Sunday, August 7, 2011

Casino Republic

Casino Royale is an excellent Bond movie. In fact, it may be the best Bond movie ever. Not only did it revive the franchise from the doldrums initiated by Roger Moore's later work and regrettably sustained by Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan, but it also returned the series to its roots: the Fleming novels, in which Bond was a ruthless killer, allowing for almost anyone to be expendable in the name of Queen and Country. Just the same, it was clear that Bond was intended to be the "hero" in the murky world of covert activity and Cold War politics.

In sticking with the title theme, the producers chose to follow the most recent trend of gambling heroics and used no-limit Texas hold'em as the game upon which the premise rested.

Above is the final scene of the poker game. The game was established as a 10-player table with each player beginning with $10 million in chips. There was also a permitted $5 million re-buy, by which a player who had been knocked out could re-enter the game. Despite the rather farcical nature of the poker presented for the camera (if these players were genuinely skilled and practiced, the betting patterns were... odd, to say the least, based on the flops), one can accept that the game had to be dramatically presented, which meant a certain amount of melodrama was expected. That's all well and good until you come to the topic of the re-buy.

First off, allowing someone back to the table after they've lost their initial stake defeats the purpose of a winner-take-all tournament and puts more pressure on those players who, either through good cards or good play (or both) have managed to stay and prosper at the table. Secondly, allowing players back in with a half-stake is tantamount to suicide and something that no sensible person would do, as they would expect to do nothing but sacrifice another 5 million based on simple facts.

If we assume that the players who lost took some time to do so, that means the big and small blinds have risen considerably by the time they buy their way back in, such that they're significantly hit every time either blind rolls around to their position. Furthermore, if we naturally assume that fewer players buy back in than have lost out of the game, one can also assume that those players remaining at the table have considerably more money than their initial stake. What that means is that the bets will be played at a higher level than someone returning to the game can manage, even with what they assume is a solid hand. If someone is sitting at 14 million and the player returning with 5 million decides to bet $50K on a hand, that's a significant outlay of his available cash. But it's relatively chump change to the player sitting with 3 times that much in front of him. He can casually raise to $500K and still not feel a horrible sting, but that would be 10% of the re-buyer's entire roll in one hand. In other words, all that the remaining players have to do to eliminate the returners is to lean on them for a few hands. Soon enough, between competitive hands and the blinds, they'll be pushed to an all-in position and likely lose their roll again.

This is precisely the situation which perfectly embodies the current American economic and political situations.

The owning class (the top 5% or so) has a catastrophically-larger share of the wealth in this nation. Any challenge to their control can simply be leaned upon until it wilts under the pressure of that much money. How so? Perhaps by manipulating the stock market for political gain? After all, if "It's the economy, stupid" then powerful financial groups can certainly make sure that the economy stays flaccid if their puppets start to get uppity. This is, of course, presuming that said puppets aren't of the owning class and prefer things as they are, anyway. Oh, wait...

A similar situation exists in the world of political parties, wherein the Democrats and Republicans have been in control for so long that they've not only gerrymandered districts to either completely distort the desires of neighborhoods and communities or make it virtually impossible for the current party in control to ever be removed, but they've also established any number of regulations that make gaining and retaining ballot access for minor parties a frequently nonviable goal. If those don't work, it's a relatively simple task for either wing of the major party to lean on smaller competitors in a similar economic manner to that described above. After all, if elections are all about money ("It's the political economy, stupid!"), then he who has the gold still makes the rules. Where do they get this gold? Why, from the ownership class, of course. Convenient, that.

In short, they own the government. They own the economy. They essentially own you and everyone around you and no fantastical re-buy is going to get the other 95% of us back in the game and even if one existed, all they need to do is pool resources and lean upon any intruder to the system until they give up. Certainly, expecting the next Democrat blowing smoke about "hope and change" is an utter lost cause (at it has been for at least 60 years now; have you learned? please?)... unless we, the underclass, start fighting back.

How does one "fight back" against that kind of economic weight? Well, the easy answer is violence. The only slightly less easy answer (and far more palatable) is to exclude ourselves from the system. What worked in the past were strikes and mass disruptions to said system a la the Arab Spring but that takes a level of coordinated action that generally only emerges with some kind of significant shock like, say, a financial implosion...

There have been two last-minute saves in the past 3 years: the bailout of the banks and AIG in 2008 and the recent "debt ceiling" crisis. Either of those events allowed to proceed to their natural conclusion might have stirred up just enough suffering and consequent outrage to put people back in the streets for real. But that's exactly what they don't want to see, so it might be time for some low-level initiative. I'm not holding my breath for it, but it's either that or we wait for "Vote Palin/Bachmann 2012: It's a no-brainer!"

Sell enough of those and I'll finance the damn revolution myself.

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