Spoiled Rotten to the Core

And the apples aren’t falling far from the tree.  Earlier in the year, we were treated to a rare display of breathtaking corruption within the ranks of the Chinese leadership with the debacle of Bo Xilai, son of a noted Chinese revolutionary, governor and rising political star.  But, after his security chief attempted to defect to the Americans, his wife killed a British businessman and Bo’s tomcatting sexual antics came to light, it was, safely, assumed that his political career and influence had come to an end.

When the story initially broke, I thought that the most likely outcome was going to be that the Communist Party was going to make an example of Bo, and they did.  It’s far easier to scare people into behaving, and hoping for the best results possible, rather than actually making sure that good behavior ensues.  That strategy of actually just hoping for the good behavior to become apparent is no longer possible.

Ling Gu, the son of Ling Jihua, the political ‘fixer’ and Secretary of the Central Secretariat, was in a massive car accident in a Ferrari 458 Spider,  with two women in Beijing at 4:00 a.m. March 18th.  Ling died at the scene along with one of the women, and was also naked, as was one of the women.  The other women was partially undressed.  The speculation was that the trio were probably involved in some kind of driving/sex game.

This incident brings up several problems.  The first is that in conjunction with the Bo scandal, this makes the Party’s already herculean task of appearing incorruptible impossible.  The Communist Party in China is running the show, everyone knows it, though they might not like it.  The second is that a transition in leadership is taking place next month, and the worse they look, the harder it is for the current regime, which affects perceptions of stability.  And the third issue at stake is that the people of China are getting close to an ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore‘ moment.

You have a kid in his early twenties, both of whose parents are government employees, with what are probably two hookers (or the equivalent of a political jersey-chaser) driving a car that costs $500,000 at 4:00 a.m., which likely means that they’re all absolutely plastered.  For a country that’s had to swallow a lot in terms of accepting baldfaced lies while there was tons of prosperity for everyone on hand, that might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

But in an era of slowing growth in China, when the party, increasingly, is looking ever more corrupt, the days are numbered that it can maintain its monopoly on power.  It can remain in power if it reforms, or it it shares power.  But by doing neither, the party is just putting more fuel into a potential fire that, when eventually lit, and it certainly will someday be lit, may well become a conflagration that engulfs the economic success story of our times.  And that wouldn’t bode well for us, either.

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It’s a Political Prize

The Nobel Peace Prize has become somewhat of a joke, particularly in recent years.  And with each passing year, it seems to become ever more ludicrous.  This year, the European Union took home the prize.  And while it’s not new for the Nobel Peace Prize to go to an organization rather than an individual, picking the EU this year, of all years, seems to be, at best, rather tone deaf.

There are right-wingers who don’t like the prize because it’s gone to the likes of Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and President Obama (for simply not being George W. Bush) in the recent past.  There’s also conservative grousing that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher never won it.  I’m not sure why conservatives would think that they’d be entitled to a go at the prize, as these were two of the most warlike western leaders the Anglophone world ever witnessed.  But that underlies the point: it’s become nothing more, really, than a line on your resume.  If you want to be a global statesman, it’s something that’s nice to have.

Henry Kissinger won it.  Yasser Arafat won it.  So as to be fair, these are two of the most ludicrous recipients of the prize in modern years, and I picked one that would infuriate the right, and one that should infuriate the left.  And there’s controversy that surrounds, easily, at least another dozen recipients.

The fundamental problem with the Nobel Peace Prize is that it’s a political one.  In at least all of the other prize categories, you have somewhat more objective criterion by which you can measure everyone (like chemistry and physics).  But with politics, it’s a complete free-for-all.  The prize committee would do well to look back to precedent from years past, and take a break.  Historically, the prize has not been awarded every year.  A three to four year hiatus, followed by a good decade of solid picks of actual peacemakers would go a long way to putting some of the luster back on the medallion that, particularly in the past decade, has begun looking increasingly tarnished.

But, inevitably, people will bitch.  This is, after all, a political prize, and awarding it is, inherently, political.

Little Sicilies Everywhere

There’s only a few countries in the industrialized world where the government is not experiencing a fiscal crisis.  And while some are worse than others (the US is doing better than, say, Greece, at least for now) there’s few countries that make for as bizarre an example as the Italian region of Sicily.

Sicily, the island off the ‘toe’ of Italy, is the largest region in the country.  Historically one of the richest of its regions, Sicily entered a period of economic stagnation over a century ago, and never broke out of it.  And for all of the economic woes that Italy is going through, if there’s a economic problem going on in the country, it’s going to be at its worst in Sicily.  There is one fundamental reason for all of this: political culture.

In going through the plethora of economic failures of the past decade, I’ve run across a common theme: the problems, at their root, are never fundamentally economic in nature, they’re usually political.  By this, I mean that people have a fundamental tendency to thrive economically with, as the Germans are fond of saying, as little government intervention as possible, as much as necessary.  Any country is going to need a degree of regulation and government intervention in order to have markets function as efficiently as possible.

Right wing ideologues are fond of saying that if we removed government involvement altogether things would be hunky dory, but, throughout the course of history, that’s proven, time and again, to be a recipe for disaster.  The best counterargument to that would be the US federal government’s regulatory policy of credit default swaps.  The problem?  There was no such policy (at all), and they detonated a charge of such destructive magnitude at this precise time four years ago, that we’re still digging ourselves out of it.

And, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have cases like Sicily.  The regional government’s fundamental problem is that it spends far, far more than it takes in.  There are two main reasons for this.  The first is that when the Sicilian government spends on projects, it does so not for economic value, but in order to buy off the loyalty of constituents.  The second is similar to the first, but slightly different: the local government is run not in order to provide government services and regulation, but as a jobs program, again to buy off constituents.

Time and again, the real reason for the economic malaise that much of the globe is facing is self inflicted: politics, which should operate in concert with economics, not on top of, or below it, but as equals, has so effectively subordinated economics, that we’ve entered a phase of economic stagnation so acute that the solutions to ending it have become nearly impossible to overcome.  People need to realize that in order to have a healthy, sustainably growing economy wherein the results are equitable, we need to strike a balance between regulation and protecting workers on the one hand, and understanding that we cannot legislate prosperity into existence, nor can we spend tax revenues only to employ people with no obvious economic value.

Sicily is probably one of the more extreme examples we’ve witnessed to illustrate this kind of magical thinking, but there are little Sicilies everywhere all over the industrialized west.  I should know: Detroit, where I live, is just one such example.

Lier, Lier

The few remaining pretenses of civility are about to be dropped from the presidential race.  There’s several reasons as to why they’re all happening rather suddenly, but one prevails over the others: we’re getting close to the race.  They’ve manifested themselves in a few ways, and they  all kind of piggyback off of one another, let’s take them sequentially.

Let’s start with the act of vandalism at the Obama campaign office in Des Moines, Iowa.  Someone spray-painted the epitaph ‘Muslim lier’ on a banner on the headquarters.  You stay classy Iowa.  That whoever in question would do such a thing is an idiot goes without mentioning, but, I do enjoy the fact that this troglodyte at least put not only his hate on display, but also the fact that we’re dealing with someone who is, for all intents and purposes, functionally illiterate.

In keeping with the theme of President Obama lying, the new unemployment rate was released this morning: 7.8%, the lowest it’s been in over four years.  The right wing punditocracy had a common refrain as to how this was calculated: the President’s a lier!  Joe Scarborough was at it this morning, and so was Jack Welch.  I don’t know what was on Fox, but I can’t imagine that they weren’t on their soapboxes about this calling the President a lier as well.  They’re incapable of restraining themselves.  Without any sort of substantive proof, calling the President a lier is a stretch, even for Republicans.

Frankly, it’s pretty rich that when these numbers painted the bleakest picture thinkable, when unemployment was hovering around 11%, conservatives were giddy, absolutely gleeful at the prospect that it might hobble the President.  It’s become so ingrained in their worldview that the Muslim lier is destroying the US economy that a case of cognitive dissonance sets in whenever they see something that goes contrary to their worldview.  In their warped realities, it’s just not to be believed if it doesn’t gel with their reality.  And this isn’t the only thing that they’ve worked themselves into a veritable lather over: they think that all of the pollsters, with the exception of Rasmussen, are rigging their findings to hurt Romney’s chances.  They can’t get their heads around the idea that their second tier candidate, utterly devoid of any sense of charisma, who’s going up against an immensely talented politician who has presided over the salvation of the American economy, might be losing.  No, it’s the every single polling outfit, including even Fox fucking News, that’s out to get Romney.

And finally, while we’re talking about character, I’d like to touch on this video.  It shows Mitt Romney walking up to the podium at this week’s debate, taking something out of his pocket that resembles notes, and placing it in front of him on the podium.  Romney’s campaign claims that it was a handkerchief.  I don’t recall Romney using a handkerchief during the debate.  I think it’s far  more likely that it’s notes, which are explicitly banned by the rules of the debate.  Not to mention the plethora of fact checkers that were slamming Romney for fibbing with such gusto that it was borderline sociopathic.

There’s a Lier in the race, and he’s not a Muslim, but he is a Mormon.

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*The misspelling of the word lier throughout this is intentional.

Detroit Development Accelerates

We’ve passed a point where change is no longer theory in Detroit, but a reality.  This past week alone, two rather large buildings in my neighborhood, the Forest Arms and the Strathmore, announced plans to begin redevelopment by or around the end of the year.  These are the two last large buildings that have been vacant with nothing going on, at least, up until now.  This represents a marked change in the area from even just a few years ago, and the difference is about as stark as one can imagine.  There’s a few nuclei (Downtown, Midtown, Indian/West Village, Woodbridge, Corktown, etc) wherein this change is already visible, and it’s likely to spread much faster than we’ve seen previously.

The undertakings are usually private initiatives partially underwritten with tax breaks, and driven by folks with ties to the region, but not always.  Whole neighborhoods that even when I moved here looked like hell, are suddenly getting a lot of positive publicity for the kind of redevelopment that I’m talking about.  Case in point: Palmer Park South, a district of apartment buildings located (you guessed it) south of Palmer Park.  The Detroit News had a nice writeup about it today, and tomorrow, I’m going on a tour with another native Michigander recently returned from Boston.

My point is this: that long-awaited ‘renaissance,’ a word that I’ve avoided for years, due to the fact that it seems to be jinxed, is happening.  Yes, the city is broke, with a toxically dysfunctional political culture, but all of this redevelopment, with new people moving into a city that our parents wrote off decades ago, is part of what’s going to reform it.  It’s going to require tons of hard work, compromise, and a solid dose of sobriety as to what it is that we can achieve, and how it is that we should go about doing it.

But that long awaited change for the better is happening, and the velocity with which it’s moving is picking up steam.  There’s going to be issues, both known and unknown with which we have to contend, and there’s always going to be racial tension that comes along with it.  It’s happening, it’s happening now, and it’s happening faster and faster.

Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus – Detroit’s Latin motto.  Translation: We hope for better things to come, we shall rise from the ashes.

Eat Your Vegetables

The television equivalent of eating your broccoli was watching the debate between President Obama and Mittens last night.  And what we watched was the about as thrilling as watching grass grow.  The two most closed off, non-emotive and intellectually buttoned-down contenders in modern politics shared the stage and talked, not with each other, but past one another (not to mention completely ignoring Jim Lehrer – more on that later).

Obama continued with his very dry, very monotonous style of delivery of a rote regurgitation of facts and figures, with no compelling vision, narrative or emotion in order to connect on a visceral level with everyday Americans.  ‘Let’s be clear…’  Sweet Jesus, please, just for a night or two, channel Bill Clinton, just a bit.

And Romney gave what was about his billionth ‘getting to know you’ session with the American public.  Odd, seeing as he’s been running for President for the past six years.  Mittens demonstrated as much ideological coherence as a paranoid schizophrenic, repudiating past positions and trying to stake out yet even newer positions in the center, and his android-like, utterly mirthless laugh was borderline scary.

I’ll be blunt.  I was nuts about Obama in ’08.  I favor him, but I no longer consider myself the Obama zealot that I once did.  He is, at this juncture, the lesser of two evils.    What both men fundamentally lack is a passion for politics.  Mind you, I’m not talking about policy, they both seem pretty keen on that front.  What they both dislike is the process of getting to yes, so to speak.  Frankly, neither of them was very good at it either.  They view it as a distraction, something that is to be tolerated, rather than enjoyed.  Both lack the gregarious nature that one would expect from someone in the position.

And, pardon my french, but where the fuck was Jim Lehrer?  Let’s, for a moment, talk about the complete pussification of the role of the debate moderator.  Republicans bitch about the ‘lamestream media,’ and Democrats watch Joe Scarborough on MSNBC and feel smug about it because they’re listening to a RINO.  Fine.  But the debate last night was a study in the failure of the media to hold our political leaders accountable for their statements and actions.  In addition to letting both Obama and Romney run roughshod throughout the debate, Lehrer allowed them to run roughshod over him as well, and by extension us.  And in so doing, we didn’t get shit from the debate last night.  We had a regurgitation of talking points coming from both sides.  Blah blah blah.  Eat your vegetables.

Lessons for Public Officials

Lesson One: if you are a public official, and married, do not have sex with people to whom you are not married.

Lesson Two: if you are a public official and violate lesson one, at least take care not to do it with a subordinate.

Ralph Godbee, the chief of the Detroit Police Department, broke both rules (twice).   Godbee was placed on a 30 day administrative leave  Tuesday afternoon when allegations that he was having an affair with one of his subordinates surfaced.  I personally couldn’t care less as to who the man is sleeping with.  But, due to the fact that he’s a public official with a fair degree of power, it will automatically become an issue and detract from his ability to do his job, by default compelling all of us to suddenly give a shit.  Yes, he’s married, but going through a divorce.  So what?  The fact that this conversation is taking place at all is the first, and the only, piece of evidence, that’s needed to extrapolate that Godbee’s job suddenly became much, much harder than it was yesterday.

The article above alleges that when Angela Robinson, Godbee’s mistress, attempted to end the relationship, Godbee thwarted her efforts.  Now, while that may, or may not, be true, and it could have about a billion different interpretations, it’s damaging, and I’ll explain why: because we’re talking about it.  On top of the fact that we’re discussing an affair the chief of police conducted, now we have to get into all of the other various nuances as to why his judgement was impaired, and all the ramifications that come up from not just having said affair, but by  having the affair with one of his subordinates, opens up a whole other can of worms.

To up the ante on an already stratospherically high stupid quotient in this situation, we can’t even be charitable and dismiss this as a lapse in judgement.  We can’t do that because this isn’t the first time that Ralph’s been balling one of his subordinates.  Godbee took over for a man named Warren Evans who left the DPD due to, among other reasons, an affair he had been having with one of his subordinates, a certain Lt. Brenda Patterson.  Godbee was appointed to take his place.  Well, turns out Ralph had been screwing Patterson as well.  Shit.

I could come up with hundreds of examples of antics like this that have more in common with a class of poorly supervised kindergarteners than the democratically elected an appointed leaders of a major American city.  Detroit is finally on the cusp of turning a corner after decades of suffering, and still, this is the sort of issue upon which we have to focus?  Any improvements that have been made in Detroit have occurred not because of, but in spite of, the city government.  Imagine, for a moment, what this city would look like if we had a political apparatus that actually knew what it was doing.  Now, open your eyes, return to the present, and gaze upon the mediocrities that we have in place running the show.

Godbee’s gotta go.