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August 19, 2015

trump fever: take two aspirin and call me in the morning

This is the eighth presidential election that I paid anything resembling attention to (yes, little kid me thought the idea of the independent candidacy of John Anderson as neat) and the fifth one to happen as I've had access to this mechanism of instantly publishing my thoughts to the known universe. And for the last four, I did devote a dedicated if not compulsive attention to the matter, and yammered on and on in ways that sometimes bordered on comedy and other in outright advocacy.

I'm not hinting that this is about to change; oh no, you don't give this shit up any more than you give up doing the crossword every day. But there is a certain amount of jadedness and resignation that I'll admit too, even now, already, still fourteen or so months out. This might be the function of age. Hell, it might even be the function of me being smarter than I used to be (also because of age). Whichever!

I just wanted to chime in real briefly and say, Oh yeah, I'm paying attention, and I observe that if there's any one thing this election tells us is that having lived through a bunch of elections does not mean that you'll be better to predict what will happen any better than someone whose lived through none, because prior results in this instance are not indicative of future outcomes.

By way of illustration, I totally agree with Josh Marshall on this point:

We've gone far enough now with the Trump political phenomenon to know that it is no mere or momentary matter of name recognition which has placed him as the top contender for the Republican nomination, as bizarre an eventuality as that might appear. He now leads all national polls and all polls in the key early primary and caucus states - and by significant margins. We've also witnessed key GOP stakeholder Fox News try to derail Trump's campaign and fail miserably at it. Lots of top Republicans jumped on that bum-rush Trump bandwagon only to be damaged in turn when it collapsed. We're now in a categorically different phase. Trump is now defining the GOP policy agenda. And that makes him far more than a top candidate or even a nominee.

Show me anyone, working in the media, a Sunday morning talking head, or the loudmouth knowitall at the corner store, that saw that coming. And while you're at it, show me anyone else that sees how this is going to end.

Oh it doesn't bode well at all. The know-nothings are now an actual sweeping movement.

But at least it's not boring.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:11 PM

August 17, 2015

in which i am forced to think about government bonds

I want to be careful of this, because I know that I am too susceptible to stumbling upon an idea or a concept in one article or essay and then going nuts for it like it's the God's honest truth, but I stumbled upon a concept in one essay and I'm going nuts for it like it's the God's honest truth.

At the risk of blockquoting the entirety of the piece, let's let the author, Adam Davidson, do the talking. Background!

Forget the global fight against terrorism or the Internet and globalization: When historians come to write of our age, the time we are living through now, they may well call it the age of bonds. This age began in 1944, near the end of World War II, when sober men in suits gathered in Bretton Woods, N.H., to prevent future wars. What they wound up creating was the basic architecture of a new global financial system, in which rational economic calculus, not military and political power or ancient prejudices, would determine where money flows.

That, for me, is a Whoa if true! moment. It is something that I've known intuitively but never actively thought about. In fact in the last ten years I do remember thinking that, in light of the banking/austerity crises stretching from Cyprus to Spain, there was a certain bellicosity in the rhetoric of the IMF and the EU that seemed pretty close to sabre-rattling to me, and maybe this bickering over sovereign debt is something that totally supplanted the regional skirmishes that blossomed into either of the World Wars? Of course I had no idea that something like that was even remotely true let alone traceable to the Bretton Woods conference that we all learned about in high school but never really understood.

And how could we have understood? The premise of government bonds as the mechanism that actually controls how geopolitics works, forget the UN and diplomacy and all that stuffy stuff, is hard enough for a grown-up to wrap their mind around, let alone some impudent pup awash in an unimaginable hormonal avalanche. I mean, did the history professors get it, or were they mostly there for the military history and reading the boring stuff straight out of the book just like the students?

So yes, mind is at least preliminarily blown, and obviously, I have a couple wheelbarrows of research to do.

Moving right along! Now, the column is primarily concerning Greece, and the sovereign debt of Greece, and how possibly the poor judgment of those purchasing bonds issued by Greece are as much at fault as anyone else when it comes to the slow strangulation of Greece by austerity, that maybe its the dumb investors who should be taking it on the chin and not the people of Greece. This is a good point! But this is not why I'm writing this.

I'm writing this because of the following section:

The very nature of stock markets inclines them to collapse every decade or so, and when they do, it can be painful. But a stock-market collapse is not debilitating. If the world bond market were to collapse, our way of life would be over.

On Sept. 17, 2008, in the late afternoon, this almost happened. For a few dramatic days, prominent economists and other financial experts -- serious, unemotional people who had never before said anything shocking in their lives -- talked privately, if not publicly, about the real possibility of the end of the United States, the end of electricity and industry and democracy. When the bailout money flowed to save the banks, that was just the fastest way to accomplish the real goal: to save the bond market.

So my mind is already blown concerning the nature of government bonds and how they are the financial black blood of the earth and then there is this casual aside concerning 9/17/08 and how it was nearly the end of everything because of, yes, government bonds. (For the record, the 17th was a Wednesday, and the previous weekend the furious and lengthy meetings between Sec. Treasury Geithner and Lehman Bros. principals, the meetings that resulting in the Monday announcement of Lehman's bankruptcy filing, happened.)

I am very curious about this, because I can still to this day the first time I read about the various times that the U.S. actually nearly opened the silos on the USSR and/or vice versa, and it's a feeling that I recall without much in the way of pleasure. Obviously none of these events were publicly known at the time, and, even though you can find some old-timers that will tell you that many people were going to bed during the Cuban Missile Crisis unsure whether they would be waking up in the morning, the crises we've lived through (especially up to about fifteen years ago) were polite and mannered and nothing to keep you up at night. The concept that everything was very nearly irretrievably fucked up and no one knew about it is a sharp concept, and once you wrap your mind around it you realize that that is how the near-endings of the world operate, in the shadows, and further that should the world ever be irretrievably fucked up it will happen in the shadows and none of us will know about it until that particular wave breaks right on our heads.

So yes, I would like to know more, both about how government bonds are the actual Trilateral Commission-level shit we were always told about, and about how we came thiiiiis close to the Big One and no one knew about it other than a buncha damn bankers.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:30 PM