The Masters of the Universe.

Japanese cartoons are pretty cheesy (the vast number of anime and manga fans out there are essentially connoisseurs of cheese), and as a result they generally express the heartfelt desires of the mass of the population, whether it be to tie schoolgirls up in intricate but extraordinarily tight bonds, or to witness the flattening of major cities by gigantic obsolescent reptiles. One such cartoon, represented for its target gaijin audience as “Masters of the Universe”, depicted those Masters as essentially demented, power-crazed deformities pursuing destruction for its own sake. “Monsters from the id”, as it was put in Forbidden Planet. (The connection between science fiction, pornography and comic cheesecake of all flavours is discussed in a rather dull book called Men Of Tomorrow.) However, it does look as if the cheese has it; the Masters of the Universe are following exactly that pattern.
Well, they are the Masters of our Universe, and that’s what matters.
Perhaps the most startling episode was when David Cameron (a.k.a. Lord Snooty) shambled out onto the stoep of the Union Buildings and began to drawl gibberish about how he would certainly not stop slaughtering Libyan civilians until Colonel Gaddaffi stopped defending Libya against foreign aggression. (Of course, what he said was that he would not stop defending Libyan civilians until Colonel Gaddaffi stopped eating babies, but nobody listens to what he says anyway.) Then Zuma stepped out beside him and said that he was completely in agreement with Cameron except over the issue of the role of violence in international affairs, because peace was required in order to promote democracy. Zuma seemed like a somewhat more courageous and plain-speaking Neville Chamberlain standing beside Hitler, except that Cameron would look even worse with a toothbrush moustache.
It says something very significant when the towel-boy of the Free World makes our corrupt, lying President look like the ideal statesman.
But to see just how bad the situation has become one has to look beyond the towel-boy to the recipient of the towels. Recently we underwent a visit by the wife of the President of the United States, who babbled even more nonsense than Cameron and was, of course, treated with the usual awestruck sheepishness by the hired bumsuckers of the local media. Possibly she is faithful to the mass-murdering pirate who shares her bed; probably not, knowing the habits of the U.S. ruling class. In any case, her arrival was simply a publicity stunt connived at by our own ruling class in a desperate effort to cloak the hideous realities of U.S. policies which have made all of our national problems infinitely worse ever since they began paying odious attention to us. But the Creator digresses.
The government of the United States is engaged at present in what all American pundits call “Kabuki”. It is a formalised contest over a formalised issue — the increase in the entirely unnecessary limit set by one branch of government over the U.S. national debt, which another branch of government wishes to exceed. Kabuki theatre, while admittedly highly stylised, has actual intrinsic meaning for its audience. What the Nippophobic American punditry are doing is misrepresenting Japanese culture, for the formalised American debt contest has no intrinsic meaning — its meaning is entirely extrinsic. It’s all about what’s happening behind the curtain where you aren’t supposed to look.
As if you didn’t know, the U.S. economy is in the toilet, and that’s one reeking toilet. The official unemployment rate is 9,3%. Best guess is that the employment rate according to the way it used to be measured is about 16%. If the Americans hadn’t thrown so many people in detention, it would be somewhere around 20%. This means that American unemployment is at its highest since measurement started, and quite possibly at its highest in the history of the country. (Not, in fact, far short of South Africa’s rate of official unemployment.) Nobody’s talking about the shanty-towns mushrooming around the country, but they’re there.
But nevertheless, things aren’t quite so bad as they were in the Great Depression. (Of course, the Great Depression didn’t start out so bad; the longer a depression lasts, the worse its effects are, and there is absolutely no sign that the current depression is approaching an end.) This is almost entirely a product of government intervention. As a result of worker struggles conducted during the Depression, the U.S. government now provides unemployment insurance (although derisory compared with that for other countries) which means that unemployed people are still, for a while, able to buy stuff, and that keeps the wheels turning; so does the “food stamp” sponsorship for the very poor, introducted in the 1960s. Apart from the gigantic borrowing programme to give money to American banks and manufacturing industry in order to prevent them from going bankrupt, there has been a steady process of injecting money (all either borrowed or printed) into stocks and bonds, which has kept the money markets alive. Most of this money goes to the very rich, but because so many Americans are now dependent on the stock market for a surprising amount of their income, the effect has been to keep consumer spending from collapsing completely as it did in the early 1930s.
This doesn’t mean that the U.S. government are good guys. These are either consequences of those residual socially responsible government programmes which haven’t been done away with yet, or they are incidental by-products of government actions to make the rich richer. There has been no attempt to create jobs, and apart from a deal to extend the term of unemployment insurance (without which U.S. consumer spending would have fallen much faster than it has) the present government has done nothing to ease the suffering of the victims of the present crisis. Every responsible American economist is leaving hanks of his or her hair on the floor. Irresponsible American economists are not doing this, because they have mostly been hired either by the Presidency or by Congress.
Now, enter the budget crisis. (Exit, pursued by a bear.) It has always been the pretense of the American ruling class that it is deeply concerned with balancing the budget — which means, translated from nonspeak, with the government not spending more than it earns. Since 1960, however, the American government, like the American people, has consistently spent more than it earned. We can, thus, safely say that this pretense is a load of crap. In order to hype the crap, the Republicans have made this campaign their own. (In the far-distant past the Democrats liked to pretend that they cared about the poor and downtrodden and therefore to pretend that they would spend money on them — and although this pretense has gone, the fossilised language of social democracy survives.) The Republicans tried to pass a law forbidding the government from spending more than it earned, which would have torpedoed the spending plans of the President, who happened to be a Republican, so this law was set aside. Instead, what they did was to pass a law setting a limit to the amount of debt which the U.S. government could run up and saying that the President had to consult Congress before this “debt ceiling” could be raised.
This was a time-bomb aimed at any Democrat who happened to be President when the Republicans controlled Congress. It meant that while Republicans could spend without limit (because the Democrats would not oppose any such spending), they could also block any Democratic spending once the debt approached the ceiling (as it inevitably would) and claim that they were doing so out of a sense of responsibility. The Democrats didn’t have the guts to repeal the law (which makes no social or economic sense whatsoever) when they controlled Congress and the Presidency together, and now the debt is approaching its ceiling and the Republicans are flexing their muscles, beating their chests and chanting “Hroom, hroom!” in chorus. Just like they did before, when they shut down the U.S. government under Bill Clinton.
The reason why the debt is reaching the ceiling is twofold. Firstly, the massive deficit spending of George W Bush, which Obama has continued (including all those tax cuts which the Democrats squawked about until they became responsible for them). Secondly, the massive deficit spending of Barack Obama, mostly to prop up the U.S. banking and manufacturing system and consumer debt, although a little has gone on Obama’s brand new wars in Pakistan and Libya. (He’s continuing to fight Bush’s wars in Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan, and Clinton’s war in Colombia — ain’t it great being a Master of the Universe?)
If you really feel strongly about the deficit, the obvious answer is to repeal the tax cuts and end the wars. That would save a few hundred billion a year, after which you could take a good hard look at how to do something about consumer demand and economic growth. Much of the money currently funnelled to the financial system would probably be better spent being funnelled directly to American citizens in need of cash, who would spend it on goods and services. If you got America out of its present depression, you could then consider ways of restraining the growth of spending, so that revenue growth outpaced it, and thus the deficit would come down. This was what Clinton did, and what Mbeki did in South Africa. Conservative, but arguably sensible.
However, the American government is not concerned about spending. What it wants to do is to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich. This is exemplified by Obama’s decision to freeze public employee salaries (effectively, giving everybody working for the government a big pay cut) even as the rich get a whole lot richer (meaning that economic inequality increases).
That’s what the heir of Franklin D Roosevelt is up to; you can imagine what the heirs of Herbert Hoover are up to. What the Republicans want are more tax cuts for the rich, less spending on healthcare, less spending on education and less spending on socal security and unemployment insurance. Obama, please notice, has promised to do this, but the Republicans want more and bigger cuts than he has offered and are therefore threatening, in thirteen days as I write this, to cut off U.S. government funding altogether by prohibiting the U.S. government from borrowing the money it needs to continue its activities.
Unpack those plans for a moment (bipartisan plans, even if the Republicans are more extreme). You reduce revenue. You reduce the staffing of hospitals and clinics (fewer people spending money) and make it harder for the poor to get healthcare when they re sick. You reduce the staffing of schools and colleges and make it harder for the poor to get educated. You cut back on the poor’s access to money in every way. You are thus reducing working-class and middle-class consumer demand, meaning that the buying power which keeps the wheels of industry and the shopping-carts of retail rolling is reduced. Basically, this might be bundled together as the “Sabotage of the U.S. Economy Bill”, or, in the traditional naming of bills after their sponsors, the “Bachmann-Obama Bill”.
Now, the Creator happens to think that the U.S. economy could use a little sabotage. Quite a lot, actually, and razing the cities, selling the surviving inhabitants into slavery and ploughing the fields with salt wouldn’t go amiss either. But it does seem a little odd that the Master of the Universe, faced with a major crisis, have sat down and put their heads together and come up with a plan to make the crisis considerably worse.
And that’s the best-case scenario. For, what the Americans in their infinite magisterial universal wisdom have failed to notice is that the United States is not an independent planet levitating in the cosmos. It survives by borrowing money from other countries which are considerably better administered than it is. However, those countries’ economies have been stretched to near-breaking-point by the U.S. mismanagement of the global banking system, which is being kept barely afloat at the expense of almost everyone else.
Now what’s happening, in the midst of the instability of the worst financial crisis in seventy years, is that the U.S. is presenting the world with two options; either it makes its own recession worse (thus making the global recession worse, since much of the world survives by selling cheap stuff to America) or it stops meeting its financial obligations. Among those obligations are paying the interest on U.S. Treasury Bonds, which is the principal support for U.S. imports and the current bulwark of global capitalism. If the value of Treasury Bonds collapses, as it must if the U.S. even temporarily defaults on its payments, the scale of global financial failure would be almost impossible to cope with. Also, if the U.S. can’t sell Treasury Bonds any more it has no capacity to import the goods and services it needs and the U.S. economy itself could break down. Loss of faith in the willingness of the U.S. to pay its debts (and maybe even the capacity to pay those debts) means, essentially, loss of faith in the global economic system, which means, potentially, the collapse of banking and currency systems across the globe. It could be 1932 all over again, but 1932 with nobody in any position of power having any intention of solving any problems.
It’s as if the Masters of the Universe are a two-year-old who somehow got into the china cupboard and adores the tinkling sound as the Delft cups and plates tumble to the floor. So far they’ve only been able to smash the contents of one shelf. Eagerly, the drooling, faeces-stained monster creeps towards the next shelf. Will it instead slip, and smash its horrible hydrocephalic skull on the shard-littered concrete floor below?
We must all hope so.


One Response to The Masters of the Universe.

  1. Sure, they’re badly indebted, and the Bush Jnr. two terms played a big role in all that.

    Just so you don’t go badly off, of that roughly US$14,500,000,000,000 debt (95% of GDP) — US$4,500,000,000,000 (31% of US$14.5 trillion) is foreign funded. And of that foreign US$4.5 trillion (31%) liabilities, China holds about US$1.2 trillion (26%) — 26% of 31% — Japan next with 20%. It makes sense to aid the countries to which you export most to.

    The other US$9 trillion (69% of US$14.5 trillion) is US domestic funded — and it does not so much as fund US imports as much a drive the world economy.

    What of Bush Jnr.’s (Republican) tax cuts for the rich. What of the wars, what’s the plan, cut more domestic support for wars with no end? If you’re going to debate anything, do it balanced.

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