Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Predictions for 2010

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

Happy new year, folks. When the ball dropped, I was way off the grid: standing in the middle of a field in the foothills of the Appalachians, listening to shotgun blasts echo across the valleys as the locals celebrated the new decade and I mulled over what its first year might have in store.

Most of my predictions are fairly pessimistic.  I can’t help that.  Anyone who’s not pessimistic right now about the short to middle term is deluding themselves; indeed, I think that Barbara Ehrenreich is correct that the cult of positive thinking is a large part of the reason we’re in this mess in the first place.

Anyway, let’s get this show on the road:

#1. All talk of an economic recovery falls by the wayside. Obama’s decision to prop the economy up rather than try to reform it has merely replaced a housing bubble with a government bailout bubble.  The unemployment figures alone should tell us that the stock market rally is for rich suckers getting played by those who are even richer.  But once it becomes clear that the mammoth expansion of debt has only worsened the underlying fundamentals, we will officially enter the land of Terra Incognita, whereupon all bets are off.  Except for one certainty amidst all else, namely a . . .

#2: Massive GOP mid-term victory .  Economic turmoil breeds political unrest, and the GOP’s strategy of relentless obstructionism has been smart (if utterly cynical) politics, leaving them poised to take the blame game to a new level.  The Right shows no more understanding than the Left as to why we’re really in this mess, but the public is even more clueless, meaning the GOP will probably seize majorities in both houses.  Ironically, this might end up being Obama’s salvation in 2012, the same way the Republican victory in 1994 set Clinton up so beautifully to kick their asses two years later.  Of course, there’s another intangible here, to wit:

#3.  Someone takes a shot at Obama.  There was a time we weren’t supposed to talk about this kind of possibility, but I have no problem doing so, given that those who would be celebrating an assassination are already talking so loudly themselves.  Egged on by the rage of talk radio, the degree of hatred for Obama in the Red States has gone off the charts, and we have to be mentally prepared for at least one major incident. I’ll go out on a limb even further here and say that the shooter will probably fail, since he is likely to be a methhead amateur, and the Secret Service is primed like never before.  The real question is whether an attempt to kill the U.S. president will finally inject some sanity into the rhetoric that’s out there.  Somehow, I doubt it.

#4: Afghanistan’s quagmire becomes even more so.  While I agree with George Will that we should get the hell out of Afghanistan and concentrate on fighting this war with Predator UAVs and proxies, I thought the Obama/Gates strategy had merit, in that the real objective was clearly to try to bag Bin Laden and what’s left of the Al-Qaeda leadership.  But the just-occurred suicide bombing of a CIA base (the bait for which may have been info on the Bearded One’s location) leaves me fearing the worst:  that our intelligence operations are in a state of total shambles, unable to follow even the most basic precautions in fighting a secret war.  The closer we get to the Afghan-Pakistan border, the closer we get to the big leagues—and unless we up our game quick, we won’t have much left of one.  Meanwhile, while we’re busy over there, we can expect to see more fun closer to home:

#5:  Additional Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Soil.  We’ve had a long run of good fortune in the aftermath of 9-11, but the recent close shave in Detroit is a sure sign that Al Qaeda is embarking on a new campaign, most of it emanating from the hellhole that is Yemen.  Whatever hits us next is likely to come from there.  Which in turns will mean that:

#5:  Yemen A Close Contender for the Next Big U.S. Intervention.  As Major Don Vandergriff points out, this would be utter folly, as it would overextend us still further and leave us no closer to the formulation of a true grand strategy to prosecute the so-called long war.  Because what passes for a strategy right now is a clusterfuck, driven by domestic politics and the need to look tough for the home-front; particularly now that a Democrat’s in charge, that dynamic will continue to intensify.

#6:  Iran Another Contestant in the Baiting-Uncle-Sam Sweepstakes.  There’s a sense in which this should be #1 for the entire list, as the Iranian situation is moving toward a flashpoint within the next few weeks, especially since Israel has hinted rather broadly that it might intervene unilaterally to prevent Iran from crossing the next threshold of nuclear technology.  And the domestic unrest now gripping Tehran is only serving to back the regime still further into a corner.  Particularly problematic here is that a desperate clerical leadership still has the capability to do some serious damage, be it in Iraq, the Gulf, or the global economy beyond.  And if they play their cards right, they just might end up winning this round; 1979 is a potent reminder that an Iranian regime in the throes of internal unrest can still make the U.S. look very, very stupid on the world stage.

#7:  And Let’s Not Forget Mexico. While we’ve been embroiled in the rest of the world, we’ve scarcely noticed that the streets of northern Mexico are now run by the Zetas, the elite military force that was trained by the U.S. and has since gone over to the cartels.  But we’re about to wake up to this fact, particularly since the violence has been spilling north into the border states (did you know Phoenix is now the kidnapping capital of the U.S.?)  All of which will provide some red meat to the anti-immigration lobby, but is unlikely to result in any truly coherent policy.  And let’s not even talk about drug legalization. . . at least not until the baby boomers have died off.

#8:  Dollar Somehow Avoids Catastrophe.  Unless there’s a major course correction (hahaahaha), the spiraling U.S. debt spells doom for the U.S. dollar, but I suspect the real reckoning will come a few more years into the decade, rather than right now, in part because the question still remains as to what the hell the dollar will collapse against.  In the meantime, look for some considerable greenback volatility.

And just in case you think it’s all downers at Chez Williams. .  .

#9:  Lady Gaga hailed in all quarters as the New Madonna.  She shows a career/market savviness that Britney Spears et. al. can only dream of, and the quality of her songs justify all hype.   This woman’s in it for the long haul, and if she’s going to continue weighing in on current events/politics, she may yet take her stardom to a level that even Madonna never reached.

#10:  Ajax and Captain Zoom Hailed As Feline Gods.   Let’s just say good looks will take you a long way round here.

Water on the Moon

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

From today’s news.


So at the end of Moon there’s a labyrinth. At the end of that labyrinth’s a chamber. That chamber wasn’t built by man. It’s been there since this rock cooled. It contains the most valuable thing in this world.

“Water,” says Sarmax.

He steps into the light. His armor looks pretty beat-up. It’s been burned almost black. He walks toward the ramp’s edge.

“Come again?” says the Operative.

“Water,” repeats Sarmax.  “Or should I say:  ice.”

“My latest fortune,” replies Sarmax.

He stops just short of the edge—gestures at the sloped walls. He looks back at the Operative. He smiles. He’s so close the Operative can see teeth through visor.

“You’re a resourceful man,” he says quietly.

“It’s just too bad that such resourcefulness has to compensate for such lack of planning,” continues Sarmax. “Such a goddamn shame it’s forced to rely so heavily on pure luck. You almost brought the roof down on your stupid head, Carson. It’s a wonder you didn’t get buried in those tunnels.”

“Would that have been such a terrible outcome?” says the Operative.

“Now that,” says Sarmax, “depends on your point of view.” He gestures at the ramps and ladders stacked about him. “You see before you the industry of a new era, Carson. We live in the dawn times, old friend. Humanity is poised to boil out beyond the Earth-Moon system. The red planet will be colonized en masse within the next two decades. The prospectors are even now testing the tug of the gas giants. The Oort is surrendering her secrets to the probes. It’s all there for the taking. And it all makes me say I don’t give a fuck if you take me down. I don’t give a damn about the Rain or anybody else. Let them squabble. Let them plot. What does it matter when history itself is coming into focus?”

Congratulations, NASA.  May we make it back to that rock yet.

That D-word

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

I contributed a piece to Suvudu yesterday on dystopias and “positive” science fiction and why the latter is one of the most dangerous things ever invented. Other than Pez Dispensers. Anyway, check it out.

And why not buy BURNING SKIES while you’re at it.

It can’t happen here?

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

In the world of THE MIRRORED HEAVENS, America is a dictatorship—or more precisely, a military autocracy with the trappings of democracy. This is a vision of the future that I can’t say I’m thrilled about, but it’s one I stand by. I don’t see our republic as surviving more than a few decades into the 21st century, and I think there’s a decent chance it may be all over within the next few years, particularly when you keep in mind the following things:

1.  Extreme economic conditions breed extreme politics.
2.  The average voter has the logic/reasoning abilities of my cat
3.  The Right is totally blind to its own autocratic tendencies, and totally demonizes the Left.
4.  The Left is totally blind to its own autocratic tendencies, and totally demonizes the Right.
5.  Extreme economic conditions breed extreme politics.

In short, we’re entering a high-tech version of the 1930s, and God only knows what could emerge from the other end of it this time.  It seems pretty clear at this point, though, that when the delicate equilibrium that’s the Constitution finally collapses, it will be in favor of some kind of executive-branch-on-steroids, and so that’s what I created in MIRRORED HEAVENS.  The agents and soldiers in the book colloquially refer to the president as the Throne, which (to my surprise) some people took literally, assuming that now America had a monarchy.  Yet the whole point of dictatorships, as Caesar recognized so long ago, is that you don’t need to put a crown on your head. And as Orwell observed more recently, if you keep the basic loyalty-symbols in place (flags, etc.),  you can do anything you want and people will get in line like lemmings.  Someone will get us all in uniforms before too long, I suspect.

The paradox of certainty

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

As the stock market returns of the last decade crumble into dust, and it becomes clear that the “growth” this country was experiencing was essentially a giant real estate Ponzi scheme, there was an interesting article in the FT re how the future gets ever more difficult to discern:

How do you frame a view of the long run from early 2009? The world has a ruptured financial system. . . The economic recession now encompasses the whole world. The speed of economic decline is without precedent. Government intervention is also without precedent, in its magnitude, depth, and complexity. Fiscal deficits are reaching numbers no one dreamed about even 12 months ago, yet they will have to be financed.

Juxtapose this with a Washington Post Outlook article by Joel Lovell:

It’s weird and disconcerting that after all that has happened there are still so many experts out there willing to dispense wisdom with utter assuredness, day after day, despite having been so spectacularly wrong in the past…..The more terrifying and destabilizing the news, the more the financial-news sages seem to commit themselves to dispensing advice with unblinking certitude.

It’s fascinating to reflect on how much of the political discourse right now presupposes a “rulebook” that—if it only it be interpreted correctly—will provide an infallible guide telling us What To Do, when the truth of the matter is that We Really Don’t Know For Sure.  I suspect this is what Obama meant when (if?) he told Biden that “30 percent of what we do won’t work.” Though if it’s only 30 percent that doesn’t work, then we can count ourselves as fortunate indeed.

My novel The Mirrored Heavens is now available in mass-market at Amazon.

Spying on the press

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

The revelation on MSNBC that the Bush administration was spying on reporters was pretty arresting television. Check out the video where NSA whistleblower Russell Tice gives classic “NSA-speak” answers. What’s most interesting to me is the way it was done: the journalists’ data/phone calls/emails, etc. were “set aside”, ostensibly to preclude them from being lumped in with Suspicious Persons, but in reality so they could be strutinized at length. And then the NSA was able to keep this from Congress by telling Committee A that it was Committee B’s jurisdiction, and telling Commitee B. . . well, you guessed it.

All of which has Dick Cheney’s fingerprints all over it:  this is exactly the kind of bureaucratic shell-game that he took to whole new levels in the last eight years.  Also smacking (I might say stinking) of Cheney is the overall plan: Cheney inherited Nixon’s hatred for journalists, and this last White House thought of prosecuting some of them in the wake of revelations on those pesky wiretaps.

But why prosecute when you can just destroy them instead? Again, we have Cheney’s MO front and center. As Barton Gellman wrote in Angler, while many rolled their eyes at how Cheney headed up Bush’s VP search committee and then picked himself, the real issue in play was that this allowed Cheney to obtain confidential data on all his rivals. So when Frank Keating was nominated for attorney-general, a story appeared in Newsweek with embarassing (and extremely hard-to-obtain) revelations about him that effectively destroyed his chances. Gellman thinks this ultimately led back to Cheney, and I would tend to agree.

So the overall contours of the plan become pretty clear at this point: listen in 24/7 on all the journalists in the country, and then use the part where they call their dealer/call-girl/whatever for leverage/revenge. Had the Bush presidency enjoyed the same power across its second term that it did in its first, who knows what we might have seen.  But by that point the presidency was on the defensive, and there’s evidence that Cheney’s own ambitions were increasingly circumscribed:  his endless lobbying for a war with Iran, for example, got nowhere. The same might have been true of the war on the press. Then again, what we know now is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

The world’s most elite Crackberry

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Thanks to the NSA, Obama gets to keep his Blackberry, which will be “super-encrypted” to allow him to continue to have private conversations. Obviously with the Chinese (and, presumably, a lot of others) doing their utmost to hack the White House (like they did last year), there’s a lot at stake here, but future presidents are likely to follow in Obama’s footsteps all the same. We’ve still got a ways to go to the world of MIRRORED HEAVENS, where the software implanted in the president’s head contains all the firing/missile launch codes, thereby serving as the future equivalent of today’s legendary nuclear football (aka “the button”), but the use of technology at the apex of national decision-making will be increasingly redefined.  In the meantime, we can only assume that the executive branch has done its utmost to ensure that no one at the NSA pulls any stunts: an additional level of security is that much better access if you’ve got the back-door….

Of course, the other reason why advisers were so reluctant to let Obama have his way is the paper-trail issue. If Bush and Cheney had carried those little devices, they’d be in even deeper shit than they already are. Could it be that Obama plans on committing no crimes in office? I guess we might have the audacity to hope.

Inaugural highlights

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

-Watching Bush’s helicopter take off. My friend and I ran to my apartment roof as the chopper lifted off the ground, and sure enough, there it was buzzing along the skyline. She snapped the attached picture.

-Seeing Cheney in that #$# wheelchair.

-Hearing endless analysis about that flubbed oath.

-Listening to Rick Warren for the first time and having my (admittedly not incredibly refined) Gaydar totally set off.  Is this why he’s so #$# homophobic?

-Listening to Obama’s speech. It felt like it was probably shopped around too many editors to really strike home with any chisel-it-in-marble-prose, but it wasn’t just the bunch of platitudes that most inaugural addresses are, and was easily good enough to encompass the national dilemma(s) and point the way forward. Best line was probably the bit about “we reject as false that we have to choose between our ideals and our safety.”

-Listening to the last words of the Benediction.  Fuck, did Lowery OWN that podium.

-Watching the parade. Speaking on CNN, David Gergen said he breathed a sigh of relief when Obama stepped back inside the mega-limo after walking part of the way down Pennsylvania Avenue.  So did I.

Auction at the Senate

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

For sheer chutzpah, Blagojevich certainly gets a prize, but it’s worth remembering that when it comes to selling public office, he’s a rank amateur compared to the all-time recordholders, the Praetorian Guard back in 193 A.D. If you believe Ridley Scott’s version, once Commodus was dead, Russell Crowe’s body was carried out of the Colosseum covered in flowers and the Republic was restored amidst a suitably uplifting musical score. Of course, what really happened is that the Praetorians auctioned off the entire empire in a single night, and the lucky winner was Senator Didius Julianus, who enjoyed the throne for all of two months before Severus’ troops marched in from the Rhine and chopped him into little bitty pieces. Before it’s all over, Blagojevich will undoubtedly be wishing for a similar fate.

Economy, meet wall

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

With another 800 billion tossed into the mix, the bailout(s) is reaching mindboggling proportions, and those in charge of it are pretty much making up the rules as they go, hoping to somehow borrow their way out of this mess. This latest move is aimed at consumer lending; it’s unclear to me how that’s really going to help, given that more consumer borrowing is precisely what we don’t need—and cash-strapped citizens are unlikely to step up and do their patriotic duty by continuing to Shop/Spend anyway. Meanwhile, the first, Wall Street-focused bailout (back when 700 billion seemed like a lot) trundles along pretty much immune to oversight.  My predictions are as follows:

—Paulson’s friends are going to get even richer than they already are

—The giant sucking sound you’re about to hear will be the U.S. dollar once it turns out there are way too many of them

—We may have bought our way out of the last downturn (2001), but we’ll eventually realize that our efforts to do the same for this one have only stirred the shit up to unholy proportions

—Paulson may not realize he’s being set up as Number One Scapegoat, but a lot of us will laugh when it happens.

—Can’t we start spending money on shit that will actually be useful when all this fucking money’s worthless?

—Aren’t you glad that Bush 43 failed to privatize social security?