Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Boomers, an indictment?

This guest column is brought to you by a long time Durham resident and UNC graduate. At this point, it is a couple of years old. The critique offered of the Baby Boom generation feels fascinatingly prescient. In their insubstantiality, their "navel gazing" as the author puts it, did the Boomers allow this current economic malaise to happen on their watch? Is this what came of the flower-children, who gave it up and went to Wall Street, Washington D.C. and the endless little boxes of suburbia? Our guest columnist, a Boomer himself, and a Durhamanian through and through, trod no such path. Here he offers an eyes wide open look.

It's endemic: Boomers age and they go nostalgic. They’re beyond being self-consciously retro, it's an entire generation that has just crested middle aged, like a piece of just turned over-ripe fruit, sweeter than it should be with a slight aftertaste that says it's too late. Somewhere, resident in the gut, is the sense of the long slide into old age, where there's no longer an active attempt to stay young; they’ve been lapped once too often in that race. Rather the focus is on arm-chaired memories that evoke their experience of youth - unadulterated nostalgia.

The Marketeers have donned their Mousketeer ears and invited Boomers to rejoin the club. It pervades current marketing - we've entered the Post Greatest Generation nod to our WWII elders and established a new benchmark for what is regressively relevant. A recent article in Newsweek, I believe, noted that certain car designs (like the Chrysler PT Cruiser) drawing on themes from the fifties and targeted for young first-time car buyers, find Boomers as their demographic, and the younger set, seeing this, flees. Television ads take on the patina of a faded photograph with images that evoke the late forties through the fifties. The current equivalent of the Lawrence Welk and Art Linkletter TV shows is Garrison Keeler’s Prairie Home Companion, doing one better by leapfrogging backward over television to the era of radio. Along with a number of other shows, it is a mix of self-conscious and self-parodying that ends up ultimately sincere (sincerity being the starting and end points for Lawrence and Art,) lulling the listener with a wink to go ahead and indulge its desire for just above average wholesome Midwestern corniness.

Go ahead.

After all it's what most of the white middle class and its aspirants fed on growing up (And now grown and comfortably set, comes another iteration: The Martha Stewart School of Nostalgia, that combines stereotypical notions from Boomer childhood of what it took to live the hunt country life combined with a wash of wholesome domesticity). There are countless cultural markers offering Boomers a palliative as they lull themselves into feeling better about life. Like it or not, this tendency was insinuated early into their consciousness, became a sleeper and at the right time, when they sensed mortality, with less to come than has been done, with a weariness that goes with over 30-40 years of irony, relativism, postwhatever, the pace race, a generation's proclivity for navel gazing, and increasing contrasts between their self image and the mirror held up by their grown children, they quietly yearn for simplicity and find a short cut through the kitchen door into the backyard of their youth.


It makes their children roll their eyes, if not render them irrelevant. Boomers have not only become their parents, they secretly hope to become their grandparents. For it's their grand and great grandparents who long ago gave up any illusion about their time in the sun running things; they’ve lived through their nostalgia and are about as clear-eyed as one can get, where the most press their kind receive comes from the obituaries, reverently intoned by Boomer journalists outlining the long-past outstanding career of some pioneer who just died. Here the elders outlive their contemporary Immortals – their heroes. Hence to them the deaths of their peers speak to their imminent mortality as a simple fact, if it isn't already manifest in their own list of aliments and diminished strength. For Boomers the deaths of their elders speak to their own march to the front line with no buffer, no parent to offer the illusion of protection from death. Here the flat world theory holds: one definitely sails over the edge into oblivion. So they regress and look for rituals and symbols that immerse them in their youth, a final dream before they're forced to wake up. And if not awake then looking to the past allows them to back into their future, while casting a quick quiet dispirited glance over their shoulder at what’s to come.

Hence, their children rightly believe their parents are out of touch with the present much less some sense of ever expanding opportunity that is the basis for their reality. Boomers’ fond memories from thirty to forty years ago are the equivalent for their parents’ own sense of World War I and the Depression – it does not register viscerally no matter how well films and books portray what happened between World War II and the Seventies: It only matters to the Boomers. What more can I say…

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Strange story: from Israel

There is a serious global recession underway. Waves of populist anger are sweeping through places where they have been heretofore unseen. This story from the Los Angeles Times about looting in Israel, a liberal democracy, came as a surprise. The LA Times reports that, "The [Israeli] economy is expected to shrink 1.5% this year, according to the Bank of Israel, compared with growth rates of 4% or more in the previous five years... [It] also forecasts an 11% decline in Israeli exports, which account for half the value of everything the country produces."

The looting occurred at a supermarket in the region of northern Israel called Galilee. It closed without paying workers their final two-months wages. They were laid-off and the store manager disappeared. Subordinates left in charge told employees they could take their due in goods, but the situation spiraled out of control. The LA Times says,
"They rifled through their shuttered workplace, helping themselves to crates full of groceries.

As word spread through the small town, the store's jilted creditors joined in. They dismantled the light fixtures, ripped out wiring and absconded with the cash registers, even as television cameras rolled.

Within hours the parking lot was jammed with ordinary shoppers. They left car engines running and brought their children to help pick the shelves clean. Finally even the shelves were hauled away, leaving latecomers to scrounge the floor for leftover fruit."

This was not the first looting incident in Israel this year. A bankrupt hotel saw a similar scavenging when it bailed on banquets and weddings for which it had already taken deposits.

Of course, Americans can hardly say they have never seen such things. The Clarion Content just thought it was a ominous sign of times to see it happening in an economic tiger like Israel.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

New York taxes scrapped

Unlike the Republican governors we have been excoriating the last month here at the Clarion Content for the threats to refuse the federal budget stimulus money, one Democratic governor knows exactly what he is going to do with the funds.

Governor David Patterson of New York is bucking the traditional tax and spend Democrat label and using the stimulus package as an excuse to rescind an estimated $1.3 billion in nuisance taxes New Yorkers were supposed to face next year. Governor Patterson has a reputation as an outside the box thinker. Facing a massive budget shortfall, the governor had proposed taxes on everything from movies, concerts, massages, manicures, gym memberships as well as clothing and footwear priced under $110 to an 18% fat tax on non-diet sodas and an extension of the state sales tax to downloading of music, games and other entertainment.

At the time he proposed the taxes Governor Patterson said, "Everything is on the table because we don't know where the floor of this crisis is." Now, according to the New York Daily News, he is relieved, "I didn't want to do it in the first place. The reason that we would like to put money back in the hands of New Yorkers is so that they'll spend it. Not on taxes, but on ways to grow the economy."

Monday, March 9, 2009

Legalization is everywhere

For all the wonderful brave things that are in Barack Obama's budget, he did not propose legalizing drugs. It is a wonder because just about everybody else is.

Here is but a small sampling. One piece in the Economist is subtitled, "Legalization is the least bad option." It essentially argues that the prohibition of drugs has been an abysmal failure. And not for lack of effort, it says, "The United States alone spends some $40 billion each year on trying to eliminate the supply of drugs. It arrests 1.5m of its citizens each year for drug offences..." It is a very persuasive piece. (Of course, legalization surely jives with Clarion Content's libertarian bent.)

Another one from the blog Wallet Pop, starts with discussing a backlash Kellog's is facing for having dropped swimming star Michael Phelps in the wake of his bong hitting photos. Apparently a Facebook page ripping Kellog's has 6,000 members. One commentator pointed out that the company didn't drop Phelps for a DUI in 2004. The article goes on to list a standard litany of reasons to consider legalization.

The final piece from the San Francisco Chronicle
is subtitled, "Smoke this recession." It argues if there ever was a perfect time to legalize this is it. Unlike the Economist's piece which focuses on the public health benefits and advocates legalizing everything, including hard drugs, (full disclosure: this is the position the Clarion Content favors) the Chronicle specifically advocates just legalizing marijuana. It is written from an angle that believes vices are counter-cyclical and takes quite the California perspective.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Obama hosts dinner

President Obama held what was termed a "Time Out" dinner Wednesday night at the White House. Approximately 180 guests, all of the House and Senate committee chairs, the ranking members, the members of the President's cabinet, his senior staff, and legislative staff along with all their spouses sat down to eat at the White House. Tables were adorned with white roses, white peonies and green apple centerpieces.

The President was quoted by ABC News,
"The country is going though an extraordinarily difficult time, and we are going to have some monumental debates taking place over the next several months and years. We’re not always going to agree on everything. But given how hard so many of you are working on both sides of the aisle day in and day out, I thought it was important for us to be able to step back for a moment, and remind ourselves that we have things in common family, friends, laughter. This is a pretty big house so we get lonely."
Reportedly on the menu according to ABC News: Celery Soup, Wild Mushroom Crisps, Steelhead Salmon with Citrus sauce, Crispy Spinach, Toasted Saffron Couscous Pearls, Baby Iceberg lettuce with Maytag Bleu Cheese and Yogurt ranch dressing and for dessert, Milk Chocolate velvet cake.

President Obama apparently following the old prescription, 'Keep thy friends closer and keep thine enemies closer' was seated a table with Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Read the full story here.

Obama and the teleprompter

One of our intrepid Durham readers brought this note to the Clarion Content's attention; we didn't know, did you? Apparently, President Obama is hooked on the teleprompter.

He is widely know amongst the media for relying on it at events large and small. On the campaign he reportedly used it everywhere from a rodeo ring to a factory floor. Politco's Carol Lee quotes presidential historian Martha Joynt Kumar, "It’s just something presidents haven’t done. It’s jarring to the eye. In a way, it stands in the middle between the audience and the president because his eye is on the teleprompter." Lee goes on to add, "...it is a startling sight to see such sleek, modern technology set against the mahogany doors and Bohemian crystal chandeliers in the East Room or the marble columns of the Grand Foyer."

Obama doesn't try to hide the teleprompter. Nor does he appear to be weaning himself of off it. It is not exactly FDR and the wheelchair, but interesting inside the White House baseball nonetheless. Link to the full story here.

Thanks for the heads up chef Don!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Be careful what you wish for

There has been so much noise and glee in Democratic party circles about the thought of Rush Limbaugh becoming the spokesman and face of the Republican Party. At the Clarion Content we can't help wondering if it isn't a case of be careful what you wish for!

The basis of the Democrats claim that Limbaugh is the head honcho of the Republicans is the kowtowing of first a couple Republican Congressmen and then new Republican party chief Michael Steel. The Democrats leaped into spin that this showed Rush was the de facto leader of the Republican Party. Maybe so. The Democrats have even constructed websites to push the notion.

Rush Limbaugh is a self-made media maven. His audience and thus his reach is enormous. His audience's loyalty is extreme, witness his ability to bounce back from allegations of heroin, oops, pain killer addiction. This is not to mention some of the outrageous things that he has said and been able to bounce back from. The guy reaches so many people Disney owned ESPN once had him covering NFL football. His is a powerful populist voice and it wold behoove the Democrats to think twice before daring Rush to the fore of the debate.

These are dangerous times in America, edifices are crumbling from General Motors to the banks, structural change is underway from the highways to health care. Change unhinges and disturbs people. Stressful economic times make people more prone to listen to populist voices. Disaffection seeks an outlet. President Obama is running a high-wire act in more ways than one in his engagement with economy. A perception of failure around his presidency could produce a serious backlash. In the interim, Limbaugh has the podium, it is unwise for Democrats to trumpet it. The specters loom large from Father Charles Coughlin to Joe McCarthy.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cold Case

It is not just a television show. In some ways it is comforting to know that the search for justice goes on, the passage of time does not automatically exonerate the guilty. The cops, the victim's family and others still care, such was the case in Santa Clara, California this week.

Thirty-one years ago, Mary Quigley, a seventeen year old senior at Santa Clara High, was raped and murdered. Her body was found hung from a fence in War Memorial Park in Santa Clara. According to the San Jose Mercury News, "...she had been walking to a friend's house at midnight after a party Sept. 9, 1977. The sash from her kimono-style jacket was found wrapped around her neck and looped through the fence."

DNA evidence finally helped secure the conviction of an already imprisoned rapist. He and the public defender claimed consensual sex and that another group of "drugged-up thugs" now deceased must have encountered the girl and included the actual killer. The jury wasn't buying it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Republican Governors follow-up

We wrote a piece earlier in the week about how certain disgusting Mugabe-ist Republican governors are thinking of rejecting portions of the stimulus package aimed at their states, in effect fiddling while Rome burns. Among these governors are Mark Sanford of South Carolina and allegedly rising Republican superstar, Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal.

Jindal delivered the Republican response to President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress last week. Jindal's speech was widely panned and derided. From a stylistic and delivery perspective, the Clarion Content could not understand why. In our view most of the attacks on Jindal were ad hominem, the equivalent of name calling. This made no sense to us when there was so much to attack him and the Republicans on substantively.

Governor Jindal makes $130,000 personally, lives in the Louisiana Governor's mansion, uses state funded transportation and is turning down $100 million in federal stimulus money for a state that ranks fourth in children living below the poverty line and 46th in high school graduation rates, and that is facing a projected budget shortfall of more than $1.7 billion, (our thanks to Frank Rich for those dirty details.) Jindal actually received a $35,000 raise during this term as his state cratered.

Equally big scumsucker, South Carolina Governor, Mark Sanford, who is paid north of $106,000 annually and has the use of a state airplane, as well as the governor's mansion, heartily resisted a federally funded increase of $25 per week for folks who are receiving on average $244 per week of unemployment dollars. Must be nice when pulling down a cool $2038 per week, to decide who is worthy and unworthy of an extra $25 bucks. (And you wonder why we consider the guillotine within the range of possible response to these criminals...) South Carolina has a 9.5% unemployment rate, the country's third highest.

Addendum: Maybe the explanation is simpler than the Clarion Content figured, maybe these governors are part of the Rush Limbaugh wing of the Republican party; the folks who are rooting for the country to fail!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

An interesting linkage

The Economist has discovered a fascinating apparent linkage between the sales of Ayn Rand's 1957 book, Atlas Shrugged and the announcement of major financial news. Generally, the economic crisis has been good for Rand's book. The Economist reports, "the book’s 30-day average Amazon rank was 127 on February 21st, well above its average over the past two years of 542." That is interesting data itself, and it makes sense The Economist cites a recently formed group on Facebook, "Read the news today? It’s like ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is happening in real life."

The Economist goes on to note, "with pirates hijacking cargo ships, politicians castigating corporate chieftains, riots in Europe and slowing international trade—all of which are depicted in the book—this melancholy meme has plenty of fodder." What is really interesting though is the way the sales spike with financial news, rising in response to interest rate cuts, bank bailouts and even the stimulus plan. The Economist has its theories, link to the full article here.