28 06 2010

Graveyard of Empires – Whatchoo talkin’ bout?


Here Mr. John Jost, of www.jonjost.wordpress.com, comments on a recent column by Frank Rich of the New York Times. To see the original column and the whole string of comments on it, click on the “4”.


Jon Jost
S Korea
June 27th, 2010
6:24 am
One of our problems is that for most Americans the concept of  graveyard of empires* doesn’t ring a bell, as most Americans, as they were taught, don’t think we are an empire, ergo, it can’t be our graveyard. We are instead the champions of liberty, saviors of Europe in WW2, pushers of democracy, and that is sufficient to explain our 700 military bases around the world, our policies of backing whichever corrupt dictator will suit the moment for us, and we’ll bend our perceptions to suit.

As one who spent 2 years in prison for refusing the draft (during the Viet Nam period all of 500 people went to prison thusly), and participated in the draft resistance movement, I must say the best thing for America would be to re-institute a draft that the likes of Cheney and Bush couldn’t evade or otherwise cheat on. This might have some meaningful effect on our foreign policy. It would seem the one thing (I was going to say two, but McChrystal missed on the other – controlling the press, which so far the government has done a good job on doing, unfortunately) the government learned from Viet Nam was that having a draft was to be avoided for political reasons. So now we have a professional military of so-called volunteers (economic refugees many of them), which consumes half the Fed budget, half the oil the US consumes (and hence must have oil wars), and the public sits on its ever broadening butt and doesn’t notice its economic situation is directly related to our Wars R US status.
Very Foxy.


We done stepped in it again, folks!
* Here’s the skinny on why Afghanistan has this nickname:
And here’s a thorough treatments of the same subject:


27 06 2010


(an almost apolitical post)


What’s with that, anyway?  Everyone knows that if a family or business spends way too much money and gets too far into debt, it runs a very great risk of going bankrupt, right? So isn’t a government — in the case to be addressed here the government of the United States — in the same danger?

Nope. Why not? False analogy.

There is a crucial difference between one family’s deficit spending, and that of the government of a large country: The family’s spending is too small to affect the  prevailing market conditions around it in any way,

but the spending of a national government can be big enough to change that intensity of activity across a nation’s whole economy.

This was the first great insight of the founder of the species of economic analysis of whole societies (commonly called macroeconomics) now being followed by the Obama administration. The founder of this approach to macroeconomics was John Maynard Keynes, and his approach to large-scale economic analysis is called Keynesian economics.

Mr. Keynes’ second great insight, born out of his study of  the Great Depression, was simply that

Markets do not have any automatic mechanism to self-correct in the short run.

This means that they are prone, under extreme conditions, to go into “death spirals”: A sudden large decrease, for example, in overall business activity all across a large market like that of the United States can produce a widespread fearful expectation on the part of many consumers and investors within that market that greater decreases will be forthcoming. They therefore cut back on their spending, in the case of the consumers, and hoard their capital, in the case of the investors. Likely result: less business activity, just as feared! And that round of decline is likely in turn to produce yet more fear, leading in turn to even less spending and investing, producing yet another frightening decrease in economic activity.

This cycle can go on for a long time, until a new overall equilibrium is reached at a some low level of production and spending. This overall process, once started by an initial severe recession, can lead to a years-long Depression that threatens to become permanent.

Keynes’ third great insight was that

the government of a nation suffering such a death spiral is often in a unique position to interrupt it,

because: 1) governments  are not as prone to acting out of  panic as people are; and 2) governments often have such strong assets, in the form of taxes due or expected, that they are actually able to borrow and spend enough money to increase economic activity across the whole society. If enough is spent, a reverse, upward expectation/action spiral can be generated that can head off the development of a severe recession into an economically-crippling Depression. Moreover, as the stimulated economy recovers, the government’s tax revenues will grow, allowing it to pay back much of what it borrowed to finance the stimulus

(Keynesian macroeconomics also recognizes a similar kind of harmful upward spiral in economic activity / expectations that can lead to excess, even runaway, inflation. For that situation Keynes called for the enactment of higher taxes to damp down “irrationally exuberant” economies.)

Keynesianism thus provides a complete methodology for evening out the business cycle, which all flavors of economists recognize is intrinsic to capitalism.

A Bit of Recent History

From 1941 to 1979 Keynesianism was the standard macroeconomic model followed  in advanced countries, and its prescriptions were frequently and successfully applied to decrease the intensity of recessions.

Around 1979-1981, though, there was a  shift among US economists and decision-makers to another approach to macroeconomics that had been a very minority position among economists up to then. That shift probably came about largely due to Keynesianism’s apparent inability to fix the unprecedented problem of “stagflation” which was then bedeviling the United States. Sadly, throughout the 1970s the Congress and the Federal Reserve Bank had been unwilling to halt the upward spiral of prices and wages by raising taxes (as the Congress could have done) and/or tightening the money supply (as the Fed could have done).

Then Paul Volker became Fed Chairman and tightened the hell out of the money supply, provoking a very severe recession in 1981 that eventually choked off inflation.

Since Voelker had been able to handle inflation so well just by adjusting the money supply, the view gained ground that major periods of dysfunction of the country’s economy could always be ended by monetary adjustments alone. There was no need, ever, for Keynesian stimulation, a vocal body of economists led by Milton Friedman declared.  That view, called Monetarism, was accepted by many, and so at last ended its long exile as a minority position within economic thought.

Monetarism gradually lost a bit of its authority over the two decades after 1981, however.  I’m not sure why. I believe that waning of influence happened because monetarism proved ineffective at handling some substantial economic fluctuations.

Except for the recession of 2000-2001, however, from 1982 to 2008 the USA enjoyed a long period without either much inflation or any major recessions. Concurrently, the American Right tirelessly argued in every forum that the nation’s (and world’s) economy almost never truly need major macroeconomic correction anyway. The “invisible hand” of the marketplace could be counted on to make all upsets temporary.

Relax, There’s Nothing to Worry About!”

Most people who thought about such things came to agree with Greenspan’s trust in the invisible hand, what with that long period of  stability and all; and  Allan  Greenspan, popular Federal Reserve Chairman for  many  years, was a strong figure who could be cited as agreeing with the “hands off” crowd to those who doubted. We were back to the good old days prior to 1929, when everyone “knew” that, though endless lternating booms and busts might be intrinsic to a free market economy, such an economy would always return to equilibrium at a robust level of economic activity in the end.

Then came 2007-2008!

The housing bubble collapsed, a bunch of “derivative” financial instruments based on it became valueless, and that was followed by a recession so deep it took the jobs of millions of us and scared the hell out of the rest. Certain banks and investment houses had become so big that just the prospect of their failure frightened wealthy people and other banks into withdrawing their funds from the investment market in droves.

What effect would the actual bankruptcy of those financial institutions have? Would investment of new capital in old and new businesses dry up permanently? The Bush administration concluded that those huge institutions had to be rescued from bankruptcy at a cost of hundreds of billions of public dollars in order to prevent economy-wide investment paralysis from happening.

Meanwhile, many economists and others began to use the old-fashioned word “Depression”, which in my 45 years of adult life I’ve never before heard opinion leaders dare to utter during any US recession.

Let’s Try Keynes!

A change of administration occurred, and with it came another way of looking at the problem: “Hey, President Obama and lots of economists then said, “The big banks have been saved, but capital is still frozen. And the figures show that this recession has already become worse than anything we’ve experienced since 1930! Can we take the chance of doing nothing more, and a second Great Depression developing, when we have another recovery tool we haven’t used yet? ”

(Recall again that, once it had started, the last Great Depression ended only after 11 years, when the extraordinarily stimulatory Second World War came along.)

Keynesian fiscal stimulation by injection of government money into the economy  — hence a LOT of government borrowing — followed, as the Obama administration set out to apply the Keynesian prescription.


Here’s a short explanation of Keynesian stimulation along the same lines as the above, but written by an actual EXPERT:


And here’s an excellent and thorough description of Keynes’ theories, their current applicability, etc.




The effort of the Obama administration to “fix” the US economy was not a mere panicky act of throwing money at the problem. It was done in accordance with one of the standard macroeconomic theories of this century. It was an effort to intervene in the economy at a time when our most recent market/economic crash has definitively demonstrated that the “leave the market alone no matter what” approach can lead to frightful chaos.



As of July, 2010

The jury is still out at this writing as to whether the stimulation worked. Paul Krugman, prominent Keynsian economist and New York Times commentator, said at the time it was adopted that it was too small. As of this writing, it looks like stimulation worked to head off another Depression, but not to prevent a serious recession. Maybe Krugman was right.


I Might as Well Just Quote Him Verbatim

23 06 2010


(My favorite frequent commenter on New York Times columns, that is.)

Here he is responding to a column by Maureen Dowd which said, essentially, that US policy in Afghanistan  is a mess:

Phil in the mountains of Kyushu
June 23rd, 2010
12:48 am
Yes, it’s “complete incoherence.”

But if you put things in perspective, no surprise here.

The U.S. got smacked up in the tar baby because of three reasons that al Qaeda cited as provocations against Islam. Two of those three (and maybe the third) directly came from U.S. corporate “interests” run amuck — 1) having the U.S. prop up dictatorships that oppress their people — and 2) having the U.S. expand military aid, secret police training, and bases and arms to succor the despots. And all this just for U.S. corporate “interests” (oil, of course, and construction, and finance — all interlocked, along with the usual military-industrial mix).

No surprise at the “complete incoherence” here, as you put it. Subservience to the sociopathic corporate elite is total in the U.S. The Congress is bought. The prez is naive. The Supreme Court outright rules for the de-personalized anonymities wielding corporate monies — “life” based on no humans, no waters, no land, but on counting profits, neutering all the world for exploitation, ledgering stats and gains and costs — the whole, sick corporate “ethos.” It leads to the cynical amorality of loopy-casinoed Wall Street. It leads to the cynical amorality of BP casually dipping into extinction events. It’s all totally sick — and pervasive, and continuous, and strangling of all non-corporate “life.”

And, well, whaddaya know: this malady, this disease, has its own “coherence” after all — just check into any biz or law school to see it being taught.

I consider this to be pretty good, very intense writing.
But I am sad that writing on public policy issues, no matter how good, it is,  is always trumped by money in the USA of today. I still have hope, however, because I know that the money trump card can eventually lose its power. Shifts of deeply-rooted cultural assumptions, often begun by writers of various sorts,  occur slowly, yet can eventually defeat great wealth arrayed on the side of an outmoded ideal.
It took almost 100 years* from the first judicial decision in England limiting the rights of slaveholders, to the emancipation of the slaves in the USA. But they WERE emancipated in the end, despite the great power of the slaveholding Southerners’ money.
Maybe in another hundred years the rule of the USA by huge corporations will have led to so many economic  crimes  being committed against the American people that the rule of our New Corporate Aristocrats will be similarly sluffed off.

Fun, Fun, Fun

21 06 2010


(Yes, even the tendentious Nightman will occasionally loosen up and enjoy.)

Nobody can appreciate the Internet like someone who had to live most of his life before it arrived. Here’s a great Beach Boys song from my youth being polished off nicely by a beautiful German woman with a voice like a great American Blues singer’s:


This kind of thing tends to make up for all those decades of watching boring drivel on TV.


They Love Them Way More Than You!

17 06 2010


That first “they” is Republican politicians. That subsequent “them” is owners of capital and corporations. The “you” is, well, actually you, that is people who have to work for a living, which most Americans are.

Is the real object of Republican politicians’ love and loyalty news to anyone? It shouldn’t be. But that “shouldn’t be” does assume knowledge of history and of what interests Republicans have historically defended. Aparently either historical knowledge is not abroad in the land, or the perpetual siren song of Rush, et al., is so powerful it can distract millions of people from what they know from the history channel.

Anyway, every once in a while some particularly inept Repub. pierces the Limbaugh/Hannety/Fox News truth-obscuring screen by getting sincerely furious when the Dems seem to be being mean to one of those he loves and serves — as described here, for example:


In what we love we reveal our true selves.


Here’s the clip:



15 06 2010


If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it is that, really, no kidding, “The pen IS mightier than the sword.”

That is, ideas exercise immense power over people and societies. And, arguably, the less “intellectual” a person or a society is, the more powerful will be his or its controlling ideas about the world, because those ideas are absorbed as one grows up and then held, UNEXAMINED, for a lifetime. Such unexamined ideas come to seem fully as real as one’s own body.

But most of them are not real at all, or they become unreal as society changes (which it does very fast these days!). They were never anything more than stories we tell ourselves and each other to make the world understandable and coherent. Here are some examples of once-absolutely-unquestioned ideas that have now been abandoned:

1. The divine right of kings (Inheritors of thrones demonstrate by ascending to power that they have been chosen by God to rule. Henceforth they are entitled do anything they want to the rest of us.)

2. The earth is the center of the universe.

3. The heavens are a set of crystal spheres to which planets are affixed, and which rotate around the earth and in so doing cause the planets’ movements. They are all SPHERES because the sphere is a perfect form, and the heavens are perfect, since they are in God’s domain.

4. Virtuous women usually don’t enjoy sex: They only do it out of duty to their husbands. Only sluts enjoy sex.

5. The free market, after a recession, always returns to equilibrium  later at full production and employment.  (Say’s Theorem, refuted by the Great Depression, which lasted essentially from 1930 to 1942, and was only ended by the vast economic stimulus of WWII) http://books.google.com/books?id=mJ4TfKL4wcAC&pg=PA86&lpg=PA86&dq=%22Say%27s+theorem%22&source=bl&ots=qty9oKDsSa&sig=Z0Qh3x-stBAuxifV1FkmPM9yGVY&hl=en&ei=D_0XTJnNJcT7lwe-_9DnCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CDEQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=%22Say%27s%20theorem%22&f=false

6. Smoking is at worst a bad habit. It is health-neutral.

7. Japanese manufactured goods are junk compared to our own (Virtually everyone believed this when I was young back in the 1960s.)

8. Any introduction of socialism into a society, including any substantial level of social benefits for poor and working people, leads inevitably directly to Communist dictatorship (refuted by a bunch of European democracies that have subsisted quite nicely as democracies since WWII, thank you).

9. And, finally, in the article cited below, a pretty smart guy identifies a fundamental idea held by many Americans which is now gradually becoming untenable, fueling incredible rage in some circles, most notably that of the “Tea Party” movement.


Check it out. It may clarify a lot for you. It did for me.

Hint: No class of ideas is harder to give up than ideas about yourself that make you look good to yourself.  I know. I’ve had the experience. About 20 years ago I had to give up the idea that I was born to be one of the Masters of the Universe.

Reconciling With An Old Love

12 06 2010


She was so unsatisfactory in so many ways that for many years I looked back on my time with her with resentment, almost hatred. True, she had a lot to teach me that I very much craved to learn, and I gloried in learning it. Under her tutelage the thinking side of me grew by leaps and bounds.

But my emotional side languished. At an age when a person’s life revolves around relationships with others — how to  start them and develop them, how to handle the details of them, and how to deal with the depth of emotion they can cause — I came on the scene too stunted to pursue that side of my development and left it just as stunted.

Major depression ensued — not surprisingly. And for years  after it went into remission I couldn’t remember my time with her without also remembering the loneliness that had been my only companion for most of that part of my youth.

That mental association became automatic with me, and always painful, so when she tried to communicate with me over the years I didn’t want to hear from her. I threw away all her letters. And when she needed help I said, in my poverty of wealth and spirit, ” Go get it from your foster children who’ve got rich. I never developed the social skills needed to get wealth and power, and I blame you for that, damn you! Fuck off!”

Yes, my alma mater presided over a bad, bad period of my life! Through the luck of my having had a martinet mother, I had gotten straight “A”s through all my school years. And when in 1966 (!) Columbia University sent a representative to my little town looking for graduating seniors who could help it put together a class not made up just of  kids from New York City, I was ready to accept their offered scholarship and join up. I shook the dust of  little East Texas town off my boots and headed East…

Only to discover, aside from the contents of a truly terrific education…my own sweet self. For reasons I now understand, but couldn’t then guess, I couldn’t relate to anyone I met in that New York City college. I didn’t make friends and didn’t date. The reasons for those deficits had nothing to do with Columbia and little to do with the people I met there. They are buried far further back in my past.

It’s all still the same with me 40 years later. I retain, and still cherish, most of the contents  of that great education; and I still can’t be close to people except under very special circumstances. For decades this intellectual/emotional lopsidedness caused me great sorrow.  But now, in the twilight of my life, the way I see my great deficit has greatly changed.  I don’t need the ability to bond with others very much anymore, but I feel that I need to understand the world around me now much more than ever before. And I’m trying just as hard as I can to understand as much of it as I possibly can, drawing upon  my Columbia education, all the learning I’ve built on that foundation since, and the vast world of information to be found on the wonderful new Internet.

Understanding the world is my way of embracing it prior to leaving it, I guess.

My old alma mater is one of the two factor in my life that have made that embrace possible. Thanks Columbia! I love you for having made it possible for me to relate fully to the world in the only way I ever truly could have done. I believe that if I had never known you I would  have turned out just as emotionally limited as I am now, and, more sorrowfully, no less ignorant than the poor redneck I was otherwise bound to be.

So please start back sending me those glossy alumni magazines. From now on I’m going to read every page!



Here are some pictures of the Columbia campus. It’s unchanged as far as I can see. Now at last I can feel nostalgia for it.


And how nice to find that I’m connected through my alma mater with one of my two great heroes!