Condemned to repeat it


When I posited the original version of this in Sept 2014, I had just read that Bernie Sanders was not only exploring a plan to run in the 2016 presidential primaries (fine with me; hope he doesn’t expect to win) but might run for president as an independent. Fortunately this apparently was BS. Does anybody remember the outstanding results of genius self-promoter Ralph Nader’s heroic run for president?
This would have provided the impetus that we need to enable President Little Paulie Ryan, or President Ranger Rick Perry, or (God help us all) President Science Denier Marco Rubio to send the US (and likely the world) into a deep depression, potentially with the aid of two Publican houses of Congress. Who knows which of several potential Adventure Wars (TM) that the next publican War President would choose to initiate?
I’m far from thrilled with Barrack Obama (who is, after all, at bottom a Harvard Lawyer), but can we stop pretending that there is no difference between these guys and Obama, or Hillary Clinton or whoever else wins the Democratic primary? Remember what Bismark (an SOB but a very capable SOB) said: politics is the art of the possible, and it is important to not neglect what is possible now in the pursuit of what cannot be attained immediately. Do you really want to hand the Publicans, on the the eve of their collapse into demographic irrelevance, one more opportunity to squeeze whatever they can out of the country, and the opportunity to wreak havoc through many decades through judicial appointments? Want to fight another twenty year Adventure War or two, with the artificially animated head of Dick Cheney screaming that we can never leave wherever it is we’ve sent troops?

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No Pravda in Izvestia

by cborgia

I can’t help but notice that all of us, including me, can’t help taking about the ravings of Faux News as if if were an actual news organization that employed journalists, reported on real world events, investigated circumstances, sought out experts and did the things that news organizations do, only not very well and with enormous bias. That just isn’t a productive way of thinking about Fox. It is not and has never been a news organization. It does not report on real events, or offer any real analysis or background. It is entirely directed at manipulating the low end of the American gene pool for political purposes.

Fox is much more like the propaganda outlets of totalitarian states, except that it also contains a carny-flavored entertainment component aimed at the same folks who would have frequented the side show a hundred years ago. It selects ‘stories’ based on how effectively the leadership thinks it can use a distorted version to manipulate the low end Republican base. Real news organizations are interested in getting their facts right. Fox has no interest in reporting facts, except when it suits their business model: entertaining right wing dullards with a stream of made up nonsense, often with no more connection to the real world than Real Housewives, Ancient Aliens, or anything to do with the Kardashians. Remember when Obama was gong to India on a state trip accompanied by hundreds of planes and fleets of warships? There was a core of truth in those reports: Obama went to India. The rest was made up out of whole cloth, and never retracted.

An old Russian joke had it that their was little Pravda (Truth) in Izvestia (News), and no Izvestia in Pravda. There is precious little pravda in Faux Izvestia. It’s high time that we stopped buying into the notion that Fox is just the right wing end of the news media. The fifth estate has sunk to a pretty low place in the world, but Fox isn’t part of it. It is an organization devoted to making money while it manipulates the most gullible and ignorant segment of the American population.


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Do Social Security Payments Cover Benefits?


Recently I’ve seen increased reemergence of the story that Social Security benefits weren’t sufficiently funded by contributions. Because I’ve been asked by several people (here blue zen) to repost earlier calculations I described in comments in The Economist and other places, I’ll risk boring you with a description and the results. With some notable exceptions, most people have paid for their benefits with room to spare.

The meme that claims that SS payments haven’t been covered by the payments made by individuals and employers (or self employed individuals) depends on a simple fallacy. The comparison adds up the payments made over a lifetime of employment, and then compares this with the expected total payout. If you think this is reasonable, please loan me $1,000,000 interest free; my descendants will gladly repay the principal over 20 year starting around fifty years from now out of the expected ~10,000,000 or so that the money will likely earn. Of course, assuming 2% inflation the money will only be worth ~240,000 seventy years from now.

Making these comparisons requires either a present value calculation or a future value calculation. These routine procedures are essentially compound interest calculations, and are the basis for all kinds of conversions from lump sum to time distributions. The main variable in converting a stream of calculations into an equivalent present value lump sum is essentially an interest rate or rate of return. Rather than use stock market strategies to show how much money could have been amassed in a best case scenario, I used the rates of ten year T bills, a conservative approach that essentially mirrors what the government would have had to do without the SS income stream. There is an additional factor; if the government hadn’t had the SS income stream, its additional borrowing would have driven the T bill rates up. T bill rates varied by decade from 4% to ~10% during the free spending, hard borrowing Reagan eighties. 7% was typical.

The following tables show the social security tax rates during the entire life of the program, and the maximum taxable incomes. I haven’t used the medicare deduction because that pays for something else, but I have used the employee+ employer contribution to the program, roughly equivalent to the self-employed contribution. Note the very small payment made during the 30s and 40s, and modest payments made in the 50s. It is true that the early participants got good deal, and often got more out than they paid for. For thirteen years the maximum deduction was $30 per year. Now it’s aroid $14,000.

(Sorry that this table is so crooked; it is perfectly aligned in the typing box, but turns rancid when I save it. )

Year Individual
Social Sec Individual medicare Individual + employee Soc sec Self employed medicare Self employed Social Sec
1937-49 1
1950      1.5
1951-53 1.5          2.25     3
1954-56  2           3           4
1957-58  2.25     3.375    4.5
1959        2.5        3.75       5
1960-61  3          4.5          6
1962        3.125   4.7         6.25
1963-65  3.625   5.4        7.25
1966        3.85    0.35       5 .8    0.35     7.7
1967        3.9      0.5         5.9      0.5      7.8
1968       3.8      0.6          5.8      0.6     7.6
1969-70 4.2      0.6          6.3      0.6     8.4
1971-72 4.6      0.6          6.9      0.6       9.2
1973      4.85         1           7              1       9.9
1978       5.05     1             7.1            1      10.1
1979-80 5.08    1.05       7.05        1.05 10.16
1981        5.35    1.3           8            1.3    10.7
1982-83 5.4      1.3          8.05        1.3  10.8
1984       5.7       1.3        11.4          2.6   11.4
1985 a     5.7      1.35      11.4          2.7   11.4
1986-87  5.7     1.45      11.4           2.9 11.4
1988-89  6.06 1 45      12.12         2.9 12.12
1990-2015 6.2 1.45      12.4          2.9 12.4

Maximum Taxable Earnings Each Year
1937 – 50 3,000 1984 37,800 2000 76,200
1951 – 54 3,600 1985 39,600 2001 80,400
1955 – 58 4,200 1986 42,000 2002 84,900
1959 – 65 4,800 1987 43,800 2003 87,000
1966 – 67 6,600 1988 45,000 2004 87,900
1968 – 71 7,800 1989 48,000 2005 90,000
1972 9,000 1990 51,300 2006 94,200
1973 10,800 1991 53,400 2007 97,500
1974 13,200 1992 55,500 2008 102,000
1975 14,100 1993 57,600 2009 106,800
1976 15,300 1994 60,600 2010 106,800
1977 16,500 1995 61,200 2011 106,800
1978 17,700 1996 62,700 2012 110,100
1979 22,900 1997 65,400 2013 113,700
1980 25,900 1996 62,700 2012 110,100
1981 29,700 1997 65,400 2013 113,700
1982 32,400 1998 68,400 2014 117,000
1983 35,700 1999 72,600 2015 118,500

I calculated the present value for each year of contributions by compounding each year separately on the basis of the T bill rates on a per decade basis (the earning rate varied). For example, if the T bill rate is 4% that year an investment of $100 becomes $104 the next year and $108.16 year after. The total present value of the deductions is then the sum of all these contributions.

Let’s examine two cases, both retiring in 2015 at 65. Individual #1 is making 4,000 per year in the early 70s, reaches 10K in 1977 and then gradually increases his/her earnings to 30K in 1997 at age 47. Individual 1 makes 30K per year for the rest of his/her working life. The present value of the contributions is ~$321,000. The social security benefit (from the SS website calculator) is $1504/month, or 18K per year. Clearly the present value, deposited in a mattress, would pay 18K a year for almost 18 years, but it isn’t in a mattress. The government is using it. We then have to do an annuity calculation to see how long it would last. (It would be easy to buy such an annuity privately with $321,000). To do the calculation we need an investment yield rate, a COLA rate, and an initial benefit payout. I quite conservatively used 4% for the rate and 2% for the COLA; the lump sum equivalent would last nearly 22 years at this rate. Since the life expectancy of the average worker is less than 87 years, the contributions appear adequate. (AARP is flogging for-profit lifetime annuities currently with a 5.6% payout rate, yielding 18K with a survivors benefit but no COLA. The comparison between SS and some of the better private annuities (see Barron’s) depends critically on future COLAs, something that is far from certain)).

In the second case, individual 2 has a similar earning history at first, but reaches 10,000 in 1977, gradually increasing to 30,000 in 1982 and 51,300 ( the cap) in 1990. SS earnings thereafter reach 90,000 in 2005 and follow the maximum until retirement in 2015. The trajectory of individual #1 is typically working class, while #2 is professional middle class. The present value of #2’s contributions is ~$710,000. The initial payout is ~$28900 per year. The lump sum equivalent would last nearly 25 years in the mattress model, but using 4% and 2% for yield and COLA numbers we don’t exhaust the principal until year 33. Not many in that cohort will live to 98, so clearly the program was overfunded for moderately high earners. The faster the income of a retiree increased, the more overfunded the eventual benefit is.

So if the typical working stiff contributed slightly more than should be needed to fund his/her retirement, and modestly well off middle class people contributed much more than needed, did everyone collecting benefits make excess contributions? No. As mentioned earlier, people who started accumulating credits in the 30s and 40s did quite well. Because the benefits are not proportional to either deductions or preset value, low income people sometimes get more benefits than they paid for. So do survivors (often children), the disabled, and people with odd earnings histories (e.g. very low SS earnings for all but the last ten years could produce a present value of only ~$166,000 from ten years of very high earnings.) There are very few such people. Shame on us if we demand that orphans or the disabled fully fund their own benefits; shame on Congress for paying for this out a program it’s trying to kill, rather than the general tax revenues.

I hope this makes it clear what the approximate value of your contributions is in current $, and how that present value translates to what is essentially an annuity payment, hopefully with some COLA provision. I also point out these assets, often in the $500-750K range, are family assets of the middle and working class. I certainly have no intention of allowing my family to be deprived of contributions I made over the last 50 years. Nobody else should either. Don’t allow generational BS to distract you from what is essentially class warfare.

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Entropy, Race and the Future of America

by cborgia

The inevitable consequence of the empowerment of police and security organizations as a result of national cowardice is the gradual development of a police state atmosphere with all the ugly trimmings. The miserable and continuing failure of all three branches of government to safeguard our constitutional rights has bred contempt and apathy among many segments of the population (special award to the supreme court, supposedly the final guardian of the constitution and now its chief subverter). I won’t get into the effects that our national failure has on international credibility and long-term economic future. The here-and-now is terrible enough without looking far afield, or gazing down the road into a murky future.

We have allowed faux infotainment sources to define us as a nation divided into discrete camps, forever at war and with no common interest. We are certainly divided by many things (religion, political views, and what flavor ice cream we prefer). It is now popular to talk about America as a mixing bowl rather than a melting pot, but that picture only has value as a snapshot. Mixing and melting has only begun. In 1960, official U.S. census data showed that only 0.4% of marriages were interracial. In 2010, 8.4% of marriages were interracial, and over 15% of new marriages were interracial.

Once children of mixed race/ethnicity are born, there is no way to reverse the process, sort out the genes, and produce ‘pure’ decendants. Picture a glass of milk to which chocolate syrup is added. Stirring mixes them, producing a lighter brown liquid; all the additional stirring in the world won’t unmix them, because there are many more ways to have them mixed than to have them separate. This is entropy of mixing, and it applies perfectly to the mixing of genetic material. Entropy provides time with a direction, and the direction of any nation with a mixed population is a preponderance of racially mixed individuals. Get used to it.

I used to tell people that this would happen over 20-25 generations, but clearly it has speeded up. If the 15% rate of interracial marriage didn’t increase culturally, and if the remaining ‘unmixed’ pools continued to marry within themselves at an 85% rate, in 20 generations 96% of the country would be racially mixed. However, this is unlikely. Even if cultural factors remained constant, the decrease in available partners would reduce the number of marriages within each group. After 5 generations 75% of the new marriages, and hence likely births, would be interracial. After 10 generations 95% would be interracial.

This is going to happen over the course of the next century. There will be very few white and black people left. There will be a whole lot of people of different shades and tints.

Similar events have happened many times before in human history, and our genetic heritage includes contributions from Neanderthals and Denisovans. Southern Italians have significant genetic contributions from Asian and sub-Saharan African pools, and many North Americans who think of themselves as racially pure are carrying genes from unacknowledged and sometimes quite recent ancestors. We need to get over ourselves. When people walking down the street look different than you, try thinking of them as your great grandchildren’s great grandparents.

The recent wave of police violence has brought out the worst in many people, especially the police and their enablers. Their faux-military bleats on cop web sites sound more like attempts at self-justification by Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner and his mates than reasoned statements by the defenders of the peace and public safety, and are ultimately self destructive.

We do need the police; there is no question that our society is incapable of maintaining order without an armed and trained police force. They have been corrupted by too much authority, and view themselves as being the people’s keepers rather than the people’s protectors. The only people who can fix the broken police forces in a community are the residents. Demonstrations are good for making a statement, getting attention, and venting rage, but in the end what has to happen requires organization and voting. If I lived in Ferguson, I’d be organizing right now to throw out the government, replace it with a citizen’s party, disband the police force for one year, and replace it with an entirely new organization based on community protection.

That isn’t possible in New York (without the NYPD there would be war in the streets), but something radical has to be done to stop the behavior of power mad cops and their cowardly enablers, including politicians and other cops who feel they need to defend any brother officer no matter what he/she has done. The mayor has spit the bit on this, the governor is a worthless, spineless excuse for a man, and nobody has the nerve to hold the police accountable for manslaughter: the wrongful death of a human being through criminal negligence and brutality. The Garner case isn’t an isolated instance. Anybody who spends time in the city is likely to feel that since the end of the Giuliani era the police have only gotten worse, harassing people for no reason, beating and sometimes killing anybody who doesn’t bow to their whims. At least Giuliani was paying attention. Nobody seems to be on control of the police at all now.

Maybe in the coming months the idea will take shape in that in-grown toenail of an enclave, the police community, that people have had enough of them, and that in protecting the worst abusers in their ranks they put themselves at risk professionally and physically.

Maybe even some of them will come to realize that they may be abusing, or even murdering, their own great-grandchildren’s great gradparents.

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The Bush Brothers are Bank Robbers

by cborgia

The world and country stagger forward, and we wait for 2016 to see what strange beasts are shambling toward the Potomac to be born. The undead corpse of the Bush family dynasty is stirring in its crypt as Jeb attempts to convince the idiot majority that he’s not like the other Bush family members who made such a historic mess of their time in the White House.

I note that Hunter at Daily Kos and others have reminded people what a tool the supposedly moderate (compared to Ted Cruz or Ranger Rick Perry) and competent (compared to Ted Cruz or Ranger Rick Perry or his brother W) Jeb is and has been. I thought that I should remind folks, especially younger people, about some of the Bush family follies in the recent past. It isn’t necessary to go all the way back to Prescott Bush, noted grave robber and sometime business partner of Nazi financiers (…). Not even necessary to look into GH’s activities in the CIA. The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

Ironically, despite the failed Publican attempts to smear Clinton with the fake Whitewater scandal, the Bush family was at the center of a whole lot of funny business during the festivities. They weren’t alone; St. Ronnie’s deregulation and cheerleading for abuses finally blew up in GH’s face in a big way, and Publican donors were lined up at the hog trough the whole time. But most of them aren’t running for president. It seems that almost everybody in the Bush family is, at one time or another. It’s time they get sent off for good.
If you are tempted to consider them less bad than other poor choices, remember (with apologies to The Clash):

The Bush Brothers are bank robbers
They just think it’s funny
How they stole from S&Ls
And we paid back the money.

Let’s start at the beginning. George H Bush didn’t admit there was an S&L crisis until 1989. It had been covered up by the Reagan/Bush administration for eight years; they reduced the number and stringency of required S&L audits and attacked critics who tried to warn the country about the impending debacle. Early on this took the form of defending risky policies against informed critics, but by 1986 it was clear that instability in the form of unsecured debt would require a bailout. It seems that each Bush is unable to learn from the failures of the last one; certainly W learned nothing from the S&L disaster. GH covered up until after the 1988 election. He’d likely have been thrown out if the extent of the looming disaster were known.

The Bush Brothers are bank robbers
They never went to prison
Daddy was the president
That was a major reason

Actually Jeb’s brother Neil Bush very nearly went. In 1985 he was named director of the Silverado Savings and Loan at the tender age of age of 30. He bankrupted it in three years, eventually costing taxpayers $1.6 billion. Neil accepted a permanent $100,000 “loan” from Ken Good, of Good International. They were already very cozy; Good held stock in JNB Explorations, another Bush venture. Neil approved loans to Good from Silverado, who in turn used the money in joint ventures with Neil’s company, and approved Good International for a $900,000 line of credit. Eventually Good defaulted on $32 million he borrowed from Silverado.

For his sterling efforts, Good approved a big raise in Neils salary (the JNB one, not the Silverado one, of course) from $75,000 to $125,000 (this in @#$%^&* 1985!) and gave him a $22,500 bonus, more than many Americans make in a year. Somehow Neil didn’t think this was a conflict of interest.

Neil approved an even bigger set of loans to Bill Walters, another JNB crony.
Walters defaulted on $106 million dollars in debt; Neil never told anyone about their outside dealings. Charged with criminal wrongdoing, Neil eventually paid $50,000 to settle out of court. The CEO of Silverado was sent way for 3.5 years after pleading guilty to $8.7 million in theft. We have people in jail for 20 years for smoking dope. I won’t get into Neil’s other adventures, but this is how the Bush family rolls.

The Bush Brothers are bank robbers
That’s only what the facts is
They ripped off the S&Ls
And din’t even pay the taxes.

I’ve saved Jeb himself for last. While not as spectacular as Neil’s criminal career, Jeb’s activities reek of arrogance and privilege, and ought to completely disqualify him from holding any office above that of shit shoveler. If you don’t believe me, read about it in the Good Grey Times:…

Or see…

Jeb Bush and a partner bought a Miami office tower using money borrowed from a local S&L. They never paid back the loan; we did: $4.56 million loan from Broward Federal Savings in Sunrise, Florida. Initially the Feds seized the building, and the settlement imposed on the investors included payment of tax liability for the defaulted loan, which became income (note: they weren’t bankrupt, just deadbeats). But later Jeb and his partner negotiated a settlement with regulators in which they repaid $505,000, retained control of the building, and didn’t even pay taxes on the money they borrowed and failed to pay back.
Of course, this has nothing to do with the fact that his father was president of the United States. People who worked for his father carefully evaluated the situation and assure us that the whole thing is fair and reasonable. And it is just as reasonable as electing Jeb POTUS.

“Texas businessmen [are] not crooks, “they just have an over-developed sense of the extenuating circumstance.”” — Molly Ivins

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Modern Pre-enlightenment America and the Hundred Year Culture War

by cborgia

It has often been difficult to explain the crazy oscillations in American politics and policies to European colleagues. Citizens of more homogenous countries find it difficult to imagine the scale of the United States (nearly the size of Europe, including European Russia) or the heterogeneity of American culture. Most Europeans find it hard to picture the US as more nearly equivalent to half a dozen assorted European nations than a single large European state like France of Germany. This makes it shocking when the same country that elects W. Bush and Dick Cheney reverses course and elects Barrack Obama.

It is by now apparent that the American melting pot was not very well stirred, resulting in geographical and cultural divisions popularized as ‘Red State vs. Blue State’, Liberal vs. Conservative, and Bible Belt vs. Secular Rationalist. The cultural landscape of the US might be better described in terms of the dough produced by a cheap bread maker than as the contents of a fondue pot, with regions of unmixed disparate ingredients, some of questionable provenance and others long past their expiration date. This goes a long way toward explaining the existence of phenomena like ‘dry counties’ in less than cosmopolitan corners of our great land, and might also explain why some parts of the national loaf rose higher than others. (Here in beautiful West Georgia, with Atlanta looming somewhere over the horizon, it is apparent that the region is overdue for a good kneading.)

Much of this division arose from the earliest events in our national history, and it’s worth exploring how we got where we are. A major difference between many European derived cultures and non-european cultures is a unique transformative event that altered the way that European cultures viewed the world and themselves. Many cultures can point to their own transformative upheaval, but nothing comparable to the Enlightenment in scope, impact and direction is easily identified . Europe had emerged from the middle ages as the Renaissance propagated from its Italian origins through the north and west. The corruption of Avignon and the Renaissance papacy generated the Reformation, and this in turn provided the freedom from authority needed to rethink the relationship between human individuals, governments, and religious authority. One of the products of this cultural and intellectual ferment was the United States of America.

America wasn’t a passive product of the Enlightenment. The birth of the United States (and the independence of other American countries) was part of the process, both effect and driving force, and Americans such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were major Enlightenment figures. The east coast from Virginia to Boston had leaders who were influenced by the movement and had great influence on it. The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution are among the most significant Enlightenment documents in the world, along with the French Declaration of the Rights of Man.

The first English and Dutch settlers of the east coast were for the most part products of the Reformation, but they were pre-Enlightenment colonists, and for the most part the early stages of the Enlightenment had limited influence in the colonies. The ideas of leaders like Roger Williams and William Penn, who were defenders of religious tolerance, helped set the stage for the American enlightenment, but Williams and Penn were tolerant Protestants more interested in religion than rationalism. Cotton Mather, sometimes proposed as an early American Enlightenment figure because of his interest in science and rationalism and promotion of education, falls well short of this. He famously defended the Salem witchcraft trials and attempted to use pseudo-scientific analysis to study demons. His role in the founding of Yale was undertaken because of his dissatisfaction with the ‘liberalism’ of Harvard. The rise of the American Enlightenment began in the early decades of the eighteenth century as prosperity and security expanded and America began to have intellectuals who weren’t primarily clerics.

America had a ready-made counter-Enlightenment of its own: the Great Awakening. A response to increasing secularization in America life, its genesis is often credited to the Connecticut preacher Jonathan Edwards. The Great Awakening was a revival movement featuring a whole lot more of Jesus and whole lot less of the moral equivalent of rock n’ roll. From its origins in the New England pulpits of Edwards and his allies, the Great Awakening swept the colonies, calling for a rededication of Americans to the spiritual Christian life. Its impact was lasting. Right now somewhere in the South a revival tent is being unloaded from a tractor-trailer covered with signs promising faith healing, speaking in tongues, and maybe snake handling or casting out demons; to paraphrase Jimmy Buffet, it’s 1720 somewhere. In less extreme form the Great Awakening was a major factor in shaping the beliefs of much of the rural and southern United States.

The first wave of the Great Awakening was a response to secularization arising from an overweening concern with business (and in some cases to outright debauchery), not to enlightenment philosophy, so it didn’t have to wait for the spread of Enlightenment ideas. The result was two movements spreading like waves that started on the east coast and moving inland. They didn’t spread evenly. Cities and certain wealthy societies like the tobacco planter aristocracy of Virginia were much more fertile ground for Enlightenment ideas than populations of frontier settlers, hardscrabble upcountry farmers, or the developing agricultural society of the deep south, which was much less literate than New England or the Middle Atlantic colonies. As a result Greater New England, the swatch of America extending across upstate New York and including much of the northern Mid West, wound up more Enlightened, while the deep south, the Appalachians, and the mid-western Butternut country settled from the South wound up more Awakened and less Enlightened (see ‘The Cousins Wars’, Kevin Phillips for a map and some insights).

This leads to confusion when the intellectual and/or spiritual heirs of these movements discuss the intent of the founders; they both have strong traditions leading back to colonial times, and both are quick to claim important colonial and revolutionary figures as the forbearers of their movements. The problem is that all such leaders didn’t subscribe to either movement; Edwards was the father of the Great Awakening in America, but Jefferson, Adams, Washington, Franklin, Paine, Henry, Madison and Monroe were Enlightenment figures who had little use for fundamentalist religion, and in some cases little use for religion at all.

The confusion is understandable. Franklin, for example, printed sermons of Awakening preachers and, while not sharing their theology, appreciated the new emphasis on good works that they espoused. Enlightenment lawyers often supported the religious freedom of fundamentalist Awakening preachers who were at odds with the establishment of their colonies.

Because the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening spread at such different rates through different regions, they produced an inhomogeneous mixture of cultures. This was only exacerbated by subsequent waves of immigration. The Awakened South was and is far less tolerant of other cultures and other faiths than the Enlightened North, and this, along with northern industrialization, played a major role in directing the flow of immigration and cultural admixture over the last two centuries. Even in the first decades of the twenty-first century southeastern metropolitan areas are in general less cosmopolitan than equivalent northeastern, middle Atlantic, or west coast cities, although these differences are being gradually eroded by internal migration. An exception is the influx of Latin Americans into Florida and their gradual spread into neighboring states.

The political history of the United States is complex, and Awakening and Enlightenment forces have not always been opposed. Broadly speaking, the liberal and libertarian traditions are both derived from Enlightenment ideas. Traditional Tory-derived conservatism is neither Enlightenment nor Awakening, but arises from respect for tradition and orthodoxy and predates both. Populist political figures such as Lincoln and the Roosevelts are for the most part in the enlightenment tradition, while other populists (e.g., William Jennings Bryan) were children of the Awakening and derived their ideas about social justice from the Bible. Strains of both traditions run through the works of Martin Luther King and the words of many other African-American religious leaders.

Later waves of the Awakening helped fuel the abolitionist movement (John Brown was scarcely in the Enlightenment tradition) and later populist movements (Free Silver) that had a profound influence on the shape of American culture.

What is different about fin-de-cycle American politics is that the heirs of the Awakening have been largely co-opted by the extreme right wing, and in this they are bitterly opposed by the heirs of the Enlightenment. This is most obvious in the manipulation of fundamentalists by the Republican party as part of the second stage of the Southern Strategy. The manipulation runs both ways; fundamentalist leaders are quite aware of the quid-pro-quo enforced by the growing co-dependence of evangelical religion and republicanism, and have carved out powerful positions in American politics as a result.

So why are we now an unstable state that pitches back and forth between an oligarchy with imperial pretensions and a republic with pretensions of liberal democracy? There is a roughly equal division between Enlightenment and Pre-Enlightenment regions in America, and this has been skillfully exploited by political strategists backed by money. Attacks on education and science are not just byproducts of the Southern Strategy; for the politics of division and oligarchy to work it is essential to suppress modernity and education. Enlightenment based ideas are not consistent with Calvinist ideas of elect and the Divine favor shown to the Job Creators (blessed be their names). They know very well what they are doing. Backwardness and superstition are features, not bugs.

Happy 2015.

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Graphs of US national debt from data


In response to increasing nonsense about the fiscal responsibility of post-Eisenhower Republicans, here’s two graphs of raw data I downloaded from the Treasury department’s web site. I recommend looking at the chart of debt in terms of GDP at, which is much better for long term comparisons, but for those who need to see the long form this is just the dollar amounts from Uncle Sam. The site goes back to 1993, so these graphs don’t show the giant contribution Reagan made to saving the national debt, which was becoming an endangered species until he and his crew of busy elves rescued it, enriching themselves at our expense in the process.

However, what is clear is the immediate contribution GW’s tax cuts adventure wars made; the debt had fallen in GDP terms when he took office, and was flat even in uncorrected dollar. Publicans to the rescue! Immediately we see signs of life in our national parasite. That slope you see is your money disappearing into he sand in Iraq while the Romney class pockets massive tax breaks. In one word: Fail.

And that was before the fit hit the shan. The entire apparent net economic growth of the US during the Bush presidency was the result of fraudulent financial schemes and uncontrolled speculation, so just as in 1929-30 the whole thing blew up and we had a depression. For those who want to claim that the debt has grown faster under Obama, look at the spike in 2008 when Colonel Sanders died and the chickens came home to roost. The aftermath played out in a landscape that includes a ridiculously overblown military as big as the rest of the world combined, the world’s lowest taxes for the rich for any major country, and two stupid adventure wars that have been difficult to end for many reasons as well as a post-industrial state with massive debt in the throes of a depression. It hasn’t made things better that at least one third of the country are pre-enlightenment, irrational, faith-based non thinkers who believe Reagan put the country on the path to fiscal responsibility and vote for Tea Party obstructionists.

But as troops come out of Iraq and Afghanistan and slow economic growth takes place, we are beginning to see something happen. Note that the last eighteen months or so fall well below the trend line for 08-09. It appears that by the end of this year we will be about a trillion dollars below where we’d be if the Bush depression had continued unabated. Want to see another spike that will dwarf the GW disaster of 08? Vote for a Romney adventure war in Iran, get a whole lot of people killed and have your money disappear down a rat hole and into the pockets of Haliburton. Vote for a Paulie Ryan tax plan that will result in yet another transfer of wealth from the middle class and working class, and even from the poorest Americans, into the pockets of the Job Creators (blest be their names).

It took eight years to get us out of the last depression, one that was caused by the same climate of speculation that Reagan and the Bushes gave us and that Romney would like to restore. (Why not? Like a Saudi prince, he’s shipped enough money overseas that he can comfortably cool his heels elsewhere when things fall apart here. ) Last time around, the country spit the bit in 1937 and just when the wheel was out of the ditch went conservative again, causing a slide back into a recession that didn’t fully abate until WW2. This time, we are so stupefied that we elected the Failed Tea Party Congress to prevent measures that would get us out of the ditch in the first place. I figure if we actually tried to make things work we might be OK in another four years or so, and have the country fully restores in twenty. Every Tea Party Congress elected will set that back five years.

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