Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Clouds No Bigger than a Man’s Hand

The leading edges of some future storms are becoming visible over the Potomac basin as the year draws in. A few are outright political. Some are economic, with political overtones. And the most fascinating is purely scientific, concerning the edges of reality itself.

Post-Christmas, the Whitehogwash House has been mumphing valiantly about how it will get its domestic agenda on track in 2006 with the State of the Union Address. Oh, and it will also milk successes on the ground in Iraq for political capital and popularity.

What that means is, Preznit W. will continue to address, with hype and advertising, a few straw-men erected for him in focus groups, in the hopes that the Mighty Wurlitzer™ Republican Noise Machine will drown out any competing sounds. Unfortunately for BushCo, as for Faust, reality is ultimately intractable -- even with the help of the Devil.

As in 2005, events will continue to run against them. The free media, in a post-Tet mood, will be unable to ignore the steady toll of the dead and the irreducible flimsiness of civilian structures in Iraq. BushCo would indeed need to pay hard but hidden cash to generate domestic headlines as favorable as those imagined by Bruce McCall in the New Yorker [original no longer online and hence uncited]:
-26 million Iraqis Unhurt in Latest Terror Blast
-Few Changes Needed to Turn Abu Ghraib Into an Applebee's
-Voting Machines in Elections Donated by Florida
-New Automatic Citizenship Law Turns U.S. Forces into Crack Iraqi Army Overnight

According to the AP,

Absent from [the Preznit’s] to-do list is a plan to overhaul the tax code. [Whitehogwash] House advisers say there may be some efforts to simplify it, but a sweeping restructuring would need more discussion. Also off the list is revamping Social Security, the one-time centerpiece of Bush's domestic agenda that failed to gain traction even though he crisscrossed the country to win support for it.
So there go the corporate Republicans, who don’t care about anything but these issues. And speaking of the corporate world, here’s one of the approaching stormclouds: revelation of the failure of advertising to regenerate brands that continue doing the same-old same-old while the world changes. This is an even more advertising-driven administration than were the previous two that worked from the Nixon playbook: Reagan and Bush I. The Social Security failure, coupled with the example of Coca-Cola, ought to have Karl Rove shivering in his bunker.

Emphasis on Healthy Living Beats Coke's Fizz Focus in Battle of the Colas, writes David Teather in Tuesday’s Guardian. It seems that in December Pepsi ($98.4bn) finally passed Coke ($97.9bn) in market valuation for the first time ever. (In early 2000, Coke's outstanding stock was worth four times Pepsi's.) Why? Coke just kept selling burpwater while Pepsi diversified into “healthier” choices such as Tropicana juices, Aquafina water, Gator-Ade, and snacks. Analysts do not expect Coke to be able to recover any time soon, even with the formidable assistance of $400m of additional advertising.

Even on his own terms,the year 2005 was the least successful year of Preznit W’s occupancy. And he evidently intends to follow up the expanding litany of failures with a meagre diet of:

-pressing for tax cuts
-seeking immigration reform with guest workers
-touting good economic news
-mumbling optimistically about Iraq
-indolently interfering with the nuclear aspirations of Iran and North Korea
-defending warrantless domestic spying as well as the Patriot Act
-stirring up Pakistani paranoia by visiting India
-pushing the Senate to confirm Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court
This is pretty thin gruel. And at least one of these ingredients will split the Republican party (immigration) while another two offer Democrats a way up off the floor (Alito and spying) and a third (bad economic news) seems poised to descend like the wolf on the fold.

As related in Tuesday’s Financial Times,
[...]yields on 10-year US Treasuries briefly fell below those on two-year notes, a rare event that in the past has often heralded a recession. [...]

According to analysts at Bank of America, the past six US recessions have been preceded by an inversion of the yield curve, which plots the yields on Treasury bonds against their maturities. The most recent inversion, in late 2000, came just ahead of the recession that began in March 2001.

Twice in the past 40 years, however, an inversion of the yield curve has not been followed by a recession. Many economists and Alan Greenspan, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, do not think this inversion is the prelude to a major slowdown.
However, an earlier FT Philip Coggan story [now unavailable in the free archives] predicted that even if there were no 2006 recession as a result of the inversion of the yield curve, there would certainly be a 2006 stock market buying opportunity, er, correction, er, downward revaluation, er, crash. When this li'l cloudlet gets to market, the "stalwart stewardship of the economy" meme is conclusively reaped by the whirlwind.

Bush is recklessly betting again, this time on Greenspan being correct instead of the market as a whole. That’s pretty short-sighted in a supposed free-market champion for whom one of the sacred rules ought to be, “The market is never wrong.” The last six times the market gave this signal, there was a recession. The two times before that, there wasn’t. So BushCo is betting on a return to the way things used to be, instead of staying the way they usually are. Better they should bet on the way things used to be as to the Constitutional limitations on presidential war powers.

Also for 2006 there’s Libby (probably leading to a Rove, and possibly to a Cheney, indictment), Abramoff (bribery involving at least two Republican Senators and seven Republican Congressmen) DeLay (campaign financing irregularities, abuse of power in the Marianas, connection to Abramoff) and Katrina. As with the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami a year ago, relief efforts are inherently slow, intrinsically inefficient, and agonizingly piecemeal. But even a Democratic city cannot be obliterated and then successfully ignored. For another thing, the damage across Mississippi and Alabama may well have anti-Republican aftershocks in 2006 as well.

The building firestorm over the Preznit’s claim of unfettered war powers has already started to draw Republican participation. Over Christmas weekend Barron’s Magazine, to whose true, pure reactionary note the Republican Street Journal is as a clanging cymbal and sounding brass, issued an editorial fatwa against the Preznit’s overreaching, and used the "I" word. [Subscription only site; no link possible.] Republican Senators such as McCain, Hagel and Graham are beginning to stir restlessly, and Judiciary Chairman Specter seemed to indicate that hearings on wiretapping may precede hearings on Alito.

What we have here, folks, is a failure to communicate. BushCo thought advertising was the same as getting through to people. But in times of lying and spying, torture and corruption, even advertising loses its kick, no matter how big the budget or frenetic the Mighty Wurlitzer™. Probable result: Impeachment: It’s Not Just for Fellatio Any More. No, no articles will pass in 2006, or even reach committee. But they won’t have to. We must never forget the historical record showing these guys are personally bullies and cowards, and once they get whacked over the nose by the respectabilist media and a few scared Republican Senators and Congressmen, they will doubtless whine their way into a corner and stay there until the Great Castration of 2007.

All predictions come with a grain of salt, of course. Or a bushel. It is comforting to discover that such savor is an inseparable portion of scientific reality. Quoth the New York Times' Dennis Overbye on Tuesday,
Dr. Anton Zeilinger of the University of Vienna said that he thought, "The world is not as real as we think. My personal opinion is that the world is even weirder than what quantum physics tells us," he added. […]

"The discovery that individual events are irreducibly random is probably one of the most significant findings of the 20th century," Dr. Zeilinger wrote. […]

He suggested that reality and information are, in a deep sense, indistinguishable[…]

As a result of the finiteness of information, he explained, the universe is fundamentally unpredictable.
True in general. Still, in its particulars the year 2006 is more likely to resemble the forty miles of bad road described here than the rose-strewn, smooth thoroughfare BushCo advertises.

1 Comments:

Blogger dus7 said...

I enjoyed reading this, TY. The thought of 2006 being better than 2005, or at least heading in a better direction, is a happy thought.

And the idea of reality being largely the same as information is interesting. All is perception, and in the end reality consists of mutually agreed upon perceptions. In effect we vote on what's true. Scary.

Also, TY for visiting my blog. :)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005 12:46:00 PM  

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