“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

Friday, November 04, 2005

where does that money go to?

LI didn’t know what story to go for this morning. The one in the Telegraph about the Japanese schoolgirl whose livejournal blog was extra, extra special – it recorded her experiment in poisoning her mother? (best graf in the story: "She is said to have kept severed body parts of animals in her room,including a cat's head. Teachers from her school told the Japanese media that she seemed to be a serious student, intense but otherwise apparently normal.")

Or the story in the Guardian of the French director who discovered Valerie Paradis. He is currently being sued by four actresses. This director’s idea was to rehearse the erotic atmosphere of his upcoming film by inviting actresses to come to his apartment, or to go to restaurants with him, and masturbate. Sometimes, he was so caught up in his art that he masturbated too. This is known in some circles as non-consensual sex. The director, of course, views it as artistic license.

But instead, in honor of the President’s triumphal tour of Argentine beach property, a quiz. In what country is the current president trying to extend his term of office beyond the current limit set by the constitution, and has made suspicious deals with a number of paramilitary groups; has seen presidential candidates critical of the corruption of the system kidnapped; and in which, according to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, “media outlets and journalists across the country routinely censor themselves in fear of physical retaliation from all sides in the nation's conflict." No, it isn’t the Washington Post’s current bete noire and the Pentagon’s mock opponent in invasion exercises, Venezuela, but our biggest ally and buddy in Latin America, Colombia!

Ah, Colombia. Somehow, Uribe’s drive to succeed himself hasn’t turned up D.C.’s “wants to be a dictator” theme – I wonder why? Could it be that Uribe, as the most ardent proponent of free trade in the continent, just doesn’t count as a dictator? It is the Washington Consensus on Freedom: as long as American corporations can make plenty of money, the country must be free. Free as the wind blows! This Nation article describes the surface of what is happening in Colombia. Uribe substitutes violence by the FARC and the paramilitaries with violence by the state.

FARC is the other side of this bad penny. In the U.S., the type of ferocious lefty who longs for the immediate overthrow of capitalism with maximum ultraviolence is usually a harmless drudge, prone to vegetarian restaurants and high, unintelligible bouts of theorizing. Unfortunately, in Colombia, the type metastasized into FARC, dedicated to mindless, mindboggling violence and a sort of ghastly, Marxy rhetoric wholly detached from reality entirely in line with a strain in Latin American leftism examined by Jorge Casteneda in his book, Utopia disarmed. FARC has imposed its reality – that of the mafia – on the regions that it holds. And in its infinite wisdom it has operated as the infantile left hand of the Colombian establishment by destroying viable critics of that establishment.

One of whom was Ingrid Betancourt. Because Betancourt spent quite a lot of time in Paris, the French are more involved with her case.

On February 23, 2002, Betancourt was campaigning for the presidency. Her campaign theme was directed against the massive tissue of corruption brought into the state by decades of narcotrafficking. This is a theme that cuts across ideological lines – both FARC and the rightwing paramilitaries depend on coca money. On that date, she and her campaign director, Clara Rojas, were kidnapped by FARC. They have not be seen since, except in videos. Two weeks ago, there was a evening dedicated to her support in a Parisian theater, attended, in part, by French journalists who had been held hostage in Iraq.

It goes without saying that Uribe hasn’t lifted a hand to negotiate for Betancourt’s release. The man who arranged for the amnesty of thousands of rightwing paramilitaries, and among some of Colombia’s biggest drugdealers, has declared that he won’t lower himself to negotiating with FARC.

It should be noted that the structure of the elements at play in the Uribe episode are not unique. The American position in this hemisphere is conditioned by paradoxes: on the one hand, the U.S. is the biggest consumer of cocaine; on the other hand, we are the biggest suppressor of it. On the one hand, the U.S. is the biggest advocate of free trade; on the other hand, in those countries with a large illicit drug sector, the biggest beneficiaries of free trade will tend to be in the illicit drug business. Thus it happens that the U.S. spends 3 billion per year in Colombia to wipe out Farc in the name of wiping out the drug trade while the act of wiping out Farc benefits the paramilitaries who largely control the drug trade. Uribe’s position, then, is somewhat like Salinas’ in the early nineties. Salinas’ family had longstanding ties with the Gulf cartels. Salinas was both ideologically committed to neo-liberalism and bound to benefit from it. Mexico was too poor to try to really suppress a trade that, in real terms, brought in more money than Mexico’s no. 1 export, oil. So, Nafta went forward and transfer costs for cocaine – which are perhaps the largest costs to the industry – were cut. The subsequent boom meant a lot of black money from cocaine went to the Mexican elite, Salinas’ allies, and, probably, to the family itself. The American press went along for the ride, touting Salinas as an American kind of Mexican. Similarly, the American press goes along for the ride in Colombia, with little glitches along the way. For instance, it was hard to disguise, even from American eyes, the meaning of the amnesty this summer.

The Nouvelle obs published an interview with a human rights advocate, Miguel Angel Reyes, about Uribe and the paramilitaries this July. Here are some excerpts:

The justice and peace law that is about to be voted on by a parliament 40 controlled by the paramilitaries, will it contribute to bringing peace?

M.A. Reyes: No. The text, which is full of holes, doesn’t respond to even the minimal criteria of justice and reconciliation. It guarantees, practically, immunity to all the authors of the violations of human rights by labeling them crimes of war and giving them a maximum sentence of five years. The paras aren’t even obliged to confess their crimes, and can keep the millions of hectares of land they’ve stolen! Without even speaking of the drug trade, that they can now pursue on a larger scale.
Is it true that the paramilitaries are beginning to occupy certain sections of Bogota?

M. A. Reyes. – Yes. The mayor has denounced their presence in the worst suburbs of the capital, where numerous refugees which have fled combat. You can see armed men controlling people’s papers. The paramilitaries recuit bands of young delinquents who become their killers, their sicarios, charged with liquidating any known opponent. Besides which, they don’t conceal their plan of founding a political party to support Uribe.”
.

Hey, voice in the wilderness time. You are not going to read a bunch of article in the Washington Post about Uribe – not yet. The election, and then the collapse, will come, and – in retrospect – some word will leak out about the fact that the U.S. has spent 3 billion dollars per annum in drug fighting money to protect a narco-aristocracy. So it went in the nineties in Mexico, so it goes today in Colombia. Meanwhile, let’s develop those plans to invade our very scary enemy, Venezuela. And please, more newspaper editorials about the tragic democracy deficit there. We just can’t get enough.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

the LI curve

Among LI’s most precious trumpeted and sometimes trumpery opinions is our belief that the suppression of the market in drugs – cocaine, methamphetimines, heroin, marijuana, ecstasy, etc – can’t work in any system in which there is something like free enterprise and something like democracy. We’ve gone over and over the reasons that bans on consumer products that are a, easy to supply, and b., have an enduring demand are not only going to be inefficient, but will also create more harms as they become more efficient. Call this the LI curve. Like the Laffer curve, you can draw it on a napkin. Please feel free to do so.

The interesting thing about this is that the original ban on narcotics made the elementary mistake of assuming that narcotics was like the feathers of endangered species – the act was specifically modeled on acts forbidding interstate commerce in eagle feathers. The supply of eagles, and hence eagle feathers, is inelastic – making it relatively easy to ban without a significant cost in liberty (contra the libertarian assumption that all liberties attaching to property are of the same type and value). Again – our argument is not that regulating a consumer product (as opposed to a durable) leads to such harms – our argument is that banning does, banning being that degree of regulation that leads to non-regulated black markets. So our argument isn’t that regulating, say, the sale of cigarettes will lead to harms outweighing the benefits of regulation – that question can only be answered by the type of regulation enforced. However, our argument is that as the regulation leads to the banning point, it becomes more harmful. You can just see a sentence like that last one leading to a beautiful curve on a graph on a blackboard, can’t ya?

We found more evidence for the LI curve in an article about the consequences of drug law enforcement in summer’s Social Science Quarterly (class, get out your copies!). The authors of “Drug Enforcement and Crime: Recent Evidence from New York State,” Edward Shepherd and Paul Blackly, studied 62 counties in New York state from 1996-2000. They used a “set of models that evaluate the effects of recent drug arrests on
reported rates of assault, robbery, burglary, and larceny.”

Shepherd and Blackly set up the argument in the following way.

Let it be given that an increase in drug related arrests indicates an intensification of police effort to enforce drug laws. (a premise they argue for in various ways, and which makes sense, given the period they are working in – there’s no report of some suddenly new drug in this period, save perhaps a spike in meth). So – following the broken windows idea – does the increase in drug related arrests lead to a decrease in crime or not? The argument that it does goes like this:

I. Drug use or participation in illegal drug markets may increase crime because (1)
the pharmacological effects of drug use (e.g., an increase in aggressive tendencies or a lessening of inhibitions) may lead individuals to commit crimes; (2) dependency on or addiction to illegal drugs may lead to economic crimes (e.g., robbery or assault) to obtain income to purchase drugs; and (3) participation in illegal markets by buyers or sellers may lead to systemic violence. Goldstein (1985) developed this ‘‘tripartite conceptual framework’’ to evaluate the potential links between illicit drugs and crime that provided the basis for additional research (Goldstein et al., 1989, 1997). Illegal drug markets operate in an elaborate ‘‘underground economy’’ consisting of
importers and manufacturers, transporters, wholesalers and retailers, and small seller networks. There is no recourse to legal mechanisms for dispute resolution, which results in violence or other forms of crime to settle conflicts (Miron, 1999). High prices and profits associated with illegal drugs also provide incentives for others to enter the market, leading to more violence, such as turf wars over control of sales territories.”

On the other side, the argument that it doesn’t goes like this:

II. “In contrast, enforcement of drug laws may lead to increased crime when (1) distribution networks are disrupted, leading to disputes over market share and informal contractual arrangements within these drug markets; (2) disruptions in the market lead drug sellers to switch to other forms of economic crime that are considered substitutes, such as robbery or burglary (Kuziemko and Levitt, 2001); (3) drug users resort to crime as a result of physical or psychological withdrawal, or from behavioral changes resulting from ending their self-treatment of medical conditions; (4) prices and profits increase for remaining sellers, providing more incentive for potential suppliers to engage in crime to obtain a share of the market and leading to more economic crime by users who need to obtain income to support a habit; (5) resources spent
on drug enforcement are diverted from investigations and arrests for other types of crime that may increase as a result (Rasmussen and Benson, 1994; Benson, Leburn, and Rasmussen, 2001); and (6) the imprisonment of drug users and sellers takes prison cells that are in short supply, resulting in the early release of other criminals, prison overcrowding, or new prison construction.
Other crimes can be expected to increase due to lower rates of incarceration and because the resources used to expand prison capacity could have been used for other purposes (Kuziemko and Levitt, 2001).”

Those with a sufficiently dialectical turn of mind can see that this dichotomy doesn’t correspond, point for point, with our own argument about the effects of drug banning. Our argument would predict that black markets would form and reform on a cycle of violence – violence being an ultimately economic regulatory resource precisely because it doesn’t have to remain at a constantly high level. Violence, in other words, seeks an equilibrium too.

However – who cares? On with the show. What will emerge behind curtain no. I or curtain no. II?

Are you puzzled? Are you on the edge of your seat? Has anything this exciting occurred in the Social Science Quarterly in … well, a number of quarters?

The answer, according to Shepherd and Blackly, is no. II! (ohmygods are heard from the astonished throng). Yes, the “evidence favors the view that drug enforcement activities
are associated with increases, not decreases, in nondrug crime.” Or to put it in the more persnickety, social sci terms of the article:

“Turning first to the results for the four drug arrest variables, there is substantial evidence that drug arrests have a significant positive (adverse) impact on the rates of nondrug crimes reported in New York State. Increases in Total Drug Arrests are associated with higher crime rates for all the offenses considered except aggravated assaults.”

By four drug arrest variables, S and B mean:

Total drug arrests measures the number of arrests per 1,000 residents for three types of Part II drug abuse violations as classified by the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (1984): Hard Drug Sales, the manufacture and/or sale of nonmarijuana drugs; Hard Drug Possession, the possession of nonmarijuana drugs; and Marijuana Sales, the
manufacture and/or sale of marijuana.

It isn’t that S. and B.’s model is uncriticizable. There is no segregation, for instance, of endogenous and exogenous types of harm – in other words, if robberies between drug dealers increase and robberies between drug dealers and convenient store employees decrease because of increased drug arrests, we’d like to know. But still, once again, the evidence flies in the faith of the firm American faith that we can deal with drugs by banning them (and then, coyly, capturing the market for mood alteration by producing massive prescription drugs).

...
On our funding drive. Well, the local radio station has made fifty thousand some dollars in the last couple of days. LI, however, has had not a single pledge since last week. Such zippo action is driving us to despair. We are even tempted to tear up our copy of the 1000 moneymaking ideas of GREAT entrepreneurs! which we have been keeping under our pillow. Please consider us the next time you are giving quarters to a beggar. We need your support!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I voted for a zombie

The Democrat’s collective experiment in suspended animation was interrupted, yesterday, by a bit of Inspector Clouseau-ism. The Senate Democrats seemed to have noticed 92 Americans died in Iraq last month. Not to speak of some 900 Iraqis – because there is a difference between headlinable and non-headlineable mortality. Now, this is six months after Cheney had pronounced the last rites on the dwindling insurgency, and the American Enterprise Institute’s man in Iraq, in a burst of giddiness, had announced that the war was over, and that we won. Which was after the purple revolution had solved all our problems, which was after Allawi had become the most popular leader ever seen in Iraq, which was after the Coalition’s springtime of painting and building schools, which was after all the good news in Iraq wasn’t being reported, which was after Mission Accomplished. Of course, we are heavily editing the incidence of slavish headlines pumped into the bloodstream of the American behemoth by our 4th estate, little signposts leading us towards this minor apocalypse, where we now swim in blood.

As we know, the Democratic party leadership has responded to the greatest disaster in American foreign policy since the Gipper’s happy days of shipping stinger missiles to the proto Al Qaeda in Afghanistan by the time honored tactics of obfuscation and sulking. And as many liberal blogs assure us, this is a masterstroke of astute policy. Americans like nothing better than a political party behaving like a grounded fifteen year old. Hell, didn’t we elect a grounded fifteen year old President last year?

Credit where credit is due. As the U.S. opens a counter-insurgency school (Last Throes High) in Iraq to train soldiers in the does and donts of pissing off Iraq’s population; as the U.S. army, to the almost universal silence of American papers, opens its trial of a staff sgt accused of fragging an officer (the Independent article quote: “A US officer said: 'Fragging has not happened since Vietnam, so this is obviously something which should be considered seriously. In Vietnam, there was a disintegration of discipline as the war went on. That cannot be allowed to happen here.'); and as Cheney’s office stocks up on resold 70s era electronics gear from the Argentina’s military, we are pleased by any small sign of life from the zombie party. Senator Reid showed a pleasing willingness to question the Daschle strategy (“stay the course of having no course”) to which the D.C.-centric Dems fanatically cling. Meanwhile, the “left” shows no sign of deserting the Dems even as that party gears up to run pro-war presidential hopefuls against each other for 2008. The left bloggers like to call themselves the ‘reality based community.’ I’m going to die laughing one of these days.

...
Some random notes. In good conscience, we have to recommend a weblog with the wonderful name, Colonel Chabert, that has been doing a great job of collecting stories of the New Orleans diaspora. Following Balzac's formula that behind every great fortune, there is a great crime, the blog is meticulously tracking a great crime in the making, and the great fortunes that are to be made as the State shovels money to G.O.P. campaign contributors and tries to finish the job that was started in the Superdome -- disappearing the New Orleans working class with extreme prejudice.

Second note: we are still looking for the Department of Education to contact us for fun and bribery. They haven't. So we depend on you to contribute to this site and, in the process, get a nice tshirt. Please click our Dopamine Cowbody Movement button.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

shilling post

Okay, I finally made the Dopamine Cowboy Movement button link to the cafepress.com/limitedinc site. These things aren't easy for LI -since we put up our first webzine, Calumny and Art, a long time ago, the software has proliferated but to do certain, intermediate work cheaply has gotten harder.

Or so it seems to us. So remember, if you enjoy Freshly Released Air, or the Newshour with Atilla the Hun, which you can only get on LI, send us 10 to 50 bucks. And if you are a Department of Education official looking for some shill to push that great leap backwards, the No Child Left Behind act, think about 200,000 bucks. Or if you are a Russian kleptomillionaire with tax problems and you think you need pliable mouthpieces in the West, a small oilfield in Siberia would be nice. Whatever level you can accommodate for whatever corruption we can manufacture, you can trust us at LI to be rooting, tooting, garrulous, and full of controversial p.o.v.

Monday, October 31, 2005

How do I make this last a lifetime?

The perils, the perils! LI, like a frostbitten salt on a ghost ship, wants to ring a little leper bell for the excellent 8000 word article by Roger Lowenstein (one of my favorite business journalists – both When Genius Failed and The Origins of the Crash keep up the best traditions of the mandarin muckraker, rather like Chapters of Erie or The Robber Barons) on the end of the pension in the NYT Mag. In my clippings about the evitable decline of the guarantor state, this article will definitely have pride of place.

Lowenstein’s article touches on an area LI avoided, in sketching out the large scale picture of the rivalry between two models of the social welfare state that deepened in the Reagan era. One of the characteristics of that era was the capture of foreign investment by American firms, which then floated the re-structuring of those firms. This, of course, happened within another re-structuring, as manufacturing finally sought the low labor costs of the third world. These two movements were in tandem. It would probably surprise a lot of Americans that the Reagan commerce department sponsored seminars for companies to show them how to move operations to Mexico. It isn’t something one expects of an American government. But of course they did.

I avoided, however, a domestic source of the transformation of investment. As Lowenstein acutely puts it:

“During most of the 90's the decline in pension coverage was barely lamented. It was not that big companies were folding up their plans (for the most part, they were not) but that newer, smaller companies weren't offering them. As the small companies grew into big ones (think Dell, or Starbucks, or Home Depot), traditional pensions covered less of the private-sector landscape. This did not seem like a very big deal. Younger workers envisioned mobile careers for themselves and many did not want pension strings tying them to a single employer. And most were able to put money aside in 401(k)'s, often matched by an employer contribution.
It happened that 401(k)'s, which were authorized by a change in the tax code in 1978 and which began to blossom in the early 1980's, coincided with a great upswing in the stock market. It is possible that they helped to cause the upswing.”
The new range of financial instruments open to people in the middle class who had pretty much forgotten their parents’ stock buying craze of the twenties might have inflated the amount of money seeking return, but the rate of return also responded to a new aggressiveness on the part of union pension fund managers. Although it seems counter-intuitive, union pension fund managers were demanding return that could only come about by making company’s much more efficient. And that could most easily be achieved by … cutting labor costs. One of the paradoxes of the Keynesian economy is that harmonizing the interests of the socially upward trending working class with the governing class could mean, in the long term, that the working class profited from its own demise. This is one of the reasons class, as a category of social analysis, is not a great predictor – there is no homogenous class interest at any one point.

But I digress into idle chatter. One of the arguments of the rightwing drive to terminate the government’s direct role in social welfare in favor of the indirect role of the guarantor state is an old neo-classical chestnut – while in the short term, certain people in the working class might be hurt by investments dependent on the higher rate of return that comes from cutting labor costs, in the long run they will benefit from the efficiencies such “reforms” will bring. This ignores a number of problems:

a, the fact that the system has formed around a market in social goods that has hyper-inflated. The causes of that hyper-inflation – in medicine and in education, for example – have been curiously neglected. It is as if it were natural that, while computers get more high tech and cheaper, medicine gets more high tech and expensive.

b, the notion of a mobilized, job switching population innovating to keep out of the poverty trap benefits a certain few. There’s really no benefit to switching jobs if you are a fireman, or a teacher, etc., etc. In other words, the amount of social return on human capital is wildly exaggerated in the pure guarantor state ideology. To encourage job switching made a certain sense in an economy liquidating its manufacturing base. But it doesn't make sense for the vast amount of the working population.

and finally, a problem absent Lowenstein’s excellent article,
c, the shift towards guaranteed benefits, which made possible the acceptance of a much lower increase in the average wage for workers, occurred at the same time that the compensations for the upper management class exploded. There is a huge cost to the increase in the share of wealth by the upper percentiles, but that cost is only visible over time – that is, the cost starts showing up as the long term guaranteed benefits devolve from the virtual to the actual. And, at this point, the concentration is entirely on analyzing that line of development that led to auto workers having to work merely thirty years on the assembly line and retiring with a lordly 18 thou per year – etc.

Lowenstein is good about comparing the supposed superiority of the benefits of the guarantor state, with its 401(k)s, against the “socialism”, as the George Will types like to put it, of the traditional pension plan. As one expected, the old rule applies: the richer we are, the poorer we are.

“A 401(k), on the other hand, promises nothing. It's merely a license to defer taxes -- an individual savings plan. The employer might contribute some money, which is why 401(k)'s are known as ''defined contribution'' plans. Or it might not. Even if the company does contribute, it offers no assurance that the money will be enough to retire on, nor does it get involved with managing the account; that's up to the worker. These disadvantages were, in the 90's, somehow perceived (with the help of exuberant marketing pitches by mutual-fund firms) to be advantages: 401(k)'s let workers manage their own assets; they were a road map to economic freedom.

Post-bubble, the picture looks different. Various people have studied how investors perform in their 401(k)'s. According to Alicia Munnell, a pension expert at Boston College and previously a White House economist, pension funds over the long haul earn slightly more than the average 401(k) holder. Among the latter, those who do worse than average, of course, have no protection. Moreover, pensions typically annuitize -- that is, they convert a worker's retirement assets into an annual stipend. They impose a budget, based on actuarial probabilities. This might seem a trivial service (some pensioners might not even realize that it is a service). But if you asked a 65-year-old man who lacked a pension but did have, say, $100,000 in savings, how much he could live on, he likely would not have the vaguest idea. The answer is $654 a month: this is the annuity that $100,000 would purchase in the private market. It is the amount (after deducting the annuity provider's costs and profit) that the average person could live on so as to exhaust his savings at the very moment that he draws his final breath.

So the question arises: what if he lives longer than average? This is the beauty of a pension or of any collectivized savings pool. The pension plan can afford to support people who live to 90, because some of its members will expire at 66. It subsidizes its more robust members from the resources of those who die young. This is why a 401(k) is not a true substitute. Jeffrey Brown, an associate finance professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a staff member of the president's Social Security commission, notes that as baby boomers who have nest eggs in place of pensions begin to retire, they will be faced with a daunting question: ''How do I make this last a lifetime?''”

By a happy coincidence, you can compare Lowenstein’s article with a solid conservative ideologue’s sense that the nation has to gird up its loins to sacrifice retirement (except, of course, for the golden parachute crowd): Sebastian Mallaby’s “Why do the dirty old vecks need more than a pot to piss in, oh my droogs” – oops, I got the title wrong. Curiously, Mallaby’s article about the decline of savings entirely neglects mentioning that, since 1980, we have been living within the heady framework of Reaganomics – hence setting up the cardboard leftwing analysis, giving us weasel statistics about the upward climb of “household income” (a nice way of disguising the fact that household’s now are putting two breadwinners, instead of one, in the labor market), etc., etc. Such low level mendacities are necessary to promote a counterfeit vision of poverty as the nation itself becomes wealthier. It is rather like the hypnotists pendulum, which you are supposed to concentrate on, forgetting all other contexts and sensory inputs. Amazing how it works. One should always remember that the Washington Post is the happy hunting ground of James Glassman, a man whose prophecies of 36000 Dow were so touted on the right partly because the pure guarantor state, with each man an "owner," only benefits a few if you don't postulate an increase in the value of equities that can only be achieved by a combination of the Ubermensch and Warren Buffett.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Chapter 10 – Party of the Jealous God

LI’s far flung correspondent and part time hitman, Mr. T. in NYC, thinks this is the worst chapter in the book so far. He might be right. Certainly it is… facile comes to mind. A little too facile. But I need these characters, I need the sound of their voices, and I think I know why.
Anyway, please comment.

Chapter 10 – Party of the Jealous God (first three pages)

Alexander Stitching’s first intimation of fame reached him in 1974, when he led the neutralist side in a debate at Oxford (“Resolved: A Curse on both their Houses”). The debate was televised. Stitch’s team narrowly lost, which led to much shedding of admonitory and horrified ink in the Tory tabloids (“A Generation of Vipers”), and an editorial in the Times. Stitch had ventured the opinion that Harold Wilson, the Labor Prime Minister, was a “wart on the big bare bottom of capitalism,” which was, as he hoped it would be, much repeated. This remark was all the more newsworthy in that Stitching’s father had served in the cabinet of Wilson’s first administration, back in the sixties. Stitching’s father had been the minister of some very worthy office – transportation, nutrition, something very infrastructural. Since being ennobled in 1968, he’d retired to the scummy pond, crumbling house, and various quantities of moony sheep (the result of a complicated system of grazing leases held by neighboring farmers that the minister could somehow never break) on the clovered hillsides that constituted the family estate in the South of Ireland.

When Joan met Stitch, he’d been out of college for five years. He’d invested that time in writing essays for British journals in a style that derived its absurdities from Waugh, and its politics from Trotsky. It was all very exciting. When not radicalizing in the privileged and dulcet tones of the propertied classes, he was off reporting on places in the Third World where guerilla warfare seemed likely to break out at any moment. Joan met him a couple of days after he’d disembarked from a plane taking him back from the Philippines. How were the Philippines, Joan had wanted to know on the morning after (which she had not even wanted to avoid), and he’d said, “you never quite know what’s goin’ on.” He was using the voice of Jack Nicholson in Chinatown. Joan laughed. “Really,” he resumed in his own more rounded vocables, “the question is whether Marcos is going to simply flee with his piles of loot, or whether he is going to go the way of the dictatorial death star – the collapse inward, the soldiers amassed in the street firing upon the unarmed protestors day one, the soldiery turning the weapons on the officers week two, police stations blazing brightly in the night as the center does not hold, and of course the old standby of some final flight out on your Yankee issue Huey helicopter. That, my dear, is the Philippines.”
“I want to be there for the Huey.”
”Good girl. Here’s something: what the idle rich do, and that includes a bunch of men who’ve made their piles in that beautiful Laotian H during the Great Imperialist venture in Southeast Asia, is they literally rent units of the army. For a party, say, they will pay off some captain who will commandeer a passage through the streets for the cars of the guests, line up his men with their guns, and will literally shoot interlopers. That is, your average Filipino trying to trot home by the usual route, or some such. Quite fantastically corrupt.”

Sex and drugs were mostly good the first year. The optimum, Joan thought at the time, was finding a man who was consistent about sex and drugs. And that was hard. Mostly the drugs/drinking – Joan didn’t distinguish between the two -- was one thing, and the sex was another. Mostly the man got stoned and then got unbearably talkative and egotistical. Or the man went down on her and his tongue started to wear her out, like an over-energetic puppy greeting its mistress. Or he took tit time like she was some kind of wet nurse. The man clambered aboard her and his dick turned to an industrial product, and he was off plumbing on some plumbing expedition, thinking that if he wacked hard enough, and Joan moaned loud enough (usually at the frustration of it all), a sweet would drop out of the machine. Or the man was too liberal. The man would say, sex isn’t dirty, mama, sex is natural. Joan would silently comment on the oddity of thinking that there was some opposition being stated here, as though the dirty were not the recoil from the natural. She wanted to preserve dirty, dirty was good. But Stitch made her come more than anyone had, in mewling, shameful joy, he had a dick of flesh and blood and nicely proportioned, and very sweet, vulnerable testicles -- with the left one sagging below the right one, and himself rather conflicted about that asymmetry. So fucking was good, mostly, he payed proper attention to her equipment instead of thinking of it as some kind of uncomplicated sheath God created for his own, and it was very socialable. They talked afterwards, drowsily. He made her laugh, he was articulate through the stresses of alcohol and the varying focuses of pot, and the one time they dropped acid together he said, I’m not doing this anymore with you, and he was right. He was surefooted, she thought.

the gods come down to earth, a high ranking official said

One would have hoped that the Plame case would be a wake up call… to the press. Alas, business goes on as usual. The D.C. journalism that pours out is of such poor quality that one’s only hope is in the declining numbers reading this gruel.

Two examples, one merely of idiocy – Adam Nagourney’s specialty – and the other of D.C. cliquespeak, punctuating an otherwise comprehensive article in the Washington Post.

Nagourney is almost on LI’s informal list of people not to make fun of or pay attention to – people like Ann Coulter and the like. But his political analysis of the Republican Party’s problems is such a typical paste whatever job, the usual stuff he turns in, that one wants to wring some kind of example from it, if only to compensate for the minimal degradation reading it brings to the old retina.

So notice, first the article gives us a banal overview of the Bush and Rove plan to “overhaul the nation’s political architecture.” This is a use of language in which language has faded to blanks; otherwise a writer would ask himself what overhauling architecture could possibly mean. What, in fact, is overhauling, and has Nagourney ever been in its neighborhood? Most dictionaries – my webster’s, for instance – defines it as making needed repairs. This is of course not what Nagourney means – he means, pretty simply, change. They came to Washington to change the relation between the Republican and Democratic party. But change is, of course, not fleshy enough, doesn’t have a journalistic bite. It is simply butter, and what Nagourney is trying to do is pour sugar over his graf. Hence the awkward and senseless overhauling of political architecture that is going on – as if Rove and Bush are out there with their rulers, measuring the Lincoln memorial.

The second paragraph contains the journalistic “some” – which is the way a journalist can emit his own view and pretend like he is reporting somebody else’s: “… some Republicans were suggesting this White House would be lucky to revive the ambitious legislative agenda Mr. Bush presented 10 months ago…” Surely, the some means some Republicans are suggesting something else. This little Republican went to the fair, this little Republican went wee wee wee all the way home.

Then we come to a quote from a Republican, Richard A. Viguerie. Viguerie thinks that Bush hasn’t been confrontational enough. Fair enough, that is what Viguerie thinks. But why the hell should we care? The comment is plastered into the piece with all the logic of an amateur surrealist gluing a picture of his cat to a painting of a triangle. There’s no attempt to see if the comment even makes any sense. Is it true that the Bush administration has been non-confrontational? To LI’s mind, that comment is wrong on many points, but surely, the one salient point is that Naguerney is writing this article in the wake of the Libby indictment. That indictment is not about a can’t we all get along attitude that has been dogging our friendly commander in chief. However, to confront Viguerie would require, well, non-triangulation. Or at least intelligent triangulation…

So okay, let’s waste no more time on AN. Turn, instead, to a really good reporter: Barton Gellman. His Washington Post piece is perhaps the best summary of all the currents in the case so far. I emailed it to a usually non-political friend, who doesn’t really want to wade through a lot of detritus to find out what is happening.

But the piece is riddled with anonymous citations even as it gives us the infamous Miller episode in which she agrees to allow Libby to anonymously comment as a House Staffer. Somehow, it has not yet sunk in: we simply can’t be confident that this isn’t happening all the time. For instance, this:

“The chain of events that led to Friday's indictment can be traced as far back as 1991, when an unremarkable burglary took place at the embassy of Niger in Rome. All that turned up missing was a quantity of official letterhead with "Republique du Niger" at its top.
More than 10 years later, according to a retired high-ranking U.S. intelligence official, a businessman named Rocco Martino approached the CIA station chief in Rome. An occasional informant for U.S., British, French and Italian intelligence services, Martino brought documents on Niger government letterhead describing secret plans for the sale of uranium to Iraq.”

What is this retired high-ranking U.S. intelligence official doing here? What is the purpose of this cut out? Does it really tell us that something happened 10 years later? Why not quote the Italian paper La Repubblica about this? Or why not demand that the high ranking retired U.S. intelligence official give his name? Why should we believe him at all? What does high-ranking mean? The whole thing stinks of what the Washington press has become – a venue for D.C. cliques to battle each other. That would be fine with me, if only the power of these cliques was proportionate to their intelligence. They would all be dog catching, if this were true, and we would all be better off. But unfortunately, they can cause great mischief in the Republic and the world. For instance, they can collectively cause the death of 35 to 60 thousand Iraqis in three years.

So LI went and counted the anonymous sources. There’s the retired spook. There’s the “top official, a longtime ally of Libby's.” There’s the “senior official who worked with [Libby].” There’s the “senior intelligence officer who knew of Libby's inquiries about Wilson and Plame.” There’s the slothful “Republican officials expressed the hope at that time that Ashcroft's recusal would provide political cover for the White House if no indictment resulted. One said the move would "depoliticize" the case on the eve of presidential campaign season.” The latter is particularly funny – a quote from a “one” who is a “Republican official” – in other words, a quote from a something that isn’t even clear what it is. A Republican politician? A lobbyist? A what? Gellman obviously wanted to simply say that Bush tried to depoliticize the investigation, but to say that and satisfy the compulsive habits of the journalist, he had to find a way of saying it "objectively" -- but it was fine to use a fictitious personage to satisfy that need. These are the kind of paradoxes that are shot through the current state of American journalism.

In essence, the newspaper business is giving us cut-outs who have less reality than the gods who would materialize in the Iliad, aiding or hindering the Greeks. They do this, they say, to put a brake on government abuses. Really? What abuses are those? Like, say, going to war as a vanity project for a dimwitted president? Right, they really put a brake on that one. The lifeless, meaningless language, the inability to explain anything clearly, since all explanations have to be triangulated – and not a clue, in the news business, that anything is wrong.

Amazing.