The socialists next door…

There was an article on Bloomberg this morning ran under the sub-title “Polls show young Americans souring on capitalism.”

According to the article, “51 percent of 18-to-29 year-olds in the U.S. said they opposed capitalism” and when asked what type of economic system they preferred to live under, “44 percent picked a socialist country.” I get that youth is the time when you’re supposed to be wildly hippy dippy liberal – before you wake up one morning and the government is slicing away taxes in $10,000 increments – but I see this largely as a failure to teach either history or current events.

The last half of the 20th century was a great global cold war between capitalism and communo-socialism, where the latter collapsed in Eastern Europe when those living under it discovered that their “worker’s paradise” wasn’t able to provide them the goods and services that they wanted. Those being the things produced in the decadent and immoral west. It’s vestigial tail lives on across Europe in the form of Democratic Socialism

Looking at contemporary examples like Venezuela, they seem not to care that the the vast promises made by the government were window dressing without any kind of sustainable mechanism to fund them when the price of oil fell back from record levels. Venezuela now is a shell of a country that seems incapable of providing even the most basic services.

But, you’ll say, capitalism picks winners and losers and leaves some people behind. It does. So does every economic system. The biggest difference being that under our capitalist model bread lines are the exception rather than the rule. Given my druthers I’ll put my money on an economy where I have a fighting chance to better my lot in life than one where I spend my days working to pay taxes in the hope that the central government lives up to its promises. I’ve always found it better to make your own fate than to simply hope for the best… but maybe that’s just me.

Where do I start…

The usual answer to that question, logically, is “at the beginning.” If time was an unlimited resource that might be the right answer here too. As it is not, the best I can manage in one sitting is to try racking and stacking the approximately 87,241 things that are banging around my head this evening.

At various points today I’ve pondered the issues of securing the boarder, the virtue of allowing 100,000 Syrians to take refuge here in the states, the war in the 21st century, national responsibility and imperial power, how much more “presidential” Mr. Hollande sounded this afternoon than did our own president, and how many of my countrymen wish to remain willfully blind to the real dangers abounding in the world in which we live. Any one of those could fill a volume – a blog hardly gives space to lay out the thesis.

Then there’s the other thing. The one that we usually leave unsaid. The one where just about anything we say out loud is bound to devolve into a shouting match between people who have diametrically opposing points of view on any subject that even sniffs of controversial. More importantly, before I delve into those waters, I have to ask the question of whether or not I have the energy to even endure being a third party to the argument.

You’ve caught me here on a Monday night, so the answer is an overwhelming no I do not. If push comes to shove, I’m not even going to try convincing you that my points of view are valid and worthy of consideration. I can only trust that you know your own mind as well as I know my own and that you’ve made whatever decisions you feel are best for you.

I’m never quite sure if anything that’s on my mind is worth saying out loud – or if any of it cuts through the rest of the electronic noise that assaults us each day. As you might have guessed, I’ve certainly got my opinions. Perhaps, on a night when my head isn’t particularly addled I’ll spell out some of the specifics and see if we can get a proper argument going.

Bias Much?

I was working in a FEMA office when the first reports of levees breaking in New Orleans came across the wires. Within minutes it seemed that the federal government was useless and the administration incompetent.

Today, five days after Sandy pummeled the East Coast, residents of New York and New Jersey are in almost exactly the same situation, but the media collectively don’t seem to be pounding the same drum.

I’ve certainly got my own view on why the two stories seem to be getting different treatment. I hope there are plenty of people out there in the blogosphere noticing the same thing. And above all, I hope there are readers from coast to coast wondering why one was the “story of the century” and the other doesn’t seem to be getting much more attention than a few “human interest” stories. It would be farcical if the result wasn’t so damned important.

Playing what if…

Note: This started as a response to an old friend who poked me with a pointy stick in response to last night’s post. Because I often can’t resist poking back, you get what we have here, which is a far longer response than is strictly necessary, but one that I think was worth the effort to write down all in one place.

Two years ago I decided a change was in order. To make the change a reality, I papered the countryside from southern New Jersey to the Carolinas with just shy of 600 resumes. So when someone tells me that I don’t know what the job market is like out there, I’m not quite sure how to respond. Out of that pool of 600 jobs, I got maybe 12 interviews, six follow-up interviews, and one firm offer of employment. It took the better part of a year, but I was still able to get from Point A to Point B. Trust me, I know the job market ain’t what it used to be.

Given the impending draconian cuts in defense spending that will be enacted in January if Congress fails (once again) to do its job, there’s the outside chance that my gig will be on the chopping block just like everyone else’s. Yep, that sucks, but it’s reality. Uncle Sam promised the opportunity to work. He didn’t make any promises of a job for life. If the budget ax falls and I’m on the wrong side of it, well, that means I’ll be looking for work (again, just like everyone else). I like to think that my unique set of knowledge, skills, abilities, education, and training make me marketable across a respectably wide swath of potential employers… but I don’t think any combination of those things is a guarantee that I’ll be able to land exactly the job I want, when I want it, with the pay that I’d like to earn. That, of course leads to the inevitable question, “What happens if you don’t get anything close to the job you want or are qualified for?”

The best answer is I’d do whatever I needed to do to make ends meet. First the non-essential spending goes away – cable TV, booze, eating out, movies, horse racing, the things that are fun, but don’t do anything other than take money away from the bottom line. In a pinch, I sell the truck in favor of something more fuel efficient, take on a roommate to help balance the cost of rent and utilities. None of these are things I want to do, but they’re the things that need done when funds have to be prioritized.

I spent five years flipping burgers at a time when minimum wage was a hellofa lot less than it is now. I did it before and I’m not too proud to do it again if needs be. When the chips are really down common sense tells me that having some money coming in is better than no money coming in at all. When I wasn’t asking if someone wanted fries with that I worked sporadically as a valet. That job paid tips and a hot meal at the end of the night. In the summer I baled hay on a local farm and shoveled shit when it needed shoveling. Lord knows that wasn’t glamorous or high paying. For a while I was even directed traffic and took admission tickets at the county fairgrounds. I spent days most summers cutting grass for anyone who would throw a $20 my way. More often than not, I was working one or more of those jobs on the same day. And if all of those things weren’t a sufficient lesson in thrift and humility, I taught civics to high school freshmen. Anyone who does that job deserves some kind of medal.

I’m not here to tell anyone they suck or that they’re not working hard enough and I rarely espouse any political belief other than my own. Lord knows there’s no major (or minor) party that’s perfectly aligned with my way of thinking. I make observations based on my own experience and adjust my thoughts accordingly. I see plenty of problems with the world and how it’s operating, but I still don’t see a system that’s hopelessly broken. No one promises that life is going to be fair. The Declaration itself calls for the pursuit of happiness, not the guarantee of happiness. Life isn’t fair and sometimes that just sucks. I’d love to have the body of a young Brad Pitt and the voice of a Pavarotti, but those weren’t the gifts I got… yet I still go to the movies and enjoy listening to a tenor sing. Somehow I don’t see any benefit of shuttering the theaters and concert halls just because I can’t have what they have.

Come at me with concrete, realistic ideas about what can be better and how to achieve it and I’m all ears, but don’t expect me to join a crusade just to burn down what we have now. For all its warts, I dare say our system is still a far better operation than what our friends in Syria, Iran, Egypt, and dozens of other countries enjoy at the moment. I’m not willing to throw it over because hey maybe the next thing we try will be better.

From the Mailbag…

Thanks to everyone you sent questions last night and today. I’ll work on coming up with some answers over the next few days. Churning up a few hundred words on a topic you hadn’t even thought of until someone asks the question is harder work than you’d think, so before anyone decides to hop on the “you haven’t answered my question” train, try to remember that patience is a virtue. If anyone still has any topic burning to be set free, it’s not to lait to get in on the fun…. But without further delay, here is the answer to the first question from ye olde mailbag.

The Question: Jeff, as I remember you have always been an outspoken republican supporter. What are your thoughts on Gary Johnson, as he was a republican who has joined the Libertarian movement?

The Response: Well, to be completely up front about it, the name Gary Johnson barely caused a twitch when you brought it up. I’ve been purposely ignoring politics other than the occasional glimpse of the story of the day on CNN and Fox. I probably should be embarrassed to admit that, but the caliber of candidates, their hinky positions, and the general tone of political debate over the last decade just don’t appeal to me in the least. With that being said, at first blush there seems to be a lot to like about Governor Johnson.

I like the fact that in two terms as governor he didn’t raise taxes in New Mexico. I can really get behind is basic idea about simplifying the tax code, too. In the same vein, I’m a fan of his idea to hand back some federal entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid back to the states. I need to do some more reading on exactly how he proposes dealing with Social Security.

I’m a little less in love with a few of his civil liberties issues. He appears to be completely opposed to airport screenings, long-term detention of terrorist prisoners, and the Patriot Act. I tend to think all of those things have at least a nugget of value and take legitimate steps towards improving national security. Of course they could all use a little bit of tweaking in how they’re implemented. In the area of drug decriminalization and same sec marriage, he’s very close to belief in maximum individual freedom consistent with public safety.

The one area where the opinion of governor and I make an extreme and rapid departure is in his position on the role of the Defense Department and more generally defense related spending. He wants to cut 43% of defense spending in his first budget, which for obvious reasons is an idea I just can’t get behind. Worse yet, he calls for the deepest cuts in overseas basing, intelligence, personnel, R&D, and the nuclear program – all areas that I’d argue should be getting more funding rather than less. I’m even more discouraged by his opposition to the war in Afghanistan and stated belief that Iran doesn’t represent a national security threat to the United States.

Could I vote for Governor Johnson for president? Sure I could. He’s definitely not the worse candidate I’ve ever seen. Hell, he’s not even the worst candidate I’ve ever voted for. I’d still have an awfully hard time pulling the lever for a guy I know wants to put me out of a job, though. The more important question might be, would I vote for him. In this case, the answer is “well, maybe.” That would largely depend on who the other options are and, as always, if I believe him to be the lesser of the available evils.

Euro Trash…

Free and open elections are wonderful things, except for the part where people tend to elect the kind of leaders they deserve instead of the kind they actually need. Getting yourself elected on a platform of more spending, lowering the retirement age, taxing the rich, and saying the hell with the global finance system is pretty much a cakewalk. Politics 101 is pretty much focused on telling the people whatever they need to hear to give you their vote. Unfortunately, Politics 410 is the real world practice of how to govern once you find yourself taking over the plush new office you won in the last election. I suspect our friends in France are going to discover that governing is a far more problematic exercise than simply getting elected.

We live in a wildly interconnected world, particularly when it comes to the economy. Unrest in Europe, bad decisions, and blatant disregard for economic fundamentals will ripple across the Atlantic and wash up on our shores as tidal waves if a balance in the system isn’t maintained. For a hundred years, the United States could be counted on to prop up the international economy in times of distress. This week, this month, this year, the story is a little different. We aren’t in a position to flood the market with liquidity. We’re just barely in a position to eek out positive GDP growth for ourselves, keeping our proverbial head above water as it were… Even that’s required borrowing completely unsustainable amounts of money.

The system, for the moment, is in a perilous balance. Trying to go it alone based on election year promises seems like a sure recipe for upending what small measure of stability the marketplace has managed to achieve this year. I just hope our friends across the pond have the good sense to know the difference between electioneering and governing. If they don’t, well, the global economy and our own personal economies could be a much more brutal looking place a year from now. Might as well open the door on a new bloody Dark Age.

See, and people say I can’t be hopelessly optimistic.

Primary colors…

When I voted for the first time, I was so excited that I could hardly contain myself. Low, this decade and a half later, I’m beginning to notice a slightly disturbing trend. Not only do I get less enthused about every passing election, but for as long as I can remember, my Primary track record has been adorned exclusively by losers. That’s not a personal attack or a judgment statement. I’ve voted for an eventual loser of the Republican nomination in every primary election since 1996. Don’t try to figure out if that says more about me or the party. It says plenty about both of us.

Still, out of some misbegotten sense of having a voice in the process, I schlepped to the polling place today after work, stood in line for a few minutes, and then cast my vote for a guy who’s sure to be well out of the race by the end of the month. It’s my own little tradition… Like fireworks on the 4th of July or dreams of a white Christmas… If it’s primary day, I’m off to go vote for a guy who will probably never be on another ballot in either of our lifetimes. On the bright side, at least the ballot is full of people for state and local office that I’ve never heard of before. With me, anything below the POTUS nominee race is pretty much a role of the dice based on what information I can scavenge up a day or so before walking into the booth. It’s the only part of primary day that’s even remotely interesting (and I use “interesting” in a very general kind of way).

We’ve been doing this for more or less 226 years. You’d think by now we’d have come up with a better process. Quaint as it is, it’s probably time for our election system to wander out of the 18th century and in the general direction of the 21st. Seriously, why isn’t there an app for this?