Menckens Ghost

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Surviving Another Year of Self-Rule

A miracle happened in 2018:  The country survived another year of self-rule.

Just as miraculously, I survived another year with a stick in my eye and beans up my nose.

The stick and beans got to their current locations during the 2016 presidential race, when I said I'd rather have a stick in my eye than vote for Hillary Clinton, and would rather have beans up my nose than vote for Donald Trump.

Please keep my impaired physical condition in mind when critiquing the following retrospective.  It's not easy looking back on the year with one eye and labored breathing.

Making it more difficult is my lifetime affliction of Intelligence Dysfunction, or ID, which is an affliction that I share with many Americans, especially those with a PhD in economics.  Sadly, unlike the national epidemic of Erectile Dysfunction, or ED, there is no magical pill for ID.  As such, my comments will range from intelligent to sophomoric to juvenile, just like Trump's tweets—and just like the Today Show and The View.

Actually, there is a great man in the White House, a man of humility, wisdom, calmness, and morals.  That would be Jose Gonzales, a cook in the White House mess.

It is said that human organizations rot first at the top. It's worrisome, then, that the tops of government, media, industry, and education are as rotten as the cabbage that some Asians put in clay pots and bury for months, or the rotten fish that the Swedes put in cans, which swell from the gas inside and explode when opened.

Let's start by opening the media can.  Careful:  stand back.

Reporters, commentators, anchors and editors see themselves as paragons of political correctness, as mavens of multiculturalism, as devotees of diversity, as repositories of reason, and as exemplars of enlightenment.  In other words, they see themselves the same way that Google employees see themselves and the same way that millennials see themselves.  In their highly educated and cultured minds, they have zero intolerance, zero biases, and zero sexism and racism—unlike the rabble in the heartland that voted for Donald Trump.  

In reality, they're parrots, and hypocritical parrots at that.  They all squawk the same clichés, canards, nostrums and narratives; and then they don't follow what they squawk.  

For example, the parrot press, which includes NBC, is dismayed by the uncouth behavior of the occupant of the Oval Office.  Yet NBC is the very same network that aired the lowbrow series, "The Apprentice," where Donald Trump starred as the host and a judge—and where his bizarre notion of what it takes to be successful in business was on full display.   Now the parrots are all atwitter over his tweets, egomania, and autocratic management style.  If he is such a jerk, then why was he given a show on a major network?   Answer:  tradition.  The networks have a tradition of employing jerks.

Examples include former NBC anchor Matt Lauer, former CBS anchor Charlie Rose, former "60 Minutes" executive producer Jeff Fager, and former CBS CEO Leslie Moonves—all of whom are former employees because they were fired for not controlling their urges in the Land o' Loins, an outcome that would not have happened if it had not been for the MeToo movement.

What is the Land o' Loins?  It is the news sets for Fox News, Bloomberg News, and other national and local news outlets, where sexism and double standards are on full display.  Male anchors are dressed in conservative suits and oftentimes have gray hair and a paunch.  They aren't dressed in tight leather pants and muscle shirts unbuttoned to the navel.  Their female co-anchors, on the other hand, hating to be seen as sex objects, don't exceed the 115-lb. limit on weight or the 40-year limit on age.  They have perfectly coiffed bleached hair, are as buff as a yoga instructor, and wear loudly-colored slinky tops and tight skirts hiked up to their loins, which are devoid of cottage cheese.  

This Land o' Loins is in sharp contrast to the commercials for female drug and beauty products, especially the ones for personal hygiene products, for wrinkle potions, and for pills to address bloat, gas and obesity—commercials that leave nothing to the imagination or common decency.  No wonder there is an epidemic of Erectile Dysfunction.  Men see idealized images of womanhood on news sets and then find out that real women have blemishes, wrinkles, odors, and cottage cheese.

At least CBS would never pay off a woman to keep her from spilling the beans (different beans than the ones in my nose), as Trump apparently did through his lawyer Michael Cohen to keep Stormy Daniels quiet.  Oh, wait:  CBS paid $9.5 million to actress Eliza Dushku, who was removed from the legal drama "Bull" after she had complained about sexual comments by the show's star, Michael Weatherly.

CBS is headquartered in New York, which seems to attract more jerks than an apple orchard attracts worms.  It is the home of not only Trump and the sexist networks, but also the home of oversexed former congressman Anthony Weiner, oversexed former State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, oversexed Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, and oversexed former President Bill Clinton.   Let's not forget Ponzi king Bernie Madoff, the darling of New York high society and Wall Street.  Or Robert Durst, the sociopathic heir of a real estate fortune who went to prison for killing his wife and decapitating a neighbor.  Perhaps the political corruption and union featherbedding that pervade the New York real estate industry produce psychopaths. 

Down I-95 is Washington, DC, another city that attracts worms.  Correction:  maggots.

It is a city that feeds on death.  The city has become richer as the Federal Reserve, Congress, the White House, lobbyists, bureaucrats, and various professional associations have killed scores of industries and towns in the hinterlands.  For example, domestic production of sporting goods, appliances and furniture have fallen about 40% since 2000.  The production of apparel has fallen almost twice as much.

This is nothing compared to the carnage from the Great Recession, which was the result of elites in Washington joining with the elites in New York in giving mortgages to unqualified home buyers and then reselling slices of the bad mortgages, which were mislabeled as good mortgages, to unsuspecting investors around the world.  Instead of being imprisoned, the culprits got government bailouts.

It's true that retail prices have fallen for goods due to global trade, thus benefitting consumers, or at least those who didn't lose high-paying jobs.  But for a complete economic picture, the debt that fuels this trade has to be factored in; that is, the debt of the federal government and the indebtedness of consumers.  Ask the citizens of Greece how borrowing and importing from Germany worked out for them.

Meanwhile, the occupations that don't produce anything other than overhead, red tape, and economic drag are booming.  They operate in a closed economic system.  If the demand for lawyers declines, lawyers in Congress pass complex laws that create a demand for more lawyers.  If the demand for tax accountants declines, their Washington-based association lobbies for tax laws that create a demand for more tax accountants.  If the demand for human resources managers declines, their Washington-based association lobbies for labor laws that create a demand for more HR managers.  If the demand for college administrators declines, they lobby for student loans and regulations that create a demand for more administrators.  If the demand for poorly educated K-12 teachers declines, teacher unions lobby for featherbedding.  And so it goes, ad nauseam, ad infinitum, across scores of professions.

Executives and scholars of Washington-based think tanks also feed on death.  The same with the Washington press corps.  Those on the left bemoan the lot of the poor while dining in swank DC restaurants, sending their kids to exclusive schools, and watching their homes appreciate in price.  Those on the right bemoan the regulatory state while dining in the same restaurants, sending their kids to the same schools, and living in the same neighborhoods.  All of them have a stake in keeping the punchbowl of DC filled at the expense of proles in the hinterlands, where the intelligentsia would never think of living.

Then there is the fast-spinning revolving door between government and industry.  Whirr, whirr, whirr.  Government apparatchiks write barely decipherable regulations and then start a consulting firm to help companies decipher the regulations.  Treasury officials go to Wall Street and vice versa.  Members of congress retire or are voted out of office and end up on corporate boards.  And then there are guys like Mike Flynn.

Yeah, the former lieutenant general appears to have been set up by the FBI and special prosecutor Robert Mueller.  But he freely took part in the unethical practice of leaving government to double-dip by becoming a lobbyist.  Even more unethically, he lobbied on behalf of a foreign government and then didn't seen any conflict between this and subsequently becoming a national security advisor to Trump.

Hillary Clinton didn't have such ethical lapses, as she doesn't have ethics.  Someone with ethics would not have used her position of Secretary of State to squeeze foreign governments for contributions to the Clinton Foundation.

Compare these two with General George Marshall, who served as chief of staff under Presidents Roosevelt and Truman and then went on after the Second World War to be Secretary of State.  It's unimaginable that he would have been a lobbyist for a foreign government or squeezed foreign governments for donations.

It's possible but highly improbable that Marshall was a creep and scoundrel like many of today's leaders—that the press had covered up ugly truths about him, as was the custom back then.  It was the custom because the press, as well as academia and the masses, seemed to realize that what holds nations together are the shared myths, fictions, symbols, rituals, values, and glorified portrayals of national institutions and political leaders.  If you mess with this societal glue too much, you end up with a mess, which is a truism that this libertarian has a hard time accepting, given my unhealthy obsession with facts and logic and my disdain for propaganda.

Yuval Noah Harari makes a similar point in his bestseller, Homo Deus.  He says that humans developed a way of keeping large organizations of mostly strangers together in what he calls cooperation networks, through the use of such abstractions and stories as scriptures, ceremonies and mythologies.  To quote:

. . . the power of human cooperation networks depends on a delicate balance between truth and fiction.  If you distort reality too much, it will weaken you, and you will not be able to compete against more clear-sighted rivals.  On the other hand, you cannot organise [British spelling] masses of people effectively without relying on some fictional myths.  So if you stick to unalloyed reality, without mixing any fiction with it, few people will follow you.

That's why Google tells its cadres that their mission is to change the world for the better, why the New York Times says it prints all the news that is fit to print, why America is characterized as the shining city on the hill, why Jews see themselves as the chosen people, why Catholics believe that the Pope is infallible, why Scientologists believe that the E-Meter can read their mental state, and why I tell my wife that her hair looks great, even if it looks like a tumbleweed.

The main takeaway from 2018 is that the glue is no longer holding.  E Pluribus Unum has given way to the identity politics of race, gender, and class; and to the divide between urban and rural, between blue-collar and hip, between the coasts and the heartland, and between those who benefit from global trade and immigration and those who don't.  At the same time, as our leaders and institutions have been revealed to be corrupt and/or incompetent, reality has replaced mythology, fact has replaced fiction, and scorn has replaced respect. 

Will 2019 see us break farther apart or come closer together?

All I know for sure is that if the choice in candidates doesn't improve by the 2020 election, I'll be putting a stick in my other eye and beans up my other nostril.

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