May 22, 2010

Agit/Prop in the House of Reps

Mr. Grayson is in the House. Indeed, if it hadn't-a been for Grayson...

I'm not saying I would-a been in Tennessee, but even if Alan Grayson is only providing comic relief with his standup routines in the well of the House, here's a tip of the hat to him nonetheless. His latest 5-minute bit:

That's a great routine, as good as his "Red Roof Inn" sthick, where he detailed the Fed's purchase of a bankrupt motel chain as part of its "quantitative easing." Grayson provides embarrassing details about obvious facts that most of the obsequious, toadying members of Congress will not talk about. Everything that Grayson says about defense spending in the clip is true, of course, but that doesn't mean that the usual guardians of the Military-Industrial Complex will ever talk about this elephant lolling about the living room. Republicans consider the budget entry for Defense an immutable Law of the Universe, and Democrats will simply not criticize it in any systematic way.

Except for Alan Grayson, Orlando, Florida's star diva in the opera buffa art form. What is enormously clever about this made-for-YouTube moment is that Grayson strikes a glancing blow at the problem of defense overspending, placing it in a real-life context of taxation of the American commoner. Of course, Americans making less than $35,000 per year (1/3rd of all earners) tend not to pay income tax anyway, and if we stop appropriating $169 billion per year for "emergency spending" in Afghanistan and Iraq (emergencies which have lasted 9 and 7 years, respectively), it will not actually reduce anything other than the money the United States is borrowing at a feverish pace from all corners of the world.

But those are details which do not diminish the importance of the main point. Grayson uses a circle graph on world defense spending freely available on the Internet from many sources. It's ridiculous that the United States considers itself so imperiled by international enemies that it needs to spend, at the base Pentagon budget of $549 billion, as much as the rest of the world combined, yet also feels the need to wage completely counterproductive and unnecessary wars which run the costs up about 31% more.

Grayson gives these speeches to empty chambers during off-hours. They are of a length and style specifically tailored to YouTube upload. The idea, I suppose, is these clips might go viral, so I'm doing my part here.

A frequent criticism of Grayson is that his legislative proposals are "frivolous" diversions from "real legislation." Such as, I suppose, meaningless health care "reform" and meaningless, toothless financial "reform." You know, like give us a frigging break. There is no real legislative work being done. It is all window-dressing designed to give the appearance of getting things done for the "average American," while avoiding any change that could actually ameliorate the commoner's lot. For a specific example, if Congress was actually serious about financial reform, wouldn't they outlaw any credit card interest charge above 10% as usurious? Wouldn't they at least allow a vote on the Brown-Kaufman Amendment declaring monopolistic financial super-giants a restraint of trade and breaking them up? Wouldn't they prohibit, as Angela Merkel has done in Germany, any credit default swap speculation by a party without an insurable interest in the security "insured?"

They won't do any of these things, and Nancy Pelosi & Company will rubber-stamp Obama's defense appropriation request, after making a bunch of worried noises about "deficits," because that's how the system works. So keep throwing monkey wrenches, Alan, and be as frivolous as hell. You're our Man on the Inside.

Reconstituting the USA

I arrived on the Berkeley campus in the fall of 1966, which means I missed the Mario Savio-led Free Speech Movement, but I was around for most of the other major spasms of dissent which rocked the campus in later years. These included the People's Park riots of 1969 and the Cambodia Invasion riots of 1970, occurring, not so coincidentally I'm sure, in the spring, when the hormonal sap tends to run high, especially among the young, and no one wants to be inside anyway. Besides these two main events, there were various other causes which disrupted the university's normal functioning (or as normal as it got after the FSM), including the dispute over the firing of Angela Davis, the ongoing leitmotif of Vietnam War dissent and other causes.

Whenever one of these events seized the student body's attention, there were generally calls for the cessation of business as usual; to wit, just going to classes and grade-hounding seemed rather bourgeois with all these weighty matters to deal with. The faculty were always put in difficult circumstances by these situations, especially the younger assistant professors; they were, after all, the creme de la creme of the academic world, careerist for the most part, and anxious to stay on the tenure track and publish all the stuff they had to publish to establish themselves as Berkeley-grade intellectuals. On the other hand, they were dealing with the unruly, sometimes gifted, and often spoiled scions of the upper middle class who wanted their causes (and themselves) taken seriously, and regarded professors who wouldn't play along with these aux barricades fantasies as sell-outs and Running Dogs for the Man. Later many of these dedicated activists, such as Jerry Rubin, would run their own hedge funds and enshrine Gordon Gekko as their patron saint.

I drifted through this miasma of dissent, sturm und drang pretty much as the other Madras-shirt-wearing, white-levi-sporting members of the Baby Boom drifted through it: I played intramural sports, went to classes and the library, drank beer on weekend nights, and tried to find girls to go out with. That was the amazing thing: it was actually a pretty normal undergraduate experience. The dissent and the demonstrations were a sideshow. For some experienced activists, such as the Red Diaper Babies of the East Coast who attended Berkeley (and matriculated there because, perhaps, it was a bigger, sunnier version of Antioch), the dissent was a very serious matter, part of a family tradition. The real organizers, I have to admit (and I knew a few), kind of creeped me out. I didn't want to get into any trouble with the law, especially the FBI. There were ways to look "committed," fortunately, without really buying in, and let's face it: the Red Diaper Brigade did not make any real inroads with the Baby Boomers, because it is the vast phalanx of the Baby Boomers who are responsible for the corporatist, corrupt, warmongering, oligopolic, environmentally-destroyed landscape you see around you. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Michael Milken was attending Berkeley at the same time I was. Q, as they say, E.D. As Lewis Black said in a hilarious routine, the Baby Boomers have absolutely got to legalize pot, because that's it, that's our only shot at a legacy. The Greatest Generation defeated the Nazis and the Japanese while building an American industrial colossus, and what do we have? We've got to legalize pot!

But I digress, although I digress from the past to the future. What I meant to say was, whenever one of these spasms of dissent took hold, there were calls for "reconstituting the university," meaning, well, all kinds of things. Such as not using the class rooms, but meeting in people's apartments. I attended a few such "classes," because there was no choice. Co-opted young profs were forced to play along, on pain of not looking cool. Some were asked (and declined) to give the activist students "cover," meaning a moratorium on grading while the students pursued their true calling - the cause du jour. Secretly, I thought it was a shame not to use the campus during such episodes; I mean, those buildings were so pretty, limestone and granite-clad, classical edifices with beautiful Doric columns, old woodwork, double-hung windows, high ceilings, even urinals of vitreous china, you know? All going to waste while we sat on some cheesy wall-to-wall in a crackerbox apartment on Hillegass Avenue.

Anyway, sometimes I think I detect faint glimmers of that old spirit in what is going on in modern America. As America falls apart at the seams, I see some of those same tendencies toward easy "Reconstitution" of the U.S.A. The talk of secession, for example, of busting the country into regional principalities, and a nearly-hopeful anticipation of national insolvency. Oh I know, I see these same things in myself, but hey - I'm part of that Genus: Baby Boomus Americanus. Oddly enough, I think that the legacy of this generation may be greater than that envisioned by the hilarious Lewis Black. The bankrupting of the country actually seems well underway, and it's precisely because the Baby Boom followed its weird toward the idea of something for nothing, for borrowing when you couldn't earn it, for the unearned increment in general, such as the fixation on house price appreciation, toward early retirement, toward leisure as one's principal activity, and all while paying no price whatsoever in terms of standard of living. The Baby Boom has been living that way for about thirty-five years now, and it shows, because this nation, in its present state, is its handiwork. The average age of the Senate is 60 years old: a person born in 1950, also too late for the Free Speech Movement, but just in time for People's Park. And the United States Senate, in its blatant corruption, in its inability ever to tackle anything with thorough-going integrity and effectiveness, with something approaching competence, is perhaps the Baby Boom's most enduring symbol.

I don't think the Baby Boomers really want a "reconstitution," when you get right down to it. They're hoping against hope the American Titanic rights itself in the water. Go along to get along, and make such compromises as you must for la dolce vita. Anything else is just going to be a lot of hard work, and that, as always, is for other people.

May 21, 2010

The Blob

The Blob I was originally worried about was a piece of protoplasmic, shape-shifting Jello that starred in its own movie in 1958. The Blob's co-star was a young Steve McQueen, although they were mortal enemies in the movie. My older brother saw the horror flick at the Third Avenue theater with a bunch of his no-good delinquent friends, then he couldn't wait to tell me about it.

"It leaps and creeps and slides and glides across the floor," he said.

"I'll just close my door," I said, pretty sure that wasn't going to work.

My brother gleefully confirmed this. "It will just slide under the door," he said.

"I'll stack a bunch of books on the floor." I knew there had to be some advantage to voracious reading, even if I hadn't found it so far.

"The Blob will just eat the books." Great. So The Blob also voraciously devoured books. Not that I thought that Tom Sawyer and a bunch of Zane Grey novels were really going to do the trick anyway.

I had my ace in the hole, Sparky, the collie-shepherd mix with known anti-social tendencies who slept under my bed. Sparky had my back, but a monster which dissolved people, cars and Cleveland probably would not be stopped by a dog.

I was a worried ten year old for a while, meaning I would wake up in the middle of the night for about eight seconds before relapsing into the comatose state typical of my age group. Mom's increasingly shrill and repetitive warnings about being late for school were necessary to arouse me from my nightmarish slumber. The one consolation was that The Blob might dissolve me before the social studies quiz on Friday. I hated social studies. What were the exports from Peru? Llamas, cocaine and misery, I guessed. I could look it up in the World Book later. Right now I have to figure out how to cover all that open terrain between the house and school without being sucked into the digestive tract of The Blob.

I usually walked east on Hemlock to Shoreview, then north half a block to Dale, then up about two blocks to Ocean View, where school was. Mike and Bo lived on Dale, and they were tough kids who could help out with The Blob, if need be. By the way, there was really no shore to view from Shoreview, and the Pacific Ocean was 12 miles due west on the far side of the coastal range, so there was no view of that either. The housing tract didn't have much in the way of amenities, other than sweet-sounding, bucolic names, and it didn't have alleys either, which would have shortened my perilous journey to the safety of the class room. I guess it was safer there; my brother told me the best scene in the movie is where The Blob attacks a movie theater and then its silhouette covers the white screen as it eats the projectionist. Nice effect. That actually made me want to see the movie, sort of. So there was no real safety in numbers. Maybe you were better off on your own, or maybe I could take up residence under the bed with Sparky.

The Blob made its debut in 1958, around the same time as a hundred foot tarantula and mutant giant army ants were wreaking havoc in Southern California. My guess is that The Blob was the result of a lab experiment gone terribly wrong. Usually it was radiation or something like that which produced these monsters; I guess people of the day had an early premonition that fooling around with Mother Nature could result in real-life nightmares, and these were their cinematic warnings, as well as ways for big brothers to scare their little brothers. Technogenic disasters, we could call them.

I didn't worry about The Blob for more than a day or two, of course. I would see it myself during the summer, when they ran movies all day long at the show. It wasn't that scary; in fact, it was hokey, just like the tarantula that a young Clint Eastwood fired at from his F-86. It was better when The Blob was on the screen and not in the Gulf of Mexico, which really is the kind of thing that has me up in the middle of the night.

May 20, 2010

A fractal look at American society

As I mentioned before, I'm in the process of reading, and trying to comprehend, Nassim Taleb's book The Black Swan. Taleb takes issue with the Gaussian bell curve as a means of probability assessment, specifically its incompleteness in accounting for events in what he calls "Extremistan" (as opposed to the everyday variations in "Mediocristan"). All very cute. Taleb's dissatisfaction with bell curve analysis led him to adapt the work of Benoit Mandelbrot, the fractal mathematician, as a means of new insights.

One fundamental insight of fractal theory is the so-called principle of "self-similarity" found in nature. A common example is the structure of a tree. Each constituent part in some way replicates the structure of the whole: the leaf has veins that look like twigs; the twigs supporting the leaves are similar to branches; the branches are miniature representations of the whole tree itself. The human lung is put together along fractal lines, and the observation of a coastline will reveal similarities between the appearance of the shore at the microscopic level and a satellite photo of the entire coast seen at one go. Larger structures in nature are built up, in other words, by simply replicating the tiniest components. People have always been confused about what to do with Mandelbrot's work. Does it belong to aesthetics, to computer art, or to the world of biological mathematics? Well, I had my own idea.

I was thinking that fractal analysis might be applied in an attempt to understand the whole of American society, which is part of the mission statement here at the Pond. I've written before (maybe coined the phrase?) about the "parallax of nostalgia," or the tendency of one of later years (on the cusp of senescence/obsolescence such as myself) to see the society around him through a distorted lens, since his sensory apparatus is connected to an interpretive consciousness formed in another, outmoded era. In my case, and for most of the Baby Boom, the 1950's and 1960's. For example, I wrote once that I thought universal military service might be a good alternative to the professional standing army, since we could train, in effect, a Home Guard without the problems of (a) huge expense and (b) militarization of our foreign policy. This innocent observation was, I realize, an artifact of the Parallax phenomenon, for a recent report in the Washington Post details the insurmountable difficulties of such an approach. To wit, about 75% of America's prime military-age population (between the ages of 17 and 24) are unfit to serve:

One of the main reason recruits don't qualify for the service is inadequate education. One in four between the ages of 17 and 24 does not have a high school diploma, according to the report. And many who do still fail the military's version of the SAT, known as the Armed Forces Qualification Test.

Asthma, eyesight and hearing problems are also factors. But about a third of all potential recruits can't join because they're too fat and out of shape.

"When you get kids who can't do push-ups, pull-ups or run, this is a fundamental problem not just for the military but for the country," said Curtis Gilroy, the Pentagon's director of accessions policy. Many kids are not "taking physical education in school; they're more interested in sedentary activities such as the computer or television. And we have a fast-food mentality in this country."

Sobering observations. I think that the overwhelming majority of my own contemporaries, those who would have reached the age of 17 in the mid to late 1960's, would not have had any problem qualifying for the military. The Army's weight limit, for example, is 259 lbs. for men and 241 lbs. for women, both rather liberal standards, if you ask me. (How does someone between the ages of 17 and 24 even have the time to eat enough to weigh more than 259 pounds? is one question that occurs to me.)

My older brother informed me that one of his contemporaries, a teacher in inner city schools, intends to leave the United States as soon as he retires, because he sees all hell breaking loose as soon as his former students are in charge of things. There's both a wacky humor in his reaction and a very scary portent of things to come. Anyway, using the law of self-similarity, as applied to the American population as a whole, we might extrapolate outward to conclude that if this is the sort of progeny the society is producing (and is there some motivation for the military to denigrate its own recruiting cohort unfairly?), then things must be generally very bad indeed, and it would be miraculous if many more older Americans didn't have retirement plans similar to my brother's friend. It would not be possible to be mass-producing so many dysfunctional younger Americans (the fractally smaller component) unless the larger structure of which they are a part (the whole American society) were not also sick to its very core: uneducated, obese, degenerate.

Not to bum anyone out or anything. So one way to apply such a fractal insight is to consider the future of Social Security in this country. As we know from oft-quoted government statistics, the actual members of the workforce on which a given retiree must rely is dwindling; in the heyday of the Social Security system, as many as 15 or 16 workers might support a single retired senior; whereas as we move forward, this number will shrink to two or three. And two or three youthful Americans of the kind Mr. Gilroy of the Pentagon's Accessions Office is describing.

Hey, good luck, old friends. I'm beginning to miss the illusions of the Parallax.

May 19, 2010

Chinese menu approach to politics

Liberals, who now call themselves progressives because they were cowed into shaming themselves by Right Wing attacks, are an endangered species in American life, which will do them no good because the EPA itself is under merciless assault. I don't know if there is much to be done about it. My own political belief system might be called Jeffersonian liberalism; I am not a "Big Government" fan, per se, but I think it's unrealistic to think that modern Big Business can be regulated and controlled by a weak central government, and I'm certainly not a Free Market Purist of the Ayn Rand persuasion. That, to me, is the nuttiest approach of all. A completely unregulated business world leads to environmental and economic collapse of any complex modern society. These very days we are seeing the handiwork of unregulated Big Business, and it's not a pretty picture. The Gulf oil spill, which will probably turn into the greatest environmental catastrophe in the history of the world when its full extent is known and calculated, can be seen as the end result of believing that business, when left to its own cost-cutting devices, will take environmental effects into account. Ha ha. To save a few million in "mud pumping," British Petroleum has destroyed an entire eco-region.

Jefferson was suspicious of the power of government to oppress the individual. Such a wise political thinker. He feared the "tyranny of the majority," which is what the Bill of Rights is designed to prevent. The full power of the central government can crush any individual unless certain procedural rules are put into place to give him/her a fighting chance. It is surprising to me that the present Presidential incumbent is so indifferent to this concept, but that's the way the political winds are blowing. Jefferson (and Benjamin Franklin, another political genius) thought that society should risk some of its precious "security" to avoid tyranny, but if you are witnessing the craven capitulation of Obama and Holder to the calls for "restricting" Fifth Amendment rights of certain classes of criminal suspects, you can see that these particular Democrats do not belong in that Jefferson-Franklin tradition. They prefer pandering to the scaredy-cats. Ironically, once you begin down that path (as Franklin presciently tried to warn us), the central government itself becomes the most serious threat to personal liberty. Hitler, for example, once he consolidated power through "legitimate" means, used incarceration and execution of political dissidents to make sure no one got in his way. All tyrannies, in fact, operate this way. So while Obama nonchalantly allows (or tells) his Attorney General to use this "forum" or that (federal civil courts this week, military commissions the next) depending on how politically popular the move is, you can be assured that such a process, if it goes on long enough, will not be confined to just "Arab" terrorists of foreign citizenship. It will get to the (probably apocryphal) level of Pontius Pilate asking the mob which defendant ought to be executed today, and which set free.

Some of the Tea Party people seem, dimly, to be aware of such ideas, but of course you never get everything you want (or even close to what you want) from a Tea Party "platform." The victory of Rand Paul in Kentucky is illustrative. There are certain things he says with which I wholeheartedly agree; for example, on the necessity of declaring war if the country is going to war. That's what the Constitution says, conferring the power on the Congress and the Congress alone. So how does the United State fight war after war with no formal Declarations since December, 1941? And if the answer is, "the War Powers Act," how can this reassignment to the Executive Branch be Constitutional without an amendment? So Rand Paul is right: it gives everything a completely different feel if we require the President to seek, for example, a Formal Declaration of War between the United States and Iraq. Imagine that, a Congressional Declaration announcing that "a State of War Exists Between the United States of America and Iraq." It looks absurd, doesn't it? Iraq sitting over there in 2003, run by a tinpot dictator with no weapons to threaten anyone with, but we want the oil his country lies atop. So Congress, that mighty deliberative body, convenes and Declares War on Iraq. That means the President must carry out an invasion and wage war, because he's sworn to faithfully execute the laws. I don't think it ever would have happened. But if Congress can simply "Authorize" war, and leave it up to President Bush to decide whether or not to use his "Authorization," then Congress, Pilate-like, can wash its hands of the whole business and claim that the President thought that invasion was best. A slight difference with huge consequences.

I also agree with Rand Paul that the banks should have been allowed to fail in 2007-2008 without bailouts. If one says, arguing contra, that such a course would have caused an economic crisis, then please tell me what we're in right now if not an economic crisis, and moreover one in which the biggest banks have consolidated their power and the public debt has skyrocketed.

On the other hand, Rand is named after Ayn. That's more than just a spooky reference point; he's a dyed-in-the-wool, cradle-to-present Free Market Fundamentalist.

Mick Jagger told us we can't always get what we want, and especially these days. Anyone you can vote for, who's electable, comes with all kinds of baggage you also don't want. You wind up saying stuff like, "I'm for his position on the bailouts, while I recognize that his desire to consign homosexuals to labor camps is regrettable. So on balance..."

It's really a mess, sort of like the country this political scene is part of. November is shaping up to be a real freak show.

May 18, 2010

California as the Black Swan in the Coal Mine

Okay, partly it's a game: to salt a lot of high impact words into the title so it Googles well.

I've been reading Nassim Taleb's interesting book The Black Swan and trying to get a handle on his allusive, deliberately (I suspect) vague points about the nature of unpredictability in human affairs. He styles himself an epistemologist, and I suppose there's something to that. While he complains about "epistemic arrogance," there seems to be quite a bit of knowingness in his own analysis, to wit, he conveys the impression that he's simply writing at a level one remove above the ordinary mortal's comprehension of reality. Whatever. A "black swan," in his usage, is apparently a rare and unpredictable (or at least not predicted) event which is transformative in nature and alters the course of human nature thereafter. 9-11 was such an event. Key modern inventions (television, the personal computer and the Internet) often serve as black swans. The global financial meltdown has been a black swan.

Taleb is building on neuroscientific thinking about the "inferential sytems" in human thinking, about which I have Blooged in these very pages. Humans evolved to react quickly on the basis of sensory information, to use first impressions as a reliable guide to what's going on. We don't belabor our analysis if the shadow of what appears to be a large animal suddenly looms over the ground in front of us. Sure, it might be a eucalyptus leaning in the wind, but if it's a bull elephant and we guessed wrong, we won't be there tomorrow to "infer" differently. This kind of thinking explains why current weather conditions are cited as evidence for or against the general trend of global warming. At a slightly different level, it explains the tendency toward religious thinking. The artifacts and tools in our possession were "put together" by intelligent beings (us). Thus, if we see a whole interrelated system which functions like a clockwork (the Universe), our first inference is that someone (like us) made it.

Somewhat off the point of today's sermon, but not entirely. There is a financial crisis engulfing the civilizations of the Western world and Asia right now, but the (apparently) normal functioning of the central governments disguise the depth and severity of the problem. The sudden emergence of this crisis, while predictable (especially in the United States), nevertheless constitutes a Black Swan because this much trouble, so suddenly appearing, has that quality of rare, unpredicted but nevertheless statistically inevitable uniqueness characteristic of such events. Such developments simply do not fit under the fat part of the ordinary bell curve distribution of likely events. The limitations of our inferential systems thus tend to lead us to reject the authority of our more complicated cerebral analyses in favor of our reactions to the seeming placidity of the world around us. In a primitive way, we revert to magical thinking and belief in normal "cycles," such as "recovery" following recession, and this tendency in thinking is buttressed by the apparent normality of what is going on around us.

I saw some of this in the recent column by Paul Krugman about "surging" tax receipts heralding the normalization of American government financing. I realize that Mr. Krugman writes some of his columns while sitting in a lawn chair near his condo in St. Croix, and without doing any research, but this particular error was somewhat egregious even by his standards since the Treasury had just published their receipts for the month of April, 2010, and the print demonstrated a significant fall-off in year-over-year tax revenue (on the order of 13%) versus 2009. This is an odd kind of "recovery," and even odder as a source of confidence. 2009 was supposed to be the very depth of the Great Recession; how can 2010 be worse if things are getting better?

Anyway, the Federal government's ability to print money and recycle debt in a never-ending Ponzi scheme allows it to mask, for a long time, its essential insolvency. Which is why a state such as California may serve as the Black Swan in the Coal Mine. California is facing a $20 billion budget shortfall for the current fiscal year. It has a constitutional mandate to balance its budget, and it has no earthly way of doing so. California's GDP makes it the eighth largest economy in the world (about $1.8 trillion a year), and is running a U-3 unemployment of about 13%. Its GDP is about 13% of the entire nation's GDP (five states, including New York and California, make up about 40% of U.S. GDP). California cannot print money. Mr. Krugman recently wrote that California survives because of federal "transfer payments," but what can I say? California's return on investment (what it receives from the federal government versus what it pays in through taxes) is less than 80%. (Are they hitting that pepper-flavored vodka particularly hard in Stockholm these days, by the way? Or is it just that, as Taleb says, economics is a "science" on about the same plane as Tarot card reading? Memo to Krugman: if you've got access to wi-fi from the lawn chair, try using a search engine called "Google." You can learn a lot.) Anyway, Krugman: rely on his rosy predictions at your own risk.

Thus, California is facing now what the federal government ought to be facing itself but chooses to defer in favor of relentless borrowing. The money that California can borrow is severely limited, since the high interest rates it must pay on bonds (because of its diminished credit rating) add inexorably to the outgoes and push against its budget ceiling. The former B movie star and muscleman currently running the state, who has grown into his job although he still cannot pronounce the state's name, says simply that California is facing "terrible" budget cuts. Naturally, Caleeforneeyuh chooses to cut the subsidies for the most helpless of its citizens, such as the mentally ill, those on welfare, inner city students and similar non-politically-connected subsets. California is laying off many state employees, furloughing others on a rolling basis, closing courts one day a month, slashing higher education, letting cons out of prison, selling office buildings, and many other "Draconian" reductions, and taken together, all these changes are still not enough.

Yet outwardly, things still seem pretty normal, at least in the favored environs of the state such as Montecito, where our great leading environmentalist Al Gore just bought an $8 million house with 6 bedrooms and 6 baths and 6,000 square feet to heat (okay, look: he's not Thoreau, okay? He's a modern American with a helluva good image, and that's where the action is.) Forward momentum keeps the ball rolling for quite some time. Yet as things unravel, this huge part of the United States will present a Preview of Coming Attractions for the country as a whole. It's a shame our "inferential systems" don't get it now, but hell, we're not even to summer re-runs yet. We've got stuff to do.

May 16, 2010

"Meltup," the Viral Video

If it weren't for fearmongering, I wouldn't have no news at all. Still, as a public service I offer "Meltup," the viral video from the National Inflation Association.

If you read around the edges of the Apocalypse, as I do from time to time, you encounter certain names over and over: Peter Schiff, Ron Paul, Marc Faber, John Williams, Gerald Celeste, Max Keiser. These are the Heralds of American Economic Doom, and the route they all see, when you boil it down, is basically the same. The United States has painted itself into such a corner in terms of debt and unfunded entitlements, and the maintenance of an overseas military empire, and the destruction of its productive capacity, that there is now no way out. We are going to have to monetize our debt by printing money at an accelerating rate, which will devalue the currency and lead to collapse.

Sigh...our very own Weimar Republic. Anyway, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then perhaps a moving picture is worth a million.. It's curious, as the events in Greece and Europe have focused our attention more fixedly on the nature of sovereign default, that a convergence and truly "nonpartisan" consensus seems to be forming that mainly is characterized by class warfare. This is the golden braid that unites elements of the Tea Party with mainstream liberals. The game is rigged, and there isn't enough to go around anymore. Wall Street bankers are dividing billions of profits into huge bonuses while one in eight Americans are on food stamps and the real unemployment rate hovers around 20%. You can't make any money by putting it in the bank, whereas big banks can borrow money from the government for nothing and make a killing without risk.

As I said in my last brainbelch, perhaps many American "rebels" cannot articulate with consistent precision why they're so angry, but the gravamen of their complaint is not wrong. The differences between factions of the Pissed Off are sometimes trivial and sometimes simply related to predisposition. For example, in this video you can see an argument against the minimum wage and what appears to be a complaint about requiring businesses to set aside facilities for nursing mothers to breast feed their babies in secluded dignity. The video also bitches about "lazy Americans" who expect to be supported by the government. This is all part of the standard Right Wing catechism, of course, but what I've learned (I think) is that the emotional origins of some opinions perhaps matter less than the general accuracy of the main complaint: the Middle Class of the United States has been systematically sold out in favor of offshoring jobs, importing oil, relegating our commerce to Big Box stores full of Chinese crap, destroying tariff protection so domestic multinationals can use cheap foreign work forces, and in general allowing the Middle Class to subsist and wither away on ever-mounting piles of debt.

That reality is what ties the liberals and the Tea Partiers together. One side might favor gun control and the other rail on about gay marriage, but in the final analysis, unless the great majority of Americans can support themselves and buy food and fuel, these issues are the agenda for the Great Debating Society on the Deck of the Titanic. As money dwindles, as Social Security retirement and Medicare become threatened with insolvency, the luxury of basing one's politics purely on "social issue ideology" goes the way of....the American Middle Class.

Politics in the USA, not surprisingly, is becoming increasingly volatile. Ancient Senators are being unceremoniously thrown out of office before they can even get to the general election in their states. Things are going to get more fractious and unpredictable as things get worse, and I think this video explains many of the reasons why. I think we should watch the riots in Athens with a sense of trepidation, for they could well be coming soon to a Main Street near you.