The Independents

Gen Geo. W

It took me nearly all year, but I read Ron Chernow’s biography of Gen. Geo. Washington in 2014. Yes, Hortense, it dished on his famously wretched dentures, the cause of many a painful hour for the first President.

Dry as it was, the overwhelming picture created by the book is of a man who struggled mightily all his life. Yes, he had a beautiful home and indulged his expensive tastes, but he was often technically broke. His extended family and that of Martha caused him no end of sadness due to the premature death of her children and others of subsequent generations. George and Martha took in many young relatives over the decades, and treated them as children.

On the battlefields of the Revolutionary War, Washington lost more than he won. So much always appeared set against him, not just the might of the largest empire then known. There were spies, traitors, incompetent colleagues, a lack of money, lack of political will, lack of gunpowder, poor training, no training, illness and on and on. And yet somehow through all the bloody defeats and ragged retreats, he managed to keep his center. And he won.

Dogged determination is one thing; this is something entirely different. I want to say it was faith, but Washington was not a terribly spiritual man. So it was a kind of faith, but faith in what was right, a faith in an idea.

The Idea was quite possibly the best one man has ever generated. I wonder how George would look upon it in its 240th year? Do we need to rejoin the fight for freedom? George Washington’s fight for freedom?

Here Be Dragons

1977

Living in a world without spin is as distant as ever. Trust is changing from being a commodity to something more akin to platinum: rare, hard to find, and, if you do find it, as valuable as anything on earth.

Trust in governmental and official agencies is on the wane, especially here in the USA. I smell that a lot of folks observe the corruption of elected folks and their unelected officials and wrinkle their nose. Something isn’t right. There’s a big bag of dead prawns somewhere stinking up the joint.

Take, for example, this morning’s unemployment report. These numbers come from something called the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The headline release is superficially alright; the unemployment rate is 5.3% down from 5.5%. Fine.

One hardly needs to be a post-doc economist to note the following figure: 93,626,000. That is the number of people 16 and over who could be working but who are not.

Ninety-three million.

That marks the so-called participation rate at a 38 year low, back to 1977. Think Bee Gees, KC and the Sunshine, Glen Campbell’s Southern Nights. Thelma Houston. Star Wars. Fleetwood Mac.

This is the story. No-one’s working. At a job, anyway.

How to Think

I see the end now. My plan is to be out of this hideous neo-slavery by the middle of September; the end of the year at the very latest.

No pay raise in the four years. No benefits added, despite something called the “Affordable Care Act” requiring employers like my own to provide health insurance. No improvement in work conditions. No anything except continuing child-like management and capricious oversight.

Not a pretty recipe.

But I am staying until the time is right for another reason, which is that I am writing a book. What I do night-to-night is sufficiently out of the mainstream – but likely of interest to a lot of people – that I am sure it has an audience. My competitive advantage is that I doubt that anyone with the wherewithal to write 100,000 cogent words has ever had my job.

That is a mixed reflection on me if ever there was.

Let’s not look back. I am writing 250 words a day. The shape of the book is coming into focus. And I have finally come to see how one needs to think about projects like this. But that’s for another post. Gotta head off and shackle myself for my gruel again.

Bankers

Before Wells Fargo was Wachovia. Wachovia’s superior management screwed things mightily with the complete list of blockhead banker follies from the mid-aughties, namely credit products they didn’t understand and outlandish home lending.

From the distance of eight or so years, the malfeasance of so many highly-paid people looks even more dopey. Banking, particularly domestic and small business banking, just isn’t that hard. You take deposits. You pay interest on (some) of those deposits. To make those interest payments, you lend money and charge interest. If the difference between what you charge and and what you pay out is a positive number, you have made a profit.

The kicker about banks is this: they lend out multiples of the dollar figure they have on deposit. This is called fractional banking, and is really the golden egg of a banking licence. At some points banks were lending up to fifty times their deposit base. That means for every dollar I had in my checking account, they were lending and charging interest on fifty.

Gearing like this nearly cost us the entire financial system, or so we’re told. And as an aside, no-one has yet been indicted nor have they been jailed for any of the many regulatory and civil breaches from that. Ahem, regulators?

So Wells Fargo, which was less bad at this game than Wachovia, took them over in 2008. They are now my bank, but only by way of inertia. I do not like them. But this morning I finally got around to opening an account at the Suncoast Credit Union. We’ll see how that goes. Hopefully it will smell cleaner and fresher than the stinky old megabank.