The Talking Dog

February 28, 2011, We're screwed-- graphic version

On this final day of February, I offer you this graphic depiction of United States revenue and expenses by somewhat controversial financial world figure Henry Blodget. It notes that for 2010 fiscal year, U.S. revenue was approximately $2.2 trillion, against expenses of $3.5 trillion (the article doesn't say it, but GDP is estimated at around $14.7 trillion). It's an interesting chart-- I for one, thought that interest on the debt was a much larger chunk of the budget; it does explain why the Fed has been so desperate to keep interest rates so low for so long, of course.

Mr. Blodget-- correctly-- observes that entitlements are a huge problem. However, he insists that these entitlement are the entire problem (because, heavens, we couldn't possibly increase revenue via taxation). So... his answer-- cut entitlements-- is correct as far as it goes... but it doesn't go far enough. The real problem is that the United States insists on running a praetorian state with nearly a trillion dollars in military spending causing most of the deficit (the chart shows $658 billion, and then another $150 billion or so in "one-shots", which are presumably war funding). Worse, the United States has an effective tax collection rate of barely 16 or 17%, while spending close to 23 or 24%. But social security is a straight transfer program-- and as the chart shows, social security revenue still exceeds expenditures. The real problem, along with defense and insufficient revenue collection, is just one of the entitlement programs-- medical costs (reflected in Medicare and Medicaid). Of course, in a "jobless recovery"-- when the economy is allegedly growing as more and more people face penury-- the "correct answer" would be to tax "the haves." That, of course... is crazy talk. We'll have no correct answers, thanks. Your betters know better.

Seeing as the rich in general, and pharmaceutical concerns, the financial industry and defense contractors in particular (along with oil companies of course) own Congress (oil companies, or at least the people who control them, in turn, own everything and every one)... just don't look for anything to change, other than possibly for the worse. And the fact that we're now effectively in an election year (for the next 22 months!)... will just make things worse on this score.

Oh well.

February 21, 2011, the shores of Tripoli...

The mirth and merriment that seems to be re-shaping Middle Eastern governments at far greater speed and lower cost (especially human cost) than American imposed mass-homicide ever did (or could)... has reached Libya. Some reports show hundreds dead and the Libyan parliament building ablaze as Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi (the man of a thousand spellings) appears to have fled Tripoli... for points unknown.

Meanwhile, in a hopefully less violent comparison, this Weekly Standard piece asks a most interesting question, to wit, given general Democratic support for the effective shut-down of the Wisconsin government to protest Republican budget cuts (which, of course, include evisceration of public sector unions), what will be the consistent philosophical argument against, a probable shut down of the federal government when (presumably) conflicting budget priorities cannot be resolved by March 4th?

The short answer to that one is... you got me? I have no idea! The issue of the failure (or deliberate failure) of the President and his team to secure extension of the federal debt ceiling and a "no shutdown" agreement when he caved in to extend the Bush tax cuts and destroy social security's financial underpinnings during the lame duck session... now looms. You'all know my twin opinions on this: (1) none of this really matters anyway (unless, of course, you somehow depend on the non-military-contractor part of the federal government for anything), and (2) Bill Clinton politically benefited from a Republican-led government shut down, and Obama is an orthodox disciple of Bill Clinton's "divide and conquer [your own supporters]" politix.

Meanwhile... actual people-centered politics are playing out in cities throughout the Middle East ... possibly re-shaping the future of tens or hundreds of millions of people... while the alleged most powerful nation on Earth... twitters twiddles its thumbs... pondering its own policy choices [between feudalism and satanic mills.]

February 19, 2011, Roadmap? Check. Handbasket? Check.

You'all know my view on where we're headed... the only question (if it's even that relevant anymore) is how fast we'll get there, collectively. As individuals, some of us may reach it sooner than others... but...

For those not reading Dmitry Orlov... he's pretty much the one guy out there who's putting the various world and domestic events and trends in context, such as his latest post, "Ron Paul Joins the Collapse Party." We are really rapidly coming to the point where Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale may be a tad too optimistic.

Item: key American ally (and home of our once-mighty U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet) Bahrain has become engulfed in protests, including the powers that be recently deciding it was a good idea to commence firing on sleeping protestors and then beating up medics trying to help the wounded.

Item: After deliberately precipitating a budget shortfall in Wisconisn, recently elected Republican (and Tea Party darling) Governor Scott Walker has gone straight for the heart of the Democratic Party, to wit, public sector unions, by proposing to slash benefits and eliminate collective bargaining rights. Normally placid (!) Madison, Wisconsin has been rocked by protests, counter-protests, and state legislative walkouts and the usual mirth and merriment that accompanies end times.

And speaking of end times, let's hear it for the Republican House, which wants to party like its 1899, first by using various spending powers to make paying for abortion all but a felony, including cutting off funds for another Democratic stronghold, Planned Parenthood, while Boehner and the Country Club Boys (maybe they'll be the opening act for Sarah and the Barracudas, or Newt and the Blowhards?) gear up to shut down funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. And hell.... they just don't like spending money on anything that might ameliorate the nation's decline,

Honestly, folks, while more or less a harbinger of the end of civilization (and our Republican friends and our Democratic friends, at least in the elected realm, both want to cause it, in the interest of maintaining their own cushy privileges, at least a while longer... the only difference being the Republicans' seeming desire to cause it faster), what we're seeing play out is actually democracy in action (such as the farcical facsimile of same we have here in the so-called United States). Mr. Walker and House Republicans and indeed conservatives, "tea-partiers" and reactionaries everywhere were democratically elected; despite huge majorities in both houses of Congress and the biggest mandate for any Democrat since the 1960's, Barack Obama, Harry Reid and company decided that "baby steps" were the best we were going to see... and the nation decided "Nyet!" Well, the "Party of No" is in... and... well, you see where this is going. And yet-- I'm not making the usual partisan point of "if only we'd have elected Democrats, they would save us".. because that would be a lie.

So as not to completely depress you (!), "Doctor tells the old guy, I have some bad news and good news, which do you want first? Patient says give me the bad news. Doc says I'm sorry, every test I've run shows you have terminal cancer, it's spread over most of your body, it's inoperative, treatment will just cause you needless suffering-- make your final arrangementsimmediately-- you'll be dead in 2, 3 months at the outside. Patient says, my God! That's horrible! What could POSSIBLY be good news after that? Doctor says, You see that drop dead gorgeous nurse over there? I'm f&^%ing her!", there ARE things you can do for you and your family amidst the coming end times (and really, we're not looking at cataclysmic apocalypse so much as, say, fall of Soviet Union kind of thing... which will be really bad, but not quite up there with nuclear war). I, for one, have pretty much taught myself to cook a number of vegetarian dishes... you can get excellent recipes from the vegetarian cooking guide, as well as any number of comparable sites. And think about where you get your food from... farmer's markets and Community Supported Agriculture ("CSAs") and of course, your own gardening [I manage to grow things on my roof right here in Brooklyn] are all excellent ideas, which were once (and will soon be again) the mainstays of our diets... start now, while you still have a choice, and you'll be in much better position than the poor bastards who think things will go on the way they're used to. And make friends, damn it!

And get your head into a better mindset: for one, think quite consciously about your relationship with money and the power economy... check out, for example, Your Money or Your Life, or The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches, or sites like Zen Habits.

This is not Egypt: our government will not topple if thousands, or even millions or tens of millions of us were to take to the streets. And it would not be a good move to bet your life on our police, military and/or mercenaries electing not to fire on their fellow citizens if the order comes... because this is not Egypt or Tunisia... in that score, this is Iran (a country of educated sophisticated people forever dueling with religious reactionaries, with a functioning ersatz democracy featuring corrupt elections, that loves its death penalty to death)... you won't last a day or two out there, even if you got your whole town to turn out. Sorry about that.

But what you, and I, and us, can do is take ourselves out. Minimize our exposure (as much as we can) to money, which is the main vehicle of control that the Rockefeller family the people in charge (hint: that's not the complaint department otherwise known as "the government") use to maintain their control. OK then... we're going to "go veg" to the extent we can, stay as physically active and healthy as we can (enslaving us to pharmaceuticals is the ultimate win win for the power-- they take our money and our souls in one swoop), and not try to call too much attention to ourselves.

And just maybe we'll get through this.

February 14, 2011, Synchronous orbits(?)

After saying "happy Valentine's Day," we'll start with a visit to Yemen, where street protests against the government (on a somewhat modest scale, as around 1,000 or so protestors are reported) continue for the for the fourth straight day. Yemen has fairly tight command and control-- at least in this area-- and few doubt that should the order be given, police and troops would open fire on protestors without a second thought. Because of "domestic concerns," Yemeni president Saleh has canceled a scheduled visit to the United States later in the month.

I really want to make that point as clearly as I can, and I deliberately juxtapose the announcement that the American military is planning on stepping up training of Yemeni troops. The stated reason, of course, is "counter-terrorism"-- to battle the "evil-doers" of al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula and its supposed plots like the 2009 Christmas underpants plot or the recent letter-bombs-to-Rahm-Emmanuel's-synagogue... and that annoying al-Awlaki, you know, talking. And, of course, because of all of this, my hobby horse, Guantanamo Bay, remains awash in Yemenis who have been "cleared for release"... except for the part where political expedience dictates that they're going to be held there for the rest of their lives (or until the American empire crumbles, which might be sooner than you think... just saying...) Cynics-- or talking dogs-- might suggest that our concern in largely oil-less and miserably poor Yemen has little to do with terrorist threats against us, and a great deal to do with the threat of instability spilling over into critically important Saudi Arabia.

Anyway, you see a convenient microcosm of American supply/demand (or if you like, conditioned response) policies the world over. A "security" intervention that's actually about... wait for it... oil. Of course, we could just leave the miserable little country alone and let things go where they go, in which case, most people there would probably not give us another thought. No... better we invest time and effort in teaching the locals to hone their brutality more efficiently (making sure the racks and thumbscrews have clear "Made in USA" labels on them), thereby generating the kind of enemies who might well try to strike at us directly, who will then justify yet further intervention, generating more enemies, justifying yet more military spending and police state measures... Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I do commend you to visit the (all-too-rarely-blogging-these-days) Jim Henley, particularly this notation of why there arent so many Tahrir Squares here... (hint: it's not an accident.)

February 12, 2011, Impressive looking change

Happy birthday, Abraham Lincoln. But for that bastard John Wilkes Booth, Honest Abe would be 202 years old today. But that's not important right now...

The Grey Lady treats us to this dicussion of the two man military junta ruling council that will babysit Egypt for the foreseeable future until a new constitution and elections can be implemented. On the one hand, I'd like to think we've seen a popular revolution unfold in front of us-- well-intentioned, well-organized street mobs brought down a dictatorship. Of course, Mubarak holds the rank of air marshall and Sulayman has the rank of general... and now two other military guys, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi (already seen as a strident opponent of political change) and Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan (more... enigmatic), are officially in charge.

The situation is best summed up by IOZ:

Now Egypt is under the nominal and actual control of an America-funded military junta. To those who are eager to pronounce this a victory of spontaneous, self-organizing people-power over the forces of state tyranny, I feel ya. But I caution caution.

I was told of anecdotal pro-American chanting in the streets of Cairo, amidst the jubilation following the departure of Egyptian President-for-Life-until-quite-recently Hosni Mubarak. If so, our nation deserves its praise-- for standing on the side of these historical events. Of course, as I recently noted, that's kind of because we're out of juice and didn't have much choice.

Anyway, the whole damned thing is irony marinating in irony sauce served in an irony wrap. You see, part of what triggered the uprising in Tunisia was confirmation (thanks to American classified communiques that surfaced care of Wikileaks) of just how corrupt and awful that regime was-- an uprising that toppled a not-particularly-stable state. Egypt, which has been a powder-keg itself for years if not decades, and suffering from a dramatic rapid increase in the prices of basic commodities, amidst its ongoing misery and massive unemployment, followed suit. If these events follow their hoped-for course, two large Islamic states (including Egypt, home to half of the world's Arabs) wlll have possibly achieved democracy, not because of American policy (which, in the name of "bringing democracy"-- albeit at gunpoint-- has instead brought ruination and death to Iraq and Afghanistan)... but in spite of it (American policy has been to try to keep a tight lid on the kind of information that led directly to the Arab uprisings, and indeed, punishing Wikileaks seems to be the number one priority of American government and its inter-locking corporate directorate.)

Of course, at face value if nothing else, one must be impressed with what's going on in Egypt; I note that while walking home over the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday, a Saudi tourist could not contain his amazement to me over events-- noting that Mubarak stepped aside after just eighteen days of these protests... which tells me just who's paying attention, and perhaps, who should be duly scared. And as freedom seems to be breaking out everywhere else, it's nice to see that America itself wants to hold the line on this disturbing trend. (Oh... you can run, but you can't hide... but I digress...)

Hey, who knows? Maybe things are finally going in the right direction. Not how I would bet, of course.

Update [2/13/11]: On cue, the Egyptian military junta Supreme Council of the Armed Forces suspended the constitution, dissolved parliament, and called for elections within six months. One would like to think, or at least hope, that the interests of the military are aligned with the interests of those protesting, to wit, all believe that a stable, prosperous, relatively free and democratic Egypt is in their mutual interest. Because if it isn't, we can reasonably sure that the people with the guns and tanks and fighter planes will be deciding that their interests are those that will be provided for. Just saying.

February 5, 2011, The Unbearable Lightness of Being Irrelevant

And so, just days after signalling that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak must unconditionally go, and take his ruling apparatus with him, today... the position of the United States (as expressed by the much put-upon Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) is that Mr. Mubarak should resign immediately in favor of Vice President Suleiman, who in turn should supervise a transition to... something democratic, whatever that is. Fortunately for the stability of the world... the rest of the world seems to regard American pronouncements as... utterly irrelevant. One hopes that something is going on "behind the scenes"... but one doubts the institutional competence for that to really be happening. The showdown in the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities goes on... and our government... is just watching, and occasionally mouthing off... but not much more.

James Zogby writing in HuffPo puts things in perspective: most of what comes out of the mouths of American politicians on Egypt (and everything else) is ill-informed nonsense. Which is perfectly fine... when your nation... is an irrelevance.

Thing is, we're supposed to be the big kahuna in the Middle East. We'd like to think we were the big kahuna everywhere, of course. But... we haven't been for some time. And our decisions not to tax our super-rich have left us a financial basket-case... but at least we could still kick ass. Ah... but the demonstration project that al-Qaeda third-stringers operating out of a single mini-van, and Iraqi irregulars, could tie up hundreds of thousands of our troops... has demonstrated that, short of nuclear war... we're not even much of a threat anymore, at least in a 'regime-change" kind of way. That wad has been shot.

And so... an amazing, potentially historically game-changing event (IF Egypt-- home of half the Arab world's population-- ends up as something other than dictatorship)... is something that we, the World's-only-superpower(TM)... is mostly sitting... and watching. And occasionally mentioning something about Israel, which I presume, is more engaged in the situation than we are.

Don't get me wrong: I prefer the rest of the world to have a measure of self-determination. Unlike most of you, I work a block from the World Trade Center, as I did on 11 Sept. 2001... so I'd just as soon stop pissing off everyone (especially the Muslim world). But... it would have been nice had this been a conscious choice on our part, and not simply the collective result of years and years of ill-advised, if not insane, policy choices.

This has been... "the unbearable lightness of being irrelevant."