Tuesday, 19 May 2020

The Thing About Banana Republics

Around January of 1985, I was reminded to go and update my Air Force assignment preferences for next change of station (I was to leave in January of 1986).  Most folks would fill out the state or US installation site....but something drove me to put down two overseas locations (Iceland and Panama).  I wanted some exotic change of pace, and had read some short summaries of both....figuring that was enough to make this decision.

Six months would pass, and the assignments folks called me.....I had Panama.

So I would arrive in January of 1986, and spend three years there.  It's best to say that within 10 days of arriving....I came to grasp and understand the term of banana republic. 

Nothing functioned like you thought in Panama.  Everything was corrupted, from the airport crowd, to the police. 

I lived for six months downtown.  Sometimes, you could go ten days straight with power disruption.  Sometimes, the power would go out every other day for two to three hours. 

Crime was rampant but you learned to just drive through the districts and keep the windows rolled up and the doors locked.

Car inspections?  You learned quickly that your car would always fail, but $20 on the car seat ensured that it always passed (even if the tires were bald). 

At the end of three years, I was fully prepared to leave, and simply note all the experiences as something that most Americans never 'entertained'. 

Banana republics are a dark place.....where people disrespect the system and society.  Trust doesn't exist.  Government offices are bloated and ineffective.  My yearly trip to the car-tag office meant stopping at this 1930s building where you would turn in your paperwork and sit for two hours while your slip circled around this sixty by sixty foot room. 

Stations were manned by these Panama women, in thick make-up and dolled up in clothing that barely would fit.  They were all nieces or cousins of people and hired simply as a favor to Uncle Jose.  None of them could type, nor could they really grasp what they were doing....other than stamping the paperwork. 

I usually sat there and amazed that the fifty-year-old chief was standing there and ensuring that the paperwork continued to flow.    This should have been simple to just stamp one form, and issue me a sticker for the old tag, but they had built a system where thirty-odd clerks needed to touch and be part of this process.

All across Panama, you saw the same bureaucratic mess in action.

By the end, I had a fairly good idea of how banana republics functioned, and I had no desire to ever return to one. 

I often look at the general public of the US, and how 99-percent of them have never been in such a situation....for months and years. Everyone ought to have six months of a dose of this.....to grasp what the term means, and just how much to appreciate the world we live in. 

The 'New Normal'

This is some silly phrase that I've heard via CNN, and a number of news outlets over the past two months.

Basically, if you tried to ask anyone from the journalistic 'team' to define it....you'd get fifty-plus definitions.

If you went to some politician, he'd give you some five-minute speech about an imaginary fantasy place, where unicorns roam freely, ice cream is freely dispensed to you, and free marijuana was possible (just not the good stuff).

My brother, being an engineer, would first ask you to define the 'old' normal, then suggest that he's seen at least forty versions of normal in his life.  He'd even drag out CB radios, Radio Shack, and pool-hall hamburgers as being part of one single normal.

I think the problem here is that folks try to fixate themselves that there is a normal....when there really isn't such a mythical 'beast'.  Fantasy?  Mostly.

I don't want to disparage folks with this normal chatter, but I don't think I'd get locked into this much.  You might wake up tomorrow to discover a newer-than-new model of normal, and then freak out when the Today Show host suggest that a newer-than-newer version of normal is coming to you in a matter of days. 

CNN and the Depression 'Idea'

CNN had a article that they put up yesterday, and the main focus was.....we are in the midst of a depression (1930s style).

So I spent a long 24 hours thinking about this.  First, they meant in terms of emotions...NOT money issues or failing banks. 

That\s the first real problem with this discussion.  You can't find any banks or financial institutions (like in 2008) that are failing.  It would be correct to say that hundreds of thousands of folks are not paying their mortgage, and this could lead to bank issues. 

As for the rest of this?  Think about this odd aspect.....roughly 25 states are opening up and back into business, with some problems.  The other 25 states?  In various levels of bans/shut-downs.  If you were leaning toward distress of a depression....it'd depend on which state you live in.

An odd aspect of this discussion.....in the1930s era, people moved to California.  In this modern era, people are discussing leaving California. 

In the 1930s era depression....the heartland of America survived on.  You kinda see the same landscape in 2020.

So what do you really need to convince you of a depression era, in terms of emotions?  Well...you need a daily dose of negative news (getting up, driving to work, lunch-hour, driving home, and sitting on the couch during the evening).  Lucky for you.....you can get that.

If all of this were true, who would you need to rebuild or restructure the nation to meet the problem?  That's the problem, this imaginary FDR-democrat doesn't exist.  And to be honest, Trump probably fits this role better than anyone imagined.  If you were to peel off the layers of FDR and Trump.....then Trump is the anti-FDR.  Almost every action that the FDR-team performed....ensured the long-term survival of a chained-down America and handcuffed to a government for its survival.  That's not the Trump type behavior....if anything, he's anti-big-government.

About a dozen years ago, Amity Shlaes wrote a book entitled 'The Forgotten Man', which covers the whole era of the 1920s and 1930s.  It's the history that the college professors marginally covered, and that journalists rarely ever discuss today.  I strong recommend the book, because it puts you at the very beginning of the depression era, and then lays out the decade behind the era. 

I will leave you with these three thoughts:

1.  For some folks, it's a rough year ahead, and they will be distraught/fragile during this period.  Don't shy away from stepping up and providing encouragement.  Admit it in a blunt way.....we aren't focused, and we are allowing poor leadership to lead us to a perception that the nation is weak.  It is not weak.....it never has been, and never will be.

2.  For the crowd chatter that tells you of the approaching negative era.....ask yourself, what type of character are they trying to sell you upon....to replace Trump?  Is this the character that you'd trust to lead or simply make things worse?

3.  Finally, FDR basically wanted you extremely dependent upon some form of government in the end.  Is that what you really desire now?  Some government to dictate your success or failure?