Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Popular Tastes and the Recent Election

My entire central nervous system, my soul, my personal dignity, everything that seems to define my existence, is under assault right now.  I am having breakfast at a fast food joint, and using the "free" wi-fi. Free, my butt. Look at the price I am paying for it. A loudspeaker (of rather good quality) is blasting trashy popular music at me, as I try to read, write, and think.

Who selects this music?! But I should stop complaining. It could be rap music. Most of it is just lewd female shrieking in rather standard love songs. Gawd, I hate Whitney Houston.

But from a different angle, this torture is beneficial. Sometimes you need to be shocked into confronting unpleasant truths. Consider the recent elections from the perspective of popular music, movies, or whatever.

If this election did not prove 'Democracy: the God that Failed,' then at the very least it shows that universal suffrage is an absurdity. And yet, in the 1800's it was seen as 'progress' that idealists worked for. How could they be so naive as to believe that Rule-of-the-Most is better than Rule-of-the-Best?

Yea I know, how do you agree on who the 'best' is? But is it good to quit trying, and just accept 'no standards' when it is difficult to agree on standards?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Healthy Downsizing Project for Election Day

Election day is probably the only day that brings more relief than Christmas. And for pretty much the same reason: a protracted, half-insane process has finally ended. 

From an individual's point of view, both Christmas and presidential elections represent a marvelous opportunity to practice mental hygiene, by ignoring these two seasons as much as possible. If you do a good job at that, you have accomplished a lot more than by downsizing physical clutter in your life.

It's possible that I am fooling myself about how well I've performed this mental downsizing over the last 18 (?) months of the presidential election cycle. Very well then, at least I'll do a good job on election day.

Today's project will be the ultimate downsizing project. I will spend the day reading Benjamin Constant's "Political Principles." He seems rather forgotten today. A real shame. So far his book has been interesting and easy to read. For the most part it is an attack on Rousseau's Social Contract as the great error of modern philosophy. Rousseau believed in the unconditional surrender of an Individual's rights to the mysterious and abstract "General Will" in a democracy. He believed in the unlimited power of democratic sovereignty.

But by reading an important and fundamental book on election day, rather than by following the blow-by-blow accounts of the horse race as presented by the clowns on television, an individual can show that they have not surrendered.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Some Hope for a Clinton Presidency

I have no prediction about who will win this presidential election. It is humbling to see my supposed knowledge of history provide so little perspicuity at this time. The closest thing you could offer to a 'solid bet' is that a Clinton presidency -- if one comes -- has no chance of accomplishing anything, because it will be mired in legal battles, scandals, charges and counter-charges.

Ah but wait...maybe history does offer hope for a Clinton presidency. In order to distract the public from her endless scandals and legal problems, couldn't she go 'all in' for War? It would be easy for her to go that direction. She is already a neo-con, and part of the Beltway foreign policy consensus. She is the Defense sector's favorite candidate, other than John McCain.

More American involvement in Syria is the most likely course. But considering the sheer number of scandals and possible indictments, she should keep her options open on bombing and invading Crimea, Poland, the Baltic States, the South China Sea, the Philippines, Yemen, Somalia, and maybe a second rendition of Libya.

A cynic might argue that America has shown no interest in fighting a major war in Syria. But that is just because a sufficient provocation hasn't been offered -- something more compelling than Obama's "Assad crossed the Red Line" argument of a couple years ago. What about ye olde 'They fired first!' gimmick? It gets 'em every time. American presidents have been brilliant at suckering the 'bad guys' into firing the first shot. 

If President Clinton offered a trap for America in order to get her out of her own trap, most of the Stoopid Party would fall for it. They simply can't resist an opportunity for another trillion dollars of ineffective war, especially one in a country so close to Israel. 

There is only one problem with my optimistic political advice for the Clinton administration: Putin would have to take the bait. He has already shown, when the Turks shot down the Russian fighter, that he is too adroit to fall for such a trap. In fact I suspect he would dance circles around Mrs. Clinton, just as he has with Obama. Is it legal to write him in when you vote next week?

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Unfair Videos of Mrs. Clinton's Medical Episodes

Once, I almost read a book of the under-rated role of the health problems of famous leaders and events. For instance President Kennedy was a symbol of youthful vigor and charisma as the baton of leadership passed to men who had been soldiers in World War 2. Apparently he took some very strong medications for his bad back. Did I say "apparently?" That's the problem: how much was hidden at the time? What can ever really be proved?

How open was the press with President Roosevelt's wheelchair?

Hitler might have been heavily drugged by a quack doctor. How did this affect the fortunes of the Third Reich?

Did the masses in the early Soviet Union understand the strokes that Lenin had had? A few years before that, how open was the press allowed to be about the quackery of Rasputin in helping the doomed Romanov dynasty in dealing with the hemophilia of the heir-apparent?

I read a biography of Bonaparte recently. The historian thought that his famous stamina had been undermined before the invasion of Russia in 1812. Did the smart-set back in Paris really understand this? What about the hundreds of thousands of cannon fodder who were to die during this invasion?

It is doubtful that Julius Caesar ever went viral on the internet during one of his fits of "the falling sickness", epilepsy.

But the all-time winner must be the legend of El Cid, whose widow supposedly had his dead body mounted on a horse, where he led his troops to victory.
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Until the last hundred years, medical knowledge was so rudimentary that even an honest appraisal by a qualified doctor might not be worth too much to an accurate understanding of how health affected history.

And I doubt that the medical appraisals were ever that honest. If somebody tells you, "But the doctor said such and such," what does that really prove? A powerful politician can always get the doctor to say what they want. If not, the doctor will be replaced by another one who is willing to "play ball."

Rising to the top of the political profession requires many years of hard work, pressure, and risks; and rather unhealthy eating at all the public events. By the time he reaches the top, a megalomaniac has likely either used up most of his good health or undermined it.

So the masses must be protected from the truth. That is how it has always worked for the great male megalomaniacs of history, regardless of their cruelty, corruption, or foolishness.

But now that a female megalomaniac is running for president -- and despite her impressive credentials in cruelty and corruption, showing herself the equal of any man -- we see her "medical episodes" plastered all over the internet. A feminist can feel pretty cheated about that. But she can't uninvent the smartphone or digital camera. What would you do if you were one of Mrs. Clinton's handlers?

1. Her sunglasses are a good idea. It prevents cameras from catching her in any more goo-goo-eyed seizures. Wrap-around Bollé sunglasses, like cyclists wear, might be even better. They might also help with her Angela-Merkel-like charisma deficit.

2. If you saw the video of today's 9/11 problems for Mrs. Clinton, you might have noticed how her entourage clustered tightly around her as her problems became visible. You would think that there would more of them and that they would respond quicker, blocking off the spying eyes of somebody's cellphone camera.

3. Can President Obama invoke the Patriot Act or find some emergency powers implicit in the Constitution to issue a diktat restricting cameras around Mrs. Clinton? 

4. Don't live radio and television have a few seconds of delay to bleep out naughty words? It wouldn't take that many minutes of delay to hide any more of Mrs. Clintons's health episodes. The mainstream media just needs a few minutes to expunge any offensive footage. If anybody says, "But I was there, and it didn't happen like CNN says," they could be laughed off as conspiracy theorists.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Orlando Tragedy Can Make a New Roosevelt

The leaders of the Democratic party are struggling with a dilemma: how can they avoid appearing too friendly or not friendly enough to Muslim immigrants? And will they appear unsympathetic to their LGBT block? Of course, the LGBT block has nowhere to go outside the Democratic party. Its votes are taken for granted.  

So the Democrats are spinning Orlando as a gun problem or as a homophobia problem, being careful to avoid mentioning Muslim immigrants, at all cost.

The very future of the Democratic party is at stake. The LGBT block is not a growing one. And the Hispanic block might betray the Democrats, if they act like the Italian immigrants of 1910. They will work hard, marry whites, and a generation from now there will be lots of Republican suburbs with residents that have Hispanic surnames, but don't otherwise seem too Hispanic.

Imagine what a Democratic leader feels when it/she/he sees the juicy promise of a Europe that is being invaded by Muslims? If only they could have a success that big in the USA! The trick is to incorporate the hordes of Muslim immigrants into the Democratic party.

The Stoopid party will try to make that easy for the Democrats. Because of the Republicans' doctrine of permanent war, Muslims can see the Republicans as the embodiment of Evil.  The Democrats will continue to position themselves as the Lite version of the warmonger cult.

Out of hatred of Republicans, and because they need SNAP, Obamacare subsidies, and affirmative action programs, Muslim immigrants will have an orientation toward the Democrats.

There is just one problem: the LGBT block is already firmly ensconced in the Democratic party. So that kills the deal, right? Before saying so, remember that Franklin Roosevelt somehow made a home for the "Solid South" of white voters as well as civil rights activists and Soviet "fellow travelers." Talk about an incongruous combination! But it worked until Nixon's Silent Majority was formed.

Thus we are left with some Democrat's opportunity to become the new FDR by reconciling the wave of the future, Muslim immigrants, and the already locked-up LGBT block. If they can do that, we will have a one-party system in this country. And the Democrats won't have to worry about being double-crossed by Muslims melting into the pot.
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It has been a few years since I reread Machiavelli's "The Prince." Perhaps he would have thought that I didn't do too bad in this post, for an amateur.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Turning Election Ugliness into Intellectual Pleasure

It is hard to settle on an attitude toward these ghastly presidential elections that satisfies me. The easy thing is to say, "Just ignore it. Why make yourself depressed or angry when you don't have to be?"

But this approach is too facile. We do, after all, live under a system of self-government. Something better than mere avoidance is called for. But don't worry: I'm not about to give you a pep talk that belongs in school civics class.
 
Rather, I want to be candid about how hopeless the USA is, and face up to the fact that we are looking into an abyss. Don't avert your eyes from it. Wallow in it a bit -- not for the mere sake of misery of course, but for the sake of moving on to something better.




For instance, lately I have been on a streak of books about Muslim history. Think how narrow public discourse is about Muslims as 'terrorists'. Does anyone ever define what a terrorist is? Isn't it just an example of asymmetrical warfare? Does anyone ever discuss the morality of Western imperialism? Who kills more people: terrorists or the non-terrorist Good Guys of the West? Does the average television viewer ever hear about the Sykes-Picot treaty, the Balfour Declaration, Washington's role in creating modern jihadis in Afghanistan, or its support of the bloody war between Iraq and Iran in the 1980s?

I won't discuss these things because I don't want a book-long post. What matters is that Americans never get a chance to understand the history of Islam in its entirety, starting around 600 A.D. They only hear about the Here and the Now, and very propagandist versions of them. In fact it is a fascinating history. To see your mind opening up from a narrow sliver of some subject to a Big Picture is a real pleasure.

We normally think of pleasure as being something sensual and easy, but the human animal really is more capable than that. Because it is hard to feel genuine intellectual pleasure, anything that helps should be seen as a positive thing, even if that means wallowing in a bit of misery such as presidential elections. The misery doesn't last too long. And it whets your appetite for the pleasure of learning things that would otherwise seem like dry homework.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The "Awakening" When Coming Back to a City

I have written before of how thought-provoking it can be to come into a city after a lengthy spell in the backcountry. The greatest difficulty in doing a good job at this is to belittle it right from the beginning: "Oh this is just some kind of thought experiment. It isn't practical. I don't want to waste time by acting like a kook, in his own little mental playground..."

Recently I experienced a special version of this. I was visiting a small metropolis that was big enough for a tumescent growth of big box retail stores on the edge of town. The Republican party's debate was in the news. As tempting as it might be to throw mud-pies at each specific runt in the debate, it is more important to ask something more fundamental: if Democracy were so great, and if Americans were so suited for it, how could a country as large as the USA and with all its achievements and deep pool of talent, produce such a pitiful list of candidates?

Something is fundamentally wrong with our 'system.' You only think of things like that when you come in from the backcountry. But here is the hard part: try to hold onto this fresh and independent thinking as long as you can. Keep looking at the situation like you are seeing it for the first time. 

What would Washington, Jefferson, or Madison think if they were stuffed into a time machine, and watched a modern debate of presidential wannabees? In what ways have Americans changed from what we started as?

Try as you might, in a couple days you start to backslide into 'normal' thinking.

Have you ever watched the movie, "Awakenings", made in the 1990s, starring Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams? It takes place in a long term mental hospital which had a lot of people whose central nervous systems were damaged by a childhood disease. They were apparently doomed to live out their lives in a catatonic state.

But a researcher-turned-clinical practitioner came to the hospital and began experimenting with large doses of a new drug. And it worked, spectacularly! But then the patients starting slipping back into their catatonic non-existence. It was a real heart-breaker to see that happen.

It feels somewhat the same to see it happening to myself on the second or third day back in civilization. In regressing to normality, real human life decays into a template that makes little sense. But, as a consolation, you can appreciate this relapse as something Thomas Hardy would have called "a negative beauty of tragic tones."

But if Hardy is too dark for your taste, then focus on the upswing of this kind of "Awakening", and hope that it becomes more frequent or more intense.

The most cheerful attitude is to switch metaphors, and see this type of experience as one that permanently transforms an individual. Consider its similitude to Arnold Toynbee's "Withdrawal and Return", in one of his chapters of "A Study of History." (Extra credit to any reader who finds the chapter.)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Trump, Denali, and Ohio

Donald Trump is following in the recent tradition of GOP presidents and candidates. Indeed, he has already proven that he is the most qualified candidate: he thinks that re-naming a mountain in Alaska with its traditional Indian name is an insult to Ohio, despite the fact that 'Ohio' itself is derived from the Iroquois word for 'great river'. 

Perhaps we should rename the state of Ohio after a congressman from Connecticut.

The anti-intellectualism -- or rather, non-intellectualism -- of the modern GOP can be a source of merriment, but actually it is a serious issue for a later post.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Financial Turmoil As Opportunity to Crawl Out of the Information Gutter

If our consumption of information was analogous to food-diet, what diet plan would we be on? What is the informational equivalent of vegetarianism, veganism, paleo-carnivorism, or Old Roy dog chow? It is hard to see all the analogies. But one can be seen: most people are on an information-diet analogous to eating all of their food out of gas-station-convenience stores. That is, their informational junk food comes from the mainstream media, mainly television.

What a shame. The financial turmoil going on now should be an opportunity to ask fundamental questions about our banking and political systems. At the very least, the general public should learn how our system really works, not just in theory, but the brutal and unseemly realities of it. 

Who is benefiting from the basic policies?

What are the incestuous relationships between banking and political power?

How do they hide it or at least deodorize it from the general public?

Why are the losers so complacent to the winners?

Why is debt held up as the magical path to prosperity? 

How could the chairman of the Federal Reserve ever get such god-like powers in a country that sees itself as a "democracy" and a "republic"?

Could these bubbles and busts ever get so bad that the country reassesses its basic policies towards debt, banking, and political influence? Or will the crises just be used for a bigger dose of the policies that caused the problems in the first place?

From time to time I read editorials that make me think I have learned something fundamental about "our" money-and-power system.  But the editorialist never has to answer questions from the other side, so it isn't really a genuine discussion. But at least it's not the informational junk food of minute-by-minute, play-by-play, ups-and-downs in the stock market.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Complaining About Torture is Anti-American

I haven't read everything that there is to read about the Torture Report, the big news story of the day. So at the risk of making a mistake, based on pure laziness, I would still like to point out what isn't being said: everybody is ignoring the fact that the American CIA didn't practice beheading.

Beheading is shocking and barbaric. Only medieval Muslims would practice that. America is the sort of country that aims at higher ideals. We are a civilized and Christian nation. We restrict ourselves to torture.

Monday, November 24, 2014

What Keeps Bloggers Tied Down?

Surely most internet readers have learned from experience to temper their expectations about websites that are new to them. How many times have you gotten excited about a newly-found website, only to learn that your first half-dozen visits have shown everything that you are ever going to see there? Then, when the sting of disappointment sets in, you just want to grab the blogger by the throat and scream, "Come on! You can do it. Take a step upward." But they seldom do. [*]

What is stopping them? Are they just dummies? Or completely static? Maybe they are afraid of something.

Lately I have been fixating on a simile from Arnold Toynbee's abridged "A Study of History," Vol 1, Chapter IV. Maybe it will mean something to readers:
Primitive societies...may be likened to people lying torpid upon a ledge on a mountain-side, with a precipice below and a precipice above; civilizations may be likened to companions of these sleepers who have just risen to their feet and have started to climb up the face of the cliff above...

...and since the next ledge is out of sight, we do not know how high or how arduous the next pitch may be. We only know that it is impossible to halt and rest before next ledge, wherever that may lie, is reached. Thus, even if we could estimate each present climber's strength and skill and nerve, we could not judge whether any of them have any prospect of gaining the ledge above, which is the goal of their present endeavours. We can, however, be sure that some of them will never attain it. And we can observe that, for every single one now strenuously climbing, twice that number have fallen back on the ledge, defeated.

The problem with most websites is not that they are 'falling back on the ledge.' It is that they aren't climbing the cliff at all.

This non-growth is probably easy to explain for blogs that work for eyeball-income: they think they have already found their maximum audience and income, so why take chances? Any genuine opinion on any non-trivial subject is bound to offend somebody, so the blogger keeps everything light, sugary, and non-controversial. And in return, the readers give the blogger credit for being a "positive" person. (Mindlessness, triviality, and arrested growth are positive traits, apparently.)

Thus commercial bloggers are really no different than a television sitcom or soap opera trying to gain audience market share. What more is there to say about them?

Let's look at the second category, where a bit of hope is reasonable. Consider non-commercial, amateur bloggers. Why should it matter to them if some reader stops reading their blog because a new topic was tried or an opinion was offered that offended the reader? The blogger is not being paid. He can say what he wishes, and if the readers don't like it, well, then don't let the door knob...

More times than not, the blogger succumbs to the trap of measuring success and boosting his self-esteem by having lots of "readers." (And yes, even I am susceptible to this disease.) The blogger might actually think he is climbing Toynbee's ledge, in the simile above. But for him, 'climbing' means winning a few more votes from the demos, the rabble. The blogger might as well be back in 8th grade, trying to be popular with all the little blockheads in his class, so he can get elected class president. The blogger tries to ignore the unpleasant truth that most of his mighty readers are just moochers looking for a little free entertainment.

King Numbers. Quantity rather than Quality. It's an old problem that goes back to the beginning of democracy. Nobody has ever found a solution to it yet.

What a difference there is between an abstract shibboleth such as "Democracy" and the effects it has on some concrete part of life, not just blogs, but also food, movies, music, sports, or just about anything. The general democratic mindset of pleasing as many blockheads as possible is anti-growth, anti-quality, and anti-life. It is the democratic mindset that will keep the internet in the gutter.

It does motivate me to attempt reading Plato's "Republic" again. I've had trouble with it before. Maybe it was the translator.
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[*] Recently I saw a blog take a step upward. My jaw was actually dropping as I read along.  The change wasn't announced with a new format or layout. There was not any statement by the blogger that it was even happening. But it thrilled me to see it happening. I was proud of myself for identifying it. Maybe that is what caused me to wonder why more bloggers don't "step up." The blog was Mish Shedlock's "Global Economic Analysis."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Syria and Iran Should Be Very Nervous

The Republican party won a major victory last night. Big deal! They won't accomplish anything the next two years. 
  • Will they roll back the amerikan police state by repealing the so-called Patriot Act?
  • Discuss whether the USA should withdraw from NATO, now that it serves no defensive purpose?
  • Will they make it legal for amerikans to import pharmaceutical drugs, at lower price of course?
  • Do anything to slow rampant inflation in health care and college costs?
  • How about cleaning up the corruption in the banking and financial sector?
  • Will they limit the fanatical Keynesian bubble-brewing of the Federal Reserve?
  • Can they help young people look forward to good jobs or anything brighter than college debt and paying for trillions of dollars of Medicare expenses for aging Baby Boomers?
Of course not. The only thing the Republican party cares about is military spending and finding new wars in the Mideast: new places to kill Muslims or anybody who doesn't like Israel, where 1/3 of the Republican party expects to be Raptured in a couple years.

Obama has become a lame duck. There is only one way for him to regain political stature: he must enlarge the war in Syria and perhaps take on Iran. The Republicans will join him, rather than fight him. But the main reason he will do this is that whenever a president is checked by an opposition Congress, the only thing he can do to be the uncontested, mighty ruler of the Exceptional People is to wage war.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Let's Raise the Voting Age to 30

Every year I get closer to seeing Democracy as more of a dogmatic faith than a sensible system of government for grown-ups. Universal suffrage is the worst idea that any society has ever come up with.

Consider the 26th Amendment of the U.S. "Constitution." It lowered the voting age to 18. Why? It was probably aimed at redressing some unfairness during the unpopular Vietnam War debacle. People asked how the government could send 18-year-old "boys" to their deaths in soggy rice paddies, when they couldn't even vote on the war, back home.

It is easy to sympathize with that argument. But historically this amendment was obsolete by the time it was ratified, because the military establishment has shifted over to voluntary enlistment. And it seems permanent. 

Perhaps the Vietnam draft argument was only part of lowering the voting age to 18. The Media and the advertising industry focused on the huge demographic bulge of Baby Boomers becoming consumers, and after all, voting is just another example of "consuming." Perhaps both parties thought they should get out ahead of the trend, rather than be seen as retrograde opposition. Youth-worship was part of the zeitgeist of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

I'm not suggesting going back to 21 as the voting age. From a "good government" perspective, it makes more sense to raise it to 25 or 30. What is the rational and philosophical basis for any age limit? Surely it must be connected with most people's idea of being an "adult." Do you think that college students of any age are adults?  Only biologically.

Humans used to grow up faster. Adolescence was brief. A couple generations ago, an 18-year-old would have been earning a living, struggling with the rent, getting married, and having children. They were more adult at 18 than a 28-year-old graduate student is today.

A college student, no matter how old, will never be more than a senescent adolescent. We live in a society of rampaging diploma inflation, guaranteed with government loans. Adolescence now consumes 1/3 of a human lifetime, say, from the age of 10 to 30. Even at 30, many college graduates can only get a part time job at the Dollar Store or as a Starbucks barista. They live in Mommie's basement. Any sensible definition of adulthood must include a person supporting themselves and being responsible for their actions.

There seems to be no end to this trend of lengthening adolescence. At the very least, our voting age should reflect this by increasing, not by being lowered to 18.

In theory the argument I'm giving is non-partisan. But in practice the Democratic party would oppose it the most. The college-town culture that people are brainwashed with at State U is 98% left wing:

  •  the local media in college town. NPR rules the airwaves there.
  •  the old hippie hangers-on who stay in college town all their lives.
  • the PC rules on campus.
  • the biases of left-wing -- and tenured! -- professors in the liberal arts classes that Junior is forced to take the first couple years.
  • the sexual frivolousness of college "women" who are very serious about wanting abortion to, not only stay legal, but be paid for by the rest of society.
  • entire academic departments are set up to promulgate benefits to the Democratic party, such as Black Studies, Feminist Studies, Environmental "Science." Who was the wit who first said that "environmentalism is 'school prayer' for liberals?"

The left wing brainwashing that people get at the university is universal, predictable, and stereotypical. Think of all the people you know who froze their worldview at the level of a college sophomore.

Therefore diploma inflation and the lengthening of adolescence is a huge demographic win for the Democratic party. It might even be more lethal to the survival of the Republican party than Mexican immigration is. 

Perhaps the Republican party will go extinct like the Whigs and Federalists. Imagine the one-party interregnum that will ensue for a couple years before another opposition party is created: the USA will still be bombing, invading, and occupying countries around the globe, with the usual ostensible reasons such as bringing "Democracy" to them. Meanwhile, back in the good ol' US of A, they would barely need elections, since only one party still exists. Would anybody even notice the irony?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Part III, A Retro-grouch Goes Pickup Shopping

I was going to be kind and gentle in writing about the pickup truck insanity of modern America. This post was going to start off by discussing several recent trends in the motor vehicle industry that I think are quite positive: 
  • anti-lock brakes (ABS) as standard equipment across the entire fleet.
  • brake-based traction control systems as standard equipment, since 2010. This eliminates the need for mechanically complex four-wheel drive trucks for the vast majority of suburban cowboys.
  • the replacement of heavy, truck-based, gas-sucking SUVs by lighter, unibody-framed "crossovers".
  • the venerable Ford Econoline full-sized van is being replaced by a unibody-framed "Transit" van.
  • small diesels are being added to the light pickup truck line.
And then the bad luck hit. I happened to be driving around a dreadfully congested city (Durango, CO). It was impossible not to notice something weird when driving downtown, with the narrow streets and diagonal parking: full-sized pickup trucks are so long that they stick out into the street! A passing driver must take care not to ram the back end of these ridiculous vehicles. I wonder who would get blamed for the accident?

I also noticed new Toyota Tundra crew cab pickups with rear doors wider than the front doors. Oh great, that can be the latest and greatest trend towards making pickup trucks even longer! Nothing 'exceeds like excess.'

There can only be one explanation for this insanity, and it is the same explanation that is behind most of the ludicrous trends in modern times: easy credit. The financialization of society. The Federal Reserve's zero interest policy (ZIRP). The endless expansion of debt causes bloat in one sector of the economy after the other, be it 4000 square foot McMansions for retirees (who watch 16 hours of television per day), diploma and college-cost inflation, medical procedures and their costs, the military sector, and the number of government employees in general.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Twinkies Bailout Coming?

You can easily imagine president Obama taking a few days off, maybe even a vacation, after a hard-fought reelection campaign. That's not to say that the next four years don't look frightening enough; in fact, "winning" the White House in 2012 might ironically turn out to be a curse for his party, or for the other one if it had won. But still, shouldn't he be able to act like a human being and soak it up for awhile?

Alas, political life can be cruel. His post-election Era of Good Feeling is already cut short by the crisis at hand. I'm not referring to the General Petraeus scandal or the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Those are just sideshows. I'm referring to the liquidation of Hostess Brands, the makers of Ho Ho's, Ding Dongs, and Twinkies.

Although it's good to see that a crisis of this gravity is being given proper attention by the business media, nobody is yet discussing the necessity of a bailout. (Perhaps in a day or two, we'll see pro-bailout editorials by Paul Krugman and Robert Reich.) It must be quite a moral quandary to good liberals about the proper course of action. On the one hand there are thousands of union jobs at stake. But surely they wouldn't want to help the purveyors of some of America's worst junk food -- what would Mayor Bloomberg say!

The current occupant of the Oval Office must also look past the current crisis; he must look to the future of his party and to his own legacy. Micromanagement of food is the next place for a huge expansion in federal regulatory powers, assuming that carbon taxes are blocked by the Republican-led House of Representatives. After all, look at how much junk food costs "our" national health care system. Mayor Bloomberg's New York is already leading the way. And the number of government sector union jobs at stake could dwarf the few thousand jobs lost at a mere private-sector union. All progressive thinkers accept the fact that government sector unions are the Present and Future of the Democratic party. As for private sector unions, well, the days of John L. Lewis and Walter Reuther are long over.

And that's the president's challenge. It takes a true statesman and a visionary to avoid the small issues of the crisis du jour, and to march boldly into the mega-trends of the Future. Besides, even though Hostess Brands, proper, is a goner, pieces of it can be gathered up, salvaged, and repackaged in some new financial entity. Twinkies might still be sneaked in to public schools, literally in a brown paper bag, and eaten in the school lunch room -- at least if teacher or surveillance camera supervision is lax. Perhaps Bain Capital will help in the restructuring.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Why Blue Votes Blue and Red, Red

Near El Rito, NM. It was finally time to come down from the high ridges and head to town to get the usual supplies. Hunters said that the only store in town was a restaurant that was humble, but offered tasty food. Victims of Bernanke's Zero Interest Policy like me have no business "eating out" but sometimes it is irresistible in small towns. It seems like you are really "making a difference" in a place that has the weakest commercial pulse imaginable.

As it turned out, the restaurant was closed anyway. Typical. I drove through the town looking for a small grocery store, but found nothing.

Ahh but there was something else. There were huge school buildings and athletic fields; police headquarters with high tech and expensive squad cars parked outside; and a Forest Service office. It was a large, modern, air-conditioned, office building, decked out in nice office furniture and the latest computers. Outside was an astounding number of motor vehicles; not just high end SUVs, but also payloaders, bulldozers, and fire fighting trucks. The Forest Service office was so incongruous with the host town that "surreal" is the only word that does it justice.

I am guessing that anybody who experienced this would have come away thinking that "something is wrong with this picture," regardless of their political views. What I was seeing in this little burg was just an extreme case of what a traveler sees all over small town and rural America: a moribund private sector, and a huge, thriving, and ever-expanding government sector. Forget the politics -- how is such a situation sustainable economically? Don't the taxes have to come from somewhere? Like where, in an impoverished New Mexican dust hole?

I tried to imagine what my long-deceased father would think if he were driving through a nothing of a town like this. He was a good old-fashioned liberal Democrat, who looked up to FDR and Hubert Humphrey. He was also the union organizer in the teacher's union back in the 1960s when the whole idea of government employee unions was risque in a small conservative midwestern town.

But we had a reasonably prosperous private sector back then. A good liberal like my (public school teacher) father wasn't anti-business. He knew where his paycheck ultimately came from. He just thought that the government was needed to nudge the conservative businessmen and society "forward."

Well, now we are forward. And if he were driving with me through this little dusty rathole of a town with its disproportionate government sector, would he be pleased? 

Not surprisingly the pollsters are predicting that New Mexico will be a "blue" island in a sea of "red" states this election. There are actually productive sections of this state, in the east, and the northwest (Farmington). They produce natural gas and oil, the things that modern life would be impossible without. Presumably those are the counties that vote red in New Mexico.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Two Flawed Candidates

The outcome of the first presidential debate has been historically important. (Remember, I don't watch the debates themselves.) Spinmeisters are probably correct when they say this is the first time President Obama has gone in front of so many potential voters without the protective force field set up by his adoring fans in the news media.

I'm not for either candidate. The great Quotemeister of the Internet, Edward Frey, found a quote (see his 12 October 2012 post) from Business Insider pointing out that Ben Bernanke has not been mentioned yet in either debate. How careless of them! Yea right. The only solid reason for voting for Romney is that he has said he won't reappoint that narco-Keynesian clown.

But what Romney has completely failed to do is come out with both guns blazing about breaking up the Too-Big-To-Fail banks. From George Will today we have:
It is inexplicable politics and regrettable policy that Romney has, so far, flinched from a forthright endorsement of breaking up the biggest banks. This stance would be credible because of his background and would be intelligible to voters because of its clarity. As the campaign reaches what should be a satisfying culmination, they would be astonished by, and grateful for, the infusion of a fresh thought into the deluge of painfully familiar boilerplate. Having tiptoed close to where Fisher [ed., the president of the Dallas branch of the Federal Reserve] stands, Romney still has time to remember Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s axiom that, in war, all disasters can be explained by two words: “Too late.”
George Will put it mildly. What the American people really want to vote for is someone who promises to send the Too-Big-To-Fail (TBTF) CEOs to the guillotine.

Speaking of inexplicable and regrettable policy, why do Romney and the Republican Party in general think that 'All war, all the time' is a vote-winner? Do they still think this is six months after the Twin Towers fell and the American people are solidly behind any act of revenge aimed at the Muslim world? When are they going to get it through their heads that a solid majority of Americans are sick of being lied into useless wars?

Thus it would be good for the Republican party in the long term if Romney's opportunity were lost because, in the second debate, he sounded like a George W. Bush-era, neocon warmonger. Perhaps only a disaster like this would break the neocon choke-hold on the GOP once and for all.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Upcoming Foreign Policy Debate

I never watch presidential debates since they are all about personality and image in front of the TV camera. There is no substance, and when there is, it's mostly lies. So I didn't watch the recent image-fest between Romney and Obama.

But the result and post-debate spin were interesting. Spinmeisters on both sides admitted -- or at least hinted -- that President Obama has been so spoiled and pampered by the New York/DC media establishment that he was too out of shape to face a competent opponent. They couldn't bring themselves to be more candid: Obama is America's first "affirmative action" president, therefore many guilt-ridden whites think they owe it to Something to treat him with soft gloves. 

Although I have no great animosity to Obama, as I did to his predecessor, it has been gratifying watching spinmeisters deconstruct the Obama Myth. So far the best quote I've found comes from Andrew Klavan:

Even before his inauguration, Barack Obama was an imaginary man, the creation of his admirers. Think back to the 2008 Time magazine cover depicting him as FDR, the Newsweek cover of the same year on which he was shown casting Lincoln’s shadow, or the $1.4 million Nobel Peace Prize awarded to him “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”—this in 2009, less than a year after he had taken office. It was not that Obama had done nothing to deserve these outsized comparisons and honors—it was not just that he had done nothing—it was that he seemed for all the world to be a blank screen on which such hysterical fantasies could too easily be projected, a two-dimensional paper doll just waiting to be dressed in leftist dreams...
The Obama of the imagination is the media’s Obama. Out of their fascination with the color of his skin and their mindless awe at his windy teleprompted rhetoric, they constructed a man of stature and accomplishment.

But I might watch the debate that discusses foreign policy. What will Obama claim as his major success: Libya? American-trained and financed Afghan troops killing Americans? Drone attacks across the Muslim world?

But it will be more interesting to watch exactly how Romney lies. Surely his political advisors have seen all the polls the last decade. They know how unpopular these endless and useless wars are, especially with independent voters. But if he has the guts to come right out and repudiate the George W. Bush/neocon/police state legacy in order to win over some of those independents, he risks offending the Republican base in the defense industries and in hinterland Bahbll churches. 

Therefore he will have to do the great dance of Duplicity, a performing skill that any successful politician must excel at. Obama will have an easier time in this next debate: he only has to get up there and say, "Sure, I might be the serial Assassin-in-Chief of planet Earth and there will be plenty of killing at the end of four more years of my administration. But I won't be quite as bad as a Republican."

I predict that Obama wins the next image-fest.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Eric Margolis Rocks!

Every now and then I read an editorial that makes me want to jump up and cheer. I saw one such piece by Eric Margolis today, "Fury at the American Raj."

Recently Mish Shedlock made an astute comment on why Romney will lose the election: the GOP doesn't have enough appeal to independents, who hate Perma-War and the huge waste of national resources on "defense", which really means global empire of course. In fact the Republican party today stands for little else other than war against every country in the Mideast that hates Israel and has oil or other resources.

It wasn't so long ago that foreign policy was seen as a strength of the Republican party. That was obliterated by George W. Bush and his neocon advisers. Rather than repudiate this recent perversion, Romney has embraced it. 

What geniuses the Republicans are! Many Americans of all political stripes would love to see Wall Street bankers go to jail or at least get a firm smack-down. And who do the Republicans choose as their candidate: a Wall Street insider and multi-millionaire. Brilliant.

Ironically the reelection of a Democrat president might be to the advantage of the GOP long term. The world-- including the USA -- has relapsed into recession. None of the financial problems exposed in 2008 have been even partially solved; they've simply been deodorized with unprecedented reckless narco-Keynesianism. The central bankers have successfully reignited inflation in food and energy. Obama's car and truck mileage requirements, EPA mandates, Green energy cronyism, and health care requirements will be even more hated four years from now.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The College Loan Bubble Explained, Photographically

During presidential election years it is typical for the two main political parties to rent an empty store in a strip mall and use it for their local campaign headquarters. I happened to be going by the Democrat headquarters this morning, in the college town of Gunnison CO, when I saw this. 


This isn't aiming any specific accusation at the Democrats. I doubt that they were doing anything illegal, and if I knew where the Republican headquarters was, I might have seen a similar sign. 

The "college loan bubble" has been been getting a lot of attention lately, at least on the internet. Is it a "complex" issue? Or does this photograph undercut the need for, not only a thousand words, but also a thousand pages of a book about government funding and the ability to corrupt everything it touches?