Saturday, July 30, 2016

Will Facebook Stocks be worth a dime?

JB comment on below article

Once the word-centered, dying-off, geezers using Facebook -- before they enter eternity (see below article) -- will Facebook stocks be worth a dime?

Ok, maybe Zuck can pull off yet another "Silicon Valley" miracle, .. but will some other form of communication (progress? regress?) move in, to replaced by another form of essentiallly wordless communication, a silly speculation that goes on ad infinitum.

As we all know, Plato (in one of his moods) was against writing, but (so far as I can tell as a non-scholar) not against speech.

By KATIE ROGERS APRIL 14, 2016 (dated, but still relevant)

Image from article: A senior citizen on Facebook; abbreviated caption from article

When Facebook was born in 2004, the oldest baby boomers were in their late 50s,
and older members of the silent generation were reaching their early 80s. If you
thought they were going to sit back and let gifs, emojis and status updates pass them
by, you were wrong, according to new research.

In a survey of over 350 American adults between the ages of 60 and 86,
researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that older people enjoy the same
things their younger counterparts do: using Facebook to bond with old friends and
develop relationships with like-­minded people. They also like to keep tabs on their
loved ones.

These motivations sound awfully similar to those that attracted college students,
Facebook’s first colonizers, to the platform — save for one key detail. For many
surveyed, seeing photos and video of grandchildren were a powerful lure, according
to S. Shyam Sundar, a co­-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Penn
State, who worked on the survey.

“That was primarily the biggest driver,” Mr. Sundar said, “and the ease with
which they can maintain what I call social surveillance, and keep an eye on what’s
going on with their children and grandchildren.”

I decided to add my own survey to the research by interviewing my 61­-year­-old
father, Richard, who has had me under Facebook surveillance recently.

From an academic-­research standpoint, he’s on the younger side of being old —
and, like many his age, he feels younger. He successfully avoided social media for
years. But after returning home to Indiana from my wedding a couple of months ago,
he wanted to be better at keeping in touch with family and with the friends he
remembers from my childhood. He told me over Facebook chat (naturally) that his
curiosity about what others were up to was his main motivator in finally learning to
navigate Facebook.

Now, like the rest of us, he’s hooked. He’s had a ball wishing happy birthday to
my friends, commenting on our status updates and sharing his own life’s highlights.

He still signs comments with his initials, but he’s learning. He has even joined a
Facebook group for local music enthusiasts, sharing memories about his favorite
concert (The Beatles in 1964) and photos of his drum set.

“Initially, I think I viewed it as something ‘newfangled’ that only the younger
computer-­generation used,” he said. “Then, like probably everybody, I started to
become hooked as I saw just how expansive it is, and how much it seems to literally
touch so many lives.”

The findings might not come as any surprise to countless members of the
digital­-savvy generations who have watched (and cringed) as their parents fell in
love with Facebook, but researchers say the online lives of older adults, who are a
part of the fastest-­growing demographic on social media, are much more mysterious
than the much-­scrutinized behaviors of younger generations.

As Facebook continues to be a bigger part of American life, the ever-­growing
population of older Americans is figuring out how to adapt. As people grow older,
peer communication through chatting, status updates and commenting will become
more important, Ms. Sundar said, and Facebook will need to adapt tools that are
suited for an aging audience.

Research shows that older Americans are living longer than previous
generations, and many of them prefer to stay in their homes, often called aging in
place. Independent seniors will need to learn to use digital tools that will keep them
engaged — and allow them to reach out for help if they need it, Mr. Sundar said
“The whole idea is to kind of give people a chance to be social when there are
physical constraints,” Mr. Sundar said, “Create a virtual retirement community, if
you will.”

Update: In reaction to this story, several readers shared stories of their own
parents and grandparents on Facebook. Here are a few highlights:

• “My grandfather writes LOL on everything. But the funny thing is that he
thinks that it stands for lots of love. My wife’s grandfather is the best, he literally
writes ‘LIKE’ instead of liking the post.” – Brendan McCaffrey

• “When I was tagged in a lot of pictures from an all-­day drinking event and my
Grandmother posted on my wall ‘Do you ever have time to study?’ THANKS
GRANDMA!” – Brogan Bunnell

• “I had to unfriend my mom on Facebook because she ‘over-­comments’ on
every single post. I’ve explained to her in person that this is why we aren’t friends on
Facebook. I made a post the other day and accidentally had the privacy setting set to
public. My mom texted me her comments on my post by phone, and then sent a
follow up text to clarify that she sent the text because she can’t comment on my post
on Facebook, and follows it up with another Facebook friend request. She totally
missed the point.” – Aimee Myers Lynch

• “Someone I know meant to PM his son his tax return, but instead publicly
posted it and tagged them in it.” – Moody Mohamed

Friday, July 29, 2016

Reflexive pronouns and apostrophe catastrophe

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There is no doubt, at least for myself, that this reflexive pronoun business has now outstripped apostrophe abuse as the supreme grammatical annoyance. Its such an irritant in it’s way — perhaps also to yourselve’s?!?!

--Roger Cohen, "England’s Reflexive Pronoun Epidemic," New York Times; on grammatical violence caused by the misuse of the apostrophe, see John Brown, "Apostrophe Catastrophe, or the Consolations of the Internet, " Huffington Post (2011).

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Cleopatra for President!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Image from, with caption: Ptolemaic Queen (Cleopatra VII?), 50-30 B.C., 71.12, Brooklyn Museum

One of the striking aspects of American exceptionalism/parochialism (two sides of the same coin?) is how "revolutionary" the USA political elite and some so-called "ordinary voters" consider the choice of Hillary as the "womyn" presidential candidate of the Democratic party.

The first woman-president-to-be! 

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Repeat over, over, and over again on your cell phone: Like, Wow!!! USA! USA! USA!

But does not a most elementary glimpse at history suggest that women have wielded, since at least Eve, political power/influence in shores not that far from the man's land of the brave and home of the free? 

Allow me to mention a few Eves from my high-school history memory: Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth, Catherine the Great, Maria Theresa, Indira Ghandi, Margaret Thatcher, Michelle Obama.

Oh! I forgot Angela Merkel, of the most influential political figures in Europe today (I'd say far more than Trump-sympathizer Putin).

So is there really something that "exceptional" about a USA representative of "girl power" who's probably going to be

image from

our nation's "Chief Executive," except from a very narrow, parochial "reverse-view" perspective on America's putative super-special, "male/cowboy" place on our small planet, suddenly becoming aware that women -- not just "mankind" men -- enrich humankind?

After all -- let's be honest, with a sense of humor -- don't we frail human beings sense, in our hearts and minds, that God is a woman? 

Indeed, where did we all come from when miraculously landing, if I may quote Mr. Clinton in his recent speech, recalling how his wife "broke water," on planet earth?
And time passed. On February 27th, 1980, 15 minutes after I got home from the National Governors Conference in Washington, Hillary’s water broke and off we went to the hospital. Chelsea was born just before midnight. (APPLAUSE)
And it was the greatest moment of my life. The miracle of a new beginning. The hole it filled for me because my own father died before I was born, and the absolute conviction that my daughter had the best mother in the whole world.

Thursday, July 28, 2016
 The New York Times Now

Woodhull image from

The first female candidate for the nation’s highest office was Victoria Woodhull in 1872, a half-century before American women won the right to vote.

Woodhull was nominated by the Equal Rights Party at a convention that she bankrolled. The abolitionist and former slave, Frederick Douglass, was nominated to be her running mate.

She was born in Homer, Ohio, in 1838, and grew up poor, working as a fortune teller with her younger sister, Tennessee.

In 1868, they moved to New York, and met one of the world’s richest men, the transportation mogul Cornelius Vanderbilt. Tennessee was his lover; Victoria provided him with stock tips.

Vanderbilt gave the sisters money for what became Wall Street’s first female-owned brokerage house. It did so well that they started a newspaper.

Woodhull used her wealth and status to promote the suffrage movement: She was the first woman to appear before a congressional committee on the issue. (See our list of political milestones.)

Days before the election, her newspaper exposed the extramarital affair of the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, one of the country’s most famous preachers.

Woodhull spent Election Day in jail, charged with sending obscene materials. Her candidacy was only a blip in the voting.

Beecher’s sensational six-month trial ended in a hung jury, but the scandal ruined Woodhull. She later moved to England, where she lived most of her last 50 years until her death in 1927.

As America's middle class disappears, the upper middle class is thriving - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United"

A new report by the Urban Institute depicts a growing upper middle class. Is this growth at the expense of the middle class?

Image from article, with caption: A woman loads her groceries into her SUV after shopping at a strip mall on the outskirts of town, on October 6, 2015 in Frederick, Md.

By Bailey Bischoff,

Widening wealth inequality has characterized the American economy since at least the end of the Great Recession in 2009. According to a new report out Tuesday, it's not just the one-percenters who are reaping the benefits.

As America's middle class shrinks, its upper middle class is growing and thriving, according to an analysis from the Urban Institute. That group, which the Urban Institute defines as a family of three that earns between $100,000 and $350,000 annually, now boasts control of the majority of the nation’s income, or about 52 percent of the United States’ wealth. It accounted for a much smaller share a few decades ago – 30 percent in 1979. The upper middle class has huge population gains in the past 40 years, doubling in size between 1979 and 2014, from 12.9 percent of the US populous [sic - JB] to 29.4 percent.

Over the same period, the middle class shrank from 38.8 percent of the population to 32 percent.The amount of wealth in the hands of the middle class also took a dive. The middle class controlled 46 percent of the nation's income in 1979. By 2014, it was down to  to 26 percent.

“Although wealthier people always have a greater share of total income, this report documents a major shift in the distribution of economic resources," says Stephen Rose, an affiliated scholar with the Urban Institute and author of the report.

Statistics vary on who, exactly, counts as middle class depending on who's doing the counting, but there is agreement that the group is shrinking in terms of both wealth and size. The Pew Research Center’s definitions of middle-income and upper-middle income are slightly different than the Urban Institute's. A family of three earning between $42,000 and $125,000 is considered middle-income, while a family of three earning between $126,000 and $188,000 would be considered upper-middle income.

According to the Pew Research Center’s data, the number of middle-income adults has fallen from 61 percent in 1971 to 50 percent in 2015. Growth in upper-income tiers by Pew's definition, has overshadowed the growth of upper-middle income households. The number of upper-income households jumped from 4 percent in 1971 to 9 percent in 2015, while the number of upper-middle income households rose slightly from 10 percent to 12 percent within the same time frame, according to Pew.

Both reports, and others, agree that there is growing economic disparity within the United States. According to the 2013 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook, the United States has the most top-heavy concentration of wealth among the 20 richest developed countries, with 75.4 percent of the wealth owned by 10 percent of the population.

However, Mr. Rose at the Urban Institute argues that the growing wealth of the nation's very richest individuals is just a small part of the issue.  “Any discussion of inequality that is limited to the 1 percent misses a lot of the picture because it ignores the large inequality between the growing upper middle class and the middle and lower middle classes,” he writes in the report.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

20 drunkest cities in America

According to, no. 1 city on this list is Appleton, Wisconsin.

image from


See also: Bobby Popovic,"The 50 States Of America If They Were Actually People In A Bar. California Is Perfect,"; via PR.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Truth Is That We Need Immigrants - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

The Truth Is That We Need Immigrants,
by Matthew Rooney July 21, 2016

uncaptioned image from article

We need immigrants so that we can continue to innovate and prosper. It may seem ironic, but the truth is, immigrants made America and will make it again in the future.

First, our immigration “problem” isn’t about Mexico. The truth is, Mexicans don’t come to the U.S. in meaningful numbers anymore – in fact, over the past five or so years, net migration between the two countries has been southbound.
This is partly because NAFTA helped create an industrial sector in Mexico that has produced job opportunities there. It is tempting to think that these are good jobs that Americans lost. But the truth is that most of those jobs are lower-paid jobs requiring minimal skills. They are a step up for people from Mexico’s hardscrabble rural areas, but Americans’ skill levels are higher than that. We can and should aspire to better for ourselves and our children.

More importantly, Mexicans don’t come to the U.S. anymore because Mexico’s demographic curve has converged with that of the U.S., so Mexico doesn’t have large numbers of unemployed and unemployable young people, as it did 50 years ago. Today’s illegal immigrants come from further south or further afield. Most of them come through Mexico, of course, so one approach would be to encourage Mexico to do a better job of policing its southern border.

Second, our immigration “problem” isn’t about growth – at least, not in the way one might think. Because immigration doesn’t hinder growth, immigration supports growth.

There are, of course, numerous factors that affect the pace of economic growth, including the level and incidence of taxes, the volume of government borrowing and cost burdens imposed by regulations. But the long-term, fundamental growth potential of an economy boils down to two factors: population growth and productivity growth. In short, you either need more people, or your people need to be able to produce more stuff -- or both.

In the United States, labor productivity – itself a complex phenomenon with links to education, infrastructure, innovation, and mobility – has been stuck at just over one percent for the past decade or so. Meanwhile, with fertility hovering around the replacement rate, natural population growth is at or just above zero and the average age of our population is creeping upward. As a result, the key to growing our economy is more people – immigration – with skills that upgrade our labor force.

The ugly truth is that we need immigrants. We need them so that we can continue to innovate and prosper. We need them to keep our retirement systems solvent. We need them so that we can remain the youthful, optimistic society we have always been. It may seem ironic, but the truth is, immigrants made America and will make it again in the future.


Matthew Rooney

Matt Rooney joined the Bush Center in June 2015 from a career as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Jobs and unity -- Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

image from
Donald Trump Jr. was strong and persuasive on Tuesday night. The next morning, at a Wall Street Journal event, he made a better case for his father than his father has. He talked about the forgotten middle American and referred to himself, humorously, as “a Fifth Avenue redneck.” When pressed on how a man as divisive as his father could unify the nation, he answered that one way to unify the country is to see that its people have jobs: “When people are doing well it’s amazing how much unity you’ll get from that.” I had the distinct impression I was listening to a future political candidate.
--Peggy Noonan, "Trump and the Unknowable Moment," Wall Street Journal

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Thank you, Father

image from

As I look at the Trump kids' willing (?) media exposure (granted, they're grown-ups, except for the youngest offspring of thrice-married The Donald) I can't help but thank the Almighty that I didn't have a Trump-like creature for a father.

image from


"She said he taught his kids to have a moral compass – with a straight face."

--Maureen Dowd, "Ivanka the Fabulous Fabulist," New York Times, regarding Ivanka, one of Trump's daughters


When Donald Trump’s sons spoke about what a splendid role-model their father was, I wondered which son was of which of Trump’s three trophy marriages. When his daughter introduced him on the final night, I wondered if her mother was at home laughing, an ample alimony check on the coffee table before her. When his current wife spoke about his many virtues and the promise of America, I wondered about the size of her eventual divorce settlement.

--Joseph Epstein, Wall Street Journal

Video of The Birth of a Nation (1915 film by D.W Griffith on youtube) -- Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United"

Via RC and RM on Facebook

A good-quality version film can be found at:

On the film, see Wikipedia, which notes that
"Under President Woodrow Wilson it was the first American motion picture to be screened at the White House."

image from

Cold War Spies Sifted Through Used Soviet Toilet Paper In Search of Clues

Urvija Banerji,

A British patrol car passes an armored East German vehicle on a street straddling East and West Berlin in 1961. The border runs between the two vehicles. (Photo: CIA/Public Domain)

On a cold dawn in East Germany in 1981, two British secret agents crawled through enemy territory in search of intel. Specifically, these highly-decorated spies were scouring the Soviet training field to find soiled toilet paper.
Cold War-era espionage seems as though it would have been a more glamorous–or at least sanitary–affair. However, some intel you just can't get from a stake-out or wire-tap. Indeed, one of the most successful Western Bloc spy operations in the Cold War involved agents rifling through the enemy's bloodied bandages and discarded bathroom supplies. 
Operation Tamarisk began during the Soviet-Afghan War, which was waged from December 1979 to February 1989. At the time, East and West Germany were occupied by four powers: the U.S., the U.K., France, and the Soviet Union. Through a reciprocal agreement known as the military liaison missions, the allied nations and the Soviet Union had been permitted to deploy a small number of military intelligence personnel in each other’s territory in Germany.

The missions were originally intended as liaison teams that would ostensibly better the relations between the Western and Soviet occupying forces, but they soon became a legalized form of espionage for both sides. 
The intelligence methods used by these legal spies ranged from the basic to the ingenious. To learn more about the Soviet-Afghan War, the British Mission (BRIXMIS) had the idea of rummaging through the dumpsters outside of Soviet military hospitals in East Germany, behind the Iron Curtain. Well-used wound dressings and other items fresh from the ward would be bagged and sent out for analysis. The samples revealed shrapnel from bullets and other weapons, whose sources would then be uncovered following further analysis. BRIXMIS agents also haunted the military graveyards behind the hospitals, and noted the names and dates of deaths of deceased Soviet soldiers.

A sign posted in East Germany prohibiting military liaison missions from entering the area. (Photo:Peter Duffy/Public Domain)
The British, French and American liaison teams were banned from visiting areas in East Germany where military exercises were taking place, but once the maneuvers were complete, these areas were combed through, too. In Beyond the Front Line: The Untold Exploits of Britain’s Most Daring Cold War Spy Mission, Tony Geraghty explains, “sifting through the detritus of military exercises, including human excreta and worse, was a valuable technique which sometimes produced gems of intelligence.” 
This form of dumpster-diving, Geraghty writes, “had long been sanitized within the Mission under the code-name "Operation Tamarisk.” As a result of the practice’s popularity, “to tamarisk” became a verb in the Mission argot, although at least one British sergeant preferred to describe it as “shit-digging.”
One crucial bit of intelligence that informed the Western Missions as they tamarisked was the fact that toilet paper was not issued to Soviet troops in the field in East Germany. As a result, these soldiers were forced to use any kind of paper they had with them instead. Mostly, they used letters from home–but sometimes they used secret military documents. 
These discarded documents were incredibly important to the Western Missions, as they could provide invaluable information on "everything from ciphers to intelligence on morale levels and also on Army-Party-MGB relations in the field,” Richard J. Aldrich writes in The Hidden Hand: Britain, America and Cold War Secret Intelligence

Soviet soldiers stand before Berlin's historic Brandenburg Gate. (Photo: CIA/Public Domain)
“The untidy habits of the Soviet Army consistently proved to be one of the most startling sources of material,” Aldrich writes. Combing through Soviet exercise areas and firing ranges could produce findings of improvised toilet paper such as “notebooks and schedules of newly arrived material with sources and serial numbers for the latest equipment.”
This information was “gold dust to the growing army of analysts in London and Washington,” Aldrich explains–not that they didn't make jokes about it, too. Some agents tasked with reviewing the soiled papers had quite a puerile sense of humor and “enjoyed ‘forwarding’ to each other some of these unsavory intelligence items for ‘further analysis.’”
Through one tamarisking mission at Neustrelitz, a quiet place in the north of the GDR, BRIXMIS agents found a Soviet military log that revealed top-secret data about the type of armor, the strengths and the weaknesses of the latest Russian tank, and even contained information about its proposed successor. The information caused a huge stir at NATO’s technical intelligence division, and according to Geraghty in Beyond the Frontline, “set in train an emergency programme to acquire a new anti-tank missile known as the ‘long-rod penetrator’ … [which is] now in service with the British Army.” 

Children were not the only ones playing in the dirt in Soviet-controlled Germany–so were Western Mission spies. (Photo: CIA/Public Domain)
Another tamarisking operation undertaken in 1981 had almost as impressive effects. Major Jim Orr, a Parachute Regiment soldier doing a tour with BRIXMIS, alongside Sergeant Tony Haw, trawled a training area near Cottbus that was being used by the Soviet paratroopers. Orr and Haw lay under cover at first light, combing through the Soviet trash. Here, just as elsewhere, they found the same improvised toilet paper.
According to Geraghty, Orr saw a Russian soldier come out to relieve himself in the midst of the operation, and the two agents narrowly avoided being seen. But even though they had to rush away, the two ended up finding “some smelly papers” which were then “reassembled and analysed back in Berlin,” and included “documents revealing the brigade’s training programme, and, even more important, an Order of Battle booklet that revealed some units as a ‘shell’ formations,” writes Geraghty.
"Shit-digging" might not have been as unpopular with agents as you might think. If they dug up something valuable, it helped both their careers and the covert war effort. “I seemed to get landed with a lot of tamarisk operations," Orr later explained to Geraghty. "Eventually I volunteered for them as a sort of masochistic pleasure.”
Operation Tamarisk has been described as one of the most successful, if lesser-known spy operations of the Cold War. It didn't involve martinis or Aston Martins, but you know what they say–no guts, no toilet paper, no glory.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Пять ресурсов, необходимых для работы над курсовыми работами, академическими эссе и диссертациями

U.S. Embassy Moscow

U.S. Embassy Moscow's photo.
U.S. Embassy Moscow
1 hr
Пять ресурсов, необходимых для работы над курсовыми работами, академическими эссе и диссертациями:
JSTOR – наиболее известная в России база данных, в которой можно найти полные тексты статей из более чем 850 академических журналов по социальным наукам, экономике, истории и другим отраслям научного знания;
Academic OneFile – популярная среди американских студентов база данных, которая содержит, помимо научной информации, архив статей из таких изданий, как Foreign Policy и Harvard Business Review, а также транскрипты эфиров CNN и National Public Radio;
ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global – база данных, содержащая магистерские и докторские диссертации из 700 университетов со всего мира;
GREENR – для студентов, изучающих вопросы экологии и энергетики. Эта база данных включает статьи из академических журналов, газет, а также ссылки на видео и подкасты.
World History In Context – эта база данных поможет в подготовке реферата или доклада для курса истории. Она уже содержит готовые справки об исторических событиях, международных организациях, движениях, а также биографии;
Вы можете бесплатно получить персональный доступ к этим ресурсам через онлайн библиотеку eLibraryUSA уже сегодня. Для этого напишите нам по адресу, указав в теме письма - eLibraryUSA.

Decline and fall: how American society unravelled - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

George Packer, The Guardian

Thirty years ago, the old deal that held US society together started to unwind, with social cohesion sacrificed to greed. Was it an inevitable process – or was it engineered by self-interested elites?

In or around 1978, America's character changed. For almost half a century, the United States had been a relatively egalitarian, secure, middle-class democracy, with structures in place that supported the aspirations of ordinary people. You might call it the period of the Roosevelt Republic. Wars, strikes, racial tensions and youth rebellion all roiled national life, but a basic deal among Americans still held, in belief if not always in fact: work hard, follow the rules, educate your children, and you will be rewarded, not just with a decent life and the prospect of a better one for your kids, but with recognition from society, a place at the table.
This unwritten contract came with a series of riders and clauses that left large numbers of Americans – black people and other minorities, women, gay people – out, or only halfway in. But the country had the tools to correct its own flaws, and it used them: healthy democratic institutions such as Congress, courts, churches, schools, news organisations, business-labour partnerships. The civil rights movement of the 1960s was a nonviolent mass uprising led by black southerners, but it drew essential support from all of these institutions, which recognised the moral and legal justice of its claims, or, at the very least, the need for social peace. The Roosevelt Republic had plenty of injustice, but it also had the power of self-correction.
Americans were no less greedy, ignorant, selfish and violent then than they are today, and no more generous, fair-minded and idealistic. But the institutions of American democracy, stronger than the excesses of individuals, were usually able to contain and channel them to more useful ends. Human nature does not change, but social structures can, and they did.

At the time, the late 1970s felt like shapeless, dreary, forgettable years. Jimmy Carter was in the White House, preaching austerity and public-spiritedness, and hardly anyone was listening. The hideous term "stagflation", which combined the normally opposed economic phenomena of stagnation and inflation, perfectly captured the doldrums of that moment. It is only with the hindsight of a full generation that we can see how many things were beginning to shift across the American landscape, sending the country spinning into a new era.
In Youngstown, Ohio, the steel mills that had been the city's foundation for a century closed, one after another, with breathtaking speed, taking 50,000 jobs from a small industrial river valley, leaving nothing to replace them. In Cupertino, California, the Apple Computer Company released the first popular personal computer, the Apple II. Across California, voters passed Proposition 13, launching a tax revolt that began the erosion of public funding for what had been the country's best school system. In Washington, corporations organised themselves into a powerful lobby that spent millions of dollars to defeat the kind of labour and consumer bills they had once accepted as part of the social contract. Newt Gingrich came to Congress as a conservative Republican with the singular ambition to tear it down and build his own and his party's power on the rubble. On Wall Street, Salomon Brothers pioneered a new financial product called mortgage-backed securities, and then became the first investment bank to go public.

A steelworker in Youngstown, Ohio
 A steelworker in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1947. Under the old deal, his hard work was to be rewarded. Photograph: Willard R. Culver/National Geographic/Corbis

The large currents of the past generation – deindustrialisation, the flattening of average wages, the financialisation of the economy, income inequality, the growth of information technology, the flood of money into Washington, the rise of the political right – all had their origins in the late 70s. The US became more entrepreneurial and less bureaucratic, more individualistic and less communitarian, more free and less equal, more tolerant and less fair. Banking and technology, concentrated on the coasts, turned into engines of wealth, replacing the world of stuff with the world of bits, but without creating broad prosperity, while the heartland hollowed out. The institutions that had been the foundation of middle-class democracy, from public schools and secure jobs to flourishing newspapers and functioning legislatures, were set on the course of a long decline. It as a period that I call the Unwinding. 
In one view, the Unwinding is just a return to the normal state of American life. By this deterministic analysis, the US has always been a wide-open, free-wheeling country, with a high tolerance for big winners and big losers as the price of equal opportunity in a dynamic society. If the US brand of capitalism has rougher edges than that of other democracies, it is worth the trade-off for growth and mobility. There is nothing unusual about the six surviving heirs to the Walmart fortune possessing between them the same wealth as the bottom 42% of Americans – that's the country's default setting. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are the reincarnation of Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie, Steven Cohen is another JP Morgan, Jay-Z is Jay Gatsby.
The rules and regulations of the Roosevelt Republic were aberrations brought on by accidents of history – depression, world war, the cold war – that induced Americans to surrender a degree of freedom in exchange for security. There would have been no Glass-Steagall Act, separating commercial from investment banking, without the bank failures of 1933; no great middle-class boom if the US economy had not been the only one left standing after the second world war; no bargain between business, labour and government without a shared sense of national interest in the face of foreign enemies; no social solidarity without the door to immigrants remaining closed through the middle of the century. 
Once American pre-eminence was challenged by international competitors, and the economy hit rough seas in the 70s, and the sense of existential threat from abroad subsided, the deal was off. Globalisation, technology and immigration hurried the Unwinding along, as inexorable as winds and tides. It is sentimental at best, if not ahistorical, to imagine that the social contract could ever have survived – like wanting to hang on to a world of nuclear families and manual typewriters.
This deterministic view is undeniable but incomplete. What it leaves out of the picture is human choice. A fuller explanation of the Unwinding takes into account these large historical influences, but also the way they were exploited by US elites – the leaders of the institutions that have fallen into disrepair. America's postwar responsibilities demanded co-operation between the two parties in Congress, and when the cold war waned, the co-operation was bound to diminish with it. But there was nothing historically determined about the poisonous atmosphere and demonising language that Gingrich and other conservative ideologues spread through US politics. These tactics served their narrow, short-term interests, and when the Gingrich revolution brought Republicans to power in Congress, the tactics were affirmed. Gingrich is now a has-been, but Washington today is as much his city as anyone's.
It was impossible for Youngstown's steel companies to withstand global competition and local disinvestment, but there was nothing inevitable about the aftermath – an unmanaged free-for-all in which unemployed workers were left to fend for themselves, while corporate raiders bought the idle hulks of the mills with debt in the form of junk bonds and stripped out the remaining value. It may have been inevitable that the constraints imposed on US banks by the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 would start to slip off in the era of global finance. But it was a political choice on the part of Congress and President Bill Clinton to deregulate Wall Street so thoroughly that nothing stood between the big banks and the destruction of the economy.

Occupy Wall Street protester
 One of the 99%: an Occupy Wall Street protester in Union Square, New York, in 2011. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Much has been written about the effects of globalisation during the past generation. Much less has been said about the change in social norms that accompanied it. American elites took the vast transformation of the economy as a signal to rewrite the rules that used to govern their behaviour: a senator only resorting to the filibuster on rare occasions; a CEO limiting his salary to only 40 times what his average employees made instead of 800 times; a giant corporation paying its share of taxes instead of inventing creative ways to pay next to zero. There will always be isolated lawbreakers in high places; what destroys morale below is the systematic corner-cutting, the rule-bending, the self-dealing. 
Earlier this year, Al Gore made $100m (£64m) in a single month by selling Current TV to al-Jazeera for $70m and cashing in his shares of Apple stock for $30m. Never mind that al-Jazeera is owned by the government of Qatar, whose oil exports and views of women and minorities make a mockery of the ideas that Gore propounds in a book or film every other year. Never mind that his Apple stock came with his position on the company's board, a gift to a former presidential contender. Gore used to be a patrician politician whose career seemed inspired by the ideal of public service. Today – not unlike Tony Blair – he has traded on a life in politics to join the rarefied class of the global super-rich.
It is no wonder that more and more Americans believe the game is rigged. It is no wonder that they buy houses they cannot afford and then walk away from the mortgage when they can no longer pay. Once the social contract is shredded, once the deal is off, only suckers still play by the rules.
George Packer's The Unwinding is published by Faber & Faber at £20

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Benjamin Franklin on German-Americans (Trump's ancestry); on Donald Trump's German roots, see.

FEBRUARY 05, 2008