Friday, January 31, 2014

The Real State Of The Union

By Hugh, who is a long-time commenter at Naked Capitalism. Originally posted at Corrente, and then posted at Naked Capitalism where I found it.

The state of the Union is crap. 20% of the country is doing OK. 1% is doing fantastically. 0.001% is doing so well it’s criminal, literally. They don’t own everything yet but they do own the politicians, judges, regulators, academics, and reporters. So they’re getting there. The other 80%, the rubes, the muppets, the serfs, are mired in an undeclared, ongoing depression.

50 years on I can safely state that the War on Poverty has been won. The poor have been defeated, the middle class conquered. They just don’t know it. Many sense that something is wrong, even drastically wrong, but few realize they have been totally and thoroughly betrayed by those they trusted with the governance of the country and themselves. They cannot admit –they have been admirably taught not to admit — even the possibility of the class war waged against them and which they have definitely and definitively lost.

They continue to look to those who did this to them to fix things and make them better. They may grumble but there is no hint of real opposition or organized rebellion. Theirs is a Union of misery, lost hopes, lesser lives. The Union of the rich and elites is triumphant. So we have two states of the Union because we have two Unions, one of the many and one of the few, the haves and have-nots, the winners and the losers. We have one Union based on reality and hard work and another which feeds off it.

For most Americans, their wages minus inflation have stayed flat every day of their working lives, that is for the last 35 years. College is no longer a passport to a better life but a trap of lifelong debt. Hard work avails nothing as millions of American jobs have been sent abroad in “free” trade agreements. These agreements are not free for those who lost their jobs. And they make all of us among the many poorer because it has all become not about how hard you work but how cheaply.

The meltdown of 5 years ago destroyed much of the wealth of the middle class and virtually all the wealth of the lower classes. But those who drove the economy over the cliff in 2008, the rich, have come roaring back. They have made back the money they lost and more as the government and Fed have thrown trillions at them and encouraged them to blow new and bigger speculative bubbles. Stock markets are at or near historic highs. Statistics have been bent and twisted until they scream. As a consequence, GDP is up. Unemployment is down. Life is good. The numbers prove it. So suck it up, ignore reality, and stop complaining. After 3 years in preparation, Obamacare entered with a pratfall launch which embodied everything about what the program was, corporatism, and what it wasn’t, healthcare.

Class war demands distraction and nothing focuses the mind in the wrong place than war. It has become the central metaphor of our lives. Some of these wars are shams. Some are real. All are terribly destructive. There is the War on Drugs which has put millions of Americans behind bars and turned Mexico into a narco-state, even as the banks which knowingly laundered hundreds of billions in drug cartel profits escape with no one doing jail time and nothing more than some “cost of doing business” fines. Meanwhile the federal government fights a rearguard action as states move to legalize marijuana because, despite its best efforts, no one really cares.

There is the War on Terror with its endless, pointless mini-wars and drone strikes. It is the epitome of self-licking ice cream cones, producing more terrorists and anti-Americanism than it eradicates. On top of this, it has garnered some of the most dubious, “with friends like these who needs enemies” allies imaginable in the form of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. There are the traditional wars. After nearly 8 years in Iraq and every effort made to stay longer, that country remains on the same verge of civil war as when we left.

The war in Afghanistan is lost but, unfortunately, not over. Afghanistan is one of those places where an imperial war, part of the War on Terror, effectively trumped the War on Drugs and snuffed out any mention, or action to change, the fact that Afghanistan has been throughout the American occupation the largest producer of opium and heroin in the world. There is, again, the class war and the war against the middle class. An important theatre in this war is the war against the rule of law and the Constitution.


In our two Unions, the two Americas, there are two rules of law. The rule of law for the rich is that the rule of law does not apply to them. Barack Obama and Eric Holder have investigated no one, prosecuted no one, and sent to prison no one for nearly destroying the economy 6 years ago or for any of their economic crimes since. Jamie Dimon not only isn’t in prison, he’s still head of JPMorgan, and just got a multi-million dollar raise. Financial terrorism is infinitely more destructive than al Qaeda, infinitely better paying, and can be practiced with impunity.

As for ordinary Americans, they face a militarized police and a Dickensian legal system. At the same time, we are seeing our Constitutional rights bulldozed in the construction of a surveillance state, a euphemism for a police state. This is a state, totalitarian in its nature and ambitions, which, on the one hand, operates in the greatest secrecy with zero public accountability and makes war on anyone who seeks to expose its workings and, on the other, tells us we have nothing to worry about if we have nothing to hide. It targets us yet tells us we are not its targets.

This state, or rather those who control it, can know everything about us, but we can know nothing about it or them. Its justification is that it is only after the bad guys, but this state with all its vast spying programs and resources has never actually caught any “bad guys”, certainly none to justify its enormous budgets and unchecked powers. The wealth and the health of this country is based on the people. The value of the dollar is not based on gold or the ability to tax but on us. Yet we have been looted for decades by predatory elites and the rich. Our lives are made poorer, shorter, more pain- and anxiety-filled by them. And our country is made weaker. Education through debt and lack of opportunity is discouraged.

Skills are thrown away as jobs are shipped abroad. On-the-job training has become a dirty word. We are being hollowed out both as a country and a people. Our state is this: We have a cancer. It is feeding on us. It is killing us. Our cancer tells us that without it, we cannot survive. The truth is we have no hope of survival, indeed no hope of anything, unless we cut it out. Liberal, conservative, or indifferent, Tea Party, progressive, or independent, this is the choice we are all faced with, not just for ourselves but each other. If we are to act and if we are to be successful, then we must act together.

That is where we are.

The choice is yours.


A Little Nook Above Duval Street

My wife got it into her head to explore a new-to-her spot off Duval Street. We went for a snack after a movie and we had the place to ourselves, it not yet being happy hour or anything.

There is, it turns out, a terrace in the Pegasus Hotel at the corner of Southard and Duval Streets and you can get a beer and a plate of Indian food under the stars, or under the sun in our case. And it was warm so some shade would have been nice.

We ordered garbanzo wraps and tandoori wings from the cheerful though uncommunicative Eastern European bar tender and we took a seat, in the sun.

Refreshments took the sting out of the heat. At three dollars a bottle I was trying to figure out how cheap the Indian beers would be later in the day.

We sat and watched the world go by below us. It's Duval Street from a different perspective.

And then there's the roofline. Now the bar at The Top has gone this place is the next best perch I suppose.

There in the distance you can see the La Concha Hotel and that cube at the top was where a The Top used to be located, replaced they say by a spa. Key West Diary: The Top

Our food arrived. On the left the garbanzo wraps and on the tight the wings wrapped in tin foil.

We also got a cup of cilantro flavored dressing with the food and I added it to the samosa I also ordered.

In a town with no regular Indian food outlet this place hits a spot but I couldn't help but feel the good was prepared, stuffed in the freezer and zapped yo order. The filings were spicy and suitably Indian but the wraps of the garbanzo and samosa were rather too crunchy to be fresh.

Not gourmet then but given the setting a worthwhile stop for a snack, plus I like Kingfisher Lager. It's not the greatest Indian beer I've tasted but I like it. I really want to try the Indian food at Badboy Burrito but that will have to wait apparently. I think Key West can do better than this, when local taste buds get more adventurous.

You have to be able to figure out how to find this place which is half the adventure. Welcome to hotel life in Key West!

Go in through the Southard Street entrance and say hi to the monoglot Slav at the front desk and climb the Hillary Step up a vertical crevice to summit at the terrace.

An interesting find.
And no one notices you are there.