American Red Light District

December 20, 2011

Where have all good men gone
And where are all the Gods?
Where's the street-wise Hercules
To fight the rising odds?
--I Need a Hero, Bonnie Tyler, from the movie, Footloose

. . .
U.S. equities dropped like North Korean dictators last week as the Federal Reserve announced that there would be no change in current monetary policy, and no more quantitative easing. For now.
Much of the decline stemmed from the general disgust of global investors following the previous week's European Summit. For all of the hoopla, there was no Hail Mary pass that may have won the game in the waning seconds. And investors are angry.
Because stocks have every other reason to rise. Low inflation. Easy money. Recent U.S. economic data is not bad. And historically, this a great time of the year for equities. Stocks have finished the year with a flourish for 26 of the last 29 years. Why not now?
That may be the problem.
The stock market is a forward-looking discounting mechanism. It moves according to what the global investor class is forecasting 6 months out. If all of the ingredients for a rally are there, yet stocks don't rally, what's up?
Global markets are three years removed from the last crisis. The wounds are fresh. And everything in Europe looks, smells and acts like a Euro version of what happened in 2008--with tighter clothes and techno music. A European remake of a horror movie we've already seen.
I lived in Europe for a couple of years in the early nineties. When old buildings were in need of repair, scaffolding would be erected along the façade of the building. Men in overalls with lunch boxes would decend upon the building. And all of it--men, scaffolding and all--would still be there years later.
Nothing in Europe happens quickly.
When European leaders began to wrestle with the current issues, the global community figured they would act with haste. Only, they didn't. Why start now? Instead, they took at page from Washington, D.C.'s playbook, which the duopolists in D.C. originally borrowed from the Europeans, which states the following:
"When confronted with a pressing, systemic issue that threatens the very existence of civil society as you know it, error on the side of getting re-elected by avoiding any real action. In other words, kick the can down the road, where someone else (someone not as suited to remain in office as you) can deal with it at a much later, possibly post-apocalyptic, date."
And so they do. On both sides of the Atlantic. Even as the crisis worsens. Pours into other regions. Time is not on our side, yet our leaders act like time is all they've got.
This will likely continue until other nations are facing default. Until hundreds of additional banks appear ready to fail. Until millions of additional bystanders are ready to lose their jobs. Loans remain unpaid. And the price tag on fixing the crisis rises tenfold.
That is, as the asteroid approaches the earth's atmosphere, our leaders will begin to consider it.
What happened to men of action? Teddy Roosevelt. Reagan. Kennedy. I'd settle for Clinton. At least he'd set a course and go.
Our current president, for all of his charm and intelligence, appears a babe in the woods. That much-hyped lack of executive acumen is, in fact, a problem. Perhaps if he forged ahead he would become a good executive. A solid president. But the Oval Office was not meant to provide on-the-job training. Especially in the midst of crisis.
One cannot run on "Hope and Change" and then simply hope for change.
When the building is on fire, you don't determine to use the opportunity to reorganizing the human resources department. You put out the fire. Save the building. Make sure people are safe. Then, you might consider reorganizing human resources.
Yet, this is what the president chose to do. In the midst of the greatest economic conflagration this nation had experienced in decades, he determined to reform healthcare. Financial services.
When businesses were already struggling to see through the smoke, to plot the safest escape routes, he added to the confusion. Added to the complexity of escaping a burning building by making the landscape harder to navigate.
In the big picture? These could have been worthy endeavors. But, in context, they were simply the derivations of poor leadership. Of idealism trumping realism.
There would have been plenty of time for reform. After the nation was back to work. After business was back on its feet. After the fire was out. The building cordoned off. The reconstruction completed.
Now? The president is back on the campaign trail. There, he is a worthy adversary. So long as there are hopeful masses seeking salvation, then silver-tongued politicians will always find podiums from which to pontificate.
And of the current class of potential GOP contenders, there is nothing readymade.
Romney, the likely candidate, has a head for finance and executive experience. To me, his Mormonism likely means he has a moral compass. Yet, the GOP establishment detests him.
Ron Paul, though tarred and feathered by the media as a loon, probably represents the nation's fastest route to salvation. As a doctor, he understands healthcare. Further, he understands economics. And doesn't mind bucking the establishment.
Hunstman is capable, bright and pedigreed. A former governor, he also worked for Reagan and Bush. But the Republican establishment doesn't like him. Why? He also worked for Obama. As the ambassador to China.
Newt? So intelligent. But, he strikes me as an intelligent whore. Willing to say or do anything to gain office. Like the majority of his peers.
Nothing is cut and dry.
Europe's a mess. Our leadership on both sides of the Atlantic care more about staying in office than solving problems. Guess that happens when politics becomes a profession. Comingled with corporate wealth. With a huge dash of ego.
The founders? They served temporarily. Politics was an avocation. They gladly returned to their lives after having made a civic contribution. They made their money, and their reputations, the old fashion way--they earned them.
Today's civil servants earn their fortunes by speaking big, acting small, and always deferring to whatever plays best on television.
Reagan said, "Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.
Accordingly, Washington D.C. has become our nation's red light district. Though many might argue that, unlike politics, prostitution is victimless.

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