I hope you have had a good Christmastime so far, and of course, remember that Christmas doesn’t end at sundown on December 25th, or whenever the gifts are opened and a Christmas meal eaten.
At this point, we’re into that period that has pretty much become a normal feature in American culture, when many things happen based on the idea that Christmas is over. That tends to be ideas and activities that revolve around Christmas material stuff, for lack of a better neat phrase. People return gifts they don’t like (an issue of its own), or are flawed somehow, or go into more shopping frenzies. I try to stay well away from all that.
The other main part seems to always be “The Year In Review” items from the year coming to an end. Many of those kinds of things tend to be vapid trash about pop culture and political malfunctions, with all the disasters and catastrophes of the calendar year thrown in just for extra something. Paying attention to most of those things is something becoming more of a waste of time, not because such a review is a bad idea, but because the stuff cranked out more and more by most of what people now just call “The Media” gets to be more worthless, distracting, and vacuous.
If you really want to be daring, you can make forecasts of the new year just beginning, but that’s obvious tricky territory, and I’m not going to be really doing either of the above in earnest. What gets my attention most in thinking about this period of calendar shift is thinking about how well, or how badly, how much or how little people are really getting anything in focus, honestly.
Just days before Christmas, President Obama held a last press conference before a Christmas break. Afterwards, I noticed a front page right-column main story in a newspaper about it, with the headline “President Praises Strong Economy”. It was astonishing. What “strong economy“?
That was bad enough, but then, on Friday following Christmas, I caught a bit of the noise and chatter on CNBC. The talking heads there were beside themselves with excitement, again, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average was bouncing up to more record high numbers, and these guys chattered on and on about this “rally”, not just about that, but all the different trading market numbers. What came next after a load of that was truly astonishing.
The group there started talking about a new survey with results showing that a huge majority of Americans, something like 70% of those surveyed, thought the US economy is in really awful shape, and not likely to get any better any time soon. What was astonishing was that the group sitting there in the CNBC studio proceeded to chatter about this for a five or ten minute segment, expressing bewilderment about this survey, seeming to be genuinely baffled by the survey results. According to these people, the US economy is just doing great, and getting better, and it was puzzling to them that so many Americans think it’s a royal mess. They chattered about this survey as being something that could only be explained as some sort of psychological and perception problem, that people somehow just don’t understand how wonderful the economy is.
They actually spoke in phrases like “the disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street”, which carries enough irony to down a rhino. There obviously is a huge disconnect between Wall Street and “Main Street”, as they like to refer to the real world, and it evidently never occurs to the Wall Street crowd that they’re the people living in some reality warp, a collection of phantasms and delusions and deceptions so vast and deep that they cause people to completely lose their bearings.
It’s common knowledge, for people to have heard of the story of Marie Antoinette, being told of increasing unrest and anger of starving French peasants who didn’t have enough bread, the most basic food, and saying the famous words “let them eat cake”. I think this is generally regarded by people as being a kind of sadistic joke of a cruel aristocrat. Apparently, the story was actually that she really thought she was making a constructive suggestion. She seemed to think the problem was some sort of planning malfunction in baking production, that the only problem was that there wasn’t enough bread inventory or something, so let them have cake to eat as a substitute. Apparently it never occurred to her that the reason people didn’t have bread to eat, as basic minimal sustenance, wasn’t because there wasn’t enough bread being baked. The problem was that there was bread, people just couldn’t buy it.
It was almost like some sort of bad joke, that after wrapping up the segment when the grinning TV talking heads expressed their inability to understand how so many people could possibly think the US economy is not great, they continued on to the next topic: the expiration of federal extended unemployment insurance as of December 28. According to news reports, this means that three days after Christmas, approximately 1.3 million Americans will suddenly lose the minimal pittance of an income to try to keep their lives going.
It’s easy to make a guess about what will be coming, if that isn’t addressed, and this comes to pass. Since the official unemployment statistics count people as “unemployed” only if they’re applying for weekly claims for unemployment insurance benefits, if 1.3 million people are suddenly no longer able to do this, according to the official numbers, there will instantly be 1.3 million fewer unemployed people. Presto! As bizarre as it is to even consider this, it’s almost a sure prediction that we’ll be hearing, in the near future, about how the unemployment percentage number has dropped, and, so, this is more evidence of an improving economy and “recovery”.
An extra layer to this is that people actually get serious attention while arguing that unemployment insurance is actually bad for unemployed people. The argument is that the only unemployment problem, apparently, is that people are receiving unemployment insurance benefits (something like $300 a week), and if they were not “getting paid for not working”, well, by god, they would all just go and get jobs. If it isn’t bizarre enough just to consider that there really are people here in America whose minds work like that, consider that some of them are actually sitting members of the chambers of the United States Congress.
Among all the arguing, I’ve encountered news items where people have said that continuing the federal extended benefits program for unemployment insurance is a bad thing because it adds 25 billion dollars to the annual federal government deficit. Consider that 25 billion dollars is one hell of a lot of money, and that government at all levels is basically broke (well past that in some cases). Then, before you wander away from that topic, consider that, according to what I can find on the subject, the cost of the extended US military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, over more than a decade, have averaged out to 238.5 billion dollars a year, over 13 years.
Then get back to us all about how trying to save the lives of 1.3 million Americans is some sort of fiscal irresponsibility, or whatever political lingo gets tossed around. The people who have some discomfort and raise objections to the cost of the federal extended benefits program have a very real point, in the context of a bankrupt government, but I don’t see many of them showing any honest understanding of how we got there.
That isn’t a simple topic, although many political creatures blow all kinds of hot air and bullshit around contending that it is, being simplistic and just plain stupid and dishonest about it. One thing is sure, though, and that is that we’re living the consequences of ignoring President Dwight Eisenhower’s warning way back in 1961 about what he called “the military-industrial complex”, squandering the resources of the nation in some kind of insane quest to be a military empire. I wonder, often, how many Americans have no idea that he even said it, and what he said, exactly, but can tell you all about whatever idiotic and trivial distractions are on their minds, about some “reality TV” show and ridiculous “controversy” is swirling around about it, or all kinds of other utterly pointless and meaningless diversions are banging around.
One very large item of this past year, over recent weeks, has been the interesting phenomenon of the new Pope of the Catholic church, saying some things that are, shall we say, pretty basically Christian, and the reactions to that which have some very public characters regarding this as marking him as a “radical” Pope. That really puts things in a very clear light. Writer John Michael Greer just wrote an essay this past week that raised some interesting thoughts. As disturbing as they might be, I think he hit something right on the mark.
Another glaring feature of 2013 has been a continuation of not just general ignorance of the “energy” situation, in natural gas and petroleum, but widespread severe misunderstanding, confusion, and massive deceptions about it all. I’ve written plenty about that, and so I won’t spend a lot of time and space repeating. We still have the continuing saga of people either spreading, or happily accepting, the PR propaganda telling Americans that we’re on the road to “energy independence”, particularly in the realm of enterprises extracting “tight oil” scattered pockets of crude oil from shale rock, in places like the Bakken formation or Eagle Ford in Texas.
Between starting to write this note, and then coming back to finish this up, I read James Kunstler’s regular Monday blog note, and it was interesting to find that, essentially, his theme for the week’s entry was more or less the same general idea as my little note to address the change into a new year. We’re into a time when we’re way past due time to stop pretending. That goes for a lot of things. I realized after reading Kunstler’s latest that it saved me a bit of typing here, as he summed up a large chunk of our general situation here. So go read it, if you haven’t already.
Beyond the matter of still having the situation with petroleum and natural gas still ignored or misunderstood, and the continuing distortions and malfunctions in banking and finance and virtually anything connected with Wall Street, one story of 2013 was profound in terms of maybe finally breaking through with some illumination and air. That was the revelations of just how deeply the US government has gone deranged, what is supposed to be our government, government of, by, and for the people. This came to light thanks to what history will regard as a heroic move by former NSA contractor employee Edward Snowden, who is now in exile, threatened by the government of his own country with arrest as a traitor, which, if that happens, would be certain to be followed by an absolute kangaroo court of a trial, the kind of thing you expect from some banana republic, and conviction for espionage and treason. This, for being a patriot putting himself in severe jeopardy just so that we could know that the government that now officially calls him “traitor” is out of control.
At least this might start to clear some fog.