In just a few hours, the Federal Reserve will have its first policy meeting of 2017. It’s somewhat incredible how little attention it’s getting, particularly given that it wasn’t so long ago that these meetings would be getting ALL of the attention. These days, if a story isn’t linked to President Donald Trump (President Trump- still hard to comprehend, but I digress), then it’s not a story at all. What’s even more incredible is that today’s Fed meeting could be the most important one in at least a decade.
For anyone who needs a refresher, the Federal Reserve policy meeting lost its substance early in the Ben Bernanke era, when the housing crisis of the last decade gave Ben Bernanke the excuse he always dreamed of, to drop “helicopter money” on the people, with zero percent interest rates. What was initially sold as a temporary emergency measure turned into official monetary policy for nearly a half generation. His successor and current Fed Chairwoman, Janet Yellen, was all too willing to keep it in place until recently, with only one measly interest rate hike prior to the shocking election, back in December 2015. (She probably even regretted implementing THAT one.) Nevertheless, the financial community hung onto every word that came out of these meanings, pretending that they gave some indication as to how close the central bank was to ending this near-zero interest rate environment. Though the words were altered from time to time for effect, the ultimate answer about when it would end was always some variation of, “Not right now.”
That appeared to have possibly changed last month, with the second hike of Yellen’s tenure shortly after the election results came in. Whether this was a change in direction or just an isolated incident, will be seen tomorrow. Nearly everyone is betting that the rates will hold as they are, but I’m not so sure. Then-candidate Trump all but challenged Yellen to raise them, railing at the phony economy- prior to subsequently taking credit for the stock market rally once elected, of course- and claiming that rates had been suppressed for too long. (At least he got THAT one right.) Surely deep down inside, and perhaps NOT even all that deep down inside, Yellen knows that this is a financial bubble that is LONG overdue for popping. What better time to have it happen then with a President she surely does not support. That’s not to say it would be PURELY political, but given that the man himself practically DARED her to, she now has the cover she needs for herself to take care of it. It’s far from a sure thing, but if I were a betting man- IF, IF, *ahem*- I would bet that rates go up tomorrow.
I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, for most of the same reasons that half the country didn’t vote for him- his incendiary comments, his lack of political experience, his shady business dealings, among other things. You know the list. But give the man his due. His detractors ridiculed him for getting a head start in life from his father’s success, yet these are the same people that act like Warren Buffett built his empire from a lemonade stand. (Howard Buffett, a successful businessman and congressman, gave young Warren a start that was light years ahead of the one that Fred Trump, a successful real estate investor, gave Donald.) For all the times that Trump declared bankruptcy, he always came back, bigger than ever. He’s made his enemies along the way, but for better or for worse, he’s overcome them all.
And this brings us to the #NeverTrump movement, mostly well-intentioned but quixotic from the start. From the beginning of this campaign, these people made every excuse in the book for Trump’s success- the primary field was too wide. The liberal media was intentionally propping up this weak buffoon. The voters were being conned. But at the end of it all, Trump rose above it, as he always seems to, beating the greatest American political machine of our generation, in spite of (because of?) the opposition of the media, the entertainment industry, and even prominent members of his own political party.
And it’s that last group that, above all else, needs to understand what happened here, because as I’m typing this, the earliest indicators are that they still don’t get it. Well, I’ll do my best to clarify it for them. The anti-Trump conservatives that want to pretend that other candidates could have done so much better than Donald Trump- most notably Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio- are trying to convince everyone that it’s only because Hillary Clinton was a weak candidate. There is this belief of false equivalency going around right now, that only Hillary could lose to The Donald, just like only The Donald could lose to Hillary. Two problems with this-
1) The entire Democratic establishment was all in on Hillary. The entire Republican establishment was all in AGAINST Trump.
2) Donald Trump DID beat Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton did NOT beat Donald Trump.
In addition to these two seemingly self-evident facts, The Donald’s detractors refuse to acknowledge that he possesses something which alludes most politicians, particularly those on the right- a genuine ability to connect with people. And if this is STILL not enough to convince his many detractors and critics how remarkable Trump’s triumph actually was, they should consider this…From the beginning, the corrupt Clinton machine, with Bill’s draft dodging, and sexual assault, and secret deals with China for campaign cash, and endless character assassination on not only political opponents, but those who simply “got in the way”, combined with Hillary’s smearing of a 12 year old rape victim, and Whitewater dealings, and Benghazi, and mishandling of classified materials, CONTINUOUSLY stepped on the Republicans for a quarter of a century, almost uninterrupted. In turn, these Republicans feebly tried kicking Bill out of office, practically hanging all hope on a technicality, yet instead ended up launching Hillary’s political career. Some of them even openly SUPPORTED HER FOR PRESIDENT, as the #NeverTrump movement, with very few exceptions, became little more than Hillary’s minions. And yet, Donald Trump, with all his faults and NO POLITICAL EXPERIENCE, managed to end the Clintons. Whatever else happens from this point forward, he deserves serious recognition for that act alone.
As for what does happen next? That’s anybody’s guess. We’re in uncharted waters now.
For many this election cycle, the only convincing argument that Hillary Clinton has had going for her is that she’s not Donald Trump. Throughout this entire campaign season, she has made the news for all the wrong reasons. For one brief moment, though, that changed, as she was interviewed in a genuinely funny episode of Between Two Ferns, the popular Web series hosted by Zach Galifianakis. Zach* is the star, of course, but Hillary played a fantastic comic foil, absorbing just enough heat to let us know that she can take a joke, but not so much that she looked like a doormat for the subversively hostile interviewer. (The hostility was mostly in jest, but substantive enough that it could potentially make her look bad, had she not known how to handle it.) The interview humanized her in a way that would not have seemed possible to many of us, making it easy for one to consider that she may not be so bad, after all- even for those of us who long ago came to the conclusion that she is. Ultimately, that’s what makes effective political propaganda- an image strong enough to convince people to reconsider their own strongly held beliefs, without beating them over the head with it.
This is where Joss Wheedon- the otherwise brilliant director and writer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Avengers, and other national treasures- completely missed the boat with his star-studded anti-Trump screed, appropriately and overtly titled Save the Day. Starting out the commercial by mocking the self-importance of Hollywood, Wheedon and his stars tried to inoculate themselves from accusations of it. In reality, they merely drew attention to it, as evidenced by the mediocre (at best) Like:Dislike ratio, compared to the stellar one of the Between Two Ferns clip. Next time Wheedon wants to do a political commercial with humor, he ought to give Zach a call.
Far more likely for the Between Two Ferns “blackout” of Trump is pressure from the entertainment industry. This isn’t to say that anyone is making threatening 3 AM phone calls to Zach…well, besides Hillary’s people, perhaps. But consciously or not, surely Zach and his people recognize the intense criticism that even someone as popular as Jimmy Fallon is taking, for daring to treat Donald Trump like any other celebrity guest. (Collectively, Saturday Night Live received the same criticism last year.) The message from Tinseltown is clear- Trump is a danger for which there is no precedent in modern American life, and any attempt to humanize him will be met swiftly and mercilessly.
Even if the outside pressure has nothing to do with this, there is plenty of evidence that many Trump detractors hope that it does. We have seen and heard, from many in the media, that Donald Trump cannot be treated as a “normal” candidate. In other words, those who attempt to shine the slightest bit of light on Trump’s more “human” qualities are aiding and abetting this dangerous monster. The reality is that this attitude says far more about the critics than it does about Trump. Everyone should have a fair opportunity to show who they really are, particularly those running for President. If Trump is truly is a threat to the republic, then let the people decide that for themselves. There is plenty of evidence going around of what kind of person he is overall, without having to “protect” people from seeing him in an occasional moment of levity. The same goes for Hillary Clinton.
Finally, to liberals smugly convinced that they are better at taking a joke than conservatives (see the comment section of the Huffington Post link)- get back to us when you don’t get so worked up about Donald Trump’s hair being rumpled.
*I’m not trying to pretend that I’m on a first name basis with Zach Galifianakis- I just hate typing out his last name!
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…Around 2 PM Eastern Time, you get “breaking news” that the Fed will not be raising rates. Stock gyrate wildly for a few minutes, followed by a rally-inducing statement from the Federal Reserve governor, which goes something like this- ‘While the economy has strengthened, we need just a LITTLE BIT more time to confirm the trend, as pockets of weakness still exist. Rate hikes are right around the corner- just not quite yet!’ Sound familiar? It should, as we’ve heard this at nearly every FOMC meeting since the last crisis abated (at least on paper) at the end of the 2000’s. It happened again today, as Janet Yellen told us to hold up for the time being. But really- it’s coming!
Whether you agree with what the Fed is doing or not, it is truly remarkable how each time we hear this, the media report it like it’s the first time we’re hearing this. For those who need more concrete evidence, just go to Google, set the time range for 2013, and type in the keywords “Fed”, “rate hike”, and “sooner than expected”. Or, just look at screenshot attached to the right, courtesy of “Rudolf E. Havenstein” on Twitter.
For those who have paid attention to these repetitive Fed announcements since the charade began, it feels like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day- just living the same day, over, and over, and over. (And for bloggers, typing in similar posts, over and over and over again.) Well, enjoy it while it lasts, I guess, however long that may be. It seems like an eternity while going through it, but you’ll be waking up next to Andie MacDowelleventually!
(Note- this is A *SPOILER HEAVY* review of the season 20 premiere episode)
It’s impossible to pinpoint a single reason why South Park remains so incredible. For one thing, the height of the show’s popularity came years before the height of the show’s quality. Think about it- when the feature film “Bigger, Longer, and Uncut” was released at the end of the last century, not a single word had yet been spoken by Butters, Randy was merely known as Stan’s dad, and Cartman was, in hindsight, a somewhat one-dimensional foul-mouthed ignoramus, still a long ways from the double-crossing schemer that we’ve come to know and, for lack of a better word, love.
It’s also refreshing, in a time where most topical comedy seems to be about finding the easiest path to getting a “WOOOOOO!!!” from a sympathetic audience, South Park continues to take shots at targets everywhere. Even longtime fans of the show will find themselves saying, “Heeeey- wait a minute!” at least once or twice an episode. All of its elite peers, such as The Simpsons and Family Guy, peaked years ago. With an ever-growing list of things to offend anyone, combined with the increasing madness of our world, the one which South Park resides in has more than enough reasons to be as compelling as ever.
Recently, though, the most important change to the show has been in the format. With prior seasons more or less relying on each episode as a standalone, last season followed a format usually suited for dramas, with continuous storylines throughout. If not watched from beginning to end, the viewer could be left very confused. (I’m speaking from experience.) Given the renewed praise of the show, which introduced PC Principal as one of the show’s newest main characters, it’s no surprise that Season 20 is sticking with this format.
Also back are the Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s lightning-fast real time responses to current events. The commercial for the opener, featuring the townspeople singing the “new national anthem” in a scene not actually shown in the episode, imply a strong distaste for Colin Kaepernick’s perceived self-aggrandizing. On the flip side, the opening scene of season 20 gives us South Park’s girl volleyball team, protesting a legitimate grievance during the National Anthem. In this case, the target is the public’s reaction to the protest, too caught up in turning the National Anthem protest into a sport, to consider what the point of the protest might actually be. On the show, the cause was misogynistic cyberbullying, serving as a stand-in for real life police brutality. This is classic South Park- before you can get too comfortable nodding up and down, clapping like a trained seal at your TV set as the host (or hostess) validates your etched-in-stone worldview, you instead find your worldview being challenged. In other words, those who want more public attention focused on injustices, might wonder if Colin Kaepernick’s divisive tactics are the right way to go about it. On the other hand, others might wonder if Kaepernick’s cause, if not Kaepernick himself, might at least be worth considering.
But that wasn’t even the biggest target of the night for this episode. Returning to the spotlight, more relevant even now than when the joke was first introduced, was “Giant Douche versus Turd Sandwich.” This has gotten some criticism from other parts of the Internet, seemingly because some take umbrage at Hillary Clinton being referred to as Turd Sandwich. Lacking in self-awareness, many of these people scream at South Park’s “false equivalency” of Donald Trump’s awfulness and Hillary Clinton’s (from their point of view) far-less dangerous qualities. Always ahead of the curve, Parker and Stone seem to have anticipated this in advance, in the form of Randy Marsh, incredulously wondering how anyone can possibly consider voting for a Giant Douche (Trump) over a Turd Sandwich (Clinton). In fact, those paying attention to the episode in a non-partisan light would see that they did actually spend more time skewering Trump- with Mr. Garrison used as his stand-in, to hilarious effect. Some pro-Clinton critics also griped that the level of Trump bashing wasn’t enough, which missed yet another point of this plotline- that Trump’s buffoonish behavior (or in this case, Garrison’s) has been a net positive for the guy. Besides, they had his solution to getting rid of America’s enemies as “f*cking them all to death”! What else were they supposed to do, exactly, have him shoot someone on 5th Avenue?! That wouldn’t have mattered, either!
But wait- there was even more to this episode! It was a long summer, and there were plenty of other topics to address, as well. Thanks largely to Eric Cartman, we witnessed jabs at-
Amy Schumer’s increasingly tired act
Overly sensitive reactions to criticisms of the Ghostbusters reboot
An excess of reboots, complete with over-the-top praise for JJ Abrams’ minor tweaking of classic plotlines
Gratuitous gender-bending roles, courtesy of a brief mention of Token, playing the role of Little Red Riding Hood’s grandma (“Get over it!”)
And finally- for those who disdain Parker and Stone’s anti-liberal leanings- deceptively tasty right-wing nostalgia fruit, known as ‘member berries. (As in, ” ‘member Reagan?”).
The last one- which, in fairness, had nothing to do with Cartman- is of particular interest. Although it was fairly lonely as the one target solely aimed at conservatives, it also is the one that has the potential for the most mayhem this season. (It took every ounce of strength for me not to type out, “bare the most fruit.” Forgive me, dear reader.) Starting out as relatively harmless nostalgia vehicles, mostly by mentioning great movies of yesteryear, the berries find their way into sinister territory, reminding Randy of a time when there weren’t as many Mexicans in the United States. Not one to normally figure out when he’s being duped, Randy almost immediately senses that something is horribly wrong. This was quite out of character, but perhaps the writers thought that having a beloved character like Randy susceptible to racism was a bridge too far for viewers to cross.
The surprise I felt at Randy’s awareness at the situation, however, was nothing compared to the twist ending, though, as we discover that the troll is Kyle’s dad, of all people. Near everyone in the world, both South Park’s and ours, figured it was Cartman, but the South Park writers have shown themselves to be capable of some pretty jarring twist endings, ever since “Scott Tenorman Must Die”. Why a mild-mannered lawyer, usually one of the more level-headed characters on the show, would take to the Internet to troll elementary school girls is anyone’s guess. Finding out why is a good reason to keep tuning in, in case you needed one. Which you shouldn’t.
The whole thing seemed a little bit strange to begin with. Leading with a question about a relatively obscure city- obscure to most of the American public, anyway- rather than directly asking about the broader crisis itself, is an unconventional strategy, to say the least. In other words, why not just ask Governor Johnson about Syria directly? It would almost be like a reporter in early 1940, asking a fringe-challenger of Roosevelt to open with his thoughts on Westerplatte. But even assuming Mr. Barnicle himself had the best of intentions, it defies belief to think that the media-at-large did. This is enforced by none other than Mr. Barnicle’s employer itself, MSNBC, putting up a Youtube video a few hours later, asking the (loaded) question, “Should Gary Johnson Be Disqualified From Debates?”
Consider that we have one major candidate, who has been near the pinnacle of American power for a quarter of a century, claiming to not know what constitutes classified data. (Of course, many think she’s lying about that. Assuming she becomes President, we’d better hope that she is, but that’s for another topic.) We have the other major candidate, showing he doesn’t know…well, much of anything, besides how to work a room and self-promote. (Also for another topic.) And never mind the Presidency- the media, along with many in the American public, decide that this is what disqualifies a candidate from even debating?
And how about that American public? If you can’t name all of the Supreme Court justices, then you really are the 99%! It might be unreasonable to assume that someone who can’t name all (for the time being) eight justices would be unaware of Aleppo. It would, however, be reasonable to assume nearly all of the 63% who can’t name one Supreme Court Justice would have no idea where Aleppo is. And yet, many of those same people took to Twitter and Facebook on September 8th, to ridicule Gary Johnson for the exact same “sin”. Sadly, this is what passes for public debate these days- ridicule and scorn. Think about it. Whenever climate change comes up, what is the percentage of comments dedicated to those making fun of those merely skeptical of it, versus comments that discuss possible solutions? We see this play out in the very same interview that created this controversy. With all the “gotcha!” coverage of Governor Johnson’s geographic lack of expertise, his thoughtful, nuanced, and far more relevant response about American use of force was completely drowned out-
“When we involve ourselves militarily…in these humanitarian issues , we end up with a situation that is not better, and in many cases end up being worse.”
Well said, Governor. And, with respect to Hillary Clinton and her vast knowledge of the globe– she was Secretary of State, after all- I’d rather have a President with a thoughtful foreign policy, than one who can ace a geography quiz.
None of this is to entirely let a Presidential candidate off the hook, for not knowing a strategic place of tragic consequences on the other side of the world. But given that most of us, myself included, had no idea where- or even what- Aleppo was before all of this, maybe we can try knowing more about it now, instead of ridiculing someone who didn’t know about it then. And given our primary choices for Presidential candidates, it can’t hurt to learn more about Gary Johnson, as well.
Here we go again. In what became American tradition years ago, the Federal Reserve released minutes from its most recent policy meeting, lending the masses to think there is some real discussion on just how close the next rate hike will be. Taken at face value, we are supposed to think that it’s going to happen very soon, just as soon as they can get their hands on “more economic data” to confirm. It’s unbelievable- to paraphrase the show Archer- in the sense that I do not believe any of this.
The Federal Reserve, while never truly “independent” as their mandate claims, now spin things more shamelessly than elected officials- and given the insanity that we currently find ourselves in, that’s really saying something. What “more economic data” do these people need? We live in an era where we have more data than most of us know what to do with! For those not old enough to remember a pre-zero interest rate environment, or for those who have simply forgotten- seriously, it’s been one-third of a generation already- this was initially supposed to be a temporary response to the economic crisis of 2008. The crisis, at least on the surface, abated within 2 or 3 years. Then Fed-chairmen Ben Bernanke said the rates would be “normalized”, once unemployment fell below 6.5%. When we actually reached that point, though, the Fed changed their tune, stating there were other factors that went into consideration, even though 6.5% was the benchmark THEY STATED THEMSELVES!
But okay, let’s do it their way. If they want “more economic data”, how about the fact that the stock market has been skyrocketing almost nonstop the past 7 years? (The Dot.com bubble and subsequent real estate bubble, both viewed in hindsight as pinnacles of investment madness, each lasted about 5 years apiece.) How about the fact that in most real estate markets, prices have approached or even exceeded levels that in the previous decade, most people now claim- again, in hindsight- were clearly ridiculous? I was no fan of Alan Greenspan, but he was absolutely lambasted for leaving rates at 1% for 1 year, allowing the markets to overheat and ultimately crash. What in the world is the fallout going to be from having ~0% rates for 8 years- and counting?! Plus, even the watered down version of today’s CPI is running at 2%. By leaving rates at almost nothing, the Federal Reserve continues to punish savers, while rewarding those who pile on the riskiest, most overpriced assets. The hope is that they can continue to keep this thing going juuuust a little bit longer, assuring us that the case to raise rates is “slowly building”, to a point where they can finally return to normal- if anyone can recall what that even looks like anymore.
The idea seems to be that so long as the game keeps going, The Powers That Be can hold the whole thing together- a great idea from their point of view, so long as the endgame is nowhere in sight. Rest assured, though, there IS an endgame, regardless of whether anyone can see it or not. It just won’t be the Fed who comes up with it, because they will have lost all control of it at that point. But until that elusive day of reckoning when Wile E Coyote finally looks down? Happy “investing” to all!