Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Debt. Pick One.

The flag maker got it wrong: It was supposed to say, “Don’t lend to me.” (Wikipedia Image)

In September, the national debt of the United States passed $20 trillion for the first time in history. Three months later, it  passed $20.6 trillion. That’s $600 billion in debt added in three months. The tax cuts just passed by Congress will shortly add another $1.5 trillion.

In the past two years, corporate debt in America has increased by over $568 billion (pikers — Congress did that in three months!).  And all the lines on all the graphs charting the borrowing of money are pointing at the sky.

In September, the total debt owed by American consumers approached $13 trillion. Consumer debt set a record in the third quarter of 2008 and has topped the record every quarter since. The world economy crashed and burned in 2009, but consumer debt never went down. Now, household debt is rising 60 percent faster than incomes are rising. Laissez les bons temps rouler. Continue reading

Here Be Dragons: Succumbing to Magical Thinking

A dragon used to be the worst thing we could imagine. It often still is.

Medieval maps of the world showed what was where to the limits of what was known, and having a good deal of space left on the page filled it in with drawings of great beasts. “Here be dragons,” some of them said, implying that if you went there you would be eaten. From the dragons at the edge of the world to the monsters under the bed, magical thinking has always had a strong grip on humans desperate to understand what is happening in the world and predict what will happen next.

Spoiler alert: magical thinking doesn’t help. Continue reading

If Climate Change is a Joke, Who Is It On?

The state of Louisiana is planning to abandon settlements such as this one, Leeville, as rising seas submerge the coastal plain.

While the President of the United States makes ignorant jokes about climate change — in which he does not believe — one of the United States is preparing to abandon a chunk of land the size of the state of Delaware to rising sea waters, an effect of climate change. The state of Louisiana is preparing to abandon its entire coastal plain to the sea, to forbid new building there and to buy out and move tens of thousands of people who are at risk. Any people or businesses stubborn enough to stay would be taxed heavily, and required to post a bond to pay for the eventual demolition of their property.

We must keep in mind that this is a draft plan, that will have to survive a tsunami of opposition in order to take on the force of law. We must keep in mind that governments have tried before to do the right thing, without effect. Why, even the Congress of these United States, not long ago, actually began to fix the National Flood Insurance Program so it would make sense [“Wait, What? Congress Fixed Flood Insurance?”], but that’s just a misty memory now. Continue reading

The Accidental Narcissist: A Fable

[I am re-posting this from last December in honor of the performance of the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Black Monday, 2/5/2017]

It’s one of the oldest stories of human association — a viral meme, if you will, that predates Facebook. Things are going well in the camp/village/pueblo/kingdom, and the family/clan/tribe is prospering. Before long, somebody — a priest/shaman/elder/king — takes credit for the good times. “Yes,” he/she/it says demurely, “It’s all my doing. I control the weather/game/crops, and if you want the good times to continue, you’d better keep me happy.”

It starts with a few extra sandwiches from a few dubious neighbors — “what the hell, just in case, what could it hurt” — and if the weather holds, proceeds rapidly to absolute power, virgin sacrifices, massive demonstrations of loyalty, and crushing taxes for the multitude to provide unimaginable luxury for the top guy. Continue reading

The Farm is Dead: Long Live the Farm

By almost all accounts in the industrial media, this is the best, indeed the only, way to farm. The problem is, it’s suicidal.

Two remarkable dirges for American agriculture appeared in print during this last month of 2017. They were remarkable on several counts — the quality of the writing and research; the pessimism of their tone; the places in which they appeared; the things they got right; and their shared, glaring error of omission.

The first, titled “Why Are America’s Farmers Killing Themselves in Record Numbers?” drilled down into the shocking statistics on suicides by farmers, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are more numerous than in any other occupation, double that found among military veterans, and in in 17 farming states is five times the rate among the general population. Nor is the affliction limited to America; the farmers of India are famously suicidal, and those in Australia, France and the United Kingdom are increasing their rates of self destruction. Continue reading

America: You Fogged the Mirror. Carry On.

Trust us, America, you’re going to feel a lot better soon. We’re going to elect better doctors. (Wikimedia Commons image)

Many years ago, as a young soldier (in civvies, but somehow they always knew) quaffing a few beers in a Georgia bar as far from the post as I could afford to get, I saw a young black soldier (in civvies, but I could tell) come through the door with a lovely date on his arm. She was white. Actually, blonde. I was sore afraid, and looked for a table to get under, envisioning the bar existing only as a pile of kindling when the riot was over.

As far as I could tell, not one person in the bar — remember I said it was far from the post, so it was not an all-Army crowd, but mostly locals — no one gave the couple a second glance or seemed to comment on their presence. That was in 1968, and it was then I began to rethink my easily-acquired caricature of Southerners as racist hicks. Having rethought it, and having similar Southern epiphanies many times over the years, I retained some faith in the decency of Alabamans, and became convinced they would not elevate the odious Roy Moore to the Senate of the United States. Continue reading

America, Please, Fog This Mirror

“Sir, I know you’re not feeling all that well, but we need you to get up and go back to work.” (US Defense Department photo)

Please, America, I know you are not well, but open your eyes just a little and listen to me. I know you were too weak to fend off Trumpicitis a year ago, and that it left you too weak in the aftermath to do much except marvel at your own ensuing insanity. I know your doctors have been trying some untested experimental treatments on you — the 25th Amendment, the Emoluments Clause, probiotics, that sort of thing — without any success. But dammit, sit up and listen to me, and stop mumbling “Do not resuscitate.”

You used to be “the last, best hope of earth,” for a lot of good reasons. I can remember when you still were, although you started to lose it in the 1960s. It was understandable; you lost three of history’s finest public figures to assassination in just a few years, and you became ensnared in Vietnam. But it was in the 1980s that you became really sick. That’s when the awful, metastasizing cancer of greed overwhelmed your defenses and began turning you into a pathetic shadow of your former self. Continue reading

Robert Mueller: The Last Man Standing

Don Blankenship was once the most baronial of the West Virginia coal barons. His greed and contempt for the law were legendary — John Grisham used him as the template for his villain in the 2008 best-selling novel The Appeal. Annoyed by lawsuits that were costing him money, Blankenship spent $3 million to elect a judge to the state supreme court, after which he stopped losing lawsuits. Even after 29 miners died in an explosion in one of his mines — an explosion that miners and regulators claimed was the result of Blankenship’s penny pinching and disdain for miner safety — he remained untouchable.

Except by Booth Goodwin. While state authorities stood by, U.S. Attorney Goodwin spent years meticulously putting together and trying cases against Blankenship’s underlings and ultimately Blankenship himself. Goodwin was the reason Blankenship spent last Christmas in a jail cell instead of cavorting on the French Riviera with his favorite State Supreme Court judge (named Spike — I am not making this stuff up, there are pictures). Continue reading

The Song of Polly Anna

This is the Song of Polly Anna, as sung by the “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” Chorus, or whistled while passing graveyards:

When the fat lady finishes singing the Song of Polly Anna, it’s over.

Verse #1: “Unemployment is down to 4.1 percent, lowest in 17 years. 1.5 million new jobs created since I took office.” (Contributed by the Tweeter in Chief.)

“Don’t be fooled by low unemployment numbers,” says The Hill, not exactly a fringe publication, of the latest report. Candidate Trump actually had it right when he ridiculed the government reports as lipstick on a pig, or, perhaps more to the point, cosmetics on a corpse. The numbers are curried and combed, annualized, seasonally adjusted, revised and updated not to reflect reality, but to replace reality with a shimmering vision of 1950.

Case in point: the latest report estimates that just last month, 968,000 American workers left the workforce. While some of these people are elderly, students or disabled, their numbers have been swelled by people who could be working, who want to work, but have given up looking for work. Thus it is true that the number crunchers somehow massaged the unemployment rate to a 17-year low, primarily by counting as unemployed only those people actively looking for work. Meanwhile the number of people not in the work force, and thus not counted in the calculation, has reached 95 million, its highest level in 40 years.   Continue reading

Driverless in Manhattan: A Comedy

Drat. It seemed I had been proven wrong yet again. Just two months after having written that “The Self-Driving Car is Only an Oxymoron” and would never be a reality, I was confronted last week by headlines screaming a variant of : “Self-Driving Cars Will Roam New York City Streets Next Year.” The headlines were everywhere, from the New York Times to NPR, and the import was clear — driverless (or autonomous, or self-driving) cars are here, and ready to go on the streets of New York. (And if they can make it there….)

So I was on my way back to my hut in the Slough of Despond, there to lick my wounds a while, when I said to myself, “Wait a minute, perhaps we should read a bit beyond the headline and the first paragraph.” And what I found there made me smile again, briefly. Continue reading