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Belmont Club

Monthly Archives: June 2010

Crystal Balls

June 30th, 2010 - 3:23 am

The oncoming Third Depression, according to Paul Krugman, will be the result of a failure of nerve. He fears that policymakers around the world have succumbed to their fears and pulled back just when economic safety was within reach; they haven’t borrowed enough; haven’t spent enough to avoid the catastrophe he believes is increasingly likely. Writing in the New York Times Krugman said:

We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression. It will probably look more like the Long Depression than the much more severe Great Depression. But the cost — to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs — will nonetheless be immense.

And this third depression will be primarily a failure of policy. Around the world — most recently at last weekend’s deeply discouraging G-20 meeting — governments are obsessing about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending.

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What the Russian Sleepers Did

June 29th, 2010 - 1:19 am

The Justice Department complaint against the sleepers can be found here, one devoted to Anna Chapman and Mikhail Semenko and the other to their associates. The first describes their overall mission, how they communicated via a mobile wi-fi router built into a laptop rigged to connected only to certain MACs and how they were stung by agents Undercover 1 and Undercover 2. The second PDF describes what the agents of influence did. I’ve copied excerpts below.

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Spy Vs Spy

June 28th, 2010 - 4:06 pm

Reuters says that a Russian spy ring operating in the US has been broken up. “Authorities charged 11 individuals with the plot, 10 of whom were arrested on Sunday in Boston, New York, New Jersey and Virginia on charges including conspiracy to act as unlawful agents of the Russian Federation and money laundering.” Their job was to pass as Americans but spy for Russia.

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Dominating the New Discourse

June 28th, 2010 - 3:30 pm

When President Obama “signed a memorandum to nearly double the amount of federal and commercial spectrum available for smartphones and wireless Internet devices,” as reported by the Wall Street Journal it was part of the FCC national broadband plan which aims to make an addition 500 MhZ of spectrum available to broadband over the next 10 years.  The President’s action highlights the start of an the effort to reshape the new town square.

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No Secret Place

June 27th, 2010 - 10:00 pm

Whether the 1959 movie, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, really referred to the Communist infiltration of America is a subject of debate. But the fear of “Pod People”, aliens who take over earth by masquerading as humans, appeals to a primal fear of secret beings among us. And it is this atavism which is partly behind the reaction to the existence of the JournoList posting group, to which Dave Wiegel, the Washington Post reporter covering “conservatives” belonged. Weigel had one persona in public and another persona in the Journolist posting group. The question is: what’s wrong with that?  Politico described Journolist as a facility where “for the past two years, several hundred left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, policy wonks and academics have talked stories and compared notes in an off-the-record online meeting space.” Was it:

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Holding the Bag

June 25th, 2010 - 7:16 am

The House and Senate were rushing new regulation of the finance industry to get it ready for President Obama’s signature.  The bill was touted as a comprehensive guarantee against another financial crisis, but as of this writing, nobody was even sure what it would finally contain. Elements of the 2,000 page bill was being negotiated literally in the hallways.

A panel of 43 lawmakers spent two weeks reconciling differences between a bill that passed the House in December and the Senate in May. They concluded their negotiations along party lines at a little after 5 a.m. ET in a Capitol Hill conference room marked by tension, levity and exhaustion. …

Major components of the bill, including the derivatives provisions, were negotiated in the hallway of the Dirksen Senate Office Building as the clock neared midnight. At one point, after hearing of an offer from Senate Democrats, Rep. Melissa Bean (D., Ill.) exclaimed: “Are you flipping kidding me? Are you flipping kidding me?” …

“My guess is there are three unintended consequences on every page of this bill,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas) said of the nearly 2,000-page bill.

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A tale of two styles of sports commentary. Compare and contrast the Mexican commentary on USA-Algeria, World Cup 2010 vs BBC Commentary, Germany-England World Cup 1966.

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Last Chance Saloon

June 23rd, 2010 - 6:32 pm

What does the dismissal of Stanley McChrystal in favor of his superior, General David Petraeus, imply about 1) the future conduct of the Afghan campaign and 2) the ability of President Obama to impose his strategic vision on the War on Terror? The Christian Science Monitor argues that the appointment of Petraeus, while “something of a demotion” from the Central Command CINC, represents doctrinal continuity. “In announcing the McChrystal firing, Obama emphasized that he remains committed to the current strategy, which calls for a bump-up in US personnel in Afghanistan this year. And Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus – the man Obama picked to replace McChrystal – literally wrote the manual on counterinsurgency techniques which US commanders in Afghanistan have been following.”

But in a sense, the crisis involves a question higher than doctrine. It has indirectly called into question strategy. Petraeus’s appointment suggests the President has been forced to give up his own handcrafted approach in favor of something — anything — that works.  What that will be is still unknown. The McChrystal incident revealed the extent of problems which have been kept quiet. If the President has gone to the Miracle Man it is first and foremost in the expectation that Petraeus will save him from himself.

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Enemy At the Gates

June 21st, 2010 - 8:52 pm

The New York Times says that budget chief Peter Orszag is leaving his job next month, “making him perhaps the first official to leave the Obama cabinet and removing a major player from President Obama’s economic team. ” But will he be the last? The  NYT  says Orszag has decided to give his future personal life some attention. “While the president recently urged Mr. Orszag to remain, the calendar for drafting the next budget weighed in favor of Mr. Orszag’s leaving sooner. So did Mr. Orszag’s personal calendar: He is getting married in September.” That Orszag had recently advocated deficit reduction instead of more stimulus spending suggests that he looked at both the prospect of defending the budget and his bride — and chose the bride.

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Attack Speed, Rahmming Speed!

June 20th, 2010 - 9:16 pm

An article in the Telegraph reports that Rahm Emanuel intends to leave the White House within six to eight months in “frustration” over the inability of the WH to “bang heads together” to push policy through. The gist of the story is in the subhead: “Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, is expected to leave his job later this year after growing tired of the ‘idealism’ of Barack Obama’s inner circle.”  It is straightforward enough, but its plaintext meaning is so puzzling one suspects that like many recent signals from the executive branch, the real message is written in cipher.  But it is intentionally weakly enciphered because whoever leaked the story meant it to be decrypted.  So let’s try a few ciphertext substitutions and examine the possibilities.

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