Friday, January 23, 2009

Stimulating the arts 

Republicans are beginning to complain about individual items in and the aggregate size of the stimulus package wending its way through Congress.

Republicans accused Democrats of abandoning the new president's pledge, ignoring his call for bipartisan comity and shutting them out of the process by writing the $850 billion legislation. The first drafts of the plan would result in more spending on favored Democratic agenda items, such as federal funding of the arts, they said, but would do little to stimulate the ailing economy.

Republicans are right, of course, but will lose. Artists and other intellectuals are a big constituency for the Democrats, perhaps in some ways more important than labor unions. Via their support, liberals dominate high and popular culture, which gives them a huge advantage in the media and therefore in the culture wars. Nor is this the first time that the Democrats have used hard economic times on Main Street to subsidize intellectuals. During the New Deal, FDR cooked up the ridiculous "Federal Writers' Project," a make-work scheme to employ historians, librarians, and writers. A smart move, for historians have treated the New Deal kindly ever since.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jan 23, 09:37:00 AM:

Maybe this is not the change that Republicans were expecting, huh?

As if Obama actually meant what he said about this 'new comity'. It is a new paradigm, isn't it, huh?

To quote that greatest of modern pragmatic American philosophers, Bugs Bunny: "What a maroon; what an ultra-maroon!"


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jan 23, 09:58:00 AM:

As you no doubt know from reading The Forgotten Man, the Writer's Project was far scarier than simply being a "make work project." Instead, it encouraged (required?) Stalinist-type propoganda. I wish I hadn't read the book, as the similarities between now and then are becoming quite disturbing.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jan 23, 10:12:00 AM:

Wait a sec... artists are intellectuals?  

By Blogger Viking Kaj, at Fri Jan 23, 10:18:00 AM:

TH, so do you think that this is why the 3rd Reich has gotten such bad press throughout the ages?  

By Blogger Viking Kaj, at Fri Jan 23, 10:29:00 AM:

BTW, it is the Republicans fault for abandoning fiscal responsibility in favor of ill-considered foreign adventuring.

They don't have cred as an opposition party.

Biggest mistake of the Bush administration imo.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jan 23, 10:42:00 AM:


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jan 23, 10:45:00 AM:

Viking, fess up. You're an artist aren't you?  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Fri Jan 23, 10:53:00 AM:

Viking is something of a renaissance man, but not, as far as I am aware, an artist.  

By Blogger Brian, at Fri Jan 23, 12:35:00 PM:

Lincoln also gave financial support to artists and writers during the Civil War - Godwin talks about it in Team of Rivals. Maybe the rot started there....  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jan 23, 12:36:00 PM:

What should we have expected?

Obama, totally a man of the left, runs toward the middle to insure election, then governs left.

Gee whiz! What politician ever minced words during a campaign.

He has a Congress totally devoted to going left. And apparently millions totally devoted to him in some "shoe fetish" way.

Prediction: We are going left. Some Republicans will object or pretend to. So will some insecure Democrats from conservative areas.

Even working together the two sets of objectors will have zero influence. Sensing that, the more pragmatic will shut up and take the small favors offered by Harry and Nancy.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jan 23, 02:20:00 PM:

Money is flowing from the government to political supporters. It's the Chicago way.  

By Blogger Viking Kaj, at Fri Jan 23, 02:37:00 PM:

I'm working on a screenplay with the Viking Dottir, does that count?

So remind me, which artists did Al
Gore support? I know Clinton went to see the Lion King on Broadway.

Remember how Texaco sponsored the Met for years? If it wasn't for Texas Republicans, the Rockefellers (MoMA), and Andrew Mellon (Harding's Treasury Secretary) we wouldn't have any art in this country left for Obama to support.  

By Blogger Viking Kaj, at Fri Jan 23, 02:40:00 PM:

Forgot to add that most of the art in the National Gallery came from the Mellon collections.

Don't trust Obama to mention that the next time he holds a reception there...  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jan 23, 03:51:00 PM:

I hope there is enough money to ensure the survival of America's finest newspapers: The New York Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Minneapolis Star-Tribune.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jan 23, 04:50:00 PM:

Viking called it.

There's an alternative universe where Bush & Co didn't invade Iraq. Instead, Bush used his 9/11 capital to promote positive change, while vetoing wasteful spending bills, and won in 2004 in a landslide.

Iraq was one of the worst blunders in our history ... all because Bush had to find a way to out do Poppy.

Obama will put us on track for years of no growth, or even negative growth. We will all suffer because of it.


By Blogger TigerHawk, at Fri Jan 23, 06:06:00 PM:

Iraq was one of the worst blunders in our history ... all because Bush had to find a way to out do Poppy.

My own guess is that history will eventually conclude otherwise, both as to the substance of the decision to depose Saddam and the moving consideration for it. That history will need to be written by somebody who is not politically aware today, though, so many of us (including George W. Bush) will not live long enough to read it. Link, in any case, is right if his point is that Iraq was an irreparable political blunder.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jan 23, 06:56:00 PM:

Iraq does look like a terrible political blunder, in that Bush spent every bit of political capital on the war that he had and then went ahead and overdrew his account.

But the durability of the accomplishments in Iraq remain to be seen. The Iraq war that Bush sponsored may turn out to have been a great strategic move for American interests in the region, as it seems very likely that the new regime in Iraq will promote regional political freedom and much stability if it can last through a few elections and changes in power. The old Baathist regime did nothing positive for the region at all, and in fact mostly it's effect on the area resulted from the wide variety of threats it posed to the region.

Who knows, maybe the Bush adventure will have created something very positive.  

By Blogger Mrs. Davis, at Fri Jan 23, 08:57:00 PM:

Presidents are given far too much credit for power to influence the economy. It is not what the founder created the office for. Presidential power pales in comparison to that of the Chairman of the Fed. And that is being shown to be minimal.

So while they may have some influence at the margin, Bush is hardly responsible for the situation we are in and Obama can hardly be expected to lead us out of it.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Fri Jan 23, 09:26:00 PM:

"Iraq was one of the worst blunders in our history ..."

People say this, but they never actually explain why; they just accept it as received wisdom and restate it as fact.

A hostile and aggressive dictatorship was overthrown and replaced by a, so far, functional and friendly Arab(!) democracy for very little cost, and al Qaeda has been seriously bloodied both in terms of actual capability and reputation. There were more American casualties lost for a 90 square mile chunk of rock in the Pacific (called Okinawa) in less than three months than in the entire almost 6 year Iraqi conflict, to use just one example.

Diplomatic consequences? Where? The two chief opponents of the war, France and Germany, have both since elected Rightist governments much more friendly to our international aims, the local Arab regimes are more on board with us than they've ever been before and have shifted their attentions from Iraq and Israel to Iran, and the UN was revealed as the utterly toothless and absolutely worthless constraint that we'd always known it to be. Oh, and the perpetual 'Kurdish problem' is being largely defused in Turkey because the Iraqi Kurds are actually pretty content with their states in Iraq.

If this little democratic experiment works, it could be the greatest thing to ever happen to the Arab world. The next generation of Baghdadis just might erect a statue of President Bush in the same way that the Poles in Katowice erected a statue of President Reagan.

But yeah, I can see how a kid ignorant of the historical record and world events could see it as a total catastrophe unprecedented in all of history.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jan 23, 10:16:00 PM:

@ Dawnfire: they say it because there were/are actual terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan that could have been targeted with a fraction of the $3T cost of Iraq, as evidenced by our recent unmanned successes. Recall, most people are/were behind Afghanistan as a conflict. Also, $3T is what, twice the projected budget deficit for a massive bout of infrastructure spending and tax decreases? Alternatively, Lafferize that sum into private investment and all the good that can do, and the benefits of having a tenuous democracy in the region seem less impressive. Also, subtract the harms to our military readiness and advances made by our enemies when we remained hunkered down. Opportunity costs matter. Sidenote: comparing our war with Japan to that with a country with <1% our GDP seems laughable, like comparing a professional boxing match to me punting a small dog.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Fri Jan 23, 11:51:00 PM:

oops: 900 sq. mile chunk of rock, not 90.

"they say it because there were/are actual terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan"

Uh huh. We were sort of killing them the whole time, along with the Afghan government. It became kind of a game to watch for results of the Taliban Spring Offensives and see how terribly they got their asses kicked. Even the Pakistanis got in on the game. In case you weren't paying attention.

$3 trillion? What kind of assinine number is that? The entire budget of the United States is less than that. The DoD budget in 2006 (for example) was only $410.8 billion, (normal operating costs) with a $50 billion supplement for the wars. To reach $3 trillion you have to dishonestly include every military expenditure from spare tires in Fort Polk to severance packages for badly injured basic trainees and count it as if it were required to fund the conflicts. What a load of shit.

"Also, subtract the harms to our military readiness..."

We have the most highly advanced and battle-tested military in the world now. A number of those advances (like IED jammers and new body armors and up-armor kits and JDAM kits) were developed on the fly as a direct result of the wars. Chinese general officers have gone on the record talking about how impressed they've been with our military. Recruitment numbers have remained up despite a Congressional mandate to expand the military during a war. Yeah, we're really hurting.

"and advances made by our enemies when we remained hunkered down."

Really? As I recall, it was the Democrats who wanted to 'hunker down' and it was the President and General Petraeus who wanted to go out and kill the enemy. Then they were roundly mocked. Remember the 'willful suspension of disbelief?' How about 'General Betray-Us?' Or 'the war is lost?' But the surge worked, AQI was broken, we won. Hmm.

Also, how could such damage be done to our 'military readiness' if we were 'hunkered down' and losing ground to the enemy?

"Sidenote: comparing our war with Japan to that with a country with <1% our GDP seems laughable, like comparing a professional boxing match to me punting a small dog."

1) That was not the point of the example. The point of the example was to demonstrate just how little this particular military adventure had cost us.

2) then how could it have been such a huge mistake? Punting small dogs is easy, right? Rationalize this ease with the above 'the war was lost by General Betray-Us and his willful suspension of disbelief' talk. Did we get beat down by a small puppy? I'd love to hear how that all makes sense...

3) The war with Iraq was easy. The Baathist insurgency was pretty easy too. It was the AQI and JAM that caused the headaches and killed all those people. So the mention of Iraq's GDP is pretty worthless in analyzing the entire endeavor.

4) Comparing GDPs and using that as a deciding factor in military estimations is stupid, anyway. Consider that in 1941 Japan had about 11% of our GDP. Germany had about %40. That means that with both of them together, we were still twice a wealthy. But it was not an easy war, and the USSR, which didn't surpass Germany's GDP until 1945 (after including occupation data), did most of the heavy lifting in Europe. Germany and Italy together had significantly more than the UK, so why wasn't the UK crushed by then?


No wonder people think it was such a big mistake; you believe your own propaganda!  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jan 24, 12:51:00 AM:

@ DF:

Counting death severances, and medical expenditures that would not have otherwise happened, and all of those other frivolities isn't asinine, it's accounting. What types of obligations for veteran's benefits, survivor benefits, home loans, education, and the like have we gotten ourselves into? Also, it would seem our record deficits imply borrowed money; the interest on that also counts. The short version, admittedly from Stiglitz, is here, but in the mean time I'm counting costs as "things we would not have to otherwise pay," which i find a reasonable cost definition no matter how much you dislike it. Got a better metric that accounts for the cost disparity? Please, share.

As for military readiness, I hate to break it to you, but I trust this source more than I trust you, and here's this rehash for good measure.

As for whatever drivel you are citing, I have never tried to be punny with the names of Generals or anyone else. Sling idiocy at others, for example people for whom you have any reason at all to believe it is relevant. On hunkering down, having an open-ended military commitment basically one place limits the effectiveness of strike capacity in other areas because you have hampered resources; for example, we couldn;t throw more effort behind Afghanistan, instead trying to 'muddle through', despite that border area being where the terrorists prefer to hide. When we concede choice of theater to an enemy that specializes in blending in with civilians, anyone who wants to can walk out. Suboptimal.

As for GDP comparison, I'm using it as a proxy for military buying power. WW2 being around the same order of magnitude speaks to one reason why that engagement was hard; there was an economy to drive a front. Punting small dogs being easy is exactly the point, in this case: when the sides are distinctly slanted in power, anything less than a steeply slanted outcome is a failure to live up to potential, a success by unfairly low standards. AQI and JAM were the major actors, but at the end of the day we chose years of fiddling before opting for crushing force. That's a failure, in the same way needing many, many tries to punt the pooch is. The meterstick of "it worked eventually, kinda" calls many things successes, including govt work.

Also, I didn't see any mention of why an equal investment in the private sector would not be better. Does that also not count because you think markets are a load of shit, too?  

By Blogger Viking Kaj, at Sat Jan 24, 03:58:00 AM:

I stick by my original comment that the Bush adminstration engaged in ill-considered foreign adventuring.

Bush II's May 1, 2003 speech from the deck of the Abraham Lincoln (ironic that, eh?) will go down in history with Bush I's "read my lips, no new taxes". I'll remind everyone that Bush II was reelected in a landslide 18 months later.

But, as Patton said, "The American people love a winner." Five years later we are still fighting and the outcome is far from clear in both theatres.

Along the way. budget deficits have ballooned. That is the simple fact of it. Both Bushes come from a non-traditional repulican (ie. internationalist, CIA driven) perspective, and they have often been discredited within their own party. Their pandering to the religious right, and use of such tacticians as Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, may have won elections but has also led to a souring of the election climate and increasing partisanship.

I think, if the Republican party is to be successful, that it needs to reject socially devisive politics, return to its fiscally conservative roots, and develop an America first perspective. Despite all, the American people are fundamentally conservative, a fact that is not lost on Obama.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jan 24, 04:04:00 AM:


Your pie-in-the-sky "accounting" is indeed asinine.

First, in case you were too young to pay attention in the year 2003, the US military casualties in Iraq were expected in the tens of thousands. There was a serious threat of chemical warfare. The anticipated 'Battle of Baghdad' alone was seriously expected to kill from 5,000 to 10,000 US troops. The casualty count so far is about 4,500 altogether, so think how much we have saved (since you are so inclined).

And why stop there? You complain that Iraq cost us opportunity to confront the advances of our 'real' enemies. You are not making clear who you mean: North Koreans or Iranians, or the dreaded 'Polars' (Polar Bears and Penguins alliance), but in any case just imagine how much we save every day by not fighting them. Why, we are practically rolling in all that imaginary dough!  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jan 24, 04:15:00 AM:


And if Saddam was still ruling Iraq by now, Bush opponents would say that Bush didn't do enough to confront him (without being specific what exactly "confront" means). Finding faults is easy, once you put your mind to it.

I agree with 'Dawnfire82' and will go as far as to say that casualties and expenses of Iraq are perhaps even below expected minimal, and they didn't have to cost Bush and the GOP so much political capital. Bush and the GOP were made to pay dearly by the rival political party, but that's another matter, isn't it?  

By Blogger Andrewdb, at Sat Jan 24, 11:14:00 AM:

Without wading into the discussion on whether Iraq was justified or not (I tend to the "yes, but poorly executed" camp myself) I would like to take issue with Vickings point:

"BTW, it is the Republicans fault for abandoning fiscal responsibility in favor of ill-considered foreign adventuring."

Sadly, it wasn't "in favor of" - the problem was the R's have done BOTH.

FNORD - are you the same Norwegian anarchist (I think that is a self description - not intended as pejorative) that comments at Abu M's site under that handle?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jan 24, 11:35:00 AM:

@ Andrew:
Nope, probably just similarly inspired.

@ Candide: I think the GOP was made to pay dearly by those mean, mean voters (ie, the people that actually count). Unless you think the entire country has been misled or is too blind to see the beauty of your intricate and well-thought-out plan. Also, as for coming in under death tolls, hooray; let's all celebrate, that's a great thing. But money also matters, and I am unimpressed with the initial estimates at the point where speculated costs in excess of a couple hundred billion were written off as ridiculous. Find me an administration quote from before or at the start of the war that was even in the ballpark for actual cost, and I might start thinking those estimates credible.

Also, I'll reiterate: why weren't markets a better place to put our expenditures, be they $500B, $3T, or whatever other number you use? Consider this.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sat Jan 24, 09:41:00 PM:

Fnord and Viking Kaj raise reasonable questions, but there is a piece missing. With Iraq escalating its attacks against our military there, diverting Oil-For-Food to military improvements, refusing the arms inspectors, and constantly hinting that their weapons programs were farther along than they were (while, admittedly, insisting the opposite as well), what alternative course of action in 2003 do you think had any chance of success? The sanctions/let-the-UN work ideas had proved bankrupt, and subsequent UN actions in other areas reinforce this; not responding would not have been a neutral act with no consequences, but an active encouragement to dictators in the ME. That could have had consequences ranging from irritating to dire.

What were the other choices? Do not be glib. Try and convince me that there is something else better that could have been done. In retrospect, you have a lot more money to work with than the administration advertised at the time, an added advantage to you that I freely grant.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sun Jan 25, 11:40:00 AM:

"isn't asinine, it's accounting"

You said that the Iraq war cost $3 trillion. That's not accounting. That is utter, complete, and unadulterated bullshit of the first degree, and I even demonstrated with a primary document.

"As for military readiness, I hate to break it to you, but I trust this source more than I trust you..."

Of course. I was only a Soldier from the beginning of that war up until last August. What the hell would I know about the condition of the military?

"On hunkering down, having an open-ended military commitment basically one place limits the effectiveness... in blending in with civilians, anyone who wants to can walk out."

'Well, using the Army in Iraq means it couldn't be used elsewhere!' is not a real argument. It can be applied to ANY military engagement at ANY time and in ANY place and it is therefore a worthless critique for any specific military endeavor.

For example: 'Fighting in Korea was a mistake because then those troops were unable to respond to a REAL threat in Europe.'

'Fighting in South Carolina was a mistake because then those troops were unable to respond to a REAL threat in New York.'

And so forth.

"despite that border area being where the terrorists prefer to hide"

Oh, you mean Pakistan? Instead of invading Iraq, we should have invaded Pakistan? A nuclear armed semi-ally? What genius.

"When we concede choice of theater to an enemy..."

WE chose the theater. WE invaded THEM. Don't you remember the 'fight them over there rather than over here' debates?

"As for GDP comparison, I'm using it as a proxy for military buying power."

And it is not effective in that regard. By most objective standards, the USSR had a superior military to our own at the end of WWII, yet with something like 1/4 the GDP.

If your theory were correct, then by making a prediction according to similar criteria the US military could take over the world. After all, we spend more money on our military than everyone else does combined. More money = more power, right?

How do poor countries like Vietnam and Algeria win wars? How do distant disjointed colonies successfully rebel? Why do poor but motivated factions win civil wars over better equipped or even professional military opponents if it all comes down to the almighty dollar?

Many military factors, like motivation, training, ingenuity, battlefield experience, and the effectiveness of leaders have little or nothing to do with money.

"Find me an administration quote from before or at the start of the war that was even in the ballpark for actual cost, and I might start thinking those estimates credible."

Silly quest. All such discussion was held concerning the actual conquest of Iraq, and did not factor in unforeseen later events nor a long-term projection of force.

Are you like, 16? 18? Because you seem to demonstrate a remarkably poor understanding about things that happened only around 6 years ago.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jan 25, 08:02:00 PM:


It's been a long 8 years and I'm tired to argue with people who brazenly equate 60% of public opinion with "entire" country. If you want to have a substantial discussion, you need to learn to present your arguments without wild exaggerations.

A wise word, if I may. Public approval for the invasion of Iraq was close to 90% in 2003. After 5 years, it's close to 35%. So your "entire country" 60% now may look quite different in 5 years to come.

As far as your idea to invest military budget in the markets, I can just picture the President saying to the Congress, "We requested $400 billion for the military but don't worry. We will not use this money to fight wars, we'll invest it in the stock market!"  

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