Archive for September 29th, 2008

29
Sep
08

Chalmers Johnson, Dennis Kucinich: On Bailing Out Bankers and Butchers

and continuing from the last two posts for today…

Along with Andrew Bacevich, Howard Zinn, and Tom Engelhardt at TomDispatch.com, Chalmers Johnson is one of my favourite American critics of American empire. In an article that is being reproduced across a range of sites, Johnson argues in “We Have the Bailout Money–We’re Spending It on War” (The Nation, Sep. 29, 2008), that sums just as large have been pumped into the war in Iraq, without as much public protest:

In fact, we dole out similar amounts of money every year in the form of payoffs to the armed services, the military-industrial complex and powerful senators and representatives allied with the Pentagon.

On Wednesday, September 24, right in the middle of the fight over billions of taxpayer dollars slated to bail out Wall Street, the House of Representatives passed a $612 billion defense authorization bill for 2009 without a murmur of public protest or any meaningful press comment at all….

Not only was there no significant media coverage of this latest appropriation, there have been no signs of even the slightest urge to inquire into the relationship between our bloated military, our staggering weapons expenditures, our extravagantly expensive failed wars abroad and the financial catastrophe on Wall Street.

Support the troops has of course functioned, as always, as a silencing mechanism — even on this blog some rushed to defend the career choices of impoverished members of the American working class in taking up arms against foreigners who never attacked them, without questioning why they will not just as quickly take up arms against their “fellow citizens” who attack them in myriad ways on a daily basis. They never answered the question of why others who are jobless seem to not consider the option of making a living at the expense of the lives and deaths of Iraqis. But then again, what would I know, I am no patriot, let alone an American patriot.

The only Congressional “commentary” on the size of our military outlay was the usual pompous drivel about how a failure to vote for the defense authorization bill would betray our troops. The aged Senator John Warner of Virginia, former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, implored his Republican colleagues to vote for the bill “out of respect for military personnel.” He seems to be unaware that these troops are actually volunteers, not draftees, and that they joined the armed forces as a matter of career choice, rather than because the nation demanded such a sacrifice from them.

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John Nichols writing in “An Appropriately Populist Anti-Bailout Rant” (The Nation, Sep. 28, 2008) tell us: “Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich responded appropriately Sunday, when House and Senate leaders announced early a bipartisan agreement for a variation on Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s $700 billion (plus-plus-plus) bailout plan Wall Street.” This is what Kucinich had to say on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday:

The $700 billion bailout for Wall Street, is driven by fear not fact. This is too much money in too a short a time going to too few people while too many questions remain unanswered. Why aren’t we having hearings on the plan we have just received? Why aren’t we questioning the underlying premise of the need for a bailout with taxpayers’ money? Why have we not considered any alternatives other than to give $700 billion to Wall Street? Why aren’t we asking Wall Street to clean up its own mess? Why aren’t we passing new laws to stop the speculation, which triggered this? Why aren’t we putting up new regulatory structures to protect investors? How do we even value the $700 billion in toxic assets?

Why aren’t we helping homeowners directly with their debt burden? Why aren’t we helping American families faced with bankruptcy. Why aren’t we reducing debt for Main Street instead of Wall Street? Isn’t it time for fundamental change in our debt based monetary system, so we can free ourselves from the manipulation of the Federal Reserve and the banks? Is this the United States Congress or the board of directors of Goldman Sachs? Wall Street is a place of bears and bulls. It is not smart to force taxpayers to dance with bears or to follow closely behind the bulls.

Excellent questions. Once again, you know what means: they won’t get answered.

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Speaking of protests on Wall Street, here is a video by Laura Hanna of The Nation, interviewing some protesters:

See more videos at VideoNation

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29
Sep
08

Slavoj Žižek and Joseph E. Stiglitz: Chickenhawks Coming Home to Roost…in the Tent City

Continuing from my last post…

Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel prize winning economist at Columbia University, argued in the September 26, 2008, edition of The Nation (“A Better Bailout“), that Wall Street banks would be celebrating today, as the U.S. Congress votes to pass something it would never consider for struggling working class citizens in crisis: a massive handout to the alleged wealth creators:

the banks realized that they were about to get a free ride at taxpayers’ expense. No private firm was willing to buy these toxic mortgages at what the seller thought was a reasonable price; they finally had found a sucker who would take them off their hands–called the American taxpayer….

Paulson and others in Wall Street are claiming that the bailout is necessary and that we are in deep trouble. Not long ago, they were telling us that we had turned a corner. The administration even turned down an effective stimulus package last February–one that would have included increased unemployment benefits and aid to states and localities–and they still say we don’t need another stimulus. To be frank, the administration has a credibility and trust gap as big as that of Wall Street.

If the crisis was as severe as they claim, why didn’t they propose a more credible plan? With lack of oversight and transparency the cause of the current problem, how could they make a proposal so short in both? If a quick consensus is required, why not include provisions to stop the source of bleeding, to aid the millions of Americans that are losing their homes? Why not spend as much on them as on Wall Street? Do they still believe in trickle-down economics, when for the past eight years money has been trickling up to the wizards of Wall Street? Why not enact bankruptcy reform, to help Americans write down the value of the mortgage on their overvalued home? No one benefits from these costly foreclosures.

The administration is once again holding a gun at our head, saying, “My way or the highway.” We have been bamboozled before by this tactic. We should not let it happen to us again.

Excellent questions, which means they will go unanswered. [Update: the current bailout plan has just been defeated in a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.]

Stiglitz on Democracy Now! — The results of a three trillion dollar war financed by deficits

Stiglitz speaking in April, about Today

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Slavoj Žižek has joined other radical cultural critics and political philosophers in training his sights on this bailout for predatory bankers, and thanks to Open Source Radio we have some of his latest thoughts. He says in his interview (see the audio file below):

Dangerous moments are coming. Dangerous moments are always also a chance to do something. But in such dangerous moments, you have to think, you have to try to understand. And today obviously all the predominant narratives – the old liberal-left welfare state narrative; the post-modern third-way left narrative; the neo-conservative narrative; and of course the old standard Marxist narrative – they don’t work. We don’t have a narrative. Where are we? Where are we going? What to do? You know, we have these stupid elementary questions: Is capitalism here to stay? Are there serious limits to capitalism? Can we imagine a popular mobilization outside democracy? How should we properly react to ecology? What does it mean, all the biogenetic stuff? How to deal with intellectual property today? Things are happening. We don’t have a proper approach. It’s not only that we don’t have the answers. We don’t even have the right question.


Less state spending is “bullshit,” Žižek argues, and Bush with his trillion dollar intervention in the market ought to be nominated an honorary member of the American Communist Party, he jokes. The conversational interview is hard not to listen to right to the end, animated, engaging, and thought provoking, without a hint of pretension.

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And what’s this about “tent cities”? It seems that the world emperor has no clothes after all, and is begging in the street. This is your America, watch it crumble. Just a reminder from the Department of Homeland Security, your alert level is Orange, and your real threat is somewhere in western Pakistan.

Tent City 1

Tent City 2

Tent city in suburbs is cost of home crisis
Reuters, Thurs., Dec. 20, 2007

In hard times, tent cities rise across the country
Associated Press, Thurs., Sep. 18, 2008

Welcome to Tent City, USA!
“Well, thanks to the U.S. mortgage crisis you can now experience the thrill of camping out in the backyard every single night! But this time instead of your backyard it’ll be in a vacant lot. And instead of thrill the only thing you’ll experience is despair and your inevitable suicide…”

Bushvilles? Of Tent Cities and Golden Parachutes
“Today’s Contemporary Americana!
Would we call these “Bushvilles?” I suppose Kevin O’Brien and the rest of the capitalist bootstrap enthusiasts would object. Well, screw them. Hopefully.
I always like to compare and contrast because its fun and ironic in that post-modernistic sense. So compare and contrast the above BBC story to this snippet, also from Schechter’s story:
‘A week earlier, Bear Stearn’s former CEO bought a Manhattan condo for $28 million, no mortgage needed. In December, compromised Wall Streeters walked off with $31 billion in bonuses, just a billion below the record set a year earlier.’
So if they can walk away, why can’t the Skaggs?”

See also the post on Deathpower: “Suddenly everyone on Wall Street is a ‘socialist’”

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29
Sep
08

The Shadows in the Dark are Blue Devils: Turning the World Upside Down

This is Ataklan again, with more video of Trinidad of a quality and nature that I could only hope to make myself. We have heard from Ataklan before on this blog, with “The Sun Starts to Rise,” which came around the time of the summer solstice, by lucky chance. Now as we enter into a darker fall, today we have “A Shadow in the Dark.” As is often the case with Trinidadian songs and videos that I like to feature here, my comrade Guanaguanare has posted this on her blog a while back, and transcribed it: see her post here.

More in a moment, but first here is the video:

I like the video for its messages of humility, tactical restraint, its suspicion and critique of dominant power, and the daily grind of those placed and held in the gutters of society:


Man, I’d rather be a shadow in the dark,
Than a big fool in spotlight.
I’d rather be a dog without a bark,
Than a loud dog without a bite.

It’s 3 Canal time again, with a video of Blue Devils dancing, classic figures from the pre-dawn J’ouvert of the Trinidadian carnival. There are many reasons why 3 Canal is the featured musical inspiration of this blog, not least of which is their rescuing of the potent political symbolism of carnival-as-resistance, their consistent critiques of capitalism and hegemony, their philosophical dwelling in the working class street, and of course their hybrid musical inventions.

Today Washington crooks cook up a transfer of public wealth into the mismanaging hands of the super wealthy, because otherwise the failure of “capitalism that works” (we have been fed a diet of propaganda of how capitalism is the best possible system, the only system that works, no viable alternatives) might have caused some “shock” to people in growing tent cities, in jobless lines, people losing their homes? Those realities of dispossession and loss will continue regardless of Wall Street’s improved health, and indeed, because of it.

This is a “world turned upside down” in another sense than the one intended by 3 canal — this is Americans’ much hated “socialism” (public funds wielded by an interventionist state) coming to the rescue of capitalism. And they will pay for it very dearly. In the meantime, John McCain entertains fantasies of no new spending on social programs, but lots of new spending on national security — an aspiring “war president” of perverse proportions, who thinks you can run an army without an economy, presumably because he is confident that China and the Gulf States will continue lending the U.S. money for its imperial adventurism? McCain looks more like an old guard figure of the declining USSR, a war-a-holic headed for the same exit, coincidentally also stuck up his melanoma in Afghan sand.

  • Public financed private wealth
  • State bailouts for the “free market”
  • A national war economy funded by foreign lenders
  • Securing economic health (for the dwellers of the tent cities?)
  • An aspiring VP Palin, who thinks the bailout is about health care…

Enjoy it, it’s your state sanctioned madness.

3 CANAL

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