Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Double Post: Reflections on Conservative Rule & The Five Pillars of Making it Look Easy (+ bonus email to finance minister)

When you spend all your time listening to your gurus and executing their "strategy", you probably won't have a whole lot of time left to lead the nation or accomplish anything

A feeling of dread and glum overtook me this past week when all the papers in Canada simultaneously launched into retrospectives, where are we now assessments, and celebrations after five years of Conservative Party rule in Canada (I'd call them “tories” to type less words, but this habitual laziness on the part of journalists has over time conferred the government a name which they are not worthy to be called by) . Half a decade is a significant time to be in power in Canada; it will earn you a spot in the chair opposite Mansbridge's concerned forehead for 45 minutes and see even your unkindest critics grudgingly admit that yes, somewhere, you must have some support and/or staying power.

How do I feel about the fact that five years have passed since the January 2006 election? Well, rather than launch into a diatribe about this government's various blunders, attacks, and coverups, or its mismanagement, hypocrisy and lies, though I can't promise that won't happen, I want to explore the strategies and techniques they have used to maintain and consolidate their power and solidify their support. When it comes to tactics, misinforming and playing you for a fool, this government resembles the friend who is so reliable at disappointing you that you are a never actually disappointed, because you're always disappointed. Does that make sense? Do you know anybody like that? Lucky for you if you don't. Because I would say that disappointment is really only experienced in its true form when it is the exception. Something more like dislike or antipathy sets in once the state of disappointment with someone is constant. In this type of situation, you end up wondering why you still waste time on him, but at the same time are amazed at your ability to chronicle your frustration with his mishaps and selfishness to poor acquaintances or strangers who committed no wrong to deserve to listen to such unpleasantness other than happening to be in your vicinity after you've recently been in his.

It sucks to be on the receiving end of such complaining about the government, even if it is justified. For the main reason that it either preaches to the choir or provokes scorn from the party faithful who don't see an alternative. And they are right, in a way. There is none. We have three national parties all trying to make us feel good, all trying to tell us everything is going to be okay and that things will be better if only they get in power, or things would be (are) hell if the other guys are in power. Frankly, I've run out of patience with all of them because they all assume the same thing, which is that you are stupid. Stupid enough to believe that government can improve your life or is responsible for the good things in your life. The government should do some basic things like make sure our nation is solvent and protect its flora and fauna, neither of which it seems to have any intention or ability of doing, but you are responsible for your life. However, this is our country and our democracy and I'm tired of hearing it needs to be “saved” from the big bad blue or red or orange or green formation because, as satan incarnate, they're (trying to) making my life hell. The lot of them look like a rainbow toilet bowl maelstrom in their race to the bottom, and I've grown weary of watching.

None of these parties have plans or policies to take back our wealth from the parasitic banks and resource companies who have monopolized it, to invest the modest sums of money needed to assure basic dignity for people who live here, or to get our country out of the defunct and decaying fiat currency based- GDP Growth – inflation – bailout cycle we are in the process of watching fail all over the world. To put it in a bit more of a human perspective, it is also nauseating to hear them all attempt to champion the people who have chosen to live in a certain way as a sort of national dream that is under attack that we all have the right to aspire to. As though it was a profoundly human and gracious thing to live in a 3,000 foot house in a subdivision, commute 60 minutes on freeways each way to work, earn money from some failing manufacturer, greedy corporation or public service cartel, fork over this money to the telecom cartels to distract us every spare minute with cable TV and mobile devices, and spend the rest of it on the weekends at the big box eyesores that span the highways between our jobs and homes. Since this seems to be a universally accepted definition of “middle class” “wealth and prosperity” thatpoliticians of all stripes seem eager to portray themselves as fearless defenders of, you now know that you will be spared here from being told why you should vote for other parties who amount to the same thing.

Maybe we need a new national motto:

Canada – which party giving itself and the country a hand job do you choose from?

That aside, I will clarify that I did not mean to go on a “Don't vote, it's pointless” rant. Everybody must vote even if they are holding their nose so tight they are suffocating. But more on that closer to election day. The main difference with the conservatives - what I think is the most important thing to point out here today, is that they spend so much time on strategy and managing appearance that it crowds out how little they have substantively accomplished.

Here are the five strategic pillars of Conservative Party of Canada rule and the success they have enjoyed up until now. Don't let them fool you with this bullshit!

Pretension of knowledge

Like all politicians, the Conservative government has an interest in making you believe one thing, whether it's through insinuations, declarations, and assertions. That they know something that you don't. It is amazing that they get away with this in an era when you have the resources and facts available to learn and judge for yourself the salient points of any subject or issue they are dealing with. Are you picturing a bespectacled balding man with bad posture poring over stacks of dusty files in a badly lit office, or some firebrand picking up the phone with a pen and pad to demand answers, and saying that's not you?
Not to fear, my friend. I'm talking about some quick google searches. I'm talking about some mainstream media columnists. I'm talking about some blogs on the internet. And the best stuff is often on the government websites themselves! Beyond the government's staged partisan announcements, they actually have to provide relevant information on the sites of various departments. So, if more people were willing to take on this time to basically inform themselves, like for maybe 10 or 20 minutes twice a week, I bet the government wouldn't feel so confident about making assertions that are completely false on no other basis than knowing that people are going to trust them because they think they have knowledge. Think about it. Why do you trust a mechanic or a doctor or a consultant? Because they are supposed to have specific knowledge to help you, which implies that they are smart, except when they're not. And experience tells us that they are more likely to fudge an answer than admit they don't have one.

The government is no different. How else do you get away with saying violent crime is on the rise, enemies are lined up on our borders, illegitimate refugees are seeping in by the boatload, people are mad as hell and fed up with having to fill out a census form, fighting the taliban in Kandahar is a Canadian priority and moral obligation, etc? Because there is a These guys are smart, they know what they're talking about computation occurring in many brains. No, they don't! Fear-mongering and ideological pandering to people likely to be receptive to such claims does not amount to empirical facts, based on knowledge, which would merit the public trust. Research any of these subjects a bit more, and you will discover the government's claims are exaggerated, fabricated, or just plain bogus. But they will never admit they're wrong, just as the professionals listed above would be loathe to admit it if they were ever wrong. That would be renouncing their bread and butter. Pretension of knowledge is one of their keys to survival.

Accumulation of false accomplishments

The government hasn't actually done anything since they've gotten elected. Well, they've done a few things. They've created a parliamentary budget officer, an independent and objective civil servant who is supposed to keep watch on the actual state of the nation's finances. Since creating his position, they have decreased his budget every year and dismissed his reporting when questioned about it.

They started mildly clamping down on runaway real estate speculation in 2010-2011, after actively stoking it, fuelling it, and encouraging it from 2006-2009.

After years of delivering withering criticism of Ottawa waste and frivolous spending while in opposition, the government has eroded the tax base and increased government spending.

The government has not provided any vision or strategy whatsoever, let alone introduced legislation or elaborated policies, related to long term challenges Canada faces. How is a country whose average age is 60 going to operate? How are people supposed to get around in an era of dwindling petroleum reserves? What measures are in place to protect our forests, waterways, and arable lands, as external shortages will surely place great pressure on these? What kind of program is in place to ensure income redistribution in the not so near future when all government revenues are eaten up by interest payments on the national debt (which is mostly owed to the bank of Canada and the big banks)?

The point is that the government has at best tinkered and fiddled with a few things that could neither be considered abject failures nor accomplishments for the moment, and they have carefully avoided making one well thought-out, courageous or long-term decision.

Because who needs real accomplishments when you've got false ones? Like “making Canada stronger” and “managing the economy”. Hey, you guys just stick to what you're doing. You're doing a great job. Real tough. Thumbs up. Just get that economy going. And stand behind our troops. Don't listen to those whiny lefties.

If only any of those were actual accomplishments. But sadly in our country, mastery of Don Cherry style-vitriol by either the man himself or his parrots in the general population are sufficient to create an aura of false accomplishments around you and give you a consistent lead in the polls.

Aggressive belligerence

This one doesn't need much explaining other than ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK!

There was a time in this country, when civic engagement levels were higher and attention spans were longer, that one had to voice valid criticism to be taken seriously. Things like “According to...” “Based on...” “If we were to...” “My opponent is proposing that” “After review of” “Following the process and procedure...” Freedom of speech is paramount, but one would hope for $155,000 a year and lifelong defined benefit pension plans politicians would have a point when they speak. Maybe once. No more.

These days, insults, personal attacks, and defamation of character are fair game in any situation at any time. No statement can be made about the opposition without mockery, and it cannot be made without adding “socialist” “separatist” “coalition” “a few extremists” “no credibility” “not a real Canadian” “out of touch” “elitist” or any one of literally thousands more neither here nor there “hate jabs”.

If this government has been consistent at one thing, it has been being aggressive and belligerent with the Canadian public at all times, reassuring their supporters that they'll take it to whatever extreme they need to, and trying to intimidate their opponents and psychologically beat them into submission over time.

Patting themselves on the back (legend in own mind syndrome)

Listen to any speech the Prime Minister gives. What a bunch of smug, satisfied, self-congratulatory drivel. I don't want to say any more. Just look at this.

“A country where people don't have to worry if their car is still going to be there where they parked it.”

This is this man's vision. This is what he aspires to. Never mind insurance, which actually has to pay you in this situation, or no parking zones. In his magical land he imagines, all the bad people like me who never were going to steal your damn car in the first place are locked up forever and everyone else still locks their car doors but there is no more theft...I guess?!

It doesn't matter. Any man already on his way to creating such a utopia is clearly already a legend in his own mind

Total confusion by 1,000 deceitful gestures

For this one, I will just say if you look at the record, there is all kinds of stuff that gets thrown out there that means nothing. As a result no one is ever really sure what the government is doing or knows what to think of their latest photo-op/announcement, if they happen to catch it since they happen so fast and so frequently. I have taken the government to task on one of these. Here is an email I wrote to the finance minister to end. I will be sure to publish his response, if I get one. And those, my friends, are the five ways I have noticed the government is “Stayin' Alive” (maybe the PM should do that song at his next rock concert). I'm going to New York city with my very pregnant girlfriend for four days on Thursday; back next month.

To: jflaherty@fin.gc.ca

Dear Mr. Flaherty, Minister of Finance

I will never forget reading a ticker headline on a screen in First Canadian Place in May 2009 in which you were cited as saying that a "12 billion auto-financing plan" was "up and running".

I know that you make a lot of speeches and I know that, as a finance minister of an industrialized country, your statements are taken seriously and can even affect the behaviour of businesses and markets.

I took issue with this particular statement, however, because I took it to essentially mean that the government of Canada was getting in the business of the subsidizing/backstopping or god forbid, bailing out of car leases.

Here is the text I think the ticker headline was referencing:

"Now I want to talk today about the rollout of the Canadian Secured Credit Facility. This is important in the auto sector. As you know, we’ve been able to accomplish a way forward for Chrysler with the assistance of the Government of Ontario, the Government of the United States and Fiat, and now we’re working with General Motors. A serious shortfall in Canada has been the lack of financing of vehicles and equipment for consumers and businesses. And this has led to increased borrowing costs for some and limited credit availability for others. It’s a situation that can’t be allowed to continue if we want to restore confidence and get our economy growing again.

So today I’m pleased to announce the rollout of the Canadian Secured Credit Facility (CSCF). Through the facility, the Government will purchase up to $12 billion of asset-backed securities backed by loans and leases on vehicles and equipment." - Jim Flaherty, May 8, 2009.

My first question to you, Mr Minister, is what business does the Canadian state, as a supposed "free market"-supporting entity, have squandering our tax dollars on such an initiative?

My second question is why we haven't heard anything about this since and whether this money was ever spent and or paid back.

Finally, I'm going to go out on a limb and allege there was never any such program.  I'm going to assert that if there was, you did not give any explanation or provide enough details concerning a program prepared to commit such a significant sum of public money.  I know this line inserted into a speech two years ago did not register on most people's radar, but it registered on mine.  Can I ask your rationale for filling your speeches with allusions and pronouncements that amount to nothing, that are basically lies? Or, do you even write them?

I do not mean to accuse or insult.  I will say, however, that being prepared to engage that type of sum to the auto-financing marketplace would suggest that you count on revenues from future economic growth to pay that back with interest.  As a supposedly prudent and responsible manager, why would you take this foolhardy and dangerous risk that you know very well you cannot guarantee?
Thank you for your time
Respectfully yours,
Christopher Lackey
Citizen and taxpayer

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Generation Y Not: Overburdened or Liberated?

Two postings ago, I suggested that a generation above me is causing all types of shit with its attitudes and actions. I said that that generation is often mentioned in the media, but avoided referring to them by their common term, “baby-boomers”, because I didn't want to fall into the trap of assigning them blame over all the problems we face (that would be unfair and untrue). These days, they are the subject of much media commentary, which tends to describe them with apprehension, like a coming natural disaster, or marvel at their numbers, which are the largest by far of any of the 4-5 generations alive right now in the West.

My generation, or the loose assortment of people under 35 who are variously referred to as Y, millennial, X, whatever, are also mentioned explicitly and often. For different reasons than in the past, however. When we first stepped on the scene as “adults”, mainstream media writing tended to focus on obvious and disdainful observations about us: ungrateful, entitled, in their own world, selfish, and sheltered. Today this confrontational vibe seems to have been replaced with a sympathetic one: Good luck to you. You're over-educated, underpaid, unemployable, living with parents, staying in school forever to avoid your massive loans, and taking jobs you considered beneath you 5-10 years ago.

I'm making a reference in particular to two articles of social studies commentary by an opinion columnist whom I respect and everything, but who is really only referring to his family and their peers' upper-middle class, petite-bourgeois experience. I am a bit embarrassed to identify with it, but I do, and am also self aware enough to know that I've never struggled per se and this experience was largely if not my own than that of many I know or see coming up. Which is why I can't help feeling a bit of a tug on my heartstrings a bit when a middle-aged person sticks their neck out for us “not having it as good/the same opportunities as they did”. I want to tell them: Your indignation at the mess were inheriting is well appreciated. Right back at you, slick. But I also want to tell them that the end of unending hope, expectation and growth is not an unfair punishment. In some ways it is desirable. Young people don't need pity because they do not pity themselves. If they do, they should acquire some awareness of forces at work right now.

Unfortunately for the well-wishes, the fact of the matter is we are in a stage of late capitalism where no amount of indignation, platitudes, or fist-banging on the table about jobs, dignity, and hard-working families will re-create the circumstances in which North America is commonly believed to have prospered during the last five decades. If any members of the younger generation, or the swaths of people in the older generation who've been left behind for that matter (It is very simple: If you don't make over 169K, you are not in the top 1% in this country), are contemplating this as a strategy, I have a message for them: Earn what you can now, save your cash, and get ready to make and manage your own opportunities. Don't listen to the government-banks-real-estate-mainstream media bullshit about keeping your nose clean, working hard and playing by the rules, and being rewarded. Some very simple economic lessons will effectively kill these myths and the perception that “everything will be OK” if that's what we all do.

Let's start with Fig. 1, the most simple capitalist calculation

Output + labour = productivity

Simply put, the workers making and doing things to meet demand puts cash in their pockets, cash in the companies' pockets, and cash in the government's pockets.

In North America after world war two, a population boom coupled with a rise in levels of education, women entering the workforce, a widespread explosion in suburban living and cheap, convenient appliances to fill those homes resulted in more cash in anybody's pockets than had ever previously been witnessed. This was all real cash generated by real demand and paid over from real accounts where the money was really sitting. It was what enabled Lyndon Johnson and Lester B. Pearson to enact in the mid-1960s the social programs we hold so dear today. Basic health care, old age pensions remain the most popular for obvious reasons, and, well, those are the ones that are pretty much untouchable.

Good old uncle Lester was profiting from our country's branch plant economy at that time, which had been set up by the elites of the four previous decades. Since our neighbours were succeeding, we were succeeding. Government revenues everywhere were way up.

Since then, cash has gone down, people giving cash has gone down, and people asking for cash has gone up. Way up. Decade over decade, year over year, and rapidly accelerating. That is the simplest way to put it. When one regards Mount Debt, the symbol of both hope and delusion in western societies, they quickly abandon that pesky habit of wasting their time and sense of hearing on governments and CEO s prognostications about “growth” and “recovery”. An instructive analogy for this is a fictional defined benefit pension plan, for company “A” (Defined benefit pension plans are no longer offered by companies anywhere, just in the public sector, but more on that later).

Company “A” is a manufacturing shop/factory. In 1975, they have 500 workers, average age 27, and everybody is making money hand over fist. The company is doing so well they decide to reward their employees by telling them “We're so grateful you come to work and work hard everyday, that we don't want you to worry about providing for your young families in their old age, so we will guarantee you a monthly pension plan until you die, and maybe even to your widows after you die.”

As outrageous as this proposition sounds to our ears today, at the time it probably made sense because if you got another 35 years out of these 500 guys making those profitable things, and added another 2,000 younger ones to keep up with rising demand for your product and the higher profits that would come with it, you would have more than enough money in the kitty to reward all those who were loyal and honest to you by taking care of them and ensuring they could spend their golden years in a situation befitting their increased wisdom and vulnerability.

Unfortunately, in most cases, that demand never materialized. Predictions of ballooning growth and prosperity more often than not materialized as lower demand, obsolescence, cuts, layoffs, cheaper labour elsewhere, and bankruptcies. This decline of North American and British industrial societies is well known. Any enterprise that wants to survive in these environments for any reasonable amount of time today knows damn well not to encumber itself with an endless huge expense paying people not even working for it unless it is feeling suicidal. Because they're mean and callous? No, because as they've learned from the historical experience of the example above, the numbers will not materialize. Or they might, but it is foolhardy to assume that they will.

Companies are forced to submit to reason and logic by virtue of their size and the fact that without money coming in, they cannot pay their employees and suppliers and have to shut down. Governments, unfortunately, are governed by these same rules of logic yet refuse to heed them. They continue to lie to us that we will all be provided for, taken care of, and paid out a bunch of government entitlements in our old age until we die. How this will be done when the ratio of workers paying taxes to retirees is going to drop from 4-1 to 2-1 over the next 15-20 years is not a mystery, it is an impossibility.

I just did a very simplistic and amateur calculation. I pulled a number out of my hat that out of our population of 34 million, there will be perhaps 10 million people asking for $800 a month CPP. With the $950 Billion in the CPP fund right now, there is about 10 years of payments in the tank. The CPP's solvency has been assured by the contributions we all make to it, but like the defined benefit analogy, these will not be large enough to catch up to the withdrawals.

Then I checked out this chart and realized the situation is much worse than I thought.

Then I thought about how this is $950 billion is not cash but a complex mix of bonds, stocks, asset-back commercial paper, and all kinds of other bullshit that is going to be essentially worthless once the kool aid supply that fools a good part of the population into thinking these things have some sort of economic value runs out.

When you look at the demographics of any western country and the entitlements they still maintain they are going to be able to pay out, it is the same. It is not a matter of if it is a matter of when. We have to look at Greece and Ireland in the coming months and years to look into the crystal ball of where we are headed. Two countries with perhaps 40-50% real unemployment, huge national debts and deficits, that collect very little tax and have rapidly ageing populations, had hundred billion euro “bailouts” foisted on them to “reassure” the “international market”. I had one simple question: If these countries were in this kind of financial shape now, what was another unthinkable amount of money added to their debt going to do to improve the situation?

So yes, in the sense that young people today are not going to have the luxury of sitting around watching TV, going to the buffet on cruise boats, and getting picked up in accessible publicly funded vehicles to do their shopping, they have inherited a burden. But in the sense that they will have no choice when faced with this reckoning to throw their hands up in the air at its absurdity, take care of whoever they can, and otherwise walk away, they are liberated. They will not see the “moral imperative” the elites of the late 2000s of their parents generation felt to save a system which was clearly rotten, manipulative, exploitative, and worst of all, bulletproof-rigged to fail.

But tell that to esteemed 55 year olds that we're listening to right now. The worst is when they talk with absolutely no shame about how technology is going to save us. John Ibbitson was in Waterloo region this week writing about the Liberal strategy on some seats here they narrowly lost to the conservatives in the last election and need to win back. But of course, the one person he talked to was upbeat about the economy here in the “technology triangle”. Well, if I ever meet that guy I'll be sure to tell him that RIM is not a bottomless pit to provide for the needs of half a million or 34 million people. Meanwhile on the Fareed Zakaria show last Sunday morning, national economic council chairman Larry Summers was actually reduced to saying the word ipad by itself when grilled by his host about why he was so bullish about America's growth prospects. These devices will not sell like they do now forever, and someone needs to tell politicians that the revenue from those sales go to the publicly traded companies that make them, not the coffers of the state as their statements presuppose.

Hence the pun in the title of this posting. Why is my generation ripe to be the most critical and cynical on record in recent memory. Per the reasons in this article, Why not?

Thursday, 20 January 2011

The HELOC - Every bit as nasty as it sounds

At 10:45 a.m. this morning, the most viewed article on globeandmail.com came from a column in its venerable business section written by columnist Rob Carrick called "In defence of the much maligned HELOC" (Home Equity Line of Credit).

I recognized both the columnist's name and the dicey financial vehicle he was referring to, blamed for much of the real estate bubble fallout that was a major contributing factor to the financial crisis of '08. The product, I can tell you from first hand experience of having serviced it myself, is almost as dangerous as it sounds, combining the gargantuan proportions of He-man with the death-grip into submission pain of a leg-lock in a UFC bout. It is generally a recourse for people who are either in too deep or after more credit/goodies. So I looked forward, as I contributed to the article's #1 rating by clicking on it myself, to reading a thorough and carefully argued contrarian point of view on something which is generally regarded as irresponsible and bad (borrowing against the value of something you barely own to begin with...hmm).

It turned out that I could not count on any such alternative to the dominant viewpoint, simply because none exists. If Mr. Carrick is not directly on the payroll of the "pushers" (my not-so-affectionate term for Canada's big banks), then he may want to let them know he is doing some great unpaid volunteer work for them. His article was not too long and this post isn't going to be either, but I had to call out a couple of his ridiculous arguments.

It's better to borrow on a HELOC at 3 or 4 percent than a credit card at 19%. So transfer your credit card debt to it.

Wow, that's so logical I can't believe how much sense it makes. Except for the fact that he glosses over so innocently, that this hypothetical borrower he is counselling is racking up credit card bills they can't afford while carrying a house, property taxes, and the whole shebang of expenses that come with. My question to a person like that would be "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING CARRYING A BALANCE ON YOUR CREDIT CARD EVERY MONTH?! ARE YOU INSANE?"
Chances are if that person didn't have a problem running up a bill they couldn't afford once, they aren't going to mind doing it again after this bailout that has the appearance of a freebie. The whole point of financial education is to teach people so they don't repeat the same mistakes. So it sounds to me like this HELOC solution is a slap on the wrist that is begging to create a repeat offender. The reaction we want from this person is "gee, it sure sucks paying all this interest" not "oh cool, there's a sale at best buy this weekend."

Low rates of HELOCs offer great oppurtunities to invest in property, stocks, or business ventures.

Yes, they also offer great oppurtunities to go to casino and put 10K chips on black 27 at the roulette table. 35 to 1 odds, can't go wrong. Except that you can. Because you are taking huge risks. With money that isn't yours. So not only could you lose money for no reason, you could lose someone else's money that you then have to pay back for no reason. Sounds like a slam dunk to me, Rob.

Borrowing is bad, we get it, now governments can stop scolding the financial children out there, because adults know how to look after their own debt.

Taking the time to ask for conversation and debate about something before it is universally condemned is a very adult thing to do, yes. Encouraging people to spread themselves ever so thin on the basis of magical and unrealistic thinking is not. Collective memories are very short these days and the author of the article seems to be in the growing ranks of those who want to forget what happened as fast as possible and get back to "business as usual". That's fine, but I'm sorry to inform him that I'll have to deny his claim to the "adult" high ground. Learning from mistakes, waiting for and earning things you want instead of demanding them right now, gaining appreciated of the value of a dollar, and not being reckless are time-tested ways to stay out of the dog poo. Lessons we want for all of our children, and lessons the columnist seem to be telling a group of adults they can afford to ignore. Just driving them back into the arms of the rich uncles that spoil them, the big banks. Except when you're a grown-up, which these people technically are in age and appearance, you have to pay your uncle who makes all your dreams come true back. In full. With interest. The preying on dumb adult minds by exploiting the most common ailment of our era, childish and irresponsible thinking and reasoning, by people like this columnist has got to stop.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Built in Hardware for a Fascist Revolution

Zeroing in on an electorate ripe for the picking?

I have to start today by correcting a possible contradiction.  I said I didn't care about guns in the last column.  That could be misinterpreted as me having no opinion on gun control issues.  What I meant was I see no valid reason for civilians to own firearms, full stop.  For me, the issue scarcely warrants me thinking about it, much less debating it.  Hence the dismissal of guns which could have been misconstrued as indifference towards them on my part, which is not the case. On the contrary, I am very concerned about the implications of a widely and heavily armed population to the south of Canada. My short shrift of the subject is due to my amazement of the "two-sided" debate that rages on over the issue (whether or not its ok to "legally" procure and own guns) despite it representing one of the obvious scourges to humanity's progress and future survival.
It is important I talk about this today because the Arizona Jan 9 mass shooting has, for the first time in several mass shootings, rekindled a debate about gun control that occurs outside the U.S., here in Canada, and never seems to really fully happen in the U.S. This isn't a Michael Moore style-rose coloured glasses love in of my country and the comparative lack of violence; I try to avoid such facile conjecture. In my mind the fact remains, though, that Sarah Palin will, in some sense, always have blood on her hands for putting Gabrielle Giffords face on a map of candidates that the tea party believed beatable during the fall 2010 mid term elections with targets on their faces and the motto "Don't retreat. Reload." As much as she will try to deny this connection and say it is below the belt to bring it up, I mentioned this item recently to three thoroughly apolitical and disinterested people whose faces instantly melted into consternation and disgust upon hearing it, which was all the validation I need.

The widespread use of firearms is now stoked by an extremist popular discourse heavy on intimidation and thuggery.  Tea Party Congresswoman Michele Bachmann from Minnesota has also told her constituents they need to be "armed and dangerous", failed Nevada Tea Party Senate candidate Sharron Angle said something like she was going to "throttle the hell out of" her opponent, Harry Reid, and failed Tea Party New Yorker Carl Paladino said he was going to take a "baseball bat" to work in the legislature on his first day if he was victorious. In the wake of the safeway shooting, during period of heightened sensitivity, such people are now trying to portray their schtick as innocuous and accuse those making the observation that such aggressive and angry statements could be having adverse side effects of sinking even lower than them. In fact, going lower than them isn't possible. Their defence doesn't hold water in the big picture. The steroid, rough and tough, macho, Ima git you n kick yore ass bullshit has permeated the American culture on so many levels over time, through 1,001 openings, and we are a long way off from general agreement that there is something sick in a culture that responds so favourably to it. The guns and ammo sloganeering tea partiers' refusal to admit that at this point, and ramping up of their attacks rather than taking a perfect oppurtunity to tone it down and apologize, demonstrates that this tragic event has if nothing else emboldened them, and given an even better charge to "reload" with for their future plans.
There has been no shortage of excellent media reporting in the last week condemning the above tendencies, statements, and actions and linking them directly to the massacre, even though it doesn't appear to have been politically motivated.  And the people getting blamed responded recently with the strip mall sovereign spokesperson in chief Sarah issuing a 7 minute video accusing her opponents of cyncically trying to put the blame on her for political profit and renewing her commitment to "fight for people's freedom", including the 2nd amendement of the constitution.
Ah, The constitution.  Now there's a document getting trotted around by these same TP folks who love the stirring "we the people" intro to stir up supporters in favour of their favourite cause, "Restoring America's greatness". They would be wise, however, not to presume the 335 year old document as all-important or infallible. Let us remember that a document is, after all, just a document. It does not retain untouchable status as societies and peoples evolve over time, and people will do what they will without feeling the need to refer or defer to it at every occasion because it is open to interpretation. A case in point would be the "sacred" coran, the literal belief of which plenty of hateful and misogynist islamists wave around like it is a piece of smoking gun evidence exonerating them in the courtroom. Yet how many people listen to them despite their correct interpretation of the "all-powerful" work. When Glenn Beck et al. talk about the founding fathers and defending the constitution, they are committing this same fraud, using a document that has nothing to do with them to raise themselves on a higher plane than everybody else. Be warned that people who reflexively refer to the same inanimate object they consider infallible whenever they are confronted with an opposing viewpoint are usually the most full of crap. They act as though the highest ideals enunciated in the documents they site only apply to them; while simultaneously behaving like the biggest hypocrites possible. These people don't deserve the time of day. As for "greatness", they would do well to caution themselves in doing an objective assessment of what was so great about America at that time.  I will never forget comedian Dave Chappelle's remark about why he didn't like American money - "To me, our money looks like baseball cards with slave owners on them". A true statement which, made during a stand-up comedy routine, actually holds up under the most serious academic magnifying glass.
Consider the historical scrutiny, and resulting negative public and popular opinions imposed on other powerful nation state entities.  The Catholic Church gets a lot of grief for its most atrocious recent offence, paedophilia and molestation, but the backlash against it (what lapsed Catholics euphemistically refer to as their "issues with the Catholic church") is really due to a wide range of bad behavoiur throughout the ages, like the crusades and supporting the nazis, combined with the ridiculousness and patent absurdity of its doctrines, like forbidding non-procreation-purpose sex and claiming that its staff is entirely made up of males who have never ejaculated in their lives. High roads elsewhere are picked and chosen: China's beating up of Tibet and Falun Gong is well known and even a cause célèbre in certain North American conservative circles.  Turkey still can't shake the bad rap from that damn genocide 95 years ago. Western legislatures continue to put motions forward year after year condemning it.  Yet the obvious fact that the 2nd amendment, the right to bear arms, was placed in such high priority by the founding fathers, out of a need to accomplish two vital tasks to its achieving dominance: keeping a restive population of slaves dormant and carrying out an ongoing genocide against first nations, bears no such scrutiny.  It instead referred to as "greatness".
Greatness, real or perceived, is one of the root causes of nationalism, a non-tangible and enigmatic force rooted in the equally undefinable "national psyche" term.  It fell out of vogue after the second world war precisely because of the far-right fascist movements it gave rise to and the devastation that they wrought, and were also wrought on their own populations by the allies.  A couple of instructive treatises recommending us to abandon nationalism can be found here.
That heavy text, unfortunately, is not the music to many millions to the south of us' ears that the talk radio/book tour/cable news/conservative blog racket it.  That it is not being pointed to as instructive is why I believe conditions are perfect for fascism to take hold in the United States.

The tragic incident of Jan 9 aside, there is no doubt that the people who are hard-wired nutty have monopolized a sizeable part of public debate and their declarations resonate with a lot of people. Once you can capitalize successfully on the notion that people are worse off due to external forces that their "enemies" control, you have the basic groundwork for fascism. This is capitalizing on people's captive brains, of which there seems to be enough ripe for the picking when you look at Beck or Palin or O'Reilly's book sales and Savages radio numbers. I will call that the software of a fascist revolution, which is then mixed with the standard ingredients of 20th century fascism: High unemployment, low levels of education, high levels of military pride, religious puritanism and distrust of foreigners, adult males sitting around with nothing to do all day, and economic and political humiliation, a fall from grace if you will, or "greatness".

A New Flag for a New Country

Now that we have determined what software is required and already running to get a fascist revolution off the ground (and yes, I do not employ this term lightly and I would call it that at this point), all that is left to happen is for all the sometimes-used hardware sitting there to be activated in order to propel the fascists to power. And there's even this flag for them I stumbled upon. It might get ugly, but it may also have benefits like a gradual unwinding of empire and the rotten boom-bust-trap-bailout-consume sequence they seem determined to have the whole world living in "in everyone's best interest". I just don't know what sort of marshall plan IT will be available to help prop up the system when it crashes; I think reinstalling the software that allowed the talk radio hosts, fox newscasters, and political oppurtunists to prosper and flourish will be firmly out of the question.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Marketing to Generation Head in the Sand

Today, I am going to put my marketing guru hat on and talk about demographics.  With the republicans in the House of Representatives taking their new seats recently, climate change deniers and fraudulent financial system backers all, it is clear that the election of duly elected representatives to the legislative branch of the U.S. government is indicative of a broader societal trend.  Specifically, the awakening of a sleeping giant: a game-changing generation that is about to profoundly redefine the world we live in.
I don't like to generalize about generations, talk about how "my" generation is like this and "this" generation is like that.  But to hell with nuances today! This isn't the regular me, this is Lacking Credentials 2.0, marketing edition.  So for the rest of this column, I am going to be writing in short, barking sentences, "brainstorming" in "high-level" bullet points about how we are going to "brand" and "sell" to this "huge potential untapped market."  The cynical madison avenuers who figured out how to turn the hippies' idealism on its head to sell products, the grunge era's angst on its head to sell products, and the environmental movement's conscience on its head to sell products, are about to have their marketing genius asses taken to school, to be marketed to by me.

To start our attempt at understanding a generation, we must first understand how generations can sometimes be over simplified or romanticized by pop culture. When you watch a documentary or history channel fare about the summer of love or woodstock or the hippie movement, or even a VH1 Behind the Music episode about, say, Guns N Roses or the Sex Pistols or Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, you are almost inevitably treated to a series of very serious interviews with middle-aged irrelevant has-beens talking about how the world changed so dramatically when they were in their primes and how their experiences/accomplishments were at the forefront of that change. This perspective is always out of step with reality, because it assumes the entire world revolved around what was taking place with this particular group of people at that time, something we know now to be logically impossible. Worse, this tendency always seems to lead to insinuations that “our generation had this historic oppurtunity to flip the bird to whatever establishment (squares/conformity/glam/makeup metal/male dominated rock scene) was there that sucked at the time, and we were so special we acheived this goal with panache and gusto.” As if being members of the generation somehow confirmed its prominent members as some kind of enlightened royalty who was now entitled to give sermons for the rest of their lives how about they were smart enough to seize the moment in their time, which we younguns never could re-create today because everything has changed, and things are just so much more complicated and regimented now, and we aren't fearless like they were. My interpretation of these “retrospective” exercises aside, they generally have one thing in common that I think most who have seen them could agree on; the idea that “this generation” “changed the world” “made it better” and “broke down walls/barriers” or “trailblazed”. And they also, in mythologizing themselves in the minds of a considerable percentage of people/consumers within their age cohort, created potentially lucrative marketing oppurtunities for sellers and advertisers.

The interesting thing is that despite my cynicism, I believe much of this language applies to a certain generation, if you want to call it that today, in 2011. I would rather not, because it is just an age group we are talking about here, and obviously we can't paint them all with the same brush. But for convenience sake, we will go with that term. This generation is driving their causes with such force and pushing their beliefs with such certainty that I can't helped but feel overwhelmed by their dominance. Most would agree that we really are living in historically significant times. Everything really is “different” and “unprecedented”. And there is a generation that is seizing the oppurtunity, not to “redefine” everything like the narrative goes, but to “re-postpone” everything. Ladies and gentleman, I present to you: Generation Head In The Sand

What we have witnessed is, possibly for the “first time in history” is an “offensive” and “belligerent” “disrespectful” group of “punks”. What is different and unprecedented is that the new “dominant” generation is not young but middle aged, not modest but priveleged, and are not acting that way necessarily towards others as much as they are to the world, evolving and bringing it not forward but backward to the defunct and bankrupt status quo they are clinging so dearly and pathetically to. To give some recent background historical context, the prise de conscience or widespread awareness of the unsustainability of the current heavily resource-dependent, emission-producing, wealth-consolidating for few rotten-assed system that evolved over time happened, I would say, around 2006 or 2007. The economic collapse of the mountain of debt and fraud that the U.S. Economy was (is still) based on between Jan-October 2008 created a flurry of concern among certain governments. Fearful of letting the consequences of a free-market failure ultimately be felt, they proceeded to bail out the people who caused the mess in the first place rather than letting them hang out to dry to expose them for the fraudsters and manipulators they were and are. This alone was too bogus, so sensing the unease and awareness of the population they also promised decisive action. Hence there was a lot of talk in late 2008 and through 2009 of “cap and trade”, “carbon tax”, “green collar jobs”, “reducing emissions”, “targets”, all innovative ideas that accompanied a lot of idealistic language about how it was critical now more than ever to act, to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and the cherry on the ultra-cheesy cheesecake, to preserve and steward the earth for future generations.

The problem with all of this, in hindsight, was that it did not explain the scope of the problem nor did it provide any irreversible concrete steps/measures that all members of the population would be required to take to alleviate a problem. Since the problem is one which affects all residents of Earth, any solution would ostensibly have to apply to everybody. The truth was, measures were poorly explained, scantly applied, and the generation, the old generation, head in the sand, was much bigger and much more dominant than the younger one who seem to understand the problem better, and waited in the wings to strike back with fury. The “muddy middle” of middle incomes, mild conservative media massaged-politics, and a full range of the comfy accoutrements of civilization in their possession, have now been presented with political vehicles that tell them what any spoiled children (what the game-changing generations of the past tended to be dismissed as, ironically enough) would want to hear. That they won't ever need to make any sacrifices, suffer the smallest setback, or part with any of their disposable income ever again. The environmental movement is a big bad hypocritical monster and if their sustainability grades are atrocious, its the stupid teacher's fault, not theirs There was, after all, a challenge being made to this generations hegemony, and to its credit it fought back with the best organized, best funded counter-assault on its lifestyle and comforts that it had never gone without. 2010 was the year this happened in North America. The electorates of America, Vaughan, and Toronto have spoken, and the message has been clear. We are in denial, we refuse to do anything other than expand our harmful activities, and in spite of overwhelming evidence, we know that we still command the greatest amount of people because we have no shame in telling them that they can just keep doing what they're doing, that they can have their cake and eat it too.

So it is thus we now find ourselves in 2011, squarely under the thumbs of people who think burning more gasoline, producing more lithium batteries, and manufacturing more plastic bags are the key to humanity's success, precisely 5 years after such people were being put on the defensive for the first time ever. How did this happen? While, to change their minds we will need to market to them. There is an enormous oppurtunity being provided by the earth, which continues to get sicker and show more and more visible signs that it is burning and dying. We can guarantee that will continue, by giving this generation exactly what it wants. In fact, we don't need to give it anything. It is going to vote for who it wants (those who tell it what it wants to hear), which it already has, but it is not going to get what it wants. The only way we are going to make it learn is how we make a kid learn, the hard way, from its own mistakes.

If we can say the Beatles and the Summer of Love paved the way for eventual widespread acceptance of common law partnerships, homosexuality, and transformed recreational drug use from a subservice counterculture act to an almost obligatory bourgeois rite of passage, then I guess that was the accomplishment of the “sixties”. If nihilism in the form of pink hair and studded leather taught us to not be afraid to go further and say fuck everything 10 years later, then I'm grateful to John Lydon. If it took five heroin junkies with loud guitars, smokes, and whisky to remind everyone else how ridiculous they looked trying to out-make up and out-hairspray and out-synthesizer-wank each other, then I concede Guns N' Roses had an important generational role to play.

Which brings us to our current generation, who are taking actions where it matters to challenge the unique problems of today: At the mall and at the ballot box. The conservatives will win a majority in Canada this year, and then will have carte blanche to subsidize the Mackenzie pipeline and the oil sands, bleeding what's left of the country's treasury that hasn't already been blown on prisons, jets, and corporate tax cuts dry. Tim the tool man Hudak might even get in here in Ontario, which means a much needed highway from Hamilton to Niagara and open season on the undeveloped North's mines, gas, water, wood, or whatever the hell else they can find to give away to multinationals. Rob Ford will pitch in by turning Toronto into LA: Snow Edition as fast he can. Now that entirely car dependent city is a town that's going places!

Meanwhile, Mama Grizzly Sarah and her fascist friends at Fox will continue to put our Southern neighbour's fascist revolution on the fast track to the dream America. An America that is already importing 60% of its 30 million barrels of crude a day with 100% borrowed money today. No worries, Sarah and friends will “slash taxes and get the economy going” and start wars with Iran, Russia, North Korea, and Venezuela. You don't mess with a pitbull or barracuda or tarantula or whatever the f**** she calls herself these days.

In the wake of this weeks events in Arizona and the increasingly insane American far right, you might smugly write off my putting Jack Mintz and the Ontario opposition leader in the same boat. But read their statements. Listen to their logic. Oil goes into cars which drives economy. Simple. Business as usual. The same suicidal logic the Tea Party are clinging to, except they are less shy about liking God and guns. And I could care less about those issues. Frankly, it comes down to the most important issue of all at the end of the day: Earth

My patience must be showing in my language to be wearing exceptionally thin. And how could it not be% It is not so much at these individuals themselves, who lord knows are about as cryptic beings as ever existed, getting shuffled around in black SUV convoys and refusing to answer any questions or make any comments in settings they don't control or under conditions they don't dictate. It is at the media who fawns over them and depicts them as mystic all-powerful sages, simply because they know they hold keys to significant portions of the electorate.

So if this generation wants it, they will get it. Better that they end up with egg on their face than the wishy washy folks we've still got hanging by their fingernails in a few places. To hell with it. Let all levels of government in all of North America go extreme right. Either way, I have to watch smart ass generation Head in The Sand, double my age, learn the hard way. They are literally begging with their choices for

-Much higher unemployment
-Higher taxes and/or national bankruptcy
-Much higher gas, coal, and uranium prices
-Poisoned environments from toxic chemicals
-Resource shortages and resource wars
-Even worse gridlock
-Decreased public safety and increased crime
-The elites/super-rich/public service cartels to jealously monopolize what little wealth will be left to be had.
-And of course, more heat and natural disaster

Margaret Wente made a smarmy observation in June or around Copenhagen, I can't remember, that if you constantly invoke the spectre of doom and collapse people will fatigue and stop taking you seriously and get on with their lives. If only the Earth took her childish logic as seriously as her readers and generation head in the sand do.

***Busy News Week in the First part of 2011. Let's hope Southern Sudan gains independence and tells its Arab slave owners in the North and their war-criminal president, Omar El-Bashir, to f**** off!

***Much has been made of the terrible shooting in Arizona and its relation to the state of affairs in the U.S. Of A.
I hope congresswoman Giffords recovers and I suggest you read John Doyle or Kunstler's postings (on my roll) today if you need help making it sense of it. I know they helped me.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Stephen Harper's Terminator Cultural Revolution

For the first few years of his prime ministership, Stephen Harper was often described by political observers as obsessive, vindictive, megalomaniacal, controlling, partisan, and petty.  I have to say that when I judged him by his actions for myself, I tended to agree with them during those years
In 2010, possibly due in part to the departure of the hyper neo-con chief of staff and former Harris crony Guy Giorno, or just as possibly due to Steve's realisation (the man is not, after all, a total tin-eared idiot) that his venom filled sorties rallied more people against him than there already were and were preventing him from expanding his appeal (stuck at 30-35% support among the 55-60% of citizens who vote, political situation now entering its fifth year.  Gee, you think?), he seems to have calmed down and shut up.  Positive traits used by the media sympathetic to the prime minister to describe him in the past have included strategic thinker, brilliant strategist, and person who thinks non stop about strategy.  But thundering popularity is not one of them.
Yet how does one reconcile this observation with the PM's noticeable toning down this year, in the form of long absences and silences? The man whose position arguably gives him the most consistently high public profile in Canada has been rarely mentioned, if not missing in action, in the media for months.  Probably because he senses that people don't really care about him as a leader or a person, and he certainly doesn't care about them. The result, I sense, is a mutual antipathy that makes the Canadian government no longer a source for leadership, inspiration, and definitely not vision, but rather an EI cheque producing, tax refund producing, military funding machine with endlessly churning gears.  These are about the only substantial things the government does; the photo-ops and public statements are all just bullshit, the keeping up of appearance filler to pander to the masses of what they think they want to hear.  I suspect also that the sudden lack, or comparative drying up compared to 2006-2009, of writing on the PM and federal scene is because the commentary-editorial section of the media can only navel gaze for so many hundred columns over what strategy the elusive and enigmatic man will pull next to achieve his ultimate goal of completely shutting down this democracy for at least five years. The man has done literally nothing in at least two years other than play coy about a majority, and other than the pathetic and persistent hero-worship Maclean's showers on him, the mainstream media outlets have not been shy about pointing that out.  His party's initiatives - Senate reform, national securities regulator, prisons, military procurement, and abolishing the gun registry, have all been killed or delayed multiple times by prorogation, blocked by the opposition using the shards that remain of our democracy, or sent to court for being outside their mandate and/or just unconstitutional,
So, in his obsessive and now immortalized quest for a majority, Sir Harpalot believes he has now pulled the sword from the stone that will allow him to slay a divided and struggling-to-stay relevant opposition.  The sword is called taking direct credit for dubious accomplishments, and has Olympics-G20-Queens Visit-Economy engraved across its blade.  I'm serious.  For the entire year of 2010 I literally heard nothing from this man except tightly scripted feelgood soundbites on what resounding successes these four things were, pronounced as though they vindicated the man and his government, and raised them to such a morally high plane that he no longer had any need to address any questions or concerns, not that he did before, and he had nothing else to say that was not a personal pat on the back, to Steve from Steve.  To which my response was, and is: Huh?

The Olympics were almost a year ago; the best players in the NHL won a gold medal and approximately eight billion shitty red mittens that were made in china were sold.  Can you remind me what was so special about that again?  The G20 was a legal and financial disaster, just like the only other time in Canadian history habeus corpus was suspended by a politician.  Why exactly do they have that power again?  I'm pretty sure we never agreed to give it to them  and I'm 100% certain we need to remove whatever mechanism or pretext they use it with.  Moving on, how does an octogenarian is a veiled seafoam green hat and matching outfit waving her white gloved hand represent an achievement for his government or this country?  And finally, as I've written in this space before, what sort of day to day involvement can his government claim to have in an "economy" they are so proud to "run" and "manage"?  Seems to me the economy runs like it does regardless of what they perceive themselves to be doing, and if the only actions of theirs that come to my mind, which are greasing the gears of a real estate bubble, piling on hundreds of billions of dollars onto the country's debt, and  shovelling much of that to bay street through the bOc constitute "economic management", then I guess I will have to concede them that one point.  These announcements, however, typically invite one reaction and one reaction only in the average working person who is not a true blue-C believer, which a friend of mine and reader summed up perfectly: "Wow, is he the one who is completely out of touch, or am I the one who is completely out of touch?"

Well, the truth is in today's world, one is never really "out of touch".  There is an infinite and growing amount of quality programming and content out there that makes you think.  Gives pause for reflection and in the end, perspective.  What I am referring to is an excellent and quite moving interview I listened to today on Eleanor Wachtel's podcast that she did with Anchee Min, on my way home after writing most of what you just read.  I highly recommend you listen to it, because any summary I try to make will not do it any justice, but Jesus I have to say this.  People in Mao's China were starving, had TB, and this poor woman, after developing a portobello mushroom sized callous on her shoulder from working in a labour camp and tapeworms from eating out of the garbage, escaped to America after she was cast in a propaganda film but then had a regime change, Mao's death in '76, make things complicated for her.  The logic ditch that people fall into when they consider such facts, when they acquire conscience of the truly miserable and rotten lives people have been and are forced to lead all across the globe today and in recent history, is having things "put into perspective".  We would never allow people to be brutalized and mistreated in those inhumane ways of China's cultural revolution in this country, we say.  Maybe we haven't (except for those Japanese internment camps and that boatload of eastern European Jews that we sent back to Europe in mid full-swing holocaust), at least in recent memory, and that is where the dangerous trap of complacence and self-confidence set in.  People with legitimate concerns about their cities, provinces, country and Earth in Canada are drowned out by the wall of voices shouting that we have created the greatest, safest, most prosperous place on Earth because we are doing exactly what we are doing, and to hell already with all these doom and gloomers, bleeding hearts, and naysayers who say otherwise.

But in the form of future inevitable outcomes, the plug will be pulled on this charade.  Old grandpapa Harp isn't going to get to play Santa anymore when the fossil fuel plug gets pulled on his and all of our asses simultaneously.  This will happen through either shortages or unreliable supply/price spikes (already happening), inevitable basic math that none of the insipid fifty-something males who run North America care to acknowledge in public.  His government's environmental ministry and record, whose sole activity thus far has consisted of defending and accommodating oil and mining companies, two hours commuters and 10,000 square foot dwellers, is proof of the fact that like a sadistic dictator who cannot see his own twisted logic and folly, he is taking us 360 degrees away from the direction in which we need to be progressing, powering down and sane living conditions.  Oh sure, his series of stooge environment ministers have all affirmed that our country will be fossil fuel free by 2050.  Let me get my megaphone out:  "HEY, DIPSHITS! I'M GOING TO BE 67 YEARS OLD IN 2050.  YOU'RE ALL GOING TO BE DEAD.  HOW ABOUT SOME ACTION NOW, EH, INSTEAD OF PASSING THE BUCK?!  YOU'RE NOT EXACTLY PUTTING YOURSELVES ON THE PATH TO GO DOWN IN HISTORY AS HEROES"

We are, I'm sorry to disrespect Anshee by taking the North America that has been lucky enough up until now to provide her with the means to escape from her horrible life under Mao to task, going to be experiencing some of the bullshit that other parts of the world have been experiencing for a long time, and its not going to be pretty.  Especially when you are dealing with a population 5 generations deep that considers itself entitled to endlessly rising standards of living and sleeps comfortably on a mental bedrock of government entitlements and "growth".  The set-up has been made for a new kind of famine, in the midst of a new cultural revolution.  It is the continual wilful daily ignoring of this reality that assures it.  And what is causing the ignorance?  Machines.

Yes, my friends.  The rise of the machines.  Like terminator.  But the Cameron franchise missed the mark, I'm afraid.  We are not nor are we going to be at the mercy of growling robots laying the smackdown.  We are distracted to death by gadgets which do not replace others, but simply add to the noise now reaching fever pitch.  Good luck starting that revolution, when you have to get the attention of 10 billion eyes texting, reading Tiger Woods' twitter feed, checking their facebooks, ipads, BBM, and still finding time to watch more hours of TV than ever before of shows more awful than anything on record.  How many seasons has Dancing with the Stars been on the air?  Once serious channels like A&E and TLC are now relegated to total shamelessness with their Dog the Bounty Hunter and Say Yes To The Dress marathons.  Yes, you are free to ignore it, but who does?  I think the connection to this crap enjoying such success while the world burns around us and our smug, self satisfied 51 year old leader doing and saying jack shit about any of it makes him a terminator for our time, and his unwillingness to use his pulpit to at least try to make a wake-up call may end up making him look as bad as Mao or someone of equal stature down the road.