From Detroit to the Amazon

The empire ends with a pull out. Not, as many supposed a few years ago, from Iraq. There, as well as in Afghanistan, we are mulishly staying the course, come what may, trapped in the biggest of all the “too-big-to-fail” boondoggles. But from Detroit. Of course, the real evacuation of the Motor City began decades ago, when Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler started to move more and more of their operations out of the downtown area to harder to unionize rural areas and suburbs, and, finally, overseas. Even as the economy boomed in the 1950s and 1960s, 50 Detroit residents were already packing up and leaving their city every day. By the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Detroit could count tens of thousands of empty lots and over 15,000 abandoned homes. Stunning Beaux Arts and modernist buildings were left deserted to return to nature, their floors and roofs […]

Ex-Bush Loyalists Cash In

In May, the U.S. economy lost 345,000 nonfarm jobs, pushing the unemployment rate from 8.9% to 9.4%. According to official statistics, 14.5 million Americans are now looking for work and, as a recent headline at put it, “The jobs aren’t coming back anytime soon.” In fact, a team of economists at the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank recently reported that “the level of labor market slack could be higher by the end of 2009 than at any other time in the post-World War Two period.” The news, however, is not altogether grim. While times are especially tough for teenagers (22.7% jobless rate) and blacks (14.9% jobless rate), one group is doing remarkably well. I’m talking about former members of the Bush administration who are taking up prestigious academic posts, inking lucrative book deals, signing up with speakers bureaus, joining big-time law firms and top public relations agencies, and grabbing […]

Charisma and the Imperial Presidency

Let’s face it, even Bo is photogenic, charismatic. He’s a camera hound. And as for Barack, Michelle, Sasha, and Malia — keep in mind that we’re now in a first name culture — they all glow on screen. Before a camera they can do no wrong. And the president himself, well, if you didn’t watch his speech in Cairo, you should have. The guy’s impressive. Truly. He can speak to multiple audiences — Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Christians, as well as a staggering range of Americans — and somehow just about everyone comes away hearing something they like, feeling he’s somehow on their side. And it doesn’t even feel like pandering. It feels like thoughtfulness. It feels like intelligence. For all I know — and the test of this is still a long, treacherous way off — Barack Obama may turn out to be the best pure politician we’ve seen since […]

Energy Department Changes Tune on Peak Oil

Every summer, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U.S. Department of Energy issues its International Energy Outlook (IEO) — a jam-packed compendium of data and analysis on the evolving world energy equation. For those with the background to interpret its key statistical findings, the release of the IEO can provide a unique opportunity to gauge important shifts in global energy trends, much as reports of routine Communist Party functions in the party journal Pravda once provided America’s Kremlin watchers with insights into changes in the Soviet Union’s top leadership circle. As it happens, the recent release of the 2009 IEO has provided energy watchers with a feast of significant revelations. By far the most significant disclosure: the IEO predicts a sharp drop in projected future world oil output (compared to previous expectations) and a corresponding increase in reliance on what are called “unconventional fuels” — oil sands, ultra-deep oil, […]

America's Political Paralysis Over Torture

If, like me, you’ve been following America’s torture policies not just for the last few years, but for decades, you can’t help but experience that eerie feeling of déjà vu these days. With the departure of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney from Washington and the arrival of Barack Obama, it may just be back to the future when it comes to torture policy, a turn away from a dark, do-it-yourself ethos and a return to the outsourcing of torture that went on, with the support of both Democrats and Republicans, in the Cold War years. Like Chile after the regime of General Augusto Pinochet or the Philippines after the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, Washington after Bush is now trapped in the painful politics of impunity. Unlike anything our allies have experienced, however, for Washington, and so for the rest of us, this may prove a political crisis without end […]

Body Count 3

After David B. Kellermann, the chief financial officer of beleaguered mortgage giant Freddie Mac, tied a noose and hanged himself in the basement of his Vienna, Virginia, home, the New York Times made it a front-page story. The stresses of the job in economic tough times, its reporters implied, had driven him to this extreme act. “Binghamton Shooter” Jiverly Wong also garnered front-page headlines nationwide and set off a cable news frenzy when, “bitter over job loss,” he massacred 13 people at an immigration center in upstate New York. Similarly, coverage was brisk after Pittsburgh resident Richard Poplawski, “upset about recently losing a job,” shot four local police officers, killing three of them. But where was the front-page treatment when, in January, Betty Lipply, a 72-year-old resident of East Palestine, Ohio, “who feared she’d lose her home to foreclosure hanged herself to death” shortly after “receiving her second summons and […]

Graduating the Rest of Us, ‘09

Graduates of the Bush years, initiates of the Obama era, if you think of a commencement address as a kind of sermon, then every sermon needs its text. Here’s the one I’ve chosen for today, suitably obscure and yet somehow ringing: “The idea that somehow counterterrorism is a homeland security issue doesn’t make sense when you recognize the fact that terror around the world doesn’t recognize borders. There is no right-hand, left-hand anymore.” That’s taken directly from the new national security bible of Obama National Security Advisor (and ex-Marine General) James Jones. He said it last week at a press briefing. The occasion was the integration of a Bush-era creation, the Homeland Security Council — which, if you’re like me, you had never heard of until it lost its independence — into the National Security Council, which Jones runs, a move that probably represents yet another consolidation of power inside […]