Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Economic Gangbang

I no longer have any skin in this game. I have no dog in this fight. My ox isn't currently being gored, although that might happen someday. I have no selfish reason to write this article, except that my grandchildren will one day be affected by what is going on in the world today. I don't doubt that. But I have to say a few words about our government and its leadership. I'm not talking about our president and my disappointment over his lack of a get-tough attitude. I don't agree with his centrist, conciliatory approach to running an administation. I only became a Democrat just before the 2008 election, so that I could get the supreme satisfaction of voting a straight party ticket and firing every Republican in sight. They had made a complete mess of the previous eight years in office and it was definitely time for a big change. So I registered as a Democrat. Now I'm thinking of returning to my natural state as an Independent. I will never become a Republican, you can count on it.

No, what I am talking about is the lack of leadership in Congress, and how they are going to screw this country because of their behind-the-scenes commitments to all of the Big Business lobbyists in Washington. I am including Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, too. There isn't a hairbreadth's difference among the parties and what they really represent. Only in what they say to us to get elected. Once in office their fear takes over...the fear of the power behind each of their little thrones. The fear that one day every politician in his own way will have to pay back the favors they owe, and the price will be too much. It won't cost them dignity...they've long ago given that away. It won't cost them reputation...they have none to lose. It won't cost them money...they will always legislate more. No, it will cost them their souls. It may have happened already. They may already be the puppets, and Corporate America may be the puppet masters. None of us is absolutely sure about all of this yet, but we strongly suspect it's true, even as we naively hold out hope that someone will ride to the rescue and save us from ourselves. We will know one way or the other before the year 2011 is out.

Here is what I see today. We've all heard the phrase "It's the economy, stupid". Corporations are well aware of this and they don't care. They will continue shipping jobs out of the country as long as they have to pay a penny more in U.S. taxes than they do overseas. It won't stop. There is nothing to induce them to stay here. All large corporations, those that count in the economy, are multi-national. They got that way decades ago. It was just good business, wasn't it. The only individuals who count are the shareholders, and it's "what have you done for me lately?" in the shareholders' view. Employees don't count. They are just numbers...and the fewer the expensive numbers, the better. Do you want to know why the employment rate is hovering around ten percent and isn't likely to drop soon? It's not just because jobs are going out of the U.S.; it's because those jobs that have disappeared since 2007 aren't reappearing at all, ever. Most of them have been made obsolete by technology, mainly computer technology...even computer programming jobs have disappeared, never to return. There is irony for you, and please turn out the lights when you leave. This has caused a massive increase in unemployment insurance payouts, a massive increase in minimum wage service industry jobs, and a massive increase in Federal spending in general. If the Republicans in Congress think we are heading for a welfare state now, they haven't seen anything yet. This is just the beginning. The squeeze will be on to pay for it somehow. Eventually the rich will have to start paying their share of taxes, or else they will move to other countries, too...if they haven't already.

It's been said publicly that small business is the engine that creates jobs. How can this happen if Big Business and small business aren't playing on a level field? Small business owners had better wise up. The corporations who depended on you as raw material providers and as retail outlets, well, they don't care about you. You are getting replaced just like workers are, with someone overseas who can do the job cheaper. You can't provide jobs if you don't have the work. And your work is dwindling. In case you haven't noticed, big corporations lately have lots and lots of cash that they're hanging onto. They aren't re-investing it in their primary businesses. They are buying up other companies, some large, some small, and making big profits in the financial sector. They aren't producing any real goods...just paper profits. The economy is becoming virtual. The economy is the stock market. It is tax-free municipal bonds. It is trading in commodities, dollars, yuan, yen, swiss francs and Euros. It is puts and calls and options. It is credit default swaps on packaged mortgages. It is the price of sweet light crude and North Sea Brent and natural gas and heating oil. It is rolling dice in the financial markets. The economy is not real anymore, if it ever was.

And Congress has just come back from their undeserved vacation. They have a problem to wrestle with that they all know about...and we don't ever think of...it's China. Guess who's buying up most of our government paper in the form of Treasury notes...China. Guess who we buy most of our cheap imported goods from...China. The one thing that will keep Congress from doing the right thing concerning the deficit is the real national debt. As long as China keeps believing we will one day pay them back, they will keep financing our debt. And that is why our Congress has not been in a panic to solve the federal debt problem. Our senators and representatives are hooked on China's financing like it's crack cocaine. That way they won't have to do anything that might be construed as their fault. And China doesn't dare call in the debt. This would cause an international economic disaster which we have only begun to picture in our nightmares. We just think our recession is bad right now. If China demanded payment, the US Dollar as an international currency would immediately collapse. Everybody else who held American dollars, and this is everybody, would suddenly be broke. So the Chinese are not lunatics. They are playing this very close to the vest. They would like to see the yuan be the most favored currency, but it takes patience on their part. And they are very good at being patient.

We, however, are idiots. We consume, then overconsume, then spend money we don't have, then go into debt for things we don't even own anymore, because we lack the slightest modicum of financial discipline. If our country collapses it will be from within, and we will deserve it. All of us had better take a crash course in tightening the financial belt, because this recession is going to get worse before it gets better. By the way, in spite of all the trash talk about how the recession is over now, it isn't. We are only hearing from Wall Street with that kind of rhetoric. Main Street has a different take on the economy. Many people have lost jobs and have been permanently displaced right out of the job market, and now they need training for new occupations which have never existed before. This is a major side effect of progress that does not get debated nearly enough. And it will take several years before the economy gets better...maybe a decade. In the meantime, part of an entire generation will be set back due to bad wages, lack of training, and no preparation. We can blame the government all we want. They are certainly the most noticeable part of the problem, and they are involved up to their eyebrows. But so are we as consumers and citizens.

I know that half of everyone who might read what I'm writing won't know the recent history of us, so here is the short version:

Since the end of World War II, we have been busy building and creating in the private sector just as fast as we can. We have assumed that there is no end in sight of raw materials, financial resources, or the willingness to get them no matter what the cost. We have become junkie materialistic consumers, because we want our children to have everything we didn't have as children, to make their lives better than ours have been so far. Why? Is this really necessary to their pursuit of happiness? Or is it for our own infantile wish fulfillment? Apparently it doesn't matter. The advertising industry has picked up on this big time. They seduce us into buying everything. They talk, wheedle, cajole, prod, and nag us into purchasing useless crap that we would not buy if left to our own decisions. We have been brainwashed so much that we brainwash each other. We use peer pressure to make others feel guilty about not possessing some artifact of overproduction, so that we don't feel guilty about buying it in the first place. Misery doesn't love company, but it needs it like an alcoholic needs a drink. We go into huge debt even though in the back of our minds we suspect we can't afford it, but we still hope that things will just work out for us somehow. And besides, we want this big house, or that overpriced car because, well, we deserve it.

As a society we are terrible planners and bad at rational thinking. We always want help, but we could do it ourselves if we made the effort. We won't. It's irresponsible and it's a national epidemic. You say we should do our part as good consumers and support the economy. I'm not buying it. When ten percent of the work force is recognized as out of work, and possibly many more have given up looking for work and aren't recognized, we can't afford to act in the same old ways. How many financial disasters does it take for us to wake up and smell the house is on fire even though it's underwater? We are doing it to ourselves and it has to stop before it gets worse, maybe terminal, for our country. If it ever really hits the fan, do you want to be a refugee on the way to some other country? How do you think they would receive any of us? I doubt it would be with open arms. We've screwed over so many other countries so badly that no one would care about us or our problems. They would say we had it coming. And they would be right.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nothing New Under The Sun...

Well, I've heard it all now...you've got to be fucking kidding me...I'm mean, really. It seems that there are conservative voters out there who are disputing Barack Obama's place of birth. They are known as "Birthers" and they allege that the president was not born in the U.S., presumably because he has a foreign-sounding name, and again presumably because "he don't look like us'n." Even more incredible is the fact that these people have some backing in Congress, at least on the face of it...and none of those Congress people want to talk about it, while they are being hounded by reporters. I suspect it's that these politicians just CAN'T piss off ANY constituents no matter how wacky their voters' viewpoint is...it's just not in their genetic makeup to tell a voter, "well no, you're wrong. He has a birth certificate to prove that he was born in Honolulu, Hawai'i ." These politicians don't have the balls (or in some cases, the ovaries) to say these words.

And this kind of muckraking is not new with the Republican party. They did it most recently in Clinton's administrations. Granted, old Bill gave us all enough sexual fodder for a thousand porn websites and a million jokes, but the GOP was not able to come up with any evidence of any malfeasance of his office...unlike a previous notorious Mr. R. M. Nixon. And Newt Gingrich was on the verge of stroke and heart attack every single day he was in office, trying to come up with something, anything, to torch the Democrats with...and he couldn't do it. It was ironic that he was later found out to be an adulterer, a philanderer, and a liar, but of course he was lily-white, wasn't he?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Perid of Adjustment vs. Rude Awakening

Okay, now the buzz on the street is that we're going to take a permanent hit on standard of living. Ok. Yeah. First we spend too much, then we borrow too much, and then we keep on spending and borrowing...this has been going on for as long as I've been alive (shut up!). But I've always had this little nagging suspicion that the situation can't last forever. There are no more worlds to conquer on this planet...there is no more wild Frontier...there is no more Westward expansion and no more "manifest destiny". We're done.
Right alongside of that is...THERE IS NO MORE EVER-EXPANDING ECONOMY. We live on a finite planet with finite resources...everything we need/want is right here. It can't be used up and thrown away...because there is no more. Once it is used up and thrown away...it's gone. UNLESS, we re-cycle. And even if we re-cycle, we use up resources...just different ones from the original older cycles. It changes at each iteration. Eventually, we reach a point of diminishing returns where even re-cycling isn't sufficient anymore. When that happens we have to CHANGE OUR PARADIGM. This means we have to discard outmoded ideas...ideas that don't work anymore in the face of the current reality.
If we want to survive as a species, we have to stop fucking with each other. Politics will have to change. Personal conduct will have to change. We have to stop using and abusing, drugs, alcohol, ourselves, each other. Somewhere out here is a psychiatrist putting a gun to his head because he can't take it anymore. He has failed and he knows it. Somewhere out here is a politician who is too stupid, greedy, and selfish to do the same. He, apparently, needs a little help.
When I said we have to stop fucking with each other, I also meant it literally. At least until we get everybody all the birth control help they can possibly use. Again, it has to do with using up our finite resources. Too many people spoil the broth. But if we don't want to listen, just wait a while. Plagues and famine will take care of the problem...Gaiea always resets herself when things get out of balance. Mostly to the detriment of all the current species...so, no worries, mate. Order will be restored. All will be right with the universe once again. We just won't be around.

Not if we don't change our ways.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I Can't Believe We Ate the Whole Thing

There are plenty of Republicans out there, including now former Congressional leaders, who appear to be totally mystified as to why their agenda not only didn’t carry the day, but got unceremoniously blown out of the water. They really, really believe with all their heart that the conservative philosophy is absolutely the only way to view the totality of life. They will fervently preach it to all of the poor misbegotten souls who simply aren’t up to standard yet. But with a little right-minded education and a pat on the butt, the miscreants will have the scales fall from their eyes and, for the first time in their hitherto wretched lives, see the error of their ways. Weeping tears of joy, they will fall on their knees clutching to their breasts the hallowed flag of the Grand Old Party, thanking God and Jesus for saving them from the sins of the liberals.

It is totally beyond these people’s imaginations to consider alternatives to right-wing thought. It pervades their whole lives. It does not occur to them that other more centrist-minded or even left-leaning individuals might have an answer or two for some of our governmental and social problems. Their way of thinking is straightforward, shallow, simplistic, and dumb. Life is complicated. They are not.

By the way, while I’m thinking about it, I have voted in EVERY election since I was nineteen years old. I have always been an Independent, choosing to vote the issue, not the person or the party, considering what was best for the city, county, state, or country as a whole. Na├»ve, huh. Now that I’m a lot older and a lot saltier, I have no such pretenses.

Two years ago, for the first time in my life, I voted a straight party ticket. I tried my best to fire all the Republicans. I voted for all the Democrats and to hell with everything else, thank you. For me that was very extreme, politically speaking. It had been a long time coming and well deserved of the GOP. Now, just before this Presidential election, and also for the first time in my life, I registered as a Democrat. Then I voted a liberal plank, just as I had two years earlier. I am now part of a political machine...scary, isn’t it? I haven’t lost my identity, though. I’ve just added a new one and it feels good. Who knows? I might change my mind again someday.

There’s no question that I’m rolling the dice, right along with a majority of Americans who want “change”. Good luck to us all. I just don’t see how it could get any more screwed up than it has been the last eight years. Greed, corruption, and scandal have been the norm. The current administration from Bush on down has deliberately ignored the pulse of the nation, refusing to listen to anyone but their insulated right-wing advisors, the good old boys who have made their pile and continue to rake off their ill-gotten profits at our expense. Their corporate cronies have been calling the shots and reaping the benefits, while we stare in disbelief at their excesses. Some of them should follow the example of Kenneth Lay…all the way.

There are some things Obama can and should do right away when he takes office:

1) Put people to work on the country’s infrastructure…rebuilding bridges, replacing railroad tracks, and resurfacing roads…physically fixing things so they last longer…and the U.S. government SHOULD pay for it.

2) Find a way to give people the healthcare they require and deserve…not depend on the “free market” concept…It’s not free and there is no market…it’s just what insurance companies can get away with charging the client/patient/consumer/hostage…believe me, I know. I’m dealing with the problem of finding health insurance right now. If you don’t negotiate, if you don’t insist on your rights, you are screwed. You will pay dearly. Hospitals, drug companies, and doctors are complicit in this healthcare mess. From each patient they encounter, every one of them is trying to recapture dollar one of their overhead, research and development, or education and training.

3) Initiate an Energy policy. Make it a long-term goal to eliminate oil as our primary fuel. Make it a shorter-term goal to stop importing foreign oil. Start thinking “Green”, really. Put incentive and seed money into wind, electric, hydrogen, and while I think of it, a high gas-mileage carburetor and/or fuel injector. Come on, oil companies, it’s out there. You know it. I know it…yes we can, and yes we should.

4) Initiate an Infrastructure policy. Aside from putting people to work, we need to take care of the systems that make our economy run: airlines, trucking, communications, highways, and railroads. If necessary, nationalize some of them. Whatever it takes to make everything run smoother, better, faster, on time, and more effectively.

Now you might be thinking, oh my god, he’s preaching socialism! What is he, a freaking commie?!...Get over it. Life is not all about capitalism. It’s not even all about democracy. Just ask anyone who has ever been in the military. Life IS a big balancing act between me and you (what we want) and the rest of the world (what they want). The best compromise that can be had is when everybody gets at least something of what they want, but nobody is entirely happy with it. What has been happening is that corporate concerns have totally overridden public concerns. I really don’t have to say that, do I? The above list is by no means exhaustive. Add your own items.

While I’m thinking of it, the last official direct democracy was Athens, Greece, a few thousand years ago. It was a small enough city-state to accommodate a relatively quick tally of votes and seemed to work until being overrun by Spartans and, later, Romans. Now fast forward to our newly formed republic. That’s right, it was called a republic even then…a representative republic, at that. Because the new country was so big, and transportation and communication so painfully slow, it made sense to elect people as representatives and have them carry the wishes of their constituents to a common center (let’s call it Washington City), where the merits of their wishes could be argued and voted on. It seems that the first representatives were also the first lobbyists. Scary thought.

Deja Vu All Over Again

I suppose it had been too long since I first got on my soap box about government politics. Some people tired of it. They had it good; things were going well; why disturb the process? Apparently I was harping on an old saw of social responsibility that many felt was unnecessary, redundant, and, well, expensive as hell.

Now, the buzzards have come home to roost. It’s high time we paid for our economic excesses. All the bills have come due and we’re broke. What did you think was going to happen?

It didn’t take long to realize where we were going when George Bush Sr. was in office. He was off performing dazzling feats of foreign policy when our economy got into trouble. There were many of us working stiffs out in the real world who saw sales drop in every business sector across the board, saw the auto industry get into real trouble due to arrogance and inflexibility, saw many of our jobs threatened and then disappear altogether. In a collective voice we were telling him, “Uh, George, we’re in trouble and need a little help here.” But old George wasn’t listening and we fired him at the next election…so much for a lame-duck one-term president.

Eventually the economy righted itself and after the first year Clinton was in office, it was going gangbusters. As far as I was concerned, his charisma and charm really helped, even if his personal conduct was highly suspect (and by the way, who the hell really cared except Newt Gingrich? Everyday I thought his head was going to explode). At the same time, we had some real problems, which Bill and Hillary tried to address. Their health initiative was totally shot down by the Republican Congress who said “Let the free market determine who gets health insurance and how much it costs.” Not the message we wanted to hear, but what the hell could we do about it at the time?

True to their philosophy, the Republicans didn’t want to spend government money on social welfare, but were more than willing to part with billions propping up corporate interests…after all that’s what made the economy go around. But Republicans are, in my view, genetically short-sighted, bound as they are to feverish concern about the next quarterly profit, and to hell with the future down the road. They’re ecstatic about deficit spending because their mantra is “See? No new taxes!” and this technically qualifies…no matter that the entire country’s future gets mortgaged up the ass.

Not that Democrats don’t have their own problems. It’s just the opposite with them. You can count on new taxes during a Democratic administration. That’s a promise. But at least my tax money is generally going somewhere closer to home…somewhere I have a chance of agreeing with. The caveat with Democrats is, once they start spending tax money on a new social program, the program never ends. You can count on it. (See Social Security, which I currently thank heaven for.)

The election has come and gone. The American people have spoken…for “change”. I’m not sure what this means, except to say that, every time one of the political parties gets voted out it’s because the American people want “change”. Well, we’ve got it now, for better or for worse. Some of it we’re going to love, some of it we’re going to hate. We’re going to be ecstatic and joyful, whining and crying, often all at the same time. Stay tuned, but be prepared, and wear your armored underwear.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Everything Is Beautiful, In Its Own Waste

Quiet please. Let me think. This is my first blog ever, so be gentle. If you're not, I'm coming over there and then you'll be sorry. You're going to eventually notice anyway, so I may as well tell you ...I use a lot of lines from movies, TV, songs, other media events...and if it's obscure enough that I can get away with it, I won't give credit...who the hell am I kidding, I might not give credit anyway. And, let's see, oh yeah, the ellipsis (...), I use lots of them...you know, dramatic pause and all that. Just like William...Shatner!

And I write as though I'm working on the dialog of a movie script, but without the "She said:", "He said:" attributions. I never read "The Elements Of Style" for writing, but I know what works for me. I proofread my work but occasionally something will slip by. I am an absolute stickler on the proper use of American English, but even I will use colloquial forms and idioms when it seems appropriate. And if you are a little light on proper spelling, you'd better use a spell check program before you send out your email...that makes me crazy! There is really no excuse for improper spelling...on a computer...using Word...with spell checking. Got it?

First a word of introduction..again, as you will soon discover, I'm a cranky bastard, and don't care who knows it. I don't suffer fools gladly, so if you want to email me, take care with your wording. I will try to do the same. We can actually have a lot of fun, you and I, if we approach things with the right attitude...you know...sarcasm, facetiousness, brutal truth, making fun of stupidity, taking advantage of helpless third parties not present, things like that. Oh, and gossip, too. That's always fun, especially if there's not a word of truth to the rumor. Lighthearted and heavy-handed, that's the motto!

Let's see, what else? Well, one of my favorite song writers is Randy Newman, and my personal patron saint of comedy is Lewis Black. I'll mention other favorites as I think of them now and then. My basic purpose for this blog is to just vent whenever I need to. And over the last eight years I've needed to, believe me. So this is perfect. I will occasionally spew forth a string of obscenities in this blog, but not gratuitously, and always appropriate within context.

So, there you are...another blog dog, barking for attention, but it's ok. I'll talk more about me later, and then unleash some Word documents I have stored away just for these occasions.

But tomorrow's gonna be another workin' day, and I've got to get my rest, that's all I'm just trying to get some rest...