Mr. Potter Has Won?

My perennial Christmas Missive, returns after a 4 year (can your believe it) hiatus. And who would have thought 5 years after the Great Meltdown produced the Great Recession, , 5 years into the age of Obama and a purported move away from supply-side economics pretty much nothing has changed to reign in the very things – excessive income inequality, unfettered financial speculation and moral hazard policies that reward the affluent investor over the struggling worker—that drove us to the brink Great Depression II, setting us up nicely for another round of financial mayhem within the decade.  Meanwhile 5 years into a recovery plan that has produced recovery for the richest  10% of the population who now take in more than half of all income (up by over 50%) and even more so the top 1% who raked in  over 90% of the gains from the recovery, middle class and working families are enduring stagnant or declining incomes that haven’t seen significant real increases since the dawn of 1980s supply side economics.    I was apparently naively optimistic when I wrote: Perhaps by Obama Christmas II the tides may turn. For now, let us at least raise a voice of prayer and a glass of cheer to the fact the Potters aren’t adding as much to their winning totals as they used to.Who knew Morning In America actually meant a sunset for  middle class expansion and an American Dream  deferred.. And yes, Virginia, income inequality DOES matter as any Feudal peasant or lord could have told you and as a brief glance at a map of global income inequality also tells you.  Excessive income inequality produces and exacerbates  poverty and  authoritarianism.  Period.  But at least there is hope in the coming year, what with that Marxist in The White House (as we always knew, thank you Fox News) and one now in the Vatican (thank you Rush Limbaugh for that bit of analysis), that national and global attention and conversation may actually turn to a meaningful discussion of inequality and—beyond the social justice issues and even bad for capitalism issues (true capitalism being antithetical to monopolies of power and wealth) the anti-democratic tendencies it fosters.  Until then,  let us hope that the Mister Potters haven’t won – for once they do it won’t be the same America we were born in.  Merry Christmas and best hopes for the future.  CL


I watched the perennial holiday chestnut, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the other day. There was George Bailey, as he is every year, struggling to keep the old Savings and Loan afloat. There was the malicious Mr. Potter, a truly covetous old sinner, trying to put Bailey out of business.  There was Clarence the angel showing, once again, that our world is a better place for the George Bailey’s amongst us.  It’s too bad that in today’s world the Potters are beating the Baileys, hands down.

Old man Potter dismissed the Bailey Savings and Loan as a kind of privatized social welfare program for dumb poor workers who couldn’t cut it on their own. “And what does that  get us,” he asked?  “A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class.  And all because a few starry eyed dreamers stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas? Don’t the  Rush Limbaughs or Tom Delays say the same thing today?

Labor laws, social welfare, retirement benefits, guaranteed healthcare, workplace safety laws, consumer protection–all are dismissed by our modern Potters as so much misplaced sympathy offered to the undeserving by the foolishly starry eyed, thinking that is at best naïve and at worst dangerous.  Any mention of social welfare on AM radio is now associated with Bolshevik Socialism – want to give workers a guaranteed living wage or put any limits at all on the worst excesses of the market and you’re labeled as an advocate of Gulags and death camps.

George, of course, argued back.  “Just remember this, Mr. Potter,” he retorted, “that this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community.  Well is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”  Today he could add: is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die with decent healthcare, affordable housing, quality education for their kids and the sure knowledge that when old age comes, there will be some comforts to look forward to?

We don’t have that many George Bailey’s today. Few stand up to our Potters when they tell us workers can’t expect job security, no one is entitled to healthcare and decent pay is whatever the most desperate amongst us is willing to work for.  Even the Democrats, the party of dreams for the working stiff, have fallen in line with the rhetoric of balanced budgets and smaller government (except, of course, if deficits are required to provide tax cuts to the richest Americans) even if the cost are reduced programs to help the disadvantaged.

Can’t anyone makes the simple point George made that helping the least amongst us is not simple altruism, it is Capitalist self interest at it’s best? “Your all business men here,” he reminded the S&L board members thinking of supporting Potter, “don’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers?”  Heck, wasn’t it that old socialist Henry Ford’s idea to raise worker pay, not because it was the moral thing to do but because it made them better participants in the Capitalist market place?   Like Old Man Potter, much of American corporate business has become warped and frustrated by ruthless competition and now sees its workers only as cattle to be milked for as long as possible before being sent to the layoff slaughterhouse.

Frank Capra understood that the Potters amongst us seldom lose, though the more public-minded like old George could, on occasion, battle them to a draw. Notice that, while George Bailey ultimately survived his battle with Potter, the old man survived unscathed too, his own crime of theft of the Bailey’s deposits unpunished. There have always been the Potters amongst us, those who pursue personal gain at any cost, be they a grasping banker like fictitious  Potter or the greedy executives of a massive corporations like Enron or WorldCom. What’s regrettable is that there are fewer and fewer George Bailey’s speaking up for the little guy.

In the real world the Bailey S&L would have been bought out by the 1980s by PotterCorp, a huge transnational Financial Services leviathan. A PotterCorp holding company would have bought out Bedford Fall’s chief industry, the plastic’s factory old Hee-Haw Sam Wainwright had built at George’s urging and shipped the jobs to Third World sweatshops. Downtown Bedford Falls would now be a ghost town with shops shuttered by a massive PotterMart selling cheap slave-labor produced products to the town’s poorly paid service employees.   Yes, least be there any doubt, in the world of today Mister Potter would have won.  And, least there be any doubt, Mr. Potter voted Republican.


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Papers Please

Well, fellow San Diegans,  Memorial Day 2010 has come and gone and with it has begun the event that defines a California endless summer like no other: the Annual Invasion of the Zonies.

They’re Heeeeere……

You San Diegans know the drill.  Sometime around Easter all those Zonies who moved from Duluth to Phoenix in January saying, “My how wonderfully temperate it is here during the winter!” begin to remember that, come summer, the surface temperature of Arizona approximates that of Venus.  (I swear I’ve seen a Saab melt into a puddle of Swedish goo on a Scottsdale street in August.) So the migrant retired workers spend the next two months lubing and tuning their Winnebagos  and lining up on the  border at Yuma.  Then, on Memorial Day,  the Governor of Arizona a fires a gun (of course with all of Arizona’s open carry laws there’s no real need to wait until Memorial Day but tradition is tradition) and the invasion  of the Zonies begins.

And pacific life  as we Southern Californians know it ends until Labor Day.  Some years Thanksgiving.

There they are, the Zonies, parking their RVs down at Mission Bay across the heads-in  spaces,  taking up twenty spots each , setting up awnings and habachis and laying claim for the summer because they’re retired anyway.  As a result the closest any San Diegan will get to park to Mission Bay is La Mesa.

There they are, the Zonies, driving four vintage RVs side by side down the I-15 at precisely fifty-two miles per hour, causing twenty-mile traffic jams.  I think Zonieland has a contest every year to see which Zonie can cause the biggest backup on a San Diego freeway.  The winner gets free cortisone shots for a year.  That’s why Zonie RVs have those cameras on the back: to count the number of cars stacked up behind them.  And have you ever passed a Zonie RV?  It’s terrifying. All you ever see is a tuft of white hair atop a captain’s chair and two, liver-spotted hands on the steering wheel.

There they are, the Zonies,  hogging the Zoo and SeaWorld,  taking four hours to figure out how to take a picture of the Pandas with that new digital camera the grandkids gave them while little San Diegan children are left in line to cry.  There they are, the Zonies, taking up all the prime three to five PM dinner reservations in town, so our only choice for an afternoon tête-à-tête is Mickey D’s.

Well I, for one, am tired of these aliens in sneakers and oversized sunhats invading my homeland.  They have diseases, you know, those Zonies do, all full of catchy stuff like rheumatism, cataracts and incontinence.  They cause a ton of crime, too.    I have it on good authority that, every summer there’s a spike in shoplifting of stuff like Depends and Prep H at the Walgreens.  And they’re shiftless and lazy.  You never see a  Zonie work; they just get fat off  fat government social welfare checks.

Well, I don’t know about you but I’ve had it.  Absolutely had it.  Zonies are the enemy amidst.  It is time to act.  I suggest we go over to that national guard armory by Mesa College—the place the guy borrowed the tank—and “borrow” a few rocket-powered grenade launchers.   Then, come next Memorial Day, we hide in the Yucca plants along the I-8 across the bridge from Yuma.  First three Zonie RVs come across the state line—Kaboom! We blow ‘em right off their chassis.  The other Zonies see the smoking hulks, they’ll turn around and go invade New Mexico and make life miserable for the folk in Taos.

Let the battle cry be raised across the land! Death to Zonies! Death to Zonies! Death to…..oh, right.  Never mind.

Darn you, 14th Amendment.  Turns out those Zonies have rights.  Rights as people, mind you, not rights citizens of the Great State of California or even as citizens these United States.  Zonies have rights to life, liberty and property just because they’re people.  (And, yes, under those WalMart crew shirts and WalMart underwear Zonies are people.  Shriveled, incredibly blanched people.)

So, my fellow San Diegans,  looks like there’ll be no RPGs for us next Memorial Day.  We’ll just have to suck it up and tolerate those nefarious Zonies as they come here and spend money on full admissions to local attractions (that’s ok; we’ll just get Fun Passes and go see the fish in October), and at restaurants and hotels (darn them and all those local summer jobs they create).  I know it’s Zonie money but, hey, money’s money.

But can’t we at least discourage the onslaught a little bit?  Hey, how about whenever a local member of law enforcement—or waiters and waitresses—stop someone in the normal course of their duties they ask “suspicious” looking people—AKA Zonies—for their papers?  You know, see if they have valid permits to be a Zonie outside of Zonieland.  And if they don’t?  Whammo.  They’re sent packing back to one hundred-thirty Fahrenheit quicker than you can say “Undocumented Old Person.”

Of course we don’t want to “profile” people.  We can’t stop them just because they look different than Us.  But there are subtle ways you can tell who those Zonies are.  I mean, just look at their shoes.  Look at the way they talk.  You find me a blue haired old person in a pair of sandals with socks speaking about whitefish in an upper-Minnesotan accent and, badda-bing, it’s “Papers, please” time.

And for those Zonies originally from Wisconsin: “Papiere bitte.”

After all, if you just make things hard enough on ‘em they’ll get the message and leave…..

California Budget Deficit? What California Budget Deficit?

The Gubernator announced his last May Revise  this past Friday.  It was greeted with the usual rending of garments and gnashing of teeth now a customary part of the California budget blowout.   To close an almost $20 billion deficit His Arnoldness is now proposing freezes on local education, more slashing of government workers’ numbers and pay and huge cuts in social welfare and state medical care, including the complete termination of Calworks. Take that , you million mooching kids living off of state handouts.

But what are you going to do when the state is running almost 25% in the red?

And Our Last Action-Hero Governor can’t even depend on a last minute uber-dramatic rescue from Obi Wan Obama.  Washington’s response to  the Governor’s January request for $7 billion in reimbursements for Federal programs?  Drop dead.  Washington’s likely response to his new $3.4 billion beg?  Ditto.

Our Term(Limited)inator in Chief shouldn’t be  asking for a paltry $3.4 billion, anyway.  If the Feds have the audacity to insult the Golden State with such brass tribute he should throw it back in their faces.

No, what  one of the most successful businessmen in Hollywood History should demand is $70 billion.  That’s BILLION, with a big “B”. $70 billion is how much more California pays the Feds then the Feds give back in services and spending.

Californians get back about 78¢ for every dollar collected here by the Feds That means for the $313 billion  per year Californians pay the Federal government the Feds put back around $224 billion  in services and payments.  Which leaves California with that magic $70 billion deficit vis-à-vis  D.C.

Rather than running a $20 billion dollar budget deficit  in terms of revenues and spending  California actually has a $50 billion surplus. That is, if the Golden State got to keep all the gold it ships off to Washington.  Who then ships it off Red States like Mississippi, Alabama and all the others who get more back than they put in to the Federal slot machine.

I heard a commentator on the Dennis Prager show today compare Germany bailing out Greece to Texas bailing out  California .  Sorry but that’s the wrong comparison.  Texas gets back 94$ per dollar it sends.  Alaska gets back  a whopping $1.84.

So it’s Germany is to Greece as California is to Alaska, SAT fans.

Note to Feds: pay us our $70 billion, please.  We’ll take it in gold, if possible.

Note to Sarah Palin:  Shuttup already.  Your state takes more federal money per dollar sent than any other and you have the nerve to cry at your own Tea Party?  How about  you send us Californians—Real Americans who pay a lot more in shouldering the burden of being Americans than you and your mooching Alaskans—the $3.6 billion more you get back from that hated American government than you send in?

Consider it a down payment on monies owed California by a grateful nation.

Happy Mothers Day, American Moms!

Once again it is time for us, individually and as a society, to pay honor to the 82.5 million women out there who have done their biological part to part to perpetuate the species (and, particularly, the American portion of said species.)  Mothers around the country will be awakened Sunday morning to breakfast in bed, taken out to sumptuous buffets, received heartfelt cards and be showered with lavish presents.

(That the breakfast will most likely be burned and spilled, the buffet overcrowded and out of shrimp, the card the result of at least 30 intense seconds spent perusing the best schmaltz the Hallmark people could mass produce and the presents handmade by seven year olds with limited manual dexterity, of course, only makes the day all the more personal and sweet.)

Yes, we Americans really know how to show old Mom (note: mom’s do not like to be called old)  just how much we really, truly and deeply care about them.  That’s why America  ranks (big foam finger ready, patriots?) 42nd in maternal mortality rates! Thanks to our concerted effort we have fewer moms dying to become moms than in 130 other countries!   (So what if American moms have a 10 times greater risk of dying than Irish moms do?  DO the Irish take their mom’s to Home Town Buffet?  So there.)

Who cares if the latest Save The Children survey found that the US comes in 28th in the list of best countries to be a mother in, behind the likes of former Eastern European Communist states Latvia and Slovenia ?  Do the Slovenian kids give their moms T-shirts with family pictures on them?

And so what if the United States is one of the only countries in the world (along with Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea plus the Aussies and the Kiwis) that doesn’t provide guaranteed paid maternity leave to new mothers?  It’s not all of our responsibilities to pay goldbricking women for being careless or foolish enough to get pregnant and produce the next generation, after all.  Yeah, the Swedes may give their moms up to 450 paid maternity days but do they give them Hallmark cards with cute kittens on them?  Written in English?  I think not.

Yes, moms, we love you so much it hurts. Of course, the hurt is yours, not ours. Yours and your babies.  We seem to let a lot of them die, too.

They say you put your money where you’re mouth. Well, there  is no day of the year that allows us as a nation to more clearly declare just how we feel than on Mothers Day.   So take the $126.90 we’ll spend on average on you moms out there  in lieu of universal pre and postnatal care and guaranteed paid maternity leave. Take it  with a mother’s smile.  Then get back to work Monday  because your not being paid to have kids, you know.  Oh, and next time you do have a kid, American moms, try not to die doing it. Okay?

You’re making the rest of us look bad.

In Nobody We Trust

This week’s Pew Research poll showing public satisfaction and trust with government are at all time lows should come as no surprise to anyone.   The American People’s  trust in their  government has been declining since JFK was blown away in Dallas .  As the chart above shows, one assassination, Vietnam War,  Nixon Watergate Scandal and a decade of 1970s Stagflation later public trust had plummeted from  near eighty percent  to the low twenties. Reagan restored some degree of trust, Bush I lost it, Clinton restored some then Bush II lost it.  (Note to Americans: Next time a guy named “Bush” is on the ballot, vote the other way.)

Two things have been driving this trust-deficit:  recurring  business cycles and increasing middle class anxiety.  While the public vents its frustration with the vagaries of their standard of living on Congress and government in genra, the   real  problems confronting America’s faith in its government (and, therefore itself) are far more systemic.  Which means, whatever the November midterm elections is going to have precious little impact on American’s trust in their government, no matter the outcome.

Look at the trust poll above.  Now look at the graph below with the  last 30 years with a rough overlay of economic recessions.

Trust in government always plummets with an economic downturn, as during the recessions of the early 1970s,  late 70s & early 80s, early 90s and today.  Then,  as recovery sets in, trust goes back up.  The Reagan boom saw trust go back up to a ten year high; the Clinton boom sent it even higher.  Americans seem to see the world through the narrow prism of their own pocketbooks.  (And, yes,  we ARE that simple and shallow.)  So, when times are good we trust government.  When they’re not we want to burn it to the ground.

The only other thing that spikes and depresses trust are major foreign policy events such as the 1st Gulf War and 9/11 (spike up) and the protracted Vietnam and Iraqi wars (trust down.)  How many congressmen are or are not reelected really has no impact on any of this.   Barring a major attack on America any time soon, the only thing that will bring a sustained return to trust will be economic recovery.

The second factor in all of this is the simple fact that, since the late 1960s, getting and staying in the broad middle class has become a progressively more tenuous proposition for an increasing number of people.  The pillars of the middle class have been growing incomes, secure home ownership, access to affordable healthcare and education and the promise of retirement.  All of these have come under growing pressure for the last generation.  This has made the middle class antsy.  Antsy people trust less.

Between the Second World War and the early 1970s the standard of living doubled in a generation.  It now takes 3 generations to replicate the gain.  Most Americans are living much better than in 1960or 1970–but it’s taking longer to see the gains of children over their parents.  Political Scientists call this “relative expectation,” the problem of people expecting improvement faster than government can provide it.  This leads, again, to middle class antsiness—like blue-collar support for George Wallace’s rebellion against “big government liberals.” (Read “government helping the poor and people of color and not blue collar whites who were starting to lose jobs not to affirmative action but to globalization.  Those textile jobs disappearing in the Southern US weren’t going to Watts or Harlem, they were going to Japan and Hong Kong.  Now they’re going to Vietnam and Bangladesh, exportation of low-end Chinese goods being SO early 21st century now.)

During really harsh economic times (like the Great Depression) relative expectation turns into “relative deprivation”—where the middle class, now desperate as it sees itself sliding back towards poverty, wants to find enemies to blame (and supports more radical political movements—aka fascist—that promise to restore the power of the Volk by making government more socially intrusive,  powerful—and authoritarian.) Thus the rise of the Fascists in the 1920s & 1930s.  We haven’t seen economies as bad as the 1930s in western democracies.  With each recession, though, more reactionary political movements form (e.g. the Wallace reaction to civil rights, the Militia movement reaction in the 1990s and even, one dare say, the Zonian reaction of this week, essentially criminalizing  being Hispanic while in the Grand Canyon State).

For most American households the Great Recession is far from over.  Even when it is in two or three years, most American households will probably find their buying power no greater than it was in 2007 which, adjusted for inflation, is not a whole lot better than it was in 1997 or even 1987.  Only this time Americans will not have an easy-credit gravy train to hitch on (those mortgages and credit cards becoming more elusive for the masses) which, in the long run, is a good thing. In the short run it’s going to hurt like hell.  And that means a prolonged visit by two really annoying relatives – Aunt Expectation and Uncle Deprivation.

So, for all of those who are hoping that a “Throw the Bums” out movement come November will make everything in America right as rain, lot’s of luck with that.  First, the bums rush ain’t gonna happen.  Congressional reelection rates have been averaging 90%-94% plus for several decades.  Even the 1994 Republican Revolution resulted in an incumbent defeat rate of less than 10%.  If, on the off chance, this November produces a changeover in the 10%-20% range (at the extreme – that’s 80 seats) it will hardly constitute a thorough housecleaning.

Second, even if we started over with a 100% new Congress (and imagine the fun with all those newbies on Capitol Hill—the lobbyists will think they’ve died and gone to paradise and their 77 legislative virgins) trust in government will not, Q.E.D., return.   Until the economy goes back up (meaning unemployment goes down and household economic security as measured by buying power and  mortgage viability goes up) trust stays low.  And until the middle class economic miracle of the 1940s-1950s get’s replicated again, trust never returns to the glory days of yesteryear.

Meanwhile, for those Progressives and Liberals hoping that things will tilt their way once the unpleasantness of the 2010 midterm is behind them, lot’s of luck with that, too.  The economic downturns of the 1970s & 1980s turned America from a center-left New Deal society to a Center-Right Reagan Revolution land.  Baring a quick turn around in the economy—or, worse, a further downturn—America becomes a plain old right society.   Which should give the GOP another grand decade or two of prominence before shifting demographics undercuts it.

Most pundits have fretted about the American left becoming like the European left.  They should be equally concerned if the decline in trust and middle class economic insecurity results in the American left becoming more like the European right.

Death Tax

Fitting the First Lady was in town  on tax day yesterday talking about nutrition, children’s health and obesity.  That’s because her visit underscored one of the greaqt inequities in our  society: the real death tax.

The First Lady was highlighting all the negative health effects people in poorer neighbors suffer due at least in part to lower income levels, access to reasonably priced alternatives to fast and processed foods and limited  availability of exercise and outdoor  recreational spaces  Dr. Robert Ross, CEO of the California Endowment was more direct stating:  “And so if you live in City Heights I can tell you that you will probably live 12 to 14 years a shorter lifespan than someone from La Jolla.” Ross’ assertion that zip code plays a big role in life expectancy is supported by study after study. Fitzgerald was right:  the rich ARE different than you and I.  They live longer.

So, as the anti-tax and death-tax rhetoric heats up (especially with the expiration of George W’s tax cuts next year—Hey George, way to go forgetting to make the centerpiece of your legislative legacy permanent! Heck of a job there, Bushie!) let’s save a little outrage for the ultimate of death taxes–the one that really does kill people.  But what’s a little death-related social inequity in a country of the people, by the people and for the people dedicated to promoting the general welfare.  So what if  La Jollans live longer than Encantoians—it all averages out.

Come to think of it,  that would be Clairemontians.

Tea Partiers Unite!

Tax  Day!  Yikes.  This is the day I, like all the other outraged taxpayers out  there, must confront the so-called price tag  for living in a civilized society. Civilization—hah?  Civilization is just another fancy name for the undeserving to pick  my hard working pockets every 15th of April.   Having filed my returns I’ve got to say, paying taxes in the five figures ain’t no walk in the park, by golly. And I’d really like to go off with all those Tea Party activists and demand Big Government leave more of my little paycheck alone.  (I’d love to go but I have a full time job making the money to be taxed, where many of these activists apparently have plenty of free time to protest—likely because a big share of the  Tea Partiers are wealthy old white guys.)  But obligations call closer to home so at least let me offer them my free two cents worth of support.

Now, I want to slash government 50% or 60% or 80% percent as much as the next “make government small enough to drown it in its bath water” crowd.  Luckily, my online tax service happens to throw in a nice little summary at the end of calculating how much of my life’s blood   will be violently extracted by the powers of voracious  government.  With their help I can now see exactly where this socialist tyrannical government is spending my money.  And I want them to stop giving my hard-earned money –and yours too—to all those undeserving welfare  leaches on the body politic

Just look at it.  According to the table 37% percent of my money (and by my I mean my lovely wife’s and mine)  goes to all those greedy old people who have the gall to not only get old but to even get sick every now and then  and whine that because they worked and built our society for forty or sixty years they shouldn’t be left to die in poverty.  Yo Grandmare and Pop Pop: Get off my back!  More civilized cultures used to float you old farts off on ice floes. Hey, I plan to live fast, die young and leave a handsome corpse (ok, those options are becoming increasingly problematic with each passing birthday…) so why should I have to I carry the burden of all these geriatric goldbrickers.  Get a job, Grams.

And how about that 20% that goes to defense?  Talk about the ultimate in social welfare states.  Do you know those lazy, government bureaucrats over at the Pentagon (and in its multitude of regional offices  and camps in cushy  exotic locales—I hear Kandahar is the Club Med of the Himalayas) get cradle to grave government freebies?  Universal government healthcare, housing and shopping subsidies, lucrative government defined benefit retirement plans?  Good lord, the goodies just don’t stop.  Don’t even get me started on that combat pay bonus and all those extra benees they’re entitled to just because they stepped on an IED.  Hey, if you weren’t smart enough to keep your limbs  attached why should I pay for it?  You military guys are volunteers, after all.  So how about we put them all on 401k plans and make them sign up for an HMOs like the rest of us hard working tax payers?.  (By the way, would traumatic brain injury caused by an IED be considered a preexisting condition?)

That 14% for Medicaid, food stamps and the like?  Cut, cut cut! Some little kid is foolish enough to be born into the wrong kind of zip code they don’t deserve  food or medical care.  As that great stalwart of Tea Party activism once said, “Let ‘em die and decrease the surplus population.  Nine percent for physical, human and community development?  Screw it.  You want a park or a road or a senior center hold a bake sale and raise the money yourself, you leaches.  Bighted  urban areas  are just God’s way of telling those people stupid enough to keep living there it’s time to move on out to  the suburbs, after all.    Eight percent on the debt?  Screw that too.  And the people we borrowed the money from. If they were dumb enough to loan money to America then they’re  dumb enough to lose it all.  I mean, if they were smart they would have put their money in Wall Street CDOs, after all.

Geesh.  After all that slashing of bloated, unnecessary government I’m pooped.  I barely have the energy to rant about that absolutely colossal 6% of my taxes that went to people too dumb to make enough money not to be poor.  But what the heck: compared to the 65%  our communist government wasted on Granny, GI Joe and bonds holders, it’s a drop in the bucket, anyway. If you’re serious about cutting bloated totalitarian government like I am you need to go for the big money.  Senior World and NORAD—I’ve got you in my sights!

So I’m right with there in spirit with my fellow Tea Partiers!  I’m outraged my taxes are so high.  I’d like to keep more of my money.  Then I can spend more of it on my cable bill (also way too high) , my cell phone bill (which, with 4 daughters on our family plan approximates the monthly budget of a Central African nation), my Costco runs (where the minimum I seem to spend just to dash in for a couple of 40 gallon mega-jugs of milk runs around $3,000—but my God that Kayak was a good price), or my  incredibly successful investments.  You see I really need to get my portfolio back up so it can be nice and plump so I can lose it all again when the next financial collapse comes –which, as the big honchos have told us should appear with the regularity of locusts  every  five years  or so.

And, best of all, if my Tea Bag Buds get their way and we finally do slay this evil beast of  big government I’ll finally have enough extra moola to go out and buy myself some really, really big guns.  Which I figure I’ll need to fight off all those starving grannies and little sick  kids  who’ll be swarming my house like extra’s from a George Romero zombie flick trying get some of my hard earned and now unshared daily bread.  Lucky for me that, once we get rid of all the Medicare and Medicaid most of ‘em will be too sick and weak to put up much of a fight.

I do worry about all those permanently unemployed ex-military types though.  Maybe I better buy a few extra guns to deal with them.  And, hey—maybe we can organize or Tea Party into our own armed militia to protect ourselves from this rabble.  We could call ourselves the United Tea Partiers of America!  Or TeaTopia—even better. We could elect officers, organize our defense forces, build a few schools to teach our kids the virtue of the Tea Party Dream.  Maybe build a hospital or two to take care of us and throw in a Tea Party Fire Department.   Now, to provide for our common TeaTopian Defense and promote our general TeaTopian welfare we’ll have to pool some of our resources.  We could call that a….er, what?  Fees?  Subscriptions? Or how about Associational Dues for the Underwriting of Our Common TeaTopian Civilization.

Something tells be though,  some people might gripe on Underwriting of Our Common TeaTopian Civilization paying day.

Selfish prigs.

Lights, Camera, Revolution!

I was listening to that incredibly talented entertainer Ricky “Don’t Start the Revolution Without Me” Roberts this morning  and got to hear one of  Bobbo “Its Common Sense Because I Say So” Basso’s Tom Paine takeoffs which inspires the following vignette:


THE SCENE: A standard Studio Mogul’s lair, self-aggrandizing celeb photos on the wall, lots of chrome and gleam and an acre-size executive desk.   The MOGUL, sits feet up behind the desk, requisite stogy clenched in teeth.  The WRITER stands before the desk, schoolboy at attention, making his pitch.

WRITER: I’m tellin’s ya, man, this story has it all.  It’s Mister Smith Goes to Washington meets BraveheartMeet John Doe meets Pulp Fiction….

MOGUL: (intrigued) Tell me more….

WRITER: Okay – Act One:  the handsome charismatic prince sweeps the country off its feet, wowing them with his repertoire of multi-syllabic sweet nothings…

MOGUL: Who you thinking’?  Pitt?  Clooney?

WRITER: No, no, here’s the twist.  The guy’s black .

MOGUL: Oh, Freeman.

WRITER: No, younger and hipper.  More a Don Cheadle or  a Denzel. So anyway, Act One he wins the country and sweeps into the White House

MOGUL: Black guy president?  So what, the world ends?  World always ends when a black guy’s president.

WRITER: No, no, that’s too cliche. I mean America as we know it almost ends.  But the American people come to their senses and save it.  So in Act Two  the country turns on him like a woman scorned!

MOGUL: Classic! Boy meets girl, loses girl.  So what brings him down?  Sex Scandal?  Corruption?  Corrupt sex scandal—I really like those? Bloody controversial war?

WRITER: No, bigger ‘n that.  The dude pushes through—are you ready for this—a healthcare reform.

MOGUL:  In America?  Get real.  Adolescent wizards and vampires are more believable.

WRITER: I didn’t  say comprehensive reform. Naw, just a little reform. You know, kinda a watered down Massachusetts thing that that guy with the really  good hair did before he ran for president.  Nothing as radical as that Nixon dude or Truman  talked about, for godsakes.  I’m not talkin’ fantasy here.   So, anyway, it gets it past and then all these mobs take to the streets screaming about how he’s a dictator bringin’ godless communism to America.

MOGUL: Serves the commie bastard right.  So in Act III he sees the error of his ways, begs America for forgiveness, repeals his ill fated reform and wins the girl—I mean the people—back!

WRITER: No, no.  Too obvious. The twist is in Act III the people, now driven  absolutely insane by this guy giving healthcare to millions of people rebel.  They take to the streets and storm the capitol.  When they’re done a new Republican congress populated by really good looking white people with really nice teeth (thanks to the dental plan their corporate employers provided them as top rank executives)  takes over.  They impeach the young, brash prince—and his trusty old F-bombing sidekick and make their handsome white Speaker with really good hair the new Prez.  Then the guy gets rid of the healthcare reform (and Medicare, social security, welfare, all environmental laws, meat inspection and the like). As the people rejoice in the streets (of course, a lot of them are living there by then) the music comes up – something really patriotic and uplifting…

MOGUL: How about Dixie?  That’s a catchy tune!

WRITER: Love it!  So the music comes up and we fade to black. Whadda ya think?

MOGUL: Love it, man, love it.  One thing—you think maybe you can tweak it so the healthcare reform turns out to have unleashed a virus or something that turns normal, rational people into invective-spitting deranged anti-government zombies?  Or even better, Libertarian Vampires ready to feed on the body politic? You know, Advise and Consent meets 27 Days Later.

WRITER: Don’t see why not.

MOGUL: Outstanding.  Only one problem though…

WRITER: What’s that boss?

MOGUL: We make fiction at this studio, not documentaries.  Whadda think we are—the History Channel?


I Read It In the New York Times

My letter to the editor commenting on Piers Brendon’s piece last week on premature speculation as to the fall of the American empire actually made it into today’s NYT.  Though I don’t think anyone besides my wife and mom particularly care, you can find it here.

Before the Fall

Piers Brendon, a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, wrote an interesting op-ed for yesterday’s New York Times. In it, he points out why those bemoaning—or cheering—the end of American global dominance may be premature. I think the article is an interesting read, and I agree with Brendon’s ultimate conclusion the the American “empire” is not heading for imminent collapse—in the short to mid term. I am less optimistic in the long term.

Brendon points out numerous differences between the Roman and British Empires as they headed towards dissolution and the contemporary American situation, pointing out America’s advantages over these previous imperial hegemons in terms of military superiority and economic and political stability.  American decline, accordingly, is neither predictable nor inevitable from these examples.

Brendon criticizes fellow Brit and Yale historian Paul Kennedy for the inaccuracy of many of his short-term predictions in his classic The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. In so doing, however, Brendon misses Kennedy’s most important point, which is simply this: All great powers become former great powers.  All dogs may have their day in the sun—and, indeed, may go to heaven—but no dog gets to dominate the global kennel ad infinitum. The question, therefore, is not really “if” the American Empire will end but “when.” The equally important followup question is under what circumstance will this end occur?

Rome fell, ultimately, because of the inability of the Roman political, economic and—as importantly and inseparably linked to the first two—technological systems to expand to encompass the millions of “barbarians” crowding in on its frontiers. With their faces to the window of the Roman world—and its prosperity—these peoples, uninvited to the Roman party simply sought to crash it (and burn it to the ground, in the process.) Once the barbarians rough parity in military technological superiority with the Romans circa the third century AD, the fate of the empire in the west was probably certain. The collapse of Roman hegemony led to The Really Great Depression: the collapse of the Mediterranean market system know as the Dark Ages. It took the European world a millennium to recover. One most hope that the American Empire does not go out with a similar bang.

With 2 billion people living on a dollar or two a day and billions more living on only marginally more, however, such hope is not a certainty. Half of humanity has its nose pressed against the glass of the global banquet the richer half has been enjoying for the last century or so. Like the barbarians of yore, if these poorer people don’t get into this global game, they may be tempted to try and kick it over. The biggest lesson of Saddam Hussein and the case of the missing WMDs is not that a tin-plated third world dictator should aspire to nuclear weapons. That biggest lesson was that, in this the 21st century CE, a tin-plated third world dictator CAN acquire nuclear weapons. The even scarier lesson is that sub-national groups like Al Qaeda MAY and, probably, eventually WILL be able to acquire such weapons as well. America’s wars from Vietnam onwards have shown that superior battlefield technology does not always translate into assured victory and does not prohibit significant costs. Should the destructive capacity of radical groups achieve anything approaching parity with American military technology than America might well find itself in this century in the same situation as Rome. Which, again, would be  a double-plus ungood outcome.

Going out with a polite, chin-thrust-forward-carry-on-wot-wot British-style whimper need also not be the American future.   The British decline, however, has more in common with America’s position that that of the Romans. England was already losing its dominance in industrial production by the turn of the last century. By World War I, England’s role as the global financial hegemon led by the pound sterling as the default global currency replaced industrial output as the most important measure of the Empire’s global economic power. Pound hegemony slipped in the 1920s and crashed permanently in the 1930s, culminating with the replacement of the pound by the dollar as the global anchor currency at Bretton Woods in 1944. Soup to nuts, it took about 50 years for the slide in English industrial and financial hegemony to result in a final fade in its global military and political hegemony.

Though the United States is still the largest industrial economy measured by output, the EU is collectively larger. China holds the title of largest exporter, and its industrial sector continues to expand. Finance, meanwhile, has been the faster growing sector of the American economy and much of America’s continued global economic power comes from the role of the dollar, diminished as that may be against other major currencies, as the continued defacto global currency. By 2050, it is extremely likely that both China and India will have eclipsed the U.S. in industrial output. The ability of the U.S. to maintain the dollar as the global reserve currency while simultaneously dealing with a declining share of global industry, carrying decades worth of accumulated negative balances of payments and with an increasingly aging, cost-intensive and productivity diminished population will become problematic. Over the next half–century, therefore, a scenario in which a gradual decline in American hegemony mirroring that of the English a century before is most plausible. Except that, in America’s case, there is not likely to be a new, friendly emerging global hegemon under whose financial and security umbrellas the fading power might seek refugee. Perhaps the Indians might some day play that role, with American presidents going hat in hand to 7, Race Course Road like British prime ministers to the White House. China seems a less likely to serve as such a munificent benefactor.

Except, again, that the United States may, if it’s both lucky and wise, beat the hangman’s noose Dr. Kennedy (and history) placed around great powers. Until China has had a democratic revolution, the People’s Republic is unlikely to be able to generate enough confidence from the global capitalist class to turn the yuan into a global brand. The EU is still too unstable for the Euro to take this role, and the Yen does not have the domestic demography to pull off the job. The dollar is likely to remain, for decades to come, the global reserve currency if only by default. It will take decades, under the best of circumstances, for either China nor India to generate the economic and military hard power of the U.S. Both countries’ per capita income levels are a fraction of America’s. Nor is it likely that either will be able to eclipse American cultural soft power and capture the hearts and minds (as well as imaginations) of the world’s peoples. (Though Bollywood gives India a much better crack at this than Sino-cinema has).

In short, while Britain had the U.S. to replace it, there is currently no heir in the wings to snatch the American hegemony crown away. Which leaves the barbarian option as a possible trigger of American demise. Or leaves the U.S. with the option of cheating the game and being the last great national power in human history. The U.S. has, since WWII, worked to great a global order based not just on the power of an individual state but upon the rule of international law as established and maintained by international institutions. From the U.N. to the IMF, these global institutions have been America’s baby. Perhaps with more commitment and nurturing, the U.S. can, over the next half century, shape a global-system government by international consent rather than national hegemony. When the time inevitably comes for the U.S. to turn over keys to the global hegemony machine to the next contender (as will happen, be it years, decades or centuries from now) wouldn’t it be nice of that contender is actually a cooperative community of mankind in which Americans play a major and prosperous role?

Americans have been, without question, the luckiest (as in dumb, stupid lucky) people in history. Come on, get real. If Americans couldn’t make a big go of being handed, by quirk of geology and human geography, the biggest, resource-richest unclaimed—but for a few millions of people 4,000 or more years behind on the technological curve—lands on the planet, we’d have had to be the DUMBEST people in history! Americans have also, on the whole, been a relatively wise people. Let us hope that, as the century unfolds, wisdom is not replaced by hubris, least Mr. Brendon’s optimism prove to be unfounded.