Thursday, January 11, 2007

Winter sets in

While basking in the January sun on a hill top green of a local golf course last Thursday, I opined to my fellow golfers, "If this is global warming, bring it on." The others paused and, as we had been doing often during the round, basked in the warm sun- on January 4th in upstate NY. "This would be a wonderful mid-April day," I continued.

Everyone agreed.

One of my fellow golfers added, "If it stayed like this until April and then warmed up, I wouldn't complain."

Another responded, "If we don't get a hard freeze over a couple of weeks the bugs are going to be horrible in the spring. The larvae must be having a field day in the warm soil."

Even the dead cold of winter serves a purpose. Not only does it kill the bugs, it brings the notion of cycles to the foreground of the human mind.

I remembered this conversation with a chuckle while filling the wood box this morning. With temperatures a brisk 10 degrees I didn't wait and bask in the pale dawn sun, seemingly so much weaker than it had been but one week before.

Long range weather forecasts suggest that after a warm start, winter will come, "with a vengeance." I guess the bugs won't be so bad this spring after all.


I decided to watch the President give his "New Direction for Iraq" speech last night to see if he could muster up the spirit to really sell the plan.

To me, he seemed like a man trapped on a path he doesn't want to be walking, unable to veer off for fear of the consequences but unaware of his own dislike for his chosen path. Psychologists might argue that he is very driven by his subconscious. He seemed resigned to his role as figurehead of the forces of war he has unleashed- aware, as the pundits suggested, for the first time, that things might not turn out well after all. Even if it does turn out well, "Victory," he said, "will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship."

Winter, it seems, has yet to set in on the martial spirit in DC, but the arrival of fall seems evident to me. Perhaps after an unseasonable delay, winter will set in "with a vengeance" on that martial spirit, killing the Ares worshipping larvae, but alas never their eggs, which will always lie in wait for better weather.

For now though, those larvae are hoping that winter will hold off, the soil will stay warm and the arena of war can be expanded to include Iran and Syria. As the President put it: These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

It wasn't as rousing as Shakespeare's rendering of King Henry V's exhortation to his men at the seige of Harfleur. Then again, I don't think the American public would have appreciated their President saying; Once more into the breech, dear friends, once more, or close the wall up with our American dead.

Death being a condition only visited on one's enemies in the post-modern understanding of war.

American TV pundits, unlike their British counterparts, didn't use Shakespearean allusions, instead referring to the "new" strategy with more base metaphors of desperation; doubling down and the hail Mary pass were two I remember.

The Democrats, contra Teddy Roosevelt, talked tough, but refused to carry any sticks, preferring to threaten the executive branch with "non-binding resolutions."

With the Democratic Congress unwilling to pull the plug on this fiasco, termination of war finance will be left in the hands of our foreign creditors, who, so far, seem, outside of Thailand, quite willing to continue the counter intuitive policy of mercantilism using a foreign currency as standard. But, as the case of Thailand demonstrates, winter is even setting in on this policy.

Economic policy choices, which naturally favor certain groups and behaviors over others, have their life cycles, their seasons, if you will. The initial positive effects of such choices are quite strong in the "spring" but are eventually swamped by the law of diminishing returns.

Speculative finance and the manufacture of military munitions are rarely the main output of stable societies, however uplifting their initial effects might feel, for some.

"To everything there is a season," goes the Pete Seeger song, and the verses of Ecclesiastes from whence the lyrics came. Winter might be delayed but eventually it will arrive, killing the larvae and resetting the balance for a more fruitful spring.

"Enough of the writing exercise," I can almost hear the financial brass tacks contingent saying, "we wait almost a month for you to write something and this is what we get."

Fair enough, let's get down to brass tacks.

With this speech the Neo-cons have made their last wager. The Republican Party that birthed them is growing tired of keeping a roof over their heads, as the dissenting voices of Senators Hagel, Snowe, Collins, Brownback, Coleman and Warner, over the conduct of the war suggest. These conservatives have apparently run out of compassion for military misadventures, which makes the potentially crucial vote of faux-Democrat Lieberman, cited by the President last night, worth far less than it might seem.

Under Republican control for the past few years the machine of government operated very efficiently in directing resource and signing deals. It will be much less efficient in the foreseeable future. Globalization will find its progress stymied as protectionist impulses get their speakers in government.

Goading Iran into an attack that invites retaliation, which I assume to be the motivation behind today's storming of the Iranian Consulate in Irbil, Iraq, strikes me as the most perilous aspect of the new strategy. A airborne attack on Persia, the dream of both the Neo-Cons and Likudniks, is almost sure to hit Chinese and Russian interests in the region, which just might be enough to get these two nations to start selling TBonds.

Leaving aside the metaphor of winter and turning to the real world referent, the arrival of cold weather means that heating oil and natural gas will start to be consumed in quantity, putting an end to the recent inventory builds in US statistics, and adding some bite to the Iranian bark of an oil embargo.

Thus far this year, the financial markets appear to expect sunny skies and warm days ahead. The US$ is stronger, oil and the base metals are cheaper and the Dow is rising. To me these seem to be examples of those speculatively induced early year trends that could reverse in a hurry, like the warm days of early January.

In sum, even Doctor Pangloss himself might have trouble envisioning a positive outcome from current conditions and financial markets seem to me to be expressing a Panglossian view.

The winter of 2007 might be one we remember for a while.