May 08, 2010

It's all Greek to me

I think I've mentioned in the past that I'm the grandson of a Greek immigrant. (And proud of it - you see, I have nothing against immigration into the United States per se; it adds to the vitality and cultural richness of the country, something that acts as a counterbalance against American corporate homogenization and our educational deficiencies. It's just that the situation with our southern border has become a sick joke that has nothing to do with legal immigration or controlled introduction of new people into American society.) Anyway, this particular ancestor, Milteadis of Ayassos, was born in a Northeast Aegean island of the Greek archipelago in 1892, at a time when his birthplace was still under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, as it had been for the previous 400 years. It wasn't until after World War I that these islands were rejoined with the rest of Greece. I imagine, therefore, that if I were to run for President that Rush Limbaugh would use these facts to prove I was a Muslim, or at least a Muslim sympathizer, and I would spend all my time defending my grandfather's Greek ethnicity, his baptism in the Greek Orthodox Church, arguing that it was not his fault that when the Greek War of Independence ended prematurely in the 1830's because of the meddling of the English and French that these islands were ceded to the Ottomans just to make them happy (another typical English sell-out of the vulnerable, I would insist).

Oh well. The other three lines I can trace through my parents are quintessentially American, people who have been here forever, for centuries, Scots-Irish, Welsh, even a tiny dollop of French. This is, after all, the Melting Pot. But it's the Greek line that has always seemed the most exotic and interesting to me, because it was my grandfather who made the most of the American Dream.

So it's sad to see "Greece" reduced these days to a catchword for "sovereign debt default." I really hate all this "globalization" nonsense, the "integration" of everything into one correlated, highly unstable (yet mind-numbingly boring) system that relegates all of these once-colorful, distinctive, historically-rich actual places into concepts, intellectual constructs related to financial "problems" that must be worked out through the European Central Bank, or through currency swaps with the Federal Reserve, or a bailout initiated through the International Monetary Fund, with "austerity measures" imposed on Greek citizens by the European Union as a condition of rescue, and blah blah blah.

What a mess. What utter stupidity. Greece has always been kinda poor. It's why my grandfather left that little rocky island not too far from the historical location of Troy, where the wily Greeks once bore their equine gift. (Now the joke is, "beware of Greeks bearing debts." Ha ha. Even the jokes of globalization suck.) What happened to the drachma? It's the euro now, and Greece does not control its own fate. Cannot print its own currency, so it relies on the tender mercies of the Germans and French either to bail them out or let them go to hell. I see Greece compared to Lehman Brothers. That's how ridiculous this "standardization of concepts" in the interlocking economies of globalization has become. Countries ("sovereigns," in globo-speak) are like big corporations in terms of their risk of "contagion" and "systemic risk." Lehman went bankrupt, as did Iceland, so now Greece (the "G" in PIIGS, its porcine brethren being Ireland, Italy, Portugal & Spain) must stand as the first test case of ECB intervention that will set the model for the rest of the little piggies. I think, on balance, none of them will eat roast beef and several will go wee-wee-wee all the way home.

At the top of the fiat currency food chain stands the once-mighty United States, with its sacred dollar. Everyone takes us seriously when we run our printing press. Don't ask whether that makes any sense, because that's a dangerous question. Why the hell do you think a group of Senators (from "senatus," Latin for elderly, etymologically related to "senile") are doing everything they can to prevent an audit of the Federal Reserve? It's because it's dangerous to know just how absurd a system is which allows the United States to declare, by fiat, how much money it has. Some really intelligent person (just give him 20-30 IQ points over yours truly, that might do it) will soon write a book about why an interrelated international system of finance based upon fiat currencies must, in all cases, without exception, lead to excess debt, inflation, imbalance and collapse, and that this evolution is tied inextricably into human psychology at the neuroscientific level. I know the proof is out there. With my limited brain, through a glass darkly, here's my intuition about how it happens: it is very much the same mechanism that explains why the volume in a room full of people, say at a cocktail party, inevitably rises to a level where it is difficult for any one person to hear another as the feedback loops drive the shouting louder and louder. It's something along those lines.

So now we've arrived at the point where the entire world is broke, submerged under oceans of debt, and Greece is not Greece - it's now "Greece," the first of many insolvent sovereigns, the Lehman of countries, and not the home of Plato, Aristophanes and Euclid. It's made the full journey from the Cradle of Western Civilization to the Cradle of Modern Idiocy, a sad transit that would have made Archimedes shake his head in wonder and mutter, in classical Greek, we're screwed.

May 07, 2010

By the time they get to Phoenix...

...they'll be citizens.

I've been traveling around this paved, malled (a pun, I guess) and tracted land of ours a little over the last week. From sea to shining sea, America is pretty much all of a piece these days & years. Walking into a Walgreen's on the East Coast, I had a Twilight Zone moment when I realized I knew exactly where to go to find what I wanted, because the aisles are laid out exactly as they are on the West Coast. Is this reassuring, confidence-inspiring, or just freaky? Makes no difference. It's how it is in the "Geography of Nowhere," as Kunstler wrote.

Plane travel remains an expensive and unmitigated horror of hunger, thirst, discomfort and petty insults to the person. It is almost as if the airlines are daring their passengers to revolt openly, to swear off travel forever. How, they must wonder in board meetings, can we raise the level of discomfort to the point where our customers just freaking give up? How much can they take? We starve them, we charge for literally everything except the virus-filled air they breathe, no matter how trivial the amenity, we don't even allow the seats to recline -- do we have to crash a plane every day to break them? What will it take? More cancellations, more overbooking, more announcements that the plane is "very full today?" I have confidence they'll explore every avenue until their customers capitulate. They've taken it so far already.

Only three stories seem to matter these days, however: Greece's imminent bankruptcy, the Gulf oil spill, Senate Bill 1070 in Arizona. The East Coast news, naturally, is the same as the West Coast news, all of it conveyed by CNN, MSNBC & Fox. I was surprised to see a national poll affirming that about 60% of the nation's citizens are in favor of the legislation. The anti-Arizona parades and demonstrations are more telegenic, of course, so one can get the impression that the entire nation is in an uproar about all the "racial profiling." The most vociferous attacks on Arizona's race-consciousness seemed to come from the Hispanic advocacy group La Raza. Sometimes irony just writes itself.

Neither side in the debate can afford to tell the truth, of course, because the fight for the national soul is not won that way. La Raza and other Hispanic advocates extol the need for "reform," as in "we need immigration reform now." This is, of course, simply another way of arguing that another round of amnesty is needed to consolidate the position of illegals already present in the country. Hell, it worked in 1986 under Reagan; why not now? The main reason why not now is the junior senator from Alabama, Jeff Sessions, who looks remarkably like a ceramic lawn jockey. Immigration "reform" will die in committee, which doesn't matter that much to Obama so long as he can be viewed as fighting for the "civil liberties" of hassled Hispanics and illegals longing to breathe free among the malls, tracts and paving. O Man wants those electoral votes in New Mexico, Colorado and Florida in 2012, and he won't get them if he gives up on this "civil liberties" issue which is suddenly so important to him, although this is somewhat contradicted by his recent, remarkable criticisms of the Supreme Court "activisim" of the Earl Warren years. (Say what, Brother Barry?) Yep, that's what he did.

It's hard to tell exactly how many illegal aliens were naturalized as a result of the 1986 act, but one informed guess is around 3 million. The system, if you're old enough to recall, was based on the principle that the longer the illegal had violated U.S. immigration law, the greater the reward. If one could prove in 1986 that one had been bobbing and weaving under the nose of the Feds since at least January 1, 1982, one was good to go. The other major part of the 1986 law concerned penalties for hiring illegals and the introduction of the I-9 form, honored, of course, always more in the breach than the observance. It seems likely that another round of amnesty, if Obama can lead Congress to contrive it, would at least triple the 1986 effect.

As far as I can tell, the only real difference between the provisions of the 1986 law and the Arizona bill is this: private citizens are given the right to sue the police or enforcement authorities for not enforcing the immigration laws. This is a hammer to force enforcement, since this is what is always missing, and since Janet Napolitano (who, as governor of Arizona, vetoed a similar, earlier piece of state legislation) cannot figure out how to keep known terrorist risks on No Fly lists off American commercial airlines, it's a sure bet the Homeland "Security" chief is not going to get this one under control. Anyway, Obama feels the bill is "misguided" in the sense that America gave up enforcing laws in general many years ago, as enhanced under his Eternal Now Statute of Limitations for (a) all high government officials or (b) necessary voting blocs or campaign donors.

Anyway, it's a thoroughly dishonest debate "raging" within the United States, and no "reform" bill will accomplish a damn thing. It would be interesting if Eric Holder is brought up out of his cryogenically frozen state to challenge the Arizona law in federal court, since ultimately such an issue would be heard by the definitely conservative Supreme Court, who, after all, should not be "activist" in overturning the sovereign will of an individual state, since that's the kind of disreputable thing the Warren Court was famous for. Ain't it fun being President, O?