August 12, 2010

Return of the native

Admittedly, I was a little spooked when I read about Project Vigilant, a "private sector" outfit that snoops all over the internet looking for signs of un-American activities, assembles such data into "actionable" form and then peddles it to "three initial" federal agencies, which surely include the FBI, CIA and NSA. You can imagine the kind of fine, discriminating, First-Amendment-protecting approach which would be used by such a company. Apparently, Project Vigilant comes up with something like 250 million bits of useful nuggets per day, from emails, websites, comment sections, et cetera.

Still, evil flourishes when good men do nothing, and one tries to be a good man, despite everything. But as insurance, I've begun perusing right wing websites such as Red State, Powerline and even Fox News. I just log on and let them run in background. Then when PV takes a look at the Ol' Swimmer, they have to admit I also spend hours a day figuring out what Sean Hannity thinks about the issues of the day. I like balance, see.

Since I last wrote regularly, nothing much has happened. Maybe that's just the nature of a Depression. Money was the energy behind many developments, and the money's all gone, and the folks back home don't wanna talk on the phone. My guess is that President Barack Obama did not realize he was signing on to govern a country mired in an actual Depression. Like many of the propagandists around him, he participated in the groupthink idea that this was simply another in a long series of cyclical recessions, deeper than most, but nevertheless a species of the same thing. This was the wrong read of the situation. What we're in now is the historically inevitable result of the destruction of the middle class, from many causes, and the usual quick fixes such as tinkering with interest rates are not going to work. I don't think Obama, at the personal level, has any idea what to do about it, because nothing in his background, work experience or education prepared him at all to lead a country out of such a morass. I mean, all that he would have been able to do, at best, would be to begin the process, which is going to take a long time. His easygoing, golf-playing, back-patting, hoops-with-LeBron style would have worked fine if the economy, as with Clinton, was taking care of itself, or at least appeared to be doing so. But when radical (note to Project Vigilant: radical as in "radish," to the root of the matter) changes are needed, and not just Change as a campaign slogan, then it becomes something altogether different. Obama, with his escalation of the Afghanistan...whatever it is we're doing, and his general approach of pretending he was elected in 1992 instead of 2008, is not getting the job done.

We're just drifting. Since the Administration cannot create jobs, they've decided to work with the statistics instead. To keep from going "over budget," the Obama Administration has become the first in living memory to forgo the whole budgetary process. We don't have a budget. Tax revenues this year, including Social Security, will hit about $2.1 trillion. The total outlays (can't call it a budget, since there isn't one) will reach about $3.6 trillion. Nevertheless, Paul Krugman says the federal government is not "cash strapped," because it can borrow money at astonishingly cheap rates. This is true. And the reason the Treasury can issue ten-year notes paying 2% is because the economy is so moribund this is considered a good return.

I remember the phrase my father used to use: the "depths of the Depression." In other words, you don't get there overnight. The crash occurred in 1929, but things steadily worsened during the Thirties. 1935 was worse than 1930. It takes a while for the accumulated savings and forward momentum of the good years to play out, and that's what is happening now, three years after the beginning of the downturn in the summer of 2007, when W warned us "this sucker could go down." Facing the music would be a start, but the political system, addicted as it is to magical thinking and the election cycle, cannot do that. So we pretend things will get better if we wait and just keep doing the same things. House prices will go up because that's what they do. Jobs will appear because America is "innovative." Don't think so. This sucker's not going back up until we do something different.