State of the Union

The Chinese Century

“Thank you, Hu Jintao, and thank you, China,” said Hugo Chavez, as he announced a $20 billion loan from Beijing, to be repaid in Venezuelan oil.

The Chinese just threw Chavez a life-preserver. For Venezuela is reeling from 25 percent inflation, government-induced blackouts to cope with energy shortages and an economy that shrank by 3.3 percent in 2009.

Where did China get that $20 billion? From us. From consumers at Wal-Mart. That $20 billion is 1 percent of the $2 trillion in trade surpluses Beijing has run up with the United States over two decades.

Beijing is using its trillions of dollars in reserves, piled up from exports to America, to cut deals to lock up strategic resources for the coming struggle with the United States for hegemony in Asia and the world.

She has struck multibillion-dollar deals with Sudan, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Russia, Iran and Australia to secure a steady supply of oil, gas and vital minerals to maintain the 10-12 percent annual growth China has been racking up since Deng Xiaoping dispensed with Maoism and set his nation out on the capitalist road.

China has dozens of nuclear power plants under construction, has completed the Three Gorges Dam — the largest power source on earth — and is tying the nation together with light rail, bullet trains and highways in infrastructure projects unlike any the world has ever seen.

Contrast what China is doing with what we are about. We have declared vast regions of our country, onshore and offshore, off-limits to drilling for oil and gas. We have not built a nuclear power plant in 30 years or a refinery in 25 years. We have declared war on fossil fuels to save the planet from global warming. Read More…

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Under the Big TARP

USA Today is often referred to as the McPaper, but it’s done a public service with an investigation into how banks that received TARP funds acted afterwards. George W. Bush bailed out the banks to the tune of $247 billion in one of his last acts before leaving office. Only $181 billion (including interest) has been repaid, yet it’s not as if the money is being spent as intended.

Banks that received federal assistance during the financial crisis reduced lending more aggressively and gave bigger pay raises to employees than institutions that didn’t get aid, a USA TODAY/American University review found.

The reduction of credit during the worst of the recession raises questions about whether the $247 billion assistance program achieved one of its primary goals: to stimulate the economy by reviving the flow of credit to businesses and individuals.

Those running the banks didn’t just use taxpayers’ money to give themselves and their employees a bit of a boost. As USA Today reports:

Average pay at banks getting aid rose 9.4% in the program’s first year. By contrast, non-TARP banks increased salaries 1.8%.

That’s during the period we saw rampant unemployment and falling wages for most Americans—the Bureau of Economic Analysis announced today that per capita personal income went down 1.7 percent last year. President Obama might have rocketed up the deficit and passed his own bank bailout. But President Bush took us further along the road to ruin first.

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Neat long-form division

What’s interesting about the upcoming Indiana GOP primary on May 4 is how the three main candidates represent the three distinct factions I wrote about in the TAC post Division Bell.

First you have Dan Coats, candidate of the Republican establishment. He’s a former Congressman, Ambassador to Germany and a Washington lobbyist. He was recruited by the GOP establishment to return to Indiana (he didn’t think much of the state to stay put either after he retired from Congress or after he returned from Germany).  He’s the perfect candidate for the GOP establishment, an old hand who’s firmly established inside the Insider’s Club.

Then you have State Sen. Marlin Stutzman who is starting to get backing from the conservative establishment, whether it’s David Keene of the ACU, or Erick Erickson of Red State and radio talk show host Mark Levin.  Even though a state senator who has backed tax increases and take advantage of Federal farm subsidies, his strong support for Israel, I guess, trumps all that.

Although, like divisions between the Republican and conservative establishment, there is overlapping as the Club for Growth and Jim Dobson have both supported Coats.

And then you have John Hostettler, the former Congressman who is largely relying on people power from the grassroots networks of activists he’s built up over the years along with help of his family to contest the seat. Hostettler may not get establishment support but given the way politics works nowadays, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

This doesn’t mean Hostettler lacks for outside support as Ron Paul has given his endorsement. And even though his campaign has grassroots support he still needs money to compete, especially buying TV ads with less than two weeks to go before the primary. That’s why his supporters are organizing a money bomb (or “money blitz”) for tomorrow.

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The Tea Party Tribe

“Is white the new black?”

So asks Kelefa Sanneh in the subtitle of “Beyond the Pale,” his New Yorker review of several books on white America, wherein he concludes we may be witnessing “the slow birth of a people.”

Sanneh is onto something. For after a year of battering as “un-American,” “evil-doers” and racists, and praise from talk-show hosts and Sarah Palin as “the real Americans,” Tea Party America seems to be taking on a new and separate identity.

Ethnonationalism — the recognition of an embryonic people that they are different from their neighbors, and the concomitant drive to live apart — is, as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote 20 years ago, a more powerful force than any ideology, be it communism, fascism or democracy.

Ethnonationalism is the pre-eminent force of the age we have entered, the creator and destroyer of empires and nations. Even as Schlesinger was writing his “Disuniting of America,” Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union were disintegrating into 22 new nations, along the lines of ethnicity. In Dagestan, Ingushetia, Chechnya, Ossetia and Abkhazia, the process proceeds apace.

It has happened before — and here.

In the American colonies, the evil institution of slavery, followed by a century of segregation, created out of the children of captured Africans who had little in common other than color a new people, the African-Americans, who went out and voted 24-to-one for Barack Obama. Read More…

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Tectonic Shifts at CIA

Last week’s surprise resignation of Stephen Kappes as Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency was at least partly due to disagreements over how to spy.  Kappes is an experience clandestine service operator with particular expertise in operations directed against Middle Eastern and terrorist targets.  He is regarded as a hard liner who endorsed many of the questionable interrogation and incarceration policies initiated by George Tenet, but he also supports maintaining the CIA’s traditional emphasis on classic espionage operations.  Kappes favored using resources to build up cadres of agents inside Iran and other countries viewed as hostile that could both be a source of information and could ultimately influence developments. 

Kappes had previously retired after disagreements with Director Porter Goss but was brought back into the agency to provide both experience and stability.  He is being replaced by CIA senior analyst Mike Morell.  Agency insiders believe the replacement of Kappes by an analyst is a reflection of the fact that the CIA no longer emphasizes agent handling, referred to as tradecraft, and has instead become a video-game-like targeting and killing machine that is an integral part of the so-called global war on terror.  High tech shooting galleries do not require much in the way of traditional espionage skills, which are largely being lost at CIA as case officers who actually spent their time developing, recruiting, and running agents retire.

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App Attack

Winning a Pulitzer doesn’t just help your career—it can also help you get around Apple’s censorship. Mark Fiore, who this week became the first online-only cartoonist to win the prize and the first to win for creating animated cartoons, mentioned in an interview that months ago Apple rejected his application to sell an iPhone app containing some of his satiric political animations. Apple told him that the company wouldn’t sell apps with “materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory,” and The New York Times says his app was blocked because “it included cartoons that mocked public figures.” Someone at Apple read this week’s interview and gave Fiore a call, encouraging him to resubmit his application.

He’s not the only app creator to have been rejected by Apple, of course. Apple declined to let one eBook reader in its store last year because it allowed users to download the Kama Sutra from the public domain clearinghouse Project Gutenberg. After a public uproar, Apple relented and let it through. And just this year, Apple made a wholesale cull of adult-oriented apps after users complained about them.

iPhone users have known for some time that Apple aggressively rejects apps, and on the whole don’t much seem to care. But another cartoonist whose app was rejected (and then approved after another media-driven outcry) thinks that the iPad will be a game changer here because of the (there’s that word again) revolutionary nature of the device.

With the introduction of the iPad, the focus of content for these devices moves out of the convenience of having a few apps in your pocket and into the promised land of a media delivery/consumption device that could revolutionize the way the world get’s its news, entertainment and information. Suddenly Apple’s control freak approach threatens the development of the very technology it is supposed to be innovating by placing restrictions and outright rejections upon the content that would be consumed via their devices. Apps for publications and newspaper content won’t be very useful if it only lets us see stuff that Apple and Steve Jobs thinks we should see, and rejects things they don’t like.

If the iPad is supposed to replace the Kindle and even your daily newspaper, the fact that its parent company takes an active role in controlling content it deems “objectionable” is a serious problem. But perhaps if the iPad catches on as a content-delivery device in a wider sense than the iPhone is, it will force Apple to take a more hands-off approach to what content is available.

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Massa Didn’t Ask, Didn’t Tell

“Beginning in March 2009 … male staffers complained that their boss touched them in a sexual manner, came up with reasons to have staffers travel alone with him on overnight trips and expressed a desire to have sex with men working in the office.”

So writes The Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig about disgraced Rep. Eric Massa. In her report, the New York Democrat comes off as an out-of-control sexual predator who conducted a year-long reign of terror on junior staffers in his Capitol Hill office, beginning right after he took his oath. It took a year for him to be outed and ousted.

Apparently, Massa propositioned his own chief of staff, Joe Racalto, who told Leonnig that “he tried in the fall of 2009 to bloc Massa from being alone with young male staffers and demanded that he move out of a townhouse he shared with staff members. He (Racalto) confirmed that he pulled Massa out of a Dupont Circle bar in December when he could not get the lawmaker to stop making inappropriate comments to a 21-year-old intern and another male staffer.”

According to the Post, the final straw came when Massa, at a reception after the funeral of a Marine who had died in Afghanistan, propositioned the bartender.

A sordid, sad tale. Sordid because Massa abused his power to intimidate young men into yielding to his appetites; sad because his compulsion destroyed a family and life. For Massa, a graduate of Annapolis, had served 24 years in the Navy, ending as staff officer to Gen. Wesley Clark at Southern Command and NATO before his election to the House. Read More…

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The art of persuasion

Given then tendency in public discourse these days to either preach the choir on TV or radio shows, or to lob artillery at each other in daily trench warfare (Keith Olbermann vs. Bill O’Reilly feud for example) the art of actually persuading someone that your argument is actually right or makes sense is a lost art these days.

And yet persuasion is exactly what non-interventionists are going to have to do to convince members of the Republican Party, both its leadership and its rank n’ file, that a change to a non-interventionist point of view will be better for the party, better for the nation most importantly, than the one they currently hold right now.  Larison thinks it may very well be a lost cause:

“As Millman suggests, support for the Iraq war has become an important part of modern conservative, and I would add Republican partisan, political identity. The Iraq war produced “the most polarized distribution of partisan opinions on a president and a war ever measured,” as Gary Jacobson says. The strong identification of conservatives and Republicans with the Iraq war was at first a point of pride and then a source of increasingly defensive self-justification as the vast majority of the country turned against the war and against conservatives and the GOP. Even if most Republican members of Congress recognize that the war was a “terrible mistake,” they refuse to acknowledge publicly that their support for the war and public discontent with the war were responsible for costing them their majorities in Congress. That tells me that even as a matter of crude electoral calculations the Congressional GOP has learned nothing. As a practical matter, mass Congressional Republican recognition of the error of invading Iraq has not led to any significant political or policy changes. As far as most Republican voters and conservatives are still concerned, “people like us” do not oppose foreign wars, and they especially don’t oppose the Iraq war in any meaningful way, and one reason for this is that the public face of opposition simply does not include mainstream Republicans, much less Republicans in any position of leadership or influence.”

Indeed, when Ron Paul stated clearly what his foreign policy views were at the recent Southern Republican Leadership Conference not everyone was applauding.

“Isolated boos mixed with supporters’ cheers upon these remarks, but as Paul continued, it became apparent that many in the audience were objecting not to Paul’s list of big-government villains, but rather to the congressman himself.”

That’s why Paul generally gets no respect within the media despite the fact he’s at least as well organized as the human bank vault Mitt Romney because nobody in the press thinks he can win the party’s nomination in 2012. There are many reasons for this but the main one is Paul’s views on foreign policy which clash with so many in the party. Among second choices on the SRLC ballot,  Paul only won five percent.

How can those who oppose Paul on these issues be persuaded to change their mind? Maybe the trick, at least at first,  is not so much changing the mind but changing the degree of opposition before changing the viewpoint.

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Out With the Old Media

I’m less impressed than Daniel Gross with Conan O’Brien’s move to TBS, but Gross nicely sums up the deteriorating state of network media:

Take NBC anchorman Brian Williams (born 1959), who took over from Tom Brokaw in 2004, at the age of 45, and Katie Couric (born 1957), who became anchor at CBS News in September 2006. They had the misfortune to rise through the network news ranks in a period when cable news was on the rise and network television was in a lengthy decline. According to the 2009 State of the Media report, the big three networks’ news shows had a combined audience of 22 million in 2009, down from 52 million 30 years ago. The median age of a nightly news viewer in 2009: 62.3. Sure, the audiences that tune into Brian, Katie, and Diane are larger than those watching cable. But the network anchors are like large, aging sturgeon in a pond that’s drying up. The fate of late boomer George Stephanopoulos (born 1961), who recently took the helm at ABC’s Good Morning America, is also likely to be grim. Morning news show audiences are shrinking by the day. As Bill Carter of the New York Times noted, GMA’s ratings were “down in the first quarter by about 4 percent in viewers and by a more sizable 12 percent among the news audience that advertisers seek, those 25 to 54 years old.” Something similar is happening in print, too. Richard Stengel, named editor of Time in 2006 at the age of 51, took charge of the nation’s largest newsmagazine in May 2006—just in time to cut the rate base from 4 million to 3.25 million and preside over a shrinkage of staff.

This is not to get too starry-eyed about new media, which so far has given us neocon blogs and smarmy young pundits aplenty, but the old guard middlebrow newsmedia certainly deserve their fate. This is a case of creative destruction.

Postscript: See this column by A.C. Kleinheider for a skeptical but not hostile take on the new media, from someone who has invested a few prime years of his life in it. Kleinheider was, and is, a perceptive, no-nonsense newsblogger and political analyst whose services were nonetheless dispensed with recently by The economics of the new media don’t work much better than those of the old, of course: the old media can hardly remain solvent with audiences in the millions, while the scaled-down economies of blogging and other webwork provide only the most modest and uncertain incomes for all but the biggest brand names.  But then, Fleet Street was a cutthroat place in its heyday as well.

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The Great Tea Party Cash-In

The greatest dangers the Tea Party movement has always had to face is co-optation, whether by the GOP establishment or by Conservative INC. This article posted on Politico showed how a GOP political consulting firm out of California, under the head renowned operative Sal Russo, created the Tea Party Express as a way to “give a boost to our PAC and position us as a growing force/leading force as the 2010 elections come into focus.” Indeed. They’ve used the Tea Party moniker and their bus tour to collect over $2.7 million in donations.

Needless to say other Tea Party group aren’t too happy when they’re struggling to raise funds while GOP hucksters suck up the cash by slapping a Tea Party label on a bus and having Sarah Palin speak at rallies, like the one in Boston today.

We’ve worked hard to distance ourselves from the Tea Party Express because of their close affiliation with the Republican Party, the Republican establishment and their PAC,” said Debbie Dooley, a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, a national umbrella group of local activists. The Patriots have supported a strict nonpartisan posture but also have struggled to raise money, and Dooley contends that’s partly because of Tea Party Express.

“When people donate to Tea Party Express, they think that they are donating to a tea party, because they don’t read the fine print at the bottom of their e-mails that says it is a PAC,” she said. “And that hurts the local grass-roots tea party organizers, since a lot of that is actually taking some money away from them.”

Adds Ned Ryun, president of American Majority, a nonprofit group that trains local tea party organizers: “I’m concerned that they’re using (Tea Party Express) as a marketing gimmick to line the pockets of consultants instead of actually helping the tea party movement. People are already pretty fired up, so enough protesting and rallying — they need to be empowered to go back and organize their communities.”

So on top of having Sen. Scott Brown disown them and vote for spending bills that I’m sure they weren’t anticipating while they were campaigning out in the dead of winter for him, those Tea Partiers heading to the Boston Common will also have the joy of being fleeced by the GOP establishment and seeing their money go to political consultants as they contribute to what they think is their movement.

It’s not surprising that the Powers that Be would prey upon the Tea Partiers. For one thing, the establishment party found itself without much of an activist base after eight years of Bush II. What is referred to as the “religious right” is a spent force, other groups are more into their own single issues and still others are made up more of email lists and fundraisers rather than flesh and blood door-to-door persons.  The Tea Parties were Godsend to them, not  because of bodies in the street but names and credit cards numbers they could exploit.  Indeed, there was a reason why so many rightists were looking forward to the Obama Presidency, they were back in business again.  As they will tell you (and as the netroots are currently finding out) it’s a lot harder to fire people up when your gang runs the show.

The problem the Tea Partiers have is trying to figure out who is on their side and who isn’t, because its easy for consultants to create and  hide behind front groups. They do it all the time. Who wouldn’t think a bus tour with stop at rallies all across the country or having a national convention of the likeminded were neat ideas to gain national attention and build up momentum? But they have to start asking questions, such as “Who gets to ride on the bus?”

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