Sunday, November 27, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different

So I assumed that in going to see the new Muppet movie over the holiday weekend, I would simply be fulfilling another parental duty, handing good money over to the Mouse Cult in exchange for two hours of cloying sentimentalism. And it is sentimental, and wears its sweetness and innocence on its sleeve.

But writer/star Jason Segel is clearly passionate about this project, and his joy in the story is infectious. Amy Adams is her usual perky, cute, engaging self. The Muppet characters feel like old friends, long time no see, and the movie makes an earnest but true point about the role for their style of entertaining in a steadily coarsened culture.

But what really makes it a very good movie are the songs, especially the ones written by Flight of the Conchords alum Bret McKenzie. The songs are fun and silly, play off the story's abundant meta jokes, and move things along (and the movie isn't two hours, more like a crisp 90 minutes or so). And there are a couple of extremely funny sight/music gags toward the end.

I know, I was surprised too. This may ruin my reputation as a foul-mouthed intartubez curmudgeon. Go see it anyway, you'll be glad you did.

Chunky Flunky

Apparently this month's GOPmedia flavor is a heady swirl of lard, failure, and what passes for intellectualism in an intellectual and moral vacuum.

The only thing more perplexing than ceding electoral imprimaturs to unpopulated states such as Iowa and New Hampshire is the notion that Gingrich is some sort of intemellectual thoroughbred, simply because he's written a bunch of books. So has Danielle Steel.

The actual ideas Gingrich promulgates are nothing more than retreaded American Exceptionalism boilerplate, tarted up for an audience of mouth-breathers that tells themselves and each other that reading Atlas Shrugged autmoatically confers smart-set credentials. Not entirely clear how or when mere affirmation became intellection, maybe it's always been thus and I missed it because I wasn't reading the highbrow assertions of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. Talk about missing the boat. Of course, in this case it's the proverbial lifeboat where everyone's talking cannibalism.

At any rate, I suppose the Goopers have just about run out of losers and also-rans to audition for their little Anyone But Romney booty pageant. Unless they're going to change their minds about the Mittster, or give Paul or Santorum a go, or come to their senses and realize that Huntsman is about the only halfway reasonable person on the roster, they'll have to go back through the list of oafs and castoffs, and try to convince us that Perry or Cain or Bachmann are seriously electable. But let's face it, they can't even convince themselves.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Eliminationist Rhetoric

Goddammit. Just. Goddammit. [Via Dohiyi Mir]

Look, we all get that Ann Coulter's role in this here game is that of agent provocateur. The factoid that Coulter and Bill Maher (both Cornell alumni) are supposedly close friends may be a tip of sorts that Coulter is cheekily aware that her obnoxious jabber is simply lucrative schtick.

But it's possible to point out that there is a line of sorts, fine or not, between schtick and open hostility, the sociopathic hostility of indifference to the murder of defenseless coeds by vicious thugs. Despite Coulter's implicit assertion, there is no debate whatsoever here -- the murdered college students were unarmed, period, end of sentence. The notion that someone would try to "humorously" walk that one back to Schtickville just says more about them than the subjects of their anemic jape.

I dunno. It's one thing to advocate physical violence against the authors of economic violence against the abject masses. Perhaps impolitic, but you get whence it originates.

But to advocate death for the people who have the temerity to agitate against the manifest economic injustices being perpetrated upon them, this is a different animal. This is the rhetorical arrogance of making a goof about kids being killed at school, about people who were dumb enough to believe that their national institutions would do the right thing when confronted -- despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary -- and were murdered in cold blood as a consequence.

Sooner or later something's gotta give, the question is on which side it falls initially. Do frustrated, beaten-down peons strike back against feckless, armored thugs, or do the latter just decide to stomp down the former? Sadly, you can always count on someone to inexplicably defend the latter, to trade their humanity for a couple of shekels and a sack of magic beans.

About the Other Night

So uh, yeah, maybe I was channeling Burroughs a bit back there, not by intention but it kinda shook out that way. And of course there are plenty of things I actually am thankful for -- a healthy family, a job, a house, a reliable vehicle, a reasonably valuable skill set.

But even those things come with a set of caveats: since I work in the public sector, findingfunding is always precarious, I don't have much seniority, and I spend at least three nights a week looking for greener pastures in a moribund job market; the house is underwater, not as much as a lot of folks out there, but enough to make me a glorified renter; and even with pretty decent medical insurance, we still have to check EOBs and medical billing clerks and haggle with insurance companies whose provider lists may or may not be accurate at any given time. That's the thing in this country anymore -- even people who are doing "okay" are really just a paycheck or two from the sidewalk, still have to worry about job security in a flat economy, still have to waste hours on end haggling over routine doctor's office visits -- again, with medical insurance.

But all those things are a given, really. What's really burning my ass is the indifference or insouciance paid to the more blatant examples of official thuggery in our midst. We've been long accustomed to it, obviously. People were hunky and/or dory with police-state actions in the War on Some Drugs, no-knock warrants, civil asset forfeiture without trial nor even charge. And 9/11 just sealed that deal, and utilized technological advances to snoop and secure ever more.

So we're comfortable with masked DEA guys kicking in doors and shooting without provocation, just as we're inured to ordinary county mounties and town clowns tasering speeders for getting lippy. We're jake with whisking people to Gitmo, be they bountied Afghan shepherds or homegrown assholes, and stuffing them away for years on end, again without charge nor trial.

So what's the big deal about pepper-spraying college kids and elderly women for sitting on a sidewalk? After all, it might prevent potential consumers from getting that sweet-ass Black Friday deal, right?

Oh, and about that:

This year, reports of injuries, fights and at least one shooting have come in from across the country, with one California customer even fending off competing shoppers with pepper spray.

Words fail. Not to advocate vigilantism, but one hopes at the very least that when they check the surveilance tapes and figure out who this dunce is, her victims drop by with fresh pepper-spray canisters of their own.

But those stories, much like the thing itself are overblown; when the herd is heavily encouraged to converge, we shouldn't be too surprised when there's trampling here and there.

The part that's puzzling is that we continue to put up with all this shit, even though we know that we know better. I don't know if the prime instinct has simply become escapism at every turn, whether it's self-actualizing through shopping or endless schlock, or what. But again, it's really just going to come down to unplugging from the system, to stop feeding the beast.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks

We thank you, o lord, for the banksters who have murdered the economy of the planet, who have turned the profit and productivity of others into a lint-ridden pocket for themselves to dip into.

Thanks for overpopulation, for idiots who seriously think they should have a dozen or so children, while entire species are driven to extinction at an unprecedented rate and resources deplete.

Thanks for punk bitch thug cops, wannabe tough guys who strut around in their Spaceballs stormtrooper suits (Taibbi's line) and spray blinding chemicals in the faces of their fellow citizens, which is the only reasonable response to peaceful protest, n'est-ce pas?

Thanks for a holiday that was once about reconnecting with family and community, but has long since devolved into a mindless orgy of pornographic consumerism, of people who actually look forward to the opportunity to go to Wal-Mart in the middle of the night and do battle to spend money they don't really have on shit they don't really want.

Thanks for the gaping hole in this nation's soul, and its collective inability to see or do anything about it.

Thanks for an interminable series of breathless "reports" on subhuman scumbags who think a college football program is more important than -- well, pretty much anything, apparently. Because there are actually people who are violently angry at the unfair persecution of poor ol' Joe Paterno. Lord, may their children all get ass-raped in the shower by Jerry Sandusky. (Not really, but perhaps make them take a second to reflect "what if", and double-check as to whether they are actually human beings or not. Because it's pretty unclear right now.)

Thanks for the fucking fascist scumbags who run this country now, who cravenly use a terrorist attack by a bunch of Saudis a decade ago as cover for their paramilitarizing of urban police forces. We thank you, sweet lord, for these gutless, inhuman thugs who wipe their asses with our constitution every chance they get. Good to know that official press passes must be obtained to "report" officially-sanctioned "news". Wouldn't want reg'lar citizens to think they can just show up unannounced at Tahrir SquareZuccotti Park and, you know, document what occurs, write about or even film the armored pussies who pepper-spray old ladies and coeds. Lord, please jam lightning bolts up their asses, and melt their dead hearts, in Tebow's name, whatever and ever amen.

Some simple truths (pezzo di merde):
  • Lloyd Blankfein, and every other bankster, for what they've done to literally billions of people at this point out of sheer greed and nothing more, are pieces of shit.
  • Mike Bloomberg, for his craven support of the banksters, and for unleashing his punk-ass thug cops on unarmed peaceful citizens who are simply tired of taking shit from well-heeled thieves, is a piece of shit.
  • Lt. John Pike, caught on video as a gutless, heartless bully, is a ten-pound growler, truly a king-sized piece of shit. Do your duty and flush twice on this motherfucker. It will truly be a fine day when this asshole finds himself in the unemployment line.
  • There are many more, too many to mention. This nation seems overrun with numberless pieces of shit, from the halls of Congress to the boardrooms of Wall Street to the frontlines of Occupied America to the chat rooms defending the pussy paramilitaries who push around the citizens they're fucking well sworn to protect.
  • What this nation needs is an enema, and a big one.
What the OWSers need to realize is that, however well-intended, what they are doing is not enough, might really never be enough. Rather than risk sacrificing their lives and well-being to an indifferent thugocracy and a complicit, compliant, complaisant corporate media who are already bored with their tubthumping antics, what the OWSers -- and everyone, including you 'n' me, friends 'n' neighbors -- need to do is avail themselves of any and every opportunity to divest from the matrix, to starve the beast.

Because it most certainly is a bloody beast, voracious, insatiable, red in tooth and claw, utterly indifferent to the misery spawned by its actions, indeed taking perverse glee in the pain it causes. It does not care about you, and by "it" I mean Wall Street, Congress, Obama, the urban paramilitary gangs masquerading as cops, the hump-your-leg-till-you-waste-more-money media, the whole wretched lot of them.

The decision we have to make is whether we continue to put up with it just for the opportunity for more flat-screens and iPads, or decide that having a lifestyle is a piss-poor substitute for having a life, and that maybe we won't miss our Dancing with the Has-Beens and Never-Weres and the hourly Kardashian updates as much as they think we will. The greatest fear these motherless fucks have is that we one day decide to stand on our hind legs and be men.

I can't think of a better day than today for us all to resolve to do exactly that. I think we would all be more thankful, and right now an attitude of gratitude might be just the thing.

Otherwise, I've had quite enough of this hollowed-out police state, and its revolting cheerleaders, and I'd rather make it a goal to get the fuck out of here once and for all, find a bungalow in Costa Rica and spend the rest of my life surfing and playing guitar, which is all I ever really wanted to do anyway. Bageant had the right idea.

The bullshit going on right now in multiple quarters on multiple levels, and the vocal support it engenders from some of the more insane quadrants of the mediasphere, make me positively ill. One can still believe in Hume's Paradox, the old "they got the guns but we got the numbers" maxim, but there's really no substitute for just pulling out whenever and wherever possible, divesting from the beast and re-investing locally.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Psycho Finance, Qu'est-ce Que C'est

Ce que j'ai fait ce soir-là
Ce qu'elle a dit ce soir-là
Réalisant mon espoir
Je me lance vers la gloire... OK -- Talking Heads

George Monbiot is shrill:

In a study published by the journal Psychology, Crime and Law, Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon tested 39 senior managers and chief executives from leading British businesses. They compared the results to the same tests on patients at Broadmoor special hospital, where people who have been convicted of serious crimes are incarcerated. On certain indicators of psychopathy, the bosses's scores either matched or exceeded those of the patients. In fact, on these criteria, they beat even the subset of patients who had been diagnosed with psychopathic personality disorders.

The psychopathic traits on which the bosses scored so highly, Board and Fritzon point out, closely resemble the characteristics that companies look for. Those who have these traits often possess great skill in flattering and manipulating powerful people. Egocentricity, a strong sense of entitlement, a readiness to exploit others and a lack of empathy and conscience are also unlikely to damage their prospects in many corporations.

In their book Snakes in Suits, Paul Babiak and Robert Hare point out that as the old corporate bureaucracies have been replaced by flexible, ever-changing structures, and as team players are deemed less valuable than competitive risk-takers, psychopathic traits are more likely to be selected and rewarded. Reading their work, it seems to me that if you have psychopathic tendencies and are born to a poor family, you're likely to go to prison. If you have psychopathic tendencies and are born to a rich family, you're likely to go to business school.

Monbiot avers to the classic "all poodles are dogs, but not all dogs are poodles" chestnut, which is at least intellectually honest:

This is not to suggest that all executives are psychopaths. It is to suggest that the economy has been rewarding the wrong skills. As the bosses have shaken off the trade unions and captured both regulators and tax authorities, the distinction between the productive and rentier upper classes has broken down. Chief executives now behave like dukes, extracting from their financial estates sums out of all proportion to the work they do or the value they generate, sums that sometimes exhaust the businesses they parasitise. They are no more deserving of the share of wealth they've captured than oil sheikhs.

Here we're getting closer to the nut. Success in the high-stakes finance world is not predicated on raw skill; there is very little chance that Jamie Dimon or Lloyd Blankfein possesses skill sets that the average college graduate could not be trained for in, say, a year or two. Yes, they are highly specialized skill sets, but not uniquely so.

More and more, it becomes clear that their defining characteristic is willingness to push boundaries, to engage in what would previously have been considered transgressive behavior.

Finally the crux of the biscuit.

The rest of us are invited, by governments and by fawning interviews in the press, to subscribe to their myth of election: the belief that they are possessed of superhuman talents. The very rich are often described as wealth creators. But they have preyed on the earth's natural wealth and their workers' labour and creativity, impoverishing both people and planet. Now they have almost bankrupted us. The wealth creators of neoliberal mythology are some of the most effective wealth destroyers the world has ever seen.

Exactly. The persistent myth has been that taxes and regulations must be kept low in order to maintain robust growth and profits. Well, what of that, then? Both have been at historic lows for the entirety of this preceding decade, the paper profits of which have been wiped clean -- except, of course, for the engineers of that destruction. Securitization policies were upended to facilitate this mendacious scamboogery, and we can all see the results.

Yet again, the myth persists that if we just stay the proverbial course, the ship will right itself anon.

Taibbi, per usual, has been all up in this shiznit. Handing Social Security and Medicare over to these thieves was a dreadful idea before they monkeyfucked the world economy; it is incomprehensible that any remotely serious person would still be considering such a thing at this stage of the game.

As Taibbi points out, not only is their chicanery exhaustively documented and simple to trace (though hopelessly convoluted in scope, and hence beyond the attention span of the average 'murkin, which is precisely what they count on), but so is their incompetence. You have to give props to people who have the balls to demand to be thanked and rewarded not only for their malfeasance, but for their ineptitude as well.

Here's how I've explained the situation to people, to make it a bit less muddled, feel free to use or modify as you see fit:

Say you have an idiot brother-in-law. He fancies himself a pigskin prognosticator, and decides to take a loan out on the value of his house to bet on the Super Bowl. But wait -- not only is the bank allowing him a loan at full value, they're allowing him to "leverage" on a 30:1 margin. That is, his house is worth $200K, but Bank of Stupid is letting him borrow $6 million. Still with me? Okay, good.

You can guess what happens next -- he bets on the Steelers, who lose to the Packers, and he's on the hook for way more money than he's ever going to see in his life. The bank basically tells you and your neighbors that you get to pay for it, since your asshole b-i-l sure as hell ain't gonna cough up a thin dime for his stupidity.

Of course, there are additional layers of complexity to this admittedly feeble analogy, but the point still stands. It's public subsidy/private profit at its worst.

Now, to add insult to njury, the richies are bemoaning their lot, and pushing back against the tubthumping DFHs in the park, with their usual condescending sneer:

Mike Bloomberg wants you to believe the banks didn’t want anything to do with those unworthy borrowers. Yet in reality, the banks not only went to every conceivable length to take on the home loans of those subprime borrowers, they actually invented new technology to make clones of those Barney Frank debtors.

And there were thousands upon thousands of those synthetic deals, meaning each and every one of those deadbeat subprime borrowers have been Xeroxed by the banks fifty or a hundred times over, and are flying around the globe to this day as toxic assets.

Nomi Prins pointed out in her book It Takes a Pillage that we could have paid off every subprime loan in America at the start of the crisis for about $1.4 trillion dollars. But the bailouts ended up being four, five, perhaps as much as ten or twelve times that size.

Why? Because we weren’t paying off the underlying loans of those subprime, personal-responsibility-deficient homeowners. We were paying off the banks' bets on those loans. We were adopting all those clones they made.

Anyway, there's is a massive gap between making a bad decision with one’s personal finances and committing criminal fraud in billion-dollar amounts. Morally, the two acts are not even in the same universe.

Here is a perfect example of why I detest bien pensant limo libs nearly as much as I despise the usual mouth-breathing, window-licking, up-to-the-fourth-knuckle nose-picking conservatards. Animals like Mike Bloomberg, who presents a media-friendly image and aligns perfectly with their socially-liberal-but-fundamentally-authoritarian impulses, know perfectly well that there's more than enough blame to go around.

As long as Bloomberg appears "progressive" enough on vital issues such as abortion and gay marriage, these putatively librul tools could give less than two shits about whether he regards the peons as human beings. Not that abortion and gay marriage aren't relevant issues, but I'll go out on a limb and stipulate that everyone's right to live a decent life commensurate with the work they put out is a tad more critical.

But Bloomberg, his proxies, and complicitly his starstruck audiences, they're all happy to lay it all at the feet of the one group that has no media or political presence whatsoever -- the working stiffs who got juked into these bullshit mortgages.

Yes, they should have known better, yes they should have done the math and figured it out. But a lot of people made -- and are still making -- a shitload of money for all that, really for taking deliberate advantage of their lack of financial sophistication.

Even worse, in addition to the foreclosed millions you hear about, there are millions more -- I count myself among them -- who did everything right, spent wisely, lived frugally, locked in the mortgage rate opportunistically, didn't use the HELOC as an ATM, and still got fucking hosed by decimated property values, reduced credit limits, fewer decent job opportunities, etc. Trust me folks, there's no reward whatsoever for doing things "right", and indeed only the finest of lines between those folks and the folks who are being jeered at by smug billionaires for their supposed stupidity and recklessness.

Really, if there's one thing that Bloomberg and his scumbag friends have proven time and again, it's that stupidity and recklessness pays quite handsomely, provided one has taken care to rent the right people ahead of time.

As the slow burn of Europe continues apace, and eventually spreads here, and shit really starts raining down, keep all that in mind when it's time to choose a side. Wall Street has the moral compass of a Mexican drug cartel. These motherfuckers would skin you alive and feed you your own nutsack if they thought it'd gain them two cents on their portfolio.

Has nothing to do with the virtues of "capitalism", the magic of the "free market", or the vicissitudes of the peons. It's just the nature of the beasts. Perhaps a viewing of Grizzly Man might jog one's perception of how this thing really works.

News of the Weird

This is not exactly burning front-page material, but it is passing strange at least that scientists would expend any real lengths of time, effort, and research dollars to limn the plight of chicken-fucking hillbillies. I mean, I don't quite get the "they deserve to burn in hell" vitriol of some of the commenters, but I would say that if you're the sort of person for whom buggering livestock is a habit, a way of life, the trajectory of your existence on this here earth is already pretty well charted.

This is just all kinds of charming:

The researchers found no association between penile cancer and the number of animals the men used over time, the species (which included mares, cows, pigs and chickens, among other animals) or the number of other men who also participated. However, the higher rate of reported sexually transmitted diseases in men who had sex with animals could be a result of group sex, said lead author Stênio de Cássio Zequi, a urologist inSão Paulo. More than 30 percent of subjects practiced SWA in groups.

Ahahahaha, there's a lovely visual, no, a bunch of inbred goobers gang-raping a cow. Well, there are 7,000,000,000 lost souls on our fair slab of rock, the law of averages dictates that at least some of them are going to be disgusting wastes of oxygen. Nothing new under the sun, but never a dull moment either.

Friday, November 11, 2011


I don't know what sort of self-respecting man -- and a 6'5" athlete at that -- observes a ten-year-old boy getting buttfucked in the shower by a grown man, and not only doesn't intervene directly at the scene, but doesn't even call the fucking cops. I cannot imagine what went through that child's head at that moment, first probably thinking that Mike McQueary, seemingly a responsible adult, would jump in and rescue the kid. Instead, McQueary slunk away, went home, called his dad for advice, and then told Joe Paterno, who told Penn State's athletic director.

Again, keep in mind that McQueary was 28 years old at the time. Did he not get the memo about how sexually assaulting children is a bad thing? Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ, one gets that Sandusky is a piece of shit pedophile, and Paterno and the PSU athletic department had the semi-plausible deniability of hearing everything second- or third-hand, but I have no clue what McQueary and the others who witnessed Sandusky's behavior were thinking. It is inconceivable to me that someone could witness the abuse of a child and not physically intervene immediately.

McQueary is likely to follow Paterno to the unemployment line; indeed, his coaching career is likely over. Good. Hopefully he lives to Paterno's ripe old age, and his gutless inaction haunts him every second.

It's amazing to consider the sorts of awful things humans will conceal just for the sake of reputation. Penn State's rationale is exactly that of the numberless Catholic dioceses worldwide that excused and covered up, perpetuated the exact same conduct systematically. Just as McQueary's inaction is unfathomable, so is the notion of anyone continuing to support organizations such as these with their (presumably) hard-earned dollars.

As always, you get what you pay for.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The "No Shit" Moment

I like to give center-to-center-right people like Fareed Zakaria and Niall Ferguson some leeway because they generally present smart, moderate arguments which just happen to land a bit to the right of where I normally would on most given subjects. This stands in stark contrast not only to the numberless goons the wingers have peddling numinous fictions for them, but to ham-fisted NYTimes "moderates" such as Bobo Brooks and Ross Douthat. People like Brooks and Douthat are not necessarily nasty players like their more wingy counterparts, but they do tend to be messy thinkers, whereas folks like Zakaria and Ferguson, who have actual educations and curricula vitae, and write actual books and know serious facts, generally impart their ideas with clarity and logic.

So I have no idea what got into Ferguson all of a sudden, but given his "killer app" metaphor, I'm tempted to assume he's been boning up on some Tommy Friedman and decided to up his book sales by giving that lazy tack a try. The earliest incarnation of "killer apps" seems apropos enough, anyway, in describing how the West surpassed the East after around 1500 (that is, around the time Vasco da Gama set the Portuguese navy in every seaport from Lisbon east to Macau, subjugated the natives and converted them at sword-point, and set up trading ports to put the locals out of business).

1. Competition. Europe was politically fragmented into multiple monarchies and republics, which were in turn internally divided into competing corporate entities, among them the ancestors of modern business corporations.

2. The Scientific Revolution. All the major 17th-century breakthroughs in mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and biology happened in Western Europe.

3. The Rule of Law and Representative Government. An optimal system of social and political order emerged in the English-speaking world, based on private-property rights and the representation of property owners in elected legislatures.

4. Modern Medicine. Nearly all the major 19th- and 20th-century breakthroughs in health care were made by Western Europeans and North Americans.

5. The Consumer Society. The Industrial Revolution took place where there was both a supply of productivity-enhancing technologies and a demand for more, better, and cheaper goods, beginning with cotton garments.

6. The Work Ethic. Westerners were the first people in the world to combine more extensive and intensive labor with higher savings rates, permitting sustained capital accumulation.

A knowledgeable historian without an agenda could easily pick apart most or all of these points, seeing as how Ferguson so easily elides over the era of colonialism, and the technological advantages provided by its immense labor-to-capital ratio. But to be fair, the era also brought us Scottish Enlightenment figures such as David Hume, James Watt, and Adam Smith -- the latter of whom is most important for pseudo-econs who have clearly never read Wealth of Nations as a totem to invoke every time they need to make a Serious Point about Capitalism.

Not only do they not understand capitalism nearly as much as they think they do (unless they seriously think that socialized debt and public subsidy of institutionalized, leveraged gambling has fuck-all to do with legitimate risk-reward scenarios), but they don't even understand that Smith himself very clearly came down dead against unproductive vorocracies masquerading as merchant princes, loyal to none but themselves and each other.

Anyhoo, where Ferguson really puts the rock on the ground is when he attempts to apply his "killer app" model to the current crises continuing apace:

Ask yourself: who’s got the work ethic now? The average South Korean works about 39 percent more hours per week than the average American. The school year in South Korea is 220 days long, compared with 180 days here.


The consumer society? Did you know that 26 of the 30 biggest shopping malls in the world are now in emerging markets, mostly in Asia? Only three are in the United States. And, boy, do they look forlorn these days, as maxed-out Americans struggle to pay down their debts.

Modern medicine? Well, we certainly outspend everyone else. As a share of gross domestic product, the United States spends twice what Japan spends on health care and more than three times what China spends.


The rule of law? For a real eye-opener, take a look at the latest World Economic Forum (WEF) Executive Opinion Survey. On no fewer than 15 of 16 different issues relating to property rights and governance, the United States fares worse than Hong Kong. Indeed, the U.S. makes the global top 20 in only one area: investor protection. On every other count, its reputation is shockingly bad. The U.S. ranks 86th in the world for the costs imposed on business by organized crime, 50th for public trust in the ethics of politicians, 42nd for various forms of bribery, and 40th for standards of auditing and financial reporting.

What about science? It’s certainly true that U.S.-based scientists continue to walk off with plenty of Nobel Prizes each year. But Nobel winners are old men. The future belongs not to them but to today’s teenagers.


Finally, there’s competition, the original killer app that sent the fragmented West down a completely different path from monolithic imperial China. Well, the WEF has conducted a comprehensive Global Competitiveness survey every year since 1979. Since the current methodology was adopted in 2004, the United States’ average competitiveness score has fallen from 5.82 to 5.43, one of the steepest declines among developed economies. China’s score, meanwhile, has leapt up from 4.29 to 4.90.


What we need to do is to delete the viruses that have crept into our system: the anticompetitive quasi monopolies that blight everything from banking to public education; the politically correct pseudosciences and soft subjects that deflect good students away from hard science; the lobbyists who subvert the rule of law for the sake of the special interests they represent—to say nothing of our crazily dysfunctional system of health care, our overleveraged personal finances, and our newfound unemployment ethic.

Then we need to download the updates that are running more successfully in other countries, from Finland to New Zealand, from Denmark to Hong Kong, from Singapore to Sweden.

And finally we need to reboot our whole system.

I refuse to accept that Western civilization is like some hopeless old version of Microsoft DOS, doomed to freeze, then crash. I still cling to the hope that the United States is the Mac to Europe’s PC, and that if one part of the West can successfully update and reboot itself, it’s America.

Kee-rist. It goes on like that, and worse yet, Ferguson even musters Charles Bell Curve Murray for his arguments at one point.

Look, the problem is much simpler than all that. Thirty years ago it was decided that while Americans were happy and productive actually making things they and their neighbors wanted to use and buy, it simply cost the bosses too much. Margins could be increased by outsourcing manufacturing, and 'murkins would be retrained to make far more money selling each other five-dollar cups of coffee. Productivity increased massively over the last fifteen years, it's just that nearly every cent of gains went straight upstairs. There was not even the pretext of marginally spreading a bit of those gains around. Oh, and you're welcome, America. Enjoy your hi-def flat-screen, the better to see Chaz Bono's knee dimples.

Everything since then has been a futile attempt to paper the consequences of those decisions over, with cheerleading for the emerging economies and the rentier financiers running the shell game. They don't even bother to mask their contempt anymore, you all just get to bail out the TBTF banks that fucked you out of your job and are foreclosing your house. How you like them apples, Champ?

Ferguson gets close in his "reboot app" jabber, but what he misses is the most important thing -- health care is a racket. Ditto "higher education", credentialist mills that churn $200 textbooks and pull fat raises for academic sinecures on the backs of broke students and their strapped parents. Even the public education system, enough 'murkins have been bamboozled into believing that fat teachers' unions are bleeding them dry.

This absence of critical thinking, it should be pointed out, might just be the very consequence of a desiccated educational system that no one can afford anyway. Just a thought. But the fact is that all these "viruses" are not bugs, they're features built into the system.

The "updates" Ferguson refers to, in all these far-flung geographic locales, require government investment in infrastructure, massive revenue injections -- yes, tax increases, especially on the 1%, since they are the only ones who have anything anymore. Good luck selling that one.

The idea that only the plebes should suddenly have to learn the virtues of self-discipline is one that has probably underpinned the aristocratic philosophy since Sumeria. But hey, folks, just work harder and smarter, and this ol' ship'll turn right around.

Booty Call, Too

Not sure how the publicity-stunt sexual exploits of a horsefaced Armenian chick with a fat ass, a sex tape, and an infamous dad, whose primary talent seems to be banging pro athaletes, merits so much attention. No doubt the Today show, most noted for having a chimp (other than Lauer) as a sidekick back in the day, will be milking this through Thanksgiving, no doubt thanks in no small part to esteemed relationship expert Star Jones.

Really, I'm repulsed that I know even this much about it, but it happens the same way I know that the most recent American Idol was won by some kid that looks like Alfred E. Neuman, without ever watching a blessed second of the show. You can only switch channels -- or turn the infernal thing off, or kill the browser link -- so quickly. Cultural osmosis, incurable even with antibiotics.

Do we even need to ask whether any corporate media outlets will turn away from Kim Kardashian's hypnotic cowcatcher ass long enough to talk about anything important to anyone's actual life -- say, the likelihood that Bank of America may have overextended itself (and, of course, all of us, since we're on the hook for their bullshit whether we like it or not) irretrievably [via Taibbi?]

5. Bank of America is officially rated the biggest, scariest bank. Its stock price also fared the worst of the group of banks (which also included Citigroup and Wells Fargo) when Moody's Investors Service downgraded it on September 21.

B of A's long-term holding company (parent bank) rating was chopped two notches to Baa1 from A2, and its retail bank rating was cut two notches from A2 to Aa3, placing B of A four notches below rival JP Morgan Chase and one below Citigroup, the third-largest US bank. Its bank holding company has the lowest rating among the top five banks with the largest derivatives positions.

This caused great fear for investors involved in derivatives trades with the Merrill Lynch division, prompting them to request trades be moved to the part of the bank with the better rating - the retail part with the insured (peoples') deposits. That way, B of A doesn't have to pony up as much collateral to back the trades, as it would in a subsidiary with a lower rating. The Fed was recklessly happy to approve, despite the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's (FDIC) misgiving about having to insure more risk, even if it can borrow from the US Treasury to do so. Meanwhile, Bank of America's stock price got so crushed that Warren Buffett scooped up a $5 billion preferred stock deal, effectively betting that the government won't let this big bank go bust.

6. B of A's derivatives position keeps rising. The total amount of derivatives in the FDIC-insured portion of B of A as of mid-year was $53.7 trillion, up 10 percent from $48.9 trillion the prior year, and up nearly 35 percent from its pre-fall crisis level of $40 trillion (the Merrill Lynch securities division holds $22 trillion in addition.) The bank has $5 trillion of credit derivatives, nearly double its $2.7 trillion pre-Merrill amount. In addition, because of its inherent zombie status and rating downgrades, the cost of insuring B of A against a possible default continues to rise in the credit derivatives market - a pattern that American International group (AIG) once followed.

Nice, huh? Read that again -- that's not $53 billion, but $53 trillion, roughly the equivalent of the entire on-the-books global GDP. The idea that we're forced to subsidize these ricockulously bad bets, while Ken Lewis gets nine figures of walking-away money, would merit the guillotine, in a society that didn't have the attention span and priorities of a seventh-grader.

Obviously it was ever thus. But anymore it seems the circuses-to-bread ratio is skewed in Paretian fashion. Herman Cain should not be disqualified because he played grab-ass with a couple of subordinates back in the '90s (though that is a reason, just not the most damning); he should be disqualified because he is a ludicrous person with stupid ideas, who is doing this just to bump up his book sales and speaking fees.

The more the corporate media (who of course have no vested interest in keeping you distracted with shiny baubles and plastic personalities, nosiree bob) indulge in this nonsense, as Neil Postman sagely pointed out a generation ago, the more we (in the collective) lose our capacity for meaningful engagement.

Instead of commiserating over the water cooler about the few picking the pockets of the masses, and getting away scot-free, we ponder the fairytale aspects of reality teevee wannabes and their contrived love lives. We debate the momentous occurrence of Chaz Bono being on a dancing show, without pondering for a second that Chaz Bono is way too fucking fat to be on a dancing show. (Or that, you know, the idea of sitting there and watching Chaz Bono or yet another of these Kardaashians dancing is a supreme waste of time and cable bill.)

I dunno. I am back as always to that poisoned well, the unleashing of easy "people are morons" snark, while realizing at the same time that there are a lot of intelligent people out there that are tired of this stuff, the debasement of "news" and "discussion" to its lowest common denominator, the sage review of idiot sexcapades, the common culture of collectively watching has-beens and never-weres sort their sock drawers. It's pathetic and unnecessary, and ultimately self-defeating.

When you're already in a deep, deep hole as a nation-state entity, these miserably inept cultural touchstones are not ladders, they're shovels, things deliberately placed to keep us from looking at the real problems. It's not just that the "stories" are stupid; they are, but the real issue is that, like the shows whence these creatures emanate, weeks and months are spent telling and rehashing what is really about five minutes' worth of one-view trivia. after that, really, who gives two shits about the Kardashian sisters or interchangeable reality twits? But they are marketed for months on end, until it's played out and the next meaningless thing comes along for another six months.

And I think there are a lot of folks who really just don't want to know. They understand just enough to realize that the game is fixed, the players bought, they are not in the club and are going to lose regardless, so they may as well distract themselves with comforting effluvia, cultural macaroni-and-cheese. The subject, its facts and its players are too complicated to keep track of, by design.

Actually getting on the same page to change the game would be too much like work, unless you're some DFH beating a plastic bucket in the park. Hopefully those folks keep all that in mind when their destitute grandkids are bailing out Ken Lewis' lucky-sperm-wealthy-from-cradle-to-grave grandkids.

And if you're a one-percenter, that is precisely the collective mentality you count on.