Monday, March 20, 2017
You might not know it, given all the ambient noise of the moment, but beyond the torments of news and propaganda there is still something called the nation. It’s more than just a political compact. Until not long ago it was also a culture, an agreed-upon set of values, practices, and customs that amounted to an identity: I’m an American. If you canvassed the crowd in Yankee Stadium one summer afternoon in 1947, I imagine each person would answer that way rather than saying I’m a wounded war veteran, I’m a WASP, I’m an oppressed housewife, I’m a negro, I’m Italian, I’m a Jew, I’m a union member, I’m a communist, I’m queer, I’m a rape victim….
These days, the hardships of history are shattering the nation and our response politically has been to take refuge in a matrix of rackets. Most of these rackets are economic, because it’s the essence of racketeering to extract the greatest benefit possible from the object of your racket at the least cost to the racketeer. In plain English, it’s an organized way of getting something for nothing. The identity politics of our time is another form of racketeering — extracting current maximum benefits on claims of mistreatment, often bygone, specious, or only imagined.
And so one of the truly existential questions of the moment is whether we’ll continue to be a nation, even geographically, and a lot of sentient observers aren’t too sure. Apparently we’re not too sure we even want to be. This is why the campaign slogan of Hillary Clinton, “Stronger Together,” rang so false when the Democratic Party worked so diligently in 2016 to construct separate identity fortifications and then declared culture war on the dwindling majority outside the ramparts. And you’re surprised that Donald Trump won the election?
Trump won by making promises that he’ll never be able to keep under the current circumstances. The main promise was to restore the standard of living enjoyed in bygone decades by former industrial workers and clerks. His promise was based on a misunderstanding of history: the notion that the industrial organization of daily life was a permanent part of the human condition. You could detect by the early 21st century that this was not so anymore. That was exactly why we tried to replace it with an economy of rackets. When there’s nothing left, a lot of people are going to try to get something for nothing, because there’s nothing else to do.
Hence, the financialization of the economy. In the 1950s, finance made up about five percent of the economy. It’s mission then was pretty simple and straightforward: to manage the accumulated wealth of the nation (capital) and then allocate it to those who proposed to generate greater wealth via new productive activities, mostly industrial, ad infinitum. It turned out that ad infinitum doesn’t work in a world of finite resources — but the ride had been so intoxicating that we couldn’t bring ourselves to believe it, and still can’t.
With industry expiring, or moving elsewhere (also temporarily), we inflated finance to nearly 40 percent of the economy. The new financialization was, in effect, setting a matrix of rackets in motion. What had worked as capital management before was allowed to mutate into various forms of swindling and fraud — such as the bundling of dishonestly acquired mortgages into giant bonds and then selling them to pension funds desperate for “yield,” or the orgy of merger and acquisition in health care that turned hospitals into cash registers, or the revenue streams on derivative “plays” that amounted to bets with no possibility of ever being paid off, or the three-card-monte games of interest rate arbitrage played by central banks and their “primary dealer” concubines.
Some of what I’ve listed above may be incomprehensible to the blog reader, and that is because these rackets were crafted to be opaque and recondite. The rackets continue without regulation or prosecution because there is an unstated appreciation in government, and in the corporate board rooms, that it’s all we’ve got left. What remains of the accustomed standard of living in America is supported by wishing and fakery and all that is now coming to a climax as we steam full speed ahead into Murphy’s law: if something can go wrong, it will.
When all of America comes to realize that President Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing, it will make last November’s national nervous breakdown look like a momentary case of the vapors. What can go wrong awaits in markets, banks, currencies, and the immense dark pools of counterparty obligations that amount to black holes where notions of value are sucked out of the universe. There is so much that can go wrong. And then it will. And then maybe that will prompt us back to consider being a nation again.
JHK on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News broadcast last Friday night:
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Friday, March 17, 2017
Thursday, March 16, 2017
we're sorry to report that my guy is back in the hospital after his incredibly long balls got tangled in the wheels of his velocipede— Goth Ms. Frizzle (@spookperson) March 15, 2017
It's but one of a long string of tweets inspired by the photo below. Read the thread, and it makes sense:
my dude looks like the babadook https://t.co/9d0C79q9Om— Goth Ms. Frizzle (@spookperson) March 15, 2017
She has serious competition from Ben Mankiewicz (who knew he had it in him?).
For a small state that relies on tourism, it's a bold move to anger half of the mainland. Also not a very smart one. #BoycottHawaii— Julia❤🇺🇸 (@DeplorableJulia) March 16, 2017
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Monday, March 13, 2017
Let’s take a breather from more consequential money matters at hand midweek to consider the tending moods of our time and place — while a blizzard howls outside the window, and nervous Federal Reserve officials pace the grim halls of the Eccles Building.
It is clear by now that we have four corners of American politics these days: the utterly lost and delusional Democratic party; the feckless Republicans; the permanent Deep State of bureaucratic foot-soldiers and errand boys; and Trump, the Golem-King of the Coming Greatness. Wherefore, and what the fuck, you might ask.
The Democrats reduced themselves to a gang of sadistic neo-Maoists seeking to eradicate anything that resembles free expression across the land in the name of social justice. Coercion has been their coin of the realm, and especially in the realm of ideas where “diversity” means stepping on your opponent’s neck until he pretends to agree with your Newspeak brand of grad school neologisms and “inclusion” means welcome if you’re just like us. I say Maoists because just like Mao’s “Red Guard” of rampaging students in 1966, their mission is to “correct” the thinking of those who might dare to oppose the established leader. Only in this case, that established leader happened to lose the sure-thing election and the party finds itself unbelievably out-of-power and suddenly purposeless, like a termite mound without a queen, the workers and soldiers fleeing the power center in an hysteria of lost identity.
They regrouped briefly after the election debacle to fight an imaginary adversary, Russia, the phantom ghost-bear, who supposedly stepped on their termite mound and killed the queen, but, strangely, no actual evidence was ever found of the ghost-bear’s paw-print. And ever since that fact was starkly revealed by former NSA chief James Clapper on NBC’s Meet the Press, the Russia hallucination has vanished from page one of the party’s media outlets — though, in an interesting last gasp of striving correctitude, Monday’s New York Times features a front page story detailing Georgetown University’s hateful traffic in the slave trade two centuries ago. That should suffice to shut the wicked place down for once and for all! [Kunstler's snark aside, you can read the article "A Glimpse Into the Life of a Slave Sold to Save Georgetown" here Update: I found out about this one from The Advocate--P.Z.] The Republican Party, to avoid going full-Whig and sliding down the laundry chute of history, made a bad deal for a new figurehead who is liable to make the party look way worse than it could ever accomplish on its own. This golden boy has dragged the party poobahs to the put-up-or-shut-up room of our nation’s capital — the place that Senator Rand Paul was searching high and low for last week — where they are charged with reforming the country’s health care racket. It looks for now like they will cook up a toxic farrago of new giveaways to their patrons in the hospital cartel, the insurance companies, and pharma. The voting public already detects the odor of 30-day-old carp in the first tastings of the dish. There’s a fair chance that the recipe will end up getting tossed in the capitol dumpster, and that in itself could finish the party because there’s little question that the current system known as ObamaCare or the Affordable Care Act (not) is something like a fatal tumor in the nation’s craw. If the effort to fix that fails, the Republicans complete their transformation from the Party of No to the Party of Just Go.
The Deep State seems eager to sever its connections to both putrifying parties and attempt to run the groaning colossus of government ad hoc if necessary. The military and intel chains of command remain intact, along with their “assets,” and one can easily imagine anxious meetings of scenario-running in the back rooms of the Pentagon and the Langley frat house. What if…? “What if we just smoke the fucker?” an old Agency warrior remarks offhand, and the roomful of colleagues pause in their cogitations to weigh the notion. Some of them nod and make a moue, and others just cough into their sleeves. One young striver in the back mentions “a little something” they’ve been working on that involves hairspray and a neurotoxin derived from the Gaboon viper….
And then there is our President himself: Donald J. Trump, in the awesome solitude of his Twitterverse dome. A strange destiny brought him to his place in history thus far, and many of us surveying the scene lo these many months kind of get it: the festering disgust with the other three corners of American power; the dismal fall of the middle class into a purgatory of repossession, idleness, opiates, and tattoos; the accelerating purposeless of the dwindling consumer economy; the matrix of racketeering that systematically drains everyone’s financial mojo while adding humiliation to the shoddy service it delivers; the pointless, costly wars in faraway places and their conversion into permanent shit-holes; the disgraceful disfigurement of a once grand national landscape into a wilderness of dying malls and freeway ramps.
So, onto the scene strides The Donald, a giant among the squalling midgets of our time, with his promise to bigly re-greatify this suffering land. I suppose he means well in his torturous way. So did a lot of other figures in history who found themselves at the top: Idi Amin, Uncle Joe Stalin, Vlad the Impaler, King Leopold of Belgium, Adolf You-Know-Who, Pol Pot. The list of the well-meaning is very long.