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

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

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

Sunday, September 21, 2003

And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a
certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do,
because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns,
and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid
up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and� be merry.
But God said unto him, Thou� fool, this night thy soul
shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou
hast provided? � Luke

Imagine ten archers, shooting at a target a mile wide and a mile high at a distance of three feet. And imagine them all missing. It would be easy to infer that they were all blind.

That�s the feeling LI sometimes gets with the ten Democratic presidential candidates. Here we have a presidency that has utterly failed. One that has amassed a five hundred billion dollar deficit on� nothing. One that has gotten us enmeshed in one war, in Iraq, that not only has nothing to do with our interests, but is actually harmful to them. Meanwhile, we have incompletely dealt with a group that really has physically attacked us � al Qaeda. By cautiously never pronouncing the name, Osama bin Laden, Bush attempts to exorcize the man. What is the result? In Morocco, Bali, Jakarta and Saudi Arabia the organization, or its allies, have attacked. The pretence that they are crippled makes sense only to people who cannot see what is in front of their nose. Here�s something in front of our noses: the people who hijacked the four planes three years ago did not have chemical weapons. They didn�t have Uzis. They used credit cards, airplane tickets, and hobby shop paraphernalia to wipe out three thousand lives. And so far, nothing that has happened tells us that this can�t happen again. Meanwhile, the Democrats act as if calling the President a �miserable failure� is some kind of logomachical triumph.

Well, it isn�t. The candidates are making promises, blithely, as though there weren�t a five hundred billion dollar deficit. As though the security alerts are all a joke. As though, in other words, we were all still living in 1999, except that we more frequently speak the phrase: �war on terrorism.� Without, of course, meaning it.

So let�s do a little scenario building. Let�s say that the phrase actually makes sense. Let�s say one of those bogus alerts isn�t bogus. Let�s say an attack happens, a mini 9/11.

Now, the last time that happened the market plummeted. It shed what, a trillion dollars worth of value? And while it temporarily regained ground, it drifted down again. To combat the inevitable downturn, the government, in 2002, threw an extra two hundred billion dollars into the system, in addition to the money already budgeted.

So � what is it going to do next time?
The next two hundred billion dollars is going to come out of our flesh. One of the odder spectacles of our time is watching the newspapers deal with the U.S.�s five hundred billion dollar deficit. They deal with it by assuring us that, as a portion of the GDP, this is nothing. Hasn�t Japan run an even bigger deficit? And Germany?

What they don�t say is that those two countries also run a trade surplus. The US hasn�t done that since the seventies. Counting the trade surplus, conservatively, at 350 billion dollars, we are already talking of an outflow of dollars of about 800 billion. If there is an attack, another two hundred billion would make more than a trillion. Now, it is true that the world�s investors are prone to periods of stupor in which they will invest huge sums in obvious death traps. The elevation of various dot coms is proof. But even the most inattentive investor is going to ask, sooner or later, what the US is doing to be floated on a trillion some dollars of debt.

Of course, of course, the account in trade is a little different from the money the US government borrows. There are caveats to adding the two figures together. But overconcentration on the caveats blurs the general picture, which is of a nation crazily careering, in an uncertain time, to the brink of financial disaster. With nobody in D.C. concerned about it; with the ten Dems pretending that they can ignore it and go on their Dem way, getting vaguely New Dealish about health care; and with the incompetent at the head of this enterprise still the odds on favorite in the next election. It makes no sense that the Dems do not make an issue of simple stewardship � of what you pass on to your successor. They should, and fast. The supposed �problem� the Dems have with national security should be flipped around: the problem with national security, right now, is the astonishingly vulnerable position Bush has gotten us into. As with all Bush initiatives, the bet is completely on the most unlikely set of combinations that will produce an optimal outcome. If the US were an investment fund in 1999, it would be as if we�d invested everything in the telecommunications industry. Not, retrospectively, the wisest of choices.

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