Monthly Archives: July 2011

Damn Lies

My progressive friends, for the most part, are happy to point to graphs and tables which reveal that the reason for the huge deficits created in the last three years lies at the feet of the much hated George W. Bush, and before him, the Dark Lord, Ronald Reagan.

My conservative friends have, at their fingertips, equally compelling charts, trendlines, and datasets that lay the blame squarely on Barack Obama and his compliant side-kick, Congressional democrats, who wish to take more money out of the pockets of the earners and give it, in larger chunks, to the non-earners.

While the two sides fiddle, Rome burns.

It really doesn’t matter now who spent the money that our country doesn’t have anymore. We can blame the recession, which has reduced GDP to the point that the economy cannot pay for our future expenditures, or we can blame the tax cuts that reduced federal revenues during these perilous times. From this sofa, the situation is two sides of the same coin. That is, no matter how it is sliced, we tried to have it both ways. We wanted to drive that Cadillac without making the payments, and our buddies in Congress gave us the keys.

The only statistics that matter now are the ones that tell us that we cannot sustain this level of spending. The only question remaining is the point in time when the people we elected to give us anything we wanted finally realize that they cannot fulfill their promises. After that, the only question is whether our nation will have enough time, and the national will, to solve the problem.

Promises are going to have to be broken, either voluntarily, and in a controlled fashion, or involuntarily, with the subtlety of a dull knife. We cannot remain on this path.

Man-Made Chicanery

William Galston has put up a timely post at the New Republic website which absolutely nails the current debacle in Washington. If I may quote liberally from his post, which should be read in its entirety:

Raising the debt ceiling is a man-made crisis amenable to straightforward policy remedies. Political will is all that is lacking. Not so the economic crisis that our preoccupation with fiscal policy has temporarily obscured.

…The IMF recently conducted a comparative study of ten post-war economic recoveries seven quarters after the business cycle trough, or recession’s end. Its findings for the United States are stunning. For employment and household finances, the current recovery is the weakest since the end of World War Two. For the business and financial sectors, it’s the strongest. The banks, recipients of lavish public funds and guarantees during the meltdown, are reporting a rapid recovery from their lows in profits, loan charge-offs, and equity-to-asset ratios. Meanwhile, growth in employment, disposable personal income, personal savings and consumption, and total GDP all anguish. Needless to say, investment in structures—residential and non-residential—comes in dead last. Were it not for a strong performance in equipment, software, and exports, the current recovery would barely have a pulse. The IMF study does nothing to weaken the increasingly credible thesis that downturns induced by financial crises differ structurally from those in normal business cycles.

…At the same time that the business and financial sectors are becoming decoupled from employment and household balance sheets, gaps among different parts of our population are growing. A report just out from the Pew Research Center shows that while the median net worth of all U.S. households declined by 28 percent between 2005 and 2009, the figure was 53 percent for African Americans and 66 percent for Hispanics. And these percentages mask an even more troubling reality: The assets of black and Hispanic households have just about been wiped out.

…This painfully slow recovery is rending the fabric of American society. In turn, these growing socio-economic gaps are contributing to the rising polarization of our politics and declining trust in government—developments that will make it even more difficult to forge agreements on the policies we’ll need to get out of this deep hole. No doubt adverse trends in the global economy are making things even worse. But in the end, our economic crisis is a governance crisis. The stalemate over the debt ceiling is a symptom of this systemic fact.

Note well his words: our economic crisis is a governance crisis.

The Sky Over Washington

The politicians in Washington are getting nervous. The level of discourse, never high to begin with, is dropping to new lows. Senatorial courtesy, a treasured myth of the chamber’s residents, appears to be nothing more than a lie. The President can’t seem to keep his famous cool, instead resorting to the personal attacks that are increasingly common in his public uttterances. The Secretary of the Treasury tells us that the Congress has to increase the debt limit by an amount sufficient to cover additional deficit spending through November, 2012, apparently so our elected officials can pretend the problem does not exist. The big banks are still to big to fail, home sales continue to decline, and the unemployment rolls continue to grow. Just last week saw Cisco announce the layoff of 13,000 employees, and NASA is dropping the hammer on upwards of 30,000 of its employees with the cessation of the Space Shuttle. Things are very tense in Washington….

 

 

A New Look

Please enjoy the new look of Agricola. We’ve updated the theme (WordPress Twenty Eleven), adjusted the sidebar to give things a cleaner look, and added tools to take advantage of social media. What this means is that now you can sign up to receive an email notification when a new post is up, and that posts are sent to Twitter and Facebook for those of you that prefer to receive our missives via those media. There are a few tweaks that need to take place behind the curtain, but they should be transparent to the readership. If, however, you come to the site and see some sort of error message, well, then we have screwed the pooch.

Thanks must go to Charleston Today’s superb technical support, who guided this transition with relative ease and an understanding of html and css that elude your humble scribe.

Let the posting begin!

The Last Chapter?

At 5:56 AM this morning I watched the Atlantis touch down for the final time. As a child of the 60s and 70s, I grew up with the space program. I was a callow 16 year old trudging through the mountains of North Carolina with Outward Bound when our team leader told us that we had landed on the moon. I remember, like yesterday, driving down the highway when the shuttle exploded as it climbed toward orbit. I remember the men cavorting on the surface of the moon, swinging golf clubs, driving recklessly in their lunar rovers, and bobbing over the dusty surface while singing and conducting their scientific experiments.

And, now, no more. No trips to low earth orbit, no plans to revisit the moon or make an attempt to get to Mars. We have taken our eyes away from the stars, with all of the attendant hopes and dreams, to stare at the mundane. In focusing on the near, we have lost our vision.

A sad, sad day.

UPDATE:

Bloggers and media types have taken to the internet today to praise the end of the shuttle program, noting that other space strivers like the Russians and Chinese shelved their shuttle designs due to the extreme cost and limited utility of the model. They observe that it is appropriate that private enterprise steps into the breach, and that efficiency and entrepeneurial spirit will provide the next burst of activity. Having had some time to reflect on that position, I can’t disagree.

So, come on Bert Rutan, et al! Let’s go to Mars and mine the rare minerals and make a huge profit!

Asymmetry

Without assigning blame, or naming names, and without the advice of an attorney, I’d like to point out the following:

1. Elderly grandmother, aged 81, takes her two great-grandchildren to a local retailer and leaves them in the car during a very hot day. In her defense, her attorney notes, she left the keys in the car with the kids so that they could turn on the air conditioning if they got too hot. Of course, concerned citizens observed the kids, called police, and Nana is put in jail until her family, of limited means, can raise the $50,000 bail. The children were not harmed.

2. Local cycling enthusiast, riding to work on a busy expressway, is hit from behind by a truck in the bike lane and hurled over the railing to the ground, some 40 feet below. The accident is fatal. After an investigation, the driver of the truck is charged with a minor traffic infraction, the maximum fine of which is $113 and 2 points on his driver’s license.

On the one hand, a person placed other people in a position where there was the potential for danger, without actually causing harm. On the other, a person actually harmed another person, without the intention to do so. And yet, society applies wildly unequal punishments.

Asymmetry.