads in in time for the next election. While a few individual seats may hang in the balance, to suggest, or worry, at this point that the Dems face wholesale losses for supporting universal healthcare borders on the delusional.

I know, I know, many a slip 'tween the cup and the lip, but honestly, I expect putting the fatheads on the floor of the senate arguing against a pretty damn smart bill will make for some very edifying sound bites, not to mention negative campaign ads. Even if that does not quite come to pass, confidently expecting the opposite, that the Dems are running their car off a cliff with the bill, is all only make believe. It makes more sense to believe that the next election will be, effectively, the last for the GOP as a national party

I also don't think the unemployment level will have much bearing on the coming election, provided the administration and congress are seen as trying hard to make things better. And, pace Messrs. Rich and Kunstler, there's no danger of the well-armed right rising up in breathless number to take back what they think they've lost. We are dealing, in the main, with thorough spectators; frustrated and hurt, no question, but fundamentally lazy viewers. Statistically, they are far more likely to accidently shoot themselves, family, and friends, in pathetic numbers, (see Cheney, Dick) than leveling any righteous (f)ire at gub'mint tyranny.

Monday, November 09, 2009


A rare two'fer today, seeing as how the great healthcare victory in the House last Saturday night is worth some comment. And it is not how Speaker Pelosi won the vote, which I never felt was much in doubt, which is so remarkable; rather how the Republicans lost.

Namely, if Eric Cantor--who, honestly, has never struck me as being all that bright--knowing that this would be a hard vote for Joe Cao, had stood up the day before and said something like, "Though, of course members are encouraged to vote their consciences here, I believe we will hold together unanimously against the Democrats' bill", then Cantor not only provides cover for a guy trying to keep a red seat in a blue district, he also doesn't look like a full-grown jackass when one of his guaranteed votes migrates to the other side.

And if Cantor didn't know this would be a hard vote for Cao, then he has NO business being minority whip.

I was going to say that the predictable racist right reaction against Cao was the last thing the GOP needs, but upon reflection that would be the reaction against the House GOP basically shouting down the Democratic Women's Caucus during Saturday's debate. I guarantee you, EVERY woman on the Hill noticed that needless bit of swinishness on the part of all those white guys, and something tells me that maybe, just maybe, Harry Reid won't have that much trouble finding one or two female senators willing to vote against a filibuster even if they will not support a final bill. There may also be one or two old friends of Ted Kennedy on the other side of the aisle who might, in a pinch, be the needed 60th cloture vote.

Just sayin'.

I do believe Joe Lieberman is playing his last cards here, and in fact will fall in line when it is pointed out to him, privately, that the votes needed will be at hand, and his committee chairmanship lost, if he carries out his threat.

Post Toasted

Frequent readers here know my fondness for regularly passing along bad news about Murdoch products, especially the NY Pest, so today is more catnip:

Nearly every paper in America has lost circulation, but The Post more than most — down almost 30 percent in 2.5 years, to 508,000 in the most recent reporting period, against 544,000 for The Daily News. The slide accelerated after The Post’s price returned to 50 cents last year. And this year, The Daily News has surged far ahead in online readership.

Mr. Allan,
[the Post's editor] who called it “a joyous occasion” when The Post took the lead, now takes a more subdued view of the competition, saying in an e-mail exchange that “whether we are a little in front or a little behind has no impact on our forward business plan.”

Business plan. A paper which has historically lost a million dollars a week, for over 15 years, has a business plan. Honestly, who needs a humor column? Three years ago (where DOES the time go?) I noted a rather suspicious inflation in the Post's circulation figure. Maybe because the competition smelled a rat too, it has been falling ever since.

The Times story, as most Times stories, is a funny one. Over halfway through, it does let drop just how much money the Post loses (now in the nabe of $70 mil. per annum), though not for how long it has been like this. Because it is a business story, it natters on about cover price, discretionary sales, and how well the tabloid competition News has done, with no word on how maybe, just maybe, New Yorkers are mighty tired of the pro-biz, right wing hogwash Rupe has spewed in a steady jet in his paper as long as he's had it. Maybe Mike Bloomberg's recent squeaker gives a hint here.

My impression is that few in the news biz have wanted to cover Murdoch organs too closely, or criticize them too harshly, over the years. There is fear of retaliation along with a certain collegial bias. As long as he seems strong, then newspapers in general are stronger, and cable "news" is a vital agent in the national debate. Take away his imaginary audience however, and he's just one more rich jerk, one of several in the news racket, boring the nation while losing money hand over fist.

Depend on it, outside of its pathetic share price, we will not hear about the impending collapse of the Murdoch empire until after it has happened and no one can pretend anymore.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Great Wit North

Congratulations are in order for Bill Owens who prevailed, as anticipated here, in the NY-23 election. An occasion which allows me to berate those big-deal pundits, left and right, resigned to think that the broad American electorate is incapable of choosing wisely in its best interests, especially when the baubles of celebrity, such as it is, and money are dangled before it.

The Right, of course, will want to crow this morning about the New Jersey and Virginia governors, which, you know, is fine. Statewide races are probably as apolitical as our politics gets, by which I mean a great deal depends on local economies, the popularity of the incumbent (if that person is running), the mood in the state capital, and the ability of the campaigners. Once elected, most governors, the GOP ones especially, need to stick pretty near a pragmatic line (see: Ah-noldt) in order to govern, at least so far as their legislatures allow (see: Ah-noldt). And the shelf-lives of governors is notoriously short (see Ah-noldt, Elliot, Jon, David et al), unless they are exceptionally gifted.

All politics is local, right? And up north the local guy won, the first Democrat to hold that seat since Lincoln slept in the White House. Some on the left may feel disappointed that the wingnut lost, thereby discouraging more Jacobin fun in the GOP contests. This is short sighted on two counts. First, we have enough right wing nitwits in congress to start with. I suppose one more would not have amounted to much, but honestly, you need to draw the line somewhere.

Second, and more to the issue, I don't think this setback will deter the true believers one jot. As noted in these pages, there is an unprecedented leadership void in the GOP. There is no one in charge to say no to these mischief-makers, who are perpetually just one win shy, in their minds and on TV, from Total Victory.

I had meant to say something about the White House challenge to FUX news closer to the first slap, mainly to say I thought it was a great idea. I still do. First, there is no real world downside. Barely two million people, tops, watch it. Then there is that adage, popular during the administration of that squalid little man, that power creates its own reality. It does, only not so much in the real world as in the media landscape of our collected imaginations.

By which I mean that by calling the Murdoch product for what it is, and inducing all sorts of petty indignant reactions, the administration has ipso facto defined FUX as a bias machine, a definition which, going forward, it either challenges or justifies every minute it's on.

My money is on justifies.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Hurl From The North Country

Mr. Rich's fine column this morning could not quite frame the rather astonishing events in the special NY-23 election for what I believe they represent. So let me: this is what a political party looks like as it dies.

Let us note that the Republican candidate was driven from the race by apostates on her right and, just about two hours ago, endorsed her Democratic opponent. While Mr. Rich wants to consider this an attack by GOP Stalinists, it bears repeating that this is an election for the House of Representatives, in a district the Republicans have held since the Civil War, that for all intents and purposes does not have a Republican on the ballot. Let that sink in a minute.

It is altogether interesting that NY-23 probably resembles the far west more than any bailiwick east of the Mississippi. Far flung, mountainous, rural and forlorn, with long and harsh winters, its central employer is a Army base, home to a large division of alpine troops which has seen long tours in Iran and Iraq. What makes the election interesting to handicap is how NY-23 also differs from reliably conservative western districts. For starters, this is a part of the country people move away from, not to. Consequently outsiders are held in minimal regard. Independence is probably put at a higher value than out west, where a certain lock-step, Mormon-style fealty to the cause seems to hold, hence Dede Scozzafava's "liberal" profile among her cohort. That the Watertown paper, and now Scozzafava, have endorsed Owens, the Democrat, as the true local candidate means a great deal.

One local factor that the commentators rushing to see have overlooked is that, for all its rural aspect, NY-23 shares an enormous international border. People up there live closer to Ottawa and Montreal than to Albany. While this might not strike your average big-city pundit as a big deal (and you can insert your hockey joke here), let me suggest that those people might not be quite as parochial as one might assume.

In thinking about this yesterday, I decided that Scozzafava coming out for Owens would be enough to tip the election his way. That said, I didn't expect her to do it. So there you are. The GOP death spiral tightens apace.

UPDATE: A Sullivan reader reports from the ground, and it's not pretty.

Copyright Infringement Theater Presents

K L Burgess, a man out of time.