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By Michael J. Smith on Tuesday February 10, 2009 01:48 PM

My man Doug Henwood is in fine form again today:

They’ve botched the stimulus, and they’re botching the financial rescue. They’re worse than I expected, and I wasn’t expecting much in the first place.
It has been an incredible thing to watch: the parties trotting out all the same tired cliches they've lived on for the last forty years or more, and stumbling zombielike through the sluggish, graceless tango of reciprocal posturing that's the only dance they know, while the country -- hell, the world -- is headed right down the toilet. Then finally,
Parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus!
The mountains travail and give birth to a mouse: this "stimulus" package, with its subsidies for hedge funds -- hedge funds! -- and for people who are still crazy enough to speculate in real estate.

It makes you wonder: Who's minding the store? And I think the answer is: No one, actually.

Times like this reveal a weakness in the picture that we Lefties tend of have of our society and its ruling elites. We imagine the commanding heights populated by shrewd, crafty, far-sighted strategists, the devoted servants of capital and empire, whose mission in life is to keep capital and empire afloat and thriving, and who will do whatever it takes to discharge that mission.

This picture is wrong. The brain of the body politic is not animated by such spirits. Rather it is infested with spirochetes, bloodworms, flukes, annelids, larvae, fungi, amoebae -- parasites, in short. Critters whose goal in life is not to keep their host organism alive, but to devour its tissues and secrete their toxins into its bloodstream.

Normally, the organism is healthy enough to carry a rather heavy parasite load. But a point arrives when the toxins build up. The mighty beast goes blind and deaf. It staggers. It drools. It startles at imaginary noises and finally blunders off a cliff.

Do the parasites care? They don't. They just want to keep their parasite party going, and enjoy their parasite lifestyle. If that means they have to chew into an important ganglion -- well, hell, dude, I'm a parasite. This is what I do.

Parasites are highly evolved but not very intelligent, in the ordinary sense of that term. They're excellently adapted for lodging themselves in the soft rich flesh of their host, and what they do, they do well. But their repertoire is sharply limited; and in particular, they have no capacity at all for understanding what is happening to their host, or how to keep their host alive even for their own benefit.

This fact explains the remarkable stupidity of what passed for "debate" over the stimulus program, and the staggering, unbelievable, world-historical stupidity of the final product. The spirochetes of Wall Street, and the hookworms of the Republican Party, and the liver flukes of the Democratic Party -- very much including Ali 'Bama and his band of Clintonite theives -- didn't do anything, couldn't do anything, but what they always do: gnaw away at their host's vital organs -- and secrete poison.

Comments (25)


This is a lead egg

Save the Oocytes:

You're unfair to most of the creatures in your list: flukes in fact are the only group of creatures listed all (or even most) of whose members are obligate parasites. Most spirochetes and amoebae are free-living. Bloodworms are as well. Annelids separate into polychaetes (including bristle worms), oligochaetes (including earthworms), and leeches, among others; only (most of) the leeches are parasitic, and some are in fact predatory. Insect larvae and fungi are divided, but there are parasites and non-parasites in each camp. Sorry to go on for so long, but I was surprised to see an exception to your usual precision.


My apologies to the critters. I realize that there are very few organisms on the planet odious enough to compare with hedge-fundies and Democrats.


Taxonomic errors aside, can I just say this was an AMAZING post.

Peter Ward:

What surprises me is how this all comes as a sudden revelation to Henwood and kindred others. I don't know quite how old he is but based on his photo on his website he looks old enough to have had enough (academic) experience of politics to know this is how the game works (and has for a while)* by now. Especially since his job implies knowledge about these things.**

I don't agree that the actions herein described are totally without conscious intention, however. They are carried out with virtually no regard for future consequences, it is true (I think Marx was the first to make this observation?). But a lot of effort is exerted and a lot of sacrifices are made to prevent the empowerment of the general population*** and especially of populations in Third World countries. In fact, there is almost a neurotic obsession with this. That, I think, is why we get the economic programs we do. It's not blindness or stupidity necessarily (though these exists too), it's just what the powerful have to do to stay in power.

It is true that the desire for power (power of others, i.e.) is probably an irrational impulse and the people who pursue it probably don't reflect much consciously on why they do so--even if they did they probably wouldn't get close to an answer. It's like asking why a dog bays at the moon.


*Noam Chomsky has been pointing this out in writings I know of since the late '80s (Understanding Power, e.g.). In fact, probably for even longer.

**I have my personal gripes with Doug (from LBO-talk controversies) so I admit my judgment may be unfairly prejudiced as applies to him specifically. However, as re: the left in general I think I'm being impartial as possible in these situations.

***Look at the resources invested in PR, e.g.



I can't speak for Doug. It does come as something of a surprise to me. I would've given the fuckers more credit for understanding what they're up against.

On the other hand, it's quite possible that they're as smart as I used to think, and smarter than I'm thinking today.

One of my correspondents -- I can't find it now, alas -- suggested that they see this as a real opportunity to put all the rest of us back where we were in the 20s or before -- no unions, no "social safety net," no pensions, no insurance, a horde of poor devils even hungrier than we are, begging for whatever crummy job we might have, at half our beggarly wage -- nothing, in short, between us and starvation but the boss's kind heart.

That would indeed be, from the elites' point of view, the best of all possible worlds.

The experience of the Thirties seems to have suggested to them, back then, that this ideal world might be a little dangerous to strive for -- that the lampposts might finally be put to the use for which Clio clearly intended them.

But the Thirties are a long time ago, and they haven't really had any reminders, since then, that there are more of us than there are of them.


I loved the Ali Bama part. Brilliant...

Re: you're last comment, MJS, you might be right. The rise of mercenary outfits like Blackwater might augur very poorly for the rebelling masses...

The rise of mercenary outfits like Blackwater might augur very poorly for the rebelling masses...
Y'know, normally I'm not what anybody would call an optimist, but in this case...

If the masses really rebel, good luck Blackwater.

Back in the day, they had Pinkerton's. Plus ca change.


to avoid mis understanding here

its hen i'm after
he of the lead egg drop
not father smiff

yes indeed all's folly here
as the chaps run up against their own brave new paper calibans

their own monstrous creations no less

"They’ve botched the stimulus,
and they’re botching the financial rescue"

that's only half right ..
the stimulus is a botch

but he seems more clucked up
the great bail

botched?? what's to botch
its a give away

attitudes oughta be more like this
partial krug view

so what anyway
its just a paper game

"I ... suspect it wouldn’t accomplish much, but no harm, no foul."

Well, I like this post, too, except I want to defend the left a bit. I don't attribute great mental powers to the overclass. I simply attribute great power to their power, and to the institutional dynamics of capitalism, and to the terrible power conveyed by commercial mass media.

But isn't the basic story here with this bailout and stimulus is that it's evidence of how far gone our rulers are on their own ideology? Despite the slightest evidence from prior history or last year's tax refund and initial bailout, these guys literally can't conceive of doing anything but following Milton Friedman and Irving Fisher. They are going to bail out the banks, who are going to revive the credit system! That's what they are going to do! And it will work! Because the alternative -- admitting the error of the Great Restoration -- is simply not "on the table."

This is another major sign of the end of this empire. Ruling classes get old and decrepit, and they never yield, nonetheless.


I agree they be powerful
I'd just like to distinguish between the stimulus and the bail
The stim is botched macro
The bail another rip off


In defense of Doug, every day he referees a basket of vipers much more skilled in savae indignatio than anyone here. There's nothing naive about him, though there's a fair amount of vanity.

When you write about the obvious, you can't always start off with "look, the bastards are doing it again!" You sometimes have to feign surprise, adopt a more gee whiz tone of voice, in order to say anything at all.

OP is right: the stimulus plan is political theater, a hasty charade cobbled together of special interests and local constituencies; the bank rescue is a rip-off. Is capitalism in its final agonies? Have the parasites devoured the host? Maybe. Let's hope so.

Lajany Otum:

MJS, you didn't mention how many species of parasite modulate or suppress the immune system of the host to prevent the host from destroying the parasite population.


Hey, these comments were fun to read - for a while now, it's been like an old folks autonomian festival around here, with all the echt insider-slinging...
So, MJS, Blackwater et al are going to be no match for the bands of roving out-of-workers? Sure, all Blackwater will have are police powers; preventive detention sites; young, hungry steroidal stormtroopers getting a real paycheck for head-bashing; access to all sorts of surveillance and detection; a fully softened, compliant judiciary - makes the Pinkertons look like pikers, eh?
Listen, this week a 46 year-old Michigan "caregiver" got 22 years for two anti-corporate "direct actions" with no human consequences (arson, property damage) after her husband wore a wire against her and their friends. Why don't you walk up to them and tell them of your optimism.

Al Schumann:

mjosef, congratulations! You win this thread's prize for world-weary worldly wise pyrrhonism. I particularly like the Fox News "tell it to the victims" touch as you torch your own strawman. You need to work on a bitter cackle to go with it, however, and it would help if you could toss in a non sequitur reference to a disturbing sexual exploit.


Now that's mighty big of you, Al. "Fox News" is a wonderful touch, and that "strawman" gibe is bordering on genius. And the "pyrrhonism" - another previously unknown disease I now have to get medication for? And the last line of yours - I mean, I understand I am being shunned here, kicked out of the cool people's club, but as I slink away, I cry out to the stars: is there a sexual "exploit" that is "disturbing"? Something in the Kama Sutra that really is beyond the pale for Al? I just don't get it. Perhaps I should do 22 years.


"I understand I am being shunned here, "

shunned ..hardly
i suspect our father devine agrees...

i for one wish i was able to provoke more
of u's guys

the rotten eggs slide fine on my face
and taste good to my tongue

"kicked out of the cool people's club"

maybe mjs is cool and al is for sure for sure
but a club ???

they didn't tell me about it ....


mjosef -- No question of shunning. I was a little puzzled how to respond to your comment, though. Are you arguing that our case is hopeless -- that our rulers are so much better at repression these days that we haven't got a prayer? The case can be made, no doubt, but there wouldn't be much point in being political -- even to the modest extent of operating a blog, or reading one -- on that assumption. Or am I missing your point?

Al Schumann:

mjosef, your art is not an illness. Theatrical talent can't be medicated away. I'm trying to help you make the most of them. But I guess I'm not cool enough, even when my intentions are pure as the driven snow. Man, oh man. Talk about bitterness. My bitterness. You don't know the pain, mjosef. This is worse than being shunned for me. The implications...

Am I to be Polonius, forever, stabbed through the arras by the razor wit of yon Hamlet?!


OK, OK. You are all fine folk. To be called "FoxNews," though, after all the good neo-Bakunin bake sales I've put on in my Republican bastion, all by myself, with nary a buyer for a brownie nor a broadsheet - oh that hurt, Al, that hurt.
And yes, MJS, there is fine virtue, joy, and solace in being righteously pessimistic. The supersystem is incredibly well-positioned all all corners to smother, kill, disavow, repudiate, co-opt any and all ten-point plans for world betterment. That said, it is the world we live in, we are yet gloriously alive to profess our denunciations of the absurd predicaments of economic inequality, climate destruction, and on down the tedious list, so what the hell? Write away, please, but I will cackle and chortle if I am supplied specious "hope" on a platter - obviously your blog is a smash, a blast, and always will be, but I respond to its furious negativity and cool smackings-around, while others go for the creamy nougat.

Al Schumann:

You made brownies and you didn't even let me know! No wonder we're so deeply fucked. Anyway, my apologies for the Fox News epithet. It's poor recompense for Bakuninite baking efforts -- which, without sarcasm, are no bad thing to pursue.


mjosef -- I'm glad you find something to your taste here. We aim to please.

My version of optimism -- such as it is -- is based not so much on "hope", which has become an oversold virtue in recent months, but rather simply on the negative conviction that history is not, in fact, over.

I think old Dr Karl got it right that every social order breeds within it the forces that ultimately destroy it. I see no reason to think ours is an exception.

Yeah, our rulers have got bigger and better weapons than Louis XVI had, but they're just as stupid about everything that goes beyond the quotidian ambit.


I understand that I should give you the last word, but there's still that last little bit about "ultimate destruction."
Of course history is not over. But this trembling supersystem has a long way to go before it crashes into marzipan collectives and Bakunin brownie sales (I was joshing - I am unallied with any cause, and couldn't pick out Bakunin from Baudelaire). Those weapons and shock forces and informants the elite control - yeah, that stupidity comes with an explosive capability.

Michale Hudson was on Democracy Now today debating Kuttner and used a parasite analogy in reference to zombie banks and the financial sector in general.

Hudson: "a parasite does more than that. It doesn’t just take nourishment from the host; it takes over the host’s brain, so the host thinks it’s actually part of the host’s body and, in fact, it’s its child, and it nurtures it. And the financial sector represents itself as being part of the economy."

likewise with our political parties, i suppose.

that should have been "Michael" Hudson. so sorry.

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