Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A new president comes into office in eight months . . .

All talk of bitterness and lapel pins will be put aside, in the interest of getting to the ISSUES:

o Gasoline costs four dollars a gallon.

o Airlines--most of them--are in the tank. Airports barely functioning for lack of landing fee revenue.

o Recession that was supposed to end in June has gotten worse in the last 6 months. When the numbers are released at the end of January it will probably be 4 straight down quarters. Unemployment surging with the collapse of retail. Service industry workers hardest hit. Many of the shops (including anchors) in shopping malls are shuttered.

o Detroit on life support. They mostly don't have the cars Americans need. Americans mostly don't have the money to buy anything with four wheels. Nobody can get a loan. Countryside littered with parked SUVs and big honkin' F250s, because the costs of repo are hardly justified by value of the carcass. (Tiny bright spot: bike sales and repair are brisk.)

o The housing/mortgage/banking nexus worsens as hints of the full enormity of the losses in the financial sector continue to dribble out.

o Families doubling and tripling up in suburbia.

o Corn/ethanol bubble is losing air fast. Farmers are back in the hole.

These are the minor problems that will take a back seat to . . .
The Biggies:
o Ending the war in Iraq.

o Universal Health Care.

A new President must do these two things, or the voters will turn against him/her, just as they did against G.W. Bush. Iraq is first on the list.

Closing out the Iraq fiasco will be a nightmare for American troops, nearly as bad as continuing. Look at the detail of a map of Iraq and the Persian Gulf. The only way out is the north/south route, down the narrowing terrain of that cinder of a country, toward the seaport where the tip of Iraq meets the tip of the Persian Gulf. The retreating Americans will either leave behind hundreds of billions in war materiel and equipment, or try to load the stuff on thousands of ships--all trying to maneuver in that bottleneck-within-a-bottleneck, the Straits of Hormuz.

Even with all the training that gets done by the Army, I get a feeling nobody has been practicing the art of orderly retreat. Actually, there's no such thing. Think Dunkirk, or--even worse--Bonaparte's Moscow disappointment.

A retreat, at the beginning of the end of an empire.

The Grande Armée Crossing the Berezina

Napoleon and a remnant of the Grand Armée trudged west, in retreat, out of Moscow and across Russia and Poland during the winter of 1812-13. Even though his army had been reduced from 422,000 to 150,000 by the time Bonaparte reached Moscow--only to find it empty (nothing to pillage; nothing to eat)--the worst part was the retreat. Imagine the heartbreaking scene on the banks of the River Berezina. Fifty thousand men waded into into an insignificant (but freezing) river in Poland; twenty eight thousand made it to the opposite bank. Where another eight thousand were killed by the Cossacks. Thousands of camp-followers presumably died as well, but nobody kept track of inconsequential collateral losses of the "comfort women" of Nap's officers' Corps.

"Probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn, this map by Charles Joseph Minard portrays the losses suffered by Napoleon's army in the Russian campaign of 1812. Beginning at the Polish-Russian border, the thick band shows the size of the army at each position. The path of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow in the bitterly cold winter is depicted by the dark lower band, which is tied to temperature and time scales".
Edward Tufte.

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Of the biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I grew up ten blocks from Lake Erie in the (once Irish/Italian ghetto, now newly-hip) "Near West Side" of Cleveland. I can still cycle to the Milwaukee lakefront in an hour and a half; but, a round-trip has always been more than I would (noror ever did) attempt. -0- I'm a "...somewhat combative pacifist and fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). -0- I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay that portion of them dedicated to war). -0- And I always, always vote.