Economic and political analysis-Window on culture-Media criticism

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Inevitable collapse offers real change

Election results to come in tonight! I've heard the Republicans will retake the House and possibly the Senate. I confess that I don't believe that a non-choice between two substantially similar parties will make a difference in the long run. While I have more in common with Democratic candidates than Republican, I've lost faith in the American political process.

The problems we face are systematic and unlikely to be resolved by ballot alone. We need real change and not just false prophets selling campaign messages. Political dialogue in this country has become dominated by hot air and froth.

I'm aware that my position might be considered heresy by most political analysts, who make their living from presenting a false choice of candidates and parties neither of which can govern without serving some corporate interest or wealthy constituency. If apathy were the desired outcome, our two party system has hit its goals.

Many of our problems are internal, despite the tendency to find threats abroad which should unite us, although they haven't. Trends evolving out of our present day political climate include:
1) Corporatization: he who has gold makes the rules, or so Machiavelli said. Corporations feed at the federal trough in a quid pro quo exchange of campaign financing for politicians, made legal by Citizens v. United.
2) Privatization: services formerly provided by government become run by for-profit entities. Look no farther than Goldman Sachs' buy-out of Chicago street parking meters--Indianapolis has done the same, albeit for 10-year periods not Chicago's 75.
3) Militarization (the classic Military Industial Complex.) Ongoing wars serve a bloated and inefficient war economy that drains from the productive sector. Politicians too afraid to question military spending.
4) Abuse of power (cataloging since 2001.) The War on Terror is a gateway to abuses like the Plame outing and fake terror warnings timed for political motives, like those framed by Olbermann's Nexus of Politics and Terror.
5) Police state/surveillance society. Give up your rights to fight an fabricated terror threat. Government violates citizens' privacy and legal rights with impunity.
6) De-democratization. Black box voting allows corporations to manipulate voting results. Two corporate parties present illusion of choice: twiddleedee and twiddleedum both lead nation downward.
7) Prisonization. Prison industrial complex now warehousing some two million Americans, due to failed (but not for its financial beneficiaries) drug war.

I could continue but the list can depress the reader. Wouldn't want to depress anyone now. This was never my intent, though making an emotional impact on the reader is a fundamental goal of most forms of expression.

I've never meant this blog to depress anyone but how else will Americans become informed? If they're so fearful of being depressed--or is it change they so fear?--then the public doesn't deserve to know. The status quo, as I've been warning, is sending us off a cliff--if the sheople are lemmings and go over the cliff, at least I can say I tried to warn them.

I'd be reluctant dismiss the trends I've outlined above, whatever the emotional price. Many of my previous predictions have been accurate, about Obama and the designed-to-fail war strategy, just to name a few. But this blog wasn't created as testimony to my skills as an analyst, or to blast the co-opted mass media, but rather to influence others who might spread the word.

If you know anything by now, and judging from your visit to this blog you already know this, the mainstream media is not the place for the truth. The Web isn't necessarily a hotbed of intellectual truth, but it isn't a bunch of sanitized hogwash either. In my case and yours too I hope, I'll take honesty over untruth any day, substance over style, no matter how messy and ugly the truth.

The mass media isn't the only party at fault. Raising public awareness is a worthy purpose, but it's a task only achievable if the public gets involved. Today many won't vote today, believing their vote will only go to unsympathetic posers who care nothing for no one but themselves, despite the elaborate effort to pretend they offer real change, or constructive leadership.

The facts speak for themselves. Our present situation has come about in part due to the lack of political participation in our nation by its citizens. The corporate takeover hasn't come overnight but rather has been brought about by a series of gradual encroachments on our liberties and quality of life. The process hasn't ended and thus might still be abridged, but not if all the political candidates--the so-called "choice"--are controlled by campaign donations and the same corporate interests.

Going forward--in reverse

Our society may not be advancing just because our technology has. Some Web media tend to isolate individuals within a pantheon of largely consumption-oriented choices. Like basketball, connect with others who do. Consume something? Well, most everyone's brand has space on the Web. Like a particular celebrity? No shortage of that.

Most of the growth in Internet's popularity can be attributed to hyper-consumerism and celebrity worship rather than lofty intellectual goals. People may need real news, but they don't want it. Like a child, most Americans tune out the world, and our recent wars epitomize the individual's inattentiveness, their cultivation into consumers of the highest order.

Yet people can produce and grow by sharing their interests with others. Truth-sharing becomes a much more prolific endeavor when friends meet. People don't take kindly to bad news, and believe me when I say most of the news is bad (another lesson drawn from years of intensive news gathering.)

Rather than focus on truth and substance, style and image are massaged to give media viewers a perception of political candidates and corporations in their most beneficial light. This process is fundamentally dehumanizing--how can you alone have a relationship with a celebrity who will never know you? This obsession in entertainment is idolatry in its smoothest package offered to date.

People don't want the truth. To quote Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men: "we can't handle the truth!" So we're offered a mostly mindless smorgasbord of meaningless media consumption chocies. Then we pretend we're different from others because our choices of consumption differ.

While geographically unlimited, and pentrating broadly, the Web hasn't reached its potential as a medium of communication, although twitter and social networking has utilized the Web in profound ways.

We've all heard about the perils of the Internet. Given the anonymity granted by the Web, our children are coached not to trust strangers. The speed and quantity of data can overwhelm--these are the negatives.

Positives of the Web include rapid dissemination of data, and the ability to circumvent conventional mass media. It's also a vehicle for content, allowing artists to work within the digital media and present to anyone with a Web connection and a computer.

The Web's a part of us now, tied to our collective conscious. When the Web works, we connect; our organic tapestry comes together. Web users have all known the feeling of friendship created online. People have been married, hired, murdered through it. Yes, that's right: the Web can be used for sinister purposes by people of ill intent, reflecting whom we are as a people whether saint or sinner.

At the same time, the Web is limited. We are bound by the proposition that into which we put our endeavors should come a corresponding reward, advancement, or personal gain. We can measure what we've accomplished with our lives only in others. Who will sing of our praises or even remember us if not for what we've done for them?

Many of the "things" (oh, yes, how many things) you think you cherished, you'll realized don't matter. Therefore it's a tragedy to see so many labor so hard to create not art but generate an attic full of things.

Our inner psyches would likely collapse if we had to face down all the petty obsessions (fixations, the Dalai Lama calls them) that drain our better selves. We settle for less because we believe that's all that we can have. Maybe a simpler and more agrarian lifestyle could slow us down. The hard work might set us free from the constantly accelerating world, one that surely spinning out of control.

I guess my time to look more towards myself and spend less time on others will come. But in some ways, I guess it's when we contract into ourselves that we begin to die not physically (although it can often manifest this way) but spiritually. Better to continue to keep an open mind, and connect with others, rather than lose that path on a road to individualism, a very American concept that may not serve us well into the 21st Century.

Bound by economic realities

I've focused on issues in the economy and financial system for the better of four years. Numbers matter, as do details like the ugly fact our government now has an unpayable quantity of debt. Yet the Federal Reserve threatens to churn out even more debt in the form of quantitative easing (QE 2).

Remember that every dollar that comes into existence brings with it debt-someone must be owed in order to spend any newly created money. Not by coincidence, that someone is a bank, who can borrow for free these days. The debt-based economy requires debt to grow. Eventually the quantity of debt (which is money!) will grow so large that the initial investors/lenders can't be repaid. In criminal law it's called a Ponzi. In our financial system, it's legalized fraud. The scam works fine until people don't pay enough in taxes (put new money into the Ponzi), then the debt begins to debase the currency itself.

The exertion of corporate influence over government policies brings very real risks to the financial system. Like Greece or Argentina, a sovereign debt downgrade could wreak havoc on financial markets. The risk premium paid to non-government issuances could further hamper corporate borrowing and economic activity. Like a Third World nation, Americans would have to turn to foreign sources of borrowing, and submit to the will of international bankers once public debt becomes unmanageable.

By the way, I am watching the mortgage mess, which is more accurately described as lender fraud PLUS misrepresentation (a term with criminal implications in the field of securities litigation.) The banks misrepresented the mortgages that they sold to investors, being that the banks didn't observe the proper chain of custody over the documentation required to transfer ownership. The robo-signatures on fraudulent foreclosures are therefore only a part of the much larger problem of identifying who holds legal title to the properties, and thus defining exactly how much control investors in the mortgage securities retain vis a vis the banks who sold them.

Banks aren't lending. They're risk averse, like anyone whose got something to gain from the status quo; or anything to lose by change. The federal trough runs so deep the pigs' snouts are buried in it, lapping up the future tax debts while ignoring the public interest or any sense of morality. Of course the best example are the consultants quite literally ringing the capital city who make a living from the war machine and corporate contracts belching forth from our capital.

Hands off my gov't paycheck

There might be more hope if not for the fact so many have been dumbed down. I live in a town that once had jobs for plenty. Economically, I'm surrounded by people who know not what will come tomorrow nor have they prepared for it. The lack of education carries most of the blame, or to be more accurate the lack of respect for the power of learning. Like poverty, this attitude gets passed on down generations, boosted perhaps by disdain for the better educated elite.

First to go must be the presumption that a public high school degree will cut it in the 21st Century economy. The public school process does institutionalize stupidity by not challenging younger Americans. High school graduates simply aren't competitive in the global economy. I'm shocked by how deficient many Americans' writing skills are--most read at a middle school level.

Many here have parents who worked steady Industrial Era jobs, and have been able to live a reasonable quality of life...'til recently. Yet the future is going to be much more dependent on self-starters, with good communication and money management skills.

There will of course be people still working the trades and other occupations who might not think they need anything like that. But who among them doesn't have debts to pay, or investments to build and track? If we are indeed in a "YOYO" Economy (Your On Your Own), then shouldn't people be taking more responsibility over their retirement?

Don't think for a second that Social Security will be enough, or that Medicare benefits will continue in their present form. The money is running out. And a Republican victory will mean more cutting of social services, especially considering they're too weak to cut war spending (perhaps because that requires acknowledgement of its ineffectiveness?). And even if they can lower taxes--inherently good--the Republicans will simply be delaying and worsening the eventual fiscal reckoning.

We all need to come together, first to inform one another and acknowledge the problem, then take action. It begins with each of us, and the desire to become informed about issues that effect us. Without the assertion of self-responsibility, I don't see how our society can advance, much less not fall backward if for no other reason than how it--if taught, monitored and enforced--can benefit the collective good--a term I seldom here any more.

Our society has become boomers on steroids. We want to get as much for ourselves as we can, before the clock runs out. The only question is whether Earth's clock will run out before, or who will seize control of the world's last resources?

Yes, it really comes down to the rat race and humankind's descent to it. Does any empire have the chance to outlast time? In the waning days of every Empire, the periphery weakens as resources are plundered and profits repatriated to the capital. Imperial power may erupt from the inside out but economic decline begins on the outside and works its way in.

American-style consumption of Earth's resources simply won't continue. Already, we've got such huge trade deficits, and we're exporting so little that we can only offer more shiny pieces of paper to overseas creditors, who export things upon which we've come to rely.

Just how safe is it to presume our way of life will be forever there for us? Economic turmoil could easily create an intense transition overnight.


I'm taking the steps toward being prepared. No, I don't plan to hole up in some bunker somewhere. Survivalists and preppers are two distinctly different breeds.

As my movie reviews a few months ago showed, so much of our present day preoccupation with the Apocalpyse is based on dominating others. The message: be strong or a victim. A true crisis could actually be better met by cooperation and communication among the affected. For everyone to hunker down may be a necessity but for a short time. Human contact will be restored. Violence is really the antithesis of this approach--killing people probably won't bond you to others. So don't fight, I say, unless your being attacked. I wouldn't raise a weapon in defense unless I were forced. And, yes, while they're times when you might be forced to protect yourself, your property, or others, those encounters are far less likely to happen if you're prepared.

While using firearms may sound good, and self-defense is necessary, I'd argue firearms have no place at the communal fire except when the group is threatened by outsiders. Take the Swiss, for example, who require military service from everyone, not to secure some corporate goal or spending trough, but for the collective defense. I can't buy into this Lone Ranger, John Wayne-type concept of holding out against the vampires like Charles Heston in The Omega Man.

No economy operates in isolation. People will adapt to changing economic opportunities and limitations. Our future will be shaped by who you know and key skills. Survival requires partnerships with people, trust, and sharing resources. Trade and immigration won't stop; they'll simply shift from place to place. Taking one threat--ecological changes--back in human history and you'll see astounding distances that were travelled. We're an adaptable species, of that we can have no doubt.

We are bound by our physical needs. As nice it is to cater to intellectual pursuits, at some point we must consider our circumstances. Just think of what it'd be like without fully stocked supermarkets, or gas stations. I don't want to fearmonger but rather deprogram you. We Americans assume that our elaborate distribution systems will be there for us 24/7. They won't. Sooner or later, the corner store won't be open, store shelves will empty, or the opposite: prices could shoot up.

My wise readers need to contemplate what to do under various scenarios, so as to not be caught totally unprepared. Have a supply of water, a water filter, and enough canned food to last a month or two. Better yet, look to create renewable sources for food and energy.

Prepping has both logistical implications but also a softer side: the aspects that make community agriculture, barter, and re-localization viable. Until people are willing to rely/trust/use local sources, chances are they'll be inadequately developed. Self-sufficiency is an action-oriented goal--people in your town need to do specific things to get results. If they simply rely on the present situation, they'll be at the mercy of food conglomerates and monetary systems beyond their control.

The key is to start. Small is OK. Do something to prepare for the possibility of a crisis. Don't horde costly you may never use. What's more you want a sustainable path; once everyone begins to hoard, stocks will be depleted to the point buying large quantities from retailers in the future won't be possible. Another reason not to horde is that much of what is bought won't be used. Purchases should be limited to things you'll consume anyway.

While planning for a worst case scenario can be good, if for instance #2 below happens and you live west of the Mississippi and can't fly out, you're done anyway, so why care? Better it is to assume something less than total destruction. Perhaps an intense but brief economic crisis is something most easily prepared for. Food supplies might shrink but in a few months could be restored. A fuel embargo--not on the list--could aggravate and lengthen a crisis, but in time it would end, like most all the causes listed below.

Many kinds of future crisis may be short-lived. Others could be entrenched and lasting, like the devaluation of the dollar. Here are my big seven:
1) Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). Been researching this one. Could wipe the Web, digi-comms, etc..
2) Earthquake. Could be Yellowstone caldera like the movie 2012 or something in New Madrid or California.
3) Tornado. Probably localized.
4) Nuclear accident. I've written on the fallibility of the nuclear power from sourcing to use and disposal. [Potassium Iodate is recommended.]
5) Civil disorder. If enough people get unhappy enough, they could loot and pillage.
6) Flooding. Likelier due to unconstrained sprawl and deforestation plus more erratic rainfall/bursts.
7) War/Terror strike. Any terror strike will justify the state's monoply on use of force, seizure of liberties, etc.. More than a hassle issue if you happen to be a targeted subgroup, or caught on the transport grid away from home.

Lastly, don't be worried about everything that could happen--it's a waste of energy. Simply consider the implications of various events for the purpose of prepardeness. One result of the planning process could be the gradual accumulation of silver or other physical stores of durable value, as inflation might be the most likely. Don't spend too much as a crisis might never happen, then you'd look like a jackass.

Provisioning Lifeboats

Agrarian societies may play well into a resurgence of lifeboats, places where people can come together in communal self-support and live a sustainable lifestyle in a barter-oriented economy.

The idea is that should some crisis arise, people could transport themselves to another area where they've already established a network of CSA's (Community- Supported Agriculture) hubs. If people can generate agricultural goods, they can build for themselves a level of food security not possible in an economy built around Big Boxes and long-distance (and thereby fuel intensive) delivery. By acquainting themselves with the products peculiar to their region, people can support each other while reducing dependence on imports. If money is spent outside the community, it will only benefit outsiders.

It could take a good amount of time to establish a lifeboat. Included in such a scenario would be the following:
1) Educational system: avoid forced Big Pharma vaccine programs and the threat of autism.
2) Water. Hopefully devoid of Pharma run-off as many prescription drugs don't break down in the body.
3) Food. Not knowing what's used to grow what you eat can be dangerous. Better you grow it or face frankenfoods (about which government will do nothing to protect you from Big Agra and their toxins.)
4) Energy. Will need affordable and sustainable sources. Biodiesel has a lot of appeal; solar/wind will be huge.
5) Permaculture. Make renewal a key functional goal of community farming. this way, don't need as many petrochemicals/fertilizers.

Note to readers

Always like writing on the 1st of the month. Gives me a chance to be first. You may have noticed I've cut back on my blog frequency to about once a month.

Writing is art. So I've enjoyed my artistic allotment here, which has been no small thing in time and effort. Continuity in writing over extended periods with no pay is challenging. Yet I consider the effort well worth the reward. By writing, I can expose my observations then create as part of my artistic complement through the written word.

Economics might be seen by many as too dry a topic to be art, but remember science has its place in any display of art. No art form can exist outside its medium, no statute lean at such a tilt as to defy gravity, nor no painting recreate the sound of a horse's clicks on cobblestone.

Art is bound. Forces constrict it. No amount of creativity can overcome objective rules and limits. Compromise is a necessity as is awareness of one's limits in trying to explain things, which I see as a fundamental purpose of expository writing.

Like the Indiana painter T.C. Steele, I like to see nature around me. Whereas he caught his subjects with pen and brush, I seek to capture many of the same landscape scenes he did through photography. I don't know how well I'll be able to achieve that task but its a goal I'll savor.

I'll be working more on my photography in the coming years, as well as archival work on others' pictures.

While I doubt I touched on many lives, I know I did change the way some people see their world. And the exercise of blogging provided distinctly personal benefits; it's quite an accomplishment to stick with any challenging task over the long haul.

If the mission is therefore to inform, this blog has done that well. Whether you paint, or write, or express yourself in any form, you'll come to experience art as a very personal, inward journey, whether broadcast across the Web or sealed forever in personal diaries.

You'll know you're coming to the end of an artistic adventure, assuming you've applied yourself fully. The end to the inquiry could come years after you set out on your journey. When you get back, no matter how many lives you've contacted, you'll find that it about you that you've learned the most--about your limits, aspirations, and priorities.

As I learn more about the ways of the world, I desire to shrink from it, to get closer in touch with the environment-Earth. We all need to forge a relationship with our Maker, I believe. Our origin is found in Nature, so to know one's self, one needs to come into close contact with their natural world.

I've said we need to come closer to our physical environment for some time now. Fortunately we have a path towards sustainably on the North American continent offered by its Native Peoples. The Iroquois revere the Snake, as they say its a holy creature because it spends its time next to the Earth. Their Snake Dance pays homage to the Snake and Mother Earth, forces they see as unshakable.

I don't think society can shrug away the passage of time, like the Amish, whose numbers are actually growing. Luddites seek to shun the technology that the passage of time brings. They see the expenditure of energy on things modern better be directed elsewhere, like into the Earth. Maybe their escapism should be seen not as a step backward but the realization that the passage of time and adoption of technology don't improve us, or make us any better people.


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