afcbetting.gifGuess who's playing on Sunday night at the Lincoln Memorial as part of the opening event for the inauguration festivities? Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Bono, Garth Brooks, Sheryl Crow, Renee Fleming, Josh Groban, Herbie Hancock (!!), Heather Headley, John Legend, Jennifer Nettles, John Mellencamp, Usher, Shakira, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, will.i.am, and Stevie Wonder. (Don't live in DC? You can watch on some free HBO thing.)

You know who else is playing on Sunday night? The greatest professional sports franchise in the history of the United States (the Pittsburgh Steelers), which will take on a miserable bunch of thugs and complainers (the Baltimore Ravens) in an hard-nosed bad-blood knock-em-out match-up that will determine who gets to go to Super Bowl XLIII.

I've emailed the transition office to ask for a rescheduling. I'm not joking.

No More Bush to Kick Around

NO MORE BUSH TO KICK AROUND....James Fallows on the Bush press conference earlier today:

I think even people who oppose the Bush Administrations policies would find it somewhat harder to dislike him viscerally after this performance — rather than getting angrier the more they see him, as with most of his appearances over these last eight years....Everything in his posture, expression, and body language — even his emphasis on the word defeat in talking about the 2008 results — indicated that he has taken in the fact that things have not gone well.

I haven't yet watched the press conference myself, so all I can say is: I sure hope Fallows is wrong. It's human nature, of course, for anger over a botched job to recede with time, and perhaps it's also true that anger naturally morphs into other, more complex emotions anyway. How many people today are really angry at Herbert Hoover?

Still, I sure hope that the public doesn't forgive Bush for a very, very long time. To this day I don't understand how such a manifestly unqualified candidate got either nominated or elected in the first place, and the damage this man-child has done to the country during his eight years in office is hard to even put into words. If Barack Obama is lucky, he might — might — by 2016 be able to get us back to where we were in 2000. The last eight years have taken us backward by almost every metric that matters, and as he heads off to Texas, hopefully never to be heard from again, Bush will go down in history as one of the very few presidents to have left the country in demonstrably worse shape than when he got it. It's an elite group indeed.

Short Term vs. Long Term

SHORT TERM vs. LONG TERM....As long as we're talking about the economic long term, here's another question for the economics crowd. Conventional wisdom, after first complaining that TARP was misconceived and what was really needed was bank recapitalization, has quickly swung around to the idea that, in fact, Henry Paulson's capital injections were wasted. After all, banks still aren't lending.

Tax cuts, similarly, are in ill repute because they don't necessarily increase consumption. People are more likely to sock the money away in a savings account or use it to pay down credit card debt. So there's no bang for the buck.

But surely this is short sighted? Stimulus spending can (we hope) help keep the economy afloat over the next couple of years, but then what? When the economy starts to recover, it will certainly be helped along if bank balance sheets are in better shape than they are today. Likewise, it will be helped along if consumers have paid down some of that credit card debt and put a few dollars aside. Right? We can't keep running a negative savings rate forever, after all.

So: what's wrong with government spending to stimulate the economy now, combined with tax cuts and bank recapitalizations to help get the economy in shape for recovery a couple of years down the road? This isn't so much a suggestion as a question. Does this make sense, or is there some fundamental misconception at its core? What say the economists?

The Stimulus

THE STIMULUS....From the same Washington Post article about the Bush economic record that I quoted below, we also have this:

"The expansion was a continuation of the way the U.S. has grown for too long, which was a consumer-led expansion that was heavily concentrated in housing," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a onetime Bush White House staffer and one of Sen. John McCain's top economic advisers for his presidential campaign. "There was very little of the kind of saving and export-led growth that would be more sustainable."

"For a group that claims it wants to be judged by history, there is no evidence on the economic policy front that that was the view," Holtz-Eakin said. "It was all Band-Aids."

Agreed — and this is what continues to niggle at the back of my mind. A big stimulus package is all well and good, but suggestions that it should be even bigger and badder than Obama has proposed make me wonder what the end game is. Paul Krugman, for example, criticizes the $800 billion plan on the grounds that it will only make up for part of the output gap caused by the recession, not all of it. But aside from the practical question of whether we could effectively spend double the amount Obama is proposing anyway, I guess I wonder if we should even be trying to make up the entire output gap with domestic spending. Because there really is some readjustment that needs to happen in the medium term.

For years now the the skyrocketing U.S. trade deficit has been Topic A among economists. The big fear was that the Chinese were shipping us goods and we were shipping them back treasury bills, and this couldn't last forever. Eventually the Chinese would tire of stockpiling treasuries, the dollar would crash, and all hell would break loose. In the end, that's not what happened, but it was still the trade deficit that was at the heart of our problem: American consumers went into deep debt to buy all those Chinese goods, the savings glut from China and elsewhere poured into the American housing market, and eventually the music stopped. The dollar didn't crash, but housing and the American consumer did.

But the dollar could yet crash, because one way or another the books have to balance. Americans have to consume less and export more. Keeping American output high is important, but one way or another American consumption has to fall and Chinese consumption has to grow. If a gigantic stimulus plan keeps output high but also keeps consumption high, then it's just another Band-Aid.

So what's the end game? Hardly anyone wants to talk about it. And I feel sort of stuck. I'm not an economist myself, and virtually every economist I respect is on board with the idea that the Obama stimulus package is, if anything, too modest. It should be twice as big and last twice as long. Better safe than sorry. That's hard to argue with, but I still wonder where it's going to leave us in a few years. With a nice soft landing as the dollar rises but doesn't implode, or at the top of yet another bubble waiting to pop?

Boomers, Meet Cuspers

Looking for a marked-down home in a marked-down country? From CNN:

The real estate market is so awful that buyers are now scooping up homes for as little as $1,000.

There are 18 listings in Flint, Mich., for under $3,000, according to Realtor.com. There are 22 in Indianapolis, 46 in Cleveland and a whopping 709 in Detroit. All of these communities have been hit hard by foreclosures, and most of these homes are being sold by the lenders that repossessed them.

"Foreclosures have turned banks into property management companies," said Heather Fernandez, a spokeswoman for Trulia.com, the real estate Web site. "And it's often cheaper for them to give these homes away rather than try to get market value for them."

So, give up lattes, mani-pedis, and Netflix for awhile, and buy a piece of the "greatest nation in the world."

You know, growing up a dispossessed, poor black girl, sharecroppers' fourth of sixth: Even I thought better of America than this. I thought my biggest problem was shoving my way in line. I never thought my kids would find no line at all.

Why am I bitter? Here's why: After the much-vaunted "boomers," it's not 'God bless America,' a la Kate Smith.

It's not, 'God damn America,' a la Jeremiah Wright.

It's 'God save America,' a la every citizen living today and to come.

Perhaps that's why this other CNN article spoke to me so loudly:

Rarely has there been a year when so many things went out of style in such a short time: not just investment bankers, gas-guzzling vehicles, corporate jets, conspicuous consumption and political polarization, but also a whole generation.

After strutting and tub-thumping and preening their way across the high ground of politics, media, culture and finance for 30 years, baby boomers have gone from top dogs to scapegoats in barely a year.

As baby boomers lose their authority and appeal, generational power is shifting one notch down: to cuspers (born roughly 1954-1965), who arrived in style in 2008 with their first truly major figure, Barack Obama (born 1961).

We 'cuspers' missed both the postwar baby boom and 'flower power.' But we do inherit the mess the 'die before I'm 30 crowd' engendered. We've been quiet too long.

Call It a Trend

George Voinovich is retiring. Kit Bond is retiring. Sam Brownback is retiring. Mel Martinez is retiring. Republican senators are heading to greener pastures, folks. A difficult 2010 map for the GOP is getting harder and harder.

George W. Bush's Non-Mea-Culpa Tour 2009

George W. Bush the wise and somber presidential veteran.

Spare me. But as Bush prepares to leave office, he's trying to strike that sort of tone. I suppose it's easier to pontificate about the office of the presidency than to say, "Boy, did I screw up, I'm outta here." So at a press conference on Monday morning--probably his final as president--Bush discussed the burdens of presidential leadership and noted there will come a moment next Tuesday when Barack Obama, after taking the oath of office and watching the parade, settles into the Oval Office and says to himself, "Oh, my." (Maybe he will add, "Is this my beautiful house?")

But being president is really not that bad, Bush said. According to Fox News, he remarked: "Disappointments will be clearly a minority irritant." (Was that a Freudian slip? Or just another Bushism? According to the official transcript of the press conference, Bush actually said, "minor irritant.")

But the most surprising (I suppose) element of his non-mea-culpa is his insistence that he is unpopular because he did the right thing. For instance, he said that it would have been wrong for him to back the Kyoto global warming treaty just to be popular. Of course. But that doesn't mean trashing it was the correct thing to do. Bush seems to believe that popular disgust with some of his actions is a signal that he made the hard and right choice. See Iraq.

On Fox News Sunday, Bush had this telling exchange with Brit Hume:

Quote of the Day - 01.12.09

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Edward Lazear, chairman of George Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, on the administration's economic track record:

"It does look like a great eight years, aside from the last quarter, unfortunately."

Actually, he's wrong: it wasn't a great eight years, regardless of whether or not you count the final quarter. But this was still too good a quote not to memorialize.

Freedom House, a Washington, DC-based NGO, today released its annual assessment of the state of democracy worldwide. The bottom line: freedom is in retreat for the third year in a row, with most reversals having occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union. The study looks at the world's 193 countries and 16 strategic territories, classifying them as Free, Partly Free, or Not Free. Overall, 34 countries fell in the rankings, while only 14 advanced.

Key findings from the study after the jump...

24

24....So I watched the 24 premiere last night, and it's obvious that the show is going to deal head on with the subject of torture this season. Episode 1 opens with Jack testifying before a Senate committee about his past transgressions, which he wearily but defiantly confesses to, and then rolls through two hours of FBI agents wondering "how far he'll go" — because, you see, Jack's exploits with the dark arts are apparently the thing of legend in the hallways of the Bureau.

Is there any way for this end other than badly? After all, here in the blogosphere we opponents of torture like to argue that we don't live in the world of 24, guys. And we don't. But Jack Bauer, needless to say, does live in the world of 24. And in that world, there are well-heeled terrorists around every corner, ticking time bombs aplenty, and torture routinely saves thousands of lives. What are the odds that it won't do so again this season — except this time after lots of talk about the rule of law blah blah liberals blah blah it's your call blah blah? Pretty low, I'd guess. Hopefully the writers will surprise me.