THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Reasons To Be Cheerful, 1-9

Optimism in the Age of Suckitude

It’s the end of the world as we know it and, while I can’t say I exactly feel fine, it’s all too easy to dwell on the downward spiral of our job prospects and 401(k)s. Even in the midst of economic collapse (possibly presaging political disintegration and ultimately social chaos), there’s cause for optimism. And so, in the same spirit of contrarianism that drove me to declare the boom economy of the late 1990s a sham we’d all live to regret, here are nine good reasons not to kill yourself over the economic meltdown:

1. Bushies Will Pay. President Obama is inclined to “look forward as opposed to looking backwards” when it comes to investigating Bush and his minions for torture, war crimes and spying on Americans. Fortunately, one of Obama’s first acts as president ensures the bastards will probably get what they deserve.

Obama has ordered government agencies to revitalize the Freedom of Information Act, which requires that declassified government records be released to the public. Under Bush, the flow of documents slowed to a trickle. New FOIA requests will enjoy “a clear presumption” that “in the face of doubt, openness prevails.” Investigative journalists will now be able to use FOIA to uncover Bush Administration officials’ nefarious deeds, forcing Obama’s Justice Department to prosecute.

Should they waterboard Rumsfeld? Only if it’s on pay-per-view.

2. Conservatives Are Discredited. Your fat chain-smoking doctor may give you good advice, but will you heed it? So it is with Republicans. They’re right about Obama’s fiscal stimulus plan: it won’t do much to help the economy and will drive the deficit even higher. But no one’s listening. “Most of the people who are complaining about Obama’s fiscal irresponsibility today uttered not a peep of complaint about Bush,” writes John Chait in The New Republic. America needs a loyal opposition.

But the Republicans aren’t cut out for that role. The collapse of free-market capitalism calls for a dramatic realignment. This new political landscape should place Obama’s ideas on the right, with new parties emerging to his left. The Republican Party, obsessed with gay marriage and flag burning and school prayer, was always an irrelevant distraction. Now everyone knows.

3. Heck of a Job, Barry. After three insanely wasteful false starts, Obama is finally on the right track vis-à-vis the mortgage crisis. His economic team still doesn’t get that what we need is “trickle up”–bailing out homeowners means banks get paid and toxic assets get revalued–but they’re getting there.

Thank God, it’s finally possible for squeezed homeowners to refinance their mortgages before getting foreclosed upon or, as was required previously, messing up their credit by missing two payments. “If you can illustrate that your income is no longer enough to meet your mortgage payment–because your paycheck shrunk, your expenses rose or your mortgage is about to reset to a higher payment–you may qualify,” reports The New York Times. About time.

4. Retail is dead. Long live retail. Big retail outlets like Circuit City and Virgin Megastore are going out of business, leaving tens of millions of square feet of commercial space vacant and tens of thousands of workers unemployed. Granted, the reasons for some of these closures are kind of dumb. Virgin’s store in New York’s Times Square, the highest-volume music outlet in the nation, earned $6 million a year in profit. But because Virgin only paid $54 a square foot at a location where the going rate was $700, they were kicked out in favor of a women’s clothier, Forever 21, that analysts say probably won’t last either. Stupid.

Nevertheless, this nascent Depression will no doubt repeat the historical formula that favors smaller stores over big ones. Those of us who mourned the loss of mom-and-pop hardware stores and their individualized service and community ties may live to see them again.

5. Small Big-City Newspapers. When there’s talk of losing an iconic powerhouse like The San Francisco Chronicle, you know the model of the traditional big-city paper, employing hundreds of union-represented reporters working out of a big hulk smack in the middle of downtown, is in trouble. But there’s still a future in print. Why? Because that’s still where the money–subscribers willing to pay for news and advertisers eager to reach them–are. And because people need reliable originally-reported info (yes, I’m talking about you, bloggers).

Look for new, lean and mean dailies to spring from the ashes, mixing the stripped-down content of free commuter dailies like The Washington Examiner with the low-budget staffing of alternative weeklies. Hire 30 or 40 people (most of whom type their stories at home), buy a lot of syndicated and wire service content, rent a tiny editorial office in the slums, and voila! The rebirth of print.

6. Culture Gets Cool Again.
American fiction peaked in the 1930s, rock music while riding the economic rollercoaster of the 1970s. The roaring 1990s weren’t so awesome. Historians say there’s an inverse relationship between the vitality of popular culture–movies, music, literature–and the economy. (So the Bush years were fiscally sound. Hm.) Rising unemployment, furloughs and decreased business activity give people more time to be creative. Where stability ossifies, uncertainty inspires. Even contemporary art, competing with the fashion industry for the title of most vacuous, could conceivably stage a comeback.

7. Tough Times Are Interesting. My mom grew up in Nazi-occupied France. As you’d expect, it sucked–a fact that she constantly reminded me of via incessant hair-raising stories over the years. Recently, however, she had an epiphany. “It was hard,” she said, “but they were exciting times.” If you survive the meltdown, you’ll dine out on your tales of fear and deprivation for the rest of your life.

8. Rich People Still Have Money. Where would you invest your money if you were rich? Savings accounts are a joke. The stock market has lost over 50 percent of its mid-2008 value. Foreign markets are worse off than ours. Real estate? Don’t even start. If you had money, there’d be only one logical place to park it: in a new business. Venture capital will plant the seeds for the next wave of employers.

9. Everything Could Go To Hell. If all else fails and numbers one through eight fail to materialize, Rush Limbaugh could get his way. Obama could fail. The United States could collapse. Our economy could evaporate. Which would be OK, too. Because if everything goes to hell, we will enjoy a rare opportunity to transform our society and economic system from one that works for a few to one that benefits everyone.

COPYRIGHT 2009 TED RALL

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41 Responses to “THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Reasons To Be Cheerful, 1-9”

  1. Grouchy Says:

    Because if everything goes to hell, we will enjoy a rare opportunity to transform our society and economic system from one that works for a few to one that benefits everyone.

    Or we could sink into a theocratic nightmare where freethinkers are strung from trees…

  2. Hairhead Says:

    I’ve got a new nickname for you: “Silver-Lining Ted”.

    Nice to read something from the other perspective!

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Rush,Rush,Rush, to the pols for 2012!

  4. The Reverend Mr. Smith Says:

    Grouchy is right. I don’t think President Teleprompter would necessarily bring down the whole country if his policies fail, but I’m afraid of who would challenge him in 2012, and his chances of winning. I think he sucks (I did even as I voted for him) but a Palin/Jindal or Jindal/Palin ticket isn’t what I’m looking for, to say the least.

  5. phil Says:

    “Nice to read something from the other perspective!”… what other perspective you been reading?

  6. Incitatus Says:

    About #6: cough… Scott, cough… Fitzgerald…

  7. Brubaker Says:

    I actually agree with most of what you’ve said. #7 in particular, especially. Maybe I’ll have interesting stories to tell someday.

    I especially agree with point 6, as someone who loves to look into pop-culture of the past (especially on films and cartoons).

    I hope so on #5. I wonder what this’ll mean for comics, though (maybe more local strips? hmmm…)

  8. Brubaker Says:

    I actually agree with most of what you’ve said. #7 in particular, especially. Maybe I’ll have interesting stories to tell someday.

    I especially agree with point 6, as someone who loves to look into pop-culture of the past (especially on films and cartoons).

    I hope so on #5. I wonder what this’ll mean for comics, though (maybe more local strips? hmmm…)

  9. G. M. Palmer Says:

    Grouchy,

    It would be just as easy to sink into an atheocratic nightmare where Christians are strung from trees. . .

    anyway

    Ted, kudos! Though I think placing Obama’s ideas on the right with the addition of a more radical left is a poor idea (since I simply don’t like government), you’re quite right that the restructuring we’re going to see will be impressive to say the least.

    I’m hoping for #9.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Contrariness is next to godliness. Nice to hear the optimistic side of your perspective!

  11. wouter Says:

    Let’s hope for # 1… Go Ted go!

  12. Aggie Dude Says:

    GM Palmer:

    I think placing Obama’s ideas on the right with the addition of a more radical left is a poor idea (since I simply don’t like government), you’re quite right that the restructuring we’re going to see will be impressive to say the least.

    Not liking government is like is like not liking teen sex. Denying it is futile, curtailing it has enormous unintended consequences, and the best we can hope for is to engage the issue in a practical manner.

    The practicality of this is that big government never went away, and will continue to exist and probably grow. It is because we live in a technoscientific world of highly integrated value chains we like to think of as modern society (we’re not really that modern though, just technologically advanced). Government is the only superstructural institution in this technoscientific world which has been even remotely democratized. Authoritative knowledge (science!!) is hardly democratic, and the market (corporations!!) are authoritarian, feudal structures at worst and oligarchies at best.

    Democracy only exists in polity. The accurate issue is not whether we like or dislike government, but rather what type of governance leads to the best quality of individual life for all involved? That is why we have one-person, one-vote, and it’s the only place where we have that. So that everybody’s interests can be at least somewhat representative. Perfect? No…but what’s the alternative.

    I think we should reframe the issue of government as either good or bad, and examine the outcomes of government policy on the lives of individuals and the ecological sustainability of our planet (the lives of future individuals).

  13. Grouchy Says:

    It would be just as easy to sink into an atheocratic nightmare where Christians are strung from trees. . .

    Not in the U.S.

    Atheists in the U.S. are a small minority who are disorganized and wary of bringing their (non)religious beliefs into the political arena. Also, they don’t regularly bomb or shoot people who disagree with them. They’re wussies who don’t even feel like they’re part of a “movement.”

    So why would a totalitarian movement try to mobilize the handful of existing atheists when there’s already a heavily armed and fanatical majority who believe the “end times” are near?

    The groundwork’s there for a theocracy. 80% of the population believe in “angels.” And look at the Left Behind phenomenon.

    Hitler and Mussolini used the Catholic Church to legitimize their movements. Stalin turned the existing Communist Party into a religion that recognized him as the godhead. If you look at American history, and how things are now, it’s pretty obvious that any such movement in the U.S. is going to be of a Protestant flavor.

    If you believe there’s some massive hidden atheist agenda, I suggest you go back to reading Left Behind.

  14. G. M. Palmer Says:

    Aggie

    You’re right — poor choice of words.

    A large and weak government (like what we have) is bad. We need a small and strong government.

    And democracy isn’t all its cracked up to be. The only benefit it has is preventing poor succession de facto and de jure.

    However, when policy is not written by democrats but by unelected pols (professors and members of the civil service), democracy can no longer do its job.

  15. Angelo Says:

    “9. Everything Could Go To Hell. If all else fails and numbers one through eight fail to materialize, Rush Limbaugh could get his way. Obama could fail. The United States could collapse. Our economy could evaporate. Which would be OK, too. Because if everything goes to hell, we will enjoy a rare opportunity to transform our society and economic system from one that works for a few to one that benefits everyone.”

    Obama and the US will fail because we refuse to destroy Rush, and other anti-state, corporate propagandists. As soon as they convinced one poor person to vote against their own self interest, we should have known it was too late.

    to all Rush listeners:
    YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BE RICH ONE DAY!!!

  16. Angelo Says:

    “9. Everything Could Go To Hell. If all else fails and numbers one through eight fail to materialize, Rush Limbaugh could get his way. Obama could fail. The United States could collapse. Our economy could evaporate. Which would be OK, too. Because if everything goes to hell, we will enjoy a rare opportunity to transform our society and economic system from one that works for a few to one that benefits everyone.”

    Obama and the US will fail because we refuse to destroy Rush, and other anti-state, corporate propagandists. As soon as they convinced one poor person to vote against their own self interest, we should have known it was too late.

    to all Rush listeners:
    YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BE RICH ONE DAY!!!

  17. k Says:

    RE: #7

    Isn’t there a Chinese proverb (or perhaps curse) “may you live in interesting times”?

  18. Aggie Dude Says:

    Palmer,

    I still think that big or small is not the best measure of effectiveness. I think effective governments are ones that are unobtrusive except where they are clearly needed. Our health care system is broken, and even if it weren’t, it doesn’t service everyone. Market capitalism doesn’t respond to demand, it responds to effective demand. It responds to money and attempts to maximize profit through a nexus of quality, wages, and price which is most beneficial to the margins of shareholders, and not to labor, the environment or even the consumer.

    Also, the profit motive works great for consumer comforts and toys in very particular contexts, but really poorly for necessities like food, water, health care, national defense, and emergency response, because the priority is on maximizing profits for the business, not maximizing results for the populace.

    Government should maximize individual liberty and freedom of PEOPLE through substantial monitoring of INSTITUTIONAL practices (corporations don’t have rights, individual citizens do). It should only monitor behavior insomuch as public or private health of citizens is involved.

    So government ends up being intrusive in our lives in all the wrong ways, but leaves us high-and dry in the areas precisely where government SHOULD BE involved. We’ve got our priorities wrong, it has nothing to do with the size of government.

    Lastly, the problem with unelected technocrats writing policy is an issue of 1) professionalization of politician as an occupation, where ones’ skill set is in campaigning and schmoozing, and 2) issues of transparency. I want experts writing the legislation, we just need to be aware of who they are, what their credentials and interests are, and have public forums to debate the assumptions inherent in their policies.

    I’ve met a lot of politicians, they aren’t very capable people outside of rhetoric and scheming. By definition, politicians are LITERALLY in the business of begging for a job. In what other industry do we reward the person who begged the most in a job interview?

  19. The Reverend Mr. Smith Says:

    Obama and the US will fail because we refuse to destroy Rush, and other anti-state, corporate propagandists. As soon as they convinced one poor person to vote against their own self interest, we should have known it was too late.

    Perhaps we refuse to “destroy Rush” because of his Constitutional right to say what he wants on his radio show, regardless of how intellectually dishonest it usually is. The fascistic mentality of so many on the left AND right in this country is practically the only thing that still scares me.

  20. Sean C. Ledig Says:

    I hope you’re right, Ted.

    But I’m still looking to get some land off the grid where I can wait out a storm that’s going to look like a combination of the Great Depression, the Civil War and the Road Warrior.

    I’m also taking advantage of my 2nd Amendment rights to do what I deem necessary to protect what I got.

  21. Susan Stark Says:

    Incitatus, could you loan me your copy of the Great Gatsby? Or should I just get it at the library? Been meaning to read it one of these days.

  22. Susan Stark Says:

    Incitatus, could you loan me your copy of the Great Gatsby? Or should I just get it at the library? Been meaning to read it one of these days.

  23. Anonymous Says:

    Rall is secretly pushing for #9

  24. G. M. Palmer Says:

    Aggie —

    Sadly corporations do have rights — unless you can figure out a way to overturn a 120-year-old comment in a Supreme Court case (not the decision, mind you).

    Grouchy —

    You obviously don’t understand power structures. A fundamentalist revolution a la Handmaid’s Tale would be crushed within hours. An athiestic theocracy (similar to Nazism and Communism), possibly based under the flag of “science” (seriously, when did scientists start acting like 15th century religious figureheads? the whole damn world is crazy [also, I put the quotes there for a reason — I ain’t got no problem with scientific inquiry — I like the fact that humans are smart]) — just like Nazism and Communism were — would be in power before most people knew.

    Most of this is because Fundamentalists don’t write policy and technocrats do.

    Back to Aggie — how do you solve the problem of transparency, apart from requiring that no bill be longer than 10 or 20 pages. . .?

  25. ellwort Says:

    Why don’t you get back into bed? (Thanks Ian)

    Thanks, Ted, for getting me back in off the ledge. Really.

  26. Aggie Dude Says:

    Hey Palmer,

    You’re absolutely right about corporations having legal rights, but I think that’s wrong, and there is a grass-roots movement somewhat based in the Organic foods movement to challenge that comment. I believe (not totally sure) that corporations actually used the 14th Amendment as grounds to “liberate” corporations and give them rights.

    I also agree with your attitude toward Scientism as a serious threat to individual liberty, which is the assertion of authoritative bodies of knowledge that claim moral justice through objectivity (a false claim -objectivity is impossible), and use that to rationalize their moral hierarchy. Nazis used this with Eugenics, and scientifically based notions of racial hierarchy, and Communists used this with Taylorism, which applies an industrial-efficiency model to every aspect of life: No room for those silly humans and their desires…that’s inefficient.

    Of course, this is simply one leviathan amongst many, such as Statism and Marketism. All of these concepts exist within the American polity and the strength of early 20th Century American idealism was its pragmatism and moderation. I think the 60s ruptured that, and I fear that a prolonged economic depression will inflame extremists of all persuasions.

    On Transparency. I think that access to the information and material for analysis by scientific and legal communities. The problem, as you point out with the length of documents, is that it takes time to evaluate these things. Everything is after the fact.

    HAND2HAND….you’ve got an excellent approach and I’m on board with a lot of people who already have land or are looking to get some, set up ‘off the grid’ power generation systems and passive-solar greenhouses for year-round crop production.

    We definitely need to continue networking these operations into off-the-grid communities.

  27. Kurt Says:

    Susan,

    If Incitatus won’t loan you his copy of “Gatsby” I will. I have like 4 or 5, so what do I care. Hemmingway wrote about F. Scott in “A Movable Feast” and I still laugh at the report that Zelda said F. Scott’s penis didn’t measure up, and Ernest proving to F. Scott that it did. It is still funny 80 years later!

  28. Angelo Says:

    anonymous is not so secretly dumb

  29. G. M. Palmer Says:

    Aggie —

    The 14th amendment codified corporate rights as persons (the biggest reason the Republicans supported it — since few were actual abolitionists) and that was made as legal as its been in this railroad case from the 1880s.

    I’d be delighted to take those rights away (goodbye, billboards!) but with Dodd, Pelosi, Reid, and Obama in the pockets of several corporations I don’t see this happening (unless the states call a constitutional convention on something else [like states’ rights] as well — and even then, I think we’d see martial law before congress/president would allow the states to do such a thing).

    Sometimes I think our best bet is to hope for #9.

    Speaking of, you should see my garden 😉

  30. Dermer Says:

    Rock music peaked during the economic roller-coaster of the 1970’s? Rhythm and Soul certainly peaked during this period, but the 1970’s was a hodgepodge of glam, heavy metal, power pop and the very beginnings of punk. With the exception of the Talking Heads in the late 70’s, I respectfully disagree.

  31. Grouchy Says:

    You obviously don’t understand power structures. A fundamentalist revolution a la Handmaid’s Tale would be crushed within hours. An athiestic theocracy (similar to Nazism and Communism), possibly based under the flag of “science” (seriously, when did scientists start acting like 15th century religious figureheads? the whole damn world is crazy [also, I put the quotes there for a reason — I ain’t got no problem with scientific inquiry — I like the fact that humans are smart]) — just like Nazism and Communism were — would be in power before most people knew.

    Most of this is because Fundamentalists don’t write policy and technocrats do.

    In the U.S., technocrats put a Christian face on their political control. (Virtually all elected officials at the higher levels have to profess a X-tian faith). Why would the technocrats attack the faith of the fanatical majority, when it’s so easy to whip them up in a frenzy over their old enemies the “godless socialists” or their newer ones the “Islamic terrorists.”

    Obviously, you don’t understand power. Power mobilizes the masses against traditional scape goats. And polls show that freethinkers are the most hated “group” in America. A homosexual would get more votes for President than an atheist.

    The one good thing about American religion that doesn’t lend itself to the formation of a national theocracy is decentralization. And there’s substantial antagonism between different sects. But I believe regional theocracy like in The Handmaiden’s Tale (rather than democratic socialism), is likely to form if the government fails and sinks the technocrats. If much of the technocratic structure survives, it’ll appeal to it’s old partner–religion–to try to regain control.

    Actually, I think all this speculation about the system’s self-destruction is premature. I think there will be some restructuring and the status quo will survive this current mess. The masses (in the U.S. at least) are too docile to seize the moment. Sadly, it looks like capitalism still has a few decades left before it collapses along with the ecosystem.

  32. ellwort Says:

    Corporate Personhood
    No.
    Even Wikipedia picks up the speciousness of the Santa Clara County railroad case argument for any validity to this absurd concept:

    Before oral argument took place, Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite announced: “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.”[3] This quotation was printed by the court reporter in the syllabus and case history above the opinion, but was not in the opinion itself. As such, it did not have any legal precedential value.[4]

  33. Aggie Dude Says:

    Unfortunately my reading of history leaves me extremely skeptical that anything good could come out of #9. Revolutions tend to wind up with strong-men authoritarians taking over, years of terror and chaos leading to support for brutal efficiency in the name of restoring order, and the execution or expulsion of any liberal elements who would provide the positive visions of a better society. Then, those left would slowly, over the course of generations, work to liberalize the system. We’re just stuck in a feedback loop where the best we can hope for is insufficient moderate progress.

    I have to agree with Dermer, how can Ted say the 70s was the peak of rock music!? Disco? John Denver and his “feel good” fake country lifestyle? The BGs? ick. 50s Rock’n Roll trounces the 70s. Good culture doesn’t come from economic hardship, it comes from political volatility…..which is often connected with economic hardship but not always.

  34. G. M. Palmer Says:

    And yet the courts act as if it does. . .

  35. G. M. Palmer Says:

    And yet the courts act as if it does. . .

  36. ellwort Says:

    Palmer – There’s a reason for that. I think you know.

  37. Incitatus Says:

    Susan, if you can find “Gatsby” under the big pile of books I intend to tidy up or donate before Judgment Day, you’re welcome to it. There’s also a book of Scott’s short stories, which are unbeatable.
    Kurt: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, both geniuses. Too bad old Ernie was a Commie.

  38. Wayne Says:

    To those of you who hope #9 happens and live in America:

    You’re freaking idiots.

    While it would be a chance to build something good, it would also be a chance for something awful. I cannot imagine the horror if the US military had to fight itself. I realize there has been a while lot of horror inflicted by said military this decade…But if it was fighting itself, countrywide…It would be awful. Not to mention all of the guns floating around.

    SO yeah. If you think #9 would be a good thing, you’re a moron.

  39. Wayne Says:

    To those of you who hope #9 happens and live in America:

    You’re freaking idiots.

    While it would be a chance to build something good, it would also be a chance for something awful. I cannot imagine the horror if the US military had to fight itself. I realize there has been a while lot of horror inflicted by said military this decade…But if it was fighting itself, countrywide…It would be awful. Not to mention all of the guns floating around.

    SO yeah. If you think #9 would be a good thing, you’re a moron.

  40. Anonymous Says:

    guns are good. best investment you can make in these times.

  41. jenna Says:

    well, i wasn't going to kill myself over the economy but i was worried that people would make that assumption when they discovered my rotting corpse. perhaps i'll print this cheery post out & staple it to my note just to prove my reasons were much more esoteric.

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