Here Thar Be Monsters!

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29.7.11

The Gloaming

It causes me no end of head slapping to read the hyperbole in the US media.  Comments like Pelosi's reflect America's continuing pipe-dream that it somehow still holds the keys to Life, the Universe and Everything.

To a certain extent, that was true about 50 years ago.  Being the only major power to survive WWII relatively unscathed gave it a lot of clout in global affairs.  Certainly, even as recently as Reagan, when the US sneezed, the world caught a cold.

But, those days are long since past.  Whether by design or sheer ignorance, the US has farmed out its Global Leader role, and in effect, has pissed away any power it had to call the shots in world affairs.

Much of what I see in US politics and media appears to be a desperate attempt to hold to past glory.  Like the faded ingenue, folks are plastering on the make-up and adjusting the lighting and focus to force the blush of youth onto the withered face of Time.

There's so much rhetoric about the US taking down world markets, and crashing the global economy, and causing the end of life as we know it.  The simple fact is, most people around the planet would look up for a week or two to watch the sinking of the Titanic, but after the stern slipped beneath the waves and the waters calmed, everyone would go back to their chores, with little more than a couple of, "Did'ja hear...?"

There was a time, when I was significantly younger, that the US dollar had a sort of sacred sheen to it.  A large part of the world had no middle class, and those in the boot-sticking classes saw the US as a shining beacon of glorious lifestyles and fabulous wealth.  No more.

Now, the middle classes of many former 'third-world' nations have vigorously expanded.  Now, lots of people have plasma TeeVees and personal transportation, and designer clothing, and family vacations.  The glorious American Way-of-Life has been exported to the world, and now the world has what it once envied.  So why care about the US any more?

As for financial markets, I can tell you that the world really doesn't care.  Most of the world doesn't buy stocks and bonds, and the indices don't make a good 'God damn' in their lives.  If I surveyed 100 well-heeled folks here in Jakarta, maybe two could tell me the value of ANY stock exchange, much less the Dow.  Ask them the price of gold?  Three-quarters would probably have a ball-park number.

As for dollars, they're a curiosity, since you just don't see a lot of them floating around these parts.  If you go to the money changer, they don't salivate over your Franklins.  Rather, they closely inspect them for fraud, and then discount the exchange based on how smooth and clean it is.  SingBux?  Now we're talking.  Renmimbi?  Right over here, sir!  Yen?  Would you like a cup of coffee while you wait?  Riyal?  How about a shisha with that coffee, sir?

Sure, energy is still traded in dollars, but that's more tradition now.  I've seen a number of coal deals go down in rupiah the past year or so.  Locally, gold is all valued in rupiah, and it's discounted to market, because they actually mine it here.  Many ex-im deals here are now done in rupiah or one of the Big Three Asian currencies (China, Japan, India).

When I first got here about four years ago, a lot of folks asked me to help them get visas to the States.  It still had a fading bit of attraction for folks who were still left out of the growing economic explosion here.  Now, when folks go to the US, it's a status symbol only in the fact that they can afford the ticket (well over $1,000).  Many prefer Asian and Middle East destinations, which come with significantly cheaper air fares (Singapore round-trip for $30).

I've used the US embassy here in Jakarta as kind of a gauge.  Most embassies here, you just walk up, sign the book, get an ID, and go inside.  The US embassy looks like a maximum security prison, even more so since they finished the new entrance earlier this year.

You walk past a half-dozen armed security, enter through a massive steel door into a concrete and steel bunker.  You strip yourself of any metal and leave your cell phone (turned off) at the guard desk.  IF you pass the scanner, then you are given an ID, which entitles you to go out into a courtyard with a concrete half-wall guiding your path through a very large (internal) steel fence.  After passing another guard or two, you cross the basketball court (that no one uses) to the old guard shack, where more armed guards scrutinize you.  Then you enter a fenced-in area with rows of benches for the little people to wait while their visas are denied (mostly empty now but used to hold 200 folks).  You pass another guard to get to the business end of this Orwellian nightmare, where more steel and bomb-proof glass doors await.  Inside are a row of teller-like windows that must be about 3-inch thick, kevlar-laced bomb glass.  Each window has fluorescent lights on either side shining in your face, so you can barely see who or what is beyond the window.

Oh, and the embassy only accepts rupiah for services rendered.  That should tell you something.

It's like a fractal.  The smallest part looks just like the largest.  America has done such a fine job of walling itself off from the world that the world has decided to move on to other, less stressful, occupations.

After all, if you had the choice between having your privates painfully groped and an open door, which would you choose?  Like electricity, people will always seek the least resistance.  And the world has decided that the southern hemisphere, driven by a voracious Chinese economy, offers much more opportunity with a lot less hassle.

Every day, the US loses a bit more shine.  People are finding alternatives to the bully on the block.  The bully can only block one spot, but there are dozens of others to choose from.  Even if the world has to walk just a bit further, it's still less BS than fighting the bully.

Think of it this way, if there's a jerk at the office that you really hate encountering, don't you go out of your way to avoid running in them?  It's the same on a global scale.  For so long now, the US has acted like a jerk, sending its warships as projections of power, sending its banksters as ambassadors of greed.  Who needs it?

The world has weighed two options: deal with the US and lose everything while gaining nothing, or deal with someone else where there's money on the table for both sides.  Sure, some folks still go to the supermarket to buy their vegetables, instead of the farmer's market, where they are half price and dirt-fresh.  They don't want to drive the extra five miles and prefer shopping in air-conditioned comfort.  Those willing to give up a little comfort are rewarded with much better deals, though.

For all its bluster and doomsday prophesies, few people outside the US actually care.  That's part of the reason the US has made it so laborious to travel.  If folks get out in the hinterlands, they would discover that everything they are told in the media and by 'authorities' is utter rubbish.

Some folks may remember the Soup Nazi.  He was wildly popular for a while.  If you took too long to decide, you got the boot.  If you wanted something added or taken out, you got the boot.  If you didn't have correct change, you got the boot.  It had some novelty, and the soup was pretty good, so folks got a benefit from it...for a while.  Then, the novelty wore off and the hassle of getting the boot when you only had an hour for lunch became more than the value of the soup was worth.  That's the US in a nutshell.

A headline in the Kompas newspaper this morning says it all, "Indonesia Siap Menjadi Negara Maju," Indonesia is ready to become an advanced country.  This echoes most of the world, I think.  They've been crapped on by the US for so long, they've all figured out work-arounds.  Now they have their own middle classes, and the money is coming in, and the toys are priced to move.  Who needs America. anyway?

When the US defaults, maybe not next week, but sooner than later, the world will look up from their Wheaties to mark the passing, and then return to munching.  All the hair-pulling and gnashing of teeth on the part of DC blow-hards and their media lap dogs will mean absolutely nothing in the greater scheme of things.

America found a marketing niche for a while, but like all massive organizations, they became entrenched in their own gimmicks.  Instead of continuing to innovate and grow, they got lazy and satisfied with what they had.  They farmed out franchises and sat back and counted the dough.

Then the novelty wore off and people found other things to distract them.  America became the Pet Rock or the Cabbage Patch Kid.  It slid into the 'where are they now' category, while telling themselves they so dominated the world that nothing could challenge their throne.

But, the throne got taken and a wooden stool was shoved in its place while no one looked.

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