Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Time of Our Lives

I'm dealing with a family situation right now that necessitates my shutting the blog down for a few days.

But never fear, I shall return shortly, and when I do I promise to be a much looser and louder cannon than ever before. The times require us to holler loudly, and to keep doing it continuously.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Zombie America

The country has now been zombified. The accompanying illustration shows the CEO's of the three major automakers arriving for the start of their congressional hearing last week. These guys have been dead so long they've forgotten they were ever alive, and are unaware the economy has gone bust, although they seem to be vaguely concsious that their own companies are having a little bit of a "cash flow problem." When asked how they plan to deal with changing conditions in the auto markets, they looked baffled, as if their congressional interlocutors had asked them the solution to some incalculable quadratic equation.

For the rest of us, the big question has become "What's next?" or "Where do we go from here?" If you want to know the answer, I believe the best person to read is James Howard Kunstler. I would rather rely on the opinion of someone who's been right about everything for the last five years than, say, Thomas Friedman of the Times, whose predictions are more often wrong than right.

Kunstler hasn't always been right about the details of world and national economic developments, and his predictions of the timing of things is as frequently off as anyone else's. However, he understands the fundamental shape and fundamental weaknesses of modern economics, and he is militantly honest about the latter. Since well before 2006, he has been forecasting peak oil and, especially, the current economic meltdown and debt tsunami, and describing very accurately exactly how and why these things would unspool exactly as they did.

He posts to his blog once a week. Read today's post, Zombie Economics, if you want to find out where we're going over the next couple of years and beyond. It's not a pretty picture, but at the same time it's not hopeless. A short sample:

My guess, given the usual time-lag factor, is that the super-inflation snap-back will occur six to eighteen months from now. And the main result of all this will be our inability to buy the imported oil that comprises two-thirds of the oil we require to keep WalMart and Walt Disney World running. At some point, then, in the early months of the Obama administration, we'll learn that "change" is not a set of mere lifestyle choices but a wrenching transition away from all our familiar and comfortable habits into a stark and rigorous new economic landscape.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Remember "the Surge" and how successful it was? Remember how we were celebrating "victory" in Iraq?

Remember how, not so long ago, some of us were still actually listening to the people who had been wrong about absolutely everything for five years? Some of us were even going to the trouble of debating with them.

Remember how Richard Perle, aka "Baghdad Dick" said back in 2003, And a year from now, I'll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush.

OK, it may have taken a little over a year, but I want all you skeptics and all you America-haters who secretly favor the terrorists to know that Perle's prediction has come true. There was an inspiring ceremony in Baghdad recently, during which, as Bernard Chazelle describes it:

Iraqis could not contain their excitement yesterday as the old central Baghdad square was renamed after George W. Bush in a highly emotional ceremony. Following an ancient Iraqi tradition, an effigy of President Bush was held upside down as a show of respect and then burned to the ground. Collective jubilation reached its peak as the assembled masses broke into Iraq's new national anthem, "Bush the Babylonian Burning Man." Throngs of admirers were then allowed to show their gratitude by banging on Bush's head with their shoes. When the effigy fell head first into the crowds, adoring fans got a chance to pelt it with their own plastic water bottles and spit on it with their own saliva -- what a scholar at the Heritage Foundation has already dubbed "The Great Spit of Freedom." Thousands of grateful Iraqis held up giant signs that read "Death to America," obviously an innocent misspelling of the words "Our American Hero!"

So how abouit it, kids, did we learn anything this time? At a minimum, I wouild hope we learned three things:

1) To stop listening to "experts," all of whose predictions are always exactly, precisely 100 percent wrong;

2) That people who are not gung-ho for the next war are possibly motivated by patriotism and concern for the country's welfare, and are not necessarily enemy sympathizers;

3) That paying for trillion-dollar wars with a credit card is not a good idea.

Even if we did learn something this time, it's probably too late. I don't think we're going to recover from the last eight years. But I'm seriously glad the Iraqis had their renaming ceremony in that Baghdad Square, because the ceremony serves as both a synopsis and a final verdict on this criminal and moronic neocon Bush administration.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Urban Energy

After being my mother's sole caretaker for nearly a month straight, I'm relieved to be taking a few hours off (my sisters are relieving me for part of the weekend), which I'm spending on the east side of the water, in Seattle proper.

In fact, I'm in the most densely populated and energetic zone of Seattle, at the center of the urban complex, and I love the energy here. It's got little in common with where my mom lives, an hour's drive and an hour's boat ride away (including waiting and loading). Over there, Obama is a socialist, but over here, he's a mild reformer. In Port Ludlow, gay marriage is a controversy. On Capitol Hill, it's a right.

But it's not just people's politics. Every aspect of culture you could name between here and there shows up on the radar in a comprehensive pattern of diametrical opposition. This place is overwhelmingly young and aggressively accepting of life in the unmerciful present; that place, overwhelmingly old, clueless, left behind.

There are lots of gen-X urban professionals on the Hill, some with quite a bit of money. But the stench of thousand-dollar bills doesn't hang over this place the way it does in the neighborhood where I'm staying, and neither does the decaying odor of right-wing ideology.

This makes any decision about the future a no brainer. I'll be moving over here sometime next year, probably to the Greenwood-Phinney Ridge neighborhood.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Parliament of Whores

Every once in a while we're privy to a snapshot from D.C. that throws the truth about the people ruling us into bold relief. Today's was the eulogy delivered on the Senate floor to the illustrious career of the Esteemed Colleague from Alaska, Senator Stevens. Apparently the only crimes a corrupt political hack like Stevens could possibly commit that would cause his peers to shun his presence are the sexual variety.

And in the end, they gave him a standing ovation, even though he didn't steal all that much. Such is the utter cluelessness of those who pretend to rule us, imposters whose strings are being pulled by their employers, and who, even at moments like this, which so clearly underscore the establishment's moral bankruptcy, remain infatuated with their own narcissistic image looking back at them from the fun house mirror.

When I turned on CNN early this morning, Harry Reid, in a live shot from the Senate podium, was talking about what a wonderful human being Stevens is and what an illustrious career the old grifter has had. The ancient dean of the Senate, Robert Byrd sat directly behind Reid, looking glum, and like a fossil from the century before last, and I was sorry to see him taking part in this gross spectacle. Byrd, after all, was one of the very few to oppose the Iraq War in the strongest possible terms, at a time when doing so got people called "traitor" and worse. But when push comes to shove, you know that Byrd, along with the rest of the so-called "liberals" in this hollowed-out political corpse of a Senate is hypnotized by the self-serving mythology of the "august body," which has long since submitted to the iron collar of the corporatocracy and functioned only as a tool of the billionaire class.

The American corporatocracy has fastened its iron grip on the American economy and American society chiefly through two means: first by infusing enough money into the political process to turn our national legislature into a huge payoffs-and-patronage plantation, and secondly by setting the parameters of our national political conversation through corporate ownership of the television news organs which monopolize both the available air space and the attention of the masses.

Now this ruling class has shown itself incapable of ruling anything, even itself. After two disastrous and criminal wars of failed, hare-brained imperial adventurism in the past 40 years, and two total economic collapses in 80 years caused by capitalist feeding frenzies, I'm going around asking people, "Didja learn anything yet?" and getting blank stares in reply. But at least I'm hoping most of them now realize we've got problems.

What the solution to our problems might be I can't say. I doubt very much that Barack Obama is going to part the Red Sea and lead us before Pharaoh's onrushing chariots in our escape to the Promised Land. And I'm certain our solution doesn't reside in the Senate. But the biggest difficulty I'm having with all this is that even revolutionaries don't have the answer. Karl Marx's solution to the problem of capitalist cannibalism was a pie-in-the-sky paradise of brotherly love and groovy vibes which would cause us all to start sharing everything equally.

However, even though Marx's prescription is purest fantasy, his diagnosis is dead on, and looking at the wreckage which is all that remains of American society and the U.S. economy, we now see clearly that "Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Who Could Have Known This Would Happen?

Read Dean Baker's commentary this morning for a very short, very accurate, and very complete description of how Wall Street and the Bush administration cooperated in producing the biggest economic crisis and bottomless pit of debt and insolvency the world has seen in the last 79 years.

Baker also ridicules the disaster's major players and their flunkies in portions of the corporate media for treating the meltdown as if it was an act of God, like a tornado or eathquake, rather than result of stupid, reckless, and blatantly criminal policies.

For example, the New York Post compares Hank Paulson's current predicament to the troubles of one caught in "a storm."

This kind of excuse making won't work, and Hank Paulson needs to be behind bars. He was one of the primary movers and shakers who created the degrees of leverage which made a disaster of this magnitude possible, and he personally made hundreds of millions by doing so.

This is not going to be over till we see some of these robbers in prison.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Future Blues

This morning Paulson and Bernanke are in front of Congress and on TV defending the however-many-billions-it-is bailout of just about everybody.

I'm not sure why these guys don't seem to understand that they're beating a bunch of dead horses. Sometimes I think they do understand it, but just want to pretend that we can go on living the way we have been for the last sixty years, with our suburbs and SUV's and Hot Pockets and Iraq Wars and finance "industry," and that at some point everything will return to what has passed for normal in this dysfunctional land for the past few decades.

And maybe most of us -- the "general public" -- believe that too. But I feel certain that Paulson and Bernanke and anyone else who's the least bit knowledgeable knows, if only somewhere deep down in their heart of hearts, that the old way of life is dead, and that ten years from now, twenty years from now, and from now on, Americans will be living a much less affluent, much simpler, much more localized, and much more labor-intensive kind of existence.

In other words, we're being forced to join the human race.

But the HMFIC's, or Head Mothers in Charge, are not helping to make the transition from prodigal past to sober future any easier, with their bailouts and giveaways and transfusions of the stuff of life into dead animals. And if you want to know what the near future holds for ordinary people -- people like us -- you don't have to be an economics expert, but just one who pays attention to basics.

In 2009 we'll experience a catastrophic inflation. The bottom will drop out of the currency as a result of all this money the Fed is magically creating out of thin air and giving to insolvent financial institutions and businesses. It's money made of nothing but computer blips, and the computer is the twenty-first-century equivalent of the printing press. The relevant historical example is Weimar Germany of the early 1920's.

So before too long we'll wake up one morning to 27-dollar loaves of bread and ten-dollar bus fare.

The only thing that's keeping it from happening right now is the depressed price of crude oil, but next year world production will drop by nine percent, even without deliberate withholding of product by OPEC, and diminishing supply will catch up with diminished demand. We'll be looking at 200-buck oil soon enough.

It's inconceivable to think that Paulson and Bernanke don't know these things. They must know, because they're economists, after all. What can they and we possibly gain by pretending things are rosier than we know they are?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bail My Ass Out, Johnson

There's a big brew-ha-ha over whether the gov should or shouldn't bail out the American carmaking industry. I think it should, but that from now on, any time the gov, which is us, bails out any business, we need to stipulate how the money is going to be spent. Taxpayer largesse needs to be awarded contingent on a company's using it for productive purposes, rather than just throwing it into the black hole of failed business models.

Business people should never be trusted to make business decisions. Only government should be allowed to do that. Commerce is much too important to ever be left in the hands of people whose main concern is making a lot of money for themselves.

So in this case, Detroit should get our help only if it agrees to retool its factories for making hybrid cars and light trucks that can be plugged in, rather than using our cash to pop out more F-150's and Escalades. It's our money, so we have the right to demand that it be spent on future, not past forms of enterprise.

The car executives have shown no ability whatsoever to see into the future, because they're so heavily invested in the petroleum-based type of vehicle, and loathe to give up the huge replacement parts business that will die a quick death after the public has turned to what is essentially an electric car. But it's going to happen, and trying to hang on to the past is pointless and self-destructive.

The main reason we study history is not so we can know what happened back in the day, but so we can understand the present, and anticipate future certainties, probabilities, and possibilities.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cowboys? or Uncowboys?

A correspondent at another cyber location brought to my attention that Joe Biden, in an October campaign speech in Seattle, said that "the world" would "test" President Obama shortly after he takes office.

“Mark my words,” Biden said, “it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy,” making an obvious reference to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

Biden is a foreign policy wonk. He's an international relations big shot in the Senate and he gets regular briefings from the CIA, NSA, etc.

However, we don't need inside sources to know that the Russian president, What'shisname (Putin's sock puppet), has announced that his country is ready to foment an eastern-European version of the Cuban missile crisis, in response to the Bush administration's hare-brained, deliberately provocative installation of U.S. missiles in Poland, since that story has been on network TV. I'm sure that's at least part of what Biden was referring to.

But I'm not sure why this is such a big deal. The Russians are saying they're going to react to our missiles in Poland exactly the same way we did when they installed their missiles in Cuba in 1962. So where's the crisis? or the "test," as Biden would have it?

This should be a no-brainer. Obama should remove the missiles from Poland, which Bush had no business putting there. Actually, I don't know if they're already installed, in the process of being installed, or still in the planning stage. And I also don't know if what Biden and Obama plan in response to this "test" that's coming down the road, but that response should be obvious.

However, I do know that the neocon legacy of yanking other people's chains, swaggering around the world like a ruff, tuff creampuff, playing the bully, and habitually provoking everyone like effing idiot as Bush and Cheney did, this is not the way to achieve the "peace" they said they wanted, or the way to put an end to war.

Maybe Obama and Biden will do a little better with this kind of stuff. That remains to be seen.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Lost Horizon

Whether you're an Obama fan or not -- and I'm sort of a lukewarm one -- there's no denying the dramatic change in the political atmosphere signaled by his election. It's mainly due to the sudden influx of new participants in that hoary quadrennial ritual, the casting of the ballots (or pushing of the computer screens, or mailing of the pink envelopes, or whatever) -- large numbers of voters who were formerly alienated from the process for one reason or another.

But at the same time this is occurring, the psycho one-third who have had their way with us for most of these past eight years -- most of the last 30 years, actually -- are going bananas, like so many rats hopping about on an electrified wire grid. They know their day is done, and they're not going quiet into that good night.

Today as I sat in the Bay Club, the central gathering place which serves the obnoxiously cushy and affluent exurb where I'm currently staying as I care for my aged mother, I was minding my own business and using their wireless connection. Out of the blue, I was rudely and bluntly assaulted by an aged fascist freak, a braying jackass who got up in my face, rattling off Rush Limbaugh's talking points from yesterday faster than I could shrug my shoulders and give the standard non-response.

"I'm not gonna listen to this," I finally said, as I packed up my lappy and ran for the door.

It was the wrong thing to do. So tomorrow I'll stand my ground when he returns to rattle my cage once more -- and I know he will-- I'll try politely, very politely, asking him to please leave me alone. And if that doesn't work -- who knows?

I've said it before, but it bears repeating. We're moving on, and this train isn't waiting for anybody. Therefore, it left a whole bunch of clueless Joe Jacksons standing in the station.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Artifacts Among the Ruins

Here is a strange artifact that was left on an internet discussion site. I stumbled across it this morning:

How about this. even if the constitution is not based on Christian morals, then let it begin now. It is because we the people of America have believed that our nation was founded on Christian principles that we have reached as far as we have and if this country isn't your country, a Christian based one. Then don't let the door hit you in the rear on the way out because you are part of the problem not the solution. Its all to easy to stand back with criticism for what you don't understand or don't want to understand. Try getting your spriturial hands dirty in becoming part of the cure needed for this Great Christian Nation of ours. One Nation under God...

Leaving aside the debate over the true, historical nature of both Jesus and the U.S. Constitution, and assuming only what everyone agrees is true about both of them, I find it strange that anyone could think of the U.S. today as a nation which Jesus would recognize, much less approve of. But strange as it may be, I know there are those among us who believe that because they confess a belief in His divinity, and because they willingly accept a particular symbolic interpretation of the meaning of His death as the central fact of their own existence, that they have found the one truth that will save not only themselves, but the entire country.

And many of them further believe that this country is particularly favored by their God, and that our exceptional state of grace, as much as their own belief, makes us God's own nation. How anybody could think such things about a country which has done what this one has done to unto others -- to Vietnam, to Iraq, and to tiny, defenseless nations such as Nicaragua, is beyond my understanding. I also fail to understand how any God worthy of the name could love, much less favor, a country ruled by a materialistic, predatory ruling class whose greed is so extreme that it manages to get caught up in a feeding frenzy extreme enough to result in its own destruction, and does this twice in less than a century.

But then, what do I know?

It seems to me that the True God of the United States is not the Christian God, but the one named by the great 20th-century American poet and prophet, Allen Ginsberg, in his 1955 poem "Howl:"

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs!

Now, however, the great god Moloch might be dead. The way of life this country has pursued for the last sixty years appears to have ended. Wall Street has created a bottomless black hole of financial insolvency which now sweeps the world markets before it, at a time when the most critical of the world's life-support commodities are past their peak of production. The old world passes away, and the new one is not yet in sight. We're all holding our breath, waiting to see what happens next.

The future is a mystery, but I can tell you one thing about it for certain: it will not be dominated by an ancient Mediterranean mystery cult whose centerpiece is a resurrection god of the Osiris-Dionysius type named Jesus. True, even though it's not written into law, there have been times when the Christ cult virtually owned the cultural life of this country, mainly in the century before last. But those days are gone, and they're not coming back.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Death Cult Day

Yesterday was the day we set aside for celebrating our national death cult. November 11 is a firm date; it can't be moved for the purpose of creating a three-day weekend, and, like those who have been killed in wars, it never changes.

The problem with Memorial Day is that it conflates a just regard for the pain, misery, and extraordinary personal sacrifice combat veterans have experienced, and which I acknowledge and respect, with an enthusiasm for war, and by extension an enthusiasm for death and suffering. This dreadful holiday sends a message which declares on the one hand that the sacrifices made by veterans are more than should be asked of anyone, but at the same time asserts that this pain and torment is something that future generations should aspire to and seek to emulate.

Be a real man. Hold up as heroes those who have suffered and died in the current invasion of someone else's country, and be prepared to sign up for the next one yourself, wherever it may be. It will be your rite of passage.

Read this, and then consider: the ongoing and endless despair of dead combatants' surviving family members, the daily misery of those maimed in combat, and the psychological torment of those who have seen too much of what war can do. These are not things to be glorified and romanticized the way we currently do on Memorial Day.

And this is not the way we'll put an end to war. Better we should turn away from war's horrors in disgust, and swear a solemn vow, "No more Vietnams; no more Iraqs; no more Afghanistans."

The current economic depression we're experiencing signals that the way of life we've pursued these past 60 years is dead, and I pray that the war machine which that departed way of life fed on, along with the bloody-handed ruling class who engineered it, are likewise boxed up and ready to lower into the ground.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Luxury Cruise

OK, it's not exactly a luxury cruise this morning on the M.V. Spokane (I never have figured out what the "M" is for; the "V" is for "vessel," of course). For one thing, weather conditions aren't anything like what you see in the picture.

Mt. Rainier is not even remotely visible. The fog is as thick as seapoop. There are major flood watches out for the whole western half of the state, and we're expecting to catch the brunt of this current storm tonight and tomorrow. Plus, this is the 8:30 a.m. commuter run, not the languid hours of the golden afternoon the picture suggests.

Still, there's no cruise anywhere I'd rather be on than the eleven-dollar, half-hour Kingston-to-Edmonds run. The Spokane is not my favorite boat, but it'll have to do this morning.

And now we're under way. Through the rain and mist, the pines and firs lining the Kingston shoreline look unreal, as if they were painted on the windows by an 1890's French impressionist. I assume the pilot knows where he's going; the shoreline on the Seattle side is totally obscured, and the water is a bit rough.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Innocents Abroad in One of Them Stans

Dear E.B.

Very interesting message I got from you yesterday. Sounds like you had an unexpectedly good time in Afghanistan, and got a low-altitude, close-up view of some of the Empire's most critical real estate on your way back to Kuwait.

So were you able to wave to any of those picturesque tribal Islamic hillbillies on your pass over the Afghan-Pakistan border? I wonder if they know about Tribe.com.

The pictures were great, especially the one of the C-130 that got crashed by a hot dog. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I've always assumed those things are irreplaceable (C-130's, not hot dogs), that they're not making them any more, and that if they lose one it's gone forever. I've never understood why a military establishment would allow itself to become as dependent as ours is on a piece of equipment which is a dinosaur, without coming up with something to replace it and perform the same function. But I could be all wet about this.

My ex-wife, who used to be in the Air Force reserve, spent most of her time with that worthy organization inspecting the electrical components on the fuel-flow gauges of C-130's, so what I know about them I learned from her.

It also sounds like you're experiencing a certain amount of camaraderie over there, which is at least some consolation for having to behave yourself all the time. In that part of the world, there's just no way you can't behave yourself.

Things are OK here I guess. Taking care of mom is difficult sometimes, but it's what I'm supposed to be doing right now. I don't get as much internet time as I used to, because I have to leave the house and find a wireless connection to get on line. That's good in a way, because it means spending more time doing other things, but it's also occasionally kind of inconvenient, like today when nothing's open because it's Sunday. So right now I'm composing this in a word program for copying and sending tomorrow.

All the reactionaries, fascists, racists, wingnuts, hayseeds, plow jockeys, snake handlers, glue sniffers, simpletons, mouth breathers, bumpkins, and other devolved types are going ape shit over here since the election. They all say they're "keeping their guns loaded" because Obama is going to try to "redistribute our income." Well, if Dubya can do it, I suppose Barack can do it too, but what the wingers are scared of -- I only wish it was true.

Barack, it almost goes without saying, is going to be a more effective administrator than we've seen since Clinton stepped down. But he's also mild and harmless, and certainly no threat at all to the ruling class or the status quo. Unfortunately.

As a friend of mine said a couple days ago, "(W)e still have the simple undeniable fact that he is trapped by the logic of his own existence."

However, it's an interesting time to be alive, provided you have a little money coming in from somewhere, food and gas remain available, and the U.S. dollar doesn't have its ass fall off. By the time you get out of the service, times may have changed, and there may be some people actually getting jobs, as opposed to just losing them.

Please write again soon, and send more pix if you can. That was a great picture format you used this last time. And I always enjoy hearing from you.


Sunday, November 09, 2008


I've seen a lot of it on political discussion groups, and since I'm out in public more these days so I can run my internet off other people's wi-fi routers, I've also heard it in the coffee shops and other public places where I sit and tap.

"Obama used to be a lawyer for the Black Panthers. Don't forget, he's a community organizer from Chicago."

"You know, be glad if you own a gun. It won't be long before Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are telling him what to do."

Even some of the people near and dear to me are echoing those talking fungi on Fox News when it comes to this subject.

Listening to these bombastic bromides, one quickly realizes they can all be reduced to a single short version: "I'm scared to death of the negroes."

At first I was really upset whenever I heard or read this stuff. But then I realized that most of it is coming from old people -- and by that I mean older than me. History has passed them by and made them into dinosaurs.

These are people who got left standing in the station. The train done gone, and they done got left. Too bad for them.

Oh well, we don't need them. We'll just have to go on without 'em.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

I Dream of Gini

The ruling class and their sycophants among the media and scattered among the population are nervous about Obama. His election has caused an uproar in their delicate nervous systems, but I don't think they have anything to worry about.

Obama has already signaled that he's willing to engage in an elaborate balancing act. Remember, he wants everybody to get along and love each other, and that pretty much puts the kaibosh on the possibility of class warfare, unless some members of the ruling class really nut up and order their goons to start kicking ass and taking names, as they did in Denver and Minneapolis.

How can we tell whether a society is fair and equitable? I know there are some people who think I'm a crazed Marxist for even suggesting that there is such a thing as a predatory ruling class in this country. However, the numbers prove that just such a group of our fellow citizens exists among us.

The Gini Coefficient is a useful little statistic. It's a measure of income inequality within a society, invented by an Italian statistician, Corrado Gini, in 1912.

It works like this: If the society whose income inequality you want to measure consists of two families, and one of the families has nothing and the other has everything, its Gini Coefficient is 1. If family A has 25 percent of the wealth and family B has 75 percent of it, then the Gini Coefficient is .75.

Historically, the Gini Coefficient in this country grew smaller between the time of the Great Depression and the end of Jimmy Carter's administration, as the tendency during the New Deal and its aftermath was toward greater degrees of income equality.

For example: 1950 -- the bottom quintile of American income earners gets 4.5 percent of all income, middle quintile gets 17.4, top quintile gets 42.7 -- Gini Coefficient is .379.

In 1960 it's .364, and in 1970 .353.

The inequality reflected by the Gini Coefficient starts increasing again during Carter's last year in office (1980), rising that year to 1964 levels, then goes to .396 in 1990.

In 2000, at the end of the Clinton Years, the quintile income breakdown is bottom, 3.6%; second, 8.9%; middle, 14.9%; fourth, 23%; top, 49.8%, with the top one percent of income earners making 22.1% of the country's total income from all sources. The Gini Coefficient for that year is .43.

I wish I could find the Census Bureau website again, from which I originally copied these figures.

Since 2000, reflecting the ruling class's iron grip on the political process via its agents in the Bush regime, the Gini has crept up even further; in 2005 it hit .469, and in 2006, .47, the highest index ever reported. In 2007 it dropped a bit, to .463, as a result of the busting of the housing bubble and the consequent losses due to foreclosures and the sudden revelation of the major swindle formerly known as the derivatives market, and known today as "the meltdown."

This is unacceptable for a modern, industrialized country, and it's going to change. Compare our Gini with those of European nations and the raw injustice and gross deformity of the U.S.'s income inequality stands out in bold relief. The U.K.'s Gini is .34; in France it's .28; Norway's is likewise .28.

A country with a Gini as high as ours is more like a third-world society, in which a bunch of peasants who are rapidly transforming themselves into an impoverishd, slum-dwelling urban proletariat are ruled and robbed from behind high walls by a blue-blood aristocracy.

This is the path we've been on, and we need to put an end to it.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Mystery of Karma

Karma is sort of like destiny, but not exactly. For each of us, accumulated karmic results are effects -- the results of choices we've previously made. And of course, the very nature and the specific array of those earlier choices were themselves partly determined by karmic effects which accumulated in our lives up to that time. Thus the specific circumstances of our lives are at least in part an expression of who we are.

I bring this up because I'm wondering this morning, as I sit tapping on a laptop computer in a cafe called On Common Grounds, in a tiny crossroads community called Chimacum, Washington, and existing right here, right now, in precisely this way because I'm waiting for the brakes on my Volkswagen to be repaired at a garage about a third of a mile away with the uninspiring name of Economy Garage, I'm wondering, I say, by what subtle, unnoticed, and vague but undeniable karmic twists and turns I came to this spot and this time and this precise set of circumstances.

And I'm also wondering whether my feeling that one day, before too long, I'll live in this place, and whether my living here would be the fulfillment of some obscure prophecy written in a dead and forgotten language in some long lost book, or whether it would simply be an accident -- the result of a series of chance occurrences of random events -- I'm wondering whether this is a true premonition or just some kind of weird brain fart, emanating from idle speculation that expresses itself as "Why in hell are there people living here? What brings them to this place?"

Chimacum is not exactly a garden spot, but I'm sure there are worse places. To tell the truth, it's a little strange. The tiny town fans out from a central intersection with a flashing red light, and consists of a small number of humble dwellings, a couple of farms, a school, and a large, old-looking cemetery. There are also numerous businesses, chief among them the long-established Chimacum Cafe, the upstart coffee house in which I find myself this morning, and the main gas station, Chimacum Chevron. The other mercantile establishments mostly have mud parking lots and appear to be barely hanging on.

Its virtues as a place to live would include only the fact that it's probably very quiet, and located close to the small town of Port Hadlock, and not far from the small city of Port Townsend. But the truth is, I don't really know why anybody is here, and have no idea why I would be. It would be as pat and inaccurate to say we chose to be wherever we are as it would be to say we're wherever we happen to be by accident.

This is a very complex and mysterious subject, but the gray skies and drizzling rain of this particular morning lend themselves to such ruminations. I think I'll switch to something simpler, like contemplating the financial and economic bankruptcy of this country, its big business operations, its government, and many of its suffering people. That's a depressing subject, but a simple illustration of a karmic effect. It's what you call, "Bad Karma."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Black Panthers With Sticks Intimidate White Voters

A correspondent at a political discussion website which shall remain nameless here asks, "What will Obama make go away?"

Well, I hope like hell that he's not going to make those wild, wacky, and wonderful wingnuts at Free Republic go away. Losing the entertainment they provide would be tragic.

The latest Freeper communications detail among other things how voters in Philadelphia were intimidated by stick-wielding Black Panthers (but doesn't say whether those Panthers had gigantic 'fros), how if you're a Real American you need to "keep your gun close," and how one Freeper will during the next four years "compose fictional literature describing his (Obama's) demise" (This particular Freeper has very good command of English fundamentals).

There is also a meandering screed that goes from the banking crisis to a one-world economy to one-world government to the advent of a Marxist/Muslim president to the plans our Lord Jesus Christ has for this country to the coming of the Anti-Christ, and does so without using any transitions. I'm in awe of people who can do that.

Fortunately, Obama cannot make Free Republic and other places like it "go away." They're protected by the First Amendment. So treat yourself, and peruse these blogs produced by the less fortunate, because they're fun to read.

There's the signpost up ahead; you're entering The Free Republic Zone. Dee dee dee dee, dee dee dee dee, bah da da baaaaah.

Grace N., mercifully and at last returned from her pre-balloting hiatus, links to all of the above at her Scriptoids blog.

I understand that reaction to the election runup. I didn't shut down the blog, but I mostly wrote about non-political things, like Halloween pumpkins.

Thanks, Rebooblikans

We ultra liberal socialist anti-American pinko faggot commie peace creeps have now gotten everything we ever wished for. Our situation in this country has finally gotten crappy enough that the public was willing to elect a relatively young, relatively inexperienced black man, thanks to the Republican administration and Republican Congress of 2001-2006 -- the Party that Wrecked America!

That crusading newspaper The Onion has the story:

Although polls going into the final weeks of October showed Sen. Obama in the lead, it remained unclear whether the failing economy, dilapidated housing market, crumbling national infrastructure, health care crisis, energy crisis, and five-year-long disastrous war in Iraq had made the nation crappy enough to rise above 300 years of racial prejudice and make lasting change.

"Today the American people have made their voices heard, and they have said, 'Things are finally as terrible as we're willing to tolerate," said Obama, addressing a crowd of unemployed, uninsured, and debt-ridden supporters. "To elect a black man, in this country, and at this time—these last eight years must have really broken you."

Added Obama, "It's a great day for our nation."

So thanks, Republicans, for turning the U.S. into an impoverished, second-rate power, many of whose citizens don't know whether they'll have a roof over their heads for all of 2009. You've made all of this possible.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


So Barack Obama is on his way to the White House, at the same time my friend E.B. is on his way to Afghanistan.

They told him to take his gun, extra ammo, and his flack jacket. E.B., not Obama.

"E.B.," I wrote, "what the hell are you doing in Afghanistan?"

One of my father's favorite journalistic terms was "Afghanistanism." Pop was a conscientious and very professional journalist who, when I asked him what he meant by that strange word, explained that it referred to publications and reporters who emphasize the faraway, the obscure, and the strangely foreign, as opposed to local, common, and culturally familiar concerns.

It's not for nothing that the Empire of the Pentagon has chosen to fight its last pointless, unwinnable, profoundly stupid, and, in terms of blood and treasure, ruinously expensive war in the last place on earth.

I'm hopeful that Obama will prove as good as his word and end the Iraq disaster. But at the same time he's promising, if I understand him correctly, to ramp up the war in Afghanistan. And at this point, I need somebody to explain to me, one more time, what exactly it is we're doing in Afghanistan, a mountainous country full of Islamic hillbillies, opium growers, family feuds, and women forced to walk around dressed in tents. I think it has something to do with tracking down one or two bad guys.

Afghanistan remains the last place on earth. Barack needs to change his mind and get us out of there, and the American public, I think, is ready to cut its losses and leave, even if our corporate ruling class isn't.


There was a statistically small but seismically significant shift in public sentiment discernible in the results of last night's election. The American ruling class -- the top one percent of wage earners who hold both 40 percent or so of the nation's total wealth and, until now, an iron grip on its political processes -- suddenly finds itself on unstable ground. Their wealth is evaporating along with the value of mortgage "derivatives" sold for trillions and now shown to be worthless, and their bear hug on the body politic is suddenly grown shaky in the face of broad-spectrum democracy.

From 1980, the year of the advent of Reagan, until now, they've controlled the political process mainly by two means: first, by corrupting Congress and turning it into a huge patronage-and-payoffs plantation, thus buying the legislation they wanted, and secondly, by using the corporate-owned electronic media (television, in our case) as an instrument of mass brainwashing, a technique indispensable to all big-business-backed fascist regimes from the 1920's onwards.

The trained dogs and ponies of Congress are still in their places at the trough, but the brainwashing has suddenly ceased having the desired effect. It seems an economic crisis such as the current one produces populations with dirty brains, and no amount of corporate-sponsored washing avails to clean them.

Obama has a delicate balancing act ahead of him. The power of the American capitalist ruling class is marginally diminished by the outcome of the elections, but they're still the Queen among pieces left on the board. However, that vague, unfocused, and ill-defined entity, "the people," has suddenly asserted itself as an independent and oppositional counterweight to the desires and influence of the ruling class, and Obama will have to take It, or Them, or maybe I should say Us into account in fabricating his upcoming decisions about the economy and debt, war and peace, and the myriad of other policy categories which are now on the table in front of him, awaiting retooling.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Broad Spectrum Democracy

A few election day random thoughts from around the blogosphere:

(L)ots of reports of voting problems, often with lots of exclamation points, by people who don't seem to be able distinguish between serious voter intimidation, general incompetence, and the to be expected occasional malfunctioning machine or whatever. (Atrios)

My general observation of these and related matters is that an election has to be close if it's to be stolen. This one won't be a landslide, but it's not going to be all that close either.

"Conservative commentators had a lot of fun mocking Barack Obama’s use of the phrase, 'the fierce urgency of now.'

"Noting that it had originated with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Senator Obama made it a cornerstone of his early campaign speeches.

"Conservatives kicked the phrase around like a soccer ball. 'The fierce urgency of now,' they would say, giggling. What does it mean?

"Well, if your house is on fire and your family is still inside, that’s an example of the fierce urgency of now." (Bob Herbert in the New York Times)

And if, as Herbert notes further down in the column, nearly 40 percent of the nation's wealth is in the hands of the top one percent of income earners, and that same one percent also holds the nation's political machinery in its "iron grip," the house is indeed on fire. Today's the day we put that fire out.

On MSNBC just now, Sarah Palin took a few questions from reporters clustered outside her Wasilla, Alaska, polling place. Unbelievably, she refused to tell them whom she voted for. Here's what she said: "I am also exercising my right to privacy, and I don't have to tell anybody who I vote for, nobody does, and that's really cool about America also." Verbatim. (Joan Walsh at Salon.com) (Thanks to This Modern World for that "They'll do it every time" item.)

Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.

And finally, from Glenn Greenwald, also at Salon.com:

"My Predictions"

"Popular vote: Obama - 51.6%; McCain - 47.1%; Nader/Barr/others: 1.3%
Electoral votes: Obama - 321-217 (Kerry states + CO, NM, IA, VA, NC, OH)

"I believe my presidential predictions are on the conservative side -- meaning that I think it's more likely that I'm under-estimating the margin of Obama's popular and electoral victory than over-estimating them. There are numerous variables -- higher Democratic enthusiasm, Obama's superior ground operations, large influxes of first-time and African-American voters -- that are too unknown for me to factor in, but all of which militate in favor of an even larger Obama victory than my predictions suggest."

And me? How do I think it will turn out? I, uh, agree with Glenn there.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Another Test/Survey/Quiz Type Thing

Want to take a civics quiz? This is a pretty good, one -- harder than your basic civics fundamentals high school test, but less difficult than the concepts you'd likely encounter in an arcane, specialized P.hD. thesis. I did pretty well on it, scoring 54/60 or 90%.

There were lots of history questions, and I got all of those right, although I was disappointed that there weren't any about some of my favorite American historical figures such as Joseph McCarthy, Aaron Burr, or General Curtis LeMay. It seems that only figures from history the general public respects and admires get their own questions.

I'm obsessed with Joe McCarthy. If he was with us today he'd be carrying a gin bottle around in a briefcase, which he would loudly proclaim contains evidence that Barack Obama is a Muslim terrorist. The people actually making those claims today are small potatoes compared to a major media star like drunken Joe.

But I digress. The hardest questions on this quiz, accounting for 2/3 of my wrong answers were were in the economics section, and I found some of them ideologically loaded, or to put it another way, squinky.

For example, "National defense is considered a common good because..."

"Considered by whom?" is one of my reservations about this question, and another is "How much 'national defense'?"

The war machine is not a common good. It's a menace to society, and an employment opportunity for hundreds of thousands who would have to be engaged in making or growing things of value if they were not employed in the making of engines of destruction, accoutrements for such engines, and other auxiliary support activities that enable us to periodically send our expeditionary forces to new and exotic places, meet new and exotic peoples, and kill them.

That's my sermon for today, and thanks to Earthfreak at Beliefnet/US Politics for bringing this fun quiz to our attention.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

El Ciudad De Las Turistas

I motored the 25 or so miles from Port Ludlow up the peninsula to Port Townsend this morning, for a visit to Don's Pharmacy, a sort of old-fashioned drugstore in a strip mall, and also for the once-a-month trip to my "other" bank.

The road up and back was breathtakingly beautiful, and very sparsely traveled up until the five miles or so just before one arrives at the town. A gray overcast and light drizzle were interspersed with wan sunlight weakly attempting to shine through the low ceiling, and the tranquil evergreens lining both sides of the road alternated with Pacific maples whose leaves are mostly yellow now, and beginning to fall fast and litter the roadway. I was in awe of the tranquility and quiet emanating from these thick, damp woods, and can't help contrasting these scenes to my recent surroundings in hot, hectic Southern Cal.

I wandered to the core of downtown Port Townsend while I was there, looking for the hemp clothing store, only to find that it closed five or six years ago. I guess I missed a few beats.

Port Townsend has avoided the ruin that has befallen the majority of small towns in the American west by turning to the tourist trade. The result -- a remodeled, gentrified downtown shopping district that's excessively boutiquey, chi-chi, and cute, is unsatisfying, but certainly not as depressing as the rows of boarded-up storefronts of Winslow, Arizona. Neither is it as self-contradicting as the working-class, simultaneous dilapidation and Wal-Martization of places like Cottage Grove, Oregon.

However, November is the beginning of the deep part of the off season in Port Townsend, which means the town is left with idle and trafficless boutique and restaurant operators, and the substratum of poor-to-modestly-prosperous hippies who populate the place, making their marginal living off the same seasonal resource as everyone else plus various and sundry above-ground and underground sidelines.

Townsend has the advantages of being beautifully sited, with salt water on three sides and a vital travel connection (Washington State Ferries), a wealth of well-preserved and extensively renovated Victorian architecture, both residential and commercial, and a climate which is warmer and sunnier than most of the rest of the region during summer. The Olympic Peninsula thus serves as a kind of funnel with the narrow end at Port Townsend naturally routing all the region's summertime tourists into this small and attractive city. It has survived and avoided the desolation common to 90 percent of the other villages in this part of the world only by paying a price. A place such as this can only get by pretending to be cuter than it really is.

I'll be coming back here regularly in the late fall, winter, and early spring, but will probably avoid the place during the time of warm weather.

I guess they're still planning to have that election people have been talking about. I think it's on Tuesday. Our long national nightmare is just about over.

I already voted -- for the Democrat -- and I hope he wins. Other than that, I don't intend paying too much attention to it until Wednesday morning, when somebody will have one. And somebody will have won, also. And, it goes without saying, somebody will have lost, also.

It's turned into real moon madness, and has brought out some of the most unattractive traits imaginable in the various humans and others who are obsessed with it.

Meanwhile, Bill Kristol, one of the stupidest morons on the planet, and an outstanding candidate for the Stupid Olympics decathlon, was back on the Daily Show again the other night, and The E&P Pub reports:

Appearing once again on The Daily Show, Bill Kristol, Jon Stewart's favorite whipping boy ("Bill Kristol, aren't you ever right?"), tonight defended the McCain-Palin ticket, at one point informing the show's host that he was getting his news from suspect sources. "You're reading The New York Times too much," he declared.

"Bill, you work for The New York Times," Stewart pointed out.


It's true. Kristol writes a column for the New York Times. I haven't ever actually read it, since I'm not a masochist, but I've heard there are some people who do.

So much for the Times's Liberal Media cred.


Photo of downtown Port Townsend by Paul, 2004.