Thursday, March 20, 2008

The world we know

By Carl

You get the impression that there is a distinct disconnect between the real world, the world of people living in the reality of life, and what goes on in the news.

You wouldn't be far off. Exhibit A is this item from the
Associated Press:

NEW YORK (AP) -- A rise in jobless claims and a drop in a key forecasting gauge provided the latest evidence that the U.S. economy is faltering and may be slipping into recession.

The Conference Board, a business-backed research group, said Thursday that its index of leading economic indicators fell in February for the fifth consecutive month. The index, which is designed to forecast where the nation's economy is headed in the next three to six months, dipped 0.3 percent to 135.0 in February after slumping 0.4 percent the month before.

In Washington, meanwhile, the Labor Department said that applications for unemployment benefits totaled 378,000 last week. That was an increase of 22,000 from the previous week and the highest level in nearly two months.

The four-week average for new claims rose to 365,250, which was the highest level since a flood of claims caused by the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes.

That's pretty sucky news, to be sure. Those are leading economic indicators, "leading" in this instance, meaning "forecasting".

The stock market is generally a lagging indicator, or one that confirms what we've all known all along about the economy:

In afternoon trading, the Dow Jones industrial average climbed 158.02, or 1.3 percent, to 12,257.68. Other indexes also were up.

Admittedly, this week the market has been up and down more times than a cheap date in a poolroom bar.

And despite the recent anomaly of Bear Stearns, investment banks have been losing money less rapidly than analysts expected, which has buoyed the market.

Yes, losing money is considered a positive on the Street. It doesn't matter that you've lost money. What matters is that you beat the analysts at their own game.

Kinda silly. It's a lot like the Jets losing to New England by two touchdowns, but hey, the spread was three touchdowns, so hurrah!

And there's the clue: money lives in a different world than you or I do. Money, like power, live in lofty regions that if we're lucky, we'll glimpse.

See, this is why even the debate over race v. gender, Republican v. Democrat, black v. white, even to a large degree, poor v. rich pales in my mind. None of this matters.

Indeed, about the only way it matters is that these divisions can be used by a certain stratum of society that wants us to keep fighting amongst ourselves. Maybe not every single member of that stratum -- indeed, many of these folks work for the good of the planet -- but there is a general momentum towards keeping the lid on things.

Think about this for a moment: Bill Gates has more in common with Bono of U2 than he does with Bob, the guy who mows his lawn.

Bob and he live in the same neighborhood. Bob and he breathe the same air, drive the same roads, see the same sun each day.

But who can call Gates at the drop of a hat?

I specifically used Gates and Bono, because, folks, these are the good guys! Now imagine, if Gates has so little in common with the lawn guy, what would we expect from, say, Dick Cheney?

I was tempted to use George Bush, but this elite "social order" tends to be pretty choosy as to whom they make long-term members. My suspicion is, once he's left the White House, there will be no more deals except for whatever crumbs his daddy can bestow upon him and I'm not sure Poppy is much for that anymore.

I say all this, because I wanted to make a larger point: the Internet.

See, you have more in common, right now, with someone sitting at his computer in Lahore, Pakistan or Birmingham, England, or Vladivostok, Russia, than you do with your Senator, possibly even your Congresscritter.

Re-read that. You have more in common with someone sitting at his computer in a hovel in Pakistan than you do with the guy who's supposedly voting your interests in Washington, DC.

(This dynamic is also why I firmly believe Hillary will win the nomination, since it has to go to the superdelegates: more skin in the game for her.)

And this, too, is partly why stock markets don't really feel your pain. They would rather support the guy who's firing you and paying them a higher dividend, than mourn with you.

Truthfully, looking down the road, I don't see a whole lot that we can do to turn this thing around, short of blood in the streets. We could, I suppose, start interacting with people across the ponds. That would be a good thing, of course, Information should be traded, and this would help others as well as ourselves.

Maybe in so doing, we can start to wake up to the fact that the earth and everything in it is ultimately a zero sum game. There's only one earth with limited-if-substantive resources, which means that as one person gains, another must by definition lose, or more correctly, one person, plus the earth and its resources.

David Suzuki likes to tell a story about a bacterium, placed in a beaker with all the food it could possibly want. The bacterium begins to reproduce, doubling it's population every second, so that after 60 seconds, it will have used up all its resources and the entire colony will die off.

After 59 seconds, the beaker would only be half full. At fifty eight seconds, a quarter full, and so on.

If, at fifty five seconds, one of the colony spoke up and said "Hey, we're going to die in five seconds!" the other would have laughed him off.

"How can you say that? We still have 98% of the beaker left to go!"

When we speak upwards, truth to power, we have to overcome the numbnuts in our midsts who would say something like "98%!" back to us. What we need to do is to foment the belief amongst ourselves and our peers that we have to stop this, from the ground up.

By "this", I mean the segregation of people along strata and class lines delineated by power. It's not enough that we dismantle the power structure in America anymore, the Eisenhower "military-industrial complex" is too simplistic to describe a world where the President of the United States and the head of Al Qaeda, as well as a B-list shlub blogger in New York City, all profit from the same investment firm's trough.

A fundamental change in society, and I'm not just talking political change and I'm not just talking America, is on the horizon.

A "New World Order" was a good idea, in theory, until you start to realize that the people who are putting it together are more beholden to the megacorporate entities that foot their campaigns political and military than they are to the people who they chew up and spit out in those campaigns.

Change from the bottom up, like democracy, cannot be forced on people. It has to be coaxed in order for it to be effective and it has to start with one voice, speaking to another voice. There's precious little time left, so we have to start now.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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