It’s hard for me to be sympathetic. In the early 1980s, when I was on active duty in the Air Force, I expressed interest in joining the American Legion to several members in Norman, Oklahoma, and all I got was a snotty response that let me know they had all the members they needed and Vietnam-era veterans were definitely not welcome.
So…now I’m 67 and receiving invitations from the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in the mail once a month and haven’t the slightest interest in joining either organization. They are 40 years too late.
It didn’t help that both organizations vigorously supported the our engagement in Vietnam. The generation that were drafted and sent to fight and die in a rice paddy didn’t share that enthusiasm for bloodshed. They felt used.
The AFL-CIO made the same mistake; it alienated an entire generation of workers by its support of the Vietnam war. The results of that egregious error are now all too apparent.
You reap what you sow.
Iyer has painted the characters ambivalently; they are both widely read in philosophy but discourse at length on obscure late nineteenth-century philosophers, non-mainstream bands, and Kafka. W., the senior of the two, drinks copious quantities of Plymouth Gin while making plans for great philosophical works that go nowhere. He also spends considerable time criticizing Lars, who he claims is at fault for his failures.
They travel and lecture, getting as far as Nashville and Memphis, and, in the other direction, Eastern Europe. It is all to no avail; they come across as erudite, pitiful crackpots. Ultimately W. is made redundant at the university, but retains his job because of a legal technicality, and is exiled internally by being forced to teach physical training students a course on the ethics of badminton.
And then the lists. It wasn’t until the third volume that the lists caught my attention. Iyer, unlike François Rabelais (1494-1553), does not construct simple lists, like the one in Gargantua and Pantagruel of all the games that were played on one occasion. Iyer’s lists are annotated lists that go on and on, page after page, like the motifs of a tone poem, intensifying as they go. For example, W. describes what happened to his fellow post-graduates in a grotesque parody of the hymn “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” that lasts many pages of the ebook I have been reading. Below is a sample paragraph from the middle of the passage:
* * * *
Some sold themselves as mercenaries, some as prostitutes. Some joined the FBI, others the Foreign Legion. Some sided with the rats and the cockroaches, and dreamed of being eaten alive by rats and the cockroaches. Some wanted to be devoured from the inside out, and longed for biting termites to creep into their nostrils, to crawl into their ears. Some came to side with viral life, with bacteria and protozoa, and dreamed of a world without humans, without vertebrates, without any kind of higher life.
Some, tormented by thought and the demands of thought, sought to destroy their very capacity to think. Some sought to slice off their own thinking heads; some placed a bit to their skull and began to drill. Some drove pencils through their nostrils into their brain. Some shot themselves through one eye, and then another. Some asked—begged—for lobotomy. Some, for their brains to be sucked out of their skull. Some, to be left perpetually asleep, aging silently, Some, to be forced into a coma; some, to be battered into a state of imbecility.
* * * *
In another passage, W. parodies Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, by positing multiple stupidities: Linguistic stupidity, logical-mathematical stupidity, and so forth, to painting-and-decorating stupidity, romantic stupidity, culinary stupidity (the discount sandwich is the opposite of food!), and, finally, stupidity stupidity (“The stupid are invariably stupid about being stupid, W. says.”)
Rabelais wrote at a time when the old medieval civilization was giving way to the modern age, and his writings clearly reflect his ambivalence between two world-views. He was a cleric and a physician who was constantly at war with the faculty of the University of Paris. He wielded a humorous but savage pen that nearly caused him to be punished as a heretic were it not for the French monarch’s patronage. The Spurious Trilogy comes as the decay of our civilization is becoming obvious to nearly everyone who takes the trouble to think about it, and Iyer has created a most memorable story, both funny and sad, that captures the zeitgeist as well as anything I have come across in quite a while.
The right-wing opponents of the minimum wage are ignorant of history and economics. Here’s how they are wrong:
1. Historically, increases in the minimum wage have not resulted in increased unemployment. In the few cases that wage hikes have been followed by increased unemployment, the economy was already in a recession and unemployment would have risen in any case, such as in 1981, when the Federal Reserve under Paul Volcker was putting the screws to the economy;
2. Low wages - insufficient to maintain a family when the wage earner is working 40 hours a week - are actually subsidies by the employees to the employer, who can run his firm at a far lower level of efficiency that he would if he had to pay his workers a living wage;
3. Most welfare recipients in Mississippi work full-time, and therefore their employers - companies like WalMart - are subsidized by the taxpayers by having their employees partially supported by public relief programs such as food stamps and Medicaid;
4. As I mentioned previously, increases in the minimum wage are spent immediately by the recipients and therefore increase aggregate demand very quickly. This is not the case with tax cuts for the wealthy, who have no real need for additional income.
5. This is the one that is anathema to conservatives and right-wingers: A higher minimum wage reduces inequality by raising the floor on wages. Apparently, making income even slightly more equal between the bottom and top is intolerable to these misguided ideologues.
It is no secret that the conservative shift in the politics of this nation since 1980 has been a disaster for families in the bottom income brackets, particularly those who work at minimum wage jobs. If this nation could afford to pay a decent minimum wage in 1968 it can certainly do the same now after the economy has doubled.
Like so many of Obama’s proposals, however, it is shamefully inadequate. Obama may not always be able to get what he wants in terms of legislation, but he seems to have a habit of conceding half the playing field before he even steps upon it. Correctly assessing the situation when he came into office that he would not get an adequate stimulus to pull this nation out of recession, he lowered his sights and asked for far too little. His timidity and unwillingness to demand two cookies in order to get one cookie resulted in half a cookie. Or perhaps a quarter cookie.
There is a very good reason beyond fairness why the minimum wage should be raised. Henry Ford figured it out in the early 1930s, when he began paying his workers far more than other auto manufacturers were paying, on the premise that workers receiving only subsistence wages would be unable to purchase automobiles. Depending on the wealthy to buy automobiles would have made it impossible for Ford to build the automobile empire he had envisioned. He understood that employees are consumers, and if they are not paid enough, they will not consume enough to keep the economy going. Ford was denounced as socialist or worse by the business community, but history proved him right, even though he personally believed that history was bunk.
The average businessman still believes that the key to business success is keeping wages down. With wages constituting one of his main costs, he seeks to lower that particular cost by employing as few people as possible at the lowest wages possible. While this may benefit the company on the micro level, pervasive low wages, as we see here in Mississippi, guarantee low demand. It is thus a vicious circle in which no one really wins. It requires a government to legislate minimum wages in order to break the vicious circle. When everyone has to pay the same minimum wage, no employer is disadvantaged compared to the others.
This country was most prosperous when unions were strong, wages were high, income taxes were steeply progressive, and the banks and the financial industry tightly regulated. Having virtually destroyed unions, suppressed wages, lowered tax rates on the wealthy, and deregulated banking and financial industry, we have handed the keys of the kingdom to a small group of plutocrats, the 1/10 of 1%, who now own or control most of the wealth of this country and through their control and ownership of the media control the government, including President Obama.
They have run our economy and our standard of living into the ground, becoming richer all the time. There’s something about wealth that increases the acquisitive urge. It also tends to diminish the wealth holder’s moral sense. There now appears to be a neurological basis for a phenomenon that has been observed from earliest antiquity. The wealthy and the powerful really believe that law should not apply to them, that they are exceptional. They are apt to take risks that harm many people who had no say in the matter.
The super wealthy are now in control. They may do anything they like with impunity. Obama will do what they say, and his position on the minimum wage is nothing more than a maintenance action that will freeze the minimum wage for years to come well below its 1968 high. And the Republicans in Congress will fight even that modest increase, so Obama will predictably settle for an even less adequate minimum wage.
And at the present time, it’s hard to see how any of this will change without things getting a lot worse.
Two interesting stories of the day:
More deficit silliness: Dean Baker: The Shrill And The Serious (Huffington Post)
The point here, as Greenspan put it so eloquently last week, the rich and powerful want to cut your Social Security and Medicare. They will say lots of things that are untrue about the debt and deficit to scare you. There will be few opportunities for correcting this nonsense, because hey, they control the news outlets.
So just remember, it's not even a bad movie. It's just the serious people trying to take money out of your pocket and put it in theirs.
Hacker group Anonymous claims to have saved the election from Karl Rove: Salon: Did Anonymous Stop Rove from Stealing the Election?
On Election Night, viewers watched in shock as Karl Rove refused to accept the call, confirmed by Fox News analysts, that Ohio had gone to Obama.
A release claiming to be from hacker collective Anonymous alleges there was more behind Rove’s freak-out than first met the eye. The group says that it foiled Rove’s attempt to steal the election in Florida, Virginia and Ohio by using the GOP’s ORCA system.
All the more reason to return to a paper ballot system.
I just finished reading a white paper from The Democratic Strategist website, run by centrist policy wonks associated with the Democratic Leadership Council, that confirmed what I have been observing for about 35 years: that the Republican Party has become transformed into an extreme far right movement, an ominous development for this nation and its citizens.
The Democratc Strategist: It’s Time to Face a Harsh Reality: The GOP No Longer Behaves Like a Traditional American Political Party. It has Become an Extremist Party. (pdf)
I noticed this change in the late ‘70s, when a speaker at my Kiwanis Club went into a rant, demonizing Democrats and liberals as villains on the order of Stalin, or even worse, were such a thing possible. I was alarmed, not because I thought that this viewpoint constituted a danger to the body politic, but because it was spoken at all and, further, not challenged in a group of otherwise intelligent and successful businessmen. At the time, I did not realize that powerful forces were already being mobilized to eliminate the social safety net, destroy organized labor, and dismantle the regulation of business and industry established by The New Deal that had created the middle class and had gone a long way towards eliminating poverty, even here in the Deep South.
But indeed, that was happening. With the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, and a host of lesser right-wing propaganda mills being established in Washington DC and throughout the nation, the 1% had used the 1970s to build a formidable right-wing ecosystem prepared to take over both the government and mindscape of America. The election of Ronald Reagan, third-rate actor and fourth-rate intellect, was the culmination of at least a decade of planning and creating an ideological structure capable of generating enthusiasm and obedience in many otherwise intelligent persons.
Liberals and Democrats (and outside the South, they were nearly the same thing) were totally unprepared for the intensity of this onslaught. The New Deal had been one of the most successful social programs in history. It is difficult to even imagine the difference in the well-being of the American people before and after The New Deal. Financial crashes and all the suffering and privation that resulted virtually disappeared. Wages grew to the extent that a common laborer could earn an income sufficient to lift him out of poverty and enable him to support a family in decent, if not luxurious, style. With generous public support, this nation educated several generations, including soldiers returning from World War II, and laid the foundation for a flowering of the arts and sciences.
It seemed to Democrats that the New Deal justified itself by its results, and needed no defenders. How wrong they were! How susceptible to corruption they were! How naïve they were about the intentions of the horde of right-wingers being elected and appointed to important places in the federal government. What many of us thought was obvious was clearly not noticed or flippantly discounted by the leaders of the Democratic Party and prominent liberals. Although Congress refused to confirm Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, it did confirm Antonin Scalia and several other right wing judges that profoundly altered the legal landscape of the nation for the worse, and tilted the judicial system in favor of wealth and corporate power, all with the acquiescence of the Democrats.
The problem with any ideology, if held sufficiently fervently, is that failure generally does not cause the believer to change his beliefs. When reality conflicts with the Truth (with a capital T), reality usually suffers. The results of the ascendancy of right wing policy over the past 32 years have in truth been less than stellar. Inequality has increased to the point that it exceeds the levels of the 1920s and 1890s. The economy of United States has doubled over that period of time, but wages have remained virtually stagnant. The increase has gone to the top 1%, if not the top 10th of 1%. The increase in productivity of American workers has slowed since Reagan became president, and the decrease in growth has been significant, not merely a scholarly statistic. That can be partly attributed to the deindustrialization of the industrial belt that stretched from New England to Illinois, as well as the South. Converting the industrial heartland ino the Rust Belt had the benefit that it went a long way towards destroying the labor unions. Workers that make things are more productive, generally, than workers who perform services. Larger and larger percentages of profits nationwide are going to the financial sector, which makes its money by generating paper and moving around property. Our national economy since 1980 has been characterized by successions of asset bubbles and crashes, the results of which, along with changes in the tax code and the weakening of antitrust legislation, have been the continual shift of wealth and income from the bottom 99% to the top 1%. These are the direct result of right wing policies put into action.
But worse, our media and our educational system have been criminally negligent in failing to teach and inform the American people what they need to think critically and knowledgeably about public affairs, and to make the logical connections between changes in public policy and and their own well-being, as well as the well-being of the nation.
But the failure of the economic policies of the right have left their enthusiasm undimmed. There is always a reason why things didn’t work out the way they should. Deregulation under Reagan led directly to the savings and loan debacle, but even with that sobering example in front of them, Congress went on a spree of deregulation, culminating in 2000 in the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, a 1930s statute that prevented banks from gambling with their depositor’s money. The results are all too apparent.
There are numerous other examples of the assault on reality. The drug war that I lamented long ago is a dismal failure by all accounts, but yet it has become so institutionalized, with so many local, state, and government agencies dependent upon it for their very existence, that it is politically impossible to change it. The budget deficit and the national debt have become the current obsession, and it appears that our politicians will not see the idiocy of their ways until they, like Roosevelt in 1937, actually balance the budget and throw the economy into a real depression. Incidentally, the European Union even now is marching towards fiscal Armageddon, as the prosperous north frantically attempts to extract the last drop of blood from its southern debtors in order to keep its own banks from going under, thus guaranteeing that the southern nations with their economies depressed by the financial bloodletting, will sooner or later (probably sooner) default on their debts and tell the European Union to take a hike.
The captioned article deals with the political tactics of the Republican party in Congress. They are: 1. Paralyzing the operations of government to extort political “ransom”; 2. Disenfranchising politically “undesirable” voters as a way of winning elections; and, 3. The use of propaganda and agitprop techniques that were once considered the hallmarks of totalitarian regimes. rather than setting out the illustrations of these tactics contained in the paper, I would encourage you to download and read the paper in its entirety.
Politics in the United States is taking on an air of unreality to the extent that I didn’t think was possible. The problems facing this nation and the world, namely, global warming, peak oil, the national security state and the end of privacy, and the destructive role of international finance that is run solely for the benefit of a handful of obscenely wealthy plutocrats appear to be off the table, just as they were during the presidential election. Intelligent conservatives respond appropriately to future threats and take measures to either avoid or to mitigate them. Intelligent conservatives respect science and have a high regard for reality. Intelligent conservatives are able to distinguish between opponents and enemies. Intelligent conservatives would like to see a prosperous nation in which opportunity is universal. At one time, the Republican Party harbored, if not a majority, at least a substantial minority of intelligent conservatives. This is no longer the case. The Republican Party has evolved into what is appearing more and more to resemble one of the European extremist right wing parties. If this process continues, we will all be the worse for it.
Robert M. Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago in the ‘30s and ‘40s, wrote extensively of his concern that higher education in the U.S. was de-emphasizing the liberal arts in favor of the practical arts. The Higher Learning in America (1936); Education for Freedom (1943); The Learning Society (1968). Even then, he felt that higher education in America had sold its soul for money. I wonder what Dr. Hutchins would think now.
Today’s article in Alternet, How Higher Education in the US Was Destroyed in 5 Basic Steps, by Debra Leigh Scott, relates the history of higher education since the ‘70s, and it is not a pretty picture. The steps are 1. Defund public higher education; 2. Deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors (and continue to create a surplus of underemployed and unemployed Ph.D.s); 3. Move in a managerial/administrative class that takes over governance of the university; 4. Move in corporate culture and corporate money, and; 5. Destroy the students. Read the article using the link above.
Other significant links on the subject of education:
Greg Palast: No Child’s Behind Left (The excerpt from Palast’s book, Armed Madhouse (2006), omits an illustration of another example question after the first example that reads as follows: “The story says that most young tennis stars learn the game from coaches at private clubs. In this sentence, a club is probably a,” followed by four choices: a baseball bat, a tennis racket, a tennis court and a picture of a gate and drive leading up to—presumably—a private club, labeled “place where people meet,” which is the correct answer.)
Interesting economic and political links:
The following piece (Pilkington again) reveals a close positive connection between government deficits and profits in the economy. This is an extraordinary observation. It follows Wynne Godley’s formula:
Y = PX + G + BP
where Y = total private income from production of goods and services plus net property income from abroad;
PX = private expenditure;
G = government expenditure; and
BP = balance of payments
The article below is based upon a similar formula by Michaeł Kalecki (1899-1970), expressed in English as:
Profits – Tax = Gross Investment + Government Deficit + Net Exports + Capitalists’ Consumption – Workers’ Saving
For a clearer explanation of these terms, read the article: