The State and the State of Osama bin Laden: Marketing and Medievalism
The fact of the matter is that our intel is so wretchedly poor on bin Laden that we really have no idea of his condition. Here are the possibilities:
1) He's dead.
2) He's still alive but in wretched shape, given that he's been on kidney dialysis far longer than any normal human being of his age would be able to suffer it under the rugged, austere, unsanitary conditions in which he must live and travel as a wanted fugitive.
3) He's alive, and he's had a kidney transplant, which would have bought him a greater or lesser amount of time among the living. He has the money to get the transplant, and he probably has the resources to have been moved surreptitiously into and then from a hospital where such an operation could have been performed.
Whether or not he remains among the living, it is in the interest of his close associates to maintain that he remains alive. Most of the groups pledging allegiance to "al-Qa'ida" are actually pledging allegiance to bin Laden. He has become, thanks in no small part to United States President George W. Bush, a living legend; however, similar to quite a few other 'living legends'both those who worked for good and those who worked for illof history, he has to remain living for his influence to remain even marginally meaningful: no one in his inner circle commands the ethos, despite the fact that it has been several of his top lieutenants who have for years done the international legwork to rally insurgencies to the al-Qa'ida banner.
But therein lies the key: most of the international "al-Qa'ida" branding is just a label for a collection of disparate packages of highly variable quality and content, each of which is entirely disjointed operationally and even ideologically from the core that resides in bin Laden, himself. In other words, troublemakers like "al-Qa'ida in Iraq" and the al-Qa'ida movements in Asia and Asia Minor have the name, but their interests are almost all far more parochial; and they will always remain that way.
If bin Laden becomes dead to the world, the spectrum of "al-Qa'ida" groups will continue to call themselves 'al-Qa'ida in This Place' and 'al-Qa'ida in That Place'; but the brand name will be nothing more than legacy to virtually every one of them, save for the remnants of the core immediately surrounding the formerly living legend. The saying goes that "All politics is local"; the war equivalent of this is that "All insurgency is local": be it politics or rebellion, long-arm financing is not the same as control, and declared fealty to abstract, detached authority has precious little to do with tactical or even strategic goals on the local turf.
The situation in which Islamic insurgencies find themselves these days is rather similar to that offered by the feudal system in England of the Middle Ages: nobles would declare "homage and fealty" to a higher lord, perhaps even to the reigning king or to the incumbent pope, thereby becoming vassals of that higher lord and, in the event, transferring legal title to their lands and other holdings to that higher authority; in exchange, they would be granted perpetual estate over their former holdings, and they would garner the full benefit of the protection, legal and military, of the lord to whom they had pledged. In reality, however, the effect of such a pledge was far less a matter of surrendering anything at all or of gaining material support, at least in the long run. For the pledging vassal, the ritual was engaged principally for the acquisition of titular association: he, by becoming aligned with the nominative authority of the lord to whom he had pledged his homage and fealty, could acquire by the association political, financial, and military power (provided he understood how to use the doors of power opened by his association).
Osama bin Laden is nothing new: murderous criminals have always existed; and many have gotten away with their monstrous crimes. Somewhat less common is a powerful sovereign granting such a rogue his very own sovereign status, thereby transforming a mass murderer into an authority able to beckon others to pledge allegiance to a flag that had no legitimacy until a real sovereign state gave its grant in words and deeds. Perversely, then, President Bush drew a commoner to nobility as his knight-errant in a vassal-lord relationship to the explicit purpose of thereby having an enemy worthy of the sovereign's attention on the battlefield.
Thus, until such time as bin Laden is dead to the world, al-Qa'ida will be at once a meaningful, feudal entity offering legitimacy to the illegitimate and an equally viable, modern label for co-branding by wanton killers across a world of malcontents alienated by modernity, yet perversely willing to subscribe to its corporatist marketing methods and weaponry.
The Dark Wraith finds the situation altogether rich for future case studies in business and history classes.
Economic Incentives and Anti-competitive Markets: A Healthcare Price-gouging Story
On the consumers' side, detaching the user of a service from the full force of the price of that service is, always has been, and always will be a guarantee that the most effective force of free marketsprices, themselveswill be blunted. In the terminology of insurance and economics, this is called "moral hazard"or, more technically accurately, morale hazard, since it is not a willful act from incentives that causes an outcome adverse to others.
On the healthcare providers' side, hiding prices and falsely, disingenuously claiming it would be impossible to clearly show them openly, categorically, and in advance to both consumers and insurers is the most effective way to systematically and persistently protect price-gouging activities. Again, in the terminology of insurance and economics, this is genuine, moral hazard, since the incentive to greater gain is engaged willfully and to an end that adversely affects others. The moral hazard is expressed in price-veiling behavior that walks on veritable stilts; and the only waythe only wayto prevent moral hazard from become action is a statutory and associated regulatory framework that not only proscribes the behaviors deriving from the incentives, but establishes uniform, systematic, countervailing disincentives severe enough to alter the calculus of action for those who face the moral hazard compelling them to act adversely to the interests of others. In plain English, that means the only way to keep healthcare providers from acting on their price-veiling incentives, which allow them to avoid facing price competition, is to make the risk and cost of the behavior (along with the risk and cost of collusion in an open price display environment) so high that it is more profitable to compete than it is to cheat.
To avoid any further lecture about markets, incentives, and what can be done to use "free markets" against the healthcare system that so disingenuously hides from brutalities like real competition, this story will focus on Ellen, the person, who just happens to be one of the several hundred million healthcare consumers in America, and who just happens to be one of the hundreds of millions of those consumers who has received a rather appalling bill. The economics lessons about incentives, pricing, and "morale" and "moral" hazards are on lovely display in the simplicity of the narrative, itself. Subsequent articles here at The Dark Wraith Forums will focus on the dry economics of the mess that is the American healthcare system; but offering anecdotal evidence from the human interest side of the whole story is a fine opus.
Ellen is a middle-aged, well-educated woman. She has two Bachelor's degrees and a Master's degree, all in the hard sciences. Those degrees haven't ever done her much good, though. Like many science-oriented, very bright people, she's never really found much need for her education-based knowledge and skills. For most of her life, she's had to work hard: grueling part-time/full-time work as a banquet waitress and full-time work doing something else. For a few years, she had a sweet, full-time job as an EDI jockey at a billing services company, but she let a young man with whom she was involved talk her into his grand, self-fulfilling dream of moving to another city, where he did well for a while as she found next to nothing in terms of work. Lesson learned: she dumped the delusional loser and moved back to the Midwestern city where she could at least get back into the grind of solid hours as a banquet waitress while scouring the employment landscape for a full-time job to get healthcare benefits.
Although not in bad health by any meansbeing rigidly disciplined in her healthful eating habits and exercise regimensEllen had faced her share of scares and long-term trials: ravaging endometriosis, then fibroid tumors, endured for years before she finally got a hysterectomy gave her quite a bit of reason to stay focused on ensuring continuity of medical insurance coverage.
After a few temporary gigs back in town, Ellen finally landed a position in one of those low-end lab/factory types of places where the lenses for glasses are coated, packed, and shipped off to the pretty, nice-smelling, clean optical retail shops.
Ellen works like a machine: efficient; nearly obsessed with detail and quality; loyal to her work, even when she doesn't like it. She'd like to get out of this place sooner rather than later, but there's not much out there. Who needs a middle-aged, never-married woman with a handful of degrees in the biological sciences and in geology? (She does take courses in computer software skills at a regional community college; but, then again, so do tens of thousands of other people fruitlessly hoping such skills will land them a full-time job paying more than ten bucks an hour.)
The place where she works is on the south side of town. She works the night shifts; the hourly pay's a little better. The south side is where the trash that doesn't live closer to the center of the city, on the north and east sides, lives.
Ellen's co-workers are mostly poorly educated: younger women with bad soap operas for lives, a cluster of younger, Right-wing, FOX News-watching men, and a few other types, mostly really hard-working, somewhat older women who, with Ellen, pretty much get the work done while getting trashed, written up, and otherwise treated with varying degrees of disdain by the men.
Scumbags living in the surrounding communities (if that's what those gutted towns could be called, given the long-term economic depression on the south side of the gleaming city) routinely prowl the parking lot looking for cars to break into during the evening and night shifts. The women in the lab used to keep their purses in their cars, hidden under the seat, so they wouldn't get money stolen by the other workers in the lab; unfortunately, that meant the dope addicts, homeboyz, whores, and assorted other vermin cruising the lots had reason to just go around smashing car windows on the chance that a jackpot would be waiting. That happened to Ellen once, so she stopped hiding her purse (once she got a new one) in her car. The dope addicts and other desperates who hit the parking lot might still smash the windows of her car, but they aren't going to get her money once they get in.
Last Spring, on a visit back home to her parents' place in the northern part of the state, Ellen's mother gave her a small, somewhat ugly end table. Having little room for much of anything else in her small apartment, Ellen had kept it in the back of her car, politely ignoring it.
Sure enough, that was more than enough excuse for some loser to break into her car at work. The end table was stolen, the rear passenger side window of the car was totally shattered, and Ellen had absolutely no incentive to even so much as hint to her auto insurance company that something had happened, given that she was afraid that would be more than enough reason for her insurer to jack up her rates.
Auto glass isn't like normal, everyday, window glass. When it gets shattered, it goes into a million pieces, almost all of them tiny. It's all those countless, barely visible shards that are really hard to vacuum up because they catch in the floor carpets, in the seats, and underneath things; and it's those minuscule pieces that are like finely-honed razor blades: just barely touching one can cause blood to flow from a finger; and may Heaven help the hapless fool who sits in a seat that hasn't been thoroughly, repeatedly vacuumed after shattered auto glass has landed on it. Ellen got the window fixed, and the auto glass shop did a nice job of cleaning up the awful mess of glass all over the floors and seats.
At the end of June, Ellen decided it was time to get rid of some of the accumulation of junk in her car. As meticulous and detail-oriented as she is in her professional life, she is quite inattentive to the state of her apartment and her car. In her defense, given that many days she works anywhere from 12 to 18 hours at her full-time job on the south side of town and at her banquet gigs at several big hotels downtown, it's amazing she has time even to put her clothes away properly after she's washed them at the laundromat. When things pile up, though, she eventually gets religion and goes on a cleaning spree; and so it was that her car was going to be the beneficiary of a thorough cleaning out. It was pretty messy in there. After she'd gotten the car window fixed from the robbery in the Spring, she'd let things pile up in the back seat: books, clothes, odds and ends, some trash, even coins that had fallen out of her pockets and purse and rolled to the back.
So there she was: pawing around in the dark after she'd gotten home from her night shift, gathering trash, reaching around here and there on the floor of the rear passenger area. All of a sudden, she felt a sharp pain in her finger. Pulling her hand out and holding it up, at first she couldn't see what was causing it to hurt like Hell. Finally, she did. There it was: straight through the meaty part of the end of her index finger and on out through the fingernail on the other side, a sparkling shard of glass, about an inch-and-a-half long, and so thin it was barely visible.
Now, odd as it might seem given her rigorous training in biology, Ellen is not big on blood. A fair-skin, natural redhead who has repeatedly had problems with anemia, she's the kind of person who can start rolling her eyes to the back of her head even so much as hearing about a blood draw; so what she was seeing in front of her own eyes there in her own finger was unwelcome in a big way. Fortunately, her background in science actually kept her from passing out: this was an observational curiosity, and it was also a matter that required a step-by-step, rational solution. Having grown up on a farm, Ellen is no stranger to the occasional cuts and bruises; but having learned her biology lessons well, and having worked as a graduate research assistant in a biology laboratory, she has a healthy respect for, and fear of, bacterial and viral pathogens. Yes, pulling the shard out might be a good idea, but something occurred to Ellen: she hadn't had a tetanus shot in well more than a decade. In fact, it had been so long ago she couldn't put an exact year on when she'd gotten her last booster.
Late at night, and without any doctor she could call her own, anyway, Ellen got behind the wheel of her car and headed to the nearest emergency room, which happened to be the one associated with the gigantic state university near which she lives. At the emergency room, and after something of a wait, she got her finger fixed, and she got her tetanus shot. Subsequently, she got her copy of the bill, which was also sent to her medical insurance provider.
The bill prompted her to contact me, and I told her that I would want to see how the insurance company handled the nonsense there on display. Amazingly, the insurance company didn't knock down the bill and pay its part of what it decided was reasonable, which is what a lot of insurance providers do these days: they get the medical bills, then they simply say, "No, we're going to say it's this lesser amount, and we'll pay our percentage, and then you can bill the patient for the remainder." Not this time, though; the insurance company didn't even so much as bat an eye at the bill, much less ask Ellen any questions about what had happened and what she actually got as far as healthcare services were concerned at the emergency room.
Below is the main portion of the final statement of payment from Ellen's insurance company. (Click on the image to see the entire "Explanation of Benefits" document she received and subsequently faxed to me.)
In words and numbers, the Explanation of Benefits presented above lays out what happened: walking into the emergency room cost $658.00; the drugs that were administered cost $105.00; and the tetanus booster cost $44.00. All told, that visit to the emergency room cost $807.00.
That's right: $807.00 for an inch-and-a-half shard of glass through the top of her finger. Ellen's insurance provider paid $657.00 of the bill, and Ellen paid the $150.00 balance.
Oh, but the story is even better. What follows is part of my telephone interview with Ellen for this story.
Dark Wraith: So, you were charged $658.00 just to check in at the emergency room?
Dark Wraith: Did you have any idea at all that it was going to cost this much?
Ellen: Uh, no... it's not like they have weekly ads in the paper or a big sign outside like a gas station.
Dark Wraith: So, you had no idea what one emergency room charges versus another, right?
Dark Wraith: Okay, let's get past the initial sticker shock and find out about the quality of care you received. I mean, for that much money, you were probably treated pretty well.
Ellen: You know what happened? I sat there for a while... I don't know how long, really... and then I was called back to this sort of open area where the nurse sat me in a chair beside a little cabinet. She washed my finger with warm, soapy water; then she gave me my shot and said I was all done.
Dark Wraith: Wait... wait a minute. I... let me... they did pull out the glass, right?
Ellen: No, I'd already pulled that out myself while I was waiting.
Dark Wraith: So they didn't put in a stitch or two?
Ellen: I don't know whether they should have or not, but it wasn't bleeding anymore, and they didn't.
Dark Wraith: ...didn't put in any stitches.
Ellen: That's right.
Dark Wraith: Well, what about the "Drugs" on the bill? Was that... were those painkillers?
Ellen: They didn't give me any drugs.
Dark Wraith: They didn't?! Not even any Tylenol? It says right here on this bill... this insurance statement that they did: a hundred and five dollars worth.
Dark Wraith: Nothing. No drugs of any kind.
Dark Wraith: So the line item "Drugs" would be referring to that 'warm, soapy water' you mentioned.
Ellen: I guess.
Dark Wraith: Was it tap or bottled?
Ellen (laughing): Right out of the sink.
Dark Wraith: Did you tell this to your insurance company?
Ellen: They didn't ask... I never talked to them. I just got the thing from them I faxed to you.
Dark Wraith: Forgive me for being a little aggressive here, and I mean... I don't want you to think I'm blaming you for anything about this, but why didn't you take the initiative and say something?
Ellen: I don't like to rock the boat. I didn't want to get into a fight like that. Besides, I'm not really sure who I should call. It's not like I wanted to argue about what part of the bill they paid... it seemed pretty generous what they covered.
Dark Wraith: Yes, I understand.
Ellen: You think I should have said something.
Dark Wraith: No, no. I really do understand. I mean, it's like, you call some one-eight-hundred number at the insurance company, and then you get some brainless recording going, "Press one for this, press two for that," and on and on.
Ellen: Exactly. And besides, I figure I'm out a hundred and fifty dollars. I'm glad it's over with... and I learned my lesson.
Dark Wraith: You'll try to find out what different emergency rooms around town charge before you have to go to one again.
Ellen: Well, yeah, maybe... but I meant I won't clean out my car ever again without wearing those heavy gloves you get at the hardware store.
Dark Wraith: Ah. Lesson learned... Thank you for letting me write an article about this.
Although Ellen has communicated with me on several occasions since that interview, not once has she mentioned the visit to the emergency room or the bill. She paid the $150, and she moved on with her life.
And, of course, that well-respected emergency room has moved on, too, no doubt continuing its price-gouging practices, supported by insurance companies that pay the medical bills without even so much as fussing because, after all, the outrageous costs can always be passed on in continually rising insurance premiums paid by consumers and their employers. The only losers in a symbiotic system like that are those who don't have medical insurance, a lot of them in that situation because they can't find an employer stupid enough to offer healthcare coverage under a system that's really win-win only for the healthcare providers and insurers.
The Dark Wraith will, most definitely and at length, write further on the economics of healthcare.
Bush to Blame U.S. Exit from Vietnam for Terrorism
In an altogether stunning expression of broader, radical historical revisionism long held by neo-conservatives, Bush will assert that our exit from Vietnam "emboldened" today's terrorists. Incapable of admitting utter catastrophe in waging a 21st Century war of aggression that has left the U.S. armed forces debilitated and incapable of effectively fighting even a single theater war against a real enemy, and unable to face up to the wreck visited upon the fiscal house of the nation by irresponsible tax cuts for the rich coupled with unending, uncontrolled costs of vaporous war against a stateless band of criminal maniacs, the President of the United States of America is about to go all the way back and blame Richard Milhouse Nixon for this miserable failure of a Presidency.
If there's anything at all to the talk about paranormal phenomena, let us hope that, one night very soon, Nixon's ghost comes roaring into Mr. Bush's bedroom, rips the twit off the mattress, and slaps the snot right out of him. And once Nixon's ghost is finished, then the ghosts of 54,000 or so U.S. soldiers killed in the Vietnam War can all show up at once and have their turn at rudely awakening him from his neo-con dream world.
That whole experience might not turn President Bush's thinking around, but it would sure teach him once and for all to leave the dead out of his sorry excuses for being so wretched as a leader that he makes Richard Nixon look positively outstanding by comparison.
Grammar and Punctuation Quiz
As regular visitors well know, your host teaches mathematics, economics, business, and computer skills classes. I used to be an English grammar and composition teacher, but grammar is supposed to be dead. Sadly for the pop-academic airheads who have been bleating that lambskin drum for the past few decades, I am still very much alive, and I now run the transcription and proofreading classes at a Midwestern college. That means I am in charge of ensuring that a whole new generation of hapless students learns what the with-it world of better intellectuals has relegated to the trash heap along with slide rules and manual algebraic manipulation skills.
The quiz below is based upon the one I use as a preliminary evaluation instrument in transcription and proofreading classes. The typical averageand bear in mind that all of these students have high school diplomas or GEDs, and most have already completed their college English requirementsis about 50 percent. That's right: fifty percent.
You'll do better.
The Dark Wraith thanks you for taking this pleasurable and diversionary quiz.
Bush Family Blue
That's right, folks: the daughter of President Abstinence-Only-Sex-Education and feral offspring of the standard-bearer of the Party of the Defense of Family Values is in the family way, and so much so that she's already wearing cow smocks to try to hide the consequence of her out-of-wedlock fornication-oriented lifestyle. The picture at left shows Jenna in what appears to be a maternity top. In attendance are family members and Sesame Street icon Elmo, whose obvious look of surprise seems to indicate that he has just been let in on the pious family's rather embarrassing secret.
Is Jenna's soon-to-be husband, Henry Hager, being escorted to the altar with a 12-gauge shotgun to his back? The young man is certainly no stranger to danger: a former White House aide and member of the powerful Right-wing Republican Hager family out of Virginia, 29-year-old Henry burnished his GOP credentials by working on the Bush re-election campaign under the watchful eye of dirty-tricks master Karl Rove, some of whose tactics may have crossed the line from outrageous to criminal if prosecutors choose to press charges related to his coordination of voter caging lists. Henry's involvement in possible crimes during the campaign is unknown at this time, but becoming a member of the Bush clan will certainly enhance his chances of walking away from past misdeeds without punishment.
The question remains, though: Is Jenna Bush really pregnant? If she is, how is the proud Bush familydevout Christians, all of themplanning to deal with their daughter's fall from grace into the sin of fornication? The family's shame will have no end, especially in this era of opportunistic Leftists and liberals, who will try to convince the defiled girl that hers was no sin as long as her out-of-wedlock sex was with a man she loved and included reasonably believable fake orgasms to make Henry believe that he truly is, as all Christian Republican men should be, a real American stud.
To comfort Jenna's parents, George W. and Laura, in this heart-wrenching time, we conclude this article with select passages from the Holy Bible.
Leviticus 21:13 (NIV): The woman he marries must be a virgin.
Matthew 15:19 (KJV): For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
Acts 15:20 (NIV): Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (KJV): Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind... [n]or thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 6:13 (KJV): Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.
Colossians 3:5 (NIV): Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
The Dark Wraith thanks BibleGateway.com for providing relevant citations and quotes for God's Word on fornicators.
Clueville Calling on Wiki Line One
From "Blogging the Code"
I have to bring up [Wikipedia founder] Jimmy Wales, not by name but rather by his Wikipedia site, at least several times every semester when I counsel (actually, when I roar at) students who are under the misimpression that they can use Wikipedia as a legitimate citation in a college-level term paper.
In comments on my article "Mahjongg Associated with Epileptic Seizures in Older Men":
To say I don't much care for Wikipedia is somewhat akin to saying I don't much care for dog sandwiches.
And in response to the question, "What would you pay for google access?" posed to me in a comment thread at BlondeSense, my response, in part:
What would I pay for a subscription to Google search engine services?
I'd pay the same as I would for access to Wikipedia.
They can kiss the wallet in my ass pocket.
My account balance...
Yes, I already said "Zero" at the beginning, but I wanted to find closure by coming around full circle.
The Dark Wraith sometimes gives hints regarding his true feelings about nefarious Internet parasites.
So, what could possibly make me such an ardent detractor of a helpful cyberpop icon of knowledge as Wikipedia has come to be? Could it possibly be the fact that such a huge site with such dense content has no apparent source of ad revenue that could be paying for server space and all the apparent money the founder seems to be making? Could it possibly be that there is no standing independent academic certification of that content? Could it be that even your own dog could be contributing and/or editing content the hordes of Internet factoid mavens quote as God's Word? Could it be the long-standing, unsubstantiated rumors of what kind of people and other entities are actually behind the "non-profit" Wikimedia Foundation that supports Wikipedia?
Or could it be that I am nothing but an out-of-touch Luddite who can't stand the fact that knowledge has finally merged with information, which has coälesced with data to offer the ultimate one-stop stairwell to Final Jeopardy and your very own degree at Online-University.com? That is to say, my long-standing, vocal disdain for Wikipedia could be nothing more than evidence of my own unjustified, inappropriate, pre-Information Age judgmentalism, tainting as it does the credibility of pretty much everything else I assess.
Indeed. For readers' consideration on whether or not my judgment of Wikipedia is worthy, I herewith submit the link to an August 14, 2007, article in Wired News. The title says it all: "See Who's Editing Wikipedia Diebold, the CIA, a Campaign." Read the article. Decide for yourselves whether the fast-track escalator to the Wisdom of the Ages is going anywhere near the hoped-for destination at Quik-'n-EZ Knowledge Central.
Democracy in politics is wondrous: people like George W. Bush can win the popular vote. Democracy in information content is just as wondrous: that dog of yours might be one of the more reliable editors at Wikipedia. In both cases, however, the result is likely to be the same as the service provided by a house of ill repute: the mendaciously desperate doing the unhygienically unseemly to the impenitently detached.
The Dark Wraith must also, and in conclusion, point out that any word beginning with "wiki" is an abomination hated by God.
Pulp Economics: Liquidity, Open Market Operations, and Financial Institution Portfolios
"I had to look up liquidity. I always thought it meant having assets that are easily convertible to cash. Don't you need the asset first (earn it) before you can make it "liquid" (cash it in)..."
Excellent background resources on economics can be found right here at Websites of Dark Wraith Publishing, where readers interested in money-related macroeconomics topics can, for example, view the two-part lecture series, "Money Economics," which is still available in WMV format:
For reading material, Pulp Economics posts here have included the still-ongoing series, "A Brief History of Money," Part 1 of which begins with a fun little story to simply and effectively explain the fundamental principles of the relationship among the money supply, real output, and the aggregate price level elegantly captured in the so-called "equation of exchange." That particular article goes on to weave together a number of macroeconomics concepts, among them the various uses of the term "liquidity."
The present article is a hard-and-fast distillation of previously offered content to the purpose of explaining exactly what "liquidity" means in the context of Federal Reserve activities intended to control the money supply and market interest rates.
The Federal Reserve pumps moneythat is, "liquidity"into the banking system by executing "open market operations" from the Open Market Desk at the Federal Reserve District Bank in New York. To move money into the banking system, the Desk (and this isn't just one physical desk, but a whole lot of them with people executing transactions all the time) begins to buy up Treasury securities held by member banks. As the Fed-induced surge of demand for Treasury bills ripples into the open market, the price of T-bills responds by rising. As the price of the government debt instruments rises, the yield on those securities falls because of the mathematical, inverse relationship between the price and yield of any security. In other words, when the price of, say, a Treasury bill rises, its yield falls; when the price of a Treasury bill falls, its yield rises. (A thorough set of actual, numerical examples is provided in the above-linked Part One of "A Brief History of Money.")
So the Federal Reserve has entered the market buying T-bills from member banks, and the effect is that T-bill prices are rising, and the yields on T-bills are easing back in lock-step. Since T-bill yields are starting to drop, at least a marginal effect on yields of other debt instruments should follow relatively quickly since debt instruments are all, to some greater or lesser extent, competing in the same world of investors. In this regard, it is important to note that even a person getting a loan to buy a home is nothing but a seller of a debt security, with the financing bank being the pre-arranged purchaser of it. Hence, if a very low-risk, short-term debt instrument like a government T-bill is offering lower yields, this should have an impact, albeit very small in its direct application, on what investors in long-term, somewhat higher-risk instruments will expect for yields.
Anyway, returning to the banking system, because T-bill demand being created by the Desk activity is driving up prices of T-bills, member banks are attracted to sell some from their own asset holdings. As they do, the Fed pays them in money, which enters the Federal Funds market, which is essentiallyand this is very loose talkthe pool of bank accounts of banks themselves.
Before moving to the next step in the cascade of consequences, mention should be made of the term "asset holdings" used in the last paragraph. Banks are investors: they buy and sell financial assets and in some circumstances act as financial intermediaries in so doing. What a bank owns in terms of those financial assets is, then, a portfolio: it comprises very liquid (easily transacted) assets like cash-money and T-bills along with less liquid assets like car loans to people, maybe revolving credit accounts for people and businesses, commercial paper (high-grade, short-term loans to huge, credit-worthy corporations), and other types of debt instruments.
A long time ago, a bank or a "thrift" (a savings and loan association) portfolio of assets might also have had debt paper the bank had bought from people buying homes. Each piece of this very special kind of debt paper would have had an attached agreement collateralizing the promissory note with the house, itself, being bought by the issuer of the debt, the "issuer" being a curious but entirely accurate way of describing the borrower, since the person buying the home sells a loan instrument that a bank or savings and loan has prearranged to buy so the borrower can use the proceeds of the debt sale to buy the house. This type of asset banks and other financial institutions used to hold is called a "mortgage loan" because it's a loan (a promise to repay) with a contractual collateralized protection (a mortgage) using the physical asset of the house for which the loan was taken out to buy.
Banks don't keep this kind of asset anymore; instead, they just originate mortgage loans, then quickly bundle a bunch of them and sell each bundle off to specialized institutional investors, places with acronym-like names such as "Ginnie Mae" (GNMA) and "Freddie Mac" (FHLMC) for home loans, and "Sallie Mae" (SLMC) for student loans. Other specialized buyers exist for other kinds of loans, and there are even specialist markets for different quality levels of the same type of loan. For example, mortgage loans made to people who are excellent credit risks might be of interest to one kind of "secondary mortgage market" participant, whereas mortgage loans made to people with not-so-good credit histories might be of interest to another kind of mortgage loan bundle buyer.
All of that portfolio discussion above was to the end of making it clear that a bank is nothing but an investment institution specializing in building and managing a portfolio of financial assets that includes cash-money in the vault and various types of loan paper purchased from borrowers of various kinds. Banks also make money by originating a structured type of debt paper called mortgage loans, and they make money by taking care of payments and such on these loans, although they sell the loans, themselves, very quickly. So what the Federal Reserve Bank does with its open market operations is use two of its member banks' big asset components, money and Treasury bills, the latter being short-term debt paper sold by the United States Treasury to finance current government operations that cannot be paid for because of insufficient tax revenues.
In summary, the Fed controls the money supply through the "hook" of the money and T-bills banks hold in their normal course of operations.
When banks sell to the Desk from their T-bill inventories, the Fed is moving money into the banking system via the Federal Funds market, which is where the Fed deposits the money it pays the banks for the T-bills it's buying from them. As a result, the Federal Funds marketthe pool of money banks collectively have through their own bank accountsbecomes relatively more flush with money the banks can use in ways they couldn't use those T-bills they had before they sold them to the Fed.
Two things will happen as a result of this. First, there's more money in the banking system, and that's where the idea of the Federal Reserve "adding liquidity" to the system comes from: when those banks had T-bills in their inventories, they could do nothing with them except hold them and earn the payout return when the instruments matured; but now that they've traded those T-bills for money the Fed paid (that is, rebalanced their asset portfolios toward more liquidity), those banks can use that money to make loans.
The second result is that, because the banks now have a larger supply of lendable funds floating in the Federal Funds market, they can make loans at lower rates. Remember that interest rates are really just the price of money, and when the supply of anything goes up, its price is probably going to fall to some greater or lesser extent. All that new money ("added liquidity") means the price of money, interest rates, should ease back (or at least stop rising, as the case might be).
As a side note, the Federal Funds market, the place where all that bank money is floating, is sometimes considered the "interbank lending market" since banks will borrow from each other at an attractive rate from the pool of money in this market. That's why you'll hear financial talking heads talk about the so-called "Federal Funds rate," which is the rate of interest at which banks lend money to each other: that Fed Funds rate is the actual, real-world measure of how liquid that Federal Funds market is! If the Federal Reserve has been pumping money into the banking system through those open market operations, the Federal Funds rate should ease back because the market is flush with money. On the other hand, if the Federal Reserve has been "draining liquidity" from the banking system by selling Treasury bills to banks (which the banks pay for with money they otherwise could have lent), then the Fed Funds rate should rise as the supply of lendable funds in the banking system drops.
Hence, open market operations affect the Federal Funds rate, which is an interest rate that forms more or less a floor on any interest rate a bank would charge for any kind of loan. Also, interestingly enough, even though the Federal Reserve most decidedly affects the Federal Funds rate by adding liquidity to the banking system or draining liquidity from it, the Fed does not have the power to actually set that Fed Funds rate since all kinds of other factors on the supply and demand sides for credit will be having their own impacts on interest rates banks have to charge.
What the Federal Reserve Bank does is set a "target" for the Federal Funds rate, and then it executes patterns of open market operations to try to put the rate where it wants it. The Federal Reserve also has another little trick, one that's pretty lame: it's called the "discount rate." That's the interest rate the Fed sets on its own for what it would charge a bank that wanted to borrow money directly from the Federal Reserve Bank instead of from the Federal Funds market. The thing of it is that banks aren't going to be very excited about walking up to the so-called "Discount Window" at the Federal Reserve to borrow money; they'd rather use the Federal Funds market, so that discount rate the Fed declares is nothing more than what is called a "signal": it's the Fed's way of conveying to the banking system what its own thinking is about market conditions; and when the Fed changes this discount rate, it's the way the Fed signals changes or reaffirmations about its thinking concerning matters like inflation and economic growth prospects for the country. However, in and of itself, the discount rate is almost meaningless in terms of day-to-day operations of the banking system.
On the other hand, one important thing to keep an eye on is changes in the spread between that symbolic discount rate and the much more important Federal Funds rate. If the two are pulling away from each other, that means what the Federal Reserve wants to have happen and what the banking system is actually experiencing are diverging because of supply and demand conditions, and the Federal Reserve needs to figure out what, if anything, it can do to bring money conditions in the real world back in line with its policy expectations. Because the discount rate and the Federal Funds rate can and do diverge, the Federal Reserve Board knows very well that adding liquidity to or draining liquidity from the banking system might not have the desired, full impact.
Finally, just to finish this article on a cheery note, a liquidity nightmare scenario ought to be mentioned. There's all that moneymind-boggling, almost incomprehensible amounts of itheld by foreign central banks. That's the money we gave them when we bought their cheap imports, cheap because, in at least one case, the country in question was systematically undervaluing its currency by a ridiculous amount for years, thereby making the stuff it was selling here way underpriced while the stuff we were trying to sell over there way overpriced. That country, along with a handful of others that might or might not remain nice, could upset the Federal Reserve's daily open market operations dance like an improvised explosive device upsets a donkey cart.
That's right: while the Federal Reserve is right now saving the risk-loving, downside-consequences-hating fatcats on Wall Street by pumping tens of billions of dollars a day into the banking system to avert a stock market meltdown, there's a shadow ominously, and at all times, drifting over the whole unseemly scene. The markets want liquidity? Let's see how they'd handle the added liquidity of those foreign central banks deciding it's time, all at once and once and for all, to rebalance their own asset portfolios by getting rid of that currency with the color of green and the smell of failed Empire. The Fed's open market operations would quite suddenly look like a lawn sprinkler running during the Great Flood.
But that horrific scenario is not going to happen. It's not quite time for twilight just yet.
The Dark Wraith hopes readers have benefited from and enjoyed this edition of Pulp Economics.
Battle Cry of Moral Equivocation, Financial Markets Edition
In response to her e-mail message to me, I sent her a brief note, which I republish in edited and expanded form below for the benefit of the "conservative" dissemblers over at Ezra Klein who are following litbrit's link back here to The Dark Wraith Forums.
It's inevitable. Right now, the government-ain't-no-good "conservatives" are standing right out in the middle of Piccadilly with their pants down, and everyone on the trolley can see their official "I♥Bailouts" fanny tattoos designed in tasteful money-green with the Presidential Seal serving as subtle, yet curiously unmistakable background imagery. And now comes the inevitable battle cry: "This ain't no tattoo, man! It's a birthmark, man! Yeah, that's what it is. It ain't a tattoo cuz my momma said we phony conservatives have been wearing' 'em since the Federal Reserve Act of 1913! That means it's not just a birthmark; it's a birthright, dude, so get it straight in your liberal minds."
(The spectacle wouldn't' be quite so degrading if these fools weren't wearing a dead-man switch bomb vest and bawling, "Nobody moves or the prospective homebuyers at the trailer park get wasted!")
And the delicious part? The Federal Reservewhich has repeatedly served as an ATM for Republican tax cutshas now become the backer of masses of risk created by the Bush Administration's use of EZ credit (especially for itself) to propel short-term growth in the absence of sustainable, conservative, responsible economic policies. Anyone with a shred of financial management training knows that risk is nothing but a complex, hidden cost, so bearing that risk is nothing more than bearing a cost; so now we finally have Bush's latest lackey at the Fed, the poundingly underqualified, loyal as a mangy dog Ben Bernanke, pulling that failed policy's ugly baby of overextended riskmassive, long-term, uncancellable riskback home to the Federal Reserve parked right across the payout street from the U.S. Treasury. We have the United States government stepping up to the plate to get right straight in the line of risk generated by mortgage-backed securities that are as likely to see a bright tomorrow as the Republicans are to see George W. Bush sitting next to Jesus in Heaven.
When a third party indemnifies another for risk, we call the third party an "insurer"; to the extent that the insurer assesses a price for bearing that risk that is actuarially unsound, the indeminifier is "subsidizing" the risk. In the public sector, under-pricing the indemnification of risk is sometimes called "welfare" when the payouts resulting from public social indemnification go to individuals and families. When the payouts resulting from public social indemnification schemes go to business entities, they are called "bailouts," particularly when the indemnification occurs not as the result of long-term government planning, but rather as the result of short-term repair of a "free" market institutional arrangement that could no longer self-sustain losses from its risk-creating activities.
So what we really have going on here is that the United States Treasury, in part through its pseudo-independent agent called the Federal Reserve System, has now gotten deeply, deeply involved in a type of financial insurance for the 21st Century equivalent of junk securities, all to the end of trying to control losses accruing to those investorsinstitutional, individual, and even sovereignwho bore risk by creating, selling, buying, and holding instruments like mortgaged-back securities. And the apologists for this welfare scheme masquerading as on-the-fly indemnification are the very same "conservatives" who decorate their baggy drawers at the very mention of something like universal health coverage, which would be an example of the government not hiding an insurance scheme for reckless risk-takers, but instead of openly providing insurance for the health of people who are generally not even close to being of such low quality in terms of severity of risk of massive payouts.
Pointing out this inconsistency to those phonies on that message thread at Ezra Klein would incite cries of, "One's got nuthin' to do with t'other,” which is an indication that either these liquidity addicts haven't had a financial management teacher beat into their heads that risk-is-risk-is-risk or that they know exactly what's going on and they're hoping that, by playing stupid long enough, they'll be able to make the bogeyman of moral inconsistency slapping their fat jowls go away before he turns them into Socialists.
The Dark Wraith, for his own part, appreciates the new age of conservatives who can keep a straight face as they stand arm-in-arm with their political enablers singing the praises of capitalism and free markets.
Death Spiral Aversion: Wall Street and the Fed, Together Again
In three shots on Friday, the Fed pounded a total of $38 billion into the banking system; and after violently whipsawing down and then back up, the stock markets finished Friday just about flat.
Forget for a moment that what the Fed is doing is trying to inflate away a market crash. For the time being, we should hope only that the central bank and its friends around the world are ready to blow $40 billion every trading day to keep the welfare train on track for the Wall Street boys. It's a win-win situation: the fatcats keep their money, the suckers take the losses, the Bush Administration keeps its hero status for the rich, and the Fed maintains its reputation as both the enabler and the drug dealer for all the liquidity addicts and their conjoined Republican incompetents.
The only losers are the common people, who will suffer the inevitable inflation resulting from those massive shots of money being poured into the banking system. They'll see higher prices, and they won't see higher wages and salaries to buffer the aggregate price level shockwave. Old-time neo-Keynesian aggregate demand stimulus jockeys would dab tears from their eyes at the money junkies who call themselves modern conservatives.
But, then again, who cares about the middle class and poor people, anyway? Some of them are Democrats; most of the rest of them are intergenerationally too stupid to figure it all out. Either way, they're going to get their financial backsides kicked no matter what happens next.
The Dark Wraith recommends that readers write their congressional representatives. (And be sure to thank them for pretending you matter.)
Senate Roll Call Vote on S. 1927
Protect America Act of 2007
A bill to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to provide additional procedures for authorizing certain acquisitions of foreign intelligence information and for other purposes.
Source: The Hill
This graphic may be republished with attribute.
The Dark Wraith trusts that concerned citizens will remember how the Senators of the United States voted on the Protect America Act of 2007.
Election Race Dialogue: Critique One
It isn't time to panic. Remember the old saying: It's always darkest just before it's pitch black.My patience has evidently worn thin. The economy is in grave peril. Even former Bush Administration official Douglas Holtz-Eakin is saying we face a looming fiscal crisis largely the result of an inattentive White House obsessed with throwing uncontrolled largess at the Pentagon with no thought of fiscal control over the balance between tax revenues and federal expenditures.
In about three years, these will be the Good Ol' Days. Actually, it'll be about four, and the Democrat who's President will get blamed for the mess that was created by this irresponsible Bush Administration because few people have the basic math and forensic skills to understand how the current Administrationeven as it was running nose-bleed budget deficits financed by Chinese Communist mercantilistswas backing into the out years major obligations that would have required years of pre-planning and responsible tax policies the Bush incompetents' paymasters would never have allowed.
So what we have is this:
Maybe we'll have a sunny-side-up John Edwards talking about "hope" as all Hell breaks loose.
Maybe we'll have Barack Obama talking about his humble, filthy rich upbringing to see us through.
Maybe we'll have Hillary Clinton in her award-winning role as the Neo-Con in Pumps giving us another round of jackboots-solve-everything.
Or maybe we'll have Al Gore saying, "It's global warming that'll flood us all back to Waterworld if everyone doesn't start living simple like I spend millions of dollars, myself, doing."
Then again, if a Republican gets elected, he'll find a way to blame the Democrats, the secular humanists, the evolutionists, the gays, the feminists, and disco for the mess his predecessor and intellectual equal created.
The Democrats in Congress have shown no ability to stop the President's taxation policies and spending priorities, much less put an end to his utter contempt for the constitutional right of Congress to demand sworn testimony from his advisers. The runaway freight train of economic crisis is still on course, and the 110th Congress cannot even force low-level White House officials to testify fully, truthfully, and under oath about side streams of political fights.
That is a grim sign for any hope of averting full-blown domestic economic catastrophe; and yet, not only are the Democrats in Congress content to let this Administration burn itself out, the Democratic candidates for President are offering nothing that could even come close to a comprehensive solution to what's coming. Populist rhetoric about soaking the rich for taxes is all well and fine, but even the most draconian steepening of the progressive tax rate structure would do little good, if any, at this point. We cannot reel back the clock to the beginning of this disaster and have any hope that now rectifying bad tax policy instituted over the past five-plus years will materially fix much of anything. It won't. That's like shooting a man and then, five years later, extracting the bullets, expecting him to get up and dance a jig: if he's still alive, he's already adapted to the bullets in him, and pulling them out isn't going to repair five years of damage they've done rattling around in his body. Serious talkthe kind that involves numbers, projections, and unmitigated honestyabout a return to fiscal responsibility would be nice, but the Democratic Presidential candidates cannot muster even that. Instead, we hear things like John Edwards' assertion, parsed in the Washington Post, that, "[I]t is more important to invest in universal health care and lifting people out of poverty than to reduce the budget deficit."
We are in the last throes of a Presidency run by men and women who believed they could defy the financial equivalent of the law of gravity, and here we have a man wanting to be President who similarly believes that wishing really, really hard will make the freight train bearing down on us decide of its basically good nature that people with wonderfully humane ideas don't deserve to get pancaked like so many fiscally reckless worms. Irresponsibility is no more charming and no less catastrophic when educated, liberal Democrats answer its siren song than when willfully ignorant, Right-wing Republicans do so.
What little hope there is of solving the multi-pronged pitchfork of economic disaster will not come from more out-of-control spending unless concomitant and multiplicative budget cuts are made; and that's going to hurt like Hell. No, we're not going to somehow free up hundreds of billions of dollars by ending the American-Iraqi War, and that's because we're not going to end the American-Iraqi War, not for a long time, in part because even the congressional Democrats don't want to end it; and even when we finally find a decent exit from that bloody abomination, we'll be spending billions and billions of dollars mopping up the floors of the Middle East and Asia Minor for years afterward. Pretending that epilogue is optional is like pretending we're going to become international isolationists in the world of the 21st Century where we have global predatory competitors like China, Russia, the European Union, and a bevy of little wannabes laying out their plans to command resource centers, shipping routes, and economic/military alliance structures. If we don't lean forward into that gameand do so in ways that completely eluded the butch-takes-all methods of Neo-Conservatismwe're going to find ourselves not just in a deep, long-lasting economic drought, but instead in a virtually bottomless, near-permanent economic desert of continental strangulation.
Comity on the campaign trail is for the weak, and none of the candidates should be surprised as the level of acrimony rises. Unfortunately, instead of forcing one another to face hard questions about domestic issues, and instead of eating each other alive for prescribing fantasy blends of continued fiscal recklessness, the candidates virtually hold hands and sing Kumbaya on health care, tax policy, and anti-poverty programs. The only time the gloves are coming off is when the likes of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pound each other over foreign policy: who's the more naïve? who's more worldly? who's more butch when it comes to bombing terrorists? Without so much as a meaningful hint of recognition of how deep, complicated, and multi-faceted the mess is that the neo-cons have created, Clinton and Obama engage at the level of subtlety and nuanced understanding in a fight over the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Nukes, for Heaven's sake.
In comments to another article at BlondeSense about the opium trade in Afghanistan, a subject I addressed in a June 26 article here at The Dark Wraith Forums, I crafted a portal to include the Democrats in a broadbased condemnation of the debacle that has been American foreign policy over the past six-and-a-half years:
...Here we have yet another fine mess this Administration has created because 1) it attacked a tactically and strategically worthless pile of dirt, and 2) in so doing, it turned that tactically and strategically useless pile of dirt into a quagmire soaked in the blood-stained hubris of American neo-conservative stupidity yet again walking the Earth on stilts.And to clarify and extend my choice of Barack Obama as the exemplary Democratic target of my criticism, I followed on with this comment:
But, wait, there's more: unlike Iraq, which is producing a regional conflagration-in-the-making, Afghanistan is proving itself to be more than just the land of undefeatable foes and tribal men for whom pederasty is ancient cultural custom: Afghanistan, with this drug trade, is turning into a global problem far beyond the borders of its miserable landscape.
And while the fine but perhaps naïve Barack Obama might believe there's a place for the use of nuclear weapons in modern warfare, and while it might seem that Afghanistan qualifies as the most desirable place on Earth to plant one and let God try Creation 2.0 in the crater we make with a multi-megaton stool-softener, I would encourage readers to contemplate this: who, exactly, is it that benefits from opium trade on this scale and in a war zone?
Naw, we're surely not going to do anything to put an end to what's already, just since our invasion, turned from the Land Where Toilet Bowls and Bathroom Tissue Are Unknown into the Smack Capitol of the World.
We'll just pass more laws in this country throwing our own dealers and users in the slammer forever. That's what we'll do, by golly, and that'll take care of the problem while our soldiers continue to die in a Hell-hole that's not even the country harboring and feeding the branch of al-Qa'ida we need to stay at war with for a few more decades.
Jeez, if we really did neutralize al-Qa'ida (the wacko globe-trotting wing in, oh, say, Pakistan) we wouldn't need to pass all the laws letting creepy weirdo Feds snoop in on everything American citizens do.
And if we didn't need to pass all those privacy-wrecking laws, what good would the Democrats be, anymore?
Other than his wealth, which is enough for me to view his Presidential aspirations with a jaundiced eye, I have fewer attack points on Mr. Obama than I do on most of the other Democratic candidates. That does not mean I will eventually endorse him; I probably won't. [I set forth my personal condition for endorsing a candidate for President in my article, "The Clear and Compelling Case for a Truth Commission."]Criticizing Mr. Obama or any other candidate who might actually beor, at least, eventually becomea fine President is to the end of attempting to focus a particular and, in this case, almost trivial argument to get it over with. A person who aspires to be President should not allow the issue of tactical nuclear weapons usage to be a place where some opponent can put him on the ropes and beat him into looking like a dissembling twit, and that's exactly what Hillary Clinton did to Barack Obama with the nuclear weapons issue. She's found one of his glass jaws, and she's going to hit it again and again unless he resolutely deals with the issue and then moves on.
The side-swipe at Mr. Obama was a hyperbolic reference to his vacillation on the matter of using nuclear weapons: first, he seemed to rule them out; then, when Herr Hillary called him "naïve" for doing so, he suddenly turned mealy-mouthed and claimed that there had "been no discussion of nuclear weapons," which means he was whimpering that he couldn't have ruled out their use because they hadn't been included in the political dialogue in which he was engaging.
That's the kind of talk that worries me. A President cannot be weak-kneed when it comes to the use of force: he or she needs to have a decision path; if it's complicated, then say so. Don't simplify matters and then, when some opportunist hops your bones, cry about how you hadn't been given a chance to engage in qualifiers on your original statement...
I offered Mr. Obama this response to the question, "Would you rule out the use of nuclear weapons?"
"What do you mean, 'Would I rule out the use of nuclear weapons?'Having responded in that way, Mr. Obama could then move on. He'll have all the breathing room he needs, and he will have conveyed to his opponents attacking his foreign and military policy credentials that they will end up getting their own noses bloodied playing the "He Don't Like Nukes" game.
"Perhaps some of my opponents are ready at the earliest convenient opportunity to solve the difficult military problems of our time with a nuke strike here or there, but I consider the American nuclear inventory a level of engagement whereby we've conceded defeat using every one of the tens and tens of thousands of other weapons in our arsenal.
"Do I think al-Qa'ida, the Taliban, and some of the insurgent groups in Iraq qualify for that kind of concession from the greatest superpower the world has ever known? I certainly do not, and I would hope that my fellow Democratic candidates don't either; but when they start talking about tactical nuclear strikes on the sovereign soil of our alliesweak-kneed, disappointing, and problematic as those allies areI think those candidates have already expressed their views about the use of diplomacy and conventional military force, both in action and in reserve, to resolve the complex problems we're going to be facing on a continuing, permanent basis.
"So, in answer to your question, yes, I would authorize the use nuclear weapons; and when I did, it would be when my best, brightest, and most trusted advisers had convinced me that all reasonable hope in the remainder of our vast diplomatic and military inventory had failed the greatest superpower the world has ever, in all of history, known."
That means the debate among the candidates, who still want to damage each other, might have to turn to carving out genuine differences in domestic policy; and to dispense real pain upon each other, they might actually have to level head-ringing blows about the fiscal irresponsibility of their opponents' domestic policy prescriptions. That's when the race might get interesting.
John Edwards could be asked, "When you say your domestic spending programs take priority over bringing down the Bush era budget deficits, do you have even the slightest clue about the staggering budget commitments the United States Treasury is already facing in the out years? Where's all that money going to come from? The Chinese and the Arabs? They were the bankers for the neo-cons; do you plan to keep that tab running?"
Hillary Clinton could be asked, "Concerning the severely higher taxes and harsh spending cuts the United States government is going to effect to control the massive budget commitments that threaten to overwhelm us in just a few years, are you going to be ready to propose painful tax increases, not just on the middle class, but also on the powerfully wealthy people who are right now funding your campaign because they think you're really nothing but a low-taxes, Reagan-type conservative just pretending to be a liberal?"
And if Al Gore flits into the race on his red carpet, he could be asked, "Considering you have said that global warming is 'THE most important issue of our time', where then does that put catastrophic domestic economic collapse in three or four years on your list of priorities, sir?"
A smart Democratic candidate has what in military terms is called a "target-rich" environment with fellow candidates. A smart Democratic candidate who really wants to win must be willing to turn those targets into victims of their own greatest points of political and intellectual weakness.
The candidate willing to engage the race for the White House in that way will not only benefit politically, but will also do the nation the great favor of forcing the Electorate to grasp the gravity of the situation we as a nation face because of the utterly unconscionable recklessness of the Republicans who controlled the United States government long after they had run out of ideas and legitimacy.
The Dark Wraith will continue to disrespect and lecture the Democrats in the weeks and months ahead.
Mahjongg Associated with Epileptic Seizures in Older Men
Although they could not pinpoint the precise aspect of the game that triggered the onset of runaway electrical impulses in the brain that are characteristic of epileptic events, the doctors speculate that patterns in the tiles or their sounds against each other are potentially causative factors.
The study also found clear, positive correlation between frequency of game play and frequency of seizures, although the time from game play to seizure onset varied from just an hour to as many as eleven.
Epilepsy came to national attention again recently when Right-wing U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts last month suffered what at the time his doctors described as a "benign idiopathic seizure," his second, following one in 1993. Although now having had only two–and 14 years apart, at that–he meets the criterion for having mild epilepsy, although the "mild" qualifier would be less likely to apply were he to have had others that were unacknowledged publicly.
Readers seeking a good computer version of the ancient classic Chinese game mahjongg should consider Moraff's MahJongg 1.1, which is still available in a fully functional freeware version complete with attractive tile sets and realistic audio.
The President's Optimal Strategy in the Matter of Alberto Gonzales
So, given that Gonzales might very well be on the verge of impeachment, which would rip away Bush's last and best hope of protecting himself and all his cronies from finally being brought before the bar of justice, does Mr. Bush have what in game theory is called an "optimal strategy"?
Indeed, he does, and it requires only two moves, both entirely legal and within his power.
- Step 1: As soon as Congress adjourns for its summer recess, President Bush should privately ask for and receive Mr. Gonzales's resignation. Publicly, the President can praise Gonzales for his great service to the country and to the cause of justice, and he can take the opportunity to condemn the Democrats for engaging in the politics of personal destruction to smear a fine public servant.
- Step 2: Mr. Bush should then immediately make a recess appointment of one of his closest, most loyal allies as Interim Attorney General, asserting that he must make the immediate appointment to ensure continuity of federal law enforcement leadership in the on-going war against terrorists who want to attack the United States.
That's all there is to it.
The scenario had been posited previous to this article; but in the particular post at The Last Hurrah, the claim was made that the Democrats should "[k]eep a skeleton crew in DC and schedule a vote once a week." This is not only unrealistic; it is infeasible. The Democrats could keep 30 of their Senators parked on the floor of the Senate chambers, and it would do no good; the Senate would still be in recess. In fact, the Democrats could keep all of their Senators in Washington–in the event, surrendering their opportunity to at least touch base in person with their voting constituents–and the Senate would still be in recess. Once the gavel falls to adjournment for the recess, the Democrats can do nothing. More importantly, unless there is a national emergency, the decision to have that gavel to adjournment fall is already set in virtual stone, and the Democrats would have no parliamentary maneuver that would not be frustrated by the Republican minority in the chamber.
Congress has no power in its normal course to rescind or review recess appointments, and Mr. Bush has used them before to entirely frustrate the ability of Congress to carry out its constitutional role of providing advice and certifying consent in such matters. Mr. Bush used a recess appointment to name the widely disliked, allegedly sometimes-violent and incompetently overbearing John Bolton as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; and he used it more recently to install Sam Fox, a funder of the dirty tricks group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that attacked 2004 Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry, as U.S. Ambassador to Belgium. A recess appointment cannot be rescinded by Congress, although review of some details may be a subject of formal inquiry, as occurred in the aftermath of the Fox appointment, wherein three Senators sought opinion from the General Accounting Office, which subsequently dismissed their contention while appearing, curiously enough, to agree with their main point.
Should the President use his power to make recess appointments to replace Alberto Gonzales, he will effectively achieve at least three desired results. First, given that the Democrats have used the Attorney General's repeated dissembling and obfuscation about the firings of eight or nine U.S. Attorneys, removing Mr. Gonzales from the line of fire will eviscerate the Democrats' focus of politically useful outrage and leave them with the core issue of the firings, themselves, a matter that is likely too complicated to hold the attention of the American public.
Second, by immediately appointing an Interim Attorney General, Mr. Bush will prevent the potentially dangerous, seasoned prosecutor Craig Morford from taking the helm at the Justice Department, where he could appoint special prosecutors and bring to bear the vast resources of federal law enforcement on an Administration whose potentially wrongful acts are so vast that only such a massive apparatus as could be commanded by DoJ would have any hope whatsoever of dealing with the alleged wrongdoing in all of its varied, complex, and nuanced aspects.
Finally, by making a recess appointment of an Interim Attorney General, Mr. Bush will have all the time he needs to find a loyalist to nominate as permanent Attorney General. In fact, because a recess appointment at this late hour of the Bush Administration by statute would not expire before the November 2008 Presidential Election, Mr. Bush would not have to even bother with nominating a permanent replacement who would surely be hammered for political points by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee and who would probably be forced to promise investigations the President simply cannot afford to allow.
If Mr. Bush does, indeed, execute his optimal strategy in the two-step move set forth in this article, the political game is over for the Democrats since it would be only within the Department of Justice, itself, that they would have any hope whatsoever of finally bringing the rule of law to bear upon the Bush Administration before its leaders and all those below them can quietly leave office and let history, worthless to the masses and toothless as it is, be their sole judge and executioner.
The Dark Wraith awaits the President's next move in the game of American Politics in the 21st Century.
Essay on the American Way and Circumstance
Claiming that the Constitution is not a "living, breathing" instrument summarily and wrongly denies the basis of American tradition in English common law. Those who want something other than a progressively interpretive law will find their repose in the many, many countries of the world tied to the withered body of Lex Romana as it has evolved into its modern forms in the countries that were subjugated by, and came to embrace the documentary and political authoritarianism of, the Roman Empire. This is not such a country. We are free people in a way entirely opaque to those whose history informs their political systems otherwise.
It is unfortunate that countries still laboring under the inflexibility of scribal law do not see the inevitable perversity that comes from such a system, evidenced in the incontrovertible record of Rome, itself, as it degenerated into tyranny and finally, because of the self-destructive forces that are bred by it, into the weakness that allowed the uncivilized hordes to overrun it. The state whose citizens, from the generals to the plebeians, believe little in its core values is become the state awaiting its conclusion in the alchemy of apathy inflamed of violent radicalism.
A republic that provides its citizens with exemplary justice separating one or more persons of import from all others renders a cumulative effect that is, as one appellate court described it, "to invite cynicism" of the judiciary as an objective arbiter. The failure of extremist jurists like Judge John D. Bates, who dismissed the lawsuit by outed CIA operative Valerie Plame, to allow redress for torts committed by men of high office protecting themselves against the civil consequences of their lies bespeaks a judiciary that has already and irretrievably invited cynicism; and that invitation to a degraded republic is accepted. We should hope, however, that the embrace of this position is not a prelude in surrender to radicalism, but instead is a haranguing drumbeat to firm, resolute, and unyielding opposition to those who would try to take this country down the well-worn road to tyrannical ruin.
The danger therein is this: once cynicism becomes pervasive, the society is no longer held together with the benign benefit of the state but, instead, under the forceful demand of those who manage the state. The difference of the latter from the former is not a matter of "consent of the governed"; it is, instead, a matter of how consent forms. A progressively tyrannical state can well exist, at least for a while, consensually; however, it inevitably falls prey to the most corrosive effect of cynicism: the awful thing of despair that replaces essential optimism, which holds that, even if circumstances, laws, and times are in some period bad, they will improve over time and in the political process at the insistence and power of the governed.
That Right-Wing Authoritarian Followers do not understand this core and valid motivational force in governance does not mean they are somehow "bad" or "evil"; it means, instead, that they have great fear (in some aspects, well-founded fear) of pervasive equality under the law becoming license to erosion of compliance with authoritative enforcement of it. That noted, the difference between a Right-Wing Authoritarian and a true conservative is the firm and inviolable belief of the latter in its genuine form that, even in the presence of a system of laws that permits flexibility and sometimes upsetting liberalization, and even in the presence of a state that insists that the highest of individuals in stations of governance must answer entirely, fully, and sometimes dramatically to law, we can and will have an enduring nation.
In a comment to a recent article of mine, a Right-Wing Authoritarian Follower reached for a grand simplification of the solution to this Administration's multi-faceted intransigence by insisting that the process of stopping the unpopular, unwinnable, unjust American-Iraqi War is as simple as "[The Congress] can DE-FUND THE WAR." (That statement was intended as nothing more than a taunting dare.) As I have made clear here in previous articles, not even most of the Democrats in Congress believe that to be either possible or advisable, and that is not just a political calculus that informs such a conclusion, but also a military reality. We cannot simply return from the mire of the Point B in which we now wallow to that glad Point A at which we started. We just cannot. We have created a wholesale mess–for tens of millions of Iraqis and for ourselves–and it matters not a whit how excellent our generals are: from long-before the initial siege of Baghdad, what was prepared for their war skills was a disaster crafted by utterly naïve, non-military fools who thought in terms of visionary nonsense rather than persistent, well-planned, marginal advancements of state interests around the globe. In the real world of statecraft, only rarely is large-scale drama the order of the day. By ignoring that fact, the Bush Administration has utterly eviscerated the capacity of our military to wage effective, decisive war against a real threat to our nation's interests. The world might very well now have at least one such menace with which we will be compelled to deal in the coming few years; yet, as our military posture now stands, we would be unable to swiftly and prejudicially do what might have to be done, certainly not without unconscionable loss of treasure, life, and war matériel. This Administration and its theoreticians have wrecked our ability to project decisive military power in such theatres as our state interests would, in the rare instance, call for extraordinary violence. Not only is that shameful; it is sedition by uncorrectable incompetence and unforgivable corruption of both means and purposes.
We as a nation are in a precarious time in terms of our ability to defend our true national interests, not the least of which is our domestic economic stability. I am more than glad to hear people demand of Congress, even though it won't happen, that this war end right away. Such is the way of a fruitful democratic process, where insistent voices call for the impossible to force leaders to expand their own grasp of what is feasible in the interim, until the impossible becomes less so. It is in that angry process of condemning weak and disingenuous leaders to make them stronger and more earnest that a more perfect Union becomes formed in every political generation as those elected to high office find themselves incapable in a democracy of permanently imagining that they–in the long run, at least–know more than those they govern or that they have more power than those they would wish to silence.
The Dark Wraith has spoken.