Monday, January 3, 2011

The Right Wing's Strange, Convenient Mathematics

MeanMesa has posted before about the passive way we respond to revelations of outrageous wrong doing committed against the democracy.  It seems that anything which cannot be completely described in a fifteen second news clip or corrected by a stroke of someone's pen must be dispatched to the realm of denial.  

An example we know only too well has to do with whether or not Barack Obama can instantly refill the national coffers after eight years of systematic looting by the other guys.  With this issue, just as is the case with too many others, even our most generous time frame apparently extended to a duration of less than two years.

Of course, all the details have been misrepresented.  What else could anyone expect with the "dancing puppets" of the Fox Network running loose among the semi-literate?  Worse, the mechanism of this deception has too often fallen into the realm of "funny math."  In fact, let's say, "extremely funny math."

The practice of carefully preparing all this mathematical manure for the wholly owned Senators to regurgitate in their now famous "committee hearings," "passionate debates" or  "special interviews" has become an art form in its own right.  Credulous listeners and viewers foolishly expect that any inconvenient non-facts would, through the normal digestion cycle of such rubbish,  collapse in the face of reality initiating "political embarrassment" to the miscreant choir who only a day before sung them as nothing less than the latest version of the "truth of Moses."

Pythagoras, from the famous painting “The School of Athens”, Sanzio (Public Domain  image source)

If MeanMesa intends for this lament to amount to more than another geriatric "ranting session," there should be some examples right about here.  Happily, of course, there are.  In fact, the contemporary occurrences of these wretched "mathematical deceptions" present themselves in a very, very long list.  For the purpose of this light hearted blog posting, we'll just pick out a few "big ones."

1. The Artificially Convenient 9.6% "unemployment rate"

This carefully crafted little theorem requires an actual person without a job, that is, a somewhat "theoretically unemployed" person, to pass through a very challenging set of "hoops" to be counted on the list or in the percentage.  Failure to navigate through these delightfully exclusive little tests results in the creation of a person who, although he has no job and would like one very much, is not "theoretically unemployed."  A good number of "voices in the know" estimate that the "real" unemployment rate is around 17%.

MeanMesa's evaluation of the accuracy of the 9.6% number? Don't bother.  It's more Paulson than  Pythagoras.

2.  The Convenient "zero" cost of living increase for Social Security recipients

Now, no one could reasonably doubt that a seriously thoughtful scheme is not required for calculating the "cost of living increase" to be employed in adjusting Social Security benefits.  This "zero percentage" cost of living increase, for example, must be carefully measured in a manner based on the current costs of things which Social Security recipients actually purchase.  The rules say that items such as a new, nuclear aircraft carrier, a three dozen stone set of matched DeBeers blue diamonds or a $25 Mn "tourist junket" aboard a Russian Soyuz  space craft are not to be included in the Social Security "cost of living index" calculations.

What does such a list of exclusions leave on the Social Security "shopping list?"  Apparently not medical treatment and drugs -- up 12% since last year; food -- up 7% (all New Mexico) since last year; gasoline -- up 6% since last year; or utilities - up 6% since last year.  If these frivolous items had been included in the "cost of living index" factors, Social Security would not have calculated a "zero" increase in the "cost of living."

3.  The Conveniently "less than a $Trillion dollar cost" of the Bush military adventures

Of course, the autocrat trotted out his very best "number benders" to minimize the war costs even before he craftily deleted them from his gigantic deficit  "spending bills" by classifying them as "emergency supplementals" to his visible budget, already a train wreck without them.

Things "counted" and "not counted" in the deadly Bush "numbers?"

Items such as bullets and bandages, tank and helicopter fuel and the operations costs of a few run down, rat infested veterans' hospitals were the very minimum  charges W's "special accountants" could not successfully omit from the totals.  However, items such as incredibly over-paid, emergency "no-bid," multi-billion dollar contractors (and that is "emergency" year after year for most of a decade), outright bribes and, of course, the famous million dollar pallets of hundred dollar bills the viceroy accidentally misplaced clearly had no place in the "totals."

The actual cost of the Bush Oil War in Iraq is agonizingly close to $2 Tn.

4. The Conveniently Uncertain,  Bouncing, "National Debt"

Of course, there are situations -- especially if one is a "not-too-concerned-with-the-truth" sleazy radio pundit -- in which a larger or smaller national debt offers a persuasive advantage.  The reported debt numbers jump around between $11 Tn and $16 Tn, a $4 Tn difference.  Also, naturally, there are about a jillion very convenient, different ways to, uh, "calculate" the debt.

But a $4 Tn dollar difference between radio stations?  Wait a minute.  Math-wise, a moment of explanation may be in order.  A billion is a thousand million.  A trillion is a thousand billion.  If a trillion is written out with all its zeroes, it looks like this:


and, of course, a trillion dollars looks like this:


The annual GDP (total value of domestic goods and services) runs around $12 Tn, depending on whether we are having a "good year" or a "bad year."

When someone in a responsible position can't correctly determine whether his part of the government is spending $1 Tn or $2 Tn, that guy has to join the ranks of the "theoretically unemployed" where his unemployment check will be subject to the "real cost of living."  Moreover, all of these consequences should begin the morning after he comes up with another "conveniently wrong"  $2 Tn price tag.

5. The Conveniently Obscure Total Cost of the TARP

When "Smilin' Hank" Paulson showed up for the check from the carefully terrified Congress, the amount seemed to be $800 Bn.  Naturally, within moments the corporate "news fraud" had snatched that number and run with it.  The $800 Bn figure was clean, easy to understand and, totally in its own right, infuriating to the general public, thus falling comfortably within the "news" category of "If it bleeds, it leads."

However, in the small print on the TARP check there were dozens of additional, "collateral" expenses and guarantees which had to accompany it.  Although these didn't have to be included in the actual amount on the check, they would eventually have to find their way to the balance sheets in the Fed and at Treasury.

For example, all the foolish billionaires who had pumped cash into AIG -- then backed their investments with derivatives and guarantees -- had to be made whole unless, of course, they were Lehman dollars.  This little glitch all by itself added most of a $Tn to the actual cost of the bail out.

All told, that is, counting all the "extras," the "next guy" was going to have a budget that, if made transparent, would jump $2 Tn higher than even the outrage which emerged from the autocrat's figures.  To his credit, Obama has not only "gone transparent" with the numbers of the full cost, he has aggressively moved to collect on all the Bush paper.

Of course, there is still that last desperate possibility that Americans can be  tricked into believing that TARP came from Obama and not from Bush, Jr.

Other Convenient, "Non-Money" Special Numbers
6. Climate Change

Even though a third grader, reviewing the "weather news" for the last year, would conclude that the planet's climate is plunging headlong into a disaster, MeanMesa understands that the coal and oil folks are understandably anxious to pump "boat loads of carbon dough" into "confabulating" any of the troublesome science associated with climate change.

Even though the equivalent of an Encyclopedia Brittannica has been published publicising the incredibly dangerous climate developments we face, "Old Mr. Oil" and "Old Mr. Coal" seem intent on relentlessly trotting out the results of their own "special science" to refute climate change models.  MeanMesa suspects that these miscreant throwbacks were actually relieved by the deflecting publicity when miners died in their  illegal, collapsing coal mines or vaporized on their exploding oil rigs.

Wholly owned, carbon Senators will delay any response to this killer just as long as they can continue to cash their carbon-based campaign checks.  Bad math will "lubricate" the effort just as "wonderfully" as  Chinese WalMart motor oil.

7. The Convenient Math of the  "Voice of the People"

Vice President Biden recently lamented to the slithering neo-cons in the House that "You are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts."

Although this may have seemed a little dramatic, Biden's words were not without substance.  For example, in the desperate GOP dinosaur attack on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal, literally dozens of Southern Sunday School Graduates and other Republican "War Experts"  (heh, heh, heh -- "Gramps" McCain?? and an old Navy lawyer??) kept referring to the "voice of the people" to support their medievalism when every poll was showing that the "voice of the people" was 70% in favor of the repeal.

This imaginary, yet very convenient, "voice of the people" is now cited daily all over Capitol Hill.  For example, this "voice of the people" wants health care killed, Wall Street set loose from its new regulations and the Social Security Trust Fund privatized.

8. Convenient "Math Lies" Are Also Local

This "alphabet soup" mathematics can be found even in the quiet, high deserts of New Mexico.  Around here, MeanMesa has watched horrified as the local school district, Albuquerque Public Schools - APS, has gleefully "discovered" its own massive shortfalls.  One day these disasters are $75 Mn, but the next day they are $200 Mn.  Next week, the shortfall will change again.

The New Mexico State Government has had a budget shortfall of $200 Mn only to suddenly discover that the figure is really $400 Mn.  A week later, it has become $600 Mn.

Conclusions, Conclusions

How, exactly, can an "informed electorate" either in New Mexico or across the whole country possibly solve the problems of the Republican Great Depression when no one can be certain about how bad it is?

The numerical chaos is roughly the same story in most cities and states in the country right now.

Are these figures really all this hard?  Americans, unable to digest the mayhem of catastrophic predictions, simply roll back their eyes and dispatch the entire, unpleasant affair to the always convenient "land of denial."  MeanMesa thinks otherwise.

Now, although these examples may have been interesting by themselves, the title of this post mentions the Right Wing.  What exactly do the billionaires have to do with something like this?

Quite a bit actually.  To make this easy, let's roll down "memory lane" where MeanMesa's special view of history is presented in paper mache' dioramas constructed entirely of "Paulson dollars."

Ex-Treasury chief Paulson loses $1 million on DC home

(article and image source)
As for the other billionaires, we can make this short and painless.  Well, maybe not so painless.

Before Ronnie Rayguns invented the "trickle down" fraud, middle class wages were rising.  After "trickle down," however, middle class wages have not increased even as much as inflation for three decades.  Before "trickle down," middle class consumers had money in their pockets and, predictably, bought all sorts of things, making American enterprises fat and happy.  After "trickle down," however, prices continued to rise, but the amount of money in consumers' pockets stagnated, creating, again predictably, a problem for American enterprises.  The "demand economy" faltered from a diminishing middle class purchasing power.

In no time, economic geniuses created a wonderful alternative to this slow strangulation of the national prosperity.  That was, of course, the "supply side economy."  In it, the junk on the shelves would no longer be an enterprise response to consumer demand.  Instead, the cages were reversed.  The junk on the shelves -- the "supplied junk" -- would demand that there be a, well, consumer demand.

All this may have sounded good, but there remained a problem.  Although the "eager beavers" in the enterprise side were all over creating an ever increasing supply, the middle class consumers still didn't have any more, additional money to spend for the "junk on the shelves."

The geniuses rushed back to the office to solve this next problem.  The answer they came up with was simple enough.  Credit.

This solution would make it possible to increase consumption without ever actually increasing wages.  If the billionaires are not already in the developing picture you are creating, this is where they show up.  Not only could credit solve the lackluster demand problem, it would also represent a wonderful way for the billionaires to retrieve the all the equity that middle class consumers had invested in their real estate, pension plans and retirement savings.

After all, according to the Right Wing, all that equity always belonged to the billionaires, anyway.

And now, as prices have risen and values have fallen in every account here from real estate to the cost of labor or from imaginary assets to the date they are not taken away so much as disallowed, from wars so cynical they must never be glimpsed in true light, the great harvest has begun.  A few of the billionaires have been mortally short sighted as they incorrectly positioned themselves for the final numbers.  Others, even more foolish, trusted each other, crippled with the idea that perhaps "class knew loyalty."

Of course, their servants have plied these synthetic numbers to us.  The actual scope of the vaporization had to be concealed as long as possible.  After all, there remained -- right to the end, most likely -- the last dangerous spark of the possible collective correction incompletely defined as democracy.

Now, we find ourselves with all this proof that this isn't actually happening, or worse, can't actually happen.  We also find ourselves not only broke, but tired and toothless.  In fact, we find ourselves so shaken by the reality of all of this that not even a fresh dose of more funny numbers can make us feel any better.

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