Sunday, April 24, 2011

no utility whatsoever

Gretchen Morgenson reports in the NY Times: In an interview, Mr. Hosier [an investor who received $17 million punitive damages as part of an arbitration against Citibank] said the experience had opened his eyes to the disturbing ways of Wall Street.

“Instead of the financial world being the lubricant for business, they are out there manufacturing products with no utility whatsoever except for generating fees,” he said. “Somebody’s got to do something about Wall Street. It is destroying the country.”

The dysfunction of the financial system culminated in a major financial crisis in 2008, and the political response was to mortgage the country to preserve the dysfunction. The political elite simply refuses to understand. And, yet, there it is.

Compare the clear-eyed Hosier, an investor who was wronged, to the pompous but powerful Larry Summers, Director of the White House National Economic Council for President Barack Obama until late 2010, Charles W. Eliot Professor at Harvard, Secretary of the Treasury at the end of the Clinton Administration.

Stephan Richter reports on Larry Summers response, when asked a pertinent question:
For example, when the irrepressible Yves Smith asked Larry Summers about whether banking risks in the United States could not be helpfully diminished if its large institutions were run (read: compensated at the top) more like utility companies, he immediately aborted any effort at an intellectually honest answer by making it sound as if she were proposing to bring state socialism to banking.

Indeed, the tape shows him suggesting that if we went "down the path" of increased public intermediation, "we would still have U.S. Steel as one of our flagship companies and we would not have seen the kind of dynamism that we've seen".

I'd like to think that Summers is merely dodging the question, so to speak, as Richter suggests, but a more likely explanation is that he is so completely corrupt and arrogant, so little concerned by critical challenge, that he simply does not see the irony of celebrating the "dynamism" of financial crisis and rapid economic decline.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Imperial Decline

Tom Engelhardt, Sleepwalking Into the Imperial Dark

. . . The United States is, of course, an imperial power, however much we might prefer not to utter the word. We still have our globe-spanning array of semi-client states; our military continues to garrison much of the planet; and we are waging war abroad more continuously than at any time in memory. Yet who doesn't sense that the sun is now setting on us?

Not so many years ago, we were proud enough of our global strength to regularly refer to ourselves as the Earth’s "sole superpower." In those years, our president and his top officials dreamed of establishing a worldwide 'Pax Americana', while making speeches and issuing official documents proclaiming that the United States would be militarily "beyond challenge" by any and all powers for eons to come. So little time has passed and yet who speaks like that today? Who could?

. . . Disillusionment, depression, and dismay flow ever more strongly through the American bloodstream. Just look at any polling data on whether this country, once the quintessential land of optimists, is heading in "the right direction" or on "the wrong track", and you'll find that the "wrong track" numbers are staggering, and growing by the month. On the rare occasions when Americans have been asked by pollsters whether they think the country is "in decline," the figures have been similarly over the top.

It’s not hard to see why. A loss of faith in the American political system is palpable. For many Americans, it's no longer "our government" but "the bureaucracy." Washington is visibly in gridlock and incapable of doing much of significance, while state governments, facing the "steepest decline in state tax receipts on record," are, along with local governments, staggering under massive deficits and cutting back in areas -- education, policing, firefighting -- that matter to daily life. . . the United States looks increasingly incapable of coping. It no longer invests in its young, or plans effectively for the future, or sets off on new paths. It literally can't do. And this is not just a domestic crisis, but part of imperial decline.

If you doubt this, just pull into your nearest gas station and fill up the tank. Of course, who doesn't know that this country, once such a generator of wealth, is now living with unemployment figures not seen since the Great Depression, as well as unheard of levels of debt, that it's hooked on foreign energy (and like most addicts has next to no capacity for planning how to get off that drug), or that it's living through the worst period of income inequality in modern history? And who doesn't know that a crew of financial fabulists, corporate honchos, lobbyists, and politicians have been fattening themselves off the faltering body politic?

And if you don't think any of this has anything to do with imperial power in decline, ask yourself why the options for our country so often seem to have shrunk to what our military is capable of, or that the only significant part of the government whose budget is still on the rise is the Pentagon. Or why, when something is needed, this administration, like its predecessor, regularly turns to that same military.

Tom Engelhardt goes on to point out the absurdity of sending the military on "humanitarian" missions, and the remarkable proofs of military impotence in Iraq, Afganistan and Libya, as the same failed tactics are applied again and again.

America, sclerotic empire, stumbling toward collapse. As Englehardrt says, first and last, "this will not end well".


john c halasz has taught me a new word, weltschmerz

Wikipedia says, weltschmerz
denotes the kind of feeling experienced by someone who understands that physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind. . . . It is also used to denote the feeling of sadness when thinking about the evils of the world.

The modern meaning of Weltschmerz . . . is the psychological pain caused by sadness that can occur when realizing that someone's own weaknesses are caused by the inappropriateness and cruelty of the world and (physical and social) circumstances.

Friday, April 8, 2011


If the so-called "independents" -- or some of them, at least -- know little about politics, and blow in the prevailing winds, the dedicated partisans pose the opposite problem: they know a lot more about politics, but tend to a "my party, right or wrong, but my party" attitude, that knows loyalty, but no principle.  Or, it knows a consistent fear of the greater evil of the other party, but, in the case of the Democrats and their liberal base if not Republicans and their wingnut base, remains powerless to influence the course actually adopted by their Party leadership.

Glenn Greenwald puzzles over how to change the dynamic:
. . . whatever else is true, one thing is for certain: dedicated partisans who pledge their unbreakable, eternally loyal support for any Party or politician are going to be steadfastly ignored (or worse) by that Party or politician, and rightfully so. If you spend two years vehemently objecting that certain acts so profoundly offend your principles but then pledge unequivocal support no matter what almost two years in advance to the politicians who engage in them, why would you expect your objections to be heeded? Any rational person would ignore them, and stomp on your beliefs whenever doing so benefited them.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"these independents"

what digby said,
It seems that the vaunted "independent" voters who allegedly believed that Obama had gone way too far by passing health care and the stimulus and so voted out the Democrats are unhappy with the Republicans now --- also for going too far. . . .
There's an epic political battle going on in this country and these independents don't seem to get that it won't be solved by "punishing" the party that's in office every two years when it does what it promised it was going to do.

If people really feel that the stimulus and health care plans are as radical and destructive as shutting down the government and destroying the safety net, then there's no getting through to them until we have a depression or worse. Until they actively engage and figure out what's what instead of mindlessly swinging back and forth like a pendulum, this will probably continue for some time.
Democracy cannot long survive the arbitrary ignorance of the "independent" voter.  The dominance of money, which has made our government responsive only to the plutocrats, rests, ultimately, not on direct bribes, but on "campaign contributions", which, in turn, go to finance the manipulation of these "independent voters" via mass media.
The great mass of the public does not pay enough attention to politics, does not have the time or capacity to make critical judgements, without the support of trustworthy tribunes among those with access to mass media, and those tribunes do not exist.