John McDonald

Blogging about politics, life, and the web

Obama Approval Rate Dropping – Is he too Conservative?

July 26th, 2009

Just six months after taking office, there is a clear trend across multiple polling firms:  Obama is losing popularity.  While a majority of likely voters still approve of the job the president is doing, the rating has dropped more than ten points from post-election highs.  Its doubtful that many McCain voters ever supported Obama at all, so who is he losing popularity with, exactly?

On healthcare, Obama seems to take criticism from both sides.  Republicans and insurance industry lobbyists are working overtime to convince voters Obama wants to go too far toward socialism, and to the left there are complaints that Obamacare fails to guarantee coverage to everyone.  In addition, Obama is being blamed for the fact that Congress has stalled out on the terrible “compromise” legislation.  I think, at the very least, there needs to be a public health insurance option, but a more ideal system would provide every American with basic preventative and catastrophic care.  Some industries lend themselves to competitive markets:  medicine and banking simply don’t seem to be among them.

On foreign policy, Obama is also fending off charges that his policies are too Bush-like.  Despite the much-celebrated “withdrawal” of U.S. troops out of Iraqi cities, the timetable for this plan hasn’t changed a bit since Bush was in charge.  In Pakistan, U.S. bombing campaigns have accelerated despite high civilian casualties, and comments recently made by Hillary Clinton suggest this may be the next front in the ground war against that abstract enemy known as “terrorism.”

On the environment, the much publicized carbon tax brings a whole new type of profit to financial firms like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, but there’s little evidence that its an effective way to clean up our toxic messes.  Carbon dioxide remains a proxy for real environmental outrage, while the administration approves permits for mountaintop removal and logging in our largest temperate rain forest.

On the economy, there’s been a lot of money spent and no real moves to correct the reckless behaviors that brought us to the brink.  In fact, its more like protecting the instigators from the consequences of their financial mistakes.  From Paulson to Geithner, Goldman remains in charge of the Treasury – and Obama has made headlines by appointing even more GS alumni to high ranking posts.

Strategically speaking, Obama’s centrist path seems like a safe way to get re-elected.  A divided Republican party offers little real competition to perpetuating the status quo under a slightly different rhetorical spin.  Instead, Obama’s greatest vulnerability may be from progressives, civil libertarians, and economic populists who were expecting a bit more change than this.

What’s $24 Trillion Between Friends?

July 20th, 2009

Bloomberg reports the top TARP inspector will testify that federal financial system bailout liabilities could be as high as $24 trillion, drastically surpassing the $700 billion specifically authorized under the actual TARP legislation.  Of course, the Treasury is defending their involvement, stressing that these numbers are theoretical maximums rather than spent dollars.  Assuming the assets behind the banks’ balance sheets are worth more than zero, the actual cost to tax payers should be significantly lower.

Fear and Foolishness

In time, it is likely that the TARP program and associated financial bailouts will be viewed as similar to the war in Iraq:  a series of expensive lies rushed through in a climate of public fear.  The official line of supporters at the time was that a failure to act decisively would result in some sort of apocalypse.    Instead of asking if we had gone too far, people were still asking if we had gone far enough.  Well, $24 trillion later, how is your view of the economy?  Mine still sucks…

Congress is a Small Fish

Essential to understanding this story is recognizing which government institutions are shelling out the cash.  Congress specifically authorized $700 billion dollars, but much larger guarantees and asset insurance has been provided by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department.  You’d think decisions about our dollars would be made by our elected representatives, but they’ve outsourced their responsibilities to opaque and insulated departments.

There Goes the Neighborhood

The only thing that seems to have been accomplished was keeping the banks who owned all the bad mortgages in business.  And that’s good right?  I mean, who else would foreclose on my neighbors when they lost their jobs?  On my short street alone, we’ve got two homes that have so long been abandoned by their bank owners that they’ve been stripped of everything valuable and slated for demolition.  Another one must be getting close to worthless:  They’re asking $29,000 for a 2 bedroom.

This surge in vacancy won’t be limited to my subprime hood, next year will be the collapse of the jumbos and ARMs.  Expect the next wave of carnage to wash up in the $500,000 housing range.

In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out how much it will cost me to buy the street.  Its in a really nice location, despite the property owners’ (banks’) lack of upkeep.

Florida Cigarette Price Doubles in Three Months

July 14th, 2009

Between the recent federal tax increase in April and the state tax hike that went into effect earlier this July, cigarette prices have nearly doubled in just three months.  At the start of 2009, I could pick up a carton of smokes for about $28 after tax – and the current cost is closer to $48.

Of course, my recent trip to Ireland helped me realize how good we still have it.

The first day we arrived, Aisling’s uncle wanted to take us for a drink and a meal at the neighborhood pub.  Oddly enough, smoking wasn’t allowed in the pubs (or anywhere really), so I joined the crew of outcasts enjoying nicotine in the windy rain.

A younger guy approached me, flashing a 10 Euro bill (about $15) and begged me to buy him some cigarettes.  I tried to decline – even insisted that I had literally just walked off the plane and didn’t want to get in to trouble.  I didn’t ask his age, but he had the persistance of a slightly-underage addict that I could relate to all too well from my days of loitering around the convenient store and waiting for someone willing to acquire a pack of Marlboros.

Well fine, I couldn’t get rid of this guy so I offered to sell him a pack of cigs I brought with me from the states.  I originally paid about $32 for the carton, so I figured a fair price would be at cost.  When I asked for 2 Euro in return, he looked shocked – but in a way that he didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

He exclaimed “Stay right here, I’m going to get change!” and he dashed into the pub.  A few moments later he handed me 2 Euro and seemed to display a brief moment of guilt.  “Are you sure you only want 2 Euro?”

“Yeah, sure, that’s all I paid so its only fair.”  Of course, I never thought to ask how much they cost on that side of the pond.

A few days later, the few packs I brought started running low.  We were still staying in Dublin at that point, so that corner pub was the closest shop.  I fished a few coins out of my pocket and walked up to the bar to order a whiskey, a coke, and a pack of Marlboro Lights.

“14 Euro”


“That’s the price:  8.50 eu for the cigarettes, and 5.50 for the mixed drink.”

And at that moment, I realized I was willing to pay about 13 US Dollars for a single pack of smokes – and maybe our sin taxes aren’t so bad.

In Northern Ireland, the tax is a little bit lighter.  Packs are sold for about 7 euro ($10-11) or you can buy loose tobacco and 20 rolling papers for about $4.  No wonder everyone was rolling their own smokes…

Economically Regressive, Medically Progressive?

By definition, cigarette taxes are regressive – people with lower incomes end up spending a higher percentage of their wealth on the tax itself.  Rich people don’t really smoke more cigarettes than anyone else who smokes, they just spend a much smaller part of their income on the fix.

At the same time, sin taxes are popular because they may theoretically bolster progressive goals like reducing illness and funding for medical care.  Gas taxes sort of work the same way:  They’re a heavier burden on the working poor but they theoretically accomplish the goals of reducing consumption and funding environmental cleanup.  Then again, I remember when they told us the lottery was going to fund education and college scholarships.  That lasted a few years before they finally decided to slash the scholarship budget and transfer the lottery proceeds to the general fund.

So I’m a bit mixed on it all.  I certainly don’t enjoy spending near $50 for a carton of cigarettes but there are probably worse ways the state could try to raise revenue.  At least they haven’t put a sales tax on food yet – that would be an incredibly destructive and regressive tax.

In the meantime, I’ve had to dust off the corn cob pipe to save some cash.  While the price of pipe tobacco has also doubled in the last few months, it is still the only way to get a nic-fix for less than $20 a week.  Of course – it could be a whole lot worse.

Healthcare Costs must be Contained with a Public Plan

July 13th, 2009

The recent Congressional debates over healthcare reform have been a model in special interest lobbying and out of touch representation.  Big money in the medical industry is using its influence to make false claims about how expensive public healthcare is or how effective our current American medical system is in keeping people healthy.

If you’ve been reading my sites and posts before, you might be a little bit confused as I usually argue toward the libertarian end of things and now I’m suddenly calling for a public health system.  And yes, I might be a little biased against government solutions and market interventions, but we can’t let ideology blind us to the facts.

Fact #1:  U.S. Spends more of its GDP on healthcare

healthcare-gdpThe CDC published the 2006 data on health care as a percent of GDP, and its clear that the American version of private for-profit care comes with a higher price tag than comparable medical care in similar nations.  In 2008, things were even worse:  17.6 cents on every dollar generated were spent on medical care.  If the GDP continues to decline and nothing is done about costs, we will soon spend more than 20% of our GDP on this one expense.

Fact #2:  Americans are not Healthier

The CIA World Factbook ranks America at #50 for life expectancy:  this is well behind most of the European and Asian nations that we’re outspending.  And despite all of the money we’re spending and the attempts to subsidize private profits in the sector, we still have tens of millions of people who can’t get access to the preventative treatments they need to stay healthy and employed.

Fact #3:  The Status Quo is Bad for Business

Unless you’re in the insurance or pharma industries, the current system is a dead weight on your company’s bottom line.  Employees who do get coverage from their jobs are costing a lot of money to their employers, and the annual rise in costs cuts into the same HR budget that would have funded your raise or the assistant you’ve been hoping for.

Workers who don’t have coverage are in an even worse spot, because they often can’t afford to buy insurance.  Rather than get treated and tested early, they end up struggling through sickness and eventually showing up at the emergency room in need of urgent care.  Of course, that care still has to be paid for – and its still going to come out of the pockets of taxpayers and insurance indirectly.

The Illusion of Competition

We Americans take great pride in the concept of free markets, but what exactly does that mean?  One thing implied by a free market economic sector is the presence of competition – something we don’t really have in our for-profit medical system.

If you’re seriously injured in an accident and need emergency surgery, you don’t have time to research your hospital choices.  You’re not exactly in a good position to argue with the ambulance driver, either.  Likewise, people don’t usually turn down employment because the medical benefits are too expensive or purchased from an unreliable provider.

Yet that’s not it:  There are also strict laws, inspired by lobbyists, that prevent insurance from being sold across a national market.  State mandates help fragment the insurance market-place, and this generally leaves fewer alternatives based on location.

Healthcare, like roads, is something that everyone needs.  There are inherent limitations to how much competition can exist in these markets.

Single-Payer Makes Sense:  A Public Option is Minimally Acceptable

American healthcare doesn’t demonstrate the cost savings expected of a free market, and the result lags behind nations with public systems.  The current model leaves little incentive for early (and often cheap) cures, because there is a lot of profit to be made on patients with chronic illnesses and chronic pain.  Instead, surgery is a big ticket item, and some are often oversold.

It is also important to remember that a public single-payer system does not mean the total elimination of private insurance options.  Just because everyone would be covered for basic necessities does not mean that affluent individuals couldn’t find extra insurance.  In France, a vast majority of the population still carries private insurance supplements.

If a single-payer system is too radical of a change for the American public, the minimum acceptable choice is a competing public insurance option.  If provided at cost, this federal insurance plan would force the private insurance industry to cut costs and provide better care.

Conversely, any attempt at universal healthcare that does not include public competition will simply subsidize the insurance companies even more – and mostly at the expense of the lower working class.  Some proposals have amounted to forcing everyone who works at McDonalds and Wal-Mart to buy their own insurance – and while it sounds absurd, it would be great business news for the stock owners of private medical companies.  Of course, the stock owners’ club includes more than a few members of Congress so the chances of this happening are higher than I’d like to admit.

The bottom line is this:  We need to slash healthcare costs and all indications are that a non-profit public competitor is the way to go.  We need to stop asking if we can afford universal coverage and start asking if we can afford to go without it any longer.

Banks Back Off – California IOUs in Limbo

July 9th, 2009

In my last post, I was starting to think that the banks had a really sweet deal in this crisis.  First they get to take first cut of profits on mortgages that actually weren’t profitable, then they can take cheap loans from the government.  If they wanted to put those cheap loans into safe profit margins, they’d just have to use the federal government’s money to buy up state bonds & IOUs.  But hey, who wants a few measely percents in interest?

The big stinger is that right up until these IOUs hit the street, these banks had announced their willingness to pay face value.  Once they were printed up, distributed, and ready for deposit – the big banks decided they would stop buying them after Friday.   Companies bailing on the bailout include:  Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.  You may recognize these guys as some of the biggest beneficiaries of recent federal bailouts in the financial sector and the ones currently sending bidders to the discount window.

So what inspired the change of heart?  Was it Fitch’s recent downgrade of California’s debt payment prospects?  Or was it the fact that they realized IOUs were already being exchanged at a discount off face value…?

The state has announced that they intend to honor interest payments and redemption of the IOUs bought on the market, so the refusal of banks to take them as deposits means they’ll be left to the market price.  Check cashing establishments and speculators are reportedly scooping up the certificates for about half of face value.  In October, they’ll be able to sell these back to the state at face value plus interest!

Once again, the government has intervened to “fix” an economic mess it created.  The result?  Anyone who lives check to check gets sold out for pennies on the dollar, and those with plenty of cash lying around have a guaranteed profit opportunity.  I’d say I’m surprised, but this seems to be the contemporary standard of political-economy.

As California Goes…

July 6th, 2009

So Goes the Nation

It has often been said that California is a trendsetter among states – anything that comes to pass in Cali will eventually find its way throughout the nation and into federal policy.  From social movements to Hollywood and internet first-adopters, there’s always been a sense that the future was already happening on the west coast.

If this maxim, “As California goes, so does the nation” proves to be correct again, then the rest of us had best pay some attention to the current financial crisis and how the politicians have chosen to deal with it.

Faced with rising costs and declining budget revenue, they’ve indirectly chosen a solution out of fear of making tough decisions.  The printing presses have literally been fired up, and the state is issuing IOUs.  While these are technically bearer bonds paying at 3.75%, the state is rumored to be printing them on dark green paper and encouraging banks & businesses to treat them like cash.

And How Far We’ve Gone

For most of America’s history, cash has been backed by some sort of commodity.  Gold has long dominated as a medium of exchange, and silver has also been used as payment for paper notes.  FDR figured out to devalue the dollar for a more flexible monetary policy, but Nixon figured out how to get Americans to give up all the tangible value of their money itself.

With no commodity backing the currency, the only thing that stops California from ordering a few trillion from the Treasury is political will and a fear that we’ll eventually go “too far” and ruin the dollar’s reputation as a reserve currency.

Let’s be honest anyway, someone who had invested in dollars under the gold standard would be brutally unprepared for something like retirement.  Other nations have been sending “stuff” to America in exchange for these dollars, so they’re the ones taking the investment losses.   Some have started inflating their own currencies in defense (see Japan’s carry-trade), some are also openly calling for a new monetary regime. With financial heavy-hitters like Russia, India, Brazil, and China meeting to discuss alternatives to the dollar, this dollar reserve reckoning day seems like it may be closer than we’d like.

So instead of being paid in a dollar that is literally “as good as gold,” residents of California will be receiving a debt promise – and the interest on that debt is going to come out of the future taxpayer’s pocket… somehow.

Heads or Tails?  The Bank Wins

If the government itself is in a cash crunch, who has the liquidity on hand to give state workers real cash in exchange for their state IOUs?  Conveniently, we’ve just pumped a few trillions of liquidity in to the banking system and these banks are more than happy to trade IOUs for dollars.  By some accounts, transfers and insurance policies have added five or six trillion dollars to banks’ balance sheets, and they’ll be able to use this money to buy up as many IOUs the states can print out. Of course, the banks were supposed to use this TARP & bailout money to extend business & consumer credit, but those individuals and small groups seem like a big risk compared to the state itself…

Eventually, California will figure out how to raise taxes or cut services (or probably some combination of the two).  In the meantime, the banks will collect a nice stable interest payment in a chaotic economic environment. Indeed, we’ve fallen a long way from paying workers out in gold – we’ve leveraged our paper treasure against our own citizens for the benefit of the banks.

Can We Break the Spiral?

Financial dissent is our secular heresy:  of all the thoughtcrimes, perhaps none is so shocking as questioning the nature of what we call modern capitalism.  As a society, we have invested so much collective faith into this abstract concept that we are unwilling to reform the root causes and financial power centers – even if they are relatively new institutions that conflict with older parts of our national identity.

Its never even clear what it is that we have faith in.  Is it the politically connected speculators or the regulators handing them our tax money?  Either way, solutions must be kept on the edges of their playground – suggesting significant core reforms is a sure-fire way to be uninvited from offering your opinion next time.  As long as this paradigm rewarding blind faith holds, things will continue to decline in a slow and methodical way.  At the next wave of mortgage resets, there will be another rather steep cliff, but odds seem high that we’ll cushion the banks and resist substantive changes.

Its not a great outlook, but I don’t believe anything can get significantly better until our so-called leaders take on some of these tough decisions and set up institutions designed to promote general wealth and opportunity.  Fundamental changes in our approaches to credit and money has to pay bigger dividends than bailing out the same bank for the fourth time…

Airport Security Theater

July 2nd, 2009

I’ve mostly been able to avoid flying, so the recent trip to Ireland was my first experience with the changes since 9-11.  The last time I had flown before that was in the summer of 2001 – and that was enough security hassle for me so I rightly guessed the modern scene would be a total nightmare.

The most obvious problem is the scope of what they’re attempting:  a full inventory of every passanger and his or her belongings.  While they spare no expense in attempting to verify every single thing, they do spare time.  Everyone is being rushed through crowded corridores and I find it hard to believe that sneaking things through would be impossible due to the simple fact that so much is being examined in such a short time.  Sure, large metal objects will be found, but that was the case back when the metal detector was the only standard exam.

Its even possible that more time could be spent inspecting cargo and passangers by killing redundancy.  When leaving Dublin, I noticed that we had to pass through four American security checkpoints before boarding and leaving the plane.  Why is security searching people who just passed through U.S. security?  Do they think we picked up some terrorist hitchikers when we were seven miles above the ocean?

Incidentally, this is when my Irish whiskey became triple sealed.  First of all, they come in sealed bottles from the duty-free shop.  Now although the duty-free shop is after Irish airport security, it is before American airport security.  This means the sealed bottles of whiskey had to be sealed into a bag and stamped by a U.S. security guard to get on the plane.  That’s two seals but that’s not good enough!  When we landed in Philidelphia, we were informed that nothing from duty-free shops would be considered secured and we’d have to get them … yes … inspected and stamped by security.  This led to the third seal:  boxing up my sealed bag of unopened whiskey to be sent with checked baggage.

The establishment of redundant security checkpoints has affected the layout of several airports.  Passangers are corralled through long hallways and unused basements, often walking for an hour in a big circle rather than be allowed to move inside the secured zone of the airport terminals.  U.S. Airport Security guards in Dublin aren’t trusted in Philidelphia, and U.S. Airport Security guards in Jacksonville aren’t trusted in Charolette.  Don’t even get me started on London – they take distrust to third world levels.

When I flew in from Europe in ’01 it was a lot different.  Security met us at the terminal and inspected for produce (and I guess drugs, but all they got were apples).  Customs was right outside and they singled me out for heavy inspection (probably because I look like a hippy).  Anyway, despite that hassle, it was a lot less infuriating then the current security theater.

Today’s guards don’t have the time to inspect suspicious looking people like me, yet everyone is subject to standing in lines & running through hallways for more time than it would have taken to do so so they can wave you through some xray machines displaying a blob of grey lines.

No Society is Static – The Seasons of Civilization

May 16th, 2009

Patterns rule the world around us, recognizing these is part of what allows humanity to master science & nature.  One set of patterns we’ve been slow to recognize are the ones that guide our own behavior as a society.

If history proves anything, it is that no civilization, state, or community can remain static indefinitely. What is particularly interesting to me as a student of history and government, is exactly how predictable this cycle of civilization is and how regularly it unfolds across the span of a human life.  (To give credit where its due, this theory has been pioneered by Strauss & Howe in a series of books dealing with the various generational archetypes and social phases that repeat in Anglo-American history.)

The Seasons of Society

Each season lasts about 20 years – exact duration depends on factors like war, climate, and technological advancement.  The general structure of the cycle stays strangely consistent. One full revolution is roughly equal to 80 years or slightly longer than an average lifespan.

  • High (Spring:  1945-1966) – A society reaches a high in the decades after a crisis is completely resolved. Institutions are new and recently designed to cope ultra modern concerns.  Government works like it is supposed to.  Wealth is growing but the memories of recent financial crises cause people to invest conservatively and look down on excessive materialism.  If a society fails to solve the issues that caused the prior crisis, the high can instead be an “Austerity” with widespread poverty and especially hard work left to be done.
  • Social Awakening (Summer:  1966-1982) – Wealth and relative stability allow a greater exploration of spirituality, artistic expression, and philosophy.  While a vocal minority may find faults in “the system,” that system is still providing enough prosperity that few if any structural changes go through.  In America’s history, social Awakenings are led by young Prophet generations & these periods coincide with the “Great Awakenings” (powerful religious revivals.)  The last American Awakening was somewhat unique in the amount of attention hippies brought to liberal and secular values.
  • Unraveling (Autumn:  1913-1929, 1982-2005) – In an unraveling, prosperity gives way to corruption.  Institutions begin to show signs of irrelevancy and an inability to solve newer problems, spiritual progress falls victim to dogmatism, witch hunts, and culture wars.  Serious financial problems tend to go unaddressed, but much distortion of reality is done to boost confidence in a failing system.   In the roaring 20s and high-speed 90s, the rich got richer while the poor had enough access to credit that they could feel rich, too.
  • Crisis (Winter:  1929-1945, 2008?-2025?) – When the institutions have failed repeatedly to protect society from new threats, the illusions of stability and prosperity ultimately collapse and usher in an era of prolonged crisis.  Debt comes due and economies can suddenly spiral out of control.  In America, these phases of crisis have resulted in a Revolution, a Civil War, a New Deal, and our incredible response to World War II.  While the period is marked by a lack of material wealth and stability, they are also times of rapid change and progress toward establishing institutions capable of resolving modern threats & injustices.

The Generations

According to this theory (which is agreeable to my own sense of history & politics), there are four primary types of generations.

  • Artists (Silent Generation 1924-1944, New Artists 200?-202?) – Artists are born into or spend their youth in a crisis.  As the name implies, the stereotypical disposition of this generation is skewed toward artistic expression.  Born in the 20’s and 30’s, the recent artists were the beatniks, blues musicians, and bohemians of Post-WW2 America.  The last artist generation gave us Johnny Cash, Elvis, and George Carlin.  The younger artists are just now being born and entering into elementary school.
  • Prophets (Baby Boomers 1944-1962) – Prophets are born into a seemingly stable society and can be driven by a sense of moral conviction and/or entitlement.  These are not just the hippies of the 1960s, they’re also the social conservatives who rallied around Bush and the Republican party’s culture wars.  Prophets tend to be idealistic, but this idealism can stifle compromise and leave issues unresolved.
  • Nomads (Generation X 1962-1982) – Nomads are born during a cultural awakening and come of age as a society begins showing signs of decay.  Similar to artists, this generation is generally more concerned with self-expression than saving the world.  As a particularly rebellious group, they are likely to shun social expectations if they don’t see personal benefit in it.
  • Civics (“Greatest Generation” 1901-1924, Millennials, 1982-2004?) – Civics are born in an unraveling society and come of age during a crisis.  As the civilization is seeking solutions to the crisis, this generation tends toward political interests early in life.  The last Civic generation fought WW2 and went on to virtually dominate the presidency from JFK to GHWB.  The major criticism is that they can be reckless and short-sighted in their rush to solve immediate social problems.

If you’re interested in reading more, the books are available at LifeCourse Associates bookstore.  Be sure to check out Generations, a History of America’s Future, the book that set the whole paradigm in motion (notice that it has strong praise from both Al Gore and Newt Gingrich – when did those two ever agree on anything before?)  No, I’m not trying to sell the book and make money here, I just think this should be taught in schools!  Then again, we may be changing the cycle by becoming aware of it… so there’s no saying where we go from here, even if history does show us a pattern explaining how we got to where we are.

Trying to Give Obama a Chance

April 4th, 2009

I voted for the guy but I’m having a hard time finding the patience that his other supporter’s have got.  A lot of people are saying to wait and take it easy before tossing around judgments or pronouncing cynical complaints, some are even cheering the odd continuity between Bush’s policies and Obama’s first choices.

There has been quite a bit of public furor about social program spending, tax revolts, tea parties, and executive bonuses, but I try to stay focused on:

  • Who is getting appointed?
  • Who gets the government spending?
  • Who benefits from regulations?

From my perspective, the answer to all three of those questions is:  The banks.

Sure, there was $770 billion for roads, schools, trains, and pork, but this is a small drop in the big bucket of financial bailouts, bad bank plans, asset guarantees, and other forms of debt thrown to the Wall Street Elite.

The fact of the matter is that all of these banks are effectively bankrupt, and they’re only being kept on life support because they provide a public good of producing credit.  This credit isn’t based on the bank’s assets (there are none), it is based on the faith of the market in the U.S. government.

So why not make credit a public good?  Well, there’s a long and twisted history of conspiracies, class warfare, and legislation designed to ensure a select group of people could benefit just a little bit from every economic act going on in the country.  Heck, we’re not even supposed to talk about it!

Nationalizing credit and the central banking system may sound radical, but it is hardly more radical than anything Jefferson, Jackson, Washington, or Lincoln did.  Banks with capital would still be allowed to operate and make loans in a free market – they just wouldn’t be propped up at taxpayer expense!

On the military front, the Pentagon will be glad to know it is getting a nice raise.  This will probably come in handy as we escalate activities in Pakistan and start looking around in Darfur.

So, some of Obama’s supporters take the sort of neo-con line that our primary goal at the moment is to save the bank owners and invade every country that can remotely be perceived as a potential threat.  Some others are optimistic that Obama will pull away sharply from the Bush legacy when he’s more established, or has earned more political capital, or he doesn’t have to worry about re-election…

Slaying Dragons for Fun and Profit

November 25th, 2008

Saint George Slaying the Dragon as envisioned by Paolo Uccello

Dragons are an ancient and culturally ubiquitous symbol that finds its way into epic poetry, religion, and local legend the world over.

Today they live in our imaginations – on TV, in movies, and in modern fantasy fiction.

I’ve always had an affection for dragons – or more accurately – I should say that I am slightly obsessed with hunting them down and slaying them.

What is a Dragon? A Villain’s Symbolic Archetype

They kind of look like lizards, they have wings, and they breath fire – but the physical appearance of a dragon offers few clues into its psychological profile and role as a symbolic villain archetype.

  • Dragons are Intellectual – Unlike most beasts and monsters, dragons are often depicted as cold and calculating killers. They do more than simply kill to survive like a lion would, they kill for wealth and political purposes (like securing more land and territory than they need.)
  • Dragons are Aggressive – You can’t just leave one alone and hope to live in peace. Any village or kingdom looks ripe for plundering is sure to attract a dragon or two.
  • Dragons Hoard Wealth – Dragons also symbolize a certain type of financial elite that plunders and hordes wealth. In describing the dragon’s reaction to the loss of a single cup, Tolkien wrote the anger could only be compared to “when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy lose something they have long had but never before used or wanted.” While the serfs starve, while they watch their farms burn, the dragon sits with treasure beyond imagination – counting its pennies with no concern for those who have died or will die in the process.

Power and Good Fortune

Of course, the symbolic associations attached to dragons greatly vary from culture to culture. In Korea, Japan, and China – dragons are often associated with the water and seen as potent forces of good luck and prosperity. The strength of the dragon and its magical essence are retained, but the view of an aggressive villain are not necessarily the same.

In China, the dragon was long associated with the emperor, but they have since backed off this relationship as it can have negative connotations to those nations in the west that still see dragons as the bad guy. This doesn’t stop the dragon from popping up as an image of national pride, the male archetype, and social power.

Dragons and Empire

“City of London Corporation” Coat of Arms

The city of London isn’t just a municipality, it is an independent incorporation – a one-mile by one-mile square in the financial heart of the city. It is the international banking capital of the globe, and rent seeking mentality of its elite is older than the country we call England today.

Chinese Astrology and the Wolf

In Chinese Astrology, the wolf is seen as a polar opposite to the dragon. Wolves and dogs represent loyalty, defensive protection, and cooperation. Dogs run in a pack and rarely turn on their masters when treated well.

Funny enough, I was born in the year of the dog (1982). When I was up for Confirmation in the Catholic Church, I picked Saint George as a patron saint (All good heroes should slay a dragon or two). Many of the video games I play involve slaying dragons and yes, I’ve even spent too many hours with pen and paper and 20 sided dice trying to kill off dragons that only exist in a dungeon master’s manual.

Why the dragon?

Honestly, they’re just that cool. Even if they’re usually evil. All the explanation, all the coincidence, it just helps make them seem even cooler.