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May 1, 2005 - Hard Times in the Reality-Based Community, but Not Elsewhere

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Last Monday was the 115th day of 2005. There were 250 days left in the year.  And we are reminded that on this day in history, in 1792, highwayman Nicolas Jacques Pelletier became the first person under French law to be executed by the guillotine.  Ah ha!  And on this day in 1898, the United States formally declared war on Spain.  We won.  And we ended up in the Philippines and that led to Imelda Marcos and her shoes.  So remember the Maine and William Randolph Hearst, the Rupert Murdoch of his day.  And on that day 1915 Allied soldiers invaded the Gallipoli Peninsula in an unsuccessful attempt to take the Ottoman Turkish Empire out of the war.  Good movie, bad move, and now the Turks want to join the European Union, and probably will.  And in 1945 up in San Francisco on that day in 1945 they had that first meeting to organize the United Nations.  Oh, those were the days.

Now?  Don’t ask.  Michael Jackson is still on trial, Britney Spears is still pregnant, John Paul is still dead and Bernie the German is still the new Pope, and the only news that Monday seemed to be that the Saudi guy - Crown Prince Abdullah – dropped by to chat with Bush at the ranch down in Texas.  Ho hum.

A summary of that Associated Press story?


…in the story there is much gnashing and moaning about increasing Saudi Arabia's production of oil. The Saudis' carefully worded reply was that they were "producing all the oil that our customers are requesting" and that they would increase their capacity by 1.5 million barrels per day by 2009 — without mentioning that by that time world demand will have increased by about 8 million barrels per day. They also claimed to have 1.5 million barrels per day of spare pumping capacity right now, an assertion I'd take with a shaker of salt.

In other words: nice talking with you, but there's no more oil to be had. Now please excuse me, I have a flight to Beijing to catch.


But does it matter?  There seems to be a general consensus that there is a problem with demand – from the exploding economies of China and India – and that over here we don’t have a whole lot of refining capacity - and there are reports that many industry experts believe the peak in oil production, when oil extraction reaches its highest point and then starts to decline, will happen in 2030 - but some analysts have stated publicly that it could happen by 2008 or even sooner.  Then no more oil.  The world's oil reserves are running out much faster than industry and governments are admitting?  A curious idea.

Well, there are those who think not.  There been a lot of discussion of a new book by Peter W. Huber and Mark P. Mills The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy.  Cool.  One can see discussions of it on the cable talk shows, and last Sunday's Los Angeles Times printed an email exchange between Peter Huber and Paul Roberts, the fellow who wrote The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World.  And they didn’t exactly agree.

So we have the two Panglossian optimists suggesting things are just fine, that we live in is the best of all possible worlds, pitted again the Chicken Little alarmist.

Who are we to believe? (And the brother-in-law of our high-powered Wall Street attorney told me a few weekends ago that this increased demand for oil from India and China was a lie – it wasn’t there and just something made up by the left-wing press to make people be afraid and dislike Bush.)

So, turn to our leader - George Bush, ou l'Optimisme, so to speak.  He says things are fine.

Now, of course, one of his roles is to be optimistic – to make sure the nation does not devolve into a quivering mass of fear of the future.  That is, he is, in a sense, supposed to be a cheerleader.  But let’s get serious.

The talk of the policy wonk, history buff, theory-of-government echo-chamber circles last Monday was what Paul Krugman had to say in the New York Times.  He called his opinion piece The Oblivious Right - and opened with this –


According to John Snow, the Treasury secretary, the global economy is in a "sweet spot." Conservative pundits close to the administration talk, without irony, about a "Bush boom."

Yet two-thirds of Americans polled by Gallup say that the economy is "only fair" or "poor." And only 33 percent of those polled believe the economy is improving, while 59 percent think it's getting worse.

Is the administration's obliviousness to the public's economic anxiety just partisanship? I don't think so: President Bush and other Republican leaders honestly think that we're living in the best of times. After all, everyone they talk to says so.


You see where he’s heading.  And he runs down how folks just are not pleased with the economy, Social Security privatization, Terri Schiavo, Tom DeLay.  And it seems that large margins, Americans say that the country is headed in the wrong direction.  The polls show Bush is the least popular second-term president on record.

So what?  Things are fine.  It all depends on your perspective.


The administration's upbeat view of the economy is a case in point. Corporate interests are doing very well. As a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, over the last three years profits grew at an annual rate of 14.5 percent after inflation, the fastest growth since World War II.

The story is very different for the great majority of Americans, who live off their wages, not dividends or capital gains, and aren't doing well at all. Over the past three years, wage and salary income grew less than in any other postwar recovery - less than a tenth as fast as profits. But wage-earning Americans aren't part of the base.


Ah, why listen to them?  Just make Social Security privatization your main policy priority.  Why wouldn’t folks like that?

Because they’re hurting – but that is hard to see from the other perspective.  Krugman suggests that people sense, correctly, that Bush doesn't understand their concerns –


… that he was sold on privatization by people who have made their careers in the self-referential, corporate-sponsored world of conservative think tanks. And he himself has no personal experience with the risks that working families face. He's probably never imagined what it would be like to be destitute in his old age, with no guaranteed income.


Why would he imagine that?

And then Krugman adds this –


It all makes you wonder how these people ever ended up running the country in the first place. But remember that in 2000, Mr. Bush pretended to be a moderate, and that in the next two elections he used the Iraq war as a wedge to divide and perplex the Democrats.

In that context, it's worth noting two more poll results: in one taken before the recent resurgence of violence in Iraq, and the administration's announcement that it needs yet another $80 billion, 53 percent of Americans said that the Iraq war wasn't worth it. And 50 percent say that "the administration deliberately misled the public about whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction."

Democracy Corps, the Democratic pollsters, say that there is a "crisis of confidence in the Republican direction for the country." As they're careful to point out, this won't necessarily translate into a surge of support for Democrats.

But Americans are feeling a sense of dread: they're worried about a weak job market, soaring health care costs, rising oil prices and a war that seems to have no end. And they're starting to notice that nobody in power is even trying to deal with these problems, because the people in charge are too busy catering to a base that has other priorities.


Well, you take care of your own.  The man values loyalty.

But the polls are interesting, like this one last week –


Do you approve or disapprove of the way Bush is handling:

A. Social Security - Approve 31 Disapprove 64
B. Iraq - Approve 42 Disapprove 56
C. Economy - Approve 40 Disapprove 57
D. Terrorism - Approve 56 Disapprove 41
E. Energy Policy - Approve 35 Disapprove 54


And this -

Would you support or oppose changing the Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush's judicial nominees?  Support - 26% Oppose - 66%

Something is amiss here.  Everyone says Bush is wildly popular, in spite of the facts, and getting what he wants done, in spite of the evidence.

And then there’s that business with the nomination of John Bolton to be our new ambassador to the United Nations.  The stories and emails just keep getting stranger – see this and this - but what of it?  Bush stands by him.  So does McCain.  So does Cheney.  Loyalty.

But now even some Republicans say this is too close to call.

Again, so what?

As I said to a friend, Bush may just withdraw his name and nominate Bernard Kerik, as Kerik is not busy at the moment, and Bush does want someone who will kick ass.  Now THAT would be in-your-face.  And the judges he's now recommending have been blocked before.

Plow forward.

The man has brass balls, or a think head, or a tin ear, or whatever. That's why he's standing by Tom DeLay. It's a macho thing. Policy fueled by excessive testosterone.

So are we living in hard times? Is the president popular and effective?

Something is amiss.

It’s the reality problem. From last October 17 in these pages see the Item of Note - and from the 24th see Say what? Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own eyes? and Here in the reality-based community.... You get the idea.

One is reminded of something from Ron Suskind in the New York Times Sunday magazine from October 17, 2004 - Without A Doubt


… In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend - but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''


It all makes you wonder how these people ever ended up running the country in the first place?

No, folks prefer this to the reality of hard times.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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