by Milo Clark
(Swans - January 3, 2005) 2005 Prognostications:
For more than six years now, we have spared ourselves from watching TV or listening to commercial radio. NPR, what little I can still stomach, has become vapid although the only possible alternative currently available to US ears. The Listener-Sponsored model of Pacifica has also been attacked and damaged.
During the recent campaign, whiners, whingers and the glassy-eyed protested much about the reporting, which now consists primarily of sound-bites and photo-ops. Some of us watched "OutFoxed," a documentary about the distortions in the name of news practiced by Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Channel. A brief look at CNN recently looked almost exactly like Fox News. Nobody expects that Rupert Murdoch is or ever has been interested in balanced and fair presentations. The aura of Ted Turner over CNN has been trashed.
Some may remember or have heard of Edward R. Murrow. Reporting from London during the early years of WWII, Murrow revolutionized the young world of broadcast journalism. He embodied quality in reporting at the time. He set a standard which ruled for a few years before commercialism and commercials took over broadcast media.
Until abandoning TV and radio, I increasingly found myself angry at the end of a day of listening and watching. Patching commercials with content did little for continuity or context.
A generation ago, Murrow yielded to Walter Cronkite who, in turn, yielded to Dan Rather who is now yielding to vapidity personified -- the air-head talking. In parallel, John Chancellor yielded to Tom Brokaw. Both Rather and Brokaw came up to their challenges for what seemed to be an acceptable time.
Cracks in the facades at NBC and CBS were evident while remaining controlled until the 2000 presidential election sent crashing their edifices of charade. Ratings for the networks have tumbled since and are now down a reported one-third or more depending on the time slot.
Fox News, a cable channel, has won the rating battles for the 2004 election. Is it a coincidence that George W. Bush, its knight on a white horse candidate, won?
Rather goes out with a trashed reputation due to some documents involved in an overall correct report concerning the military service of George W. Bush. Rather, chagrined and embarrassed, nevertheless had the guts to call out ". . . these partisan, political ideological challenges."
Bernard Kalb, formerly a familiar voice on both NBC and CBS News, in a right hand op-ed column in The Financial Times (Wednesday, December 1, 2004) asks plaintively, "Will [Rather's] successor have similar courage? Will the timid network executives have the old-fashioned backbone to take on a crusading administration? I doubt it."
And there you have a prediction for 2005 and beyond.
2005 Finances: Wither the Dollar?
First, let's look at what the dollar has done. After the Reagan years attacked the dollar ruthlessly, it took until the late 1980s for a degree of stability to return. Between 1986 and 2000, the dollar hovered between 0 and minus 2% of current account. Today, it is pushing minus 6%. While progressives cursed Clinton, on his watch the dollar went into the peoples' heaven of a surplus.
Again, beginning in 2000, net capital flows to and from the once United States of America went negative. More real money was going out than coming in. Only the continuing purchases of treasury bonds by foreign central banks help keep the financial dikes from collapse, from implosion.
As the major reserve currency for the world, a strong and balanced dollar is the linchpin of international finance. Implosion risks the world.
Experts and pundits have been nervous about the dollar since the late 1960s when a badly kept secret of near US bankruptcy from the guns and butter strategies of the Vietnam years came home to roost. Nixon, it is speculated, kept the war going an additional three years partly to hide that impending disaster. Finally, in parallel with going to China and other diversions of popular attention in 1972-73, the dollar was significantly devalued, the gold standard collapsed and the Bretton Woods structures, which had underpinned the international financial worlds since the late 1940s, imploded. Those who remember the Ford and Carter years may understand the results of such follies. Inflation drove the economy ruthlessly.
Closer to home in Hawaii, with the dollar in plunge presently, prices of staples in the markets have jumped faster than gasoline in the last month. Meat, vegetables, breakfast cereals, and baked goods have headed upward alarmingly. Japanese cars now command a premium from $3,900 up to balance the depreciation of the dollar.
Pundits and talking heads agree on few things as a rule. However, at the moment, there is a strong consensus about the dollar. It is going down sharply. Since 2000, the dollar has declined about 35% compared with the Euro. Only against the Mexican Peso and the Brazilian Real has the dollar appreciated. The question none can answer is whether there will be a rout or a manageable decline.
The macroeconomic elements involved have jaw-breaking names. Fiscal deficit, current account deficit, external liabilities, elasticities and so on and so forth.
Presently, for the first time in modern financial history, foreigners own more US debt than Americans. On a broad trade-weighted basis (who buys what from whom at what price and in what currency is the trade denominated, etc.), the dollar is down an adjusted 17% under the Bush watch. A head of island-grown lettuce is up 35% in the last 30 days. The Euro, worth $0.82 (eighty-two cents) in 2000, is now quoted around $1.35 (one dollar thirty-five cents).
With capital outflows exceeding inflows since 2001, foreign governments through their central banks have been involved in what Martin Wolf in the Financial Times calls ". . . the biggest (albeit unofficial) aid programme in history."
A Marshall Plan from Asia is the ironic fact. While the once United States of America plunges further into debt in all dimensions, PRChina and Japan along with Taiwan, South Korea and the ASEAN cohort; accumulate strong surpluses in their domestic accounts, current accounts, trade balances and tangible reserves.
With outsourcing, export of manufacturing jobs and the like, the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) becomes measured in fewer tangibles and more intangibles, fewer exportable goods and more burgers tossed at home. As, in pragmatic terms, only government and exporters benefit from devaluation, we have less to trade with others. The relatively few goods we can sell tend, then, to be marginally competitive with goods over there. The relative price declines are mirrored here by price jumps for both domestic and imported goods.
In economic jargon, to balance the devalued dollar overseas we need to take a sharp hit in domestic prices. This conundrum translates simply. Take your choice, depression or recession? $8.00 Big Macs. $15.00 Movies. $10.00 Rice Krispies.
Remember, however, that every disaster doesn't take out everyone.
What is a good American progressive to do about all this? Behave rationally for a start. Do what the once United States of America is not now doing. Get out of debt. Reduce consumption to essentials. Build reserves. Some paper money, even though depreciated, is needed for ordinary transactions. Avoid hysterias. Gold doesn't spend in the supermarkets. Silver is mostly taken at the face value of the coins. Diamonds are negotiable only at a nominal loss. Dust off the bicycles. Keep that jacket. Practice walking. Enjoy the simpler things. Go local. Work at projects with impact in the community. Volunteer to keep schools open, services intact.
More on 2005: The Election System
Having studied the Hawaii Election System thoroughly and, in the process, learned too much about other states' election systems, I called it "System Impossible."
From registration through results we stumbled into and tripped over irregularities, illegalities, arrogance and can't-do bureaucracies. With patching and Band-Aid approaches, system impossible is held together with bailing wire, chewing gum and spit. Built in accretions from old-time mark-a-paper-ballot and count-by-hand processes up to but not including purely electronic Direct Recording machines, it creaked, groaned, cranked and coughed up "results." The Hawaii results, as fortunately no races were close, were a reasonable approximation given no one questioned them. Nobody noticed the cobbled-together data until way late of requirements to report.
Few realize that the transition from semi-paper ballot voting to all electronic voting is not an evolutionary step. It is a revolutionary change. To accommodate, elections systems must also be revolutionized. They must be taken apart. Each part must be examined in relationship to the new actualities. Then a new, relevant election system can emerge which is in tune with the times.
A recent report examined a number of significant crises including the 9/11 episode. The premise was that most crises announce themselves long in advance of happening. In terms of 9/11, we know from studies that clues abounded and patterns emerged years in advance. The report asked the question, "Who is watching?" Other than fifteen minutes of media distortions, who cares enough to do something?
Elections systems nation-wide, world-wide, have loudly and clearly screamed for years now. The once United States of America slumbers on. After the 2000 debacle which focused on Florida, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act of 2002. HAVA, as analyzed then and clearly understood now, aided and abetted crises by layering on state and county systems the Direct Recording Electronic voting machines. Many will argue, and I would join them, that this layer is the one that broke the system.
Those with a mind to manipulate elections, of whom there seem to be many, understand that diddling starts with registration and ends with results. Post-2004, examples of ever-fresh schemes layered onto the old schemes grew exponentially. If ever there has been or will be a crisis announcing itself, election systems in the once United States of America are hitting peaks of decibels.
On Hawaii's election system alone, we now have a pile more than four feet high of documentation. Yet, we cannot get anyone of consequence to do more than hastily nod and smile in response. State Attorney General? Forget it! Deputy U.S. Attorney General? Are you kidding? Print and broadcast media? Hardly a twitter. State senators and representatives? Less than a twitter. Not even a slightly raised eyebrow. Political parties? Duhhhh! Whitewash by the gallons was quickly poured over any hints of problem.
Banana republics and once Soviet states are now miles ahead of the once United States of America with efforts to reform and to protect elections systems.
Hello! A huge redwood just fell in your woods. Hello?