Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Existential Anxiety


Reading fiction as a distraction from our current depressing Situation was working pretty well for me until, at 2AM, I encountered this passage from Keiichiro Hirano's novel, A Man:

...Kido saw his life as composed of several stages linked together by a shared name, with himself as their culmination.  A significant portion of the life given continuity by the label "Akiro Kido" that had once lain ahead had already been relegated to the past, and so his identity was in large part already determined.  Of course there might have been other paths he could have taken and therefore other people he might have been.  Perhaps an infinite number.  It was in the light of such considerations that he confronted his former question anew.  The problem was not who he was in the present but who he's been in the past, and the solution he sought was no longer supposed to help him live but to help him figure out what sort of person to die as.

Hirano wrote in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that destroyed Fukushima — an event just as arbitrary and unforeseen as a pandemic, and just as likely to provoke a little existential anxiety.  It's a common human condition, albeit most humans can't put a name to it when they feel it.  We respond by immersing ourselves in the present, focusing on some current, less transcendental outrage.

That's why I'm having a problem this time around: I seem to be suffering from outrage fatigue.  I've been outraged so often recently that it's become hard to work up a good surge of anger anymore.  My head has been bombarded by the corruption and the inequalities and the classism and the blatant lies and the manipulations of reality.  Where the hell is that revolution I wanted fifty years ago, and that I never stopped wanting?

There.  That feels much better.  I'm back! :)

Friday, May 15, 2020

Extra brief briefs


The last economic depression led to the creation of social safety net programs.  It also weakened the rule of law and led to the rise of fascism.  These are dangerous times.  Meanwhile. . .

◆  Richard Burr (R-NC) led the Senate Intelligence Committee, which affirmed the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.  Now he's under criminal investigation for insider trading, unlike other members of Congress who dumped a lot of stock before the virus induced market crash.  One wonders . . .

◆  The normally taciturn Clarence Thomas has been surprisingly talkative in the context of hearings by telephone, which might make some of us suspect that Ginni Thomas could be feeding him his questions.

◆  Quite a few Tr*mp supporters could be okay with reopening the country because the virus "mostly" kills blacks and Latinos.

There is no available "evidence" to support any of this, but those with the proper mindset will have no trouble believing it.  After all, "evidence" is so 2015!  Isn't it?

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Biden as Sex Offender


I suspect a great many people, including many Republicans, will dismiss Tara Reade's accusation against Joe Biden; not because they trust his moral character, but because they see him as kind of a dweeb.  Okay, he gets his jollies squeezing shoulders and stroking necks, but that's just more evidence of his dweebishness.  They don't think he's aggressive (aka "manly"} enough to take it any further.  Unless there are more accusations, he'll probably skate.

Maybe that was just my own first impression, but I'm confident I'm not alone.  Of course, everything is as clear as mud at the moment; and as they said on the radio when old Joe was a pup, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?"  Government being government, though, there has to be a personnel file for Tara Reade in some archive or another, and some bureaucrat should be able to find it.  It wouldn't hurt at all if Biden let a couple of archivists at the University of Delaware go through his papers for the relevant time period, and see if they can find any reference to Tara Reade whatsoever.  If he doesn't want to antagonize a lot of progressive Democrats, he'd better do it soon.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Sarcasm


I flipped on the TV while folding some laundry, just in time to receive Our President's latest medical advice.  His thought process could not have been so clear had it been displayed in a crawl at the bottom of the screen.

"Antiseptics kill germs, right?  And I heard somewhere some kind of light kills them too.  I wonder if they thought of that?

Simultaneously, his lips started moving – and a moment later, he was bouncing his great idea off Birx and the scientists.  It is not easy to be Fauci (not invited this time) or Birx, but I guess they hang in there for fear of whom their replacements might be.  Tr*mp, meanwhile, was imagining how neat it would be when he won the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

While I don't anticipate any Lysol shortages, I won't be surprised if there's a rush on UV lighting fixtures, possibly advertised on Fox News.  Soon, I predict, there will be plant lights shining down on the MyPillow® accoutred beds of many who comprise Our President's base.  Somehow, it seems appropriate.

Monday, April 20, 2020

What comes next?



Maybe there's a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, but nobody has any solid ideas about what else we'll find down there.  Pretty clearly, though, things will be different.  Both socially and economically, our current situation is a lot more novel than the novel coronavirus; and major societal disruptions provoke culture change.

Nobody is surprised by leaders like Orban, Duterte, and Modi becoming more authoritarian.  Tr*mp might dream of emulating them, but Tr*mp's general ineptitude and lackluster popular approval should make that impossible.  Meanwhile, economic collapse has prompted Congress to adopt a series of "socialist" initiatives that may be the forerunners of broader socioeconomic reform.

Granted, the plutocratic class will do its best to stymie any significant change; but workers who lose their health insurance along with their jobs are a lot more likely to abandon their "preference" for employer provided plans; Americans with little or no savings, including a sizable slice of the Red Hat Brigade, will come to recognize the need to expand safety net programs; and America's massive wealth disparities will become increasingly intolerable as the pandemic and its aftermath make them increasingly impossible to ignore.

Even if Tr*mp's "miracle" happens, and the virus subsides substantially in coming months, economists agree that recovery from its economic damage is likely to take years.  With weak consumer demand, many of the "safe" jobs currently being performed at home also will disappear.  Nobody is truly immune, and all of America will come to understand that.

Those who follow this blog know that optimism is not one of its defining characteristics, but this time there is some reason to hope that we eventually will emerge from this crisis with a more just society.  To be sure, November's elections will make a big difference.  One only can hope that the Democratic establishment can move beyond Clinton-era ideas of what is "practical" and start listening to the party's more progressive wing.


Saturday, March 28, 2020

Relief!



Mitch McConnell always sounds like he's grumbling, so it's hard to say just how he feels about the largest welfare program in American history.  Apparently, though, he agrees that it's necessary.  Now that McConnell has broken the ice, only a few stubborn holdouts still say "stimulus" — the word du jour is "relief."  Add the restraints on the Administration's ability to dole out corporate loans, and restraints on how that loan money can be used, and the overall tone of the bill is classic Welfare State Democratic.

Progressive Democrats wanted more, of course, but Pelosi is offering some proposals for "phase four" that might offer them more satisfaction.  If, somehow, science turns out to be right and Tr*mp turns out to be wrong (imagine that!), "phase four" will be along in short order.

How will the USofA pay for the bills it's running up at the moment?  Essentially, it won't.  The Fed is gearing up to increase the money supply with extensive, near-zero interest loans to the Treasury. It will be inflationary, but that makes the biggest losers the ones with the most money.  The Fed hasn't met its inflation target since the Great Recession, so you could say there's some catching-up to do.

By the way, I really like the idea of some workers collecting more in unemployment insurance than they earned in salary: clearly, they're people who weren't making nearly enough money to begin with.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Stimulus?


You can almost read the thought balloon: "People like money, so if I give them money they'll like me – and I'll be reelected!"  Toss in some corporate giveaways — the standard Republican solution to every problem — and you have the Administration's plan to "stimulate the economy."  Economic stimulus helps in a typical recession, but the current crisis is far from typical.  It's hard to go out and spend money when you're barricaded at home, and when the places you might spend it are closed.

Democrats, of course, have no aversion to giving away free money, but hope to put some limitation on how corporations can use essentially interest-free loans, hoping to avoid some of the abuses we saw in the 2008 economic crisis: using government funds for stock buybacks and absurd levels of executive compensation.  By the time you read this, there's likely to have been some sort of "compromise" negotiated.

The current plan to pay $1200 to 85% of the American people, and a bit less to another 5%.  The "stimulus" effect would be negligible.   To many higher earners, $1200 will be just a blip in the bank balance; and with so few places to spend it, most of the "stimulus" wouldn't make it into the broader economy until the pandemic is over.  For the unemployed, $1200 won't cover a month's rent.

Proposals coming out of the House, though, seem to recognize that what America needs now isn't stimulus, but relief — money individuals and small businesses need to survive the crisis.  Needless to say, there will be plenty of resistance to new "entitlements," but if you're going to give people money, it makes sense to give it to those who need it most.