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April 1, 2009

Gnome: US needs IMF treatment


"Oversize institutions disproportionately influence public policy; the major banks we have today draw much of their power from being too big to fail.

Nationalization and re-privatization would not change that; while the replacement of the bank executives who got us into this crisis would be just and sensible, ultimately, the swapping-out of one set of powerful managers for another would change only the names of the oligarchs."

Sound promising? Yeah baby yeah! It continues:
"Ideally, big banks should be sold in medium-size pieces, divided regionally or by type of business. Where this proves impractical—since we’ll want to sell the banks quickly—they could be sold whole, but with the requirement of being broken up within a short time. Banks that remain in private hands should also be subject to size limitations."
Still hot to trot? That's simple Simon Johnson, former head green eye shade agent of the IMF.

I bet you still like his reasoning. Read on:

"This may seem like a crude and arbitrary step, but it is the best way to limit the power of individual institutions in a sector that is essential to the economy as a whole. Of course, some people will complain about the “efficiency costs” of a more fragmented banking system, and these costs are real. But so are the costs when a bank that is too big to fail—a financial weapon of mass self-destruction—explodes. Anything that is too big to fail is too big to exist."

"To ensure systematic bank breakup, and to prevent the eventual reemergence of dangerous behemoths, we also need to overhaul our antitrust legislation...."

(Here's the goofball drop)
"... Laws put in place more than 100 years ago to combat industrial monopolies were not designed to address the problem we now face. The problem in the financial sector today is not that a given firm might have enough market share to influence prices; it is that one firm or a small set of interconnected firms, by failing, can bring down the economy."
Simple question: so a thousand dominoes, all able to fall into each other in sequence, won't all drop just because they're independently owned? Horse apples.

The Wall Street credit system went into crisis, not because it was an unaccountable bunch of giant octopi, but because the system's basic operating units -- as big as they seem to the naked pleb eye -- are in fact too small, too private, and too self-dependent.

The truly sublating re-structuring -- which we won't see of course -- is one big national credit/payments grid, hooked directly into Uncle's dollar mine, and all strung deftly together with a wickedly flexible set of credit lines and tripwires, geared and regulated by interest and principal payments, replete with default and delinquency premiums, principal balance adjustments, etc., all based on an indexed state of the economy morph-mode algorithm designed to... blah blah blah. As our last Spartan, Mike Dawson might say, 'just a lot o' practically simple but politically impossible stuff.'

Listen up, all you red plebs, with yer oh so so kool small local and green is beautiful fools' macarena -- this isn't our great great great grand daddy Andy J's America we got convulsing out there on us. Today we got both the tools and the tech to climb right out of this national seizure, and into a public credit system with loan agents that don't need to be shot on sight by honest toilin' folks.

One grid, many contending nodes.

Agency issues? Dealt with through shrewd compensation packages.

Sansculottes, or brownshirts?


... or this?

Gonna be door number two every time, says 'brewman', in a comment on an earlier post here:

"Scratch a hippie, you find a fascist. At least that's what MJS's multi-point plan reveals.

I actually enjoy this site a lot, but cannot shake the feeling that you folks are just tools for corporate power. Deconstruct the Democratic Party --- or follow through on the tantalizing Lefty's Pledge --- and what do you get? Right-wing populism run amok, or fascism (I promise you, should the revolution come, this land won't become the People's Republic of anything...it will be more like the Fatherland), or good old-fashioned corporate authoritarianism.

Like it or not, lefties, the imperfect, lumpy, too-often-feckless Democratic Party is the only hope for the working man and woman in the USA. It needs continually to be pressured and cajoled to do the right thing, and it usually only half does it. But the alternative would be much, much worse. And that's not a scare tactic --- it's a realistic appraisal of politics in the USA. Give me FDR, LBJ (the butter, not the guns) and BHO anyday over what you folks have in mind."

The "multi-point plan" in question was actually a different Mike's, not mine, but the line of argument here deserves some consideration.

brewman concedes, in effect, that the Democratic Party's function is to block the General Will. But he concludes that that's a Good Thing, since the General Will is... Hitler!

Of course we don't know anything about brewman's own background or history. But this is an argument that I've heard a lot from merit-class types of my own acquaintance. What follows then is directed not at brewman specifically, but at a more general social phenomenon.

Fear of the mob has a long history. The precise form it takes depends on where you're coming from. The rich generally worry about Bolshevism and expropriation. The merit class worries about irrationality and atavism and the ever-looming dark intoxication of Fascism.

(For some reason, the rich aren't so worried about Fascism. In fact, they sometimes seem to be... promoting it; and we might add that the Democratic Party has been right there with 'em, on every step down this path in my lifetime. But I digress.)

The rich don't want their money taken away. That's understandable enough.

The nightmare of the meritoids has a different basis. Their amour-propre depends on the sense of being better, not just richer. They're an intellectual/cultural aristocracy, not a stupid inbred aristocracy of blood, or a coarse Philistine aristocracy of wealth. They're not richer than the mob, or even better-bred -- less, if anything, in my experience -- but they're more conscientious, more enlightened, kinder, less prejudiced, more rational and critical, and of course better-informed than the mob.

So by a process familiar to everyone who's ever heard the word "structuralism", the mob must be the opposite: bigoted, chauvinistic, irrational, ignorant, uncritical, and in short, the inevitable prey of a Hitler redivivus, unless they're kept in line.

Enter the Democratic Party, which we can depend on to keep 'em in line, and throw 'em a crumb every now and then to gratify our tender enlightened merit-class hearts.


April 2, 2009

Vivat Flanders

The fetching and feisty Laura Flanders, shown above, seems to be emerging from the fog of pwoggery that I saw her in last year. She has a nice item in The Nation:

After the president announced the deployment of 4,000 more troops (on top of the extra 17,000 he's already sent) Jon Soltz, an anti-Iraq war organizer with VoteVets wrote in the Huffington Post: "With today's announcement President Obama has shown that he 'gets it.' That's why we at VoteVets.org are supporting the plan." They even have a rah-rah petition going.

Americans United for Change ran hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of anti-Iraq war ads in 2007, but they refused to answer a Washington Post blogger's question about Afghanistan....

MoveOn has thus far been silent on Afghanistan.

I sold you and you sold -- naah, I just sold you

As every three-year-old in the country now knows, the Democrats are getting ready for a breathtaking betrayal of the labor movement on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), otherwise known as "card check", a measure that makes it easier to organize unions. The filibuster will be their excuse.

Shown above is Strom Thurmond in his glory days, a man with whose execrable name the splendid Senatorial institution of the filibuster will be forever linked.

Let's take a quick Wayback trip to 2005, when Pwogs were eager to defend Senator Thurmond's favorite -- well, second-favorite -- institution against those mean ole Bushies. Here's The Nation:

Fight for the Filibuster
posted by Peter Rothberg on 05/23/2005

A vote to end debate on the nomination of extreme conservative Priscilla Owen to the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled for Tuesday, May 24--the first strike in the so-called "nuclear option" to eliminate the use of the filibuster in judicial nominations. Now is the time to tell your senators that you oppose eliminating the filibuster.

The filibuster, which Peter and his friends loved so much back then, is now deployable by the mean ole Republicans. And so it's the Democrats' handy excuse for not passing EFCA. No wonder the old pros wanted to hang onto it -- though what was the pwogs' excuse?

The Democrats were all strongly behind EFCA as long as it had no chance of passing. But now that they have a majority in both houses, they must find a face-saving way to lose the fight (except Dianne Feinstein -- shown left, with another fox in the hencoop -- who apparently needs no excuse and has thrown EFCA overboard with a shameless barefaced fuck-you grin.)

Enter the filibuster! Those mean ole Republicans who wanted to take the filibuster away are now going to... use it! (This is a nice mirror image of the Democrats, who fought to keep it and didn't use it. Anybody see a pattern here?)

This is the burden of the donkeys' song: Since us good-hearted well-meaning Democrats only have a majority, not a filibuster-proof supermajority... ah well, we fought the good fight. Better luck in the next life, toilers of America. Oh and don't forget to vote for us in the next Most Important Elections In History, scheduled for 2010. Give us a filibuster-proof supermajority! And then we'll find some brand-new way to sell you out!

So far, we're wading hip-deep in bullshit, right? Well, hold your breath, because we're about to step off a ledge right into the bottomless Marianas Trench of bullshit.

The filibuster is a straw man. There is an arcane provision in the Senate's rules that any measure covered under what's called "reconciliation" can't be filibustered. It's a long story, but the short of it is that what is and what isn't covered by "reconciliation" is ultimately determined by the presiding officer of the Senate. And that would, of course, be Vice President Joe Biden.

The Republicans used this "reconciliation" dodge a lot back when they were the majority. I think we can safely predict that the Democrats will not -- and most especially, that they will not on the EFCA bill. Obie could put a stop to this treachery with a couple of phone calls, but he will not make them.

Obie, and the congressional Democrats, climbed labor's support for EFCA into office, and now they'll kick it away -- as they did with the public's warsickness. And no doubt labor, just like the so-called antiwar movement, will take the kick with a shit-eating grin and ask, Please sir, may I have another?

* * * * *

Update: Owen and I were thinking along the same lines. He writes:

Who sez there ain't no way to beat the fillibuster?

"Senate Democrats are increasingly receptive to using a controversial budget shortcut to ease passage of health-care reform legislation, a shift in stance encouraged by the White House but denounced by Republicans, who say the maneuver is an unfair partisan trick."
My personal GOP idol, Phil Specter's older brother Arlen, seems ticked:
"There are those of us on this side of the aisle who have cooperated," Specter said. "I think it fair to say that to misuse the reconciliation process would be a very strong blow against bipartisanship and cooperation. Obviously, it would impede future activity by the Obama administration in reaching across the aisle to get necessary Republican votes."
As a friend of demo-muppet fellow aisle-squatters like Bridgeport Joe, this must come as a deep disappointment to Senator Specter. But of course it's how the repugs got their donors' tenderloin of a tax cut past a prostrate deadlocked Senate in '01.

I wonder -- can card check slip through this loophole too? I bet not -- eh?

Hell, even cap-and-trade is a bridge too far, so firing shots in the class war? Heavens!

April 3, 2009

Liberal Internationalism

Gideon Rachman warns the leaders of Europe that spurning Comprador-in-Chief Obama could give strength to the voices of isolationism and protectionism. I certainly hope so. They're several cuts above the voices of aggrieved yuppie narcissism and disingenuous oligarch-scolding that presently dominate the debate. But I don't think he needs to worry. Whatever euphemisms and branding they manage to shovel into the headlines, whatever tiffs, spats and tizzies they may throw, the world's leaders are going to attempt to salvage as much of the existing order as they can. That's their mandate. If that means they need a new name for "liberal internationalism", that's what they'll concoct. The worst outcome for pundits is having to learn new euphemisms. Unless...

Look homewards, America! Tend the hearths and look after your neighbors! Protectionism and isolationism are the way to go. The European oligarchs can look after themselves, thanks to the money funneled through AIG. Concern for their welfare is touching, but misplaced. They have their own countries to loot. They must learn to make do with that. The squalor of millions instead of billions would require a period of adjustment, but these are strong individuals, with an instinct for cannibalism, admittedly, but strong nevertheless. It's no kindness to coddle them; they're bound to feel resentful. Our homegrown oligarchs will undoubtedly fuss and behave badly. They paid good money for a salvage operation, but some quiet time is in their interest too. A period of reflection will help their moral character. If they genuinely prefer acrimony, instead, they can take turns tossing each other under the bus. Good things can come from isolationism and protectionism.

April 4, 2009

The defender of Castle Frankenstein

From Politico:

Inside Obama's bank CEOs meeting

Arrayed around a long mahogany table in the White House last week, the CEOs of the most powerful financial institutions in the world offered several explanations for paying high salaries.....

[Obama said] "The public isn’t buying that.”

“My administration,” the president added, “is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.”

Nice to see that Obie agrees with us here about his role.

Actions speak louder than words

Yesterday I passed along an item that depicted Obie talking tough to bank honchos about their high-on-the-hog salaries.

The reality is a little different:

Administration Seeks an Out On Bailout Rules for Firms

The Obama administration is engineering its new bailout initiatives in a way that it believes will allow firms benefiting from the programs to avoid... limits on lavish executive pay....

The administration believes it can sidestep the rules because, in many cases, it has decided not to provide federal aid directly to financial companies, the sources said. Instead, the government has set up special entities that act as middlemen, channeling the bailout funds to the firms and, via this two-step process, stripping away the requirement that the restrictions be imposed, according to officials.

April 5, 2009

Why does this picture...

... seem so funny to me? Silvio Berlusconi as Jonathan to Obie's David, Dmitri Medvedev channeling David Garroway, and Hu Jintao asking himself, What am I doing here in the basement?

April 7, 2009

Barney comes to play with us, Whenever we may need him

Master of the site, Fr. M Smiff, passed along for comment this statement by Congressman Barney (DBA Henny Frankencluck):

Barney Frank Applauds FASB's Murder Of Mark-to-Market

“I applaud the very important actions taken by FASB (the Financial Accounting Standards Board) today.... which has made significant progress toward addressing inaccurate asset valuations in the markets.

The FASB believes the rule can be applied more fairly and take into account the currently dysfunctional state of some markets. The integrity of the standard-setting process is preserved, while avoiding the pro-cyclical effects of improper valuation practices."

No, it's not gibberish, it's Newspeak -- well, not entirely Newspeak; not every word means its opposite -- only 6 of 'em:

'Progress ' -- 'inaccurate' -- 'fairly' -- 'integrity' -- 'avoiding' -- and -- 'improper'

The rest is perfectly transparent to anyone willing to curl their brain some.

But for those in want of a small unbending hand here, interpreting chairman Frank's pronouncement, I hope this short spirited gloss will suffice:

We the people of America have a problem, and so do our leading private banks.

Despite the surprising efficiency of all markets, current trading prices of securities may not fully reflect underlying long-term values....

(No no, don't gasp, this is really really true, folks.)

This of course is a particularly nasty problem for our huge depository private banks.

Besides owing the usual limited liability corporate duty to produce pellucidly plain and accurate updates of their financial status, on a timely basis, to their stock- and bond-holders, these outfits -- because they hold the payment system of the economy -- have in addition the obligation to demonstrate "technical solvency" to an even higher authority than senior debt holders.

If they wish to remain a going concern, depository banks must accept the scrutiny of madame FDIC, the flying audit vulture that swoops in ever lower circles over funny-acting operations, ready in an instant to seize and rend 'em to pieces, if inflows or outflows go out of sync, and upon inspection their accounting books don't add up to black ink totals.

But what if the assets are complex securities? You can't use historical costs. What if they experience trouble -- unexpected rates of delinquencies and defaults?

In years past those able to get to the real books have looked to current markets to find the prices -- arms-length traded prices for like securities. But should they have?

Obviously, recent events on our leading asset exchanges have painfully shown us that asset markets are protean creatures, giddy fickle things, manic one moment and panicky the next.

Nothing going on yesterday or today can reasonably bring a sound expectation of what's next -- let alone what will emerge in the end. Finding any guiding light in this ceaseless price chatter can be daunting, to say the least

So what's to do? The answer, after much hugger-mugger, seems to be: why not make it worse? Why not allow standard accounting methods to replace the value from the id called market prices, with -- well, models, and offsets, and fudge factors, and....

Let Associate Bumfiddle pass along bookkeeping numbers to Account Manager Fred Faddle's techno team for the moral equivalent of waterboarding, which in this case means processing these hapless raw numbers through hierophantic hermeneutical quantitative models worthy of Kafka's penal colony, and keep processing them till the numbers themselves confess "this bank is sound, this bank is viable, this bank is going to be profitable," and of course "this bank nonetheless owes no taxes."

The historical record here is clear: green eyeshades, in their core Mickey Mouse role as the chief peculators' assistants, can readily shape, pre-shape, re-shape, post-shape, ultimately utterly mis-shape any and all reportings to fit whatever top management specifies as the appropriate illusion du jour for release to those fucking stinkers the investing public, and more importantly the ghouls from gubmint.

Now with this standardization, this certification, this Frankification of creative fabrication, untold profit Golcondas can be summoned from the least promising heap of toilet paper. Innocent petty investors beware! Your illusions are in the hands of imagineering gnomes, not the brainless tics of the marketplace monster.

Careful plotted designs await you at the broker's counter, designs able to carry you even further past the edge of the cliff than you were before.

* * * * *


Is that Mingo the Merciless I hear? "Why in these troubled times must you play the hideous vacuous traducing cynic, Owen?"

Okay, message received. In a moment of broadminded fairness, I'll let the other side speak for itself. This from "One member of the five-member accounting standards board", addressing the "criticisms that the body had bowed to political pressure":

'We are an independent standard setter and it's important that we maintain our independence [but the board can't] ignore what's going on around us...'
And what was the sentiment of that dumb brute with ten million mouths, even after recognizing it had just been drummed out of the catbird seat?

According the the WSJ, "The rules change spurred [a] stock-market rally."

Reality and illusion

There's something to be said for the grim weather, drab cuisine, and glum earnest Protestantism of the gray Northern climes. Another shoe drops on a matter discussed here earlier:

Canada to split with U.S. on mark-to-market rule
Bitter disappointment expected for banks on mark-to-market decision
Financial Post April 7 2009

Canada is set to split with the United States over its response to the financial crisis and reject a move to let banks duck losses by inflating the value of troubled assets....

The country's top accounting watchdog reached the decision during a closed-door board meeting on Monday, giving a thumbs-down for now to a U.S. move to loosen accounting standards.

The decision, due to be announced this week, is a big blow to Bay Street and means Canadian companies will have to record hits on distressed assets that are hard to sell.

Shares in Canadian banks rallied last week along with Wall Street after Washington's politically charged decision to ease so-called mark-to-market rules that experts said could goose bank profits by 20%.

Bay Street executives had lobbied for Canadian authorities to follow the American lead, and will be bitterly disappointed by the decision to break with Washington and align with Europe.

Rats abandon a sinking ship. Very intelligent creatures, rats. I'm with 'em on this one.

April 8, 2009

The wagging finger writes

I heard on the radio today that it was "Genocide Prevention Month." I almost died laughing.

We're big into prevention, aren't we? Suicide prevention, crime prevention, AIDS prevention...

These bad actors need talking-to!

There's a better way.

What are you thinking of, you poor benighted little people?

Listen up, or you'll regret it!

Genocide is bad, bad, bad.

Unless you happen to be...

... one of us.

Talking turkey

"The basis of the U.S. financial system and economy is private capital. Policies must encourage rather than discourage private capital participation for the short run as well as the long run -- The U.S. financial system is worth preserving, and the only safe policy while investors are in panic mode is to preserve it with as few changes as possible with the government providing the resources needed...."
This sage advice, in a recent Washpost op-ed, comes from former SCTV station manager Robert "Guy" Caballero, shown above. He apparently now heads up the economics department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Reason for post?

I never tire of good advice. Do you?

The military-academic complex

Meet Montgomery McFate.

This improbably-named and improbable-looking creature is America's leading imperial field ethnologist. She's profiled by the exceedingly delightful Davey Price over at Alex's site.

Ever heard of human terrain systems (HTS)? No? I guess you don't get around much more than I do.

HTS, as I gather from Mr Price's piece, "are part of counterinsurgency operations designed to provide military personnel with cultural information that will help inform troop activities in areas of occupation."

That is, a diabolical fusion of boots and mortarboards, both placed firmly on the ground in the same patch of densest darkest insurgent-infested Ethneristan. Want to win hearts and minds? Then obviously you gotta know who yer shootin' through as well as talkin' to.

Eggheads as as embeds -- sociologists, ethnologists, no doubt even cunning linguists and paleo-economists -- and here's where Lady McFate steps forth, according to doc Price at any rate:

"Over the years, Human Terrain’s saleswoman, anthropologist Montgomery McFate, has a adopted a policy of not answering the academic critiques of her many critics regardless of the documentation upon which these critics base their work.

This policy has allowed Dr. McFate to avoid answering some pretty serious questions; questions about her reported involvement in the surveillance of an American gun control group; questions about the unattributed writings of other anthropologists appearing in the new Counterinsurgency Field Manual; questions about why, rather than acknowledging that Human Terrain Teams raise complex ethical issues to be negotiated, she has instead moved forward without even trying to publicly address these issues.

And while this approach works well in the political environment of Washington, D.C., where accountability and memories are short, this is the most non-academic approach imaginable. Academics engage with each other when disputes arise, they answer critiques with data and arguments rather than rely on silence and professionals to spin stories in the press.

Dr. McFate’s position of leaving critiques unanswered appears to have become that of HTS, and a compliant corporate media has followed this lead as it increasingly refuses to report on the problems, corruptions, and complexities of HTS, instead only providing the public with narratives that would have them believe that HTS anthropologists are good caring people trying to lesson harm, while critics are either invisible or portrayed as ivory-tower America-hating kooks."

Snoopmaster Obie


Obama Administration Quietly Expands Bush's Legal Defense of Warrantless Wiretapping

In a legal filing on Friday, Obama lawyers claimed the government is shielded from lawsuits by a 'sovereign immunity' clause in the Patriot Act.

In a stunning defense of President George W. Bush's warrantless wiretapping program, President Barack Obama has broadened the government's legal argument for immunizing his Administration and government agencies from lawsuits surrounding the National Security Agency's eavesdropping efforts.

In fact... the Obama Administration has gone beyond any previous legal claims put forth by former President Bush....

For the first time, the Obama Administration's brief contends that government agencies cannot be sued for wiretapping American citizens even if there was intentional violation of U.S. law....

"[B]eyond even the outrageously broad 'state secrets' privilege invented by the Bush administration and now embraced fully by the Obama administration, the Obama DOJ has now invented a brand new claim of government immunity, one which literally asserts that the U.S. Government is free to intercept all of your communications (calls, emails and the like) and -- even if what they're doing is blatantly illegal and they know it's illegal -- you are barred from suing them unless they 'willfully disclose' to the public what they have learned," [Salon columnist Glen] Greenwald wrote Monday....

Greater Evilism

The public good, in Democratic Party philosophy, is defined by the famous "three bowls of hypothetical porridge" method. The middle bowl is defined by what's not in it, as that relates to the other two, which for the purposes of defining the middle bowl are represented as repositories of what's not in them either. In this way, a happy medium is achieved. If that doesn't make any sense and is highly irritating, don't worry. Everything is fine. You're a decent person. If it does make sense, and you can see a thesis, you're eligible for high standing in this crackpot blight on the humanities. You're also a bad person.

I mention this as an introduction to trends in risk management, and as a follow up to Owen's post on shafting the investors who are small enough to fail. Sometimes they get an additional push.

The global financial crisis should have prompted financial institutions to focus on risk management, but according to new research sponsored by SimCorp, risk management has lost status within organisations and is not being treated as seriously as it should be.

The research has been undertaken by the recently-established SimCorp StrategyLab in cooperation with The Nielsen Company and suggests that the number of risk managers actually reporting to boards has been dropping.

The research revealed that since 2007, the number of organisations that had the risk management function reporting to the board of directors had dropped by 5 per cent, from 36 per cent to 31 per cent.

The director of SimCorp StrategyLab, professor Ingo Walter, said much had been learned about the failures of risk management during the current financial crisis and it was therefore disturbing that the survey had indicated some institutions were moving in the wrong direction.

Institutions losing sight of risk management priorities -- I think that's supposed to be funny, not sure.

Why manage risk when you can not only get a bail out, but you also get to redefine risk according to metrics that are as empty as the three hypothetical bowls?

April 9, 2009

You mean... life is NOT like a fountain?

"An economic life closer to our biological environment: smaller companies, richer ecology, no leverage. A world in which entrepreneurs, not bankers, take the risks and companies are born and die every day without making the news."
Sound nice? Not to all of us, I suppose, what with our squadron of hardened property-is-graft set ever a-hovering near. But that's Mr Nassim Taleb, the bright-looking gent pictured above, probably at a $50k lecture engagement.

He's the Frank Perdue of the great financial reformation now under way on planet earth. For plumper chickens, just substitute black swans; the ceaseless self-promotion is identical.

Sometimes Nassim turns his attention from the swans and peddles stuffing. Here's a sampling of his current stump-standard Gibran-ish gourmet fillers:

"What is fragile should break early while it is still small. Nothing should ever become too big to fail.

"[in our present system] Evolution... helps those with the maximum amount of hidden risks, hence the most fragile become the biggest

"It is the asymmetry of the bonus system that got us here. No incentives without disincentives: capitalism is about rewards and punishments, not just rewards. hence the most fragile become the biggest.

"In France in the 1980s, the socialists took over the banks. In the US in the 2000s, the banks took over the government. This is surreal.

"Only Ponzi schemes should depend on confidence. Governments should never need to “restore confidence”.

"Using leverage to cure the problems of too much leverage is not homeopathy, it is denial.

"Citizens should experience anxiety about their own businesses (which they control), not their investments (which they do not control).

"Let us move voluntarily into Capitalism 2.0 by helping what needs to be broken break on its own, converting debt into equity, marginalising the economics and business school establishments, shutting down the “Nobel” in economics, banning leveraged buyouts, putting bankers where they belong, clawing back the bonuses of those who got us here, and teaching people to navigate a world with fewer certainties."

What do you think? Agree with too much of it for your own comfort?

Never fear -- it just goes to show ya, critiques even coming from opposite directionss often look alike. Its only in the solutions where the differences come out (echo of Tolstoi here?).

Let's get back to the lead-off quote: "an economic life closer to our biological environment."

What shameless pandering -- and what hubris, this hollow anology between Mother Earth's living skin and bourgeois society.

"Smaller companies, richer ecology, no leverage." Nassim is speaking for mother Earth again: smaller is beautiful, he hears her saying. (But who came up with the baluchitherium?) "Richer ecology" presumably means greater diversity -- of something -- afforded no doubt by the Lebensraum created once we outlaw limited liability titans. But diversity of whats, Nassy ole boy -- whats? Proudhon-ite cobbler shops? High-tech garage ops? Or is smaller only operationally defined here, as built with "no leverage"?

On the face of it, that seems to imply no credit system for business firms beyond equities.

"A world in which entrepreneurs, not bankers, take the risks" If this doesn't mean no bank loans to business -- then what are banks for? Just the depository functions of the payments grid? And of course the locus classicus of loans -- usury DBA household credit. You know, ARM mortgages, zero interest car loans -- death on the installment plan, in short.

Proudhon redivivus, or just a shameless flatterer of sensible Babbits like Paul Dombey of Dombey and Son?

I find this all "very figmentary", as my younger sister, ten-ton Patty Paine, once said after first reading the Communist Manifesto.

restaurants of the future

A few days ago I aired my dislike of what I called "drafting the constitution of Utopia" -- the temptation many Lefties have (and not just Lefties, of course) to sketch out what things will be like after the Day of Jubilo.

By the merest coincidence, a few days later, on one of my lefty mailing lists, a much-valued correspondent dropped a reference to something old Doctor Karl Marx wrote, in the little-read afterword to the second German edition of Capital. I'm sorry to say it was new to me, but I'm glad to have it. Forgive the pedantry, but it's just too good; translation follows:

So wirft mir die Pariser »Revue Positiviste« vor, einerseits, ich behandle die Ökonomie metaphysisch, andrerseits – man rate! –, ich beschränke mich auf bloß kritische Zergliederung des Gegebnen, statt Rezepte (comtistische?) für die Garküche der Zukunft zu verschreiben.

"The Paris Revue Positiviste takes a fling at me because on the one hand I treat economics metaphysically, and on the other hand -- go figure! -- I confine myself to the mere dissection of things as they are, instead of recipes (Comte-ian ones?) for the restaurants of the future."

"Restaurants of the future" will henceforth be a recurring topic here.

Pwoggie went a-bombin', he did ride

Call me squishy-soft on libertarians, but I like Justin Raimondo's stuff at antiwar.com. He has a fine piece there now about Pwog bomb-droppers, particularly the Center for American Progress (CAP), recently excoriated here.

Raimondo writes:

As President Barack Obama launches a military effort that promises to dwarf the Bush administration’s Iraqi adventure in scope and intensity, the "progressive" community is rallying around their commander in chief as obediently and reflexively as the neocon-dominated GOP did when we invaded Iraq. As John Stauber points out over at the Center for Media and Democracy Web site, the takeover of the antiwar movement by the Obamaites is nearly complete. He cites MoveOn.org as a prime but not sole example:

"MoveOn built its list by organizing vigils and ads for peace and by then supporting Obama for president; today it operates as a full-time cheerleader supporting Obama’s policy agenda....

Peace Action is... confining their opposition to an online petition. As for UFPJ, their alleged opposition to Obama’s war is couched in all kinds of contingencies and ambiguous formulations. Their most recent public pronouncement, calling for local actions against the Af-Pak offensive, praises Obama for "good statements on increasing diplomacy and economic aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan."

...I am truly at a loss to describe, in suitably pungent terms, the contempt in which I hold the "progressive" wing of the War Party, which is now enjoying its moment in the sun. These people have no principles: it’s all about power at the court of King Obama, and these court policy wonks are good for nothing but apologias for the king’s wars.

(Raimondo also takes a gratifying pot-shot at the good old CPUSA, the Pet Sematary of the Democratic Party. This is a teaser to get you to go read the whole thing.)

The Nation magazine recently gave a platform to Lawrence Korb, of the CAP, to make the humanitarian case for raining high explosives on the turbaned heads of Afghanis and selected Paks. Korb's case is (as usual) long on assertion and short on argument; what it comes down to is that it should be obvious that we've got to undertake a ten-year crusade in Afghanistan, and if you can't see it, you must be a mere knee-jerk war-hater:

A Responsible Afghan Strategy
By Lawrence J. Korb & Sean E. Duggan

If the United States ever wishes to leave Afghanistan, it requires a sustained engagement using all elements of national power--military, economic and diplomatic.....

If you want to leave -- you've got to stay! Suppose we said we wanted to stay. Would we then get to leave?
Afghanistan is not Iraq. Unlike the war in Iraq, which was always a war of choice, Afghanistan was and still is a war of necessity.
Necessary? Because why? Why, because...
[W]e have been warning of the consequences of the chronic and unacceptable neglect of the war in Afghanistan since 2005 .... Al Qaeda and its affiliates have regained a strategic safe haven within Afghanistan and Pakistan..... [A] failed Afghanistan would threaten the stability of Pakistan and the region.... Afghanistan's opium revenues fund regional and international terrorists.

Failed states, international terrorism, and "stabilizing" Pakistan [*cue sour laugh on sound track*] -- can anybody detect even a shift of emphasis or vocabulary or tone or anything at all from the propaganda line of the last eight years (or twenty, if it comes to that)? The only shift I can see is that a different set of turbans will be getting the bulk of the high explosive.

As for Pakistan, it seems crystal clear that "stabilization" is not the goal. If anything, I think I may detect an Indo-Israeli nutcracker at work on that hapless land, by way of supplement to the unending and invariant Great Game.

Here's my favorite bit, Korb's peroration:

Many wrongly assert that the progressive community is instinctively against all wars. This assertion is both wrong and dangerous. In the words of President Obama, we are not against all wars, just dumb wars.
Anything that comes with a "smart" label, of course, is guaranteed to appeal to merit-class bright sparks.

Of course Korb is quite right that the "progressive community" is not anti-war. Au contraire, the "progressive community" has a long record of cheerleading for wars, always with the best and most noble of motives. This is one reason among many why the term "progressive" makes my skin crawl.

I do wonder why he think's it's "dangerous" to impugn the Pwogs' thirst for blood, though. Dangerous to whom?

Roma locuta

I just finished a small-scale purge -- Stalin would have been ashamed -- of some comments.

Discourse has recently taken an entertaining turn here at SMBIVA, and I'm pleased, but I also worry that mere vituperation tends to take over. It's a lemma of Gresham's Law.

Feel free to be as disagreeable and impolite and unparliamentary as you like, but humor my humorlessness, and try to work something into a comment that relates to the subject matter.

Yo'-mama-ing is fun to watch, when you've got a real pro doing it (shown at left, the hilarious Don Rickles, patron saint of insult comedy).

But none of us has so far shown the true divine gift, and like a real Upper West Side merit baby, I despise mediocrity.

April 10, 2009

Software advice sought

On a less contentious note... I hope...

Blogging is going to be the death of me. It's probably ungrateful to be annoyed at Movable Type, which has sustained this 'umble blog all these years, but I'm getting tired of it. And I don't think it scales very well.

Anybody have other suggestions?

April 11, 2009

Yes, master

Coupla weeks ago, Boston College caved in to the cop lobby. Now it's Clark University's turn, intimidated, as colleges nearly always are, by the Israel lobby:

Clark University canceled a campus talk scheduled for later this month by controversial Holocaust scholar Norman Finkelstein, saying his presence "would invite controversy and not dialogue or understanding," and would conflict with a similar event scheduled around the same time.

The Clark University Students for Palestinian Rights, a student-run group on the Worcester campus, had arranged for Finkelstein to speak on April 21....

Finkelstein's address would conflict with a similar conference hosted by the university's Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, scheduled for April 23-26, two days after Finkelstein's speech, Bassett said in his letter. That conference could draw Holocaust scholars who MacMillan said may disagree with Finkelstein.

The dispute came to the attention of college administrators after Hillel, a Jewish campus group, objected to Finkelstein's scheduled appearance.

On the other hand, I'm told Joseph Massad just got tenure at... Columbia! Which frankly astonished me. Perhaps there really is a shift in the wind, and the provinces haven't yet felt it?

April 13, 2009

Prototypes and avatars

One of our original sin's great saints:

One of our original sin's great Satans:

Ole Bill Garrison long ago told us -- our federal government was conceived constituted and consecrated by a motley pack of jailhouse lawyers solely for the happiness of a cabal of high-flyin' card-sharks -- err, or was that maybe H L Mencken who said that?

As we watch this pinched pocket-sized Romulan scurry about the business of paying Wall Street our good money for its bad paper, I'm reminded daily of the tidy man at the top of this post, the first and easily the greatest of all our treasury secretaries, a man who needs no labeling, the bastard genius of our credit-based banking system, Alexander Hamilton.

As big as it is, as soiled and scurvy as it seems, today's great bail can't begin to compare with Alex the original's opening act. No one, and I mean no one, not even the late Paul Harvey, can look that boldly squalid tale in the eye and not secretly gurgle with nausea.

Here's Lady Liberty's languishing public obligations to her very own revolutionary soldiery, almost all of whom long since traded their "holdings" away -- for one night's round of watery grog no doubt -- then suddenly its gonna be redeemed by the newly constituted federal gubmint, and at nothing less than full face value, mind you, for the enduring benefit of a handful of hightoned silk-vested grifters, placemen, punters and shylocks.

What a way to let the federal festivities begin, eh!

So who's that other fellow, Paine?

Why that's Alex's mentor, sponsor, and crooked underworld god beneath every trapdoor, the great patriot financier, thumb-in-your-pie master wirepuller, wild -- no, crazed -- land speculator, and at long last utterly ruined and imprisoned Robert Morris of Philadelphia, a man who might well have been the completest, most brilliant, most horrific incarnation of our nation's chiefest most enduring sin of sins -- the Yankee-Doodle Uncle-Diddle three-cornered hat trick.

April 14, 2009

Skin 'em in the game

Are you all as fed up with the "they gotta have skin in the game next time" gambit -- as fed up as Super Al Shooman and me iz?

I admit, the idea has some appeal. Next time -- if there is a next time -- if the red revolution doesn't turn all private banks into floating flood refuse -- let's make pretty damn sure any real live actual human agents have serious skin in the game. In fact, their whole hides oughta be up for skinning:

Behold Al's famous bankers' curing shed.

Let's at it -- let's design these damn agent incentive mechanisms. But in a word, that may prove -- daunting.

Some of you don't believe me? You think its do-able? Let's let the jury of our peers here decide.

Time passes; the all-star game comes and goes; the sun cools considerably --

"And in summation, comrades of the jury, the record we have presented to you clearly shows time and means enough exist for your self-appointed corporate agents to offload, one way or another, their personal jeopardy entirely onto your innocent asshole generic heads."

Aren't we maybe fools to think we can force them to put any of their skin in, when they view our skins -- quite rightly -- as little more than a giant mound of dandruff? Does our giant aggregation of little bits of skin even in the least guide our limited-liability agents to wider goals than they might head towards if guided solely by their very own guile alone?

Mates, no matter what we hope, no matter what we legislate, they are now, were ever, and always will be only guided by their very own personal guile and gain anyway.

No my fellow citizen-jurors, no no no no -- no more widows and orphans milled to financial powder by these privateering brutes. They've suffered enough. Emancipate them from their Marley-esque chains. Let's end the credit system as we know it, the system of irresponsible pillage and pilfer that now strangles middle America.

* * * * *

This by way of warmup. Now let's turn to the latest beacon swing of the Roubini lighthouse of gloom. Mr and Mrs America, and all ships at sea, feature this:

"Actual Macro Data Are Already Worse than the More Adverse Scenario for 2009 in the Stress Tests. So the Stress Tests Fail the Basic Criterion of Reality Check Even Before They Are Concluded"
So what? Who cares about the latest installment of the perils of Pauline? It's pure tomfoolery, our great private banks about to go over Niagara Falls in a toilet bowl -- bah, humbug. The last 9 months has been one big no-stress test, and obviously that ain't about to change.

More to the point, who oughta care even if the bankster buggers are animated X-rays these days?

Private bankers and the banks they ride in and out of town on never never never lead economies out of real live honest-to-God slumps like the one the earth's in now. Not any more than equity markets or bond markets or any other paper asset shuffling and scuffling.

These dollar-denominated bag-heads await the robust recovery of product markets before they'll venture to join any expansionary process by re-introducing an ample flow of private lending. Fill every bank vault in America with gold coins, and they'll just sit on 'em, like Judge McDuck here:

Even before product markets can start to rock-and-roll again, gubmint's gotta spend and borrow to get the dough-ray-mee out there in hungry knarled toilin' hands to start the spending on these damn products anyhow.

So fuck the balance-sheet saga. It's like one big comic strip, longer than War and Peace, and its story line is a non-starter, even for grocery-store reading.

A robbery of the Treasury is in progress, folks -- not by John Dillingers or mongol hordes, but by bald ghouls in imported suits.

So what else is new?

Personally, I don't give a shit if it never stops -- if the finagle just runs it up and up. Hey, the faster it flows, the sooner it blows. Keep yer swap-ola goin', you silk-souled motherfuckers -- just as long as Uncle runs blue-whale budget deficits, deficits that dwarf anything peacetime America ever conceived of before, and just so long as job markets rip skyward as if fired from a million Stalin organs: Go ahead, bankster, knock yourself out.

Because, buster, in the end, you might as well be hording Reichsmarks for all the security it'll give your great-grandchildren. One day a people's congress will come along that mandates a series of fed actions so draconian, so prole-cattish, that it will erase this travesty of yours faster than Yeltsin wiped out the cumulative savings of 3 generations of Soviet workers!

[dub in roaring applause line here]

Where does this all leave the private banks that the Roubini lighthouse of gloom wants declared insolvent?

They're figments to begin with -- pure expressions of the zero origination cost of credit -- give me access to the circular Fed and Treasury paper flow, let me take my drinks right from the main pipe like the Mellons and the Buffets do, and I can become anything you want me to be, ranger!

I call it the Madman Theory, Bob

There's a lot of guessing and second-guessing these days about whether the new gang of loons in charge of Israel will go ahead and bomb Iran. The former gang wanted to, but Bush told 'em no.

This must be quite a disappointment to Israel and its Lobby. They seem to have expected the Iraq incursion to be a stepping-stone toward Teheran. Instead, the ill-fated adventure forced our imperial geniuses to reach a sub-rosa understanding with Teheran and depend on its good offices to pull our chestnuts out of the fire. The net result has been an enhancement in Iran's stature -- just the opposite of the desired effect.

Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that Iran has many friends among the American elites. There's always been an "Arabist" element in the foreign service, and there are American business interests who have close ties with the Saudis and the petro-sheikhs and petro-emirs. It's not obvious that Iran, however, has even that kind and degree of entree to elite circles here in New Rome.

Obie's new proconsul for Iranian affairs, Dennis Ross, is of course a well-known froth-at-the-mouth Zionist. Among other distinctions, Ross is the chair of the oddly-named "Jewish People Policy Planning Institute" (JPPPI), which in a recent report referred to Iran as a "demonic" power. (There's a good deal else in this report that's quite interesting, notably its pessimistic assessment (from a Zionist point of view) of the decline of American power, the rise of Russia and China, and of course the increased status of Iran.)

Roane Carey, at tomdispatch.com, recently wrote a piece that attracted a certain amount of attention, but I think he's barking up the wrong tree:

[Israel's] leadership takes it for granted that Iran is indeed hell-bent on producing a nuclear weapon and is not inclined to take a chance that a nuclear Iran will play by the MAD (as in mutually assured destruction) rules hammered out by the two Cold War superpowers decades ago and never use it.
Carey's giving too much credence to Israel's on-the-record story here. I don't think they're very worried, really, about a conjectural Iranian A-bomb. What they're worried about is Iran's increasing status and influence. This puts 'em in some rather comical binds -- trying to sweet-talk Syria away from its chumminess with Iran, for example, without being willing to give them anything in return (like say the Golan Heights).

Of course the idea that Iran and the US might come to some sort of closer understanding must be quite nightmarish for Israel and the Lobby. No doubt Ross can be relied on to do everything in his power to prevent such a catastrophe, and probably that's exactly why Obie appointed him, come to think of it. But wouldn't it be nice to throw a real monkeywrench in the works? And wouldn't an Israeli bombing raid make a swell monkeywrench? Who knows, it might even result in Iraq heating up again! Win/win!

Is Obie able or inclined to stop 'em like Bush did? Possibly, but by no means certainly.

Although the Bush II administration was exceptionally close to Israel, by previous Republican standards, the Democratic party has historically been much softer on Israel and notoriously depends for its funding much more heavily on Israel-lobby sources. It would be fair to say that Obie has surrounded himself with Zionist mad dogs -- Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel, Ross -- and it's quite possible that he thinks that since the Bush strategy in Iraq "worked", the need for Iran's goodwill may no longer be quite so urgent. Maybe he even thinks he could sell the Iranians the notion that Israel went rogue: "Hey guys, you know how crazy those Israelis are, we tried to stop 'em, but they're just off the reservation. Olmert, now Olmert was a crook, yeah, but at least you could talk sense to him. Netanyahu, Lieberman, though -- these dudes are psychotic."

Du-ce! Du-ce!

The face of American fascism?

I was made hip to this fourth-estate fifth column by the vigilant Bob of Bob's Corner, through his link to the Taibbi report:

"Actual rich people can’t ever be the target. It’s a classic peasant mentality: going into fits of groveling and bowing whenever the master’s carriage rides by, then fuming against the Turks in Crimea or the Jews in the Pale or whoever after spending fifteen hard hours in the fields. You know you’re a peasant when you worship the very people who are right now, this minute, conning you and taking your shit"

"After all, the reason the winger crowd can’t find a way to be coherently angry right now is because this country has no healthy avenues for genuine populist outrage. It never has. The setup always goes the other way...

If ever there was a textbook case of peasant thinking, it’s struggling middle-class Americans burned up in defense of taxpayer-funded bonuses to millionaires. It’s really weird stuff. And bound to get weirder, I imagine, as this crisis gets worse and more complicated"

This is poison, gang -- Obama's Mickey Finn for any of us rad-rousers -- premature anti-Fascism. Circle the peace wagons! Form a broad democratic front! Oh and shut the fuck up! Unite with the moderate head of Orthrus now in power, before the whole gig crumbles into Weimar II!

It's all nonsense, of course.

  1. The pendulum is swinging in precisely the opposite direction.
  2. Fascism isn't about pre-emption, it's about redemption.
  3. We lefties gotta look like we're winning first, then actually win somewhere.
  4. Fascism will happen in a marginal industrial or post industrial state, where maybe a Glenn Beck gets invited to the quarterdeck -- and even then
  5. Never at the center of centers, which is now the U S of A.
  6. This whole teabag rumpus is just about keeping a little mindshare -- it's not even pushback time, much less putsch-back time.

Neocons ♥ Obama

I really like palaeocons, because they loathe neocons so much. It's my version of lesser-evillism, I guess.

There's a wonderfully droll piece in The American Conservative:

Neoconned Again
Discredited under Bush, the superhawks reunite for Obama.

After successive elections unseated the Republican majority and sent John McCain to defeat, neoconservatism seemed like a spent force....

One would expect neoconservatives to be friendless and circumspect, grumbling about Obama’s inevitable failure as they slump away from Washington. Instead, they are jubilant, palling around with liberals again, enjoying renewed respect. Obama is their hero.

On March 31, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan, and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations Dan Senor launched the Foreign Policy Initiative, the latest neoconservative think tank. Its first conference, dedicated to “Planning for Success” in Afghanistan, had the spirit of a family reunion. Sounds of backslapping and gossip filled the hall at the Mayflower Hotel....

Nearly every attendee, it seemed, was president of another grandly named neoconservative outfit. In one corner was Clifford May, head of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. In another stood John Nagl, who leads the Center for a New American Security. Near him, Randy Scheunemann, the disgraced lobbyist and—bear with me—former president of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a program of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC)....

The first order of business at FPI was a stern warning against “isolationists.” An article, “Yes, We Can,” by Max Boot, Frederick Kagan, and Kimberly Kagan was distributed to the crowd.... A panel comprised of Nagl, Robert Kagan, and the Washington Post’s deputy editorial page editor, Jackson Diehl, focused on defending the foreign-policy consensus that has been developing since Obama announced his decision to increase troop levels in Afghanistan....

Kagan warned that “opportunistic” Republicans might attack the administration’s escalation of the Long War. Gushing over the new president’s strategy, he exclaimed, “Obama made a gutsy and courageous decision.…"

.... Frederick Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, outdid his older brother Robert in lauding the commander in chief: “I fully support the president’s policy as stated—and I will work as hard to make this president’s policies a success...."

Republican Congressman John McHugh provided a model of bipartisan obedience to the president—“I can only say to the president, ‘Sounds good to me, boss.’” Jane Harman, a Democrat, dismissed progressives who criticized her for working with “the new neocon group” ....

Robert Dreyfuss, a contributor to the Nation, could not believe the respect being accorded to Obama. “They’ll turn on him. They’re just so toxic,” he predicted.

Perhaps not. As Senor told the New Republic that week, FPI began because Kristol and others had been “discouraged” by conversations they were having with members of the House GOP leadership. Republicans balked at their suggestion of increased military spending as an alternative economic stimulus plan. Senor continued, “Our objective right now is to give President Obama cover in the eyes of those who would otherwise be skeptical on the Right.”

[E}stablishment liberals... are ready to forgive neoconservatives for everything. Many FPI attendees sported nametags that read Brookings Institution or Center for American Progress. Liberal interventionists... agree... that Obama “will be counting on some significant amount of support from his political opponents” to win in Afghanistan.

... For [Matthew] Yglesias, this feels like a replay of the ’90s, where neoconservatives guarded the Right flank of the Kosovo consensus: “By making themselves useful to Clinton and his supporters... the neocons were able to elevate their status...."

The hawks who went hoarse trying to defeat [Obama] are [now] celebrated by liberals as the responsible faction on the Right.... PNAC becomes FPI, and the neocons become the new Obamacons.

Nice to know, of course, that opportunism is not solely the property of liberals.

I paid a visit to the brand-new FPI web site. It was kind of uncanny. I had just read through fifty pages of turgid prose from Clinton and Obama apparatchik Dennis Ross' "Jewish People Policy Planning Institute" for an earlier post, and the material on the FPI website seemed awfully familiar. Different redaction, slight changes in wording, but it's very much the Synoptic Gospels:

In 2009 the United States--and its democratic allies--face many foreign policy challenges. They come from rising and resurgent powers, including China and Russia. They come from other autocracies that violate the rights of their citizens. They come from rogue states that work with each other in ways inimical to our interests and principles, and that sponsor terrorism and pursue weapons of mass destruction.
Presidents come and presidents go, but the permanent government is, well, permanent.

Flux you, Larry

Mike Flugennock passed along this wonderful item. Apparently Clintobama éminence-grasse Larry Summers, after some straining at stool, has experienced a flow:

Obama's top economic adviser: 'free-fall' ending

Lawrence Summers, director of President Barack Obama's National Economic Council, said there have been some encouraging signs the dive in economic activity that began late last year was drawing to a close.

"There has been a substantial anecdotal flow over the last six to eight weeks of things that felt a little bit better," Summers [said]....

But Summers refused to predict how strong the rebound will be or when it will take hold.

Summers got a laugh from the audience when he said the presence of seven television cameras was "seven too many" for him to forecast the unemployment rate's peak.

Yeah, they can laugh. They've still got jobs, obviously -- because who would be monitoring Larry's flow, no matter how nice it "feels" for him, unless they were paid for it?

April 16, 2009


I like the teabaggers.

It's easy enough to find 'em saying silly things -- like that chap rambling about "hippos on the Titanic" who amused the smug Rachel Maddow so much. And all these chestnuts about Big Gummint spending and waste and handouts are, of course, simply examples of people's fondness for repeating, with a wise expression, things they heard their grandmother say: It's not the heat, it's the humidity. There's no accounting for taste. Vote for a Republican if you want a depression, and a Democrat if you want a war.

But nobody in the entire history of the world ever objected to having money spent on himself. What bugs the teabaggers is that Obie seems to be spending money on other people -- bankers, carmakers, undeserving spendthrifts who got themselves over-mortgaged. These are not folks in the grip of an idea. They're folks who resent other people getting goodies they're not getting.

And jeez, who can blame 'em? They've got a point, and then some.

My own grandmother -- normally a rather insightful woman, though a bit of a Tartar -- used to say that the Democrats were the party of "the little man". (She always voted for Republicans herself, since she believed, quite mistakenly, that there was nothing little about our supposedly distinguished lineage.)

Of course Granny was dead wrong about the Democrats, and the teabaggers are the proof. If the Dems were the party of "the little man," Obie would have long since bought 'em off. The teabaggers would be sending him espresso beans instead of teabags, so he could stay up nights figuring out ways to spend more money on 'em.

And if he doesn't find a way to spend some money on 'em pretty soon, he'll deserve to be buried in teabags, and when he burrows back into the air, find himself looking at a whole graveyard of reanimated Congressional zombies in 2010, just like his sage philosopher and friend Bill Clinton did in '94.

So keep those teabags coming, folks. Give the guy a fright.

April 17, 2009

Procrustes Prep, B. Obama, Headmaster

The grinning vulpine figure shown above is Arne Duncan, Obama's education czar, promoted from the educational stockyards of Chicago to ready the whole rising generation of American youth for efficient corporate slaughter.

Here's the New York Times:

Education Standards Likely to See Toughening

WASHINGTON — President Obama and his team have alternated praise for the goals of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law with criticism of its weaknesses, [but it seems] the Obama administration will use a Congressional rewriting of the federal law later this year to toughen requirements... The law’s testing requirements... will certainly not disappear.

The administration['s] plans are a disappointment to some critics of the No Child Left Behind law, who hoped Mr. Obama’s campaign promises of change would mean a sharper break with the Bush-era law.

“Obama’s fundamental strategy is the same as George Bush’s... it’s the N.C.L.B. approach with lots of money attached,” Diane Ravitch said.... “Obama has given Bush a third term in education policy.”

[One] provision gives Education Secretary Arne Duncan control over $5 billion, which Mr. Duncan calls a “Race to the Top Fund”....

The stimulus requires governors to raise standards to a new benchmark: the point at which high school graduates can succeed — without remedial classes — in college, the workplace or the military.

Race to the top? And the losers go... where? College, the workplace, or the military -- those are our options. They left one out: jail.

Of course, education as a feeder industry for the incarceration sector wouldn't sound too good -- even though that is, of course, the fact. You, to college. You, to the mailroom. You, Lynndie England, to the military. And you -- what was your name again? -- to jail. And about time, too.

It gets better. Were you expecting to hear from the "progressive" Center For American Progress? I was, and I was not disappointed:

Cynthia Brown, vice president for education policy at the Center for American Progress, said “They’re putting money and ideas behind what they think are the changes needed in public education... That signals their seriousness about major reform.”
Now the only people more injured than children by No Child Left Alone -- erm, I mean, Behind -- are the teachers. They were pretty critical of No Child Left Unterrorized when it was Bush's baby. What have they to say now?
The teachers' unions, which in 2007 fought a bare-knuckle lobbying battle that scuttled Congress’s last effort to rewrite the No Child Left Behind law, are [now] voicing muted concern over a couple of provisions in the stimulus....

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, said he did not like... part of the president’s speech.

“When he equates teachers with test scores, that’s when we part company,” Mr. Van Roekel said. But he added: “Over all, I just really support Obama’s vision to strengthen public education.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that her union also had concerns about the president’s enthusiasm for data systems, which she said could be misused, but that she would give the new administration the benefit of the doubt.

Doubt, my ass. Randi knows perfectly well that Obama is going to continue and even accelerate what Bush was doing, but she's a Democrat, so she'll go along.

April 18, 2009

Alexander the Undoubtedly Great

The man hisseff!

I realize the impression has gotten around that I, Owen Thaddeus Stevens Paine, take a dim view of Counterpunch.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It's tonic to me nearly every day. Alex himself is ever-delightful, the range of topics lovely, his stable of authors wondrous.

Okay, so Alex isn't the greatest political economist of the last four decades. He doesn't think so, either. In fact, he readily admits the whole topic bores the shit out of him.

From my partial point of view, that's too bad. The site seems to fall unfailingly for the wrong rad take on most bread-and-butter macro issues.

Guys like Hudson and Pollin are utterly without value; in fact they are a dangerous diversion from the real thing. They are essayists, rabble-rousers, poseurs. They add nothing to the body of work out there floating in greek-letter space, much of it well worth a rad's time to devour.

Stiglitz' Whither Socialism, as I never fail to mention in polite company, has all the insights one needs to demolish the neolib paradigm.

You gotta get past the liberal lamb stew he makes of it, of course -- but you hardened rad types can do that standing on your heads.

Then there's Alex's home for little libertoon wonders.

Sorry, but the undersigned is one red beetle that would treat 'em generously to a guest supper now and again, and then rush 'em out the door before they could get seriously into the port.

April 19, 2009

You can't always get what you want -- or even need

Who can lick these brutes -- Conyers or Stark? One big slice, straight through the neck -- Conyers' uncle payer plan (HR 676); or the slow bleed to death -- Stark's free-to-choose Medicare bill?

That looks like our pair of prog options -- if we have any options to the fudgepot of corporate rent sumps the health payment and financing system has formed itself into over the past 60 years.

Is there a serious difference here? I doubt there is, in the long run -- given a choice, a la Stark, the citizenry will gradually opt for uncle's medicare system, obviously.

So why, besides the art of the impossibly superior, prefer Conyers' plan? I submit mobilizing for flat-out single-payer now is the only way to pass the Stark slow bleed sooner rather than later.

I find this whole topic tedious beyond measure -- except that the present stymie manifests beautifully and in many dimensions just how corporate control works here in the US ofA.

A solid majority of voters want single payer now -- but they ain't gettin it.

There's a nice purp line up at Alex's place:


"The will of the American people is being held up by a handful of organizations and individuals who profit off the suffering of the masses. And the will of the American people will not be done until this criminal elite is confronted and defeated."

April 20, 2009

Soldier of Zion

Shown shmoozing above with porcine mass murderer Ariel Sharon is Democratic representative Jane Harman. It's always been well understood that Jane is a drone aircraft, remote-controlled from a bunker in Jerusalem, but it gets better. CQ Politics has a fun item today:

Sources: Wiretap Recorded Rep. Harman Promising to Intervene for AIPAC [Spies]

Rep. Jane Harman , the California Democrat with a longtime involvement in intelligence issues, was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee....

In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections....

Seemingly wary of what she had just agreed to, according to an official who read the NSA transcript, Harman hung up after saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist.”

....Harman is said to have been picked up on a court-approved NSA tap directed at alleged Israel covert action operations in Washington....

[C]ontrary to reports [at the time] that the Harman investigation was dropped for “lack of evidence,” it was Alberto R. Gonzales, President Bush’s top counsel and then attorney general, who intervened to stop the Harman probe.

Why? Because, according to three top former national security officials, Gonzales wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about break in The New York Times and engulf the White House....

Justice Department attorneys in the intelligence and public corruption units who read the transcripts decided that Harman had committed a “completed crime,”.... And they were prepared to open a case on her, which would include electronic surveillance approved by the so-called FISA Court....

Then-CIA Director Porter J. Goss reviewed the Harman transcript and signed off on the Justice Department’s FISA application.....

But that’s when, according to knowledgeable officials, Attorney General Gonzales intervened.

.... Gonzales said he “needed Jane” to help support the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about to be exposed by the New York Times.

Harman, he told Goss, had helped persuade the newspaper to hold the wiretap story before, on the eve of the 2004 elections.

Somebody turn off the bubble machine

Here's a nice run past the last 75 years or so of bipartisan center-aisle regulatory/legislative pattycake, all of which came together in a glorious schmogigle last fall, with the catastrophic climax of the great Wall Street bankster heist.

And for those willing to delve a bit further, here's that piece's back up report.

And oh, by the way, here's a picture of a gal that oughta join the Leon Henderson Virtuous Regulators' Hall of Fame, the blessed Brooksley Born, juxtaposed with some of her noteworthy antagonists:

"In 1996, President Clinton appointed Brooksley Born chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). The CFTC is an independent federal agency with the mandate to regulate commodity futures and option markets in the United States.

Born was outspoken and adamant about the need to regulate the quickly growing but largely opaque area of financial derivatives. She found fierce opposition in SEC Chair Arthur Levitt, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan, all of whom felt that the financial industry was capable of regulating itself."

She fought the good fight, my friends. But then, as the narrative mentions, there was always the likes of this chap --

... Phil Gramm, of course; and this chap --

... Chris Cox; and this chap, already seen above, but burn his image into your retina again:

... whom I will not name; naming calls. Chaps like these ultimately won the day for Orthrus and his tip-o'-Manhattan master.

April 21, 2009

Eagle's-eye view

Over at my favorite dallying spot, chez Alex, there's a state of the globe report on earthworld USA. No suprises for the likes of us here -- just the usual armed overreach and prodigal dollar floods as a recipe for decline and fall.

But it reminded me of our solemn duty, as vanguard tribunes of the whole filthy lot of exploited humanity, to put aside our narrow national perspective, and take a bigger look at the whole earth as one closed market system -- the real macro take.

As my ex-teacher, the legendary bon vivant Bob Mundell, used to say, "this, ladies and gents, is the proper point of observation".

So what do we see up here? The corporate flight patterns look quite different thand they were just last year. Much like the real flows -- the cross border trade flows -- the cross border finance flows are contracting substantially.

No matter where one looks -- the north-south global flow, the west-east Euro flow -- it's the same story: contraction contraction contraction.

The planet's production system is going to sleep for a spell, and where's Uncle Hedge at in all this -- Uncle buyer-of-last-resort, Uncle border-opener, Uncle hi-fi Laputa, Uncle crusader?

Contracting -- err, except in the worst hellhole for empire on the planet, of course:

(You may have to right-click and "view image" to see this work of Cold War psychosis in its full glory.)

If Uncle wants to play Atlas, his deficit ain't nearly enough.

It's a global problem, in need of a global solution; but since Uncle fails to share the proceeds of empire fairly, he's unlikely to get his junior partners to adequately share its burdens either -- military or financial.

April 22, 2009

Heavy weather on the way

"I have the strong feeling that 2010 is going to look a lot like 1994. And God only knows what we’ll get in 2012, if people don’t rise up and fight this corporate bullshit."
Those are the grave warning words of the prophet Michael (aka Green Hornet) Dawson at his off-the-reservation carnival anti-Fort Apache blog.

Maybe. But then there's the Noah Clause. When the nautical patriarch got the tip from the guy at the top of the stairs, what if he'd said to himself, after the deity meet-and-greet, "Shit -- what's that all about? So we're gonna get some rain -- still looks like 16 years ago to me."

Shipmates and fellow small fry -- this is not cousin Clint's America anymore. This is not Lola Albright's God's brown earth anymore. Quantity change hath begun to become quality change, as Freddy Engels simplified histmat dynamics 130 years ago or so.

Get ready, red and pink souls. Start collecting the gopher wood. Start drafting your plans for a vessel. The rains will not stop, this time, for a long long time. The circus is comin' to town!

I'm saying this in spite of the occasional disquieting hint that the planetary crisis is -- ebbing. In fact I'm throwing caution to the winds here, disregarding the promptings of prudence.

It's time to go for broke! Time to go for the whole ball of wax! Forget my spotless oracular record over the past 28 years -- I'm blowin' the ram's horn here! The end is near, brothers and sisters! The global system has cracked! All the corporate jets and all the corporate suits can't put it back together again.

It's 1930 all over again, and next year is 1931.

Okay, I'm counterphobically going out on a limb -- now that everyone is saying the contraction is subsiding, the future looks like recovery may start, etc., etc.

I don't think the repugs will pull a major congressional power reversal like in 1994. Obama has the good fortune of real trouble here, not just a recession.

He may Hoover himself -- be a real DLC fool -- but between you and me, I think he won't. In fact I think all those neolibs are changelings, ready to catch the prog wave rising from the little people's hearts and minds.

I think Obie'll do enough to frame the coming job doldrums as "the best recovery human ingenuity can devise," and the press and the popular votin' majority will go along with him.

Here we go again...

I seem to be on the DCCC's mailing list, or one of them, anyway. I never get invited to any strategy sessions, but I do occasionally get urgent bulletins like this one, which landed with a flabby thwock in my inbox today, over the magical name of Al Gore:

Dear Michael,

Few things in life are certain.

But one thing you can count on is that the broad electoral victory Democrats won last November delivered the opportunity to change direction in this country - it is no guarantee....

In his first 100 days, President Obama has stood with us. I hope you will take this opportunity to stand with him. I'm asking you to join me in a special effort, a 100 Days Match Challenge to commemorate President Obama's first 100 days in office.

April 30th marks the end of the President's first 100 days and the April filing deadline for the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Media pundits and political analysts will use this deadline to evaluate the strength of support for President Obama and his agenda for change. And, just as important, a strong showing by Democrats will put Republicans on notice that their stonewalling tactics will only elect more Democrats in 2010.

I urge you to take advantage of this special opportunity to have your contribution to the DCCC tripled and to show the world you stand with President Obama at this critical moment.

Few things in life are certain, as Al correctly observes, but if there's one sure thing it's desperate begging letters from Democrats, full of hysterical rhetoric about those terrible Republicans. You can expect to hear these notes of concern starting shortly after each electoral cycle is concluded, gradually crescendoing to a Bedlam of brass-lunged geschrei and gevalt shortly before the punters head for the booth again.

Al hasn't even started out pianissimo here; I would say this is mezzo-forte. Does he have the chops to keep cranking up the volume over the next year and a half? I bet he has.

The whole smarmy text, a fine example of its genre, is below the jump. I especially value the obligatory appeal to "smartness". The Democrats: the party for people who are smart -- but who never learn.

Continue reading "Here we go again..." »


The venerable master of the cold war neoclassical synthesis, Bob Solow, wrote this recently:

"The financial system does have a useful social function to perform, and that is to make the real economy operate more efficiently. Some human institution has to collect a nation's savings and put them at the disposal of those who have productive ways to use them. Risks arise in the everyday business of economic life, and some human institution has to transfer them to those who are most willing to bear them.

When it goes much beyond that, the financial system is likely to cause more trouble than it averts. I find it hard to believe, and I suspect that Judge Posner shares my disbelief, that our overgrown, largely unregulated financial sector was actually fully engaged in improving the allocation of real economic resources. It was using modern financial technology to create fresh risks, to borrow more money, and to gamble it away."

Straight up, with a twist of lemon. Not bad. But let's look at a couple hunks of it here:
"Some human institution has to collect a nation's savings and put them at the disposal of those who have productive ways to use them."
Now that may seem as general as all hell, but it's not: it's a formula for basically the same system we got now, only with maybe a two-drink limit. If we want to consider an alternative, we need to rise to yet a higher level of generalization. Get me rewrite!
"Some human institution(s) must accumulate and distribute the funds needed for the expansion and modernization of the production system (PS)."
Households need not "save"; firms need not hold on to their surplus; and depository/payment systems need not mediate these fund flows, for augmentation of the PS. The tasks in question can be assigned quite differently to quite different "institutions".

In short -- a class of capitalists is, well, unnecessary. With that useful theorem established, let's move on. Here's Bob again:

"Risks arise in the everyday business of economic life, and some human institution has to transfer them to those who are most willing to bear them"
This likewise is a formula for same-old same-old. Yes, risks are real, but risk bearing need not be transferred to anyone who might be less of a "those" than society as a whole.

We want to interconnect our firms and households to some optimal extent -- right? Well, it's more than mere conjecture to claim that markets acting alone will interconnect us less than we want and need. Going slightly past that insight, this is a conjecture: the optimal source of "savings" and " the optimal bearer of risk is -- society as a whole, acting as a whole. It's a conjecture, but it's a good one. In fact I bet it's true.

I'm waiting to rebottle the formal proof of this, which must exist somewhere -- operators are standing by -- come on now -- link me to it, baby!

Quis custodiet

That's John Bogle, famous fundmeister, and he's a piece of work. Read this Cato-like disembowelment of our nation's trans-nat corporate chieftains:

Self-interest got out of hand... We've moved from a society in which "there are some things that one simply does not do" to one in which "if everyone else is doing it, I can too".... The old notion of trusting and being trusted -- which once was not only the accepted standard of business conduct but the key to success -- came to be seen as a quaint relic of an era long gone....

The larger cause was our failure to recognize the sea change in the nature of capitalism that was occurring right before our eyes. That change was the growth of giant business corporations and giant financial institutions controlled not by their owners in the "ownership society" of yore, but by agents of the owners, which created an "agency society".... The managers of our public corporations came to place their interests ahead of the interests of their company's owners.

And hey, he's got a few rounds left to fire at his own neighbors:
"Our money manager agents -- who in the U.S. now hold 75% of all shares of public companies -- blithely accepted the change. They fostered the crisis with superficial security analysis and research and by ignoring corporate governance issues. They also traded stocks at an unprecedented rate, engaging in a dangerous spree of speculation."
But then don't he reach for a slug from the jug of the market Adam hizzseff:
"Smith presciently described the characteristics of today's corporate and institutional managers (many of whom are themselves controlled by giant financial conglomerates) with these words: "[M]anagers of other people's money [rarely] watch over it with the same anxious vigilance with which... [they] watch over their own... they... very easily give themselves a dispensation. Negligence and profusion must always prevail."
Okay, doc, so what's to be done?
"...We must work to establish a "fiduciary society," where manager/agents entrusted with managing other people's money are required -- by federal statute -- to place front and center the interests of the owners they are duty-bound to serve"
Shit, what a disappointing pea pop. I can hear Father Smiff complacently murmuring "parturiunt montes" or some such at this point. Me, I was hoping for a "corporatio delenda est" at the very least.

Horatio at the bridge

Betty Warren leads an internally conflicted repug sandbagged band of powerless irresolutes -- hardly a second Pecora committe -- probing the bankstah hail-the-bail menace.

But undaunted, she soldiers on, sans woeful countenance.

Just thought SMBIVA owed her a nod of human respect, grievous merit duchess though she be.

April 23, 2009

World Savers, Inc.

(That's the infamous Dick Holbrooke, world traveller to the world's sorrow, shown above.)

Here's a nice item from one of my favorite groups, the Communist Party Of India (Marxist-Leninist):

Holbrooke stalks South Asia

With mediaeval Sheikhdoms as the US role models for a moderate Muslim states, none gets a prize for guessing the precise nature of the assignment given to Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Whatever else he does on his new beat, ushering liberal democracy in the land of the jirgas, or the greatly discussed objective of sending the girl child to school, is not the priority that the American people and with them the rest of the world are being made to believe to be the purpose of the assignment.

So what is Holbrooke’s mission?

Pakistani analysts, skeptical of US role in the region since decades, say Holbrooke’s mission may not be different from his contributions in Yugoslavia, a country he helped break into several smaller “manageable” pieces along religious and ethnic lines. By that measure Afghanistan and Pakistan offer a rich haul not to speak of India when its turn comes.

Our CPIML comrades have got this one right, as they often do. Partition! That's the ticket! And dear dapper humanitarian Dick Holbrooke is just the guy to do it -- if anybody can.

The whole story is well worth reading, though the comrades need a Web designer.

But then, so do I.

The thought police strike again

This just in, from On The Inside, a journal of the incarceration sector -- or no, sorry, that's Inside Higher Education, a journal from the closely-related credentialling sector. So hard to tell 'em apart sometimes. Anyway, here's the story:

Crossing a Line

Everyone involved in the dispute over William I. Robinson talks about lines being crossed....

His critics say that he crossed a line of professionalism by sending e-mail to all of the students in one of his courses material about "parallel" images of Nazi and Israeli attacks. Some students view the material as anti-Semitic, and they quit the course and filed a grievance against him.

Faculty members are in the process of selecting a panel that will consider the charges against Robinson and determine whether to recommend that a standing faculty panel conduct a full investigation of the incident.

Needless to say, the ADL heard about this -- somehow; perhaps the aggrieved students, in their extreme agony of mind, did a Web search -- and the grand inquisitors of Zionist orthodoxy put the screws to the university.

There's a web site in support of Robinson --


... where in spite of my prejudice against professors, and my puzzlement at the whole concept of "academic freedom", I signed up, and suggest you do the same. Anybody who takes a whack at Zion, even if he's a professor -- of sociology! -- deserves our support.

It's a bit unfortunate that the pro-Robinson site has fallen into a somewhat niggling proceduralist state of mind. There is much back-and-forth about whether the rules of the university dealing with "inappropriate" faculty conduct were followed.

This would be a hard question to decide, even if one were interested in deciding it, since the rules in question are a bizarre labyrinth of agents and committees that put one in mind of the Venetian republic's palmy days, or the Vatican divorce court. There's the Council of Ten, the Council of Three, the Prothonotary Sensitivus, the Commission of Relevancy, the Tribunal of Standards... it's like Masonic ceremonial.

Still, the outlines are clear enough. Robinson did something that profs do all the time. Unfortunately for him, his actions displeased Israel's defense team. As a result, he will spend a year or two of his life fighting for his livelihood, and bearing, as best he can, the glances-askance of his former friends and colleagues and neighbors who have heard that he's, well, a bit an anti-Semite. No smoke without fire. Why did he send that email, anyway? He should have known better. Must have some kinda bug up his ass about Jews.

He may keep his job -- I hope he does, just to spite the ADL -- but he will certainly have paid a price. And that's really the point, isn't it?

What pleases me about this story is the eagerness of the university to deploy its ponderous enforcement machinery at a snap of the fingers from the ADL. Oh, did I but have the NSA phone taps of all those calls to trustees, and the donation scouts, and the deans, and the department chairs -- it would be as good as the Harman tapes, or better.

It's a free country -- well, it used to be

Y'know, it's funny. Just when you think you've gotten used to living in a police state, something comes along that surprises you:

6 years in prison for airing Hezbollah TV in NYC

NEW YORK (AP) — A Pakistani immigrant described by prosecutors as "Hezbollah's man in New York City" was sentenced Thursday to nearly six years in prison for airing the militant group's television station.

U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman handed down a sentence of five years and nine months to Javed Iqbal, who had pleaded guilty in December to providing aid to a terrorist organization.

Let's be clear here: the entire substance of Iqbal's crime was rebroadcasting Hizbollah's TV programming. That was the uttermost extent of his "aid for terrorism."

Let the record show that the honorable Judge Berman, who has apparently never read the First Amendment, is a Clinton appointee. I note with delight that before he became a judge, he worked for the unspeakable Jacob Javits.

Fascism is very much a bipartisan thing.

Torture: the Bay Area is down with it

Van Mungo passed along this delightful item:

Pelosi briefed on waterboarding in '02

Nancy Pelosi denies knowing U.S. officials used waterboarding — but GOP operatives are pointing to a 2007 Washington Post story which describes an hour-long 2002 briefing in which Pelosi was told about enhanced interrogation techniques in graphic detail.

Two unnamed officials told the paper that Pelosi, then a member of the Democratic minority, didn't raise substantial objections.

Van observes, astutely, that "Sometimes the rabid right is a good source of information about the Dems". I couldn't agree more.

April 27, 2009


I'm taking a quick vacation, so the pace of updates here may slow a bit. Everybody play nice now.

Animal house

Here's a WSJ op-ed by ecomedy team Ackerloff and Schiller:

"Americans have long understood that for the economy to work well, government must play an important supporting role. They've also long understood the important role that self-regulatory organizations (SROs), such as trade associations and exchanges, play in cooperation with government regulation -- The debate about the proper role of government in the economy goes far back in American history...

There have been several major shifts in American history on this large issue -- we hope and expect we are seeing a shift that will be remembered in association with Barack Obama. If the president (with the help of Congress and our SROs) brings about this shift, it will be something far more important than the soon-to-be-forgotten stimulus and the bailouts he has overseen to date.

...Contrary to a widespread impression the current situation is not really a crisis of capitalism. Rather we must recognize that capitalism must live within certain rules. And our whole view of the economy, with all of its animal spirits, indicates why the government must set those rules."

Question: why does capitalism always outgrow its rules? "Animal spirits", sez these two notables. Really?

It's in our natures? Faustian beings, we moderns.

Stark vs Conyers: Prolegomena

The Bolshevik Conyers:

... and the Menshevik Stark:

Here's a single-payer-now advocate posting up at Alex's bloc house:

"...Democrats, with the exception of John Conyers and a few others -- don’t want to abolish the private insurance industry.

They are capitalists and believe in the capitalist system that makes health care a commodity to be bought and sold.

For them, [either] health care is not a human right [or] they don’t want to take on President Obama... Like the true cowards they are, they will not oppose Obama on health care reform even though they disagree with him."

Really quite impassioned, eh? The author is one Helen Redmond, and she lays out more or less just why, in her estimation, the Stark public-option plan stinks like the coils of Echidna:
  1. It doesn’t make health care a human right that can never be taken away.
  2. It continues to divide, devalue, and define people by their health status.
  3. It can’t address the endemic racial and gender disparities in the system, including the 12 million undocumented.
  4. It leaves the employer based system of health care provision intact.
  5. The link has to be broken so workers are free to change jobs, go on strike and not fear loss of coverage.
  6. The system would continue to have multiple payers [with] the complexity and gaps in coverage that are inevitable when there are numerous bureaucracies to navigate.
  7. Where will the money come from to finance the plan? In a time of economic recession.... A public plan [option] is not fiscally sustainable because it’s rooted in a multiple payer system that foregoes at least 84% of administrative savings.
Here's her money line:
"Single-payer.... would immediately inject 400 billion into the system by eliminating bureaucracy, billing apparatus, administrative waste, advertising, corporate profits, and CEO compensation. That’s enough money to bring everyone into the system with no co-pays or deductibles."
Here's my version of her money line, redrafted to emphasize certain aspects: We're just $400 billion away from full publicly-financed free health care for all American residents, and we can extract that $400 billion from the systemic cost reductions we will produce by demolishing the current private sector structure of corporate-profit induced, hedgerow-like segregation of individual risks into pools of individuals with signifigantly different inter-pool risks. With this I cannot disagree at all:
"It’s a proven fact that a single-payer system can cover everyone and control costs. Period, end of discussion."
Yes, single-payer now would be great. The question is, can single-payer pass now. If not, then is utter defeat better then some deceptive compromise that is in reality a sellout?

Enter Health Care for America Now (HCAN). Here's Helen's characterization:

"HCAN thinks it’s impossible to get rid of the insurance companies, they’re too powerful, and they have too much money and influence. They don’t believe a large social movement can be built to take on and win against the insurers and the government.. "The leadership of HCAN are the ones who would have said under slavery, “We can’t win abolition, so let’s settle for a few reforms that make the lives of slaves more bearable.”"

Above, the face of squalid compromise, Rep Sacagaweakowski. A shrewd posssibility artist or a simple coward, or a con-artist sell-out?

Here's the wonderful Ms Redmond taking on the congresslady:

"In a heated exchange with Schakowsky before the rally, [Schakowsky] argued HR 676 (she is a cosponsor of the bill, yes that’s right) has no chance of passing and something has to be passed this year. She lied and said there isn’t enough support for single-payer, but there is for a public option -- We said the insurance industry is going to fight just as hard against a public option as it will single-payer so let’s have a smackdown for single-payer."
In other words, Helen, there is enough support in congress? Or are you just pointing out there's enough support among us, the weebles of weightless impact?

Then comes this -- and I feel compelled to ask -- does it swallow its own tail?

"Their solution: the creation of a public plan to compete against the private insurance industry they despise. Speaker after speaker projected a wish list of health care reforms onto the nonexistent public option plan: benefits must be comprehensive, coverage must be affordable, no denial of care, and equal access to quality care. Who could disagree if a plan like that could actually be enacted? The problem is the United States will never, ever get a plan like that while the private insurance industry is still breathing. "
But, my dear, the insurance industry is still breathing.

Her thesis:

"Only a single-payer system, one that drives a stake through the heart of the insatiably greedy insurance corporations once and for all, can deliver on those promises."
I can only conclude Helen expects to lose the smackdown, but lose with righteous beauty. Like a latter-day Bill Garrison, there are no virtuous half measures after all.

Then again -- to continue her heroic parallel -- it was half-measure Abe and an army imbued with Unionist horsefeathers that finally "engineered " emancipation. Clio plays bank shots on occasion.

But really, I think Helen needs to be answered in detail. The question becomes a two-parter, both an 'if' and a 'can': if it can pass, where a single payer can't -- then can pub option lead to single-payerlike consequences down the road, or only back to the present profit-cancer hodgepodge?

In order to pre-empt known and possibly unknown sources of hysteria: I owen T S Paine support single payer 100%. Other options are presumed guilty here till proven innocent. Single payer wears the title belt.

In an earlier post I foolishly -- as is my wont, alas -- threw out a lifeline to the pub-option boys led by Peter Starkweather I should have then, and do now, reframe this issue:

Let us examine the pub-op for its potential economic and political dynamic with an open mind and a keen analytic pair of eyes. As I understand it, Father Smiff even as I type this, is hard at work on his portion of this joint project

While you wait, here's a poser by Ms Redmond:

"... why don’t the Democrats and HCAN fight to get rid of the parasitic private health insurance industry once and for all, instead of constantly and unsuccessfully, decade after decade, trying to rein in, regulate, and do an end run around them?"
From the answer to that, one can build a world view.

April 28, 2009

Tortoise maintains lead, Achilles close second

Curious how the Democrats are always approaching the capacity to govern -- and the concomitant responsibility for what government does and doesn't do -- but never quite getting there. Zeno would feel vindicated.

Now that the loathesome Arlen Specter has joined the "progressive" party -- and I'm sure he'll feel right at home there -- the elusive filibuster-proof majority is still half as far away, even if the preposterous Al Franken succeeds in boarding the clown-car of the Senate Democratic caucus. Here's Specter, serving notice that he will be one of those convenient Liebermannish aisle-crossers who will save the Democrats from having to serve their poor much-traduced constituencies:

Specter switching parties, Dems will gain filibuster proof Senate

The Washington Post reports, “Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to a statement he released this morning.”

“Specter’s decision would give Democrats a 60 seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate assuming Democrat Al Franken is eventually sworn in as the next Senator from Minnesota,” Chris Cillizza writes for the paper’s online The Fix column.

“My change in party affiliation does not mean I will be a party line voter for the Democrats than I have been for the Republicans,” Specter noted in a press release. “Unlike Senator Jeffords switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatically 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on employee free choice card check will not change.”

An apparatus fearfully and wonderfully made. In 2010 we will be hearing how vitally, world-historically important it is to give the Democrats a super-hyper-filibuster-proof majority. Owen will probably remember where the phrase "a cupful of excuses" comes from. Trust the Democrats to serve you one, every time.

Whatever happened, I wonder, to people's pattern-recognition skills? Why and how can anybody still repose any hope in these shabby con artists?

Hundred-day wonders

From the Washpost:

A Hundred Anxious Days
In a South Carolina Town Where the Downturn Has Deepened Since the Inauguration, Two Obama Supporters Have Struggled, Going From 'Fired Up' to Tired Out

GREENWOOD, S.C. Her cordless phone stores 17 voice messages, and tonight the inbox is full. Edith Childs, 60, grabs a bottle of water, tosses her hat on the living room floor and scowls at the blinking red light. A county councilwoman, she spent the past 12 hours driving rural roads in her 2001 Toyota Camry, trying to solve Greenwood's problems....

Across the dark living room, one of Childs's favorite pictures is displayed on a worn coffee table. It shows Childs with her arms wrapped around Barack Obama, his hand on her back, her eyes glowing....

Now Obama is president, and she still believes he will help rescue Greenwood County. But her enthusiasm has faded into a wary optimism. "He's only one man, and there's a lot to get done," she says, a predicament she knows all too well.... * * * Evon Hackett, 38, lost her job on Day 20 of Obama's presidency....

She voted for Obama and still holds out hope for the man she calls a "people's president," but she's not interested in hearing his stories about flying to Europe or fighting pirates. "I guess he's just working his way down the list, and he'll get to us," she says.

Y'know, I guess I should feel sorry for these two women, and I suppose I do on a certain level -- but I'm sure as hell not feeling sorry for them for supporting Obama, that's for sure.

I suppose that's what the Post is getting at, here, although the real story might be how B.O. had intended all along to stiff these women and leave them hanging out to dry once he got their votes out of them. Bled 'em dry and left 'em. "Babylon System is a vampire!", as Bob Marley wisely said.

Basically, they got played big-time, but their denial's all they've got left, so they're still clinging to the Hope™ that Barack Obama might be able -- and willing -- to do something for them.

About April 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Stop Me Before I Vote Again in April 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

March 2009 is the previous archive.

May 2009 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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