The bubble transformed

According to Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism and Reuters unemployment now pushes the foreclosure rate, not the debt-driven bubble contraction. In other words, the deeply rooted distortions in the real economy, which reflect the systemic turn towards finance capital characteristic of the post-Bretton Woods system, are now turning previously stable households into train wrecks that can no longer meet their debt obligations.



Well, no. Not really

The title and subtitle encapsulates Matt Taibbi's position on the Democrats and health care reform:

It's been clear from the start that the Democrats would make a great show of doing something real, then they would fold prematurely, ram through some piece-of-shit bill with some incremental/worthless change in it, and then in the end blame everything on Max Baucus and Bill Nelson, saying, "By golly, we tried our best!"

Make no mistake, this has nothing to do with Max Baucus, Bill Nelson, or anyone else. If the Obama administration wanted to pass a real health care bill, they would do what George Bush and Tom DeLay did in the first six-odd years of this decade whenever they wanted to pass some nightmare piece of legislation (ie the Prescription Drug Bill or CAFTA): they would take the recalcitrant legislators blocking their path into a back room at the Capitol, and beat them with rubber hoses until they changed their minds.

The reason a real health-care bill is not going to get passed is simple: because nobody in Washington really wants it. There is insufficient political will to get it done. It doesn't matter that it's an urgent national calamity, that it is plainly obvious to anyone with an IQ over 8 that our system could not possibly be worse and needs to be fixed very soon, and that, moreover, the only people opposing a real reform bill are a pitifully small number of executives in the insurance industry who stand to lose the chance for a fifth summer house if this thing passes.

It won't get done, because that's not the way our government works. Our government doesn't exist to protect voters from interests, it exists to protect interests from voters.

Humanity — ecological imperialist or global infection?

This is not a wholly facetious question. I ask it because of a depressing story from down-under (the link comes via Naked Capitalism):

Many scientists believe we are now living in the midst of another big extinction event although this time the cause of the mass die-off is easier to identify — humans.

A survey of conservation research in the Oceania region says the area is losing species at least as fast as the rest of the planet — and maybe eqven faster.

Dr Richard Kingsford is lead author on the collaborative review of thousands of research papers on conservation in the Oceania region.

The review has found that from Polynesia and the Pacific Islands to New Zealand and Australia, humans are having a dramatic impact on biodiversity and continue to present large-scale threats to plant and animal species.

"The rates are increasing," Dr Kingsford said.

"They are certainly a lot higher than the background rates of extinction that you would see in the evolutionary record.

"Maybe 1,000 to perhaps 10,000 times that rate and that is occurring right across all organisms.

"From our studies, it is clear that we are actually affecting all of biodiversity.

We are an empire now….

Writing for his Atlantic blog, Andrew Sullivan augments the Greenwald critique of the Washington Post's recently stated position (see this below along with the link it contains) on torture prosecution by exclaiming:

The longer I have lived in Washington, the more corrupt it appears. That includes large swathes of the press. The cooptation of the Washington Post by the torture-mongers should therefore come as no surprise — and Obama's refusal to investigate torturers is a reflection of his own so-pragmatic-it's-cynical belief that such matters do not really count for much — certainly not as much as a successful presidency. This is not a conspiracy. It's just the kind of elite corruption you usually see in banana republics with no rule of law and a coopted press.

It is surely fortunate — or would unfortunate be the better word to use? — that the United States yet to become a banana republic, for the middle class in the United States will not fare well when it attains this level of development. The signs indicating this fate are there, of course. Nevertheless, the country remains best characterized as a global empire and the only military superpower, and, as such, the arrogance of power has become its normal condition. Denial is an ordinary complement of such arrogance, so the fact that denial is a common feature of American politics follows as a matter of course.


Rule of law or rule by law?

Do we have a choice?

These are questions a reasonable and thus concerned citizen of the United States might ask at this juncture given the abuse of governmental power that is now all-too-common. Glenn Greenwald has often brought to our attention the institutional failures that produce these kinds of abuses. But he truly excels in holding the establishment press accountable for its willing complicity in the commission of these crimes. Most recently the Washington Post, as Greenwald makes plain, joined the Bush and Obama regimes as a defender of the kind and degree of torture 'authorized' by the infamous Bush regime torture memos (.pdf). Should we be surprised that the Post advocates sacrificing the over-aggressive foot soldier that exceeded the limits specified by the Bush regime's torture memos while permitting John Yoo (the principal author of the torture justification), his co-conspirators and the American governmental system as a whole to remain unmolested by the law? No, we should not find this surprising, and I would expect Greenwald also found the Post's position utterly predictable and contemptible. He continues:

That, in a nutshell, is the twisted Washington mentality when it comes to lawbreaking: when political crimes become so blatant and extreme that they can no longer be safely excused (Watergate, Iran-contra, Abu Ghraib), then it's necessary to sacrifice some underlings who carried out the crimes by prosecuting them, but — no matter what else happens — the high-level political officials responsible for the crimes must be shielded from all accountability. In ordinary criminal justice, what typically guides prosecutions is the opposite mindset: namely, a willingness to immunize low-level soldiers in order to ensure that the higher-level criminals suffer the consequences of their crimes. But when it comes to crimes committed by political officials in America's Versailles culture, only the pawns are subjected to the rule of law while the monarchs and their highest royal court aides are immunized.

Greenwald continues by using the rest of his column to debunk the tired rationalization the Post offered to defend those who authorized the whole wretched torture business. He concludes his piece by observing:

If, as appears to be the case, this is the principle by which we're now governed — presidential acts in blatant violation of clear statutes are no longer crimes if a DOJ lawyer justifies it in advance, even using legal reasoning found to be in bad faith — then, by definition, Presidents are literally no longer bound by the rule of law. If the crimes are embarrassing enough, we'll find a Lynndie England — or some obscure, easily demonizable, extra-sadistic CIA interrogator — to scapegoat and punish in order to pacify the citizenry and create the illusion that the rule of law still prevails. But the one thing that remains off-limits in Washington culture above all else is subjecting high-level political officials to the rule of law when they commit crimes. The low-level scapegoating which the Post today endorses is the approach which, by all accounts, Eric Holder is likely to pursue.

The United States — a proud nation, a nation of laws, of a Constitution, of the Constitution. Yet America is not today — if it has ever been — a nation in which every person is equally subject to the law. Rather, the law and the Constitution have mostly been instruments the powerful, the favored and the well-placed used to pursue their peculiar ends. This corruption of the republic is quite evident today. The corruption has lately become so obvious that if the actions of the elite betray their intentions, their sensibilities and their political culture, then it follows that they believe justice is something meant only for the weak.

One might consider this kind of justice an instance of "street justice" — a harsh form of rule originating on Wall Street and K Street.

Department of Defense spies on Americans in America

This effort is likely illegal, but not unexpected when considered in the light provided by the history made since 2001.

Democracy Now exposed the incident this morning:


Another instance of rightwing hypocrisy identified

Greg Moses does the honors:

For many months the right wing populist chatter box has been drumming up the spectre of a socialist radical president with no respect for civil liberties, due process, or property rights. Then as soon as the president says it is stupid to arrest a man on his own property for speaking his mind, the right wing populist chatter box denounces the president for that.

Overnight, the fashion for denouncing the president is all the rage. Nobody worries anymore about private property, due process, or civil liberties. It is the uniformed officer who can do you no wrong. And just like that, America's post-racial presidency has come to a windshield-smashing end. The color line is back.

Get a job, join the Borg

You will be assimilated — if you're lucky….

In his latest essay for TruthDig, Chris Hedges justly decries the triumph of the corporate role in contemporary American life:

The driving ideology of corporate culture is a blind faith in the power and virtue of the corporate collective. All quotas can be met. All things are possible. Profits can always be raised. It is only a question of the right attitude. The highest form of personal happiness, we are told, is when the corporation thrives. Corporate retreats are built around this idea of merging the self with the corporate collective. They often have the feel of a religious revival. They are designed to whip up emotions. Office managers and sales staffs are given inspirational talks by sports stars, retired military commanders, billionaires and self-help specialists like Tony Robbins who tell them, in essence, the impossible is always possible. And when this proves not to be true it is we who are the problem. We simply have to try harder.

To be sure, 'thinking' of this kind is an example of social mystification:

The belief that by thinking about things, by visualizing them, by wanting them, we can make them happen is magical thinking. The purpose, structure and goals of the corporation can never be questioned. To question, to engage in criticism of the corporate collective, is to be obstructive and negative. We can always make more money, meet new quotas and advance our career if we have enough faith. This magical thinking is largely responsible for our economic collapse since any Cassandra who saw it coming was dismissed as "negative." This childish belief discredits legitimate concerns and anxieties. It exacerbates despair and passivity. It fosters a state of self-delusion. And it has perverted the way we think about the nation and ourselves.

It is unfortunate but true nevertheless that history has recently witnessed this method in action:

This [corporate] ideology condemns all social critics, iconoclasts, dissidents and individualists, for failing to seek fulfillment in the collective chant of the corporate herd. It strangles creativity and moral autonomy. It is about being molded and shaped into a compliant and repressed collective. It is not, at its core, about happiness. It is about conformity, a conformity that all totalitarian and authoritarian structures seek to impose on the crowd. Its unrealistic promise of happiness, in fact, probably produces more internal anxiety and feelings of inadequacy than genuine happiness. The nagging undercurrents of alienation, the constant pressure to exhibit a false enthusiasm and buoyancy, the loneliness of a work life in which one must always be about upbeat presentation, the awful feeling that being positive may not in fact work if one is laid off, are buried and suppressed.

There are no gross injustices, no abuses to question, no economic systems to challenge in the land of happy thoughts. In the land of happy thoughts we are to blame if things go wrong. The corporate state, we are assured, is beneficent and good. It will make us happy and comfortable and prosperous even as it funnels billions of taxpayer dollars into its bank accounts. Mao and Stalin used the same language of harmony and strength through the collective, the same love of spectacles and slogans, the same coercive power of groups and state propaganda, to enslave and impoverish millions of their citizens.

Briefly put, the modern corporation tends towards becoming one of Goffman's total institutions (pp. 1-124) save for the fact that those subject to the totalizing system will not take leave of society as a whole but must incorporate this regional totality in their personalities as a natural condition of their lives. That the total institution is merely local cannot be considered an improvement in any way, I believe.

Surplus housing, surplus people, surplus violence

Thus does America's neoliberal utopia come into being

Al Martin discusses here the transformation of America's cities into wastelands.

Here's a glimpse of a Turn Key Approach to Urban Wasteland Management ™. Last week I had a chance to talk to a friend who just got back from Detroit and boy did he get an eyeful of America's Future. After listening to him describe Detroit, it's obvious that it has all fallen apart. First of all, there's very little civil authority or regular civil government remaining and in operation. Almost everything has been turned over to these so-called Private Management Companies. And this is how it's being done. They block out areas, in which 80% or more of the houses have been foreclosed on, which happens to be almost the entire city and county. They have selectively begun to bulldoze the properties which have been foreclosed on. The rest have been boarded up. Then they have turned over management of these 100 block area to private companies which have become defacto governments.

Amazingly enough, these private entities "… have the literal authority of 'governments' and they're paid a flat fee from the city, county or state to 'manage,' as they say, a square block of this urban wasteland." Management might not be the better term to use in this instance, though. Nor public administration. Rather, a governmental attitude marked by its class commitments and dedication to security would better characterize the system now coming into existence. When considered in this way, the private entities which define the new political situation may be better identified as economically liberal political dictatorships within the space they have acquired, as Martin suggests:

These private management companies have been given more power than the underlying governments ever had. They have become, for lack of a better word, a defacto privatized post-apocalyptic government.

Whereas the father once characterized the affluent American system as one of "private opulence" amidst "public squalor," the son returns to this problem by wondering about the most recent iteration of America's best and brightest (p. 126):

What did the new class — endowed with vast personal income, freed from the corporation, and otherwise left to the pursuit of its own social position — set out to do in political terms? The experience of the past decade permits a very simple summary explanation: they set out to take over the state and to run it — not for any ideological project but simply in the way that would bring to them, individually and as a group, the most money, the least disturbed power, and the greatest chance of rescue should something go wrong. That is, they set out to prey on the existing institutions of the American regulatory and welfare system.

The minimalist social form was once described thusly (pp. 31-2):

Unreal City,

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

I had not thought death had undone so many,

Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,

And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,

To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours

With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying:


'You who were with me in the ships at Mylae

'That corpse you planted last year in your garden,

'Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?

'Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?

'O keep the Dog far hence, that's friend to men,

'Or with his nails he'll dig it up again!

'You hypocrite lecteur! — mon semblable, — mon frère!'


Banksters face opposition

Adrianne Appel points out that:

The U.S. Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury have doled out trillions in taxpayer dollars to banks and corporations and now the boom may be falling on what lawmakers say is a shroud of secrecy that surrounds their actions.

In separate hearings on Capitol Hill this week, lawmakers expressed support for a bill to make the Fed's decisions more transparent, and for the findings of a special inspector general report that calls for greater transparency in the Treasury's bailout of banks, called the Troubled Asset Relief Programme (TARP).

The Fed Chair sought to reassure those paying attention:

"We are taking all the steps necessary to protect taxpayer money. One sensitive area is to have Congress second-guessing monetary policy," Bernanke said.

Bernanke's words are not at all reassuring, I would say, given the origin of the crisis, which can be located in the dysfunctional relationship between Wall Street and the Federal government. Consider Bernanke's position on the controls placed upon the Fed:

"If we raise interest rates at a [Fed meeting] and someone in Congress didn't like the decision and ordered an audit, isn't that interference?" he said.

Or political oversight…



First increase service capacity, then cut service provision

Ben Adler writes:

Recipients of the president's daily press releases have become accustomed to the constant trumpeting of transportation infrastructure projects put in motion by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Vice President Joe Biden (of Amtrak-commuting fame) is constantly popping up at the most mundane locations — a bus depot in suburban Maryland, a highway interchange in Kalamazoo, Michigan — to proclaim the economic and ecological benefits of everything from new buses burning cleaner fuel to the widening of an Interstate. As the administration is so fond of noting, the Recovery Act included an impressive $48 .1 billion for roads and transit.

The problem is that those funds are dedicated almost exclusively for new investments instead of supplementing existing operating funds. Alas, even while states and cities are laying train tracks and buying new buses, they are being forced to cut bus routes and raise subway fares. Mass transit lines are being eliminated and fares raised in cities across the country. And cost-cutting measures mean that transit employees are being laid off from Anchorage, Alaska, to Miami, Florida. Laying off workers from good civil service jobs, and making traveling more expensive and difficult, could hinder the Obama administration's efforts to stimulate the economy.

The Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) laid off 292 employees. "We're hiring construction workers at the same time that we're laying off bus drivers," says Wiley Norvell, spokesman for Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group for mass transit riders in New York City.

The most harmful effect of this decision necessarily fall upon the urban poor, as one would expect:

"By cutting services you are inhibiting the ability of people who rely on the service to get to their jobs or get to new jobs," says Robert Puentes, a transportation expert at the Brookings Institution. Community organizers in low-income communities in San Francisco say that many of the people they work with would be trapped in poverty by having service cuts in their bus lines prevent them from getting to work or community college. In St. Louis some disabled bus riders are unable to go downtown at all, due to their bus lines having been cut. And while New York City's MTA avoided a "doomsday budget" scenario, fares still rose to $2.25 in June. So, even as mass transit ridership has increased in recent years thanks to unpredictable gas prices, services are being cut and fares are being raised. The worst hit are, of course, poor riders and people with disabilities.


Dr. Dean’s snake oil

The issue: Obama's proposed health care program

The agent: Dr. Howard Dean

The goal: To convince the gullible and uninformed that Obama's health care plan provides a publicly funded, single-payer option

Yet, according to Single Payer Action:
Dr. David Himmelstein says Dr. Howard Dean is lying about the Obama health care proposal.
Himmelstein continues:
"He knows that the public option plan is not single payer and he says it is to try and confuse people," Himmelstein said. "He goes on Democracy Now and other shows and says that people can buy into Medicare when he knows that what is in the plan is not that."
"Medicare doesn't have to compete," Himmelstein said. "That's why it's so efficient."
The Obama proposal is not a single payer plan because participants will need to have additional insurance to cover their medical costs.
Howard Dean's Democracy Now interview can be viewed here:


Palin allegedly violates ethics rules with legal defense fund

The Associated Press reports:

An independent investigator has found evidence that Gov. Sarah Palin may have violated ethics laws by accepting private donations to pay her legal debts.

The report obtained by The Associated Press says Palin is securing unwarranted benefits and receiving improper gifts through the Alaska Fund Trust, set up by supporters.

An investigator for the state Personnel Board says in his July 14 report that there is probable cause to believe Palin used or attempted to use her official position for personal gain because she authorized the creation of the trust as the "official" legal defense fund.

Since Saint Sarah likely had a law firm on retainer as she defended her good name against these mean-spirited accusations, she might have troubled her barristers by asking them if her legal defense fund was, well, kosher. It appears she didn't ask or that she asked but had hired the steady and capable firm of Dewey, Cheatham & Howe or, perhaps, the rather famous firm of Howard, Fine & Howard. In any case, it looks as though Saint Sarah will need to pay the fees for next defense from her own pocket.

Sounds about right

Writing for AlterNet, Adele Stan points out that:
If President Barack Obama succeeds in signing a major health care reform bill into law — one that provides a public plan for people currently priced out of the system — he will achieve what at least three presidents before him had hoped for, and failed to do. And he will likely deprive the Republican minority in Congress from anything approaching a comeback in the 2010 midterm elections.
However, if health care reform does not pass early in Obama's term, the Democrats will likely face midterm elections amid rising unemployment figures with a record of having passed legislation characterized as "bailouts" for megabanks and large corporations — bills whose benefits to the economy have little impact on the person who has already lost a job. So GOP leaders are focused like a laser beam on stopping health-care reform in its tracks.

As Congress cleared two major hurdles last week toward agreement on the provisions in such a bill, the Republican pique approached a new level of shrillness.
Oh those Republicans, always looking out for common folk!


Rational irrationality

Fairness and one of its paradoxes

Bloomberg reports:

India will resist pressure from the Obama administration to accept legally binding caps on its carbon emissions, the South Asian nation's environment minister told visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"There is simply no case for the pressure that we, who have been among the lowest emissions per capita, face to actually reduce emissions," Jairam Ramesh said at a meeting today with Clinton in Gurgaon near New Delhi, according to a statement he issued to reporters. "And as if this pressure was not enough, we also face the threat of carbon tariffs on our exports to countries such as yours."

Mr. Ramesh rightly and therefore rationally believes India is not a major culprit in the climate crisis and that India will not develop if it must confront severe energy resource constraints. Now, if I correctly understand his position, Ramesh also wrongly supposes that regulating carbon emissions comprise a zero-sum game in which India can increase its emissions at the expense of reckless consumers like the United States. Incidentally, he can hold this belief while also asserting that carbon emissions are indeed dangerous. But can India or another late developer industrialize (that is, develop) without adversely affecting the environment? I would think not. The reason: The rate of carbon emissions today, when compared to the capacity of the global environment to support the world's present and probable future population, is such that carbon usage may be best considered a negative-sum game in which, at a future time, everyone will lose absolutely because of the global catastrophe this usage rate will cause. If this conjecture is at all accurate, then the paramount goal for the world ought to be the creation of a globally sustainable life via the reduction of carbon emissions. The goal the world ought to derive from this paramount goal: To quickly and absolutely reduce carbon emissions. A binding treaty signed by all nations on the planet would be one component in any strategy meant to realize this goal. Yet, even given the existence of such a treaty, the global effort to achieve these goals does not relieve the United States of its special burden. That burden: America has a special responsibility or duty to reduce its energy consumption given the rate of its past and present consumption of the world's energy.


A new whine from bug-eyed Pat

It looks as though the Sotomayor confirmation hearings set off Pat Buchanan:

Republicans have been given fair warning.

Should GOP senators treat Sonia Sotomayor as contemptuously as Democrats treated Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito, they should expect Hispanic hostility for a generation.

The chutzpah of this Beltway crowd does not cease to amaze.

It also appears that bug-eyed Pat believes the Hispanic population of the United States takes orders from his "Beltway crowd" or that his Beltway crowd includes the Hispanic population of the United States. I say this because he links the two categories, ambiguously, I would add, in the passage quoted above. Rational people may safely doubt the truth of this one.

It also seems that Buchanan, a Washington dead-ender if such a person exists, does not belong to the Beltway crowd or at least he does not belong to this Beltway crowd, although he may belong to another Beltway crowd (the Washington faction of the Irish-Catholic KKK wannabes?). What is clear is bug-eyed Pat's logical inconsistency in this matter does not bother him any more than his hypocrisy does. Thus, he continues:

They [Buchanan's Beltway insiders] archly demand that conservatives accord a self-described "affirmative action baby" from Princeton a respect they never for a moment accorded a pro-life conservative mother of five from Idaho State, Sarah Palin.

First, does Buchanan wish his readers to infer that he believes it proper to heap abuse on Judge Sotomayor? Why, after all, does he associate the opportunities Judge Sotomayor received — and acknowledges receiving (on which, see this) — from affirmative action with what he believes to be a questionable demand for respect. If Sotomayor's career indicates anything pertinent about affirmative action, it provides a bit of evidence demonstrating the need to use affirmative action programs as a mechanism of rectifacatory justice.

Anyway, the difference between the respect offered to Sotomayor and Palin might be attributable to the fact that Judge Sotomayor has excelled in her life's work while ex-Governor Palin recently entered the national political stage as a McCain peace offering to the reactionary right and then quickly became America's poster girl for the Babbitts and Gantrys among us. In fact, Palin's witlessness was only one of her qualifications for national office. Another qualification issued from the attacks made on her from those sitting to her left (as suggested by this). Saint Sarah — victim. To be sure, bug-eyed Pat would never let injustice such as this stand without comment. As a part of his fearless and ongoing work intended to promote equality of opportunity for all of God's children in America, Buchanan offers the following counsel to the Republican Party:

What they must do is expose Sotomayor, as they did not in the case of [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg, as a political activist whose career bespeaks a lifelong resolve to discriminate against white males to the degree necessary to bring about an equality of rewards in society.

Senate Republicans tried to do just this; they have failed so far. I wonder why?


Into the sunlight and then out the door…

William Greider assesses the Federal Reserve and the significance it has for the American system:

The Federal Reserve is the black hole of our democracy — the crucial contradiction that keeps the people and their representatives from having any voice in these most important public policies. That's why the central bankers have always operated in secrecy, avoiding public controversy and inevitable accusations of special deal-making. The current crisis has blown the central bank's cover. Many in Congress are alarmed, demanding greater transparency. More than 250 House members are seeking an independent audit of Fed accounts. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi observed that the Fed seems to be poaching on Congressional functions — handing out public money without the bother of public decision-making.

The problem the Fed now confronts:

Basically, what the central bank is trying to do with its aggressive distribution of trillions is avoid repeating the great mistake the Fed made after the 1929 stock market crash. The central bankers responded hesitantly then and allowed the money supply to collapse, which led to the ultimate catastrophe of full-blown monetary deflation and created the Great Depression. Bernanke has not yet won this struggle against falling prices and production — deflationary symptoms remain visible around the world — but he has not lost either. He might get more public sympathy if Fed officials explained this dilemma in plain English. Instead, they are shielding people from understanding the full dimensions of our predicament.

Yet, why would Bernanke and his staff wish to enlighten the public about the Federal Reserve when the institution ought to be scrapped and replaced by a public bank? They and their private bank masters would not care much for this at all since these banks not only own the Federal Reserve but have the capacity to job the system as it now exists. And they use their powers to implement policies they consider to be to their advantage. So far, as it turns out, the economic crisis has only resulted in the government giving additional powers to the Federal Reserve! This power-gathering is a feature of the system, not an aberration which the current government might care to address if not also fix. Unfortunately, resolving this crisis in a rational way and in pursuit of rational goals would require the creation of a power which could contend with the Federal Reserve. One would have to look toward a political movement that does not yet exist to motivate the Congress and the President to adopt this path.


White like me…

Michael Steele — blockhead

The coming deflation

Mike Whitney believes America will eventually confront a demand-constrained economy, the existence of which will produce deflation and not the inflation the right believes will result from the Obama stimulus program. Whitney continues:

The subtext of the financial crisis is class warfare, a fact that mainstream economists would rather ignore than invoke the musty imagery of disheveled revolutionaries and Soviet-era repression.

As we know, wage earners in the United States have not fared well since the end of the Golden Age (around 1968), and their losses are a component of the misdistribution of the country's wealth:

…during the Bush years, the chasm between rich and poor widened to levels not seen since the Gilded Age. Now the top 1 percent of wealth holders own more than twice as much as the bottom 80% of the population. All of the real gains in national income, total net-worth, and overall growth in financial worth have gone to the same 1 percent.

The common person, dependent as he or she is on wage income and when considered as a consumer of those goods produced by the economy, must have access to the monetary means needed to purchase the goods they want to consume. Consumption in general is but a necessary moment in the production of value and since wage earners tend to spend most of what they earn, both the rate of employment and the distribution of wealth have functional roles to play in the steady reproduction of the economy. Thus:

…the strides in personal enrichment have come at great cost. The US consumer, long considered an inexhaustible resource, is tapped out. Without job security and access to easy credit; consumer spending will slow, prices will fall, demand will flag and the economy will tank. There won't be a recovery, because pre-crisis levels of consumption will not return; that much is certain. Sustainable growth requires higher wages and longer working hours; neither of which are likely anytime soon. The economy is headed for a protracted slowdown with persistent high unemployment and growing social unrest. The future is deflation.

Briefly put, what remains of America's post-war system is threatening to disintegrate. But Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan-Chase have managed to surge during the crisis.

Lest we forget….

While we once more recall the deeds of the Bush-Cheney regime, actions which permit critical observers to brand them as criminals, Jeremy Scahill wishes to recall an important truth which the center-left needs to always keep in mind when considering Washington and its ways.

Members of Congress have expressed outrage over the "secret" CIA assassination program that former vice president Dick Cheney allegedly ordered concealed from Congress. But this program — and the media descriptions of it — sounds a lot like the assassination policy implemented by President Bill Clinton, particularly during his second term in office.

Scahill believes the Democrats are simply disingenuous: "Partisan politics often require selective amnesia." Consequently, their outrage should be judged a dissembling trick:

Over the past decade, we have seen this amnesia take hold when it comes to many of President Bush's most vile policies. And we are now seeing a pretty severe case overtake several leading Democrats. It makes for good speechifying to act as though all criminality began with Bush and — particularly these days — Cheney, but that is extreme intellectual dishonesty. The fact is that many of Bush's worst policies (now being highlighted by leading Democrats) were based in some form or another in a Clinton-initiated policy or were supported by the Democrats in Congress with their votes. To name a few: the USA PATRIOT Act, the invasion of Iraq, the attack against Afghanistan, the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, the widespread use of mercenaries and other private contractors in US war zones and warrant-less wire-tapping.

Scahill is right, of course; he uses the rest of his article to document some of America's pre-Bush-Cheney era assassination efforts. Neither Party has clean hands. The "glass house" proverb thus applies to this situation, I would say.


Saint Sarah of the icy wilderness

In his latest piece for the Wall Street Journal Thomas Frank neatly captures what I believe to be the essence of Sarah Palin's charisma:

Indeed, if political figures stand for ideas, victimization is what Ms. Palin is all about. It is her brand, her myth. Ronald Reagan stood tall. John McCain was about service. Barack Obama has hope. Sarah Palin is a collector of grievances. She runs for high office by griping [emphasis added].

Frank rightly considers Palin's constructed identity a political achievement:

This is no small thing, mind you. The piling-up of petty complaints is an important aspect of conservative movement culture. For those who believe that American life consists of the trampling of Middle America by the "elites" — that our culture is one big insult to the pious and the patriotic and the traditional — Sarah Palin's long list of unfair and disrespectful treatment is one of her most attractive features. Like Oliver North, Robert Bork, and Clarence Thomas, she is known not for her ideas but as a martyr, a symbol of the culture-war crimes of the left.

The "victim" is not a politically innocent category, for it has been an authoritative symbol throughout the post-Civil Rights era, one that has driven American militarism ("overcoming the Vietnam Syndrome"), the reaffirmation of racial segregation (epitomized by the white flight to the suburbs which marked the post-war era), the mass incarceration of the poor and the not-white (the wars on "crime" and "drugs"), the many anti-tax movements across the country (the middle class taxpayer as the victim of "big government") and much else. Indeed, according to Jonathan Simon (p. 75), the victim became the paramount symbol of the post-New Deal era. As a symbol it proved to be sufficiently effective that using it enabled the then emerging New Right to displace the New Deal political system and its progeny, Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs along with the Civil Rights and New Left movements which pervaded the politics of the 1960s. In the United States today being labeled a victim does not by this means spoil the identity of the "victimized." The victim as thus described and known does not carry the burden of having a stigma. Rather, the label points to what some if not many Americans now consider the authentically American political subject, as Simon contends (pp. 75-110). It is a kind of honor badge!

Behold: Saint Sarah, the right-populist icon of a nation-state heading for trouble.

So, did Palin cultivate this persona? Or, did historical circumstances fashion her into what it needed? Frank clearly believes she actively sought to embody this specific image:

To become a symbol of this stature Ms. Palin has had to do the opposite of most public figures. Where others learn to take hostility in stride, she and her fans have developed the thinnest of skins. They find offense in the most harmless remarks and diabolical calculation in the inflections of the anchorman's voice. They take insults out of context to make them seem even more insulting. They pay close attention to voices that are ordinarily ignored, relishing every blogger's sneer, every celebrity's slight, every crazy Internet rumor.

But he also believes that the GOP image makers imposed this identity on her.

This has been Ms. Palin's assigned role ever since she stepped on the national stage last summer. Indeed, she has stuck to it so unswervingly that one suspects it was settled on even before she was picked for the VP slot, that it was imposed on her by a roomful of GOP image consultants: Ms. Palin was to be the candidate on a cross.

For my part, I believe that Saint Sarah was at least partially complicit in the imposition of this symbol upon her life! I also believe it to be a role to which she is suited to play.

Perhaps Palin has a few of her fifteen-minutes to spare….


Seditious white folks

Chris Hedges and VBS.tv report from the heartland:


Another secret program

Cheney's fingerprints are also on this one

The New York Times reports that the CIA created a post-9.11 counterterrorism program and that it had withheld information about the program from Congress. The Vice President allegedly ordered the CIA to keep Congress uninformed about the matter.

The report that Mr. Cheney was behind the decision to conceal the still-unidentified program from Congress deepened the mystery surrounding it, suggesting that the Bush administration had put a high priority on the program and its secrecy.

Mr. Panetta, who ended the program when he first learned of its existence from subordinates on June 23, briefed the two intelligence committees about it in separate closed sessions the next day.

This latest revelation directly follows an Inspector General's report which:

…underscored the central role of the former vice president's office in restricting to a small circle of officials knowledge of the National Security Agency's program of eavesdropping without warrants, a degree of secrecy that the report concluded had hurt the effectiveness of the counterterrorism surveillance effort.

It is unsurprising, then, that "Efforts [The Times made] to reach Mr. Cheney through relatives and associates were unsuccessful." Why would he wish to take ownership of these legally dubious and ineffective programs!


Jürgen Habermas addresses the crisis

In an interview given late last year to Die Zeit (a translation can be found here), the philosopher-social theorist Jürgen Habermas asserted:

Since 1989-90 it has become impossible to break out of the universe of capitalism; the only option is to civilize and tame the capitalist dynamic from within. Even during the post-war period, the Soviet Union was not a viable alternative for the majority of the Left in Western Europe. This was why in 1973 I wrote on legitimation problems "in" capitalism. These problems have again forced their way onto the agenda, with more or less urgency depending on the national context.

One quibble: It is false to claim, as Habermas does, that it is "impossible to break out of the universe of capitalism." I believe it false because capitalism as an inclusive world system can exist only if countries engage in global trade, if, that is, the local economies within this system can struggle to expand their reach within a global system of markets. If this claim were true, then even if one were to concede Habermas' point — that modern humanity is fated to participate within a capitalist economic form — it remains the case that this economic system necessarily produces and confronts internal and external limits which it will need to successfully manage if it is to survive intact. Petroleum depletion provides one such limit on global trade and on industrial production. Another obvious one: Global warming, the existence of which threatens to produce a species-wide catastrophe. Worse still is the strong possibility that these two limiting conditions, which humanity cannot simply deny or neglect, may eventually combine to pulverize global civilization altogether, leaving, at best, only small, residual pockets of humanity scattered across the world. Without a doubt these remnants would depend upon barter and, perhaps, commodity production as well; nevertheless, they would lack the material conditions (the material resources, including a hospitable planet) needed to expand beyond the boundaries of their individual locations. Small may or may not be beautiful, but it promises to be unavoidable.

Once they found themselves 'free' of the capitalist world economy, humanity's survivors could — and might even be forced by circumstances to — create and adopt a less destructive mode of production. The catastrophe will have thus liberated humanity from its global capitalistic fate.

To be sure, no sensible and humane being would consider a catastrophe of this magnitude a product of a rational decision which humanity could feasibly make. The ends do not justify the means. It is better for humanity to live within a capitalist world economic system than to perish altogether or nearly so. Nevertheless, "humanity" cannot "decide" anything at all, according to Luhmann (p. 105). At best, an elite could produce a decision, but even this choice would require a global political system to implement a decision of this scope. And, it is the very lack of an effective global political system that is the species-wide developmental deficit of the moment: As we know all too well, a global threat can emerge from the workings of the "invisible hand," so to speak. A technologically sophisticated, modern world economy generates threats of this kind as a matter of course. Yet a programmatic effort to manage the risks posed by this economy will likely require an effective global political system the existence of which seems as remote to us today as full communism. A global political system has long been Habermas' preferred solution.

It became clear to me during the 1990s that politics must build up its capacities for joint action at the supranational level if it is to catch up with the markets. There even seemed to be initial steps in this direction during the early part of the decade. George Bush the elder spoke in a programmatic way of a New World Order and seemed to want to make use of the long blocked — and ridiculed! — United Nations! There was initially a sharp increase in the number of humanitarian interventions enacted by the Security Council. The politically intended economic globalisation should have been followed by a system of global political coordination and a further legal codification of international relations. However, the initial ambivalent efforts lost momentum already under Clinton. The current crisis is making us aware of this deficiency again. Since the beginning of the modern era, the market and politics have had to be repeatedly balanced off against one another in order to preserve the network of relations of solidarity among the members of political communities. A tension between capitalism and democracy always remains, because the market and politics rest on conflicting principles. The flood of decentralsed individual choices unleashed within more complex networks also calls for regulations after the latest phase of globalisation; this is contingent on a corresponding extension of political procedures through which interests are generalised.

The call for a global political system indicates the deeper, more ominous emergency condition humanity now faces, namely: The second-order crisis which came into existence because human beings cannot order their affairs in such a way that their living and relating does not also produce an existential threat for the whole of life on the planet. Human beings seemingly cannot learn how to get along well with each other or how to live without also befouling their environment.

Cui bono?

President Obama today addressed here the Second Stimulus question — "Should we or shouldn't we do it?" — as well as the criticisms directed towards his First Stimulus program, criticism that mostly originated on his right flank:

But, as I made clear at the time it was passed, the Recovery Act was not designed to work in four months — it was designed to work over two years. We also knew that it would take some time for the money to get out the door, because we are committed to spending it in a way that is effective and transparent. Crucially, this is a plan that will also accelerate greatly throughout the summer and the fall. We must let it work the way it's supposed to, with the understanding that in any recession, unemployment tends to recover more slowly than other measures of economic activity.

But, Barack, millions are now out of work and out of luck….

Anyway, when we ponder Obama's next move, we may wish to keep in mind the following thought: As David Harvey once wrote, "Neoliberalism has meant…the financialization of everything." Given the apparent efficacy of this political totalization when compared to the relative powerlessness of those who would oppose it, "In the event of a conflict between Main Street and Wall Street, the latter [is] to be favoured. The real prospect arises that while Wall Street does well the rest of the US (as well as the rest of the world) does badly" (p. 33). And Barack Obama, like the disgraced George W. Bush, has surely sought to affirm and secure the neoliberal order shaken to the bone by the recent economic crisis. He has not attempted to undo the work of the last generation; he has only tried to save capitalism from itself. It is due to this bipartisan commitment to finance capital that the pertinent question of the moment is: Who would benefit from a Second Stimulus program, Wall Street or Main Street? Only by giving a credible answer to this question — the Cui Bono? question of the day — could one then move on to making an informed guess about what the President will do with respect to a Second Stimulus.

Sit yourself down. Have a drink…

Dimity Orlov's speculative assessment of the economic crisis (link comes via EconoSpeak):

The title of this talk is a bit of a mouthful, but what I want to say can be summed up in simpler words: we all have to prepare for life without much money, where imported goods are scarce, and where people have to provide for their own needs, and those of their immediate neighbours. I will take as my point of departure the unfolding collapse of the global economy, and discuss what might come next. It started with the collapse of the financial markets last year, and is now resulting in unprecedented decreases in the volumes of international trade. These developments are also starting to affect the political stability of various countries around the world. A few governments have already collapsed, others may be on their way, and before too long we may find our maps redrawn in dramatic ways.

His preferred and feasible path, one that should enable the species to manage the darkness to come: Small, local and self-sufficient are beautiful and can effectively address the development problems humanity will face once the global economy implodes.


Brother, can you spare a dime…

The real unemployment rate surpasses 20 per cent

Shadow Government Statistics can be found here.


It is not too early to identify Obama administration as a criminal regime

Izzy Award winner Glen Greenwald again takes the Obama administration to task for affirming Bush era notions of justice, presidential powers, due process, etc.

Protests in Iran erupt once again

On Thursday, antigovernment protesters took the June 12th election and the government suppression of the 1999 student protests as their objects. Reports had protest events occurring in Tehran and other cities in the country.


Mr. Franken arrives in Washington

While the obstructionists cry in their beer

The original photo can be seen here.

Bill Kristol thinks we’re all stupid

Kristol recently lamented the manner in which the elite treated Sarah Palin since she emerged as a national figure. Now that Palin has walked off the Governor's job, she will:
…be able to make the case effectively that she should be the nominee [for President of the United States], or she won't.
The odds are that she won't — just as the odds at this point are against any one of the GOP candidates. It's a wide-open race. And Palin may not even run. But the panic among mainstream media commentators and the GOP establishment suggests real worry that if she does, she might pull off an upset. Why else the vehement assertions that she's clearly made a terrible mistake? Why else the categorical insistence that her political career is finished? Aren't they all protesting too much?
In other words, "the GOP establishment" and "the mainstream media commentators" have put aside their considerable differences, which usually generate useless conflict and hot air, to oppose Saint Sarah's quest for world domination. Kristol wonders why she has drawn opposition this strong when she compares so favorably to George W. Bush who lacked this kind of opposition as he began his run for the presidency! Sexism, perhaps….

It is to be expected, however, that Kristol would not follow this comparison to the end, as he did not do. After all, Americans, along with the rest of the world, now know the mischief a simpleton armed with barbaric ideology can make when he or she has the power and force of the American state at his or her command. They may have learned that the country and the species cannot pay the bills which are the unavoidable consequences of presidencies like those of Reagan and the Bushes. They may well suspect and even anticipate that sending Palin to the White House would amount to putting another painted clown in the "big chair." Why regress to another Reagan or Bush regime? Why would they want this when multiple disasters loom? Especially when these disasters are covered with Republican fingerprints?

To be sure, Kristol's fingerprints are on a few of these disasters, a fact that might explain his defense of Sarah Palin.


Don’t worry, be happy

James Lovelock, who initially proposed the Gaia Hypothesis, recently spoke about the destiny of our species:

I'm an optimistic pessimist. I think it's wrong to assume we'll [the human species] survive 2 °C of warming: there are already too many people on Earth. At 4 °C we could not survive with even one-tenth of our current population. The reason is we would not find enough food, unless we synthesised it. Because of this, the cull during this century is going to be huge, up to 90 per cent. The number of people remaining at the end of the century will probably be a billion or less. It has happened before: between the ice ages there were bottlenecks when there were only 2000 people left. It's happening again.

I don't think humans react fast enough or are clever enough to handle what's coming up. Kyoto was 11 years ago. Virtually nothing's been done except endless talk and meetings.

Alexander Zaitchick continues by pointing to the 'silver lining':

But Lovelock's "final warning" is more than a long and hectoring doctor's talk about an advanced and inoperable cancer. He brightens up considerably when looking beyond the coming die-off. And once we assume the author's Darwinian and planetary long view, it's easy to share Lovelock's cosmic wonder and long-term optimism. He is cautiously hopeful that as many as several hundred million humans will survive the century and carve pockets of civilization into the coming hot state. Our current global civilization is about to end, but there is every reason to "take hope from the fact that our species is unusually tough and is unlikely to go extinct in the coming climate catastrophe."

Dare to be wise!


Are Sarah’s fifteen minutes up?

Robert Parry concludes his recent Palin essay with these disturbing observations:
And, as Palin's bizarre resignation statement made clear, the GOP was excited over possibly handing the reins of national power to someone who was clearly unstable and unfit for high office.
After eight years of George W. Bush and last year's nomination of Sarah Palin, the question must now be asked whether the Republican Party in its current form has become a clear and present danger to the security of the United States and to the future of the American Republic.

An All-American war criminal died today

The man: Robert McNamara. The wars: The Second and Vietnam Wars. McNamara also augmented his resume by steering the World Bank — and thus much of the Third World — from 1968 to 1981. The result: Third World debt peonage. His punishment for all of this: He lived to be 93 in a world which knew him to be a killer.

Update (7.7.2009)
Alexander Cockburn ends his McNamara obituary with this comparison:

Like Speer, he [McNamara] got away with it, never having to hang his head or drop through a trap door with a rope around his neck, as he richly deserved.
John Chuckman, on the other hand, uses Eichmann's aura, as identified by Hannah Arendt, to damn McNamara:

McNamara may be the greatest modern example of the banality of evil.
He was, in his heyday, a dry, boring man with the appearance of a corporate executive who taught Baptist Sunday School classes.
He was very bright and energetic, but dry and boring, driven by an insane need for success and with no evident ethical standards beyond those associated with the ferociously ambitious.
The United States, under his advice and that of others like McGeorge Bundy, created the greatest holocaust since that of World War II.
Update II (7.8.2009)
Robert Scheer points out that:
Much has been made of the fact that he [McNamara] recanted his support for the [Vietnam] war, but that came 20 years after the holocaust he visited upon Vietnam was over.
Is holocaust too emotionally charged a word? How many millions of dead innocent civilians does it take to qualify labels like holocaust, genocide or terrorism? How many of the limbless victims of his fragmentation bombs and land mines whom I saw in Vietnam during and after the war? Or are America's leaders always to be exempted from such questions? Perhaps if McNamara had been held legally accountable for his actions, the architects of the Iraq debacle might have paused.
Instead, McNamara was honored with the Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson, to whom he had written a private memo nine months earlier offering this assessment of their Vietnam carnage: "The picture of the world's greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1,000 noncombatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one."
Scheer's summary judgment: "What McNamara did was evil — deeply so."

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now discusses McNamara with Howard Zinn, Marilyn Young and Jonathan Schell.


Apart from the effects left behind by the abuse

Pam Martens asserts:

With the sad passing of Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, at age 50 on June 25, another fiction of America's mega wealth was laid to rest: even those living in gated mansions in LA are dying a little each day from debt stress.
From the U.S. Government to the Queen of England to the state house of California, to the millions of homes on both sides of the Atlantic with foreclosure notices nailed to the front door, a good chunk of the globe shares Michael Jackson's lifestyle: too much spending, too little income, too much stress from worrying about it.


American hospitality

The BBC reports:
A Saudi-born man held at Guantanamo for seven years has told the BBC he has been left in Chad with no papers since his release earlier this month.
Mohamed el-Gharani, whose parents are Chadian, said he had never visited Chad before and cannot speak the language, but described himself as happy.
"Walking around with no guards, with no shackles, it's beautiful," he said.
Mr Gharani was the youngest detainee at Guantanamo. He was detained in Pakistan in 2001, when he was 14 years old.
US authorities had accused him of fighting in Afghanistan and being a member of al-Qaeda as far back as 1998, according to his lawyer.
But a US court ruled in January there was no evidence to prove he was an "enemy combatant" and ordered his release.
Sending el-Gharani home must have been too inconvenient for his torturers.
Sadly, the authorities in Chad did not know what to do with el-Gharani, but he did not mind the new trouble too much:
But despite these difficulties, Mr Gharani said anywhere in the world was better than Guantanamo.
"If you've been in shackles for seven years every day, you will go to Chad, you will go anywhere," he said.

A few real patriots want action

State budget crises killing off summer school

A recent New York Times report begins with:

A year ago, the Brevard County Schools ran a robust summer program here, with dozens of schools bustling with teachers and some 14,000 children practicing multiplication, reading Harry Potter and studying Spanish verbs, all at no cost to parents.
But this year Florida's budget crisis has gutted summer school. Brevard classrooms are shuttered, and students like 11-year-old Uvenka Jean-Baptiste, whose mother works in a nursing home, are spending their summer days at home, surfing television channels or loitering at a mall.
Unfortunately, these summer school closings are all but as common as state and local budget crises. According to the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities:

The ongoing decline in tax receipts has worsened state budget problems. At least 48 states addressed or are facing shortfalls in their budgets for the upcoming year totaling $166 billion or 24 percent of state budgets. New data show a majority of states expect shortfalls in 2011 as well. Aggregate gaps through 2011 likely will exceed $350 billion.
Revenue shortfall of this magnitude have a negative multiplier effect which would, if it appears, likely aggravate the recession, tax revenue shortfalls and thus the governmental provision of essential social services like education. Unsurprisingly, the poor and the on-the-fast track-to-the-poorhouse are affected the most by this situation since they not only intensively use summer schools and other government provided social services, they also lack the wherewithal to acquire these goods when the public cannot or will not provide them.

Thus does the society allegedly beyond class conflict reproduce and deepen class differences and class domination.