Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Americans Are Lazy and Spoiled And The Recession Was A Good Thing

Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About ItPinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It by Don Peck

If you put our current economic problems into a historical context, you might conclude that we are simply in a valley in the up and down economic cycle. Huge economic downturns simply happen about every 40 years and generally follow some kind of economic boom. Over the last 150 years this pattern has been pretty clear.
The economic boom of the The Industrial Age in the last half of the 19th century for instance preceeded the economic calamity of the 1890s. Then while there was a second industrial boom in the early 20th century it famously came crashing down in 1929 sending our nation spiraling into a Great depression that greatly transformed our country.  Our nation tried to claw its way out from that valley through New Deal socialistic mechanisms, from reconstruction packages to social security and so forth.  But real recovery didn't come until a new "boom" came. This time it was in the form of a gignormous military boom. America rapidly saw the military industrial-complex grow to maturity during our involvement in World War II and then the Cold War. This boom had a lot of steam and didnt start to fizzle until the Seventies (largely due to the fact that the military-industrial complex was wedded to the oil industry).  America suffered greatly with the energy crisis of the early 1970s and the end of the Vietnam War as we began waiting around for the next boom

At that point, in the mid Seventies, America couldn't seem to get its economic gears turning. Jimmy Carter touted a solution of thinking green, recycling, reducing usage, etc.  But the economy continued to suffer until the early/mid 1980s when the next boom was just starting to get its legs: the technology and information boom that provided a generation with a supply of new gadgets in the form of Sony walkmans, personal computers, consul games, cable televison, compact discs, VCRs, etc. Meanwhile Ronald Reagan was increasing government spending in historical amounts mainly through attempts to re-start the miliary boom of years gone by.  Unfortunetely this was largely done through the funding of covert wars and the institutionalization of huge pay-outs to corporate defense contractors.

As the Information and Technology Boom continued to snowball into the late 1980s, the Cold War began to lose its pulse. Bush Sr decided to give the military-industrial complex yet another shot in the arm by going to war with Iraq--a war which the US won overwhelmingly. The war was over quickly and Bush Sr was now married to a post WWII military boom that seemed outdated. Again America was looking toward the future and as Bill Clinton took over the white house he was right in time for the Information and Technology boom to become full blown. But another boom was building as well, the Housing boom--largely the creation of America's addiction to credit that started with the open-market, deregulation policies of Reaganomics (which actually made the Housing boom just a huge illusion that would lead to a crash).
The Housing/Real Estate crash is one of the main causes to what Pinched's author Don Peck is calling The Great Recession. There were other large factors of course like Bush Jr's unfunded War for Oil in the Middle East and free-trade agreements that allowed the outsourcing of American jobs to China/India. Also there was the extreme profit-driven take-over of the health care/drug system and of our educational system (all of which stems from the systemic problem of the Corporatization of America's economic-political system).   These factors all lead to the grim statistics that Peck lays out in the early part of his book. During the final year of the Bush Administration, for instance, from 2008 until June of 2009 the US economy shrank by 4 percent. More than 8 million Americans lost their jobs. The average house fell 30% in value and the typical household lost a quarter of its worth. The Dow lost 7,000 points and 165 commercial banks failed. Peck also points out that by 2010, 55% of American workers had experienced job loss in some form, either from actually losing their job, getting less hours, getting a pay-cut or loss of beneits. And on top of that, the people that were losing their jobs, had a longer duration until they found another job than any other time since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking that figure in 1948.

After pointing out these grim statistics, Peck goes into some specifics as to how this Great Recession has transformed America. He points out that it has widen the gap between the rich and the poor to a greater extent than ever before. Also, it has specifically crippled cities that had been falsely propped up by the housing and credit booms - cities like Phoenix, Tampa, Las Vegas. Also the Great Recession has shifted the demographics of the workforce from a majority of men to a majority of women. He also covers stats that express a change in attitudes toward Americas policies when it comes to giving government aid to the poor (support has dropped from a 54% to 48% from 2007 to 2010) while support for free trade has also dropped (53% of Americans thought it was harmful in 2010 whereas 46% thought so in 2007).

dazed and confused Pictures, Images and Photos
Perhaps the deepest effect The Great Recession has had is that, according to Peck, it has deflated and depressed the spirit of the America people (a study sponsored by Rutgers university found that for every 100 people who went without a job for 7 months or more: 63 were suffering from sleep loss, 46 were more likely to lose their temper quicker, 14 developed a substance dependency and the majority of them have strained relations with their family and have begun avoiding social encounters with friends and acquaintances). This depression of the American pscyhe largely parallels the deflated spirit of the American people during the crisis-ridden Seventies when  Americans were waiting around for the next boom (which turned out to be the information and communication boom) to happpen.

So what do we do in the meantime? While we wait for the next great boom? And what if there isn't going to be a next great boom? What if things have steadied into a slow, level, small, incrimental evolution?

Peck admits that he doesnt know the answers, but after researching the subject thouroughly he is at liberty to give his opinion, so he freely points out some remedies in the final chapter: "A Way Forward" in which he throws out a large number of remedies (be forewarned some seem pretty weak and all of them call for Big Government). Here are some of these ideas:

~Aggressive deficit cuts that contain triggers that could lead to across the board spending cuts and tax increases

~Medicare overhaul that would include vouchers for seniors

~More stimuli that includes targeted aid to states, especially for infrastructure projects.

~An end to policies that encourage home ownership (thereby encouraging renting)

~Government aid to people who want to relocate or retrain for jobs

~A multi-bllion dollar Governemnt assistance program for people who lost their job and have to take a lower paying job

~Aid to employers who hire people who have been unemployed for two-years or more.

~Increased Federal investment (possibly to include a National Innovation Bank) and large tax breaks for Scientific/technological research and development

~Massive deregulation (laxing the Sarbanes-Oxley reforms)

~Increased government spening on education

~Implement a fair exchange rate, particularly with China

Overall, Pinched has a lot of relevent research (lots of good statistics but with some ho-hum anecdotal evidence thrown in as well) and reinvorces many points worth keeping in mind. Pinched makes for a fairly accurate historical record of the Great Recession, but beyond that don't expect anything new or exciting in Peck's analysis or perspective.  His solutions relied heavily on Big Government spending at a time when nothing could be less popular.  But let's face it, in the absence of some miraculous technological boom, Big Government spending is what has gotten this country out of every other recession we've ever had.

For these reasons and more I give Pinched a 2.5 out of 5 WagemannHeads.
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©2011 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Long Live Rock!

EXPERIENCED: Rock Music Tales of Fact & FictionEXPERIENCED: Rock Music Tales of Fact & Fiction

For reasons not worth going into at the moment, I spent the last 9 days in my hometown, a small town (population 3,000) atop a heavily wooded hill overlooking the Illinois River about ten minutes south of Peoria. The only thing I had to listen to music with was the cd/cassette player in my '97 Dodge Caravan. There's a drawerful of mixed tapes underneath the front passenger seat and 100 mixed cds in a case beside my driver's seat, but I mostly listened to a Donovan mixed cd, a Classic Rock mixed cd, a Devo mixed cd and two cds that a friend burnt for me: The Suburbs by Arcade Fire, in which I liked the first and third songs and Broken Bells in which I like the 6th, 9th and 10th songs. But wait a minute. Why am I referring to these songs by their track number and not their titles? The answer of course is that I dont know the song titles--I only know the track numbers because this is the digital age and who has time to remember song titles, album names, etc, right?

In high school when I listened to an album, after adjusting the levels on my equalizer, I would then visually scrub every inch of the front and back cover of an album, looking for the producer, the engineer, where the record was recorded, looking for insights in the cover art (I had been one of those geeks who needed to find every Paul is Dead clue on the Beatle albums). But today, like most corporate consumers, I dont seem to have time or interest for all of that. Nowadays knowing all those details just doesn't seem worth it. But maybe alot of people long for those days when it did seem worth it. I know I do.

I returned to my residence in a Chicago suburb on Monday and found a weeks worth of junk mail, overdue bills and a manilla envelope sent by Roland Goity. A few months ago Roland had read a book review I had posted on GoodReads.com and asked me if I would be interested in reading and reviewing a book of Rock-related stories that he was editing. I was flattered--so much so that I wondered what this guy's angle was. He told me he would send me a copy of the book in a few weeks. I thanked him, then sorta forgot about it until returning home and seeing this envelope.

Inside the envelope was Experienced, the book Roland had promised me, with a sticky on it from Roland, thanking me for giving it a look. The front cover didn't especially impress me (purple and orange design with some guy dressed in black doing a guitar jump pose), but I'm not accustomed to getting free things so I gave that detail a pass and checked out the back cover, which read:

"...Tales of Fact & Fiction..."
"...anthology of compelling narratives giving new insight into the drama of the rock music world from every literary angle, and exploring rock's profound efect on our culture and its devine influence over the devoted faithful."

This seemed right up my alley, so I read the foreward (by co-editor, John Ottey who obviously shared my enthusiasm for Rock) and then the contributor's notes (that gave quick blurbs about each of the writers, the editors and illustrator). After flipping through and checking out the illustrations that preceded each narative, I began reading. It didn't take long for me to realize what Roland Goity's angle had been in sending me this book. This was a book for kindred spirits, people for whom knowing the details of Rock mattered to. Roland Goity was simply wanting to share the joy!

The Rock music world has many different layers, so many different story lines, so much history, technology, innovation, adventure, culture, creative performances and moments that are as complex and beautiful as life itself. Experienced, as the back cover promises, delves into the world of Rock music from all those angles and more. Here's what's included:

"Hunting Accidents" by former Guided By Voices member James Greer tells the story of how major label Warner Brothers schmoozed the band in an effort to get GBV to sign with them back in the early 1990s.

"Little Leftovers" is about a Rock journalist pursuing a Brit pop heroine he has a crush on.

"Steal Your Face" is one of my favorite fictional narratives in the book as it captures the strangeness of phyiscal/emotional/mental reality in the confusing days of a teen who spends the summer of 1983 following the Greatful Dead. The understated, almost deadpan tone of the narrator made me want to read more.

"Road Life Wearies Harmonica Virtuoso", is as the subtitle suggests, the tale of a talented harmonica player who is touring relentlessly yet barely making ends meet.

"Madonna" is an experiemental, almost stream-of-conscious piece that deals with pop star Madonna having her application to live in a NYC high-rise declined (in part by selection committee members Paul Simon and Dustin Hoffman).

"Dead Air" is the story of a radio DJ who has a confessed killer call up on the air moments after she kills a date rapist.

"The Growth and Death of Buddy Gardner" tells the legend of the Memphis blues guitarist as he moves from studio sessions and live performances in the 1960s and 70s.

"Heavy Lifting Days" provides the anectdotal reflections of an experienced sound technician which also highlights how sound equipment has changed over the years

"David Bowie Against the Enemy" is a day-in-the-life piece of a anxiety-riddled wannabe.

"Tour Diary (excerpts)" is a day-by-day journal that coves 3 weeks of a rock musicians west coast tour.

"Bodies on the Moon" depicts the aura of junior high/high school dances.

"Deja Vu (All Over Again)" involves a defunct rock group discussing a reunion tour as they have drinks in a seedy bar.

Chelsea Hotel Pictures, Images and Photos"A little Worse than Moonbeam" is the melodrama of a group of Phish heads following the band on their summer 2000 tour.

My favorite piece in Experienced, is written by Ed Hamilton (the author of Legends of the Chelsea Hotel and Outlaws of New York's Rebel Mecca). His contribution to Experienced, called "Dee Dee's Challenge", provides a snapshot of the life of Dee De Ramone during his time at the infamous Chelsea Hotel.

"Songs in the key of E" eavesdrops on two young procrastinators having a conversation about getting a drummer for their band.

The last narrative, "If a Tree Falls", is about an aging troubadour whose converations with his sister-in-law (an environmental lobbyist) prompt him to face up to the possibility of the extinction of his kind.

Overall, I'm not a big fan of fiction, but as the back cover says: Some [of these stories] are fiction and some non-fiction, but they're all true." So for this reason and many more I give Experienced 3 out of 5 stars.

©2010 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved