October 19, 2017

Tax cuts are elites abandoning stewardship over society; Will commoners abandon acquiescence to elite rule?

Now that the same ol' Republican BS about cutting taxes is rearing its ugly head again, we're hearing the same ol' griping about how it's only fair to cut their taxes since they pay the vast majority of the tax revenues. The apology goes that, It's impossible to "cut taxes" without making it a yuge boon to the very wealthy, and of minimal impact for the working class.

But that assumes that the main goal is to lower taxes, and that the inequality aspects are incidental, which nobody believes. Everyone knows the goal is to make the rich richer, whether or not that benefits the middle class, and even if it won't benefit the working class at all.

By now the mask is off: the elites of our society refuse to provide for our protection and prosperity, i.e. to fund the government that provides these large-scale public goods, whether directly or indirectly by establishing the rule of law, regulations (especially over economics), and so on.

The Pentagon still refuses to defend our southern border, or any of our borders for that matter. They turned a blind eye to obvious terrorists who were training on our soil (Florida, run by Jeb Bush at the time) to blow us up on 9/11, and they have refused to exact the slightest revenge against Saudi Arabia, the nation that attacked us and that continues to be the #1 exporter of radical Islamic ideology (Wahhabism). They instead took us on a pointless and ruinous war in Iraq and Afghanistan, who did not attack us.

Our military elites do not want tax revenues to go toward protecting the American people, but toward trying to (and always failing at) extending the empire's borders abroad. The American people couldn't give less of a shit about whether or not we are in control of Afghanistan, but to the brass at the Pentagon, that is a very big deal -- another piece on the chessboard that they may come into possession of.

On the Democrat side, Wall Street still refuses to use banking as a means of building and sustaining the American economic ecosystem. As far as stockholders are concerned, America is only good for corporate headquarters and the executives who run them. Actual productive activity may take place in a foreign nation, or at best in a domestic setting but with an immigrant workforce that works for pennies on the American worker's dollar. That's putting aside that so much of the banks' activity is speculation -- gambling -- rather than productive.

Given our elites' clear contempt for the notion that they have a duty to protect us and help us prosper, it comes as no surprise to see them clamoring for paying even less for such projects than they already are.

Besides, cutting taxes won't dry up their funding for the elite-benefiting bubbles -- they'll just borrow another trillion from China in order to bail out Goldman Sachs or wage war in Afghanistan. Some future group of suckers down the line will pick up the tab for today's elite debtors, or maybe the country will default and suffer a massive credit penalty -- borne by those future suckers, not today's charge-a-holic elites.

No society has had the elites disconnected from the common people for very long. In pre-industrial, pre-democracy times, the elites provided protection by raising standing armies to defend against invaders, personally leading the charge into battle, and so on. They provided the land to live on and to raise food up out of for commoners, albeit with a decent chunk of that food going to the landlords and other elites.

This big chunk going to elites would not materialize without the participation of the masses in a stratified large-scale economy. The elites owe their elite status to the cooperation of the commoners. If the elites only relied on themselves, they would be dirt-poor commoners, too, with no status. A tiny number of people cannot produce what is needed for massive wealth and power. It is their connection to, and reliance on the labor of, their far more numerous subjects.

In return for propping up the elites, the commoners enjoyed a certain measure of protection and prosperity.

Otherwise, why would the vast majority tolerate elite rule? They could simply encircle the elites with their sheer numbers, march them up to the guillotines, and then that's that for the elites. They only go along with elite rule because they're getting enough out of it, enough to stay safe and to earn enough of a living to support their family. The relationship is normally one of symbiosis.

But once the elites begin to hold back on protection and prosperity, they become a big fat parasite on the poor host. Then it becomes only a matter of time before the host tries, by more and more desperate measures, to excise the parasite and begin healing.

Today's elites are so insulated by their constant in-fighting and hyper-competitiveness against one another, that they don't realize how despised they have become by the common people. And once that trust is lost, by continued abdication of their elite duties, it becomes impossible to win it back with just words and promises. They will settle for nothing short of a purge of the elites and a whole new group of leaders, a whole new vision of how society ought to work, and a whole new attitude toward their subjects.

That's why they elected the guy who campaigned against the "rigged system," who expressed frustration with both parties of leadership, and who promised to "drain the swamp" in the nation's capital.

The elites have responded by taking the people's ambassador hostage and running society exactly the way it has been run for the past 40 years. Draining the swamp is not happening (not just at a slower pace than we'd want, but the re-growth of the swamp), the nationalist project has been halted for the time being by the purge of Trump supporters in the national security apparatus, and it still remains to be seen if the populist themes will get any real action like gutting NAFTA and slamming 35% tariffs on corporations who fire Americans in search of cheap labor abroad.

Trump is only one man, with few supporters inside the government or elite factions, and who as a total outsider came into the White House with zero political capital. So we must blame the elites for all of the bad things that are still getting worse. And most people do. They see who the real problem is -- not Trump, but the GOP Congress, its donors like the Koch brothers, and its elite factions like agriculture and the military who insist on cheap labor and open-borders multiculturalism (which empires necessarily are).

The fact that the Republican Party could be pushing the biggest tax cuts for the rich in world history, during at time of populist rebellion among their own party's most hardcore voters, just goes to show how suicidal the party is. It may be beyond redemption at this point, to be replaced by a new second party -- not a permanent third party, but a new second party. It's only happened once before, but that too was during a climate of literal civil war. Maybe it's going to happen again.

Trump re-election theme: "The Republican party -- forget about it, it's dead, it's gonezo. We're going to repeal and replace the Republican Party -- and we're going to get much better policies!"

The Democrats are bound to hang on and ride this whole thing out. People thought after the election that it was the Democrats who were dead, and the Republicans who had become invincible and immortal. Wrong. The Republicans are still hell-bent on suicide, while the Democrats are at least adapting to the new climate. They're not as shrill about identity politics, framing their arguments against Trump / GOP as battling elitists, rather than racists or sexists or homophobes.

To reiterate: the Dems are going to ride it out rather than exploit Republican weakness to triumph like never before. Democrat voters are not as angry with their own party, and do not want to burn it all down like the Republican voters do to their own. That's because Democrats actually deliver for their voters, even if it's just bread crumbs -- better than absolutely nothing.

In this context, there's a big role for Rust Belt Trump voters to play in getting the Democrats to deliver more substantially on their issues that overlap with the populist agenda. "We voted for Trump, so if you want us to vote Democrat for House or Senate, you'd better propose a soak-the-rich tax policy." Otherwise, the Democrats can kiss Trump voters good-bye.

Obviously the Democrats' framing would not be "soak the rich" as though they were victims, but as making the elites give back to the commoners who are the basis for the elites' wealth and power. Otherwise we're going to see wild mobs chopping off heads in order to free themselves of the parasites, and nobody wants the war to escalate that far. They can frame themselves as the calm reasonable mediators between the two classes, and the Republicans as the "let them eat cake" party -- not a hard thing to do, since that's exactly how they're behaving, even after their own voters told them "populism or death".

While the Democrats peel off the populist half of the current zeitgeist, the new second party will peel off the nationalist half. The main faultline in the GOP today is insurgent nationalism vs. Establishment globalism. And since the GOP is already more of the elitist party on economics, they have nothing to offer the populist-nationalist movement.

After peeling off their specialty area, they have to not be so crazy on the other area, which is hard in such a polarized partisan climate. Democrats must say, "Yeah, we're open to closing the borders -- on the condition that American workers get more unionized." And the new second party must say, "Yeah, we're open to single-payer healthcare -- on the condition that only American citizens get access."

In the meantime, keep burning down the worthless, globalist-elitist GOP.

October 14, 2017

Is dystopia bright, lush, & harmonious or dark, bleak, & fractured?

The Blade Runner sequel may not live up to the visuals of the original from 1982, but that's not because they didn't try. The original was one of the first to establish the visual code for dystopian environments that remains to this day -- dark, bleak, and socially fractured.

Original director Ridley Scott laid the foundations for this aesthetic a few years earlier in Alien, although that movie did not rely on a fragmented social atmosphere; all the characters knew and trusted one another, and were part of an organized team.

Mad Max, also from a few years earlier, had the bleak and fractured atmosphere, but not dark.

It was Escape From New York and Blade Runner in the early '80s that really cemented the contemporary look-and-feel of dystopian environments. That continued through The Terminator, RoboCop, Total Recall, right up to today's re-boots and sequels like Tron: Legacy and Blade Runner 2049.

What did dystopia look like before Alien and Blade Runner? Bright rather than dark, lush vibrant and life-supporting rather than barren decaying and life-sapping, and suffering from an excess of social harmony rather than an excess of everyone looking out for Number One.

Here is a whirlwind tour through dystopian environments circa the 1970s:

Star Trek, 1968

Planet of the Apes, 1968

2001: A Space Odyssey, 1969

A Clockwork Orange, 1971

Zardoz, 1974

The Stepford Wives, 1975

Logan's Run, 1976

Logan's Run

The brightness is self-evident, and so is the lush and thriving state of nature -- or if it takes place in an urban setting, the clean orderly and well-maintained structures as opposed to more contemporary urban scenes of filthy crumbling ruins.

You might object that the social atmosphere was still atomized back then -- it would seem to contradict the premise of it being a dystopia if everyone got along happily. But it was the source of atomization that differed -- back then, the creators of these scenes pushed the idea that individuals lost their authentic connections to one another by mindlessly following the herd, going through social rituals whether each individual wanted to or not, and in general having social harmony enforced and regulated by some higher council rather than organically emerging from relations that were freely entered into by the individuals concerned.

In short, they were the libertarians' view of dystopia, where some council had gone too far in enforcing social harmony. Pushing these scenes as nightmarish came right as Western societies were moving out of the Great Compression, where the mindset was reining in your individual ambitions in order to maximize harmony, and into the New Gilded Age, where the mindset is letting individuals do whatever they want, whether or not that destabilized the larger groups that these egocentrists belong to.

The Seventies was the time of the Me Generation -- the Silents and the emerging Boomers who had grown up under Midcentury conformity, taken social harmony for granted, and begun to "liberate" their individual desires in ways that would break down social bonds and societal cohesion. The dystopias from the tail end of the Great Compression reflect that bristling at a moral order that they viewed as "conformity uber alles".

It did not take very long to see where this re-birth of the laissez-faire moral order would lead to -- a new Gilded Age, a new inequality, and a new ethos of Social Darwinism to rationalize the new material conditions.

If everyone is looking out for Number One, group-level structures will crumble as public goods are no longer paid for or maintained, and individuals will become isolated from one another due to the "use or be used" morality. As stewardship vanishes, so will environmental conservation and maintenance -- there goes all that lush and vibrant greenery.

The darkness not only suggests the hopelessness of a dog-eat-dog world, it heightens the sense of nobody is supervising what anyone is doing, as the very first step toward any degree of social regulation. If anyone gets to do anything they want, it is as if they are all acting under the cloak of night.

Contrast that with the libertarians' view of dystopia, where the overly bright spaces give an almost painful sense of being supervised under the spotlight of a council in charge of a Panopticon. You would feel more obligated to rein in your selfish tendencies if you felt you were being watched so powerfully by a group of norm-enforcers.

The sole exception that comes to mind of post-'70s dystopias is Demolition Man from 1993, which juxtaposes both sets of environments -- the bright lush overworld where councils go too far in enforcing harmony and prosperity, and the dark decaying underworld where urchins do their own thing in atomized poverty.

Of course the intended message from the creators was that the well-fed and bubble-wrapped dwellers of the overworld were cruelly oppressing the starving and vulnerable denizens of the underworld. But it can be just as easily understood the other way around -- that their own choice of moral framework determines the material conditions of the two worlds, not that one is imposing its will upon the other. You can either choose to rein in individual desires and be prosperous and safe, or you can choose to let people do whatever feels good and be poor and vulnerable.

Although not the intended message, this movie still shows a deeper awareness of the trade-off than the dystopias of the Seventies, where the bright lush harmonious world was uniformly loathsome and oppressive. They believed that a society could have both the prosperous and safe world of the Midcentury, while also allowing individuals to liberate their desires. They were libertarian utopians who denied the inherent trade-off between liberty and prosperity.

Later entries of Me Gen libertarianism at least admitted that the two conflicted, and that they would choose liberty over prosperity anyway. Here's the classic Dennis Leary rant from the underworld of Demolition Man, where he concedes that doing whatever you feel like at any given moment means choosing an environment where you "maybe starve to death":

Generally speaking, though, the contemporary dystopias have come not from apologists for laissez-faire but from Me Gen members who did not cast their vote for "do whatever" along with their cohorts back in the Seventies. Ridley Scott, John Carpenter, David Lynch, Paul Verhoeven.

They have more of an anti-yuppie attitude and long for a world with more order rather than more chaos, as exciting as chaos can sometimes be, because they value the group's well-being over the sum total of hedonism over all individuals. They come off more as New Deal Democrats than Reagan Republicans or Clintonian neoliberals. And whether they would admit it or not, they would agree more with the vision of how the world looks as delivered by Trump-the-candidate and Lou Dobbs than by Crooked Hillary and Rachel Maddow (being liberals, they would probably agree most with the view delivered by Bernie).

A future post will look at Surrealism, which shares a lot with the Seventies dystopias and also hailed from the Great Compression.

October 13, 2017

Less popular outrage over victims of Dems b/c they're more likely white-collar

It's only natural that the media would collectively do damage control for one of their own, as when Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein is publicly revealed to be a serial sexual exploiter, and perhaps serial rapist.

But why isn't there more on the demand side for coverage of these practices in a major industry? All it would take would be a few journalists at a few outlets with even a few sources coming forward to break the propaganda cartel and meet that pent-up demand.

Even if more big-wigs in the media are outed and shamed for Weinsteinian exploitation -- whether in Hollywood or in the New York / DC media -- I still don't sense that much outrage at the popular level.

Contrast that with the revelations about similar longstanding patterns of sexual abuse by the Catholic church, the Boy Scouts, or public schools where adults prey on children.

The main difference seems to be that the victims in Hollywood are generally members of the elite -- and that their sexual exploitation was part of their induction into the Hollywood economy. If they want the roles, they have to let some disgusting slug have his way with them. If they don't want the roles, they can turn him down.

Now these aren't everyday blue-collar roles in the Hollywood economy that they're getting -- these roles will catapult them into elite status and wealth.

Most observers are going to see this kind of casting-couch exploitation as the actors and actresses sleeping their way into a job, or into a promotion, which nets them millions of dollars in wealth, as well as national and even international fame.

If, on the other hand, they had to sleep with some disgusting creep just to get a cashier's job in retail, or had to tolerate some fat hairy ugly boss feeling them up in the stock room, that would strike most people as real degradation and slavery. They're working class, they get very little out of it, and they don't have sustainable alternatives -- unlike actors and actresses who could make a decent living outside the entertainment or media industry.

The same goes for child victims -- now that would really nuke Hollywood, if the pedophile rings are finally outed and their ringleaders shamed. That is not consensual, not a calculated move to advance their wealth and status in exchange for degrading treatment, and not a career move they made instead of a number of well-paying alternatives (children can only make money by being in entertainment, not by being professionals or managers or stock market gamblers).

I addressed this in an earlier post about prosecuting pedophiles in order to delegitimize Hollywood. The casting-couch stories are not going to wreck Hollywood's moral credibility. Those reports mainly resonate with people who face similar pressures if they want more wealth and status -- other white-collar workers in the media / entertainment industry, and at most white-collars in general.

That might lead to a movement among media workers to seek better working conditions, like not having to let some slithering reptile touch you in order to get the job. But will it lead to a broader outcry from the public and fuel the anti-liberal side of the culture war? Not really.

The anti-pedophile stuff would, though, and that's why the media is far more dogged in doing damage control over that kind of sexual exploitation. A related post is only four months old, yet the offending tweet from a Breitbart reporter and the video clip embedded in it have already been removed from Twitter. They showed Al Franken at a roast of Rob Reiner, telling a story about Rob being molested as a baby and turned out by his well-connected Hollywood father, which was likely an outing in disguise of Rob himself as a serial pedophile in Hollywood.

But it's not just Hollywood that gets a pass for exploiting aspiring or actual members of the elite. Wall Street took rich people for a ride, yet nobody cares about Bernie Madoff's victims because they were just rich scum looking for a get-rich-quick scheme and got burned by the only type of person who would sell them such a scheme, namely a con man.

Silicon Valley replaces American computer coders with cheap foreign workers, either over in India or by bringing Indians here. Yet there is little popular outrage like there is about the decline of manufacturing in the Rust Belt. Again, the coders in Silicon Valley were more elite, and factory workers in Michigan and North Carolina more blue-collar.

This all traces back to the fundamental split between the Democrat and Republican parties, where the Democrats represent the power factions that are more cerebral, digital, and easily scale-able, while the Republicans represent the power factions that are more physical, labor-intensive, and less scale-able. These are differences at the material level -- how they develop their wealth and power -- and not at the ideological level.

Democrat industries scale up easily and are not labor-intensive, so their workers tend to be more elite. Republican industries are more physically rooted, so their workers will be some elite but mostly working-class (fruit pickers and ranch hands, policemen and soldiers, oil and mine workers, stock boys and cashiers at Walmart and McDonalds, and so on).

By their very nature, these two sets of industries are not equal when it comes to portraying their workers as being exploited. White-collar professionals who have to submit to casting-couch hiring practices are not as sympathetic as blue-collar workers slaving away at physically taxing labor.

Some culture warriors will try to score points asking "Where are all the feminists coming out against Harvey Weinstein and Hollywood?" But more to the point, where are all the women among the general public coming out in anger over how Hollywood actresses are treated?

This should be yet another reminder that gender plays little role compared to class, when it comes to collective behavior. As disgusting as Weinstein's behavior is, most women cannot put themselves in the place of Hollywood actresses who make millions of dollars and global fame on the other side of that revolting exploitation.

But some child who gets inappropriately touched or otherwise taken advantage of -- that's something that transcends class and gender. Working-class women would have no trouble relating to those kinds of crimes, and would threaten to destroy Hollywood if it came out that so much of the upper crust there have been serial pedophiles who have twisted and ruined people's lives before they even got started in adulthood.

The real culture war against Hollywood must target those kinds of crimes, which are far more heinous and would resonate with a far broader audience, and not the casting-couch practices that are less offensive and even then primarily to white-collar women.

Ditto for taking on Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and higher education -- expose their exploitation of naive and innocent young people, and they will have zero moral authority left. Not just sexual abuse of their workers, but financial exploitation of youngster consumers who don't understand how the world works.

October 9, 2017

Good news on immigration: Deportations up within interior of country

Finally some hard numbers via WaPo on the rising deportations from within the interior of the country -- AKA real deportations, not fake ones done by turning people back at the border.

From Jan. 22 to Sept. 9, officials deported nearly 54,000 immigrants from the interior, a 34 percent increase over the same period last year, and said that they expect the numbers to climb.

Total deportations during that period were about 143K, so real ones make up nearly 40%.

When they say they expect the "numbers" to climb, that means the count of those deported -- how could it not, as time goes on? Otherwise they mean the percent increase compared to Obama -- if it rose to a 45% or 55% increase or something, rather than 35%.

Other immigrations trends point in the other direction -- a narrowing of the difference compared to Obama over the last half year, since the Pentagon coup in April.

During the first several months of the administration, illegal border crossings were down 60-70%, but have doubled since April, so that whole period is only down 25%. That's still good news, but not the mind-blowing numbers from the early months, before the Establishment hijacking and purge of Trump supporters.

And that good news will only last a little while, as the Establishment stamps out even more of the Trumpists, and as the scare effect wears off in the minds of immigrants.

I expect the same month-by-month picture for real deportations -- a sharp rise compared to Obama during the pre-coup months -- maybe 90-100% -- and a gradual chipping away of that ramp-up during the post-coup months -- maybe 25% -- even if that still amounts to a 35% rise over the whole period.

Extrapolating into the near term requires this month-by-month picture. If the comparison to Obama has been fairly steady over the months, then we can expect sustained good-not-great news on real deportations. If, however, the comparison to Obama started yuge and has been muted by the stability-seeking Generals, the near term projection is for smaller and smaller gains over Obama, until the status quo ante is reached.

Also, even by recent standards, 54K real deportations is small. Obama's early administration deported nearly 4 times that many per year from the interior:

For now, immigration officials said that they are forging ahead with arrests, which are up more than 40 percent this year. But they acknowledged that sanctuary cities are making it difficult to increase the number of annual deportations to past levels.

From 2008 to 2011, which included part of President Barack Obama’s first term, officials deported more than 200,000 immigrants from the interior every year.

I'm upgrading the assessment of where immigration enforcement stands from not-hopeful to maybe-hopeful -- hopeful if we see data showing a sustained or even rising break from Obama, but back to not-hopeful if the majority of the gains were concentrated in a one-off event before the Establishment hijacking, and if things have been heading back toward how they used to be. That remains to be seen.

October 1, 2017

Upbeat bouncy music peaks in 15-year cycles, last peak in 2012-13

Have you noticed how emo, angsty, and nihilistic pop music has become over the past couple years?

The new big releases by Taylor Swift ("Look What You Made Me Do") and Katy Perry ("Swish Swish") sound like crappy rap/bling "music" from the 2000s, not the high-energy anthems of five years ago. I didn't even recognize that that annoying materialistic song about "If I were you, I'd wanna be me too" was by Meghan Trainor until I looked up who sang it -- totally different attitude from her cheerful debut of three years ago (again, the new song being more in the style of the 2000s, a la "Don'tcha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?").

So I went looking through the Billboard year-end charts to see if I was crazy, and no I was not. In the hit songs of 2012 and 2013 there was a peak in tone that was cheerful, carefree, upbeat, and bouncy. I'm talking about the music more than the lyrical content. Several years before, several years after, they sound more melancholic or phlegmatic than they sound sanguine or choleric ("fiesty").

As much as I dislike music after the '80s and hardly ever write about it, even I recognized something was different around 2012-13 and gave credit where it was due. Here is a post from January '13 giving a rare shout-out to a contemporary hit, "Treasure" by Bruno Mars. As this phase was winding down by 2015, I also mentioned "Shut Up and Dance With Me" by Walk the Moon. I kinda liked "Can't Stop the Feeling" by Justin Timberlake from last year, but evidently not enough to post about it. And this year, absolutely nothing.

Going back further in time, I noticed peaks of cheerful carefree music roughly every 15 years -- the late '90s, the early-mid '80s, the late '60s, and the early-mid '50s. Boy bands reliably show up during these peaks, while girl groups usually fall during the more melancholic and nihilistic phases. This left both the 1970s and the 2000s as decades without any concentrated peaks of cheerful wholesome music. But those many periods are the topic for future posts.

For now, a brief look-back at the last peak in case you missed it. I didn't know most of the titles or artist names of these songs until I went from the Billboard chart list to YouTube videos, but I do remember hearing most or all of them. If you were outside the home at all, they were playing on every retail store's sound system. I just thought of it as "H&M music" based on where I heard it the most.

Taylor Swift, "22"

One Direction, "What Makes You Beautiful"

Paramore, "Still Into You"

Icona Pop feat. Charli XCX, "I Love It"