The Johnstown Flood

Pennsylvania borrowed more money to build infrastructure supporting canals than any other state to take advantage of the trade opportunities of the Erie Canal. Construction started on the South Fork Dam in 1838 with scheduled completion within a year, but by the time it was finished in 1852 the railroads had made it obsolete. The state wrote it off and it eventually provided a fishing lake for Pittsburgh’s elite. When it burst in 1889, causing the Johnstown flood, the total loss in life and property was probably 100 times the initial construction cost. Pennsylvania, having long since declared bankruptcy in 1841, blamed the rich.

Most every year the Congress metaphorically dances on top of the earthen South Fork Dam looming over Johnstown with the water lapping at their feet. Their solution is always the same: Let’s throw some more dirt on top this year. We’ll drain it when we drain the swamp, after we eliminate the air pollution in Johnstown, the price paid for the industrial revolution raising American living standards in the late 1800s.

The primary issue facing America during the post WW II era was whether its consumerist economy could continue to produce rising living standards for all, the cornerstone of political legitimacy. The leader of America’s competitor Nikita Khrushchev in the Soviet Union put the issue crudely six decades ago: “we will bury you” with a savings and investment rate several multiples of yours. America’s intelligence community and economic elite were shocked by the sudden collapse of the Soviet economy – like a dam bursting – less than three decades later.

Khrushchev, like most of America’s development economists, understood the role of saving and investment but not how important the private capital markets were to the allocation of capital to its highest and best use, politically directed credit being the main cause of their collapse. In Johnstown everyone knew that the valves to lower the water level in the lake had been removed during the last amateurish reconstruction, but fixing or removing it was opposed by rich land owners. The debt ceiling has similarly proven an ineffective mechanism to control America’s flood of debt, with the central bank standing ready to buy it all to the benefit of the wealthy. American politicians, feeling unbound by constitutional constraints, are addicted to issuing debt, the birthing person’s milk of politics. The Biden Build Back Better Plan promises to strengthen the dam, but like the amateurish repairs to the South Fork will weaken the dam’s foundation while causing water levels to rise, possibly to a critical level.

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Down the Drain

Twenty years it’s been, as of yesterday. Twenty years and Afghanistan is down the drain, the Taliban back in charge. At least a comprehensive malignant menace like Bin Laden is dead, with his corpse – supposedly – dropped into the deep ocean, although I suppose that his organization staggers on, zombie-like, and possibly subsidized by Pakistan’s secret service. The dust of the fallen towers is settled, and the American troops are home, more or less. Still under a cone of silence as far as the US media is concerned, as are tales of hairbreadth escapes by American citizens, employees, and American-employed Afghan nationals … perhaps they were all made to sign a binding non-disclosure-agreement, as a condition of getting on that big Freedom Bird. Or our national establishment media is doing their bidding, as obedient handmaidens of the Dem party, and doing their best to disappear this latest disaster. Well, good luck with that. There are too many of us out there, and we have a voice, for at least a little bit longer.

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Debacle

Seriously, I never expected much from American adventuring in Afghanistan, and that was even well-before 9-11. Everything that I had read about the place – starting with Kipling, and even pop novels like MM Kaye’s The Far Pavilions, and G.M. Fraser’s Flashman series – especially the first Flashman adventure, which covered the First Afghan War in rollicking (and considering current events) depressing detail.  All that I ever read about the place signaled “handle with extreme care, equipped with asbestos gloves and long tongs” to one uninitiated into the mysteries of international relations. Considering how those considered to be credentialed experts in that region have karked up the American withdrawal from Kabul and Afghanistan proper … one might very well conclude that a survey of popular historical novels dealing with the place and people therein might afford a better grasp of realities.

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We Need to Talk About Joe

The fictional mass murderer Kevin is most often described as a psychopath and his mother Eva a sociopath in book and movie reviews, the latter defined the same as the former, but without the insanity defense, i.e., a physical brain disorder rather than a choice. President Biden isn’t suspected of any such brain disorder (although dementia has long been suspected, common for his age). But Bruce Cannon Gibney argues that Baby Boomers, those born between 1940 and 1964, are A Generation of Sociopaths (2017) based primarily on their over-consuming at the expense of future generations, a massive inter-generational injustice. He allows for exceptions, but not among the Baby Boom political leaders, of which Joe Biden was the first on the national scene.

Sociopaths are defined as narcissists with additional characteristics, among which are: superficial charm, glib, manipulative, self serving, grandiose, pathological lairs, without remorse, self-centered, untrustworthy, physically aggressive, impulsive, blaming others, lacking in empathy, break promises, an ability to avoid persecution for illegal acts, and a belief they deserve to rule the world. As a result of the Obama/Biden “Good War” over half the current population of Afghanistan was born under American protection. These and thousands of those who assisted the American occupation and their families have been left behind by Joe to meet repression, and, for many, death at the hands of his captors and other Islamic radicals. His press conferences revealed almost all these sociopathic tendencies, leaving no doubt as to the applicability of Gibney’s diagnosis.

Like Kevin, Joe is competitive among his sociopathic political peers. For sheer narcissism it would be difficult to top former President Trump, and the Clintons are unlikely to ever be surpassed in the team sociopath competition. But Joe Biden, whose first attempt to rule the world over three decades ago was thwarted by a plagiarism scandal, seeks to exceed FDR, the record holder by size of Mall Monument, as a world leader not on his foreign policy experience, but by spending his way to a risky “fundamental transformation” of the US economy and society. Should we trust in Joe, or is he the “Borax Man” (a soap salesman)?

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Biden’s Victory Parade

In Anton Myrer’s novel Once an Eagle, and the made-for-tv movie that was based on it, the protagonists are two US Army officers whose lives and careers are followed over several decades.  Sam Damon is a true fighting man, dedicated to his troops and to the mission,  while Courtney Massengale is pretty much a total careerist.  At one point during WWII, Damon is conducting a desperate last-ditch defense against the Japanese, while not all that far away, on the same Pacific island, Massengale is leading a ‘victory parade’ through the streets of a town that had been liberated…a parade mostly in his own honor, it seems.

Biden wanted the symbolism of ending the Afghanistan war on 9/11, a nice round number of years from the event that led to that war. That’s the kind of thing that is important to him.  The 9/11 speech that he intended to give about the end of the war was to have been his own victory parade.