The Talking Dog

May 27, 2011, Follow the money

Well, well... former President Bill Clinton is now walking back his earlier remarks that a Congressional failure to enlarge the (over $14 trillion) federal debt ceiling by another trillion or two "wouldn't be so calamitous." As is necessary in the Alice-in-Wonderland faux reality that now passes for reality, we'll forget that what the man who gave us "depends on what the meaning of is is" was actually making an accurate statement, to wit, what matters is not the technical default itself, but whether the world's credit markets believe it really matters... Bill Clinton knows God damned well that his remarks themselves may well influence those very same credit markets. So... why would he stray off the official Obama Admin. reservation, even momentarily?

Maybe we should consider... some of Bill's financial relationships with hedge funds... Or maybe we should consider his daughter's... or his son in law's... Much has been written about the fact that the Bush family has no actual members or traditional professions, like doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc... only bid'ness-men (mostly war profiteers at that) and politicians ... but the little Clinton clan seems to realize the lucrative nature of their famous name... where was I?

Oh yes... why would Bill Clinton say something designed to spook markets into believing the possibility of an American default? Oh yes... because he is presumably "talking his book"... in other words, he, his family, or perhaps a major client presumably has an interest in this-- not necessarily to crash the American economy... but possibly to move markets one way or the other with a well-placed long or short position and/or options... or perhaps even some exotic synthetic derivative (remember, those things were illegal-- and rightly so until good old Bill signed a law changing that). Of course... just as with the credit default swaps on mortgages (which should have remained against the law)... the sheer several-times-USA-or-even-global-GDP-magnitude of these things makes one wonder just who is solvent enough to pay out the other side of these bets should some default trigger their coming due? I think we learned that answer back in '08: no one... except the taxpayers.

Anyway, more than one person has suggested to me in the last day or two that the Congressional Republicans, in their zeal to "crush Obama," have no qualms at all about crashing the economy via refusal to enlarge the debt ceiling... but as with Bill Clinton himself... perhaps we should ask the broader question of just who our Congress is actually working for? We know bloody well it's not "us" (unless us has some interest in a hedge fund, investment bank or other financial institution). But just who? And when if we have a similar-to-post-Lehman-Bros.-collapse credit freeze and financial crisis this year (or next... but I think this year)... will said Congress suddenly abandon its sudden debt-hawk drothers (which never apply to tax cuts) and... vote for another financial bailout? Under threat of sending the country into a depression (as if we're not already in one)... will we see trillions more in USA taxpayer commitments flowing to cover wagers of this nature?

Don't know... but that's probably how you bet. This has been... "follow the money."

May 20, 2011, Nothing to see here, either, folks

Just keep moving along... I admit I raised an eyebrow when I first heard the suggestion that the President may have made some dramatically new pronouncements with respect to a purported overall settlement between Israel and its Palestinian houseguests, but Jeffrey Goldberg writing in Atlantic correctly observes that the basic policy is... unchanged from prior understood policy.

Indeed, this piece by Aluf Benn in Haaretz observes that Obama actually handed Netanyahu a major diplomatic victory, rather than any kind of snub to Israel (whose leader visits the White House today). The reason is that while many sound-bite fed Americans will hear "'67 borders" and turn their brains off, everyone else on Earth (including in Israel) will note that the speech referred to the supremacy of discussing Israel's security arrangements and delayed and gradual Israeli military withdrawals from West Bank were thrown out there, along with deferred negotiations on the hot-buttons of Jerusalem and refugees. And of course:

More importantly, Obama scornfully rejected the Palestinian initiative to attain recognition at the United Nations and to isolate Israel, demanded the Palestinians return to negotiations, and called on Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist. These points came straight out of the policy pages of the Prime Minister's Bureau in Jerusalem. Netanyahu could not have asked for more: Obama outright rejects Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' recognition campaign, as well as the Palestinian reconciliation agreement.

It seems that the new Fatah-Hamas unity has saved Netanyahu from a much more aggressive and binding speech on the part of Obama.
Obama could have also delivered his Mideast speech during the impending AIPAC conference, which he will attend this coming Sunday.

If that's "throwing Israel under a bus" as some opportunistic intellectual whore Mitt Romney suggests... it's a bus with a pretty damned high clearance.

May 18, 2011, Move along folks

Nothing to see here... just a bunch of elderly Midwestern folks getting mace in the face because they had the audacity to protest J.P. Morgan Chase and its foreclosure policies (in Columbus, OH). It wasn't just Glenn Beck who called an organizer of a protest based on withholding of mortgage payments an "economic terrorist"-- the authorities would characterize any activity threatening the bottom lines of our beloved financial institutions (and the bonuses of their beloved executives) to be, well, terrorism. Naturally, this is why right-wing groups likely to threaten people, be they members of minority groups, gays, or even politicians, tend to be less of a counter-terrorism priority for our national law enforcement apparatus, than, say, environmental activists or others who might threaten property and profit of corporate America. Got to have our priorities straight.

As these nice folks in Columbus who were just trying to keep their homes got maced amidst an impressive police phalanx (I guess the tasers were out of commission), we might want to juxtapose the fact that, say, those responsible for the Bush-era crimes of torture are above-the-law (because we have to "look forward and not back"), whereas, someone like Thomas Drake, as profiled in this comprehensive and brilliant New Yorker piece by Jane Mayer, bears the full weight of the state upon him as the Obama Administration continues to ramp up its war against whistleblowers, especially those who dare expose corruption in the dark heart of the nation's "black ops" and security apparatus.
Or of course, the fact that in prior financial debacles (such as the S&L crisis of the late 1980's and early 90's) thousands of fraud perpetrators went to jail, whereas in the current financial crisis, in scale to the economy, as well as in raw dollar terms, orders of magnitude greater in terms of fraud and criminality... not a single person faces criminal liability.

But you troublemakers-- especially you with the walker-- you watch your ass! Is it just me... or does something seem really wrong about the whole thing?

May 16, 2011, Just another manic Monday

This Grey Lady Op Ed suggests that not merely college grads, or even Americans, but 80% of humanity is "irrationally exuberant," or "optimistic" about their own personal prospects, despite significant evidence to the contrary. The highly simplistic article assumes that uniquely American acts of stupidity (such as profligate spending, short-term thinking and refusal to take basic lifestyle precautions) are the result of "optimism" rather than... stupidity... and hence, misses the mark (just saying)... it also overlooks the fact that the happiest people on Earth according to surveys-- the Danes-- do not seem so optimistic, and are so happy precisely because their expectations are modest. But hey? Facts? We don't need no stinkin' facts...

Meanwhile, it seems over a dozen Palestinians were killed as their protestors appear to have tried to breach, or in some cases actually breached, Israeli borders in the North (Lebanon and Syria) and in Gaza and the West Bank. Coordinated assaults sponsored by Iran and Syria (which are having their own internal protests), or an expansion of "the Arab spring" to Israel's doorstep? Depends on who you ask, I suppose. Given that these "protests" took place on the anniversary of Israel's founding, I'm less inclined than usual to dismiss the seemingly hysterical suggestions of the Netanyahu government that these "protests" are likely sponsored by Iran (and its surrogates, such as Syria or Hamas) and more about destroying Israel than they are about demands for "peace" or "justice," though of course, peace and justice in that part of the world are what is being demanded, at great personal risk, throughout the Arab world (plus Iran). And of course, governments in Jordan and Egypt took steps to minimize marches toward their borders with Israel. Still and all, breach of international borders (particularly from a place like Syria, with whom Israel remains officially in a state of war) is the sort of thing not likely to be taken lightly.

And in some incredible irony, the International Monetary Fund managing director (and leading candidate for President of France), Dominque Strauss-Kahn, was arrested in New York on charges of sexual assault, thus delaying him from heading to Europe to meet with German leader Angela Merkel to arrange for the IMF's rape of Greece (coordinated with the EU, of course). While a hotel maid picked Strauss-Kahn out of a line-up, "forensic tests" are being conducted. Strauss-Kahn has had prior allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against him... innocent until proven guilty and all... like the story from Israel... "developing."

And speaking of "developing"... we give you this homage to the Drudge Report... Sure, Drudge is a hard-core right-winger, but he is a traffic behemoth, and, of course, he keeps it simple. To his credit, in a world of never-ending bells and whistles, videos and other noise, Drudge... keeps it simple. It seems that millions of people actually like that.

This has been "Just another manic Monday."

May 13, 2011, As the screw turns

And so, it seems, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has given us his "grown-up" perspective on the imminent financial apocalypse financial apocalypse looming, by saying he (too) will demand spending cuts and entitlement "reform" as his price for agreeing to increase the federal debt ceiling. Naturally, any solution to debt based on actually paying for it increasing taxes, is right out, but any reduced social spending is certainly within the realm of discussion. Of course.

And so, the chicken game goes on unabated. Present drop-dead date seems to be August 2nd... but as we know, nothing really happens in August. Was forgetting about this looming debt-ceiling thing at the time the Bush tax cuts were extended a gross oversight, or was this a brilliant Obama Administration triangulation, "forcing the President's hand" to make painful cuts in yet another in a series of endless Sister Soldjuh moments (just as the financial sector forced everyone's hands with a threatened financial crash if they didn't get their bailout, complete with manipulated stock market crashes to show they meant business)? I think the better question is... why does that question matter?

This is where we find ourselves: as "quantitative easing" (a/k/a/ printing more money) to stimulate the economy results only in price increases, but ideology (and international competition, but mostly ideology) keeps wages flat or declining, now it seems, that government stepping in to ease the pain that its own policies are causing... is right out. OK then. I've been telling you not merely to eat your vegetables, but to grow your vegetables, for some time now.

I'm still telling you that. This has been... "As the screw turns."

May 12, 2011, Who says you can't go home again?

Evidently, not parents of college graduates, some 85% of whom move back in with Mom and Dad after graduating college, according to a recent survey.

I readily concede that, in the typical superficial American way, the Time piece gives us insufficient context, to wit, are we talking about a few months before graduate school or full-time employment?, what is the percentage of grads going home in a typical year?, and so forth. Still, the staggeringly high over 5 out of 6 number does jump out, and certainly provides strong anecdotal support for the obvious point that our economy just isn't creating the kinds of management and white collar and skilled (at least in the Bachelors degree sense) jobs that it once led the world in creating.

The broader point is that while key social safety net programs like Medicare and Social Security are now under relentless bipartsian attack, this is a continued reflection of uniquely American short-term, and downright magical (not in "the good way") thinking: even ignoring the fact that it's fairly obvious that "growth" is pretty much done, quite likely forever, even in a treading-water economy, most of the opportunities for younger people will be created when older people get out of the job market, the attrition usually resulting from retirements (the other alternatives being death or dismemberment disability). By putting ever more pressure on older people to remain in the work force by threatening not merely the dignity of their dotages, but quite possibly their very survival via threatened cuts in pensions and health care, many more such people remain in the work force... it's a vicious cycle, and unfortunately, it starts from the ongoing magical thinking that (1) we can't increase taxes (mostly, but not just, on the rich), (2) we can't divert Defense spending into social programs, and (3) aren't we just the greatest country ever in every single way? (ignore the actual facts, please... they're not important).

Anyway, what is required is some sort of "systemic" approach, rather than the piecemeal, ad hoc, half-assed way Americans and their policy-makers do everything. Just as our health care system is based on insane individual choices to engage in poor personal habits (smoking, bad diets, lack of exercise) which maximizes the need for medical interventions, followed by demands for the most aggressive interventions available (after all, "someone else" is paying for them), so with job growth (or indeed, the very existence of jobs for our college grads... and everyone else), everything is interconnected-- interest rates, our foreign trade policy, our lack of a coherent national industrial or energy policy, and, of course, our Dickensian sui generis approach to social safety net issues and our neo-feudal worship sui generis approach to our super-rich people, particularly (and peculiarly) in the finance sector. It's all connected.

But, hey... pretend it isn't. Go on demanding the status quo: those college degrees will look really nice next to the White Snake poster, right behind that bowling trophy. Mom, what's for dinner... and will Daddy mind if I borrow the car to go to the mall?

May 10, 2011, Promises, promises

Speaker of the House John Boehner addressed a group of plutocrats at the Economic Club of New York, promising trillions in spending cuts to offset any raise in the federal debt ceiling. I realize I was a tad blog-negligent by not talking about the debt-ceiling in my own take on the capitulation "compromise" that led to the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts in exchange for... in exchange for... well, that's just it... a very minor extension of unemployment benefits that seems asininely picayune in exchange for what Obama gave up on this (i.e., everything).

I both read (and anticipated) that the President's failure... that's F A I L U R E... to negotiate for an enlargement of the debt ceiling-- RIGHT THEN AND THERE-- would crop up in a few months. That is to say, the failure to link the two issues-- a tax cut that would dramatically increase the deficit, and the debt ceiling to legally permit the extra borrowing engendered by the tax cut-- was an act of egregious political malpractice.

And so... here we are. I'd be much more disturbed if I didn't know the whole thing wasn't an endless kabuki-- and I do-- but still, it seems that Speaker Boehner has to at least pay lip-service to the moron masses [Texas-]Tea Partiers by telling them that the price for tax cuts for the really rich that won't actually be of any benefit to most of the putzes who call themselves "tea party" increasing the debt ceiling will be "trillions in [unspecified] spending cuts." Well, let's see what's available.

Interest on the debt? No... inviolate legally. Defense? No... mandated by Halliburton Boeing God. Medicare? Well... kind of have to back off that... Social Security? Yup... "Discretionary spending?" Yeah, that's also what Boehner means. And the "discretionary budget"-- everything else-- is barely 20% of the federal budget... even if you cut it to nonexistence, and allowed highways and airports and schools and hospitals and what's left of our domestic infrastructure that hasn't yet fallen apart to fall apart, thing is... it's not that much money compared to either Defense, or the impact of tax cuts on high earners (and "high earners" can be defined as everyone above the median, around $40,000 for a family of four, a/k/a the so-called "middle class.")

This particular game of financial chicken was foreordained last December when "the tax deal" was announced; there seems no doubt that the Republican rank and file couldn't care less if their political posturing takes the country over the edge into default... the question is, does Republican leadership believe its actual constituency (the super-rich) really want that? Because if they do... they're going to step on the accelerator, and demand ever more "spending cuts" as their price... and Democrats will have to sell out constituency after constituency to prevent the ultimate failure- a default on Treasury paper. (And if Republican rank and file believe they are "underappreciated" viz the whole OBL thing... it will only be worse.)

Don't know. The Government's spending and deficits are, to be sure, out of control, but the real problems happen to be Defense and tax collection, the two areas that seem to be (by "bipartisan consensus")... "off the table." Where this stops, nobody knows. Fasten your seat-belts... this is going to be a bumpy ride. This has been... "Promises, promises."

May 8, 2011, Righteous indignations

We'll start with perennial flame-thrower Noam Chomsky, who asks the musical question, "what if Iraqi commandos had landed here, assassinated George W. Bush and dumped his body into the ocean?" Chomsky's take is provocative, taking on such subjects as the unfortunate use of American Indian names in American weaponry (Apache Helicopter, Tomahawk Missile)... or even that the OBL mission was called "Geronimo," as well as the human scale of the result of Dubya's wars. No one will accuse old Noam of sugar-coating!

FDL's Emptywheel puts the official meme of "the risky White House decision" to launch the mission to get OBL in appropriate perspective. One of those risks-- dramatically underappreciated-- is just how pissed the people of and in Pakistan were likely to be from the whole thing, not the least of which is the implication that somehow it was widely known that OBL was there (rather than that he was the guest of elements of Pakistan's intel service). It seems the consequences of that will keep coming... as, inter alia, Pakistan has evidently decided to burn a local CIA chief (note that both the Emptywheel and the Times of India clue us in to the disclosure of just a wee bit too much of "means and methods" of spydom, such as that positive i.d.'s of OBL were difficult because he kept the battery out of his cellphone (or presumably those of "couriers") until they were at least 90 minutes away and that the windows were such that a satellite image of him couldn't be confirmed, or that the CIA had a "safe-house" in Abbotabad to monitor OBL's compound... and now we learn that OBL was in another location near Haribur (on the Abbotabad Highway) for around two years before Abbotabad, meaning he was in non-tribal-area Pakistan for over 7 1/2 years, or since 2003...

On the domestic front, I note the indignation all around, as a pilot refused to take off with two men, Muslim clerics, actually, who were wearing non-Western garb (one was in traditional Indian attire.) Ramifications... to follow, I suppose. Why can't we all just get along?

And Krugman expresses righteous indignation at this WaPo op-ed. Krugman observes that WaPo correctly identifies the problem ("structural unemployment"), and then rules out the solutions (fiscal and/or monetary expansion), and also refuses to accept the consequences of its own proposal (doing nothing), to wit, depression... In short, WaPo reflects the perfect current American political/economic fantasy mind-set... the house is on fire, but the usual methods of putting the fire out will be too painful, but everything will be o.k.... it just will. Krugman (and a number of other economists)... disagree with that. (Highway to hell, anyone?)

This has been... "righteous indignations."

May 7, 2011, It's a mad world

I'll keep this short, as it's really early and I'll be running today (and I hope not to run LATE!)... but say what you will about legislative priorities, the Florida legislature passed bills banning children from wearing their pants too low and banning bestiality. [The latter bill had been the personal pet-cause (as it were) of a legislator named Nan Rich of Sunrise, FL, perhaps the ultimate name for a Republican these days, reflecting both the Nanny State for your personal affairs that non-bat-shit-crazy people think are none of the state's business AND the GOP's real constituency... the rich.]

The other point of madness I'll note is that my "disappointment" (I confess it's a "perhaps mild" disappointment) that it seems that the President didn't even try for a mission involving OBL's capture (rather than execution) is shared by John Yoo and Michael Moore (admittedly for slightly different reasons).

And fresh from the hit on OBL, evidently the drone strike in Yemen was an attempt to hit an American citizen.

I'll just say, I look forward to bringing our troops home, now that our war against one guy has been won; seeing as OBL wasn't even in Afghanistan (and no one on Earth thought he was in Iraq), it's time to leave those two countries... yesterday. And redeploy our men and women in uniform to something productive, such as working in Walmart or a call center.

This has been... "It's a mad world."

May 6, 2011, Synthesis

It should come as no surprise that the "budget negotiations" have, rather quickly, shown us that the Republican House Majority quickly figured out that they had no chance of holding most of their seats unless they backed off on their plan to destroy Medicare, and so they did. The fact of the matter, of course, is that Medicare (unlike its companion program, Social Security) is unsustainable currently, because Medicare taxes plus Medicare premiums barely cover half the cost of the program, the rest coming from "other general revenues," which these days means borrowing from China. Popular or not, Medicare is a financial time-bomb.

On the broader subject of health and health expenditures, I'm reading a brilliant tome by Dr. Andrew Weil called "You Can't Afford to Get Sick" in which he makes a number of remarkably astute observations about just why our health care system (now eating 1/6 of GDP and growing) is... unsustainable, and, because of its combination of insane expense and insane ineffectiveness, will soon destroy us. This, of course, is because we're not healthy, despite the cost. We believe that its better to use expensive pharmaceuticals and other medical interventions than it is to take care of ourselves, which, of course, is insane, but it is also insanely expensive (although extraordinarily profitable to Big Pharma and to the insurance industry, both of whom own the government, which subsidizes the mess). And being a big picture thinker, Dr. Weil observes that obesity and smoking are just about the twin death-stars of our health care nightmare... and on obesity, Weil suggests restoring funding to schools for physical education. Keep our kids healthy, by taxing rich people? WHAT ARE YOU SMOKING, DOC? Oh, right... you don't smoke.

So, my plan would achieve the same result, only be politically feasible. While our children's health is, of course, disposable in this society, our beloved military is not. I propose establishing, within the Defense Department AND DEFENSE BUDGET, the Division of Permanent Strategic Readiness, or some similar nomenclature, to take over the nation's physical education directly in the interest of national security. While some people might be upset at their elementary, middle and high school aged children having to do 10 mile jogs with full pack, go over obstacle courses, do their morning calisthenics and so forth under the tutelage of uniformed military personnel, our ongoing military readiness requires this. AND local school districts can save themselves the expense of paying for gym teachers. And, of course, our kids will be in shape for a change, and a variety of expensive health problems will be solved.

And, of course, since there is no further reason for our military personnel to remain in Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or Iraq, they will need something to do. Physically training our youth to be fit and ready for duty seems like a damned useful thing, if you ask me. Out of the box and into the boot camp. Hooooah! Quite bellyachin' and MOVE IT, KIDS! This has been... "Synthesis."

May 5, 2011, And now for something somewhat different

Taking a break from all OBL all the time, I bring you this good-sentiment-bad-idea proposal from the Obama Administration to tax automobiles based on miles traveled. It would be collected at gasoline filling stations based presumably on some kind of electronic tracking device.

Er, no. Best just raise the current gasoline excise tax, based on actual fuel usage. Someone with an extremely efficient vehicle should not have to pay more than someone who may use more fuel to travel shorter distances.

And speaking of taxes, I propose a small (say, 1%) income tax on virtually all earners at virtually all income levels (say, a modest $1,000 exemption, way down), and then, guess what... besides incomes over $250,000, middle class people should pay a slightly higher income tax, as political cover for somewhat higher progressive taxes (say, capping out at the 39.5% Bill Clinton top rates)... that way, Fox News can't keep telling us about millions of "deadbeats" who pay no taxes, notwithstanding the sad reality that virtually all quintiles of income pay around the same 20% of so of their income in taxes (have to count social security/FICA/Medicare, state and local income tax, sales tax, excise tax, etc., etc.... you see.... and not pretend that the rich are somehow more virtuous by virtue of our outrageously inefficient and unfair income tax system).

OK then... this has been... "and now for something somewhat different."

May 4, 2011, Class acts

To give credit where due, and notwithstanding that he is going to make going to work in Lower Manhattan a living hell tomorrow, nonetheless, I really do commend the President on the sober and measured tone he has taken since announcing the successful hit execution mission to kill [or capture, of course] Osama bin Laden, resulting in the accused terrorist mastermind's death. Alas, it had to come to something like that... public trials would have denied OBL, KSM and the other accused masterminds of the one thing they wanted more than anything else-- martyrdom. They would also have demonstrated actual entitlement to our vaunted American exceptionalism, by showing that even in a moment of crisis, we held to our values. Instead, we went for the comparatively easy way out-- a bullet in the head and a burial at sea, proving that, in the end, we're no better than anyone else. That's just the way it is... a disappointment, to be sure... but is it really a surprise?

O.K. then. On to happier themes, and more positive aspirations: in honor of the 92nd birthday of this national treasure earlier in the week, and the fact that this song is as relevant as ever, for our second ever embedded video here at TTD, we give you the incomparable Pete Seeger, and "Bring 'Em Home." Take it away, Brother Pete (and feel free to sing along):

May 3, 2011, Sober reflections

"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy." - Cool fake quote attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Those who wish to take a break from the perversely celebratory atmosphere depicted in American media (btw, for those who think that New York City has erupted in a spontaneous outpouring of jubilation, my observations are of continued... sobriety), and who, in particular, are irritated at the sights of even smugger than usual Rudy Giuliani and Dick Cheney, but who nonetheless think that my reactions to the targeted assassination killing in a "fire fight" of Osama bin Laden by American military personnel known as "Seal Team Six" should have been a bit more "measured" ... (even as I forgot to note that the killing took place eight years to the day from the infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech)... well... for you, I have been fortunate to have received other more "sober" assessments that fully capture my feelings on the subject... and so I share them:

This, from Rebecca Gordon of War-Times.Org, asks much the same questions I do (including its lede "can we go home now?")... a snippet:

Under this pretext ["capture or kill" bin Laden], Americans became inured to the "targeted killing" – political assassination – of identified enemies – along with any unfortunates who happened to be in the way of, or merely mistaken for, a "target." A generation of drone operators sitting in Las Vegas has learned to treat real murder as just another video game. As Jeffrey Toobin observes, even this latest triumph, the death of Osama bin Laden, is of questionable legality. "It’s worth noting," he says, "that the apparently universal acclaim for the killing represents a major shift in American perceptions of such actions. Following the revelations of C.I.A. assassination plots by the Church Committee, in the nineteen-seventies, President Ford issued Executive Order 11905 (later 12333), which stated,

No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination."

We have all but abandoned national and international institutions of justice that have served this nation imperfectly but well, from Washington to Nuremburg.

Under this pretext, the highest officials of the United States openly boasted about the use of torture. This country had long practiced covert support and training for programs of institutionalized torture in other states, from Greece to Brazil and Chile. But for the first time in a century, the United States overtly embraced torture as legitimate response to fear. Citizens of this country were taught to approve of any atrocity, if our leaders assured us it was necessary for our protection. We will be living with this distortion of our national character for a long time.

We can expect to hear in the coming weeks that torture produced the key piece of the puzzle, the courier who traveled to and from Abbottabad. The New Yorker's Steve Coll reports that it was traditional analysis of mountains of data that led to the discovery of bin Laden's location. However, says Coll, "the breakthrough started several years back from detainee interrogations; it’s not clear yet how or by what means the information about the courier who led to the Abbottabad compound was extracted." So we may yet hear Dick Cheney say, "See? Torture works."

Under this pretext, the United States has beggared the institutions dedicated to welfare of people in this country: our systems of education and healthcare, our state and local governments, and the very infrastructure that supports our daily lives. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post does a seat-of-the-pants tally of "the cost of Osama bin Laden," in which he notes that "even a very partial, very haphazard, tallying of the costs from 9/11 reaches swiftly into the trillions of dollars. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars, neither of which would’ve been launched without bin Laden’s provocation, will cost us a few trillion on their own, actually."

Neal Macdonald, writing for the CBC, notes that "the Devil likely died happy," in the sense that it would seem that OBL's legacy was far more successful than we care to give him credit for:

But when bin Laden directed those airplanes at civilians ten years ago, he stole a lot more from this nation than the lives of 3,000 of her citizens.

He taught this country the consequences of operating an open, free society. Literally, he showed Americans the price of their liberty, how many of their principles they'd be willing to cast aside, and how quickly they would do it.

In other words, bin Laden showed American exceptionalists how unexceptionally they behave when faced with horrors most older nations have endured.

Beginning the day after the attacks, the United States became a meaner, more paranoid, more impoverished place.

Even as President Bush reassured America's Muslims the U.S. was at war with terror, not with Islam, the nation's security organs and a great many of its citizens rounded on anything that even looked Muslim.

Thousands of people were locked up on flimsy pretexts and held for months without trial. Muslims learned to live with hard stares and suspicion. They were pulled off flights for the sin of having prayed publicly. Gradually, the Muslim world began to believe it was at war.

One can only imagine bin Laden's delight.

Congress, its knees jerking, passed the grotesquely named Patriot Act, removing civil liberties that took centuries to earn. America's famous dedication to individual rights shriveled in the sudden heat. National security, rather than life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness became the fundamental determinant.

Even now, "red" states are passing bills forbidding Shariah law, as though Arizona is on the cusp of a Muslim takeover.

Americans surrendered to ever more intrusive searches and probes at airports, carried out largely to create the illusion they were being protected.

WAR ON TERROR banners crawled constantly across the bottoms of cable TV screens, as a national media seized by a shameful fit of jingoism whipped up an already fear-stricken population. New plots were everywhere. Suddenly, the world absolutely teemed with terrorists who "hate us for being free."

President Bush, as rulers tend to do, seized the moment to expand his power, guided by Nixon's rule that it isn't illegal if the president does it.

Telecommunications companies were press-ganged into participating in illegal wiretap operations against American citizens.

Habeas corpus was ignored; the White House arrogated to itself the power to pronounce an American citizen an "enemy combatant," stripped of legal rights or due process. Government secrecy and classification of information expanded exponentially.

At the president's direction, White House lawyers concocted specious legal arguments allowing government agents to practise torture. They also began kidnapping people off foreign streets, sometimes the wrong people altogether, and shipping them off to regimes that didn't bother at all with legal opinions.

But bin Laden didn't just prod Americans into disregarding their own laws and principles when dealing with their real and supposed enemies; he goaded them into turning on each other.

Bush, on the night of the attacks, declared that there were only two choices: you were with America, meaning him, or with the terrorists. No middle ground.

"Liberal," in conservative circles, became synonymous with "soft on terror."

Those who opposed going to war in Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, were portrayed as unpatriotic haters of America.

The cleavage between right and left, red and blue, urban and rural, became deeper than at any time in modern history.

And then of course there was the cost. Setting aside the trillions expended in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have bin Laden to thank for a lot of today’s economic misery.

And finally, our friend Karen Greenberg, writing in the Guardian, tells us of perversions of justice left in OBL's wake:

What we need to remember, though, is that the effect of bin Laden's reign of terror on the notion of justice was to pervert it. Under the rubric of fighting terror, the United States rolled back its hallowed notions of civil liberties, its embrace of modernity, and even its reliance on its own courts. We delved into medieval-style torture, we reneged on our courts as a viable option for trying terrorists, and we blindly took aim at a religion, rather than its disaffected hijackers.

It is not surprising – but needs to be noted – that bin Laden was killed in a gunfight. The order was to kill not capture, even in a face-to-face encounter, which this apparently was. We thus forfeited the right to parade his excesses to the world at large – including to the thousands of Muslims whose family members have been killed by al-Qaida attacks. We ran, knowingly, from the chance to hold him in custody, and to punish him by due process and make him account to the world for what he has done.

This, then, was the inevitable ending to the way the United States has chosen to conduct this war. Bin Laden was an enemy so dreaded and so feared that his killing by military execution was the only possible end for a country that had given up so much of itself in his name. This was not a criminal, it was judged, that our courts, even after ten years, could handle. This was not an enemy whose fate the United States wanted to debate with the world and in the world's criminal courts. His killing put an end to innumerable conversations that would, arguably, have continued to confound nations and their citizens. In his death, as in his life, we followed his lead when it came to thinking about justice.

There is no denying that bin Laden's death is the end of the menace of al-Qaida as we know it: that without his leadership, a diffuse network, frayed at the edges by a decade of effective counterterrorism and harried by military interventions, will likely fall further into disarray. But a word of warning may be in order. Many of the pundits and politicians today are warning us not to let our guard down, to beef up security, to remember to be ever-vigilant – even if the immediate menace in our sights has been vanquished.

This is a version of the refrain that has marked the decade since 9/11: in fear, in hatred, in revenge, we need to fortify ourselves by forsaking many of our ideals. With this refrain in mind, we Americans, in the name of bin Laden, have been lured into a compromise with our own principles, whether it's on the matter of torture, of detention or of war without end.

Perhaps, in sending bin Laden's body into the waters of the ocean, we should consider sending all that he represented to us to the bottom of the sea as well. Perhaps we could, in his absence, remember once again who we are, and begin to rebuild our confidence in ourselves – starting with our system of justice.

This has been... "Sober reflections."

May 1, 2011, I guess it was all worth it

It's being reported that Osama bin Laden is dead, and the body is in American custody, and that the President will make a public announcement to this effect. It might have been from one of them flying killer robots.

Thing is... bin Laden has most likely been dead for years,,, so the question is... why the need to tell us now? So we can be told that... everything that has been done in the name of getting bin Laden, including the destruction of the nations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands (and the displacement of millions) of civilians, not to mention the deaths of thousands of American soldiers (and maiming of tens of thousands), the bankrupting of our nation (which will probably cost it not only its preeminence in the future, but quite likely, any future), the decimation of civil liberties and the rule of law, and the ascendance of the financial class to a level of virtual feudal dominance over the rest of us while any ameliorating social programs are jettisoned (but the military beast remains fully fed...)... is all worth it. Every last dead child. Every last American child who won't have a parent. All worth it.

Gawd... talk about anti-climactic... and over four months before that big 10th anniversary... OBL, it seems, will be missing it...

So what now? Demobilize our military, bring the troops home for critical civilian projects to rebuild our infrastructure and get our economy moving again, and divert the military cost of two three four wars in Muslim countries back home into domestic programs, including a critical effort to develop a sustainable economy and society not dependent on guzzling oil? Get real.

Seriously... I have no idea. I'm guessing that like the White House Correspondents' Dinner, this announcement is to further divert everyone's attention from the fact that Timmy Geithner just handed Goldman Sacks' the keys to the nuclear arsenal... again. Just saying.

This has been... "I guess it was all worth it."

Update: So as just to make sure not too many questions get asked about the manner of death or that it's really him or when he really died that "his grave doesn't become a terrorist shrine," bin Laden's body was "buried at sea." Autopsy? We don't need no stinkin' autopsy... Given that so many of us still buy the need for tax cuts for the rich because they will increase revenue, or that the President, whose mother presumably never left Hawaii during her pregnancy nonetheless gave birth to him in Kenya, or that the world was created in six days (and Adam and Even rode to church on the backs of dinosaurs) and other "counter-factual" ideas, I guess Americans will buy just about anything. I suppose Donald Trump can now retract his demand for OBL's death certificate... or can he?