Seinfeld and Shows About Nothing

I have recently started watching Seinfeld again. The show still makes me laugh. Now, having a teenage daughter, I get to enjoy the series this time through her eyes.

All great comedy shows and writers have the ability to see something in culture and make fun of it. Given that the Seinfeld  show is now close to twenty years old, I find it so interesting that she laughs at the same jokes I use to laugh at.

The humor in the show revolves around four main characters who are forever trapped in adolescence. All of them are completely self-absorbed with seemingly no potential for growth. None of them are married, have good jobs and or any inclination to help anyone but themselves. Yet the situations and predicaments they put themselves into precisely because of their self-centered natures are really funny.

The show was a big hit and lasted for ten years. The final episode concludes with the four characters locked in a prison cell over a crime they committed: they were witnesses to a crime and failed to help stop it. As the four of them are locked away, they begin in the usual banter which made the show so famous… to which the character “Elaine” chimes in and says, “Haven’t we already done this before?”

The scene is a reference to the great play by Jean Paul Satre, No Exit, where three people are locked into a room. They  are dead and salvation can be had, but only through growth and the mercy of the others. Alas, they are incapable of such acts and are, therefore, forever trapped in Hell for eternity. Forever there, to torture and inflict pain on one another with salvation possible but never attained because of their flaws.

The root of Seinfeld’s humor is despair. Its made fun of, poked at and eventually succumb to. At the trial ,they are locked away for good as the judge hears a litany of crimes they committed against humanity. Because they are hopeless and indifferent to the plight of others, they are locked away, removing their deficiencies from society.

Oddly enough, during the 1990’s when Seinfeld was originally filmed, economic prospects were better than today. The country was not at war.  The outlook was generally more sanguine.  Yet the message of self-centeredness existed and took root. How else could Seinfeld have been so popular if, at its core, it did not touch upon and reveal some sense of a universal truth?

Since then, we’ve been in two major wars, had a tech bubble burst, a housing crisis and a tripling of our national debt. Add to that an enormous  student debt bubble which has the capacity to enslave an entire generation to indebtedness… and I would argue that times are much more dire now than when the show was written.

A central tenet of Larry David’s vision for Seinfeld was that the show would have “no hugging and no learning.” The characters were written and drawn to get a laugh. But the show is closer to the truth than he realized. The characters in Seinfeld are no longer caricatures. They are us.

If you think I am wrong take a look at this video:

For many who live in the U.S., we have no sense of history, no sense of the laws that govern us or the underlying principles that shape our country. Because so many are so self-centered, we no longer take the time to understand our relationship to the country and the society that we live in.

Maybe Seinfeld’s brilliance was not in its comedy; but, in its ability to see where the country was headed and what type of people we were becoming.

 

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

Mexico And The Border Wall

Given all the discussions about the border wall to be built, it is amazing to see how many people are up in arms about the idea. The border is just a line that demarcates one piece of land from another. In reality a difference in a few miles should mean very little, but the fact is that border means a lot.

That little plot of land that separates two countries in reality separates two ideas, two ideologies. Those differences in thoughts that get transmuted into laws and systems of governance have profound affects. Don’t believe me, go into any border town that separates Mexico and the Unites States and you can see with your own eyes what I mean. The contrast is stark. On one side of the border you have 50 million people living in poverty, while on the other side you have massive wealth.

All countries in the world have a border. And if you have ever travelled for any length of time you will notice that at every country that you enter there is a border agent to check you in. The fact is most countries worldwide realize it is good policy to see who enters your country.

The current upheaval in Europe is due to large part of the mass immigration from foreign countries without any proper vetting.Germany and many of the other European  countries have allowed millions of immigrants into their country with mindsets and religious outlooks completely different than their host country. They have let in millions of people into  countries that they do not respect or want to assimilate into. The only reason they are there is because the economic prospects in their own country is worse.

I lived in Australia in the late 90’s and one of their major concerns was illegal immigration. Given the land mass is as big as the U.S but with only a fraction of the population, 20 million at the time, many Australians were very afraid of losing their culture via illegal immigration. The Australians knew that small changes in their country could potentially have devastating changes on their cultural and political landscape. They knew their “Australian Culture” could be wiped out if they did not assimilate the new immigrants into Australian culture.

So yes it is important to vet people that come into your country. No sane country wants to bring in criminals, terrorists, or the infirmed into their country. It is irresponsible and reckless to do so. In addition it is equally risky to bring in people into your country who will never assimilate our contribute to the well being of the country.

Many of the planned proposals being offered by Trump seem sane and reasonable but for many on the left, the whole notion of restricting immigration has people up in arms especially as it relates to Mexico. But even Mexico does not have an open border policy when it comes to immigration. For example here are some of the Mexican immigration laws:

  • immigration authorities have a record of each foreign visitor
  • foreign visitors do not violate their visa status;
  • foreign visitors are banned from interfering in the country’s internal politics;
  • foreign visitors who enter under false pretenses are imprisoned or deported;
  • foreign visitors violating the terms of their entry are imprisoned or deported;
  • those who aid in illegal immigration will be sent to prison.

So even Mexico which has no problem exporting their people to the rest of the world is very conscious of vetting people who want to come into their country.

The reason that Mexico exports so many people is because the country is a mess.  Currently one out of four Mexicans now live in the U.S. With a country of over 120 million people , 50% of the people live in poverty.  The economic policies in Mexico just do not help its people. Even after N.A.F.T.A which now has 60 billion dollar trade deficit with the U.S.- all this money that has flowed into Mexico has not helped the average Mexican.

The question always asked me the media and the immigrant rights groups is how it possible that the U.S can be so cruel to the plight of these Mexicans? But the question remains why isn’t this same question asked of the Mexican government? Why is the Mexican government not asked how can they be so cruel to their own citizens that they would allow half of its population to live below the poverty line and allows 25% of its population to live overseas?

The fact is Mexico exports its poor and oppressed to the U.S which finds them employment. The Mexicans who live outside the country then in turn  remit over 20 billion a year  back to Mexico. Even with all of this money coming back to the country, Mexico still can’t raise its people out of poverty.

Where is the outrage! Mexico fix your country! If you fixed your country your people would not leave.

I have met many Mexicans who would have gladly stayed in Mexico if there was more opportunity. Many of these poor people who come here  are so desperate that they are willing to trek through the desert risking their lives for the chance of a better life. In addition many come here not knowing the language and essentially are living in a culture where they can’t even read or write English.

The fact is the Mexican economy is so bad that the people have simply given up. They believe their government is ineffective and corrupt. When I see illegal Mexican immigrants protesting against the U.S. for its immigration policies, it makes me cringe. The outrage is misplaced. They should be screaming at their own elected officials, not ours.

Since they are not citizens here , they have no rights. They are protesting against people who have no connection to them nor do they represent them. If they attacked and demonstrated as loudly as they do here maybe their leaders would have enacted policies to help them.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

We Are Broke

We are broke. The nation is broke.

The national debt is at twenty trillion and counting. That number does not even include all of the additional unfunded liabilities which, when included, add trillions more.

For the most part know, the average person knows nothing of this. We live in an era where we are told to carry on and move forward as if this mind-numbing debt means nothing.  Most of the stories being reported today are about the overreach and abuse Donald Trump is inflicting on America through proposed cuts; but, the fact is many of these cuts are desperately necessary and overdue.

This same scenario played out a few years back in New Jersey. There, governor after governor used taxpayer funds to aid public sector unions. When Chris Christie became governor and began changing policies that affected many of these programs, there was tremendous backlash accompanied by calls to throw him out of office.  Christie responded in a speech before the state legislature as follows: “Year after year governors have lied to you, administrators have lied to you; but, when I come in to tell you the truth about the status of the states finances, I become the bad guy. Shouldn’t the people who lied to you for years be treated as the bad guys and not me?”

Trump has been given the unenviable task of governing a nation completely buried in debt. He said he plans to cut many government programs because of the debt and, predictably, the Left is outraged. Some of the programs rumored to be cut are:

  • National Endowment for the Arts (eliminated entirely)
  • National Endowment for the Humanities (eliminated entirely)
  • Corporation for Public Broadcasting (privatized)
  • The Minority Business Development Agency (eliminated entirely)
  • The Economic Development Administration (eliminated entirely)
  • The International Trade Administration (eliminated entirely)
  • The Manufacturing Extension Partnership (eliminated entirely)
  • The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (eliminated entirely)
  • Violence Against Women Grants (eliminated entirely)

What’s most fascinating about the Left’s outrage is how it sees the role of government. The Left argues that the monies the government generates from tax revenues should be spend it wherever there is a need. For example, for the Left, many rural communities only have access to the arts through government grants given to local artists.  Therefore, spending government money on this is a worthy cause.

For those who are politically Right or Libertarian these programs as wasteful. The government’s role in society should be safety (the police), strong defense (border security, and enforcement of laws (courts and contracts). The Right does not, or cannot, understand the outrage in response to Trump’s attempt to de-fund many programs because, again, the government should not be funding these projects in the first place

Take for example Public Radio…commonly known as NPR. Taxpayers fund this network even though today technology provides us with radio, satellite radio, streaming radio  and podcasts.  You would think there would be no complaint about cutting NPR radio given the multitude of readily available and easily accessible resources. The market would not miss NPR because there are enough alternatives existing elsewhere.

Similarly, public television. We live in an age where people are daily cutting and limiting  their subscriptions to cable companies because there are so many other ways to access this medium. Apple TV, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu are leading the charge into this world of “on demand” customized content. In addition, free media is available all over the net these days… especially with sites like YouTube which provides free access to all of its content.  So, again, in a day where T.V is ubiquitous, why do we still need the government involved?

Finally, do any of these programs matter at all when you have no money or capacity to pay for it?. Has the public lost its collective mind and sensibility?  The nation is broke. Even if we saw a need for it, we no longer have the ability to pay for it. 

Doesn’t it logically and rationally follow that there is the need for cuts?  The same way a family will cut back when it needs to tighten its financial belt, the government should as well.

Ronald Reagan once quipped there are only a few certainties in life: death, taxes and a government program. Donald Trump is beginning to realize how hard its going to be to cut funding or eliminate these programs. For many in the private sector, industries grow and die all the time. For the displaced, they have to learn new skills and adapt to meet the needs of the marketplace to find work again. Only in government does this natural process fail to occur. Good ties…bad times…government jobs are forever.

This is the reason for the outrage.

A government job is about as good as it gets. A steady paycheck and no competition.  Its why all of the private suppliers who sell to the government are upset with the new changes. They know all too well the best client in the world is the U.S government.

We are long overdue for a reality check and cuts in the public sector…now made more pressing because we no longer have the ability to pay for unnecessary programs.

As with Chris Christie, should we be mad at Donald Trump for exposing the cuts that need to be made or the politicians who lied to us for years about the status of the country’s finances. Shakespeare had it right. Read your Henry V.

“Don’t shoot the messenger.”

 

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

Student Loans- The Next Bubble

The say the ticket to success is an education unless it bankrupts you along the way.

In case you’re unaware, a student loan bubble is brewing that’s set to explode. The crisis is looming large in terms of outstanding debt and is beginning to worry a lot of people.

Currently, there is $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loans which are growing at about 20% per year. This debt is greater than the national debt of many countries.  By our own government’s metrics, roughly 1 in every 3 loans is either not being serviced or is in outright default!

Presently, at more than 1,000 schools (representing about one-quarter of all U.S. colleges and other schools) over  half of its students have already defaulted or failed to pay any amount toward these loans within seven years of leaving school. In other words, according to the government’s own data, at least 40% of this debt – representing more than $500 billion – will never be paid.

Even more alarming, much of this debt was packaged up, “securitized,” and sold to investors around the world as “good” debt. Given the “implied guarantee” of the U.S government for these loans, global investors bought them up. Once again,   they will go bust just as the loans guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac went bust.

If the economy was as good as the pundits claimed, and education as valuable as the universities claim, these students would all have jobs and payback on these loans would not be an issue. But, my countrymen and women like to believe in fantasy and so they believed in the tale Obama and the media told them.

The tale?  All is well in the U.S. economy.

Adding insult to injury, student debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.  So, even if the former student has no job and thus no way to pay back the loan, he or she will be forever be obligated to pay it back. There will never be an escape from the indebtedness.

In times past, there existed debtors’ prisons, where people who could no longer pay back their debts were incarcerated and put to manual labor until their debt was paid in full. As our society advanced, sane people recognized that this was no way for a rational society to resolve an economic problem. Bankruptcy courts were set up, the discharge of debt, in whole or in part became common practice.

To the contrary, the student debt problem harkens back to ancient times as these people will never be able to discharge their debt.  While they will not be imprisoned, at least not for the moment, the looming debt and the pressure to pay it off will seem as if they are. Furthermore and perhaps most disturbing, is that should government and its agencies of enforcement continue to grow in size and in power, a crisis (economic or otherwise) puts an indebted person in the weakest possible position…and the least autonomous.

Bankruptcy, the settling of debts and forgiveness of loans, is quite common in America. Businesses as well as frequently  use the legal process of bankruptcy to settle up with creditors or wipe the slate clean to start again. President Trump, by way of his corporations, has used the bankruptcy courts on numerous occasions to “settle up” his finances.

One of the main reasons that the U.S. is so successful in the business world is how we view risk, failure and success. We inherently understand that life is risky, business life particularly so in a free market, and so we  have mechanisms in place to deal with failure. Failure is never final. We can begin anew. In other cultures, such as Japan, failure is so avoided and its reality so disgraceful, that people so “afflicted” choose to commit suicide as the rightful end to failure. That culture even has a name for these individuals: “evaporating people.”

In U.S. tech world, the purview of private equity investment, the risk is that only about 10% of those companies will ever make any money.  When the odds on happens, investors don’t come screaming and threatening to put the company’s founders in jail; they don’t try to relegate them to debtors prison. They know life and business is inherently risky and failure happens.

Failure: We all dislike it. Prefer to avoid it. Don’t plan for it…but it happens.

What makes the pending student loan crisis even more sickening is that it is penalizing the youngest and most vulnerable segment of our society. The ones we have convinced of the lie that a college education is imperative to their future success no matter what the cost. These students are coming out of college with a bill due of over $37,000 and with, at best, uncertain job prospects. The debt for those coming out of graduate and professional schools is multiples of that number.

We have two massive problems on our economic horizon: 1) 1.4 trillion dollars of mostly uncollectible debt and, 2) a weak labor market yet to be addressed. There are currently over 95 million unemployed Americans. You are deemed to be in the “labor force” if you have a job or are looking for one. You are counted part of the participation rate if you are in the labor force. But we have 95,000,000 Americans no long in the labor force! They don’t have a job and/or have stopped looking for one.

Both of these critical issues need to be faced and reconciled. If not, the U.S economic recovery will continue to falter even following the miracle Obama recovery I must have blinked through.

 

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com