I'm sitting here wracking my brains trying to figure out when Rudy Giuliani became such a slack bastard. Don't get me wrong - I've considered the man and his policies despicable since his time as mayor of New York City and the intervening years have not mellowed my opinion. Still, there at least seemed to be some fire in his belly, some vigor and drive. Granted, it was drive fueled by naked ambition and raw narcissism but it was drive nonetheless.
This lingering reputation as a hustler and street figher seems to be the main reason why pundits think his decision to abandon his run for governor of New York must be because he's set his sights higher. I'm not convinced. Even before Bernard Kerik's conviction, the rumor here in New York was that Rudy had lost interest in running for governor because he didn't want to deal with the state's wildly dysfunctional legistlature and rapidly deteriorating budget crisis. (That link is to an article in the New York Post, by the way, an outlet that under normal circumstances Giuliani couldrely on for a thorough tongue bath.) Rudy's no fool; he can see what dealing with California's unfolding disaster has done to Arnold Schwarzenegger's political future. But New York City was in pretty tough shape when Giuliani was first elected mayor, and he didn't seem to be cowed by that challenge.
It's possible that years of highly-paid political consulting work and accountability-free media appearances have softened the old boy up - or maybe be was never the pit bull the media makes him out to be. If he were to run for governor of New York he'd most likely be running against Andrew Cuomo, whose brand-name in New York is at least as strong as Giuliani's - and he also enjoys a pugilist's reputation. Giuliani might very well beat Cuomo but it would be a bloodbath. Kirsten Gillibrand is a much softer target. Charles Schumer, and old-school power-broker if there ever was one, is said to be educating her in the ways of the Senate and grooming her as a protege, but she hasn't yet made much of a name for herself in Washington. She's someone he could conceivably beat with name recognition alone.
Maybe Giuliani's always been about hitting the soft target. New York City's crime rate - Giulani's signature issue - was already dropping at the end of David Dinkins' term as mayor, but by that point Dinkins was remarkably unpopular and had a reputation as an ineffectual leader. In other words, he was an easy target for a tough talking media darling.
If he does decide to take on Gillibrand, even that election won't be the cakewalk for Giuliani, despite Fox New's inevitable attempts to tell you otherwise. It's worth remembering that Rudy came in a distant fourth in the 2008 New York presidential primary - pretty unimpressive for the hometown hero! Also, New York City voters recently awarded a third term to Michael Bloomberg even though he trampled the city's popular term limits law. Giuliani's suggestion that his term be extended in the wake of 9/11 was greeted with a resounding, "Um ... no, thanks." He's simply not a popular guy. On the other hand, if does decide to run for Senate, at least I'll have an excuse to revive this graphic:
Still, I'm linking to the debunking above because the author makes some interesting points, especially regarding the idea that war is the ideal economic stimulus. (Really, by that reasoning, with two bloody misadventures going on right now we should be living in a new Gilded Age.) The author quotes an economist who tells him that war, in fact, always causes a recession, as the long conflict becomes a drag on the economy. Slipping on my "I'm-not-an-economist-but-I-play-one-in-my-rich-fantasy-life" hat, I'm not sure I agree with that. The current recession was not caused by our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was caused by the entire financial market losing its collective mind at the same time. Iraq and Afghanistan are simply not large enough conflicts to engulf the entire culture or require enough spending to turn the economy around. (They do, however, tie up enough resources to hamper efforts to end the recession.) The same could be said for the recession following the first invasion of Iraq. There were mild recessions after World War II and the Korean War as industrial production was scaled back in the aftermath of the crisis.
So, taking the conservative mantra that "the New Deal failed and World War II ended the Depression" at face value, and comparing it to the negligible economic "benefits" gained from our recent and current overseas conflicts, we can see that we don't just need a war to turn things around, we need a really, really big war, a global conflict. I sure as hell hope that no one at any think tank in Washington is lobbyingfor that, but I don't put anything past these people anymore.
Still, in light of all this, I think it's worth restating the point that I made here, that a war, in broad terms, is basically a massive government spending program of the type that deficit hawks generally decry. As the administration prepares a jobs bill, there is going to be all manner of huffing and puffing from the deficit hawks about not saddling our children with a huge national debt - pretty much the same blather they blathered during the debate over the stimulus package. Sure, we won't saddle our children with a huge national debt - we'll just saddle them with the smoking ruins of a once proud nation instead. This is a real crisis - don't let any knuckleheaded tea bagger tell you otherwise. We're the most grotesquely wealthy nation in the world and we're having a hunger crisis, for God's sake. By the most narrow measure of unemployment, there are nearly 20,000,000 people out of work.
The best part about approaching a new jobs bill and stimulus package as war spending? There's no actual war! No one has to die. With a massive number of infrastructure projects and a new energy grid to build as well, there doesn't have to be a post-war "recession" for a long time to come, either.
Well, if we've learned nothing else from l'affaire Dobbs it's that CNN is, at least, still capable of embarrassment, unlike certain other cable news networks. John Stewart pretty much single-handedly killed Crossfire and Robert Novak was (eventually) shown the door for his role in burning Valerie Plame's cover and cursing at James Carville on the air. What does this say about CNN? I have no idea. Novak wound up on Fox, Glenn Beck is another CNN veteran who has found his audience on Fox, and I'll wager that Dobbs ends up there as well. CNN is kind of like Fox's farm system now - they watch for the CNN talent who are clearly too batshit to participate in rational discourse, snatch them up and give them multimillion dollar contracts.
Still caught up in the hustle (with virtually no flow to speak of), but on the other hand, at least I'm working.
In the media, unemployment is like the deficit - a vague, poorly defined number that pundits kick about because it's a number, and therefore useful as a benchmark or indicator of something equally vague and poorly defined. Of course, to economists and hopefully to policy-makers unemployment isn't poorly defined at all. But when was the last time you heard anyone on the teevee break down exactly what the number meant and how the BLS arrived at it?
Allow me to put a human face or two on the statistic: in the United States, a nation of 304,059,724 people, an unemployment rate of 10.2% means there are approximately 31,000,000 people looking for work. That's about half the population of the United Kingdom and roughly equal to the population of Iraq. The broadest measure of unemployment, U6, is 17.6%, which translates to nearly 54,000,000 people looking for work.
Those are brutal numbers. Keep them in mind over the next few weeks as pundits kick the unemployment number around in order to score political points.
EDIT/UPDATE:Culture of Truth has corrected my math; I was calculating my numbers out of the total US population rather than the working adult population. Stupid. That's what I get for ciphering while I'm at work. The proper number of unemployed comes out to around 15,700,000 - still a staggering number, nearly twice the population of New York City. Using the U6 measurement there are nearly 28,000,000 out of work. Still a horrendous number, and it sounds a lot worse than "ten percent."