The Following is Laced with Bitterness

Not actually, but I am slightly annoyed and confused.

The biggest problem facing my generation is a dysfunctional legislature handicapped by it’s own antiquated rules and procedures that no longer serve any meaningful purpose. It’s a problem that supersedes  the rest; it stifles our ability to tackle any other major issue successfully.

That was the question asked by the editors of The Nation for their annual student writing contest: what is the biggest problem facing your generation. What were selected as the winning essays are nothing more than filler, subjects barely worthy of having 800 words devoted to them—except one regarding climate change, but as has been evident, and like I’ve said, I double-dog dare you to do anything meaningful about climate change in a de facto 60-vote Senate.

I don’t have much to say regarding the first place entry, a beautifully written retrospective on the Virginia Tech shooting. While it would be deserving of publication on it’s own merits, it doesn’t really address the question.

Answers from the other essays include apathy, evidenced by low turnout on election day. That’s definitely a problem, but the biggest? This is universal; every generation, when its members were ages 18-24, was lazy and apathetic toward politics. (Save for the kids that were newly allowed to vote immediately following the passage of the 26th amendment, but that’s totally different). Another essay espoused the evils of mobile telephones, or technology, or rampant ADHD. Hard to tell what the point was, or how on Earth it could possibly be classified as THE biggest problem facing our generation.

There was, for what is probably the 1,000th time in the past couple months, a condemnation of mixed-market capitalism. That there are currently millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans isn’t a refutation of our economic system as much as it is a refutation of our policymakers and the institutions they inhabit. We’re in what essentially is a textbook financial crisis/balance sheet recession. There are policies that could have had us out of it by now, but unfortunately…well, see step one.

There was one other essay, on the terrible state of American journalism, that was poignant. Some may recognize it as “The Cult of Balance”. James Fallows of the Atlantic and Paul Krugman have been hitting at this for a long time. Climate Change, while existentially important, is obvious; it’s nice to see someone hit on a more subtle and nuanced topic.

I’m sticking to my guns, though. The political realities of today are incompatible with the political systems they must operate within. Is it really surprising, though, considering those systems were designed in the 1700s? Hardly.

There is an observable phenomenon here. It’s the inability to get an incredibly important point specifically related to congressional procedure across, regardless of effort; to be rendered mute by the popular discourse. It shall be christened henceforth as EKS, or Ezra Klein Syndrome, after its first victim (at least, the first victim I cared to notice). Read this interview he conducted with Matt Miller, who with many other equally naïve men and women have been crooning for a third-party candidate to run for the presidency. It’s a stunning example of the cognitive dissonance that inundates the airwaves and broadsheets.

People can talk all they want about how the passage of the PPACA was heated and controversial due to President Obama’s inability to sell it to the public, or because it wasn’t “bipartisan”. It’s all trash; Representatives and Senators are big boys and girls, and they hold the ultimate power in passing legislation. The truth is that the Senate has become a dysfunctional, paralyzed body wherein a dedicated and unflinching minority can halt everything and relax in full confidence, knowing that no political harm will be meted out. Better yet, not only has such a minority continued to steamroll every rule and norm that has been established over the entire history of the chamber, they will do so knowing that they’ll actually come out net positive thanks to the opaque and insipid nature of these tactics.

If only parliamentary procedure was sexy! Maybe then there would be some hope of doing something about it. Here’s to hoping that my generation has a moment of clarity and realizes our actual handicap. My losing entry for the contest follows, after the jump.

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Sucker for Signs, cont.

This awesome sign brought to you by courtesy of Matt Yglesias.

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Sucker for Signs

Homerun! Some serious recruiting needs done, unfortunately.

Paul adds one caveat:

Small quibble: under current conditions, with a large debt overhang, the AD curve should be upward-sloping!

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Thoughts on Occupy Wall St. and Awesome Protest Signs

Since September 17th, the Occupy Wall St. protests have been slowly coming into focus. The public and news media are bearing witness to the disconcerting truth a lot of people are hurting out there and many of them blame it on callous and unreceptive policymakers. Along with the increased publicity has come, naturally, a dose of condescension regarding what exactly these “loony lefties’” complaints are and what they want out of these protests. I don’t want to get hung up on crucifying these people over the early handling of the protests since it’s irrelevant but I find the blatant contradiction on display humorous. Consider the rise of the Tea Party and how members of the press were literally attaching their own narratives to it in order to give the movement more salience, regardless of what all the tri-corner hats were actually saying.

I’m in agreement with a significant bloc of other liberals, as well as the protestors themselves, in not wishing for an exact and proper formulation of demands which upon compliance would be indicative of “success”. Throughout the recession and ensuing three years, palpable pressure has been seldom applied from the left in any cogent manifestation, and so it’s worth preserving and nurturing; a succinct set of demands and policy prescriptions would only serve to splinter the body into factions. That’s the consensus I’ve been hearing, at least. That could be a mistaken view, though, as it seems so far that there is little disagreement over the important part: whom will be subjected to their scorn. That’s the most consequential fact, not determining exact policies to get behind. While I think it’s silly to compare these protests to Tahrir Square, those Egyptians weren’t in the street drafting up a future constitution; they were just demanding that the status quo be abolished. Moreover, as Paul Krugman puts it, it’s not exactly the responsibility of the protesters to know exactly what to propose. That’s kind of the point of representative democracy.

That aside, if it’s a simple demand people want, I’m more than happy to oblige. I think almost everyone involved in these protests will agree that, prima facie, policymakers have an obligation to promote full employment. Insofar as the root cause of this movement has been a deficient policy response to current economic conditions, not to discredit the rightly felt notion that incredible malfeasance on the part of our Galtian Overlords has gone unpunished, it’s a perfectly direct and poignant request to want someone to actually do something about the millions of un- and underemployed in this country. Of course, many people in positions of power have been trying to resolve this problem. But, well…

In terms of what can be done, under current circumstances, political and otherwise, I must say that this sign really hits the nail on the head. Addressing unemployment at this stage in the game basically comes down to further easing by the Fed, and as such, a lot of ire should be directed at the Fed. Actions undertaken by Ben Bernanke and the FOMC, and more so the European Central Bank, have been negligent at best and pernicious at worst toward any economic recovery. They continue to twiddle their thumbs as the rest of the world burns. So, if we’re grasping for something with some relatively quick and tangible results, I’d recommend protesters start hollering outside the regional Fed banks.

But I mean c’mon! Look at that sign! You can’t say these people don’t have a clue when someone out there is holding this sign.

A lot of people are hoping this movement continues, and I’m definitely one of them. It may very well become impossible for political leaders to give anything less than a substantive response. The movement certainly has legitimacy. Many have already acknowledged it and have sided with the good guys. Others have castigated it. Things will most likely come to a boiling point eventually; let’s just hope that it isn’t the 99% getting burned this time, like always.

[Top photo by Ozier Muhammad for the NYT]

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Is There a Hand to Take Hold of the Scene?

In lieu of another addition to the already countless, standard and grim analyses of the recently released BLS report on employment, which are, truth be told, the verbal equivalent of a extracted sigh, here’s a song by Okkervil River that describes my disposition toward the matter.

I’m almost certain that the past few years have been a scary movie in which the protagonist keeps going through that door. Except, in our case, the movie is being written, directed, filmed, and screened simultaneously by a large, unified bloc of people who don’t really care if the horror ends until sometime after 2012.

We need expansionary fiscal and monetary policy. The ARRA, also known as the stimulus, was an example of expansionary fiscal policy. However, the overall price tag was too small, not to mention the magnitude of the crisis was wildly underrated at the time of its debate and subsequent passage. Contrary to popular belief, though, and in light of these shortcomings, it performed as well as was expected by those familiar with Keynesian economic theory. We’re not going to get any more of the fiscal part of the equation mentioned above; here’s hoping the Fed gives us something on the monetary side later this month.

The album art even eerily resembles the global economy right now!

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BREAKING: Social Security Nothing Like Ponzi Scheme

Of course, rudimentary logic will never stop a crank.

[Mother Jones]

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Post Officization

A visualization of American expansion from 1700 to 1900 by way of post offices. 

You can find more neat things by Derek Watkins on his blog.

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Turning Japanese

…, I think we’re turning Japanese, I really think so.

Karl Smith:

The 5 year TIPS rate crossed –1% today.

That means the government can make more money borrowing than the average person can by saving.

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Earth Can Fit a Lot of People

Trantor, of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, is the seat of government in the Galactic Empire. It’s described as a preposterously dense city-planet home to some 40+ billion people, the pinnacle of human achievement in many ways. The planet is urbanized to such an extent that every inch of it is covered with man-made structure, for it’s necessary to accommodate all of these people. Moreover, it’s even urbanized under the surface with miles of deep tunneling that’s also packed with technological sophistication and activity. 

There’s a huge problem, though. Trantor is only slightly larger than Earth, and as such would only possess a population density of 600 people per square mile. That’s not very dense, and it definitely doesn’t require an entire planet being covered in skyscrapers and subterranean development.

This is all just a corny way of pointing out some lovely information by Per Square Mile that shows how much area the world’s population would require at varying levels of density. As you can see, if the entire population of the world lived in a single city at Parisian density, we would all fit in a very small amount of space. Remember, that’s roughly 7 billion people all in an area less than the size of Texas. It’s also important to note that Paris has some relatively strict guidelines that new development must adhere to, including a height limit on buildings which restricts higher densities, so it could be even more dense.

Suffice it to say, the planet Earth can easily seat Trantor’s population, while still allowing for substantial greenery.

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They got him a cake; It said “No” in pretty icing

The Onion:

WASHINGTON—After months of heated negotiations and failed attempts to achieve any kind of consensus, President Obama turned 50 years old Thursday, drawing strong criticism from Republicans in Congress. “With the host of problems this country is currently facing, the fact that our president is devoting time to the human process of aging is an affront to Americans everywhere,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who advocated a provision to keep Obama 49 at least through the fall of 2013. “To move forward unilaterally and simply begin the next year of his life without bipartisan support—is that any way to lead a country?” According to White House officials, Obama attempted to work with Republicans right up until the Aug. 4 deadline, but was ultimately left with no choice except to turn a year older.

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