Wednesday, March 3, 2010

mene tekel, and other zona news from la la land

There are two important figures in the News today. One is $3.99. The other is 10.6 million. One is a measure of the America’s deeply broken sense of justice, the other is a measure of the delusive dreamscape in which the political system is fighting its battles.

Here’s what you get in California for pinching a package of shredded cheese, priced at $3.99:

“On Monday, more than a year after a man was arrested outside a market in California with a $3.99 bag of Tillamook shredded cheese in his pants he had not paid for, a judge decided to go relatively easy on him, sentencing him to seven years and eight months in jail.”

It is hard not to laugh when you read in the U.S. Press criticism of the ‘barbarism’ of countries like Iran, where you can be executed for sodomy. They should take a lesson from our radiant and humane justice system!

“Prosecutors in Yolo County, Calif., outside Sacramento, had originally asked for a life sentence under the state’s “three strikes” law, arguing that the man, Robert Preston Ferguson, was a menace to society because of prior burglary convictions.”

What can you say about a country that, on the one hand, cheers on an ex VP who claims to have ordered torture and is proud of it, but fears the menace of a man with a packet of shredded cheese in his undies? It is beyond insult. Insult gets its energy from the absurd – from the man who fucks his mother, from the man who is born from a female dog. Insult is a geek show. But as reality in the U.S. is a geek show as well, insult and reality merge.

As for the second number, here are the appropriate grafs from David Leonardt’s NYT column:

““The strength of data we saw at the end of last year exaggerated the strength of the underlying economy,” Richard Berner of Morgan Stanley, says. “And now we’re seeing some pullback.”

This is especially troubling because the economy is still such a long way from being healthy. Lawrence Katz, the Harvard labor economist, estimates that 10.6 million jobs would need to materialize immediately to return the job market to its condition when the Great Recession began. For it to get there four years from now, the economy would have to add 316,000 jobs a month. That pace would be faster than in any four-year stretch of the 1990s boom.””

Clear your head of any other figures, as this is the predicative one. It tells you what you need to know about housing, income, and the national mood. The crisis was masterfully attacked, to the approval of people such as those who write on the Business page of the NYT, by an elaborate game of hide and seek. This rescued the richest from the results of their years of predation. But the state cannot rescue the richest forever. In point of fact, though the worker may, as Marx says, depend on the capitalist, ultimately the capitalist depends on the system. The system of American capitalism now reflects thirty years of backward motion in which public investment was outrageously stinted, and the grossly dumb theory that free markets allocate capital efficiently was made the mantra for the orgy of peculation that gave itself the name, The Great Moderation. Just as the Great Depression was a reflection of a fundamental shift in the economy – the collapse of the agricultural sector as an employer – so, too, we are suffering from a long term ailment – the collapse of manufacturing as a high wage employer – that can’t be addressed within the fundamentalist parameters of free enterprise. Thus, the unreal struggle of the hollow men of D.C., as Dems and Reps grapple with their mind forged manacles, and the rest of us are left to the mercies of D.A.’s looking for that score.

Although the reader might object that I am downplaying the menace, the terror of the cheese thief:

“According to the Sacramento newspaper, Mr. Ferguson’s defense lawyer, Monica Brushia, argued that his six other burglary convictions had taken place three decades ago and noted that his conviction for misdemeanor assault came when he was a teenager and had thrown a can of soda at one of his siblings. She also noted that the psychologist’s report had concluded that Mr. Ferguson was mentally ill. He has biploar syndrome and struggles to control his impulses to steal during manic phases, she said.
She concluded that his most recent thefts were petty. “We’re talking about a pack of cheese,” she said.
Leaving aside concerns about whether the long sentence was just, some observers in California asked if the cash-strapped state should really be spending between $50,000 and $100,000 a year to lock up a cheese thief.

The last graf reminds me of something I’d been reading, recently. Where was it? Oh, here: “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relation with his kind.”

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