April 15, 2011

Why is the punditocracy dissing The Donald?

I just don't get it. Donald Trump (hereinafter "The Donald") uses his constitutional right to express an interest in becoming President of the United States, and after a brief flurry of excitement from the media, the commentariat appears to have settled on the position that his candidacy is a joke, not to be taken seriously, that he is, in some sense, an usurper who has no right to such pretensions.

This is one of the things wrong with American politics, in my opinion. The Donald is entitled to his aspirations. I thought it was a joke when George W. Bush ran for President, a travesty when he was actually elected (okay, appointed, after coming close in the popular vote), and two shams of a mockery of a travesty (for fans of "Bananas" - in joke) in the way he governed. We've also had Ronald Reagan as President, a mediocre actor faking his way through the office, George Murphy as a senator, Arnold Schwarzenegger as a governor, Jesse Ventura as a governor, et al. The point being that in the age of pervasive, saturating electronic media as a substitute for Reality, the populace cannot distinguish anymore why "famosity" is not transferable between any two roles requiring high visibility. Once you're famous, you're famous across the board, and the public ceases with any distinction between your public image, carefully crafted by media consultants and PR firms, and your underlying reality, if any. For these reasons, Richard Nixon seriously considered Vince Lombardi as a running mate in 1968 (Vince would have been more satisfactory, come to think of it, than Tricky Dick himself, and certainly a better choice than Spiro Agnew.)

The Donald has taken some heat for seizing the Birther issue and running with it. Exploiting Barack Obama's failure to produce his original birth certificate is mainstream Republican politics. It's a stupid issue leading nowhere, but the same can be said for nearly everything in American politics, including the wars in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, the abortion "issue," gay marriage, gays in the military, and the entire "social issues" agenda. The wars should go away, the "social issues" agenda should disappear entirely from the political scene in favor of simply letting everyone do whatever the hell they want in their private lives, so long as it's not in the street where it might frighten horses or large dogs.

Of course, this would remove about 80-90% of the heat and noise from the political scene, and would leave the Klowns exposed to the awful truth, which is that they have run the country into the ground economically. This is where The Donald "brings" something to the political process. As a serial bankrupt, The Donald knows a little about what it's like to go belly up, as the U.S. of A. has done, and knows how to engineer a comeback. The same cannot be said, for example, of Barack Obama. His life story has been a steady, uninterrupted climb from obscurity to the pinnacle of power. Kind of boring in its American predictability, in fact. Whereas The Donald, as the scion of a real estate magnate who took Dad's empire and first trashed it, then restored it, then branched out into the total cheesiness of Atlantic City gambling and Reality TV nonsense, is far more representative of the historical arc of recent America. With his gravity-defying, marvel-of-engineering hairdo, and his ceaseless bragging and grandiosity, his ill-used, solecism-filled grandiloquence, The Donald is a Man of Our Time. A boor, a braggart, a parvenu, a cheater, a liar, a thoroughly frivolous human being of, by and only about himself.

In short, he's perfect. How can all these political operatives take a cornpone Neanderthal like Mike Huckabee seriously as a candidate and dismiss the candidacy of The Donald? I don't get it. I think it's because the little nerds in politics, and their journalistic acolytes, just don't like the idea that a boast-filled Big Shot like The Donald can simply buy and bully his way onto the national stage without going through them. Yet The Donald did not have to navigate through such vermin in order to establish "The Apprentice" on TV, or memorialize for the ages the phrase, "You're Fired!" He did that on his own, or at least his writers did, leveraging his fame for being famous.

I doubt seriously that The Donald has any particularly strong views on abortion (perhaps this Constitutional right has even come in handy at some point in his checkered love life), gays (he lives in New York, for cryin' out loud), evolution (he's probably for evolution, since he's an infrequent church-goer) or much of anything else, other than his own self-aggrandizement.

I say give The Donald a freaking chance, and don't allow these self-appointed gate keepers to decide the issue before this magnificently-coiffed candidate even has a chance to develop a little Mo'. The punditocracy is scared right now because he's actually leading the pack, not altogether surprising when his competition is clothing store mannequins like Mitt Romney. Maybe he'll win, or buy, the GOP nomination. What fun those debates would be with Barack! Can't you hear it now? At the end of every campaign speech, there's The Donald: "And I have a message for you, Mr. President, from the American people: You're Fired!"

I've got a hundred more like that, Mr. Trump. You know where to find me.

April 14, 2011

Herzog the Blogger

One of my favorite books from high school years, and my favorite among all of Saul Bellow's novels, was Herzog, about a stressed-out, middle-aged, cuckolded academic who undergoes a nervous breakdown and begins compulsive letter writing. He writes to everyone he knows, then to politicians, then finally to the famous dead, in long, complicated, highly literate language, complaining about the state of the world and his place in it. It is an intellectual tour-de-force.

Gee, wonder why I liked that novel. It's pretty obvious Herzog was a proto-Blogger. I don't know if one of the ten million blogs out there is called "Herzog," but one ought to be (along with "Impotent Information Overload"). With their limited readership, at least half the point of an amateur blog is self-therapeutic, although things didn't work out that well for Herzog himself.

You can now post comments to columns and blogs, of course, so if in the course of gassing on in your own blog you don't quite pontificate enough, you can do that too. I did, today, on Paul Krugman's blog, which he calls "Conscience of a Liberal" (just the slightest touch sententious, do you think?). Prof. Krugman was writing recently about the august, esteemed title he has in German society because of his degrees and standing, to the effect that he is Herr Doktor Doktor Krugman (he's not actually, because he doesn't understand how those German honorifics work for foreigners). That's where "Dokrugman" comes from.

What's distressing to me, Dokrugman (portmanteau of Herr Doktor Doktor & Krugman) is that (a) you're over-using this "serious" trope (which I think, along with Very Serious Person or VSP, might be an unattributed borrow from Glenn Greenwald; is that possible?) and (b) you're getting involved in "budget-cutting" discussions at all. I don't read "The Conscience of a Liberal" to be reminded of the grim reality that the United States faces in its budget difficulties. I read this blog for its Keynesian hopefulness, where $150 billion in income against $330 billion in expenses (as in March's Treasury Statement) is okay and nothing much to worry about. Maybe the deficit will go to $2 trillion this year (or roughly total income), but it doesn't matter because, as you say, the Treasury is hardly "cash strapped." It can easily borrow as much money as it needs at rock bottom rates. For some strange reason. And only conspiracy theorists think that Treasury auctions are simply a rigged market, and if the PBOC calls the whole thing a "Ponzi scheme" (as they did recently), it only proves that they are not VSPs. Or proves that they are, I'm not sure which way the snark cuts.

So please, do not get bogged down in ways to "cut the deficit." That's for the others. You should be urging the government to spend more, to increase the deficit to $4 trillion per year, to $20 trillion. Whatever we need. Because the Treasury can simply borrow $20 trillion at 1% in perpetuity, with no problems once the Fed adds the bills and bonds to its mounting stash. And the 1% the Fed earns on its $20 trillion per year ($200 billion) can be remitted to the Treasury as income, reducing the deficit, thus...

What was the PBOC saying again? Anyway, please: no more belt tightening. Leave that to the uninformed.

Dokrugman does believe we'll be okay and that we should not be worried about cutting "now now now" (as he says over over over), but should keep spending and stimulating until the economy recovers to its mid-Bubble heights. Of course, I've never understood what economy we are aspiring to return to. The reason we went to Bubblenomics was because (a) Wall Street needed a cash cow, and housing was The Last Frontier, and (b) our so-called "Real Economy" is gone, shipped overseas along with all the middle class jobs it used to provide. So Americans can go "back to work," but it's all crap jobs and completely inadequate to provide a real tax base.

How do such obvious things remain hidden from view when they're lying in plain sight? If housing prices are once again correlated to income, and incomes are stagnant or even losing ground, how can housing prices do anything other than continue to go down? And if housing prices continue to go down (which they are, which they will, with 13 million houses empty in the U.S., with 20% of all real estate in Florida vacant), what is the economic driver of consumer spending, and thus jobs, and thus recovery, and thus federal fiscal solvency? Huh?

My inability to answer such questions explains why I do not have a Nobel Prize in Economics, I suppose. I'm just a lonely Herzog, crying in the wilderness.

April 13, 2011

Apocalypse fatigue

I have to admit that it was more fun to write this blog (which I've been doing, off & on, since 2006) when the idea of American decadence, of an actual fiscal or resource-based collapse, was more the stuff of dystopian fantasy than present-day reality.

I just looked at the latest Monthly Statement from the Treasury and it's a true horror show. About $150 billion in revenue against $330 billion in expenses. The figures are so far out of whack that they would make more sense if one of them, say revenue, was from Angola or Belize or somewhere, and the second was from the combined budgets of the entire European Union. They just don't belong on the same balance sheet. It raises a serious question: who are we trying to fool with this nonsense? A $180 billion deficit in one month.

I do not consider myself a deficit hawk or a deficit dove or a deficit anything in particular. I think I can understand, in broad outline, how this absurd situation came about. I have watched it happen over my lifetime. The largest whole number divisor of my age, other than the age itself, is 21. To give a further clue, I am not 21, 42 or 84. If my life is divided in thirds, then the first segment belongs in the period of American Triumphalism, 1948 to 1969. The second occurred during the beginning of the Descent Phase, 1969 to 1990. And the third happened during the period of American Decadence, 1990 to 2011.

It is fashionable now to engage in Good Guy/Bad Guy narrative analyses and to begin American history in 2007 or slightly later, at the Fall of the House of Lehman. This is convenient for political polemics because it enables both groups to analyze America's current predicament from the viewpoint of innocent victims. The Commoners are the victims of a sell-out political system and Big Business. The fat cats themselves are the victims of Socialism and excessive government regulation.

Having observed this slow-motion train wreck, however, I am more inclined to see American decadence as a broad-based social enterprise. America was once very rich and worked very hard. After we stopped working hard, or shipped all of the jobs where hard work was productive, to nations where slave labor is allowed, we lost our competitiveness and assigned all of the benefits of Globalization to an elite managerial class which could leverage foreign low wages to domestic profitability. This process was enabled by the federal government through tax laws and free trade agreements. It never made any sense that it could redound to the benefit of the American commoner, but it was sold to the American public as if it could by its many champions, including stalwart "Liberals" such as Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman. The Conservatives never bothered with the populist cover story; they were just in it for the money.

The Commoner was not left totally out of the picture. The flow of the world's reserve currency, the dollar, between the United States and mostly Asian producers (of consumer goods and oil), allowed America to keep interest rates low and to produce serial bubbles in, first, the dot.com field and then in housing. This produced a "wealth effect" despite wages which stagnated and which by themselves were incapable of supporting the actual standard of living which the country pretended to. This "system" of recycled dollars worked until the actual wage structure of the American middle class was inadequate to the demands of the debt service assumed in order to keep the consumer society functioning.

The whole thing, at long last, finally crashed. The political class, such as the feckless President Obama, are left with a smoldering pile of debris where a Borrower's Shangri-la used to be. Since the political class cannot explain to the American people how this came to be without admitting their complicity in the ruination of America, this End Stage must be treated as a temporary blip, a "Recession," which will be cleared up with adequate money-printing, fiscal stimuli or some other gimmick.

As I say, however, an uninformed American electorate permitted all of this by continuously electing politicians who allowed it to happen, or even encouraged it to happen. Freed from hard work and encouraged in the belief that prosperity consisted in the accumulation of gaudy toys and distractions, Americans began to believe that their privileged lifestyle was a matter of "Exceptionalism" separated from the Laws of Thermodynamics or even common sense, and that we would continue to prosper in the Information Economy or some other arrant foolhardiness.

It's not going to happen that way. What happens when such thinking continues too long is that a country pretends that it has a $330 billion lifestyle based on $150 billion worth of income, and fights tooth and nail over cutting so much as a dime from the sum of expenditures (the vaunted $38 billion in "cuts" represents in point of fact a reduction in planned increases in the budget).

Under such circumstances, I think it is ludicrous to discuss seriously Paul Ryan's idea to balance the budget in 2040 or President Obama's plans to cut expenses long after he's already left office. It's not going to happen like that. This is not a country that is going to engage in an orderly process of sorting things out. It will lurch and careen from side to side with both sides continuing to blame the other for what was, at base, a failure of the democratic process. Where it ends up will be based on the dictates of Reality, which has a well known Realistic Bias.