Mar 23, 2008

March 18, 2008: Tulip Time, When Hands Outrun the Wisdom of the Mind, Castles in the Sand


It is a modern calamity that contemporary humanity holds itself to be more intelligent than ancient man. It is a modern tragedy that contemporary society holds itself to be more wise. This is a consequence, in my view, not of the illusion of central position as it is to the illusion of linear progression. In the West it is commonly held that because of our demonstrated mastery of technology we possess greater wisdom than all that have become before. This is, of course, a modern conceit.

The truth is that if you stand modern man against his ancient counterparts one will discover that each is possessed of equal intelligence, ingenuity and wisdom. The singular advantage possessed by modern man is that he is the happy beneficiary of all that has gone before. This is attributable to two things: first the invention by ancient man of writing and, secondly, the building by modern man of global markets. Both of these developments have worked hand-in-glove to reduce by degrees the pressing necessity of constantly re-inventing the wheel, making it possible not only to record discoveries but increasingly to share those discoveries with the rest of the world. This has made it unnecessary to continually prove the Pythagorean Theorem, freeing us to explore new intellectual and increasingly technical frontiers. I say this by way of demonstrating that although knowledge is cumulative and somewhat linear, intelligence and wisdom are not. In the latter respects modern and ancient man are the same animal, born to the same sins, activated by the same motives, subject to the same tragic hubris.

As a young man I lost a long summer deep in the study of economics. It was then that I discovered the works of Professor Galbraith who brought to the ‘dismal science’ not only a breath of fresh air but a biting historical criticism of today’s collective misunderstandings. It was in my reading of one of the learned professor’s many works that I encountered Tulip Mania.

“The term Tulip Mania…is used metaphorically to refer to any large economic bubble. The term originally came from the period in the history of the Netherlands during which demand for tulip bulbs reached such a peak that enormous prices were charged for a single bulb.” (1) Introduced from Turkey into the Netherlands (then called the United Provinces) the flower began to be cultivated around 1593 “when Charles de L’Ecluse first bred tulips able to tolerate the harsher conditions of the Low Countries…The flower rapidly became a coveted luxury item and status symbol. Special breeds were given exotic names or named after Dutch naval admirals. The most spectacular and highly sought-after tulips had vivid colors, lines, and flames on the petals as a result of being infected with a tulip-specific virus known as the ‘Tulip Breaking potyvirus.” (1)

By “1623, a single bulb of a famous tulip variety could cost as much as a thousand Dutch Florins” (1). This single Tulip bulb would cost nearly 7 times the annual income (150 Florins) of the average Dutchman. “By 1635, a sale of 40 bulbs for 100,000 florins was recorded. By way of comparison, a ton of butter cost around 100 florins and ‘eight fat swine’ 240 florins.” A record, of sorts, was set at Haarlem with the sale of a single bulb—the Semper Augustus—for 6,000 florins. (1) “By 1636, tulips were traded on the stock exchanges of numerous Dutch towns and cities. This encouraged trading in tulips by all members of society…Some traders sold tulip bulbs that had only just been planted or those they intended to plant (in effect, tulip futures contracts) (1)

In February, 1637 the bubble burst. Traders could no longer command bulbs at these inflated prices and began to sell. A panic developed as the market, made up as it is of herd animals, moved almost as one in a stampede to unload themselves of their precious bulbs. “Some were left holding contracts to purchase tulips at prices now ten times greater than those on the open market, while others found themselves in possession of bulbs now worth a fraction of the price they had paid. Allegedly, thousands of Dutch, including businessmen and dignitaries, were financially ruined.” (1). The crash of the ‘tulip market’ led to what would today be called a mild or moderate economic depression lasting a number of years (2).

This little historical incident—although no minor thing to the affected Dutch—demonstrates how the market, in this case a commodities market, can by distorting economic value lead to pathologies resulting in long term hardship. In this case speculation, driven by age-old avarice and greed, produced a virtual mania that created a total disconnect between the market value and the real value of the commodity. Wealth was being won or lost in the euphoria generated by a speculative craze which, feeding upon itself, lost all connection with real value. In the end, as it must, a day of reckoning fell upon the Dutch. The mania and its euphoria were replaced with a hard and stern reality proving once again that real wealth is always rooted in the production of goods and services that meet the needs not of markets but of consumers.

It is comforting to the modern psyche to reflect that these events happened nearly 400 years ago, and the ensuing temptation is altogether too great to look upon them as the folly of an earlier age when things were not so clearly understood. We, possessing as we do a greater technical command if not a greater wisdom, are seen as beyond the reach of such folly. But read Galbraith’s The Great Crash or Merriner Eccles’ account (previous post) of the origins of the Great Depression and one must immediately understand that although we are in possession of ever more powerful machinery, the same animal is at the controls.

“When hands outrun the wisdom of the mind”, grandmother used to admonish. Here in these words, reflecting a wisdom born of the tragedy that was the twentieth century, one can easily conjure images of a three-year old child in control of a bulldozer. What she was teaching all those years ago is that the intellectual superiority of contemporary man is a modern conceit and that the only real difference between then and now is the level of our technology. But to what purpose if we have not matched this advance in knowledge with similar advances in wisdom?


Today we have at our disposal technologies our ancestors could envision only in their dreams. We have instant electronic communication that has transformed the entire planet into a ‘global village’ making it possible, among other things, to transfer huge sums of wealth instantaneously around the world. We have the power to move and to shake the earth. But we are still, alas, the same man. Now instead of riding astride a toy truck we are at the controls of a huge earth mover. Instead of constructing a relatively small house of cards in tulip speculation we have erected a towering castle in the sand in the form of derivatives that dwarf not simply the markets of the United Provinces, or Wall Street, but are now several times the size of the world economy itself. “When hands outrun the wisdom of the mind”, it is always wise to listen to one’s grandmother.

Footnotes:

1. http://en/wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulip_mania
2. Galbraith, J.K., A Short History of Financial Euphoria. Penguin Books, New
York, NY, 1990 pg. 34
3. See also Galbraith, J.K., The Great Crash 1929, Houghton Mifflin Company,
Boston, Mass. 1961 199pgs.

March 17, 2008: Rhyme of the Ancient Marriner, Lipstick on the Pig, House of Cards


Marriner S. Eccles was a banker from Utah who, after making himself a millionaire in his early 20’s, was later appointed to the Federal Reserve Board and then promoted to Chairman of the Federal Reserve by Franklin Roosevelt in 1934 where he continued to serve until 1948. In 1951 he wrote his memoirs, entitled Beckoning Frontiers, in which he explained what he believed to have been the cause of the Great Depression.

As mass production has to be accompanied by mass consumption, mass consumption, in turn, implies a distribution of wealth—not of existing wealth, but of wealth as it is currently produced—to provide men with buying power equal to the amount of goods and services offered by the nation’s economic machinery. (Emphasis in original.). Instead of achieving that kind of distribution, a giant suction pump had by 1929-30 drawn into a few hands an increasing portion of currently produced wealth. This served them as capital accumulations. But by taking purchasing power out of the hands of mass consumers, the savers denied to themselves the kind
of effective demand for their products that would justify a reinvestment of their capital accumulations in new plants. In consequence, as in a poker game where the chips are concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, the other fellows could stay in the game only by borrowing. When their credit ran out, the game stopped.

“That is what happened to us in the twenties. We sustained high levels of employment in that period with the aid of an exceptional expansion of debt outside of the banking system. This debt was provided by the large growth of business savings as well as savings by individuals, particularly in the upper-income groups where taxes were relatively low. (Emphasis added.)
Private debt outside the banking system increased about fifty per cent. This debt, which was at high interest rates, largely took the form of mortage debt on housing, office and hotel structures, consumer installment debt, broker’s loans, and foreign debt. (Emphasis added.) The stimulation of spending by debt-creation of this sort was short-lived and could not be counted on to sustain high levels of employment for long periods of time. Had there been a better distribution of the current income from the national product—in other words, had there been less savings by business and the higher income groups and more income in the lower groups—we should have had far greater stability in our economy. (Emphasis added.) Had the six billion dollars, for instance, that were loaned by corporations and wealthy individuals for stock-market speculation been distributed to the public as lower prices or higher wages and with less profits to the corporations and the well-to-do, it would have prevented or greatly moderated the economic collapse that began at the end of 1929. (Emphasis added.)

“The time came when there were no more poker chips to be loaned on credit. Debtors thereupon were forced to curtail their consumption in an effort to create a margin that could be applied to the reduction of outstanding debts. This naturally reduced the demand for goods of all kinds and brought on what seemed to be overproduction, but was in reality underconsumption
when judged in terms of the real world instead of the money world. This, in turn, brought about a fall in prices and employment.” (Emphasis added) (1)

The result was a downward spiral in which constricted demand produced greater unemployment which in turn further reduced demand, creating greater unemployment until, at last, a bottom of sorts was reached. When the dust had finally cleared, from the collapse of this financial house of cards, the vicious circle of deflation had left nearly 1/3 of the entire working population unemployed and the nation’s income reduced by 50%. What followed was a decade-long period of economic agony relieved only by the coming of world war.

This is the most succinct explanation that I have read of what went so terribly wrong. Coming from one who was not only, so to speak, ‘present at creation’, but who was charged with managing the nation’s money supply during the aftermath, it is impossible to discount the views of the good Chairman. Many revisionists, Milton Friedman among them, have been about the business of smearing the historical record but as John Kenneth Galbraith remarked in a television interview late in his life “they’re simply wrong”. “They weren’t there”, Galbraith said, “they don’t know.” Given the choice between Milton Friedman and John Kenneth Galbraith, I’ll take Harvard’s Galbraith any day.

What is striking here is that the Chairman identifies the concentrations of wealth, predatory lending, high interest rates, and massive consumer debt as all contributing to constriction of aggregate demand which triggered a deflationary spiral that brought about the total collapse of the world financial structure.

Last week saw the collapse of Bear Sterns, one of the most venerable names on Wall Street and the nation’s fifth largest investment bank. (2) The company had demonstrated wisdom and restraint in the 90’s by avoiding a too-great involvement in the dot.com craze, but instead specialized in hedge funds and real estate posting earnings that had its stock selling at a high of $171.00 a share.(3) But leveraged at over 30 to 1, “meaning that it borrows more than 30 times the value of its $11 billion equity base,” (3) the coffers at the company “significantly deteriorated”’ within a 24 hour period as rumors about the bank’s situation fueled the Wall Street version of a run on the bank. Central bankers tapped a rarely used Depression-era provision to provide loans, and said they were ready to provide extra resources to combat an erosion of confidence in America’s biggest financial institutions” (2) as fears of greater panic spread.

It was reported that “nearly half the value of Bear Stearns, or about $5.7 billion, was wiped out in a matter of minutes as investors felt the bailout signaled that the credit crisis had reached a more serious stage, and now threatens to undermine the broader financial system—the U.S. economy.” (2)

Calls were made in the night to JP Morgan Chase and to the Federal Reserve which used depression era authority to lend and secure the monies necessary for JP Morgan to stabilize the situation. Over the weekend it was announced that JP Morgan Chase had purchased Bear Stearns outstanding shares which were selling at week’s end at $30.00 a share for $2.00.

In the meantime Fed Chairman Ben B Bernanke who had issued fresh warnings Friday about “a gathering wave of home foreclosures bearing down on American communities” (4), met with President Bush and the Secretary of the Treasury over the weekend to determine the steps necessary to reassure the jittery markets and prevent wholesale panic from stampeding Wall Street. To that end the Secretary was on all the talk shows Sunday morning reassuring both Wall Street and the public that all would be well. The President made a rare weekend appearance and, putting lipstick on the pig, reassured the nation that while it is in for a ‘rough patch’ that the economy is, nevertheless, ‘fundamentally sound’. It is, of course, not. One must keep constantly in mind that whatever this President says about anything belies the fact that reality is precisely the opposite.

What are inescapable are the parallels between the situation now and in the late 20’s. Wealth has been concentrated in the upper classes and is being generated by financiers not manufacturing. The public is up to its eyebrows in debt, wages are stagnant or declining, inflation is savaging the standard of living. The ability of the economy to sustain mass production—in this case housing and automobiles—has become problematic. But the Boomers, ever an innovative lot, have conjured up even more frightening demons creating exotic new ways to concentrate wealth and removing the firewall that had kept our financial institutions separate from the financial casino’s that the markets represent.

A few years before her death columnist Molly Ivins expressed concern about the growing use of what are called derivatives and hedge funds in the financial world. Derivatives are “financial instruments whose value is derived from the value of something else. The main types of derivatives are futures, forwards, options and swaps” (5) in which trading, or speculating, can occur on anything from economic reports, indexed energy prices, commodities, freight, inflation, insurance, weather, credit, or property” . At some level these instruments are clearly beneficial as when a farmer sells his wheat or corn at the beginning of the planting season so that he has capital to run his farm. A price is reached; a bargain struck in which the farmer gets his money and the buyer gets claim to the product betting that the price will go up in the interregnum. Sometimes one wins, sometimes one loses, but on balance because of an undercurrent of inflation, both make money. The idea behind these instruments was to spread risk and build predictability and stability in the marketplace. And, for the most part, they work. But, like everything else concerning The Generation of Swine, left to their own resources things tend to get a bit pathological. There are some real problems with these instruments if they are not used wisely:

1. The use of derivatives can produce large losses. “Derivatives allow
investors to earn large returns from small movements in the underlying
asset’s price. However investors could lose large amounts if the price
of the underlying moves against them significantly.”(5) This is the threat posed by the current real estate bubble.

2. Derivatives “expose investors to counter-party risk. (5) (Emphasis original) by spreading the risk an ensuing financial crisis can negatively impact a greater portion of the economy.

3. Derivatives “typically have a large notion value” (5) (Emphasis original) meaning that their use “could result in losses that the investor would be unable to compensate for. The possibility that this could lead to a chain reaction in an ensuing economic crisis has been pointed out by legendary investor Warren Buffet.

4 Derivatives “massively leverage the debt in an economy.(5) (Emphasis
original) making it ever more difficult for the underlying real economy to service its debt obligations and curtailing real economic activity, which can cause a recession or even depression.” (5). This was, as you recall the reason cited by Chairman Eccles as the cause of the Great Depression.

While these instruments can be used to stabilize prices and markets and even cushion the impact of an economic downturn, carried to excess they become as any economic activity—a threat to the stability and the function of the marketplace and the economy.

We have already witnessed some of the deleterious effects of these investments in the marketplace. In 1994 a young recent graduate of one of the top business schools was left unsupervised. What transpired, over the course of several months, was the over commitment of the assets of Barings Bank to the investment in derivatives which led to the bankruptcy of the bank that had financed the Louisiana Purchase. This was followed by the bankruptcy of Orange County California in 1994, Long-Term Capital Management in 2000, the loss of 6.4 billion dollars “in the failed Amaranth Advisors fund,” when the price of natural gas plummeted in 1996, and the loss of 7.2 billion by Societe Generale in January 2008. (5) To put the widespread use of derivatives and hedge funds into perspective, legendary investor Warren Buffet has called derivatives “financial weapons of mass destruction”. (5)

How prevalent are they? Derivatives are traded in two fundamental ways. There are Over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives, “contracts that are traded (and privately negotiated) directly between two parties without going through an exchange or other intermediary. Products such as swaps, forward rate agreements and exotic options are almost always traded in this way. The OTC derivatives market is huge. According to the Bank for International Settlements, the total outstanding notional amount in USD (United States Dollars) is 516 trillion (as of June 2007) (Emphasis added). This dwarfs in size the 170 trillion dollar estimate of the wealth of the entire planet (5). The 516 trillion in OTC derivatives is based on a gross market value of 11 trillion dollars (see footnote 1. source 5), in what we appears to be roughly the amount equal to the Gross Domestic Product of the U.S. economy leveraged at about a 50 to 1 ratio in speculative transactions.

In addition, the market for Exchange-traded derivatives (ETD) which are traded among other places at the Korean Exchange, the Eurex, and the CME group—which includes both the Chicago Merchantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade—“the combined turnover in the world’s derivatives exchanges totaled 344 trillion during Q4 (Quarter four ) 2005. (Emphasis added). (5)

Beginning about 1973, as Capital went about the business of what Capital always does—reconfiguring itself into ever more exotic forms for the purpose of maximizing profit and avoiding regulation and taxation, there has been a steady movement of capital into derivatives and hedge funds. These funds have clearly transcended their original purpose and are now used to speculate on the movements of currencies, inflation, interest rates, and market indexes. This is all bad enough but what poses the immediate threat to the health of the world economy is the enormity of the sums now invested in what are, in effect, huge casinos. Derivatives alone dwarf national economies, now totaling over 5 times the entire Gross Domestic Product of the United States of America. This is the house of cards that the Generation of Swine have, in their greed, erected. And now the table is beginning to shake.

Footnotes:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Depression
http://www.charter.net/news/news_reader.php?storyid=14476536&feedid-14
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/15/business/15bear.html?pagewanted=2&hp
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/15business/15bear.html?hphttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derivative_(finance)

Mar 17, 2008

March 16, 2008: Years of Darkness, Keeping Hope Alive, A Brighter Day Will Come


“It is simple to follow the easy and familiar path of personal ambition
and private gain…It is easier to fall in step with the slogans of others
than to march to the beat of an internal drummer—to make and stand
on judgments of your own. And it is easier to accept and stand on the
past, than to fight for the answers of the future.

“Jefferson Davis once came to Boston and addressed his audience
in Faneuil Hall as ‘countrymen, brethren, Democrats.’ Rivers of blood
and years of darkness divide that day from this. But those words echo
down to this hall bringing the lesson that only as countrymen and
brothers can we hope to master and subdue to the service of mankind
the enormous forces which rage across the world we live in. And only
in this way can we pursue our personal talents to the limits of our
possibility—not as Northerners or Southerners, black or white—but
as men and women in the service of the American dream.”(1)

Senator Robert F. Kennedy
University of Mississippi
March 18, 1966

It was 40 years ago today that Robert Kennedy stood in the old senate chamber and announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States, “not to oppose any man”, I remember him saying so clearly, “but to propose new policies”. And so began the brief odyssey to “seek a newer world” ending only weeks later in that pantry in Los Angeles. It has been left to this generation to agonize over what might have been. Would there have been no Nixon presidency, no Watergate, no disillusionment? Would Bobby have been able to bring the country together? Would there have been a more timely and just end to Vietnam? Would there then have been no need of the redemption that was Jimmy Carter, or the ensuing failures that led to Ronald Reagan? Would there have been no conservative resurgence and if so, what form would it have taken? We will never know for history has a way of eliminating all alternatives.

Years of darkness followed that awful night in Los Angeles for what lay dying on the kitchen floor was not only a man driven by overarching ambition, but perhaps the last, best hope of a generation to bind up the nation’s wounds and bring the country together. Robert Kennedy stands as the last statesman in American politics to unite blacks and poor whites, Hispanics and minorities, protestant and catholic, rich and poor. His death saw the immediate disaffection of southern and poor whites to the race-baiter George Wallace beginning a long slow slide of zero-sum, divide and rule political machinations that have led, by degrees, to this miserable place we presently find ourselves. The death of Robert Kennedy finished the old New Deal coalition, already straining at the seams, and brought to power first the disciple of Dwight Eisenhower then the apostles of Barry Goldwater. America has not been the better for it. I stop today to pay my respects to that gallant effort begun so long ago and to mourn that we have been now 40 years in the wilderness.


“Out of this long political darkness, a brighter day will come” said a young Barack Obama as he finished his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. In this hope he had followed the well-worn path of George McGovern, Gary Hart, and Jesse Jackson who implored us during the darkest Reagan years to “keep hope alive”. And as this campaign season began an unlikely first-term junior senator from Illinois with nothing but the “Audacity of Hope” began his improbable challenge to the established order. As the primaries began to sort out the wheat from the chaff, the voice of hope arose against those who have gone over to the ‘dark side’ calling the young and the old, the rich and the poor, and those of us who have labored in the vineyards of Democratic party politics in vain for so long, to rise up and reclaim the heart of the party and defend the soul of the country. He stands today, as Bobby did those many years ago, on the threshold of victory.

At the convention speech in 2004 he had talked about how the pundits and the politico’s had “sliced and diced” America into various groups and regions, dividing the nation into rich and poor, black and white, young and old, north and south, blue and red. He understood the politics of cynicism that, like a cancer was eating at the soul of the republic. He said that “we are all one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.” And then he asked, “Do we participate in the politics of cynicism or do we participate in the politics of hope?” Ever since this has been the message of the young Jedi as he has combated the old order. Not since Robert Kennedy have we had a champion who has held out the hope that “out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come”. (2)

Footnotes:
Conot, Robert. Rivers of Blood, Years of Darkness, Bantam Books, Inc. New York, New York. 1967
http://usliberals.about.com/od/extraordinaryspeeches/a/ObamaSpeech.htm

March 15, 2008: Being For The Benefit Of Pastor Wright, Through a Glass, Darkly, The First Step Toward Honesty


“For now we see through a glass, darkly”-- I Corinthians 13 verse 12

Today America looked into the mirror and beheld the angry form of the Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in south Chicago; a black church in an overwhelmingly white denomination, and the church of Barack Obama. In an article by Jodi Kantor in today’s New York Times, it was reported that “Senator John McCain’s campaign forwarded to reporters an article in the Wall Street Journal in which Mr. Wright was quoted as saying, ‘Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run.’ The Reverend also accused the United States of importing drugs, exporting guns and training murderers”. (see http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/15/us/politics/15wright.html? ).

The Reverend Wright, 66, has been ministering to his congregation for some 37 years building Trinity into “a 6,000 member congregation through his blunt, charismatic preaching, which melds detailed scriptural analysis, black power, Afrocentrism and emphasis on social justice”. He is a major spokesman for black liberation theology, “which interprets the Bible as a guide to combating oppression of African-Americans”.
The Reverend Wright is also something of an “equal opportunity critic”, according to Kantor, “often delivering scorching lectures about black society, telling audiences to improve their education and work ethic.”

We saw none of that, nor did we see the kind of sermons that moved the young Obama to write The Audacity of Hope; the sermons about social justice that Obama among so many others have found so inspiring. Instead we witnessed a thirty-second compilation formed into a pointed and bitter commentary on contemporary America designed to make the young Jedi appear to be a cult follower who has succumbed to a completely foreign ideology. This represents yet another attempt to paint the young Jedi as hopelessly out of the cultural mainstream; yet another attempt to marginalize him.

Let’s examine the incendiary remarks of the good Reverend and ask, in all honesty, where lies the truth?

On the tape, Reverend Wright is recorded as saying, “Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run”, and accused the Untied States of importing drugs, exporting guns, and training murderers. The record quite clearly shows that the Republic was indeed founded on slavery, that it still runs on racial persecution—just examine the penal system for instance—a whole industry dependent upon and sustained by the incarceration of huge numbers of minorities, most on minor drug violations. The Reverend here accuses the United States of importing Drugs. Remember Oliver North, the CIA, Manuel Noriega and the importation of heroine into the US for purposes of raising money for the Contras? Is it mere coincidence that Afghanistan was nearly drug free under the old Taliban but now produces, under U.S. occupation, nearly 80% of the world’s opium? Is it mere coincidence that the U.S. props up in the form of material and military aid to Afghanistan and Columbia two of the greatest narco-states on the planet? What about the export of guns and the training of murderers. Well now, the U.S. we must admit sells more weapons overseas than any other country and our facilities at Fort Benning Georgia and elsewhere are notorious for training interrogation forces on behalf of every right-wing fascist dictatorship in the world. Let’s not forget who trained SAVAK for the Shah of Iran, nor the secret police of Pinochet’s Chile among many, many others.

The Reverend was also recorded shouting, “we bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye…we have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost”. The truth is that we did bomb the Japanese cities and we did it for no other reason than to demonstrate our new weapons to the world and to intimidate the Russians as we went about the business of establishing a post-war order. Yes we have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians in the form of massive U.S. military aid to Israel who has used that power to occupy the territories conquered during the 1967 war and to engage in policies of apartheid and ethnic cleansing. In recent years we have seen the Government of the United States, in the name of the people of this country, condemn and then go to war with Iraq for the failure of that regime to abide by a handful of United Nations resolutions. Meanwhile Israel has been in violation of over 80 such resolutions (see http://www.middleeastnews.com/unresolutionlist.html also see http://en.wikipedia.or/.wiki/list_of_the_UN_resolutions_concerning_Israel) critical of Israel and its international behavior. Nary has a word come out of Washington about enforcing these resolutions, a point not lost on the peoples of the Middle East. Instead we have stood idly by a witness to the apartheid granting at best our tacit approval, and at worst our outright complicity. Then there is the question of South Africa. For decades this government, and the Corporations it represented, not only did business in South Africa but actively resisted any attempts to overturn the racist regime in Johannesburg. Instead of heeding the call of the African National Congress to end the oppression we labeled Nelson Mandela a Communist and the African National Congress a mere front organization in an erstwhile effort to brand them the enemy in a crusade of another sort.
And, finally, America’s chickens are coming home to roost. As in the debacle in 1979 when the Shah was overthrown by the Shi’ite clerics in a riot of anti-American venom, so too the entire region has witnessed not only the propping up of every form of oppressive regimen by the Western powers, and the completely one-sided approach to the Arab-Israeli mess, but in recent years the wholesale introduction of Western ground forces into a region that fought for most of the last century to rid themselves of the British and French colonialists. By re-establishing the appearance, if not the substance, of the old colonial order, the United States has re-opened ancient wounds in the name of securing the oil fields for Bechtel and Halliburton. The attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were criminal acts directed not against America so much as against the symbols of American and Western imperialism. This is what the good reverend meant in his blunt and angry address before the faithful. Any objective historical analysis vindicates his view.

Lastly, and most damningly, the good reverend called upon the damnation of America for its sin. “The government gives them drugs, build bigger prisons, passes a three strike and your out, then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.” No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme”. (see http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080315/ap_on_el_pr/obama_pastor ) This is not damning America. This is damning America’s sins, of which there have been all too many.


Then the Reverend turned his attention to Rupert Murdock’s favorite Democrat, Hillary Clinton. Saying “Barack knows what it means to be a black man to be living in a country and a culture controlled by rich white people…Hillary can’t say that, Hillary ain’t never been called a nigger”.

To paraphrase Pontius Pilate: I can find no fault with this man.

These clips have been dumped in the spin-cycle, replayed endlessly in the gaping void that must be filled on cable news. Barack moved quickly to stanch the hemorrhage, saying of the pastor that had married him to Michelle and had baptized their children that the Reverend’s remarks were “completely unacceptable and inexcusable” characterizing them as “inflammatory and appalling”, and concluding that if this were the tenor of the church “I wouldn’t feel comfortable there”. Citing the Reverend’s impending retirement, Obama said that he never heard the Reverend say any of these things, but his remarks have once again raised questions about Obama’s religious beliefs at a time when he has had to fight against “false internet rumors suggesting he’s really a Muslim”. How quickly and how much distance can be placed between Obama and his spiritual advisor remains unclear but the damage has been done. Pat Buchanan on MSNBC was speaking yesterday of the possibility of records and witnesses emerging showing Obama in the pews during one of the Reverend’s more animated moments. The Reverend Wright has withdrawn from his advisory role in the campaign (spiritual advisor) and is about to retire. In the meantime the Rescumlicans—in the form of Limbaugh, Seen Hannity and Murdock’s new tabloid The Wall Street Journal will have a field day savaging the young Jedi as being hopelessly un-American and distracting the country from the more serious problems at hand.

Barack, in a statement on the Huffington Post, said that “he (Reverend Wright) has never been my political advisor…He’s been my pastor” (see New York Times cited above). It matters little. America has been drawn to the mirror” and what it encountered, if for but a few brief seconds, was the rage within felt by those who have been left behind. “’If you’re black, its hard to say what you truly think and not upset white people” said James Cone, a professor at Union Theological Seminary and the father of black liberation theology who has known Mr. Wright since he was a seminary student.”’ (see New York Times cited above). In this the Reverend Wright speaks for many, if not most of us. It’s a pity that the image is reflected through the lense of race, through a glass, darkly as it were, for America will not take the first step toward honesty with itself until it can look into the glass and behold its own myriad form.

Mar 13, 2008

March 12, 2008: Polarized By Race, The Coalition Threatens to Unravel, Choosing a Sword


Barack Obama’s victory in last night’s Mississippi Presidential Primary came as welcome relief in the wake of last week’s setbacks, but exit polling revealed some troubling trends. In a report filed by the Associated Press (see http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/campaign_exit_poll_glance;_ylt=AoPbWgvOuSPTVnkwAfUNKVh24cA ) exit polls show Mississippi voters more polarized than any other state that has so far voted this season. “Seven in 10 whites voted for Clinton, while 9 in 10 blacks voted for Obama.” The Associated Press also reported that “Clinton’s margin among whites was about even with her largest margin among the group to date, which was neighboring Alabama.” Additionally, according to exit polls, “one in four whites said that race was important to their votes, and nearly all of them voted for Clinton. Four in ten blacks said that race was important to their votes and nearly all of them voted for Obama.”

The great racial divide, revealed so starkly in the returns out of the deep South, portent trouble for both the Obama and the Clinton candidacy, for as the rancorousness of this contest escalates the greater the political polarization leaving whoever gets the prize with a potentially empty victory. Clearly in these returns one can gauge the unraveling of the coalition that had emerged in that remarkable string of 12 straight victories. In Mississippi last night as in Alabama and to a lesser degree Ohio, Americans voted their tribe.

It is hard not to fault the Clintons for this. With each defeat the Clintons are presented with an ever greater uphill struggle to reach parity with Obama in the pledged delegate count. With last night’s loss in Mississippi the Clinton campaign is faced with the stark reality that it is running out of primaries in which to make up the lost ground. According to the estimates of MSNBC, for instance, Hillary will soon be looking at having to carry Pennsylvania and Indiana with 70% of the vote—a most unlikely scenario.

What should have happened here, if the interests of the country and the party were paramount, is that the Clintons—looking at those numbers—should have concluded that the prize has nearly slipped from their grasp and that the only real course of action would be to take the high road, talk about the issues, and let the people decide. Instead they went about the business of dragging the whole process through the mire, kicking and screaming, whining and complaining, and throwing whatever smelled the worst at what now has to be the odds-on-favorite to be the party’s nominee. The Clintons have clearly put the quest for personal power ahead of both the country and the party, and we are now threatened, as these troubling returns out of the deep South suggest, with an ever divisive campaign leading to a death struggle for the nomination—a nomination that, after the Clinton’s get through, may not be worth winning.

It boils down to this: what we may have here is yet another miserable food-fight deciding nothing except, perhaps, the very sword upon which the party is about to impale itself.

March 11, 2008: From the Fool’s Gold Mouthpiece, I've Had Enough, What Else Can You Show Me?


“My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards
False gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say O.K. I’ve had enough
What else can you show me?” Bob Dylan—“It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”
http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/bobdylan/itsalrightmaimonlybleeding.html

Another subaltern of the Clinton campaign has stepped forward and hurled more contents from the political cesspool in an effort to besmirch and thereby diminish the Obama candidacy. This time it came in the form of Geraldine Ferraro who, it was reported today “attributed his stunning march through U.S. politics to his race”. In a column entitled Obama fury over Clinton backer Ferraro’s race remark” posted on Yahoo News (see http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080311/ts_alt_afp/usvotedemocratsracism ) Ferraro was quoted as saying “if Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position.” Ferraro, who was Walter Mondale’s Vice Presidential running mate in 1984 and currently is a member of Clinton’s finance committee, was also quoted in the article as saying “and if he was a woman—of any color—he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept”, Ferraro added. The Obama camp responded swiftly. Campaign aide Susan Rice immediately called for the Clinton campaign to fire Ferraro characterizing her remarks as “outrageous” and “offensive” adding “It is the sort of comment we have heard repeatedly, I’m afraid, from the Clinton surrogates…I think if Senator Clinton is serious about putting an end to statements that have racial implications, that diminish Barack Obama because he is an African-American man, then she ought to really repudiate this comment and make it clear that there’s no place in her campaign for people who will say this kind of thing”.

Late last year the Clinton campaign fired two aides for spreading the rumor that Obama was secretly a Muslim. Then there was the fracas in South Carolina when the Clinton camp tried to marginalize Obama by making him the “Black” candidate for President. Lately Hillary has suggested that voters may get to choose both of them on some kind of ticket, offering him the Vice Presidency. Husband Bill has been seen going around Texas and Ohio talking about the “Dream Team” of Hillary heading the ticket with Barack as her running mate. All meant to diminish the stature of the young Jedi, make him somehow look less than Presidential as the Clintons work to savage the credentials of the challenger by claiming that he has not reached the stature of either Hillary or John McCain to become “Commander-in-Chief”.
It has been an ugly business, the kind of politics with which we are by now all too familiar. It is the politics of slash and burn, smear and destroy, diminish and ridicule. The politics of trivialization and avoidance, while the nation groans.

The Jedi was quick to strike back, ridiculing the “unstoppable force” of Bill Clinton’s ‘Dream Team”. Calling it the ‘Ol Oakey-Doke”, the Jedi shot back saying “I don’t know how someone who is in second place can offer the Vice Presidency to the person who is first place”, and adding “If I’m not ready, how is it that you (Hillary) think I could be a great Vice President?” Touche.

Drawn by the Clinton’s into a wretched knife-fight in the sandbox, the Obama campaign threatens to slide into a hopeless political quagmire from which it may not emerge. Barack has been trying mightily not to stoop to such levels but Bill Clinton, the 800 pound gorilla in the room, will do what gorillas always do when confronted—throw shit. The tragedy of campaigning against a Boomer, whose only real commitment is to have and to hold power, is that the contest will quickly be reduced to these levels. The first casualty is always the truth, quickly followed in turn by the sacrifice of all the important issues. So we have had endless campaigns fought over flag waving, gay marriage, Willie Horton, “Flip-Flopping”, and god knows what else, while the pockets of the middle class have been systematically rifled for their contents. Instead of canvassing the country and debating the great issues—the survival of the middle class, global warming, resource depletion, energy, inflation, loss of jobs, flight of capital, globalization---we instead have television ads about who is best able to pick up the phone at three in the morning. The fact is that all of the three remaining contenders are United States Senators. None of them have ever done anything politically except campaign and vote. None of them have answered the phone at three in the morning unless it was a family emergency. If ever there were reasons to rid the country of the Clintons—and by extension the fingers of the “Boomers” about the throat of the republic—it is the tone and tenor of this campaign. While they struggle in the sandbox the nation screams—“what else can you show me?”

“Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fools gold mouthpiece
The hollow horn plays wasted words
Proved to warn
That he not busy being born
Is busy dying” ----Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright Ma (I’m only bleeding)

Mar 11, 2008

March 10, 2008: Darkness at the Break of Noon, Knife Fight in the Sandbox, The Ground Begins to Quake


“Darkness at the break of noon
Shatters even the silver spoon
The hand made blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying”----Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright Ma, (I’m Only Bleeding)”
www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/bobdylan/itsalrightmaimonlybleeding.html

As the vulchers circle overhead the ground beneath begins to swell and tremors shake the foundations of our political coalitions. This last week has been yet another in which the economic news has been less than encouraging. Today AP Business Writer Malden Read wrote a column detailing the immediate effects of the rise in oil prices to stocks and investments (see http://biz.yahoo.com/ap/080310/wall_street.html). Today Oil surged above $108.00 a barrel driving stocks down more than 150 points with bigger losses reported in the broader NASDAQ and the Standard and Poor’s 500 index. The Dow has now lost over 500 points in the last three trading sessions falling to its lowest level since October, 2006. The upsurge in commodity prices is now being felt as the Consumer Price Index has begun to show a serious up tick in inflation. This has led to further uncertainty in the market and all eyes now look to the Federal Reserve Board meeting on March 18 to see which way the guru’s will lead.

As noted in previous posts, this is Cost-Push inflation, the same kind of inflationary pressure generated by the Arab Oil Boycott of the 1970’s in which the price of crude drives up commodity prices. To raise interest rates puts the economy into a double bind threatening to clamp the brakes down on the economy so hard as to risk serious recession or, perhaps, depression.

The latest news is not good. Read cited a Labor Department report last week indicating that the economy lost 63,000 jobs in February, the most in 5 years. The Commerce Department also reported last week that inflation stood at 1% in February, a 12% annual rate, that—as noted in the previous post “Inflation is a Cruel Mistress—is actually much higher among the lower and middle classes because energy and food are left out of the calculations.

Peter Morici, of the University of Maryland, appeared on CNN over the weekend to report that real wages have fallen, and that the unemployment rate “if figured as it was six or seven years ago” would be 7%. Moreover according to AP Business Writer J.C. Elphinstone, citing the Federal Reserve reported that for the first time since records have been kept—for the first time since at least 1945—the percentage of American’s with equity in their homes has dropped below 50%. According to Elphinstone, “that marks the first time homeowner’s debt on their houses exceeds their equity since the fed started tracking the data in 1945” (see http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080306/ap_on_bi_ge/home_equity). This news came on the heels of a report of the Mortgage Bankers Association on Thursday that the number of foreclosures has skyrocketed and that “borrowers with risky credit that (have) entered the foreclosure process soared to a record 5.29 percent.”

Equity in one’s home had been the hallmark of the modern American middle class. No matter how hard things got, there was a sense of wealth represented by what stood on the foundations of the family home that were in effect ‘squirreled’ away in case the family came to dire straits. No more. Through job loss, and through declining purchasing power brought on by the weakening dollar, inflation, and stagnant or declining wages the American Middle Class has been so savaged by the implementation of the Milton Friedman/Chicago School economic theories that Middle American’s are now, in effect, near bankruptcy. As home prices and, therefore, home equity continue to plunge more and more Americans faced with ‘balloon’ payments and high interest rates and seeing that in reality they have no equity—no dog in the hunt so to speak—are choosing to simply walk away. This is sending shock waves through the cold stone canyons of the financial districts. It is so bad that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called for the lending institutions to provide relief by lowering the principal on the loans. On the principle that 95% of the loaf is better than nothing, he called upon the moneyed interests to reassess their evaluations and mark down the principal and take the loss. It is unlikely the Princes of Greed will heed such advice but will choose instead to ride that elephant wherever it leads….we have already passed 1945 in turning back the clock, next comes 1932 on our way back into the nineteenth century.

This week there was a splendid fracas, a sideshow, concerning a remark about Hillary Clinton made by Obama Foreign Policy advisor Samantha Power. Reacting to the slimy tactics of the Clinton campaign she told a reporter for the Scotsman that Hillary was a ‘monster’ who will ‘stoop to anything’ to get elected. A day after the story came out the Harvard Professor resigned from her unpaid position on the campaign. A pity, but the consequences of rendering the obvious obvious in a campaign struggling hard not to get drawn into, as Barack put it, a ‘knife-fight’. You see in the Clinton universe it is quite alright to compare Obama’s call for a release of the Clinton income tax returns with Ken Starr’s prosecution of Bill leading to his impeachment, but out of bounds if one of the unpaid Obama advisors simply calls Hillary a monster. In the Clinton universe where one can openly question one’s opponent’s ability to be commander-in-chief it is somehow unfair to characterize Hillary’s penchant to “stoop so low to reach so high”. The Clintons, always whining and complaining, have never learned lessons that should have been learned in the sand-box—how to get along and play well with others.

Meanwhile the groundswell building beneath the political landscape has begun to shake. The tremors portend massive seismic shifts that threaten to catch all unawares. How serious is it? Last weekend it was reported that the House seat of former House Speaker Dennis ‘the bastart’ Hastert was won by a nondescript Democrat running a woefully under funded campaign. Last year former Republican House majority Leader Tom De Lay’s old House seat went to the Democracy. Two of the safest Republican seats in the house have been given up….we haven’t seen anything like this since Richard VanderVeen took ‘Ol Jerry Ford’s house seat during Watergate in 1973. Clearly things are getting serious….too serious it should now be obvious for intraparty food-fights or the politics of slash and burn.

March 9, 2008: Hairless Nut, Bradley Effect Rears Its Ugly Head, Slime Ball


Buckeye: n, adj.—a hairless nut.
--From a bumpersticker sold outside the "Big House" during the Michigan vs. Ohio State game, 1979

In today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Robert Smith wrote a column entitled “Race played and intriguing role in the Ohio primary”. Citing exit polls conducted by the Associated Press and television networks, Smith revealed that 20% of Ohio voters surveyed said that “the racial backgrounds of Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton loomed important in their vote” (see http://www.cleveland.com/news/plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/news/1205063707165990.xml&coll=2)
The “Bradley Effect” has raised its ugly head. We had thought that perhaps we were beyond it, but it appears that the Achilles heel that dogs this candidacy will linger throughout the campaign.

In addition, Hillary was once again able to mobilize her base support among white women. Fully 60% of those voting were female and she garnered 65% of the votes of white women up 15% from her showing in Wisconsin. Clinton also won the majority of white men, 55%, up nearly 20 points from the Wisconsin results. Clinton won support among the less educated, the working men and women as trade and the economy began to dominate the campaign. Here the attack on Obama over NAFTA, as misleading as it was, served to influence swing voters and carry the day. (See: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0308/8844.html)

Ohio is, in any case, a strange bird. Pundits compare it to Wisconsin but Ohio has never given us a William Proxmire, or even a Bob LaFollete. Instead Ohio has given us the likes of Warren Harding and the several Bob Tafts. Mother of more U.S. Presidents (8) than any other state Ohio, surprisingly for state that is in the industrial heartland, generally tracks conservative with a long Republican tradition. In the last 40 years it has gone Democratic only three times, in 1976 with Jimmy Carter in the wake of Nixon and Watergate and in 1992 and ’96 with Clinton which, in both instances, involved a three-man race.

The results from Ohio and, to a lesser degree, Texas are depressing. They are discouraging not only because the race will now drag on into the spring and perhaps through the summer and get increasingly brutal and divisive, but these results mark a return to the old politics of slash and burn. Hillary, following the advice of senior campaign strategists determined that Barrack’s “negatives” had nowhere to go but up. So she proceeded, in the words of one of her lieutenants, to throw everything—including the kitchen sink—at him in the hopes something would stick. By degrees, over the final week, the Clinton campaign went about the business of purposely sewing amber waves of doubt in the fertile fields of the old rustbelt. She questioned his optimism, she questioned his sincerity, foremost she questioned his ability to become “commander in-chief” and by extension his presidential stature. So the campaign began mocking his optimism, twisted through convoluted accusations about his commitment to change NAFTA, and ended with a full court assault on his ability to keep America safe. Saying that “John McCain brings a lifetime of experience to the oval office, I bring a lifetime of experience to the oval office, Barack brings a speech he made in 2002”, Hillary held a news conference with several retired generals and openly questioned whether Barack had, like she and John, crossed the threshold necessary to become commander-in-chief. One of the generals was a retired head of the Army Corps of Engineers. I’m not quite sure what that meant, but a uniform, any uniform, will do in a pinch.

This is the lowest form of campaigning, the kind of performance unbecoming a member of any party. I have seen contested races. 1968 was such a race. NO ONE questioned the character or the ability of Eugene McCarthy, or Hubert Humphrey, or Robert Kennedy to command our armed forces had any of those men assumed the presidency. That contest had all the earmarks, as the current race, of extending past the primaries and being decided at the convention hall. No one was out stumping the country making such scurrilous charges. But these are Clintons and they believe in hardball.

This is not hardball, this is slime ball. I have decided, after this wretched demonstration, that if Hillary is the nominee I will sit out the election. I cannot forgive the Clintons for the graceless, tasteless conduct that they have exhibited throughout this campaign.

Meanwhile the returns out of Wyoming last night were: Obama 61%, Clinton 39%. It was a caucus but it counts. Mississippi is up next where Barack is favored. Then there is a hiatus in the voting until April 22 in Pennsylvania. This promises to be a real blood bath with the Clinton’s pulling out all the stops. Like Texas, the Clintons were unprepared for this. Reports out of Pennsylvania are that the Clinton team failed to file delegates in all the districts. We are again looking at a contest in which Hillary may win by a few percentage points but because her organization was so bad she will loose the delegates she needs now so desperately.

What is troubling about the developments of the last few weeks is that both the McCain and the Clinton campaigns have been about the business not of forging new coalitions to run the country but of ginning up their political bases in an effort to outpoll their opponents. This is the same old politics of slash and burn that have characterized the miserable political discourse of the generation of swine. If these two emerge as the nominees we will simply have another food fight on our hands, all sound and fury signifying nothing.

Mar 9, 2008

March 8, 2008: Texas Two-Step, Vote Early and Vote Often, Moving the Goalposts


Having lost 11 consecutive caucuses and primaries the Clinton campaign was at wits end as the primary ballots were cast last Tuesday in Vermont, Rhode Island, Texas and Ohio. Already there was whining and complaining from the Clinton camp about the rules. They had expected this race to be over and had not acquainted themselves with the peculiarities of Texas politics. Now confronted with the labyrinthine process that only Texas politics can invent, the Clintons cried ‘foul’ telegraphing yet another challenge had their fortunes continued to go sour.

They should not have worried. Buoyed by the Spanish vote in South Texas along the Rio Grande, Hillary was able to eke out a narrow victory over Barack in the primary election. However Texas is Texas and nothing is at it appears to be. Instead of awarding delegates in accordance with the percentage of the popular vote, Texas awards delegates by Congressional district and weighs those districts that vote Democratic more heavily. These favored Obama, since the districts in and around Houston and Dallas, more heavily black, were awarded more delegates. Additionally there was another step. In Texas, unique in America, the Democratic Party also held caucuses and so the Texas delegation is further divided between those chosen at general election and those chosen at caucuses. Participants were asked to vote and then go to caucus and vote again. As Bill Clinton complained, “Texas is the only state where you can vote more than once and not go to jail”. So it is. Like they used to say in Chicago, “Vote early and vote often…but vote”.

The result is that Hillary narrowly won the general election but lost the caucuses and was defeated by Obama in the number of delegates awarded out of Texas. The Clinton campaign, having taken victory for granted, was simply not prepared and was out-organized and out-hustled by the forces of the young Jedi.

Not so Ohio. Ohio was a blowout, with Hillary handily defeating Barack as women and white males rallied to her defense. Here the Jedi lost some of the gains he had made in Wisconsin and Maryland among lower income and white populations as the blue-collar segment of the electorate rallied to the familiar party standard. The Obama campaign was not helped when it was revealed over the weekend that Obama’s chief economic advisor Austan Goolsbee had told officials at the Canadian consulate in Chicago that Obama’s attacks on NAFTA were, in effect, political posturing aimed at the electorate in Ohio. Goolsbee later said it was a mischaracterization but the damage was done. Later in the week an assistant to the Canadian Prime Minister told the American press that the Clinton Campaign had made these reassurances and that no record could be found of the Obama campaign having made such remarks.

Then there was that speech last weekend in which Barack, sensing that expectations were soaring into the stratosphere, said that we shouldn’t expect too much. Clearly, for whatever reason, the late shift in the vote went the Clinton’s way. Much has been made of the gaffes, but I suspect that what we saw here was a return to traditional politics.

The election is getting close, buyers remorse (or Fornicator’s remorse if you will—see previous post), sets in. Remember the upsets in the later primaries by Jerry Brown and Gary Hart as the party was about to close the deal with Jimmy Carter and later Walter Mondale. Ohio, in this context, is also instructive for it was in Ohio late in the 1972 campaign that Hubert Humphrey claimed his only—albeit tainted—primary victory of his entire career as a Presidential candidate. That night, in 1972, the classic tug-of-war between the industrial liberal north and the conservative rural south played out in which both sides held back election returns waiting for the other to announce so it would be known how many votes would have to be manufactured. And if manufacturing votes seems out of the question remember Ohio in 2004. Similar tactics, one may recall from the 1960 race, happen in other states—like Illinois. So let’s give this one to the party regulars who won, as they did so long ago in 1972.

Let’s also put another one down to the ‘Bradley’ effect (see previous post). Again late polls showed him in a statistical dead heat only to find when the ballots are counted a greater than 10% disparity emerged due to the ‘race’ factor.

It hardly matters, whatever the reason. The Clintons have not only been challenging the rules but have strained themselves moving the goalposts back with each defeat. First, after Iowa, they said that New Hampshire would decide then, when they lost in South Carolina, Super Tuesday would decide. Then after the Jedi fought them to a draw on Super Tuesday and ran the table in 11 straight contests, the Clintons announced that the March 4th contests would decide. Bill openly declared that victory was necessary in both contests. Hillary won both, but lost the delegate contest in Texas. This left only Ohio and Rhode Island netting her about 8 or 9 delegates total for the night, hardly a dent in the Jedi’s delegate lead. No matter. Now the goalpost has been moved to Pennsylvania where the retreating forces of the Old Guard will make yet another stand, and fight another day.

Last Tuesday night was a wash. Hillary picked up a relative handful of delegates. The Clinton campaign is about the country chirping about her having won the big states, but the chances are much better than even that the Democracy, no matter who its nominee, will carry neither Texas nor Ohio in November. These are empty victories bought by the use of savage campaign tactics in which the Clintons, following tactics revealed by the leak of an internal campaign memo, threw everything at the young Jedi—including not only the kitchen sink but the garbage disposal.

The Clintons will not go quietly. They will have to be dragged kicking and screaming from the national stage. As defeat leads to defeat they will continually move back the goalposts until either their backs give out or they reach at last the stadium wall.

March 6, 2008: Here’s Looking at You Molly Ivins, Humiliation in the Outhouse, Shit House Rats


I remember watching a program on C-SPAN a few years ago on which appeared the late syndicated columnist Molly Ivins. She was relating her experience covering Texas politics during the shootout at Waco, a miserable affair between the Feds and the Branch Davidians. She said that she got calls from all over the world, from New Delhi, from Indonesia and elsewhere asking what it all meant. “Well, what can I say?” she said, “They’re all as crazy as a bunch of shit-house rats”. Somehow Molly could always get to the core of it; and somehow she managed to cover Texas politics and still keep her sense of humor. Here’s looking at you, Molly Ivins. We miss you.

In order to win Texas and grab the brass ring, the Marshall felt compelled to meet the patriarch of the Bush Dynasty. But it appears that in order to gain the blessing of the old man acts of groveling and depravity were in order. Those close to the family tell tales of drunkenness and whoring ending in a nasty altercation in which ‘Ol Pappy, took the Marshall out to the outhouse behind the mansion and bitch-slapped him into endorsing the miserable legacy of his son. As he was about to leave he grabbed the brass ring that had been left by “Ol Two-Cows’ hanging over the Sears catalogue and threw it down one of the holes. “There”, said the old man, “If you want the prize bad enough, you know were to get it”. “And, oh by the way", "the old man sneered, "you’re gonna put Jeb on the ticket with you." With that he closed the door leaving the Marshall with the miserable task of squeezing through the hole and descending into the stinking mess that Pappy’s son had left behind.

It is difficult to describe how incredibly debasing this has all been for John McCain. First he traveled to meet with Jerry Falwell and later Pat Robertson to repair fences. In one of his frequent moments of lucid honesty, he called them the ‘voices of intolerance’. Now it was held that in order to be cleansed of this iniquity he needed to kneel before the regents of the almighty and confess his sins. Falwell acquiesced, and then died. Robertson, claiming that he could still hear the voice of god ringing in his ears, endorsed Giuliani. Now the poor Marshall, visibly shaking with Potomac Fever, finds himself in Texas. The fever will do strange things to a man. Some men are paralyzed by it, they assume the inevitability of their elevation to the Presidency and, fearing any action will cost them the election, resist all attempts at change or reform. Other men, seeing mortal danger at every turn, are apt to overreact to every challenge. With the Huckster still lurking in the weeds and fearing the power of the evangelical wrong, the Marshall descended into the cesspool of Texas’ theology to seek remission of his sins.

What he found in the bowels of the Texas outhouse was not the smiling face of Joel Olsteen, the preacher from the Houston-based Lakewood Church and apostle of joy; nor did he come face-to-face with the Georgian Creflo Dollar another televangelist preaching the dubious doctrine that the lord wants you to be rich. Instead he came face-to-face with the king-hell rat himself, John Hagee. Hagee is a second-generation thumper, founder and senior pastor of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. He has been accused of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, and is on record saying that hurricane Katrina was “the judgment of God against New Orleans”. (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hagee )

Cable television is an open pipeline through which the sewage of western civilization is pumped daily into one’s living room. When it is not showing soft-core porn on the movie channels it is giving us Jerry Springer or it is inundating us with right-wing swill as in the likes of Glenn Beck, Sean (pronounced SEEN, otherwise he is unacceptably French) Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and a host of other fellow travelers. One must also work ones way through a veritable phalanx of would-be theologians. One evening, a few months ago, I was ‘surfing’ the channels, trying to catch a wave in the cesspool so to speak when I happened upon the Reverend Hagee. I stopped for a few moments as the good reverend was about the business of explaining the Apocalypse and the role of the Anti-Christ in it. He could hold my attention for only a brief very few minutes for when he said that the Anti-Christ would come in the form of an environmentalist….well that’s where he lost me.

The Marshall went down into the pit and embraced Hagee and his ministry, welcoming their support. How this will play later in the campaign as he seeks support from independents, Catholics and environmentalists is unclear. What is clear is that Potomac Fever has unhinged the good Marshall leading him by degrees into a Texas shit house where he now finds himself chest deep in the contents. The Huckster, having no stomach for such abject humiliation, has withdrawn from the race. The Marshall finds himself at last burning with fever and alone with his long sought-after prize. He found the brass ring, but he don’t smell too good.

Mar 3, 2008

March 2, 2008: Fair Tax/Fraud Tax, The Duct Tape Standard, Won't Get Fooled Again


Why is it that every time one sees a fundamentalist preacher turned politician campaigning for the Presidency he has the Bible in his left hand, his right index finger in your face and a tax cut for the rich in his back pocket? It is difficult to say, perhaps overweening ambition, perhaps the reluctance or the inability to understand something as complex as economics, perhaps intellectual laziness, perhaps a simple willingness to be a shill for wealth. But in any case we are now presented with another such spectacle this time in the form of Mike Huckabee, our very own Elmer Gantry.

He arrived late to the Presidential sweepstakes and took up the twin causes of God and good government in an effort to gin up the support of the fundamentalist wrong that heretofore were seen to have controlled the proceedings. Initially his message was a welcome variant from the old standard in which Christ was seen not as the apostle of greed but became, briefly in the hands of the Reverend Mike, once again the God of compassion. Accordingly Mike spoke eloquently, if only briefly, of our collective need to tend to the least among us. But his campaign, after Iowa, gained little traction with victories limited by religious and sectional boundaries. In order to breathe new life into his flagging effort, the Huckster has now transformed himself into a full-throated champion of the so called “Fair Tax”, not so much to win the nomination but to pick up the broken petard of Pat Robertson and become the new Champion of the idiot right.

Accordingly he is now out canvassing the country saying that “in Arkansas if it can’t be fixed with duct tape it cannot be fixed, and the tax code and the IRS cannot be fixed with duct tape”. There you have it in a ‘nut’ shell. If it cannot be fixed with duct tape it must go. Well Mike, I hate to break the news but you cannot fix the schools with duct tape, you cannot fix the military with duct tape, you cannot fix the roads with duct tape…..shall we get rid of those too? Talk to any heating and cooling contractor and you will learn that in fact one cannot fix anything with duct tape, not even ductwork. But it is by these standards that the Huckster wages his war to rid us of the onerous Internal Revenue Service.

No one, especially a progressive, is about to defend the present system of how we tax ourselves in these United States. The present tax code is as close to a ‘flat’ tax as we have seen in generations, with nearly all the progressivity having been taken out of it. But the problem of taxation in America is not that we are being taxed too much, for we rank near the bottom in overall taxation among industrial countries. It is that the near elimination of the graduated income tax of our forefathers has produced a society that has increasingly become more bifurcated between great wealth and the struggling rest of us. This tax proposal, coming as it does on the abject failure of a straight out ‘flat’ tax proposed by the likes of Pierre DuPont in his Presidential campaigns, is even more regressive. It would move the tax burden increasingly from the wealthy unto the backs of the working middle and lower classes; increasing the taxation on work while nearly eliminating the taxation of wealth.

When our forefathers introduced the graduated income tax they understood, as the ‘boomers’ apparently do not, that it is better to tax wealth than tax work. Reasoning from the tenets of Adam Smith, the founder of modern free-market capitalism, that work produces wealth, our forefathers rightly concluded that it would be counterproductive to tax work since it was through work that all wealth originates. Better, they said, to tax wealth at a higher rate. By taxing wealth at higher rates it leaves work with a relatively lighter share of the overall burden, freeing it to generate more wealth. This reasoning took the form of the distinction, in the terminology of our ancestors, between what was called “earned” and “unearned” income. Better they said to tax at higher rates unearned income (income from rents, interest and profits), than earned income (income from wages). Accordingly heavier taxes were laid upon the upper income tax bracket (in the 90% range), capital gains and estate taxes. The result was a more egalitarian society, one in which the fruits of our collective labor were generally shared, a society in which we witnessed the explosive growth of a large industrial middle class.

But the ‘Boomers’, the grand recipients of our forefathers collective wisdom, saw nothing in the lessons taught that we felt obliged to learn. Accordingly we have followed the siren song of greed introducing one tax ‘reform’ after another from the tax limitation craze set off by Howard Jarvis in California in the late ‘70s, to Ronald Reagan and the Republican assault on the graduated income tax, to the several flat tax proposals, and efforts to eliminate outright the capital gains and estate taxes. Let us take a brief look at the latest entry in the tax ‘reform’ craze put forward by the conservative stink tanks. The effort, such as it is, requires more from us than it deserves.

John Kenneth Galbraith once termed economics the ‘dismal science’, and although he was referring to the writings of Smith, Malthus and Ricardo, he can also be read to understand that approaching a study of economic theory or practice is like going to the dentist. Accordingly one approaches the study of the “Fair Tax” with all the enthusiasm of facing root canal work.

The idea came out of the bowels of Americans for Fair Taxation as a simple shell game in which the tax burden would be shifted from income taxes on profits and wages to what is, in effect, a national sales tax. Now even a flat rate tax of say 10 or 12%, as our friend Pierre DuPont proposed, has at least the appearance of ‘progressivity’ inasmuch as that the more one makes the more taxes one pays. But the so called “Fair Tax” proposes a 23% sales tax on all goods and services. It would eliminate taxes on savings and investments, all estate taxes, and virtually every other form of taxation. The result is that the tax burden would be shifted entirely onto consumption. What this means is that there becomes an inverse relation between income and the effective level of taxation. That is the lower your income the higher the percentage of your income to taxation. Those at the lowest levels, required as they are to spend virtually every cent on necessities, would pay the going rate. The higher one’s income the more can be put aside for saving and investment which, under this scheme, is shielded from taxation. Yes say the proponents but when it is withdrawn it is spent and taxes are paid on it. No say we critics because the interest on this money is earned and compounded while in the bank and is not subject to taxation. “Unearned” income, which is income nonetheless, is not subject to taxation unless and until it is spent. Suppose it is not spent, suppose it is left to constantly multiply itself over a period of time. Yes when it finally is withdrawn from the bank to make some purchases it is taxed but in the meantime it is tax free. Wages are not so lucky. One is presented then with the spectacle of the worker being taxed at every turn while the investor merely clips his coupons and watches his money grow.

What the inventors of this scheme have done is take the entire cost of government and raise the money by levying a consumption or sales tax. The proposal, with the requisite misleading moniker of ‘Fair Tax’ has the appearance, like the flat tax, of fairness. Everyone pays the same tax, right? Wrong. Everyone pays the same tax, as now, at the checkout counter, but not everyone pays the same effective tax. Whole parts of the economy, principally the investment community, earn money but are exempt from taxation. So for instance, the poor slob earning $15,000. a year pays an effective tax at the going rate of 23% while the billionaire, because so much of his money is off earning income at compounded rates tax free, pays an effective rate of less than 2%.

What makes this shell game so appealing is the deceptively simple complexity of it. It reminds me, in a perverse way, of the objections modern Republicans raise to the idea of returning to a graduated income tax. “The rich already pay the lion’s share of income taxes”, they point out parroting the talking points of the Republican National Committee. The Rich do pay nearly two thirds of all income tax in this country. But that is precisely the problem. The fact that the upper ten percent carry such a burden is not due to the unfairness of the present system or to the horrors of reinstituting the tax code of John Kennedy or even Jimmy Carter. It is due, quite simply, to the fact that the wealthy now own such a large share of the economic pie. No the answer is not to lower taxes on the all too heavily burdened upper classes, it is instead to raise those taxes and return a greater share of the wealth to those who labored to produce it in the first place. What is needed is a candidate for President to look the American people in the eye and tell them that what we want to see is the middle class paying 80% of the income taxes, because under this administration the middle class will control 80% of the wealth.

There are other problems with this so-called "fair tax" proposal:

There is the question of the effective tax rate. Proponents say that it is 23% but for the scheme to be income neutral—that is for it to generate as much money into the federal treasury as the current system—the effective tax on goods and services would be at least 30% and, according to the President’s Advisory Panel on Tax Reform, as much as a 34% in order to fund government at present levels. In fact according to economist William Gale of the Brookings Institution taxation at the 23% rate would blow a 7 trillion dollar hole in the budget over 10 years and he projects a more realistic rate of 31% or higher in order to reach present levels of funding.(seehttp://money.cnn.com/2005/09/06/pf/taxes/consumptiontax_0510/index.htm) This new tax would be levied at time of purchase on new homes, rent, interest on credit cards, mortgages and car loans, doctor bills, utilities, gasoline (current taxes would not be repealed) legal fees, ad nauseum.

Conservative radio talk-show host Neil Boortz contends that there will be a 22% reduction in prices as companies will be able to produce and sell goods and services cheaper because they would no longer be required to withhold taxes. This is a blanket admission, by one of the scheme’s principal proponents, that by passing the savings on to the consumer wages will in effect be cut by at least 22%. In other words the money now being withheld would not be returned to the worker but would instead be passed on to the consumer who would then realize the savings when the product is purchased. For the worker, on the other hand, the tax burden remains but must now be paid at the check out counter. The tax must be paid, albeit at the reduced price, not with one’s old ‘gross’ income but with one’s old ‘net income’ that is what was previously left after the old IRS got done with it. Assuming that all of the savings are passed on to the consumer this is at best a simple economic wash. No real savings emerges.

Now either prices increase or wages must fall. Either the employer pockets the monies formerly withheld and passes the savings on to the consumer in which case it is a dead wash—if, and it’s a big if, all of said savings are recycled back to the worker as consumer. The worker is then confronted with a giant leap in retail prices. If the schemers allow us to keep all our earnings and we have all of our former paycheck in hand then prices we will face will be as high as 34% greater. In any case the system, as presented, is a wash. The proponents contend that it will raise as much money as the present system. The question is why make the change?

The answer lies in the hidden agendas. Remember these are the same folks that have been toying with the tax code now for nearly a generation, killing with a thousand cuts the golden goose given us by our ancestors. It began at the 1976 Democratic National Convention when Jimmy Carter, as he accepted his party’s nomination for the Presidency, called the American tax code a “disgrace to the human race.” The problem facing the nation at the time was that the tax code as it had evolved in the postwar era had not been adjusted for inflation. Greater numbers of working Americans were now lifted, by the hyperinflation of the era, into higher tax brackets fuelling a nation-wide tax revolt. Carter in calling for reform gave voice and legitimacy to this growing concern. Instead of simply adjusting the tax code for inflation the Democrats stalled and it was left to Ronald Reagan to do the reforming.

Posturing as a progressive Reagan, much as ‘Ol Two-Cows would do two decades later, put conservative stink tanks in overdrive spinning ‘tax reform’ that had the veneer of being progressive but in effect shifted the tax burden increasingly from wealth to work. Accordingly they cut the highest tax brackets from 72% to 35%; they cut the capital gains tax in half, made similar reductions in the estate tax. They increased Social Security withholding taxes and cut federal revenue sharing meaning that state and local governments, funded on flat rate income or sales taxes, were left to make up the difference. This had the effect of further shifting taxation over the entire spectrum from the graduated income to more regressive forms of taxation. To add insult to injury they eliminated the exemptions for consumer loans, most medical bills, and other previous exemptions that the middle class had enjoyed so as to raise the needed revenues. The result, as has been noted by Republican turned independent Kevin Phillips, is that there has been a growing gap between rich and poor and the middle class, now owning a smaller share of the national economy than at any time since before 1929, is shrinking relative to the rest of the economy. The economic high tides of the 80’s and 90’s did not, as Reagan had promised, raise all boats; and under the maladministration of ‘Ol Two-Cows, over 5 million have slipped through the now tattered safety net into poverty. It is from advocates such as these that the latest incarnation of ‘tax reform’ in the shape of the so called ‘fair tax’ comes. The question poses itself: why trust them?

The shell game gets complicated. The proposal calls for a “Prebate” program in which those at the lowest levels will be reimbursed for taxes paid giving the act a ‘populist’ veneer but this would ensure, under a revenue neutral standard, that the middle class will bear a greater share of the burden. And, to be fair, the proposal does for the first time shift social security funding in such a way as to make the rich belly up to the bar and pay more. But the fact remains that this is perhaps the most regressive tax proposal to ever have reached the national political debate since early in the nineteenth century. It is a shell game in which wealth walks away from the table nearly scot-free.

Nor does the ‘Fair Tax’ eliminate the IRS as the Huckster would have us believe. Some agency, however named, will have to collect the taxes. Taxes, in the new form would simply be collected not by the employer but by the merchant. How the retail industry will react to this burden is unclear. This proposal, by their own admission, will not cut the overall tax burden it will simply shift who will pay it. To suggest otherwise is to hint at a hidden agenda in which the real purposes are to simultaneously cut taxes on wealth and cut government revenue so as to further savage governance. It gets harder to fund the OSHA or the Consumer Protection Agency, when funding has gone dry. Whatever the real intent, one smells a rat under the kitchen sink.

It is doubtful that neither the Huckster nor Neil Boortz has studied Econ 101. If they had they would be able to recognize so obvious an economic shell game. Let us give them the benefit of the doubt and put this present misunderstanding down to a lack of proper schooling. To assume otherwise is to understand that they have become mere shills for great wealth, mere apologists for their corporate paymasters, and mere pimps for the GOP-- the Grand Old Prostitute.

In the immortal words of ‘Ol Two-Cows’, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, fool me three times, ‘won’t get fooled again’. No! No!

For another assessment of the impact of the “Fair Tax “proposal see:
http://www.factcheck.org/taxes/unspinning_the_fairtax.html

Mar 2, 2008

March 1, 2008: Generation of Swine: Walden III, Pious Fraud, Politics of Impotence


The problems of pollution, resource shortages and nuclear energy have given birth to the dangerous idea that our technological problems demand non-technological solutions. That advocates of a return to wind, water and alcohol are treated seriously is bad enough; but the headlong return to wood fuel demonstrates the awful appeal of this Romantic flight into the wilderness. The flight from the technological imperative has its roots in the Romantic philosophy, and is deeply rooted in the nineteenth century. Perhaps its greatest spokesman was Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau gave us Walden, and in so doing gave birth to the ‘alternative life style’. Let us explore the experiment that Thoreau conducted at Walden, as well as its implications for our time.

Walden, as you know, is in Massachusetts. Massachusetts, with its scenic landscape and its ivory towers, is an idyllic land with a novel combination of platitudes and work ethic, ideology and idiocy, which in the mid nineteenth century proved capable of producing in its literary gentry a philosophical equivalent of Disneyland. It is the mother of abolition and the midwife of progressivism, prone on occasion to the colossal misunderstandings of a world reduced to mere syllogisms; believing that all must kneel and tremble before the mighty major premise. It is not at all surprising that it should produce a Henry David Thoreau who with singular audacity would seize upon an equally singular idea and pursue to make an indentation into the skull of America. That idea was a call for a retreat from civilization into the wilderness. We have still to recover from his all-but-mortal blow.

Recoiling in horror from Hobbes’ club-wielding gangs of roughs who, through rapine and plunder, were to bring about the undoing of their blessed “state of nature”, Thoreau, as Rousseau and Emerson, postulated the replacement of canine and bludgeon with the Noble Savage. Declaring the ‘Old Adam’—that is natural man-- a lunatic and returning him to the asylum the Romantics, in the name of humanity, confiscated brickbat and bludgeon, extricated the fighting canines and, in concert with 19th century biology and theology, drew a new picture of man as the descendent of the fabled “Leaf-Eater”. In league with Owen, Bentham and others, Thoreau stands as one of the first ‘social engineers’. And true enough, as with any social engineer worth the weight of that title, Thoreau promptly set himself about conducting the Grand Experiment. This, of course, leads us to Walden Pond. The conclusions drawn from the experiment at Walden is that the individual can live in harmony with the environment; that the environment is nurturing and benign; that here man can ‘free’ himself from the corrupting bonds of society; and that man can be self-sufficient.

That the Boomers would become hopelessly infatuated with these dictums is not surprising. Not only did Henry become a favorite of the schoolmarms who had our undivided attention, but his was a philosophy straight out of the pre-industrial nineteenth century, the so-called ‘golden age’ of individualism. What Thoreau tried to do at Walden was transplant Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, if not the western cowboy, on the banks of Walden Pond. Recoiling from the growing dependence and interdependence of modern life, Thoreau, longed to flee such complexities and rush into the open arms of a nurturing and morally purifying nature. And so he bundled up his few possessions, said goodbye to hearth and kin, and set out on his long journey into the wilderness.

He didn’t get far. Let us examine the record a bit more closely: Many years ago I was thumbing through an old edition of “American Scholar” when I discovered a great discrepancy between Mr. Thoreau’s account of the reasons for his going to Walden and the real story. It seems that Mr. Thoreau left town not because he was in search of deep philosophical answers to questions concerning the relationship of man to man or man to nature. No, there was quite a different set of reasons. It transpires that Mr. Thoreau was out fishing with a friend and the two of them caught a mess of fish. They stopped, on the way back to town, and started a fire upon which to cook their catch. Somehow the fire got out of control and before it was over many acres were destroyed. Now in those days men were unaided by modern fire-fighting equipment and techniques and fires were, for the most part, left to burn themselves out. The community of Concord, imperiled as it was by the conflagration, was in an uproar.

Now having earned the consternation and outrage of the good people of Concord, Thoreau’s reputation both as forester and responsible member of his community suffered serious reverses. He suffered what in modern parlance would be termed ‘peer-group rejection’. Now any experiment conducted by an individual who has been rejected by his peers must be viewed with utmost suspicion. But Thoreau, possessing the resources of a New England merchant proved adept at transforming fiasco into triumph. He accomplished this feat by falsifying the record.

Walden Pond is a scenic place, rather heavily wooded and accessible today by a nearby road. Massachusetts has successfully exploited the location as a tourist attraction. The result is that on any given weekend suburbanites converge on this quiet, peaceful locale to vicariously participate in the pious fraud. One must, however, be cautious. One must not let the scenic beauty blind oneself to the obvious. One must approach Walden with gloves on, for the filth is far more than the paper cups and beer cans that litter the wooded banks in the wake of the weekly invasion. If one approaches Walden with open eyes one immediately sees that it is located very near suburbia. As a matter of fact a railroad, there during Thoreau’s time, runs only yards behind his hut the foundations of which have been reverentially unearthed. Walden was then and is now only a short distance from Concord.

Now even in the text Thoreau admits that he bought ready-made materials for his hut. That others brought him foodstuffs is not admitted but is a documented fact. So too is documented his short sprint home as he would come crashing through the thicket so answer his mother’s frequent dinner bell. That others, Emerson among them, visited him often is likewise overlooked. In short, Thoreau was anything but self-sufficient and was depended on his fellow man for the necessities of life; dependent upon Emerson himself for the payment of property taxes for the very land upon which Thoreau took residence. In sum, Thoreau lied about the nature of his experiment; lied about the reasons for his retreat to Walden; lied about the conditions under which the experiment was undertaken; and then ridiculed the rest of us for not following his noble lie.

Let us probe the depths of Walden Pond in light of what we have learned from Robert Ardrey and the “new biology”. In many species, and I am not willing to omit man, there exists a phenomenon known as psychological castration. Lesser males are driven to the periphery of the community because they lack the necessary dominance to secure property, status and women. Thoreau, of course, would have us believe he was in a self-imposed exile, purging himself of the corruption of civilization. He would have us believe that he rejected the community. In truth the community rejected him; the community purged itself of Thoreau. He could not show his face in Concord, and if the truth were known the visits of Emerson and others were directed at getting him to reappear on the village green. That we should find him sulking on the edge of the community, renouncing war, violence, and everything else the community holds sacred is predictable in light of his social standing. In short, Thoreau was socially castrated—driven by that invisible psychological force into exile—that is to the periphery of the community.

That such penetrating questions as to how the species is to regenerate itself under conditions of splendid isolation, and such obvious points that man—each individual man—is himself a product of social intercourse do not concern us here; for Walden is a fraud from beginning to end.

That Thoreau found Walden unoccupied was a godsend. One must be moved to consider what his reaction would have been if he found Walden inhabited; or if he was himself subjected to the plunder of juvenile gangs. A Concord rife with that kind of juvenile delinquency is a bit hard to fathom, but we must assume that he would have moved on for psychological castration does not leave one with the will to fight or the strength of character to persevere.

That Thoreau did not take a woman with him to his ‘Eden’ is likewise significant. Psychological castration does not lend itself to conjuring up a paradise of conjugal bliss.

Thoreau, representing himself as the vanguard of the ‘alternative life style’ was in truth the refuse of the community. That such a philosophy, born of anxiety, guilt, and shame has become a topical favorite with our schoolmarms is bad enough; but that it should re-emerge in our time as a social ideal giving moral force to our current flight from the technological imperative is the only effect that one can attribute to this detestable piece of trash.

Today the voice of Thoreau echoes in our ears, calling us back to a simpler time, a siren song beckoning us back to that place where the ‘Boomers’ now continually find themselves; that place where one can disengage oneself from social connections and responsibility, where one can rid oneself of onerous governance, where one can pay no taxes. Today that voice manifests itself in a continual tax revolt, in the privatization of the public domain, and in the evisceration of governance. Its legacy is huge public debt, deteriorating infrastructure, and Katrina. This is the ‘New Frontier’ to which the Boomers have retreated. This is the wilderness into which we are now hopelessly lost.

More simply put there is now no wilderness to which to retreat. That such a pathological philosophy is not applicable to the individual is clear enough—as Thoreau, despite himself, quite clearly demonstrated. That the frightful prospect of 200 million Homelite chain saws loosed upon our dwindling wilderness clearly demonstrates that it cannot stand as a realistic alternative. As devoted to the environment as the ‘New Romantics’ profess to be, Walden is simply not an ecologically sound, nor a socially rewarding, alternative. For Thoreau Walden was a flight from Concord. To us Walden is a flight from technological complexities. Walden stands as a testament to the politics of impotence.

Walden is not only a sublime example of bad literature; it also represents a dangerous philosophy revealing as it does yet another example of the power of the pious fraud to influence the actions of our time. It is time to put this piece of natural fantasy back on the shelf and for the ‘Boomers’ to get their collective heads out of the nineteenth century and, albeit belatedly, return to hard reality.