20% of Even US Citizens Prefer Socialism

According to Harper’s (July 2009), 20% of US citizens think that “socialism is better than capitalism.”

This is 20% in a country where no more than 28% of people identify with one (the Republicans) of the 1.5 political flavors (Bubblegum and French Bubblegum, in case you were wondering).

Moreover, this is 20% in an immigration country where refugee immigrants have been scrupulously screened to select for anti-socialist loyalties for nearly 100 years, where the capitalist class is super politically-organized, where unions are legally engineered out of existence, and where multiple layers of police organizations diligently protect the capitalist class against the growth of socialist organization.

How does the US manage to breed socialists at home under such conditions?
Yes, right. Because thanks to capitalist inequality and the policy constraints imposed by maintaining ideological dogma among the leadership, it’s a disappointing, corrupt, disfiguring, fascist, misery-filled society in crisis.

Since VT does not contain anywhere near 20% of the US population, we also can safely assume there’s nearly 20% of the US population with no (0) political representation. I believe School House Rock once said, “That’s taxation without representation, and that’s not fair!” Chalk another one up for the Fightin’ Capitalist Class, which needs the victory because apparently its neoclassical one-trick pony economic development plan–immiserated population growth + gambling!–has played itself out. Say it aint so, von Mises!


Costs of Red Meat

The New York Times published an article about the health costs of Americans eating too much red meat.

Further, “Anyone who worries about global well-being has yet another reason to consume less red meat. Dr. Popkin, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, said that a reduced dependence on livestock for food could help to save the planet from the ravaging effects of environmental pollution, global warming and the depletion of potable water.

‘In the United States,’ Dr. Popkin wrote, ‘livestock production accounts for 55 percent of the erosion process, 37 percent of pesticides applied, 50 percent of antibiotics consumed, and a third of total discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus to surface water.’”

Corrupt old Jane Harman, vehicle for AIPAC & illegal wiretapping & US decline

Filthy buggers in bed together: California Democrat Jane Harman, Alberto Gonzales, and AIPAC.

Read Greenwald’s report about this “deepest kind of corruption.”

Harman was the Bush Administration’s public point man on warrantless wiretapping, denouncing journalists for exposing Bush’s lawless wiretapping program. In return for her performance of this attack-dog task for the Bush Administration, Gonzales stepped in to stop the Justice Department’s investigation of Harman’s clandestine work on behalf of AIPAC. See Stein, Jeff. 2009. “Wiretap recorded Harman discussing aid for AIPAC defendents.” CQ Politics, April 19. AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) is the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington.

Harman is notable for her long involvement in intelligence issues as a US Representative, and her belligerent right-wing communication style. Harman is also a member of the new neocon organization, the blandly-named Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI).

Despite AIPAC’s political backing, however, Harman failed to secure posts on the House Intelligence Committee or in the Obama Administration. Some of her wiretapping chickens had apparently come home to roost.

US Torture Report, Spring 2009

Links to US torture reports:

The New York Times

Knowlton, Brian. 2009. “Report gives new detail on approval of brutal techniques.” New York Times, April 22.

Shane, Scott and Mark Mazzetti. 2009. “In adopting harsh tactics, no inquiry into their past.” New York Times, April 22.

Shane, Scott. 2009. “2 suspects waterboarded 266 times.” New York Times, April 20.

The editors. 2009. “The torturers’ manifesto.” New York Times, April 18.

Danner, Mark. 2009. “Tales from torture’s dark world.” The New York Times, March 14.

Krugman, Paul. 2009. “Reclaiming America’s soul.” The New York Times, April 23.

Glenn Greenwald

Greenwald, Glenn. 2009. “The NYT’s definition of blinding American exceptionalism.” Salon.com, May 8. In which Greenwald points out that the American press calls all non-American-based torture by its name.

“(U)sing the editorial standards of America’s journalistic institutions — as explained recently by the NYT Public Editor — shouldn’t this (non-US-based torture) be called ‘torture’ rather than torture — or ‘harsh tactics some critics decry as torture’? Why are the much less brutal methods used by the Chinese on Fischer called torture by the NYT, whereas much harsher methods used by Americans do not merit that term? Here we find what is clearly the single most predominant fact shaping our political and media discourse: everything is different, and better, when we do it. In fact, it is that exact mentality that was and continues to be the primary justification for our torture regime and so much else that we do.”

Rethink, Rebuild the Cities

“By the early 1980s, when both President Obama and I were in college, the anti-big-government, pro-privatization rhetoric of the Reagan years was catching on, and the entire notion of public spending, let alone spending on large public works projects, was becoming passé.

In many major cities this void was filled by private developers, who began refurbishing parks and old historic quarters. The result was sanitized versions of real cities organized around themed districts, convention centers and sports complexes. Meanwhile the roads, bridges and sewer systems that held these cities together were allowed to disintegrate.

At the same time Europe and Asia began to supplant America as places where visions of the future were being built. The European Union spent decades building one of the most efficient networks of high-speed trains in the world, a railway that has unified the continent while leading to the cultural revival of cities like Brussels and Lille. And environmental standards for new construction were not only encouraged, they became the law — and have been for more than a decade.”

Ouroussoff, Nicolai. 2009. “Reinventing America’s Cities: The Time is Now.” The New York Times, March 25.

Rudy Can’t Fail: AIG Execs Continue Looting

The US taxpayers have given AIG executive failures the bailouts ($180 billion and counting!) they have needed to siphon off $165 million in “bonuses” this year.

Depending on your class loyalties, these “bonuses” allow the executives either to keep being the socially-necessary geniuses they are, or to build upon their own personal feudal empires while the rest of the country goes down in economic flames. (Typically in corporate media articles, the former reason is cited, but you may want to use logic to select the appropriate explanatory framework.)

The US government claims that since AIG promised execs they would get the big bonus presents, the promises must be honored. (Contrast this to Geoghegan’s (“Infinite Debt.” Harper’s. April 2009) discussion of how Chapter 11 formalized capital’s ability to break any and all contracts with workers.)

For next year, the US government has politely asked AIG to reduce its executive looting by 30%. As drolly as possible: What a harsh mistress the political wing of the capitalist class is. Oh, do crack that feather boa.

Furthermore, though the public now owns 80% of AIG, AIG and the federal government were not allowing the public to have information about who AIG is transferring its bailout windfall to. That changed when the NYTimes started complaining about it. Nor is AIG letting stockholders set reasonable limits on executive compensation. The US Executive is reportedly irritated that Americans are making things inconvenient by trying to hold a few capitalists a little accountable for a moment.

The grand plan seems to be no more complicated than to saddle the everyday, poor American with all the country’s bad debt repayment burden, while the capitalist class makes off with all the wealth. Honest to god, we get more and more sympathetic with the French Republican response to this class of belligerent parasites.

If you’re not getting multi-million dollar “bonuses” for just being in the right social network, and you’re sticking around the US, presumably to help pay for the bonuses, good luck roasting rat meat in the tent city, my friend.


The New York Times
March 11, 2009
The Looting of America’s Coffers
Sixteen years ago, two economists published a research paper with a delightfully simple title: “Looting.”
The economists were George Akerlof, who would later win a Nobel Prize, and Paul Romer, the renowned expert on economic growth. In the paper, they argued that several financial crises in the 1980s, like the Texas real estate bust, had been the result of private investors taking advantage of the government. The investors had borrowed huge amounts of money, made big profits when times were good and then left the government holding the bag for their eventual (and predictable) losses.
In a word, the investors looted. Someone trying to make an honest profit, Professors Akerlof and Romer said, would have operated in a completely different manner. The investors displayed a “total disregard for even the most basic principles of lending,” failing to verify standard information about their borrowers or, in some cases, even to ask for that information.
The investors “acted as if future losses were somebody else’s problem,” the economists wrote. “They were right.”
On Tuesday morning in Washington, Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, gave a speech that read like a sad coda to the “Looting” paper. Because the government is unwilling to let big, interconnected financial firms fail — and because people at those firms knew it — they engaged in what Mr. Bernanke called “excessive risk-taking.” To prevent such problems in the future, he called for tougher regulation.
Now, it would have been nice if the Fed had shown some of this regulatory zeal before the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. But that day has passed. So people are rightly starting to think about building a new, less vulnerable financial system.
And “Looting” provides a really useful framework. The paper’s message is that the promise of government bailouts isn’t merely one aspect of the problem. It is the core problem.
Promised bailouts mean that anyone lending money to Wall Street — ranging from small-time savers like you and me to the Chinese government — doesn’t have to worry about losing that money. The United States Treasury (which, in the end, is also you and me) will cover the losses. In fact, it has to cover the losses, to prevent a cascade of worldwide losses and panic that would make today’s crisis look tame.
But the knowledge among lenders that their money will ultimately be returned, no matter what, clearly brings a terrible downside. It keeps the lenders from asking tough questions about how their money is being used. Looters — savings and loans and Texas developers in the 1980s; the American International Group, Citigroup, Fannie Mae and the rest in this decade — can then act as if their future losses are indeed somebody else’s problem.
Do you remember the mea culpa that Alan Greenspan, Mr. Bernanke’s predecessor, delivered on Capitol Hill last fall? He said that he was “in a state of shocked disbelief” that “the self-interest” of Wall Street bankers hadn’t prevented this mess.
He shouldn’t have been. The looting theory explains why his laissez-faire theory didn’t hold up. The bankers were acting in their self-interest, after all.

The term that’s used to describe this general problem, of course, is moral hazard. When people are protected from the consequences of risky behavior, they behave in a pretty risky fashion. Bankers can make long-shot investments, knowing that they will keep the profits if they succeed, while the taxpayers will cover the losses.
This form of moral hazard — when profits are privatized and losses are socialized — certainly played a role in creating the current mess. But when I spoke with Mr. Romer on Tuesday, he was careful to make a distinction between classic moral hazard and looting. It’s an important distinction.
With moral hazard, bankers are making real wagers. If those wagers pay off, the government has no role in the transaction. With looting, the government’s involvement is crucial to the whole enterprise.
Think about the so-called liars’ loans from recent years: like those Texas real estate loans from the 1980s, they never had a chance of paying off. Sure, they would deliver big profits for a while, so long as the bubble kept inflating. But when they inevitably imploded, the losses would overwhelm the gains. As Gretchen Morgenson has reported, Merrill Lynch’s losses from the last two years wiped out its profits from the previous decade.
What happened? Banks borrowed money from lenders around the world. The bankers then kept a big chunk of that money for themselves, calling it “management fees” or “performance bonuses.” Once the investments were exposed as hopeless, the lenders — ordinary savers, foreign countries, other banks, you name it — were repaid with government bailouts.
In effect, the bankers had siphoned off this bailout money in advance, years before the government had spent it.
I understand this chain of events sounds a bit like a conspiracy. And in some cases, it surely was. Some A.I.G. employees, to take one example, had to have understood what their credit derivative division in London was doing. But more innocent optimism probably played a role, too. The human mind has a tremendous ability to rationalize, and the possibility of making millions of dollars invites some hard-core rationalization.
Either way, the bottom line is the same: given an incentive to loot, Wall Street did so. “If you think of the financial system as a whole,” Mr. Romer said, “it actually has an incentive to trigger the rare occasions in which tens or hundreds of billions of dollars come flowing out of the Treasury.”
Unfortunately, we can’t very well stop the flow of that money now. The bankers have already walked away with their profits (though many more of them deserve a subpoena to a Congressional hearing room). Allowing A.I.G. to collapse, out of spite, could cause a financial shock bigger than the one that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Modern economies can’t function without credit, which means the financial system needs to be bailed out.
But the future also requires the kind of overhaul that Mr. Bernanke has begun to sketch out. Firms will have to be monitored much more seriously than they were during the Greenspan era. They can’t be allowed to shop around for the regulatory agency that least understands what they’re doing. The biggest Wall Street paydays should be held in escrow until it’s clear they weren’t based on fictional profits.
Above all, as Mr. Romer says, the federal government needs the power and the will to take over a firm as soon as its potential losses exceed its assets. Anything short of that is an invitation to loot.
Mr. Bernanke actually took a step in this direction on Tuesday. He said the government “needs improved tools to allow the orderly resolution of a systemically important nonbank financial firm.” In layman’s terms, he was asking for a clearer legal path to nationalization.
At a time like this, when trust in financial markets is so scant, it may be hard to imagine that looting will ever be a problem again. But it will be. If we don’t get rid of the incentive to loot, the only question is what form the next round of looting will take.
Mr. Akerlof and Mr. Romer finished writing their paper in the early 1990s, when the economy was still suffering a hangover from the excesses of the 1980s. But Mr. Akerlof told Mr. Romer — a skeptical Mr. Romer, as he acknowledged with a laugh on Tuesday — that the next candidate for looting already seemed to be taking shape.
It was an obscure little market called credit derivatives.