I remember August of 1974 almost like it was yesterday. I was a young boy, spending the summer at my grandparent’s compound on Martha’s Vineyard, as I did every year. As I read Richard Adams’ Watership Down, a novel about rabbits on an odyssey to find a new home while, in the background, my Republican grandparents cried and my father cheered as they watched, for the last time, Richard Nixon alight Marine One on the White House lawn.
It was the last summer my father ever spent at the compound.
Watership Down was published in 1972, the same year in which a couple of bungling ex-CIA men got caught trying to burglarize the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters, a headquarters located in one of Washington’s most prestigious addresses: the Watergate complex.
What has happened in the first hundred days of the new administration? What’s the record? It’s time to reflect and take stock.
In April, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report cautioning against a rising wave of militant right-wing activism. Fueled by racism invigorated by the presence of a black man in the White House, the DHS warned that the wave was likely to turn violent and the nation should brace for and prepare against acts of right-wing domestic terror.
Of course that such was possible, possibly even likely, wasn’t news to anyone who had turned on a television, or radio, or picked up a newspaper. On the milder side of the spectrum were simply calls for things like the secession of Texas, by that state’s Republican governor.
A hundred and forty-eight years ago this month, the southern states fired the first salvos of the Civil War. The rebels attacked Fort Sumter and for the next day pounded it relentlessly until the skeleton detachment of Union soldiers encamped within ran up the white flag of surrender.
Charleston's residents celebrated their first victory against the north the traditional southern way. They got drunk.
So began the war between the states. A bloody, pointless, fracas between one culture so debased that would fight and kill its fellow countrymen to preserve its entitlement to hold human chattel. Or it would die trying.
I got forwarded an e-mail today, an e-mail protesting Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh's "No" vote on the 2010 federal Budget "blueprint." At first I thought it was merely a holdover protest from Bayh's vote against the 2009 budget and that the people sending the e-mail were simply confused.
Surely, I thought, while Bayh could legitimately distance himself from the 2009 budget, a budget crafted under the Bush administration, he wasn't likely to do the same with the 2010 budget, the first budget crafted under the Obama administration.
I was wrong.
Before going into that, a little civics lesson. I'll try not to be too school-marmish.
Within the bounds of civil government, there exists something called a Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO. Created by Congress in 1962, MPOs function to help coordinate transportation policy within geographic regions and across local and state governments, including state transportation authorities.
The idea behind the MPO wasn’t a bad one. The federal government, meaning Congress, hands out billions of dollars a year to the states for transportation projects. It wanted to make sure that the money it gave out would be spent harmoniously and productively -- it didn’t want to allocate a billion dollars or so to a project only to see the project languish while internecine battles raged between lower government units over the details, scope or utility of the project.
Today's topic? William Joyce. Born 24th of April, 1906, in Brooklyn, N.Y., to an Englishwoman and an Irish Catholic father.
Joyce's familial ties brought him to his mother's homeland when he was a young adult. There, in College, the young Joyce developed a rather consuming passion for two things: fascism and anti-Semitism.
"This Machine Kills Fascists," declared Woody Guthrie's guitar, in a hand-scrawled message that Guthrie had written on the guitar's face. Fascism, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s, was the name of a political ideology grounded in extreme nationalism and that held, as no less august a capitalist publication than Fortune magazine gushed in July of 1934 that:
"The Corporative State -- Which is not yet the be-all but is certainly the end-all of the Fascist conception of Statehood. ... the capitalist is bound to the State through organizations of capitalists which are also part of the State ... This sounds like something fresh and vital in modern Statecraft. It is."
I think the best economists are those that know how to reduce the theories, equations, statistics and history of their profession into simple prose, understandable by anyone. Because economics isn’t science, not even a dismal science. It’s the psychology of your bank account, it’s about the human need to value today by forecasts of tomorrow.
So here’s my explanation of the giant federal “stimulus package,” in a bit of prose that puts what’s happened, and what’s happening, in perspective. See if you can identify who’s who, and what’s what, in my story and link it to our real economic world.
“Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.” – George Bernard Shaw
That was the thought circulating in my mind as I thought about a young friend living, for the time being, with stage-four metastatic breast cancer.
Her doctor feels she needs to be on two “specialty” pharmaceuticals that enhance the efficacy of her chemotherapy. Only one little problem: the pills cost $6,000 a month, and her insurance won’t cover “specialty” drugs.
She applied to the pill’s manufacturers, both large pharmaceutical companies, one domestic, the other foreign, for financial assistance. Their answer? “You make too much money to qualify for assistance.”
I don't think I've ever considered high-action Hollywood blockbuster movies a reliable source of political wisdom, but after renting and watching the Batman saga The Dark Knight, I just may have to re-evaluate my position.
But before I get into that let's rewind a bit to last Tuesday, Inauguration Day, and see if we can't set a context for our movie-going exegesis.
I've a tendency towards binary thinking, which is an ugly trait for a liberal. It makes one overly rigid and highly moralistic, which, again, are okay if you're a Republican but kind of the wrong point if you're a putative relativist like me.
There's a good reason why the phrase "law and order liberal" doesn't have much traction.
It’s my birthday, and I thought it appropriate to use the occasion for an ode to my dad, the economist. And particularly so given that dad was old-school, flipping terms from a bygone era, terms like macro- and micro-economics. Terms like Keynes, and that great man’s theory of money, theory of interest and theory of employment.
For it was just yesterday that I watched our president-elect stand at the podium and outline to the nation his vision of what it would take to pull us out of this deepening malaise. And what he said I hadn’t heard said since my dad passed on, nearly three decades ago.
What the president-elect said was: Keynesianism. The simple notion that we humans are not tragically tied to an economic fate beyond our control. A notion that had somehow been discredited and forgotten by the emergent ideology of laissez-faire -- a bankrupt right-wing ideology that has now brought our great nation to the knee of a Greater Depression, surfing a seismic wave with the Chicago school at its epicenter, riding a board named Reagonomics, and crashing about a reef known on the charts only as runaway greed meets the ideology of the cancer cell.