The Fall of America, Part 2: How the Republicans Flim-flammed the American Electorate

Yes, this is a long post. But when you are trying to illustrate how a superpower can fall, it takes some few words.

In the last installment I discussed how the inevitable leveling of globalization started eroding the well-being of American workers, who had enjoyed an enviable advantage after WW2, due to a series of factors — most of which now have been reduced by globalization.

In this installment, we’ll see how the Republican party played both sides of America’s decline in the 2010’s: firstly, to lure disaffected American workers with promises of economic benefit while in reality, they sought (and succeeded) to line the pockets of the wealthy. Along the way, they helped destroy the concept of political civility which had unified the U.S. through many crises of the past and set the stage for a political disaaster.

A rising tide – but not for you: globalization’s pernicious effect on wages

The 1990s found Republicans and conservatives in general reeling from an unanticipated success by the Clinton administration: balanced budgets, falling crime rates, and economic growth. These factors weren’t all due to Clinton, who had his own problems in the personal sphere, but his leadership did well for the U.S. as a whole:

  • no ruinous wars
  • welfare reform
  • reasonable taxation (highest marginal rate just 1/2 what it was under Carter)
  • open trade (NAFTA had been signed by his predecessor, the Republican H.W. Bush)

Generally, Clinton was business-friendly. One act of Clinton’s signified his business-friendliness — and was the most fateful signing of a bill for the 21st century: the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, sponsored by three prominent Republicans, which set conditions for a financial crisis to threaten the entire global banking system. (That crisis would come in 2009). Nice job, there, Bill.

Clinton did benefit from a rise in productivity which had nothing to do with is leadership. It was during his time as President that big gains in productivity through automation brought huge windfalls to U.S. corporations — but not their workers:

Government data, chart by David Dayen (@ddayen)

Government data, chart by David Dayen (@ddayen)

This chart is from an excellent post by David Dayen about wage growth here, and is notable for two salient trends:

  1. Starting in the early 1980s, we start seeing a big payoff from computers aiding office (information technology), factory automation and engineering (CAD/CAM).
  2. Worker compensation benefited very little from the rise in productivity since 1977.

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The Fall of America Part One: Winds of Economic of Change

Series: The inevitable weakening of American economics, the disintegration of the American political system, and the rise of a global bureaucracy.

In my Pat Hayden Jones universe, the Earth and its colonies are ruled by a bureaucracy. This structure, the Benevolency, arises from the ashes of several wars of horrific destruction: between the Caliphate and the New Russian Empire, the South Asian Nuclear apocalypse of Pakistan and India, and New Hapsburg vs. the Caliphate. These conflicts leave the Chinese Hegemony the superior economic force, especially as it had absorbed the United States and with it, the rest of North America.

Yet none of this could have happened without the world’s superpower, the U.S., having failed as a nation. Only by letting the vast military might of the US. stand by could the Caliphate and Russia have gone hammer and tongs, or India and Pakistan have been allowed to nuke each other into oblivion. How and why could the world’s number one superpower have failed so completely, and so quickly, that by the end of the 21st century it had dissolved from the world’s #1 economy and military superpower to a vassal state rules by the Chinese?

In this installment, I’ll discuss how the U.S. reached a position where economic trends critically weakened the prospects for all workers save those with highly technical skills (and the writing was on the wall for them as well).

In the next installment, I’ll look at politics: how one party in particular played both sides of America’s decline in the 2010’s: firstly, to lure disaffected American workers with a promise to ‘make America great again’ (and, presumably, bring back the Promised Land of ever-increasing standard of living); and secondly, to line the pockets of the wealthy. Along the way, they destroyed the concept of political civility which had unified the U.S. through many crises of the past. That by the way, will be all real-life history, not fiction.

It the last installment, I finally get into speculative fiction and discuss how the political cynicism resulted in the inevitable awakening of the masses to their exploitation by a jaded political party, leading to its disintegration. That political vacuum opened the path for a new, more radical reactionary party similar to the National Socialists in 1930s Germany. Finally, I’ll paint the picture of how a demagogue, an American Hitler, could be legally voted into power, leading to constitutional crises, political paralysis, drastic mistakes in handling our debt and fiscal policies, and eventual fall of the United States as an independent country.

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Dialing in on Nin, and why an SF/F guy is reading her

I’m reading Anaïs Nin this month, having started with Henry and June, her unexpurgated diary (review here), and now have read through more than half of the earlier (heavily edited) Diaries, Vol 1. One might wonder why a Sci Fi writer is diving back into the classics. It is to beef up my ability to deliver good characters, the lifeblood of any story, even of tech-driven genre fiction.

I’m finding in Nin a very complex character, and she fascinates with  statements like this: “I may be basically good, human, loving, but I am also more than that, imaginatively dual, complex, an illusionist.

I love this line because it so clearly states the duality faced by all of us, between the inner being and the outer persona. In the complexity of human emotion, we find not only duality but even dichotomy, and that fascinates me as a writer. I want to be able to reflect that in my characters. Basically ‘good’ characters will be driven to do dastardly things at times, or they will react badly until they discover the good in themselves. To me, that’s what character development is all about, and what should fascinate (and raise tension for) the reader. An early beta reader never liked my MC as I took too far my depictions of his prejudices (which were wiped out by the end of the book). In the present form, I’m careful to make him sympathetic, while still flawed — and growing throughout the book. Nin says of herself: “I have done the vilest things, foulest things, but I have done them superbly.” If one can capture that elan, one can deliver to the reader the essence of a gripping character.

The clear lens into the chaos of the mind Nin gives the reader serves also to illustrate how exceptional people think. And don’t we authors want to portray exceptional people? Making heroes accessible, to me, is a high art, and Nin provides great direction. She freely admits to a nature that partakes of life like a butterfly, or maybe a bee is more appropriate. Her flowers are the people in her life, primarily men of literature who were working in and around Paris at that time. The salons through which she passed held so many luminaries. How many of us would be so blasé about sitting in with known literary greats that we’d pass up visiting someone like D. H. Lawrence, who admittedly was living ‘close by,’ and yet never visited by Nin? Yet she absorbs her broad exposure with aplomb. Nothing astonishes her, since she herself is so astonishing. Do you ever wonder how famous people feel when they get up? When they’re hungry, grouchy? Nin gives her reader a vision of how exceptional people interact with the mundane, while maintaining a state higher, more intense than us ordinary folks. Here is another great line from the Diaries:

I too am interested in evil, and I want my Dionysian life, drunkenness and passion and chaos; and yet here I am, sitting at a kitchen table and working with Henry on the portrait of June, while Fred is making a stew.

There you go. The divine and the absurd coincide neatly together. Sometimes the divine is held in abeyance, but it is straining at the leash, always. That balance, if depicted in fiction, would be as effective as it is in this woman’s journals.

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On Charlotte Shane

From the magic of twitter (I have no memory how) I stumbled upon her writings. And I thought, cool, here is a hip lady who writes frankly about relationships, has a woman-aware slant but doesn’t come off as a misandrist. She seemed fairly balanced about how she considered her clients. She was proud of her emotional maturity and understanding of, even kind to, the male clients she had during her sex worker days. And she writes intelligently about issues between the (various) sexes. For example, she has pointed out in online articles, that from her perspective, men had things to work on, but she did not come across as having an axe to grind with mankind. When I saw on a Twitter post her books (N.B. and Prostitute Laundry) were at a local bookstore, I went and purchased both of them. I’ve posted a review of N.B. (Nightmare Brunette) at my Whisky and Words blog.

The public persona

After buying her books, I started following Shane on Twitter. Given the vehement and steady drip of misandry and derision towards men (particularly white men) coming from her twitter stream (@CharoShane), I realize that her published short form was subject to editorial polishing. Clearly, from the way she broadly dismisses (white) men, Shane, in her pursuit of social justice, intentionally puts off male readers. That’s fine if you’re an author who can afford to alienate half your potential customers. Given her following, she can.

Frankly, I find the ‘men are universally horrid’ meme annoying and pointless. Class warfare is class warfare no matter how you dress it up and IMO, it has no place in human relations. My philosophy is, life is hard enough, approach every person you interact with some understanding. They might be an OK person just having a hard day. Furthermore, the older I get, the older the people I interact with, the better they’ve become. People are born without a manual and make a lot of mistakes, but some learn as they age. Some learn better than others, or just stop learning at some point. That’s humanity.

What can a writer learn from Charlotte Shane

Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? I started down this road to broaden my horizons, break out of the SFF genre and tech-heavy reading I usually do and get back to foundations. I don’t have an MFA, after all — I’m a tech guy. I’ve read some books I otherwise wouldn’t have, and I’ve got a lot more books on the book list now. I highly recommend Anaïs Nin and Erica Jong for a feminine worldview, and I’ll have other, more contemporary, women authors to report on before long. I’m hoping this reading can give me better insight into how women experience emotion, how they deal with the frustrations of life and the willfulness of others who don’t do what we think they should. For the record, I’ve learned some stuff from Charlotte Shane’s N.B. even though I think Shane is a woman who is on the third standard deviation of feminine personality, who had a job which is far from the norm for most women. I also learned some stuff reading Marquis de Sade. Not all of it is usable in your average SFF novel, but a writer’s job is to experience, and convey. The extreme writers have a place.

The art vs. the artist

Shane is very intelligent, insightful, empathetic, and vehement in her observation of social justice. She writes like ten motherfuckers, if I may regress to Army lingo. (It’s apropos.) And she’s also egotistical, channeled, ambitious, conflicted, angry, often unpleasant to ‘my kind’ and yet vulnerable. Bottom line, she was worth a read. But there are a lot of books out there, including some other good ones by former sex workers. When you’ve gotten to Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, it’s time to pick up Shane. She’s the only writer I’ve come across who could have intimidated de Sade.

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Seven magnificent use cases for Android Wear

[Edit – I had Jerry’s “run them off the road” quote on the wrong context earlier – fixed.]

You know, I like the Android Central podcast. I drive a lot for my job, hours at a time, so I have time for their long, rambling webcasts. Phil Nickinson is an engaging, energetic host, Russell, Alex and Andrew lend different perspectives and Jerry Hildenbrand is epic in his technical insight and cagey warnings against dodgy tech.

Phil Nickinson, Authority. Android Wear Doubter.

Phil Nickinson, technologist. Android Wear doubter.

But in a recent ‘cast (I think it was 272, Rumors and Allegations) I heard Phil say, “We haven’t figured out a use for Android Wear yet.”

What?!

And in episode 263 they were all freaking that people actually called in to record their voice messages using their watches. Why not? And finally, in last Friday’s ‘cast, number 273, they mulled again about the applicability of Wear, with Jerry grumbling (38:08) “My phones in my pocket…my watch can’t do anything my phone can’t do and I can have it either vibrate on my wrist or in my pocket. I don’t have that use case where I need it yet.”

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The agony and ecstasy of online reviewing

Professional authors (e.g., folks who can actually live on their authorial earnings) are likely to have really good editors. The editor is known to them, there is give-and-take between author and editor, they build trust over multiple projects, and like a producer for a rock band, the editor serves as the steady hand on the tiller regarding questions of style and tone.

If you aren’t published yet, and most of us aren’t, I hear that in-person workshops are great. I can imagine having multiple people in the room at the same time arguing about the different ways I could have written a passage. Better, I can imagine arguing how some passage is right as it as, because it fits into the greater part of the whole. I’d really dig that. Especially as I’d be reading and discussing their stuff, and I’d get an idea whether their concepts for style, construction and tone were at all simpatico with my own.

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Using Twitter, a less-than-ambitious but humanistic approach

There are a lot of folks who are really working Twitter. They’re getting to 10,000, maybe 50,000 users as fast as they can….good for them. They use auto-follow and auto-unfollow tools and plan to turn that huge twitter base into cash.

Frankly I think at this point in the twitterverse, that’s a fool’s game. Twitter has stalled at about 300M users. Why? I think it’s the fact there is too much commercialism and advertising, so it’s getting harder to build a really interesting community. Meanwhile, the big followings are being gained by existing personalities (celebs, etc). I think it will be phenomenally hard to become famous based on Twitter being your marketing arm, but I see lots of folks who seem to think they can. I can only imagine their twitter feed is nothing but a machine, run by machines, and most likely, it isn’t doing a damn thing for them. The Kardashians of the world have sewn up any commercial value in Twitter.

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Pat Hayden Jones – Renegade update

15 months and about 2 weeks after my last edit, I’m back at it. In the interim I spent a lot of time learning stuff for my new job, so now yes I know how to set up DHCP, LDAP and DNS and all that jive for a Linux network, and also learned Linux is a right royal PITA. But that’s beside the point.

The main advantage to coming back to a manuscript after so long is you feel you have nothing to lose, and editing is that much easier. Getting this story down to the bones, ditching unwieldy plot devices cooked up in mad-genius fugue states, jazzing up the tension — all become so much easier when I thought it was dead anyway, so why the hell not?

I’m at 140K  120K words. I think I can get this under 100K. Let’s see…

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Day after Christmas, a.k.a. Boxing Day

Since I married a woman who spent a few formative years in the U.K., and I’ve got friends there and even done some traveling in Old Blighty, we’ve got a few English terms in our lexicon. One is Boxing Day, traditionally the day the servants got the day off (and presumably ate the leftover Chinese from takeout boxes, hence the name*).

bouche

A decidedly pedestrian bouche, not up to the usual standards. Except for the creatures, mostly done by the young ‘uns.

We’re all pretty much tapped out on anything sweet, having ploughed through a mince pie, three panettone, the obligatory chocolate orange, and a bouche de noel (see right).

 

Alcohol is also low on the list of preferred tipples today. In fact I’m taking a delicate course of bran flakes and oatmeal as I purge the body. Meanwhile, the soul still wallows in the swollen river of self-indulgence that is Christmas in America. Here’s my New Traditional American activity graph for Boxing day:

Boxing Day

We’re doing a bit more than that — I’ll be walking (!) to the liquor store to pickup a Glenfarclas 12 for review on the whisky blog. And we’ve got our charitable giving still to do (before the end of the year). The Syrians have got everyone’s attention and though we enjoyed the fruits of peace and enterprise here in the U.S., we’re keenly aware that the world is not yet the peaceful place we all hope for. Maybe it will be better next year.

*Yeah, I’m b.s.-ing there, the real deal explained here.

 

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How Dell sells tablets for NVidia

Or, ‘How Dell annoys its customers and enables its competition’

All I wanted was a mid-sized tablet for hanging out at breakfast & on the couch/in bed — and also take notes with a stylus,  since I hate transliterating my awful handwriting after customer meetings. (I love my Surface Pro 2 but it is a bit heavy.) I had a $100 Dell promo gift card from a previous purchase which would expire on 7 Dec. I ordered VenuePro 8 5000 (64 GB, 2 GB RAM, sounded boss) on 9/30. The stylus arrived in a couple days, the tablet showed arrival of 12 Oct. Checked 12 Oct, showed status ‘canceled.’ No explanation nor email from Dell as to why. On Chat, 13 Oct, waited 50 min to talk to someone who re-ordered the tablet. assuring me it was still an orderable product. It was due to ship on 10 Nov. On 11/5, I see it is again delayed, by 7 days, to 11/12. Back into chat (after a 40-min wait); I ask for reason why & get “you went thru small/medium business, call another number” which after a 40-min wait is very annoying. On 11/12 I see it is again delayed by another week. I gave up on them ever sending it, or it getting canceled and my promo card expiring useless.

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