Welcome to the 21st Century

Trump Oops

The start of 2016 has been anything but calm. Falling equity prices in China have destabilized markets worldwide. Emerging economies seem to have stalled. The price of oil has plunged, pushing petroleum producers into crisis. North Korea is flexing its nuclear muscles. And in Europe, the ongoing refugee crisis is fomenting a toxic tide of nationalism, which threatens to tear the European Union apart. Add to this Russia’s neo-imperial ambitions and the threat of Islamic terrorism, and comets streaking across the sky may be the only thing missing from a picture of a year shaping up to be one of prophetic doom.

Wherever one looks, chaos seems to be ascendant. The international order forged in the fires of the twentieth century seems to be disappearing, and we have not had even the faintest glimpse of what will replace it…

Political and economic order – particularly on a global scale – does not simply arise from peaceful consensus or an unchallenged claim by the most powerful. It has always been the result of a struggle for domination – often brutal, bloody, and long – between or among rival powers. Only through conflict are the new pillars, institutions, and players of a new order established.

The liberal Western order in place since the end of World War II was based on the global hegemony of the United States. As the only true global power, it was dominant not only in the realm of hard military power – as well as economically and financially – but in nearly all dimensions of soft power – for example, culture, language, mass media, technology, and fashion.

Today, the Pax Americana that ensured a large degree of global stability has begun to fray – most notably in the Middle East and on the Korean Peninsula. The US may still be the world’s strongest power, but it is no longer able or willing to play the role of the world’s policeman or make the sacrifices needed to guarantee order. Indeed, in a globalized world, with ever closer integration in terms of communication, technology, and – as we have recently seen – the movement of people, the centers of power are diluted and dispersed; by its very nature, a globalized world eludes the imposition of twentieth-century order…

In fact, the main challenge of the coming years is likely to be managing America’s declining influence. There is no framework for the retirement of a hegemon. While a dominant power can be brought down through a struggle for domination, voluntary retreat is not an option, because the resulting power vacuum would endanger the stability of the entire system. Indeed, overseeing the end of Pax Americana is likely to dominate the tenure of America’s next president – whoever that might be.

Can you imagine any of the policies promoted by the 19th Century hucksters popular today in the Republican Party bringing anything other than war and ruin to the world? Really, the question which should be central in the minds of American voters this coming November is who can we elect to maintain a global economy, a world of commerce, which at least permits some opportunity to resolve questions of democracy and opportunity, health and peace.

I don’t see anyone on the Right with the modicum of good sense required for self-preservation. Reading his article, it’s clear the former Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor of Germany would feel the same if he was an American voter. No doubt he clearly recalls his nation’s criminal adventure with alternatives.

Neo-Con in Congress now stands for Neo-Confederate

In the current issue of Vanity Fair, Todd Purdum equates the current era with the decades before and after 1500 during which the New World was discovered and explored, trade became a global enterprise, the Reformation broke the religious monopoly of the Roman Catholic Church, the feudal system gave way to nation states and movable type and the printing press created the first form of mass communication.

The introduction to Purdum’s column sums up his thesis: “Not in 500 years has the world seen such revolutionary change as it is now witnessing: the Internet, genetic engineering, mass migration, climate change, worldwide economic dislocation, a new global elite, and more.” Then comes this kicker: “Yet our leaders don’t seem to take any of it seriously.”

Well, a few of our leaders do. But our political system does not, in general, reward politicians who bust up our comfortable myths by acknowledging, as Abraham Lincoln did, that “we must think anew and act anew” in order to save our country. The reactionaries of Lincoln’s day did not see him as a visionary who would lead the country on a more enlightened path. They saw him as a dangerous radical and, to preserve the rotten, wicked, entrenched old system, they drove the country into civil war.

Today, there are quite a few very vocal neo-Confederates who think gun rights, states rights, the protection of white American culture and elimination of “excessive” taxation on the rich are the nation’s preeminent concerns. Their anti-bellum mindset makes it impossible for them to accept scientific reality — climate change, evolution, the true age of the planet — and political reality — America is becoming a more diverse, tolerant nation that does not share their fear-driven philosophy.

One of our two great political parties has been captured by the neo-Confederates and, because so many of them have been elected to Congress, the political system is gridlocked. Big problems are either ignored — climate change, deterioration of infrastructure, the toxic greed in the financial system — or kicked down the road to be fixed another day.

Horsey completes his analysis with a hope for sanity and change. He believes our history of throwing forward movements and leaders to conquer the cowardice of clowns like our neo-Confederates will continue undaunted. I’m not convinced.

Do we have the capacity for change? Of course. Do we have the people in place to press for that change, to lead both the populace and lawmakers into action? I’m not convinced.

Republicans attack Democrat for playing World of Warcraft

Democrat candidate

The gaming hobby of a political candidate has become an issue in a state senate race in New England…

Maine Republicans have created a webpage revealing that Democrat candidate Colleen Lachowicz plays an orc rogue in World of Warcraft (WoW). Ms Lachowicz’s liking for back-stabbing and poison in WoW raise questions about her “fitness for office”, they claim.

Ms Lachowicz has hit back saying the attack showed the Republicans were “out of touch”.

Republican candidate

The state senate seat known as District 25 in Maine, is currently being contested by Ms Lachowicz and incumbent Republican Tom Martin.

As part of its campaign efforts, the Republican party in the state created “Colleen’s World” – a website that compiles information about Ms Lachowicz’s orc rogue Santiaga. An orc is a mythical human-like creature, generally described as fierce and combative.

In a statement that accompanies the webpage, Maine Republicans said playing the game led Ms Lachowicz to live a “bizarre double life” that raised questions about her ability to represent the state.

The page also detailed some of the comments Ms Lachowicz has made while talking about her orc rogue, in particular it highlights her affection for Santiaga’s ability to stab things and kill people without suffering a jail sentence.

“I think it’s weird that I’m being targeted for playing online games,” said Ms Lachowicz in a statement. “Apparently I’m in good company since there are 183 million other Americans who also enjoy online games.

“Instead of talking about what they’re doing for Maine people, they’re making fun of me for playing video games,” said Ms Lachowicz.

The Party-formerly-known-as-Republican demonstrates once again they have wandered off into a time warp and are definitely stuck into the 19th Century. This time, in addition to the usual bigotries they endorse, they have added their fear and hatred of gamers and geeks.


German Catholics lose holy rites for refusing church tax

Germany’s Roman Catholics are to be denied the right to Holy Communion or religious burial if they stop paying a special church tax.

A German bishops’ decree which has just come into force says anyone failing to pay the tax – an extra 8% of their income tax bill – will no longer be considered a Catholic.

Har! Welcome to the wonderful world of theocracrats.

All Germans who are officially registered as Catholics, Protestants or Jews pay a religious tax of 8-9% on their annual income tax bill. The levy was introduced in the 19th Century in compensation for the nationalisation of religious property…

Catholics make up around 30% of Germany’s population but the number of congregants leaving the church swelled to 181,000 in 2010, with the increase blamed on revelations of sexual abuse by German priests.

Alarmed by their declining congregations, the bishops were also pushed into action by a case involving a retired professor of church law, Hartmut Zapp, who announced in 2007 that he would no longer pay the tax but intended to remain within the Catholic faith…

Unless they pay the religious tax, Catholics will no longer be allowed receive sacraments, except before death, or work in the church and its schools or hospitals.

Without a “sign of repentance before death, a religious burial can be refused,” the decree states. Opting out of the tax would also bar people from acting as godparents to Catholic children.

Until now, any German Catholic who stopped payment faced eventual excommunication. Although the measures laid out in the decree are similar to excommunication from the church, German observers say the word is carefully avoided in the decree.

Hilarious. The silly mess religious folks can get themselves into with even sillier self-important prelates. This sounds more like franchise law rather than a sociological or economic decision made within the confines of an ideology.

Religions established with state support that says they can collect taxes should have remained in the 19th Century, a final chapter in a state history book. I’m not surprised that one or another religion tries to convince adherents that their rules are above civil law. But. they certainly should be separate from the state – and the state should stop collecting taxes on their behalf.

The Tea Party’s plan to [further] cripple Congress

Tea Party Congress

Wave goodbye to members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Doing nothing has taken a lot out of them, so they have left Washington for five weeks of rest, relaxation and campaigning in the hope that voters will return them to office to do more of the same.

This is especially the case for the large Tea Party contingent among the several score first-term Republicans. They set out to change Washington but settled for simply paralyzing it.

They repealed Obama’s health-care law 33 times but didn’t change one word of its 2,700 or so pages. They stopped the Grand Bargain over the debt and deficit even at the cost of exposing Speaker John Boehner as a scaredy cat. They haven’t been able to curb the excesses of Wall Street, keep the debt ceiling from rising, or end government subsidies to NPR or Amtrak — but by God, they can bring the capital to its knees. Nearly everyone hates Congress (well, about 80 percent of Americans do) yet the Tea Party — fortified by Sarah Palin, Senator Jim DeMint and the Club for Growth — is about to do for the Senate what it did to the House.

Look at what has happened so far in the Republican primaries: Only the purest, most virginal conservatives are being chosen as the party’s standard bearers in November…

Each victor campaigned against Washington insiders who had impermissible contact with the enemy. Nominating your most conservative candidate in the primary is more satisfying than letting another weak one get in. And if these candidates do get elected, inactivity is preferable to approving legislation that even contemplates the possibility that any American could get so much as a food stamp he is not entitled to.

This is what the Grand Old Party has come to…Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell could become majority leader but actually lose power: Boehner, his weakened counterpart in the lower chamber, doesn’t lead his troops so much as try to keep from being run over by them.

The Senate, as George Washington is supposed to have told Thomas Jefferson, was designed in part to calm the tempers and passions of the House, just as a saucer is used to cool off hot tea. If the saucer itself is scalding, then the whole brew will be too hot to sip.

If the paintywaist Dems don’t muster enough of their base to reduce the harm presently being done to responsibility and governance in Congress, this is what we get to look forward to. Though, the addition of another war or two – as we wind down the last couple of Republican adventures in imperialism – is also a possibility, as well.

I don’t see any patriots in the Kool Aid Party speaking out against invading Syria, Iran, Quemoy, Matsu, China and Mexico.

19th Century Newcastle upon Tyne

A secondhand clothes seller at Newcastle cloth market reads as customers inspect her goods. A set of original glass negatives showing street scenes of 19th century Newcastle has been found by Aaron Guy, who works at the city’s Mining Institute.

I love great historic photos. A record frozen in time by one of the most useful inventions in the last couple of centuries. They needn’t be of great events, a history-making dialectic. The ordinary captures my attention, teaches me as much as the so-called important moments. This is one that is so sharp and representational I feel myself slipping back into Newcastle in the 19th Century.

Put a thousand books from the 19th Century on your iPad for free

I just love finding apps like this, and I think you’ll be excited too. The British Library has released 1000 books from its 19th Century collection into a free iPad app that includes novels, historical works, poetry, philosophy and scientific books.

The books have been scanned in high resolution and color so you can see the engraved illustrations, the beauty of the embossed covers, along with maps and even the texture of the paper the books were printed on.

You can search the collection, browse titles by subject, and even read commentary on some of the titles. The books can be downloaded for reading offline.

In general, I found the app a joy to use. It was fun to browse titles, or search for things I was interested in. While some of the type is old and weathered, you can zoom in and read everything without issue…

Although the app is free, the British Library plans to charge for an enhanced version of 60,000 titles later this year. Many of the books have an option to buy, and when you click you are sent to Amazon to purchase a printed copy. The app is iPad only for now, but will be coming to the Kindle Reader and Android tablets in the future. If you grab the app let us know what you think.

This seems to have been a moderately literary weekend. Though never a fan of the Compleat 19th Century, I was mentored quite happily for a spell by a pedant with a doctorate in Victorian poetry, prose and drama. Younger days.

Though I often reject today’s most backwards populists as being stuck into the 19th Century, it is their misunderstanding of economics I characterize. The Age of Reason never did make to America [outside of Boston anyway] and probably won’t for another generation or two. At a minimum.

If you are properly equipped, I can recommend the app.

Goldman Sachs: Republican cuts hold back economic growth

A $61.5 billion spending-cut bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday would slow economic growth significantly this year, according to an analysis by the global investment firm Goldman Sachs.

“Under the House passed spending bill, the drag on GDP growth from federal fiscal policy would increase by 1.5% to 2% in Q2 and Q3 compared with current law,” according to Alec Phillips, who signed the analysis…

“This nonpartisan study proves that the House Republicans’ proposal is a recipe for a double-dip recession,” said Senator Charles Schumer, a member of the Senate’s Democratic leadership.

Republicans in Congress, especially conservative Tea Party activists who were elected in November, have touted their fiscal 2011 spending-cut bill and upcoming attempts to impose more U.S. budget cuts as the key to improving the economy and creating jobs.

Which illustrates how out-of-touch with modern economics these clowns can be.

Democrats have countered that while there is a need to cut government spending and budget deficits over the long-term, policy-makers must tread softly in the short-term so the fragile economic recovery underway is not cut short…

With Democrats and Republicans facing a March 4 deadline to reach some sort of deal on funding the federal government, there are worries that a failure would lead to a temporary shutdown of many government offices and programs if there is no deal.

The Goldman Sachs analysis points out that a government shutdown “poses less risk” than proposed spending cuts “as long as it is brief…”

In its fiscal 2012 budget proposal released last week, the the Obama administration forecasted 2011 economic growth of 2.7 percent year over year, while Blue Chip economists estimate 3.1 percent.

Background disclaimer: I’ve been asked a few times to either include market analysis in this blog or offer a separate investing blog. I’ve paid little attention to investing other than studies in economics over my life. But, I got pissed-off enough at the shoddy management of what little I had set aside in mutual funds to begin studies and investing on my own in the downhill side of this Great Recession.

I cashed out most of those mutual funds and began investing in equities in November 2008 – just a few months before the bottom in March 2009. Those investments have increased in value over 300%.

Now, as for Goldman Sachs. I won’t invest in them because I think their ethics suck. Their behavior leading up to the Crash was reprehensible and slimy. Greed superseded responsibility to their clients. That doesn’t, however speak ill of their abilities at market analysis.

I think they’ve hit the nail smack on the head in this look at Republican reactionaries and their KoolAid Party class warfare allies. Reliance on 19th Century ideology versus essentials proven in practice from the days of Keynes up through Leontiev’s macroeconomic studies illustrates the irrelevance of what American conservatism has become. Or, rather, the irrelevance of those who claim to speak for conservatism – when their economic practices are closer to Mussolini’s corporatism than anything else.