Saturday, December 01, 2007

Would You Invest In Green Technology Or Guns?

Photo of Naomi Klein by Andrew Stern.

I swear the earth shall surely be complete to him or her who shall be complete. The earth remains jagged or broken only to him or her who remains jagged or broken.

---Walt Whitman

The trouble is that you think you have time.

---Jack Kornfield

Clambering up Cold Mountain path,The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on:The long gorge choked with scree and boulders,The rushing creek, the dew-soaked grass.The mossy rocks are slippery, though there's been no rain.The pine sings, though there's no wind.Who can leap the world's tiesAnd sit with me among the clouds?


Let's say you just inherited a modest sum of $40,000. Instead of paying off debts, you decide to invest it---or buy something important for your home. You believe there's a climate crisis out there, and here's a chance to do something about it. Whether you want to make money off the situation or contribute in some small way, what would you do? Before you say you'd buy a solar array for your roof or check stock options in a windmill company, perhaps you should consider the gun industry. Which is the "better" investment? When the only water anywhere costs $3.25 a gallon, will some people have to fight over it? Will anyone come to get yours?

I know I'm not alone in thinking about this. Is there still time for human society and individual nations to prepare? Are people already doing it? Should I write on the Internet that I'm a peaceful man and have no guns in my house? Should I confess I have a huge stockpile in the basement? Would anyone protect my family if panic and riot break out over food and water? Would the Carlsons be treated like New Orleans or like Malibu? Is that kind of choice shaping up for our world?

One person who seems to think so is Naomi Klein. Over the last few months I'm seeing this woman's name somewhere nearly every day. Her 3rd book, The Shock Doctrine, came out in September, and is a best-seller. She's been on tour ever since. Almost immediately Amy Goodman scheduled a confrontation on her show, Democracy Now, between Naomi and Alan Greenspan, who also had a new book out. That transcript can be read here~~~

Apparently she was on Keith Olbermann's Countdown on MSNBC Thursday night, discussing Shock Doctrine as it applies to Iraq. I didn't see the program but according to a comment at Naomi Klein's MySpace Profile, Olbermann called the invasion and occupation "a corporate takeover...with guns."

What the Shock Doctrine describes is a torture technique, taught in detail in CIA handbooks, on how to regress a "detainee" to a childhood state. This technique, she charges, can be used on an entire national population...and has been thus used historically. She gives examples of takeovers in Indonesia and Chile and rapid, radical economic changes that ensued. Where American investors and corporations have profited she calls the process Disaster Capitalism.

The book itself is a shock because one does not have to imagine that some mastermind might plan out a series of assassinations of national leaders but should something like that happen over a short span of time, could not a political party or coalition of economic planners take advantage of national trauma and grief? In the last 45 years, has it happened here, in the United States? Once a person or population is thus reduced psychologically, can it be kept there? Can world resources be dominated thus by figures in this kind of control?

On Thursday Naomi Klein published her regular column in The Nation and The UK Guardian. Her writings are picked up by other news services and also Yahoo News. The column is entitled Guns Beat Greens: The Market Has Spoken. It describes where the big investment money is flowing right now. Ms. Klein was born in Montreal in 1970, and studied at the London School of Economics.

At the same time The Guardian reported yesterday the private security firm, Blackwater, is establishing a new 800-acre compound 8 miles from the US/Mexico border...where a lucrative opportunity exists guarding the fence. Blackwater currently trains 40,000 people a year at its main base in North Carolina.


jazzolog said...

Major problems seen upon us in this morning's Krugman column. Paul Krugman is a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton.

The New York Times
December 3, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Innovating Our Way to Financial Crisis

The financial crisis that began late last summer, then took a brief vacation in September and October, is back with a vengeance.

How bad is it? Well, I’ve never seen financial insiders this spooked — not even during the Asian crisis of 1997-98, when economic dominoes seemed to be falling all around the world.

This time, market players seem truly horrified — because they’ve suddenly realized that they don’t understand the complex financial system they created.

Before I get to that, however, let’s talk about what’s happening right now.

Credit — lending between market players — is to the financial markets what motor oil is to car engines. The ability to raise cash on short notice, which is what people mean when they talk about “liquidity,” is an essential lubricant for the markets, and for the economy as a whole.

But liquidity has been drying up. Some credit markets have effectively closed up shop. Interest rates in other markets — like the London market, in which banks lend to each other — have risen even as interest rates on U.S. government debt, which is still considered safe, have plunged.

“What we are witnessing,” says Bill Gross of the bond manager Pimco, “is essentially the breakdown of our modern-day banking system, a complex of leveraged lending so hard to understand that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke required a face-to-face refresher course from hedge fund managers in mid-August.”

The freezing up of the financial markets will, if it goes on much longer, lead to a severe reduction in overall lending, causing business investment to go the way of home construction — and that will mean a recession, possibly a nasty one.

Behind the disappearance of liquidity lies a collapse of trust: market players don’t want to lend to each other, because they’re not sure they’ll be repaid.

In a direct sense, this collapse of trust has been caused by the bursting of the housing bubble. The run-up of home prices made even less sense than the dot-com bubble — I mean, there wasn’t even a glamorous new technology to justify claims that old rules no longer applied — but somehow financial markets accepted crazy home prices as the new normal. And when the bubble burst, a lot of investments that were labeled AAA turned out to be junk.

Thus, “super-senior” claims against subprime mortgages — that is, investments that have first dibs on whatever mortgage payments borrowers make, and were therefore supposed to pay off in full even if a sizable fraction of these borrowers defaulted on their debts — have lost a third of their market value since July.

But what has really undermined trust is the fact that nobody knows where the financial toxic waste is buried. Citigroup wasn’t supposed to have tens of billions of dollars in subprime exposure; it did. Florida’s Local Government Investment Pool, which acts as a bank for the state’s school districts, was supposed to be risk-free; it wasn’t (and now schools don’t have the money to pay teachers).

How did things get so opaque? The answer is “financial innovation” — two words that should, from now on, strike fear into investors’ hearts.

O.K., to be fair, some kinds of financial innovation are good. I don’t want to go back to the days when checking accounts didn’t pay interest and you couldn’t withdraw cash on weekends.

But the innovations of recent years — the alphabet soup of C.D.O.’s and S.I.V.’s, R.M.B.S. and A.B.C.P. — were sold on false pretenses. They were promoted as ways to spread risk, making investment safer. What they did instead — aside from making their creators a lot of money, which they didn’t have to repay when it all went bust — was to spread confusion, luring investors into taking on more risk than they realized.

Why was this allowed to happen? At a deep level, I believe that the problem was ideological: policy makers, committed to the view that the market is always right, simply ignored the warning signs. We know, in particular, that Alan Greenspan brushed aside warnings from Edward Gramlich, who was a member of the Federal Reserve Board, about a potential subprime crisis.

And free-market orthodoxy dies hard. Just a few weeks ago Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary, admitted to Fortune magazine that financial innovation got ahead of regulation — but added, “I don’t think we’d want it the other way around.” Is that your final answer, Mr. Secretary?

Now, Mr. Paulson’s new proposal to help borrowers renegotiate their mortgage payments and avoid foreclosure sounds in principle like a good idea (although we have yet to hear any details). Realistically, however, it won’t make more than a small dent in the subprime problem.

The bottom line is that policy makers left the financial industry free to innovate — and what it did was to innovate itself, and the rest of us, into a big, nasty mess.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Anonymous said...

Naomi Klein... "Over the last few months I'm seeing this woman's name somewhere nearly every day!"

Same here.

Remember her debate with Greenspan, last September?

According to Naomi Klein [source], Alan greenspan's autobiography, "The Age of Turbulence," has been marketed as a mystery solved...

...And Greenspan has delivered, using his book and the surrounding publicity as a platform for his "libertarian Republican" ideology, chiding George W. Bush for abandoning the crusade for small government and revealing that he became a policy-maker because he thought he could advance his radical ideology more effectively "as an insider, rather than as a critical pamphleteer" on the margins.


I haven't read his book - and frankly it has not made it on my top 10 list (maybe it should) - so I'll just have to take Naomi Klein's word for it, for now.

Apparently, the man discovered Ayn Rand, whose ideas about the "utopia of greed" allowed him to keep doing what he was doing but infused his corporate service with a powerful new sense of mission: "What she did...was to make me think why [laissez-faire] capitalism is not only efficient and practical, but also moral," he said in 1974.

The New York Times hails Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand's novel that ends with the hero tracing a dollar sign in the air like a benediction) as "one of the most influential business books ever written."

Apparently, they got this one right. I mean, if the book had such an influence on the man who was Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006...

"Undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment," Greenspan wrote as a zealous new convert. "Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should."


Anonymous said...

Um, we'll probably have to wait for his memoirs, but here is wondering whether George Bush also read Ayn Rand - do you think? Never had a president done so much, for the Grover Norquists, who'd like to see government shrunk "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." (Some claim that this is almost what happen with New Orleans.) Why, if it weren't for that disastrous military venture into the Middle-East, there are those who would hail this President a Libertarian Hero.

Some still do, despite everything.

And there are those who are horrified by what they think has been happening, like Paul Krugman ("The Great Unraveling"), or William Rivers Pitt, just recently, in Bad, Worse, Worst and Beyond:

"People still don't know that the man sitting in the Oval Office of the White House is actively working to destroy all the American government he can get his hands on, because doing so is literally the bedrock of what passes for his political ideology. Many newsroom pundits saw him veto legislation to provide twelve million children with health insurance, but brushed it off as nothing more than the act of a standard-issue fiscal conservative. A renegade few on other news shows believed his veto was actually motivated by the need to snatch the cash set aside by the bill, so he could keep feeding the financial beast his disastrous Iraq war has become.

Both opinions were almost entirely wrong, but had just enough gristle on the bone to pass muster. Of course, Bush dropped the veto on two Democratic domestic spending packages; and, of course, he needs more money so he can keep losing two wars at the same time; and, of course, these trains of thought reinforce the conventionally-accepted story line of American politics; and that's nice for the TV people, but has nothing to do with the truth of the deal.

Bush vetoed those bills for one reason and one reason only: They were going to create government programs that worked. The very idea is rank heresy for privatizers like Bush, whose ultimate goal is to privatize everything from Social Security to health care to the pigeons in the park, because that's where the money his friends and constituents have been lusting after can be found.

A government program that actually and effectively serves the people is an intolerable thing to George, because that is the single best argument against privatization. If we know anything at all after all these gruesome years, it is that Bush simply will not tolerate the existence of any fact or idea that might disrupt the spinning, clanking, gear-grinding clockwork inside that craven pretzel-dented bone-sack that wobbles above his spindled, slumping shoulders. If he doesn't already believe in something, or if something contradicts the popsicle-stick infrastructure of his beliefs, whatever it is can basically go to Hell, because it isn't going anywhere else."

Nausicaa said...

The Philip Morris & Co., Ltd.'s famous "Call for Philip Morris" advertising campaign - a drawing of a bellboy carrying a tray with a box of cigarettes - dates to World War one. On April 2, 2007, the LA Times reported that "calling for Philip Morris" is exactly what the Los Angeles Police Department ended up doing when it eventually found itself having to ask Philip Morris for a $50,000 donation to help fund its investigation into counterfeit cigarettes.

In the same newspaper, Ezra Klein referring to that report, asked pointedly in an op-ed:

"why shouldn't…police… have corporate sponsors… (you know, aside from the obvious reasons of favoritism, bias and perverse incentives)?"

And, for that matter:

"What's wrong with … families … [forced to hold] constant fundraisers to pay for the unfunded needs of their local public schools — drama societies and marching bands and that sort of thing? Or with parents having to go out and purchase body armor on their own so that their sons are protected in Iraq? What's so odd about the crown jewel of the University of California graduate system, Boalt Hall Law School, having to move toward "privatization" so that it can raise more money and better compete with its private counterparts in an era when state funding has dried up?"

In other words:

"What's so wrong, with hollowing out the public sector and replacing it with a pay-as-you-go society? It is the natural endpoint, after all, of the privatization craze, of the gospel of tax cuts and of the smaller-government-is-better-government mentality that has been on the ascendancy in the U.S. for nearly 25 years."

Well, isn’t that what people have always wanted in this country?

And by all accounts, shouldn’t we now be living in a Libertarian Paradise?

Like it or not, this is as close to it as we have ever been. And while some would argue that Bush’s America has more in common with Crony Capitalism than it does with Libertarianism (whose ideology, arguably, has been hijacked by the GOP – let’s not forget however that a majority of the Libertarian vote, 72% in 2000, and amazingly, still, more than one year after the invasion of Iraq, again a whopping 59% in 2004, went to George W. Bush), when it comes down to it, the difference between what Crony Capitalism is under this administration and what it would be under a Libertarian system is not, for all practical purposes, all that different in the end-result.

Crony Capitalism is as Crony Capitalism does, and depending on the playing field, it can take the form of close relationships between businessmen and government officials, or, for “the Grover Norquists among us who like their government down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub,” it can - and will - also take, lest we forget, the form of a collusion among market players, ideally, with no “legal” barrier to crack and therefore no government officials to sway (or bribe) one way or another – i.e. a Libertarian paradise, but Crony Capitalism nonetheless.

We are living interesting times, and maybe Ezra Klein has got a point here:

As the old adage goes, when the gods want to punish you, they give you what you want. Conservatives talk a lot about government failure, but over the last few years, it's really we who have failed government, depriving it of the revenue, the conscientious management and the attention needed for it to succeed. Undercapitalize a pizza joint and your customers will taste the poor ingredients, become frustrated by the long waits and grow repulsed by the grimy environs. Staff it with your unmotivated drinking buddies and the service will falter, as will the quality of the product. It's no way to run a pizza place, and it's certainly no way to run a government.

Yet, that's exactly what we've done, Ezra Klein argues:

”With Proposition 13 and the famous California tax revolt, and with presidents whose entire domestic programs amounted to mindless tax-cutting, and with Congresses that have been happy to pass cuts and stack deficits, we have systematically deprived the government of the revenues it needs to provide basic services, even as we've come to need it to do so much more.”

”Is it any surprise that law enforcement is extending a beggar's cup to Philip Morris”

Why. Did Philip Morris even need subsidize the Los Angeles Police Department for that matter, wasn’t Blackwater available? Ah, yes, well maybe not for a mere $50,000. Who knows?

It has been said of Libertarian Utopia (as it has been said of Marxism – there is a bit of an interesting parallel, here) that Libertarianism has never been tried before – which, by the way, is only a half-truth (but this is another topic) – but what we are experiencing today in Bush’s America comes pretty close to it. And the promised picture of exalted libertarian freedom and triumphant individualism is not by far all what it’s cracked up to be in SF novels, except as usual for those who happen to be at the top of the economic pyramid, and who got there, no doubt, on their own strength, and because… they believed in themselves – unlike, I presume, the poor “undeserving” sots at the bottom.

What Libertarians mean by Liberty is ambiguous, at best. And not all Libertarians agree (maybe, as it should be) or as Libertarian David Friedman put it "There may be two libertarians who agree somewhere, but I am not one of them."

The truth is that Libertarianism doesn’t have a monopoly on "Liberty," of course --- I think I would become rapidly distrustful of any party, institution, or ideology, which would claim it does.

And, who doesn’t want Liberty?

Liberty for one’s own self, assuredly.

Things only start getting a bit more confused, when it comes to "liberty" with regard to other. And even more so when it comes to the notion of “liberty for all.” Externalities, you know.

Much of the problem with the concept of freedom revolves around cases where externalities exist. If one of the lessons of the past millennium (compliment of totalitarian regimes) was that externalities created by government could end-up being far worse than the occasional externality produced by the free market, interestingly, one of the first lessons of this new millennium (compliment of Bush and Co) is the exact opposite: externalities created by “free market” can end-up being far worse than the externality produced by government.

Is our children learning?

UC Berkeley economist Brad DeLong once wrote that “sometimes government failures are greater than the market failures for which they purport to compensate. Sometimes they are not.”

The trick, Ezra Klein points out, is knowing which is which..…:

…But if, like the Bush administration, you are blithely unconcerned with running an efficient, effective government, funding its necessary elements, presenting honest choices to the American people between tax cuts and social investment and staffing the whole enterprise with skilled professionals, you never need make those judgments as you have neither the resources nor the personnel to effectively deploy the central organizing structure of modern societies. And that's a shame.

Libertarian humorist P.J. O'Rourke likes to say that "Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it." Over the last few years, that's been true. But government can work, and increasingly, Americans appear to be anticipating its return. A new Pew Research Center poll finds that public support for a societal safety net and for government protections is at its highest levels in more than a decade — which suggests that Americans don't think bake sales are the way to fund their schools or that Philip Morris is really who they want subsidizing law enforcement. And in recent elections, the once popular "Taxpayer's Bill of Rights" amendments that seemed so unstoppable a decade ago are being rejected and, in Colorado, repealed, as voters finally tire of paying the costs in broken infrastructure and insufficient public services.

When asked what type of political system Americans would have, Ben Franklin famously responded, "A republic, if you can keep it." Well, he also bequeathed us a government, if we can run it. And somehow, I don't think the Philip Morris police department is quite what he had in mind.

(Ezra Klein, EZRA KLEIN is a staff writer at the American Prospect. His blog is at

jazzolog said...

There certainly seem to be a number of classicists wandering these blogs...and ending up washed ashore here. Thank you Nausicaa and welcome...although you remind me of another commenter here a while back. In fact both you and Anonymous remind me of a charming California couple I used to know in another Loglife.

I doubt Bush ever read any Ayn Rand, unless a phrase was in a cheer or pledge he had to memorize during his college career. Prose too dense for the poor fellow. Actually I didn't make it but a few pages into Atlas Shrugged before I threw the book against the wall across the room. I've never responded to any writing like that before or since.

When I was a teen, I'd ask Dad for money from time to time. The malt shop beckoned...or maybe for sock hop refreshments. If the answer was no, he'd pull his pockets inside out---revealing the emptiness within---flap them back and forth, and say, "I'm flying the Hoover flag." The saying referred back to the Depression, when my father was a kid, and I guess dumped the blame on President Hoover. Let's see, does "flying the Bush flag" have the same ring to it?

Since posting the Krugman column Monday, it seems everywhere I turned I saw more forecasts of hard times. One such warning came as an email reply from Bob Sheak, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Sociology at Ohio University. Bob's a tremendous resource as a friend because few people I know read as thoroughly and widely as he does. Here's his comment in response to Krugman~~~

"Disturbing article. The new book by Robert Kuttner delves into the reasons for why the financial institutions are undermining the economy. Kuttner blames much of it on the political influence of the neocons and their wholesale policies of deregulation. His analysis is complex and detailed and not easy for me to grasp.I intend to spend time outlining his book. I have the impression, though, that he and Krugman are in agreement, though Kuttner is more of a social democrat than Krugman. The title of Kuttner's book is The Squandering of America: How the Failure of Our Politics Undermines our Prosperity.
"I think it would be interesting to think about how this book, Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine, Jeremy Scahill's Blackwater, and Naomi Wolf's The End of America reveal different aspects of the movement toward the radical right or even fascism and its seeming desire to dominate and/or destroy. This seems what unbridled capitalism unleashes. Marjorie Cohn's small book, Cowboy Republic, reminds us of how lawless the Bush administration has been. While all of this is happening, the conditions for nuclear proliferation ripen, the earth's ecology continues to go to hell, and everything we value is at grave risk. I am glad that there are splendid analysts who are helping us to understand what's happening. Their work helps, at least, to protect us against the lies of the corporate-dominated government and to give us some idea of what the solutions might entail. At the same time, I am not optimistic about the Democrats. The political system, the media, our education system, and how little informed most citizens appear to be, don't inspire a lot of hope. One thing leads to another.

Monday's Athens Messenger carried the Associated Press story about the US debt increasing $1.4 billion a day---or a million dollars a minute. If we were called upon to pay it off, you and I would have to come up with $30,000 for every man, woman, child, and infant in your household. Here's the NY Times version~~~

While you're at The Times, you might check out Paul Krugman's blog in there, and his entry from Monday titled The Big Scam. Fifteen comments so far.

Then there was Bryan Zepp's essay on Sunday, which beat Krugman to the punch. Go Zepp! even if we're on a march to the gallows.

Anonymous said...

Two words come to mind when I remember Atlas Shrugged:


and condescending,

but apparently I'm going against the mainstream here.

There are people who claim that it is the "second most influential book in America, after The Bible."

Mike Huben asked in jest once whether Ayn Rand was a pseudonym of L. Ron Hubbard?

He meant it kiddingly, of course, but he just might have been onto something with that one.

For all of the so-called "rugged individualism" that has come to be associated with libertarianism, it is an interesting fact that it is also among libertarians that regimented organization and "elite" paramilitary guilds (in the vein of Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers) exert the most appeal. Scientology is actually a good example. The Sea Org Staff in downtown LA was quite a sight with all the impeccably white uniforms and plastic construction helmets (Sea Org emblem decals displayed on the front), daggers, blue ascots and white jack boots. And, well, the concept of "OT" has clear and obvious similarities in many ways to that of the "Ubermensch."

Nausicaa said...

There is an Eastern tale that speaks about a very rich magician who had a great many sheep. But at the same time this magician was very mean. He did not want to hire shepherds, nor did he want to erect a fence about the pasture where the sheep were grazing. The sheep consequently often wandered into the forest, fell into ravines and so on, and above all, they ran away, for they knew that the magician wanted their flesh and their skins, and this they did not like.

At last the magician found a remedy. He hypnotized his sheep and suggested to them, first of all, that they were immortal and that no harm was being done to them when they were skinned; that on the contrary, it would be very good for them and even pleasant; secondly he suggested that the magician was a good master who loved his flock so much that he was ready to do anything in the world for them; and in the third place, he suggested that if anything at all were going to happen to them, it was not going to happen just then, at any rate not that day, and therefore they had no need to think about it. Further, the magician suggested to his sheep that they were not sheep at all; to some of them he suggested that they were lions, to some that they were eagles, to some that they were men, to others that they were magicians.

After this all his cares and worries about the sheep came to an end. They never ran away again, but quietly awaited the time when the magician would require their flesh and skins.

This tale is a very good illustration of man’s position.

Nausicaa said...

Particularly if “man” here stands for the disciples of the magician who told this tale, namely, Gurdjieff.


Is our children learning, yet?

jazzolog said...

Undoubtedly one must keep one's wits about when in the presence of magical hypnotics. But then, where are such delightful seductions not present? Is there anyone more lullingly rightwing boring than Henry Kissinger...yet, look at all those chicks on his arm? The spell of consumption is upon us and we cannot be awakened in such a state. Best to learn the intricate maneuverings possible while in trance...not awaiting rescue, but escaping under cover of darkness.

Thanks to Nausicaa for her Profile. Part of her stands by the sea, in case some Ulysses gets washed up. The other handily addresses the world. The maze is good exercise.

Quinty said...

No, I’ve never read Atlas Shrugged. (Though a good movie was made of it, with Gary Cooper I believe.) Nor do I think our president ever did.

Or if he did he didn’t take it all that seriously. He may have enjoyed it, feeling it bolstered his own basic attitudes. And then forgot it. For, after all, there was his own world out there which was so much grander and exciting. Bush is a harnessed playboy, a guy offered a role he couldn’t turn down. (“Gee, just think of it: me, the President of the United States!”)

Is he at all serious? I don’t think so. And Atlas Shrugged at least is a serious book leading the reader into the world of ideas. One which Bush is easily bored with. When he read it, if he did, he was surely more interested in booze and spending the money he had lavishly. Going out and having more fun.

Judging from everything he has said in public it is doubtful he ever had an original or penetrating idea in his life. And he is certainly happy with his role as president. Even if there is a war on and many are dying due to his decisions. And judging from his happiness and unending smiles none of that appears to bother him at all. The Alfred E. Newman simile rightly sticks since he truly does seem to say: “What me worry?”

Nixon, at least, boasted he could make the “hard choices.” Though his notion of what needed to be done was often morbid, to say the least. And LBJ appears to have had a scant understanding of foreign affairs. He was trapped by his mistaken Cold War views of Vietnam and couldn’t face reality. Eventually, though, the disaster he helped cause could no longer be avoided. A tortured man, at least Johnson had the decency to resign. With George, he just keeps on smiling. And loving it. Though he does suffer some pain and shyness when he comes out to face the cameras. Is he afraid someone will call him on his lies?

After all, facing the camera in the bright lights with the American people watching as you are bludgeoned by someone calling you on a lie you’re not clever enough to slip out from under from may not be very pleasant. I wonder if Bush lives with that constant fear?

The modern American right has long antecedents. Our country is the greatest Capitalist emporia which ever existed after all, one which offers the benefit of many myths. And we appear to be reaching a climax in all that.

Whoever comes out on top, the “reality” based or the “faith” based, will determine how we end up. That a man as shallow as George Bush is our president is only one of our tragedies. A very serious and important tragedy. The others are the ones he either ignores or doesn’t seem able to understand. And though many of us grasp the fundamental problems only a few candidates for president are willing to take on the stodginess of the American voter.

Paul said...

Is there any way of going back in to correct your errors?


jazzolog said...

No Paul (who obviously also is Quinty---short for Quintanilla) unfortunately one has to scrutinize one's writing carefully before clicking that Publish button. The only recourse is to ashcan the thing and try again...nor can I go in and edit for you, as at some other sites.

No film has been made of Atlas Shrugged---although I dread to say one is in the works...with Angelina Jolie yet! Perhaps it will bog down most people wish The Fountainhead (1949) had. I presume this is the film Quinty means, with Coop, Patricia Neal and Raymond Massey. Since Rand only agreed to make her book into a movie if the director promised that everything she wrote would make it into the final product, the script is a mess.

If you click to Paul's Profile, you can find a couple other links that tell a bit more about him. He and I shared the same dorm room up in Maine for a while a half century ago. I wrote about it just before I got set up at Blogger, so you have to travel over here to see it.

Anonymous said...

Who cares about Atlas Shrugged, when the sequel is already in the making:

Atlas Shrugged 2: one hour later

I wonder whether Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, who are both great admirers of Ayn Rand, will also star in the sequel. Or could maybe Tom Cruise (Top Gun) or John Travolta (Battlefield Earth) be a better choice?

But seriously folks, Ayn Rand is so passé, you know? The God Father IV, now here is a sequel for you. Picture this: American, European, Latin American, and Asian crime machines and chief executives of many corporations (in Putin’s Russia, the two are nearly undistinguishable) recognize -- and exploit -- the possibilities of the global economy to further weaken the few remaining shackles (if any) that had still been restraining their power to some degree. At the same time, those same economic Titans, those neo-feudal godfathers of the New Libertarian World economy, seizing on economic insecurity and reactionary hyper-nationalistic currents, strengthen their hold on politics and what remains of the few exalted yet futile pesky attempt at “power by and for the people” – all (supreme irony – and that’s the genius of it) in the name of the exalted-individualistic ideal and through the means of populist demagoguery (Italy, Russia, America, Mexico…). I was thinking that in some of the subplots, the democratically elected leaders of some of the new economic blocs could be the ex-directors of the secret services (like the CIA in the USA, or the KGB in Russia – both leaders would be featured and mediatized in their respective country in a pilot flight suite, etc.), but this might be too far-fetched –- it’s important to keep that “suspension of beliefs” working, you know, if you want your movie to remain credible.

And for the tagline of the movie, what about something like:

Masters of the Old World Order meet the new masters of the New World Order.

What do you mean, you can’t tell the difference? Aaah, but you are not wearing your pink colored libertarian glasses, see? They would all be handed to the audience at the entrance of the theatre, like they do 3D glasses for those new digitally enhanced movies they do produce nowadays.

Has anyone seen Beowulf?

It stars Angelina Jolie.....digitally enhanced!

Imagine that. But you don't have to. Go and see it for yourselves.

And don't forget those glasses...

Anonymous said...

The Ayn Rand Institute: The Center for the Advancement of Objectivism (ARI) was established in the United States in 1985, three years after Ayn Rand's death, by Leonard Peikoff, Rand's legal heir.

The Ayn Rand Institute (ARI), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, works to introduce young people to Ayn Rand's novels, to support scholarship and research based on her ideas, and to promote the principles of reason, rational self-interest, individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism to the widest possible audience. (...)
ARI seeks to spearhead a cultural renaissance that will reverse the anti-reason, anti-individualism, anti-freedom, anti-capitalist trends in today's culture. The major battleground in this fight for reason and capitalism is the educational institutions—high schools and, above all, the universities, where students learn the ideas that shape their lives.

I wonder how ARI feels about what use is made of Ayn Rand's legacy by such an organization as AtlasShruggs2000

Oh but wait, we already know the answer to that: Leonard Peikoff, himself told us already in an article which was published as a full page ad in the New York Times:

The choice today is mass death in the United States or mass death in the terrorist nations. Our Commander-In-Chief must decide whether it is his duty to save Americans or the governments who conspire to kill them.
---Leonard Peikoff, "Ends States Who Sponsor Terrorism"

And according to Robert Tracinski, The Road to Victory Goes Through Tehran

The article is dated May 14, 2003, and had I not found it published on ARI, I could have sworn it came straight out from the PNAC .

Is this what they teach now at the Ayn Rand institute?

I wonder how Ayn Rand would have felt about all that?

Quinty said...

"to promote the principles of reason (blind obedience), rational self-interest (me first), individual rights (to hell with everyone else) and laissez-faire capitalism (unbridled corporate power), to the widest possible audience. (...) ARI seeks to spearhead a cultural renaissance that will reverse the anti-reason (questioning authority), anti-individualism (concern for others), anti-freedom (up yours, Jack, I’ve got mine), anti-capitalist trends (such as government regulations and oversight to protect consumers, workers, the environment, etc.) in today's culture.”

Hmmmm, where can I join up?

Anonymous said...

It is actually worse than I thought.

Atlasshruggs2000 is just a heinous racist site full of hatred toward the Arab world and Islam. Very much like Masad2000 to that regard. But I was expecting a little better from the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI). Their positions on Culture and Multiculturalism, Environmentalism and Animal Rights, Racism and Diversity, "Islamic Terrorism," America at War, etc. are just simply beyond belief.

Here is a sample. This is from a piece written by Alex Epstein ("a junior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif.") :

The problem we face today is not our love of oil, but oil-rich dictatorships like Iran and Saudi Arabia...

As the most powerful nation on earth, the United States has many options at its disposal.

One means of ending the Iranian and Saudi threat would be to issue an ultimatum to these regimes: cease all anti-American aggression immediately, or be destroyed. Many, witnessing the Iraqi quagmire, might scoff at this option. But such a course is eminently practical if America's unsurpassed military forces are committed to the task, not of "rebuilding" or "liberating" these states, but of making their inhabitants fear threatening America ever again.

Another means of addressing the threat would be to remove Middle Eastern oil fields from Iranian and Saudi control, put them in the hands of private companies, and then employ surveillance and troops to secure that oil supply. Contrary to popular assumption, Middle Eastern dictatorships have no right to their nationalized oil fields, which should be private property--the property of individuals who work to find and extract the oil.

Still another option might be a comprehensive, all-out embargo by the United States and its allies to starve the leader of the enemy, Iran, until the regime crumbles and the Islamic totalitarians lose their will to fight.

Which policy is best is for military strategists to determine--but our politicians and intellectuals refuse to consider any of these options. Instead, they decry our "addiction to oil," condemn us for not all wanting to drive Priuses, and urge, as penance, that we cut ourselves from the world oil market. Can anyone honestly believe that such asceticism will protect us from attack--given that Saudi Arabia and Iran both actively sponsored terrorism when oil was $10 a barrel?

Why do our leaders eagerly embrace impractical policies that punish Americans, while eschewing practical options that would punish our enemies? Because the practical policies would involve "going to war for oil," "America imposing its will on the rest of the world," upsetting the "international community," and all of today's other foreign policy taboos--i.e., they are branded immoral because they involve American self-assertion.

Our leaders do not believe that America has a moral right to assert itself in self-defense. This is why we engage in self-effacing, appeasing "diplomacy" with easily defeated enemies like Iran and Saudi Arabia. And this is why, when we actually do go to war (after such diplomacy fails), we pull our punches and declare our purpose to be lavishing the good life on hostile foreign peoples.
This senseless sacrifice must stop. It is past time to adopt a foreign policy of self-assertion and self-interest--i.e., a truly moral policy.


I said in an earlier comment that, for all practical purpose, the stuff on this site could have come out straight from the PNAC. I must apologize about that. Mein Kampf seems more like it!!!

Nausicaa said...

Res ipsa loquitur.

Quinty said...

Yes, we’ve heard this kind of rhetoric before. We could always turn a country into a parking lot if only we would take off the gloves. Could we have found enough asphalt to cover Vietnam once it became radioactive? Should we untie our military and crush Iraq? (Never mind they’re supposed to be our friends. Only pansies worry about such matters when the national honor is at stake. Not to mention “our” oil?)

What’s more, we’re fighting “evil” out there. A Manichaean struggle just like the one we had with worldwide Communism. It appears many of our fellow countrymen believe in dark forces out there. And, of course, they accuse the rest of us of being naive or on the side of the enemy if we don’t agree. If fear could be bottled someone or many persons would be quite wealthy. And in their world no one would be the wiser.

The Republicans are sifting through those dark forces now in search of a president. They have quite a field to pick from this year.

Who, in other words, promises to make life the most miserable for gays, Muslims, "illegal" immigrants, women, students, the poor, those lacking health insurance and anyone believing in that selfish religion they recently concocted: Secularism. And let’s not forget the lust for war.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention the deal with Xenu and all those poor people sent to earth 75 million years ago?

Anonymous said...

And what about that Marcab Confederacy? And the insectoid Fifth Invader Force, with their unspeakably horrible hands?

Anonymous said...


My mistake.

That wouldn't be Scientology, now. Not Libertarianism.

Anonymous said...

It does beg the question, though:

Is Objectivism a religion?

Mostly, it is.

It's well-known that in the early Objectivist movement it wasn't very hard to turn an Objectivist into a Scientologist.

Objectivism is not Scientology, but it shares with it some of the stuff of which religious cults are made:

- Set yourself up as an all-knowing guru.
- Write a bible to spread your gospel.
- Target the lost and aimless.
- Tell them they are great but oppressed by their inferiors.
- Scapegoat the so-called "inferiors" and claim they are an imminent threat.

The fact that Rand so fervently believed that religion is the main source of evil, makes this particular development especially ironic.

The scapegoating element explains the rather nasty turn taken of late by the Ayn Rand Institute, or some of the racist sites which it (unknowingly?) inspire, like Atlasshruggs2000.

Over-simplistic ideas combine with the simplistic thinking patterns characteristic of very young children or immature adults — either/or, black-and-white, single cause attributions — to create a world of simple answers. It is the language of propaganda.

Objectivism's misleading opposition between "selfishness" and "altruism" is a rhetorical artifice - and a rather superficial one, at best. Such a split doesn't exist - not in the way in which Ayn Rand's followers are interpreting it, in any case. Objectivists would have us believe that the only two choices are to EITHER live for oneself (narcissism) OR to live for others (what Ayn Rand misdefined as "altruism").

Those are not, of course, one's only two choices - nor could anyone truly be all that white or all that black in the way they behave and interact with each other. Overall, my experience has been that one's interests (as the interests of others) are typically best served when one takes oneself AS WELL AS others into account.

Bertrand Russell called it "enlightened self-interest." He argued that "If men were [truly] activated by self interest, which they are not, except in the case of a few saints," we would all be living in a much better world than we are. While he didn't deny that "there are better things than selfishness, and that some people achieve these things," his point was that "there are few occasions upon which large bodies of men, such as politics is concerned with, can rise above selfishness, while on the other hand there are very great many circumstances in which populations will fall below selfishness, if selfishness is interpreted as enlightened self interest." (Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1950)

Bertrand Russell was one of the people of the post WWII era, who, along with Albert Einstein, were concerned about the future of mankind and thought (prophetically so?) that Humanity was engaged in a race between Intelligence and Death.

Quinty said...

Nice people.

For some reason Ellen and I checked out Masada2000 and guess what? They have this site.

Which includes Ellen's name as well as the names of some Jewish friends of ours. Neither Ellen or I have ever had contact or anything to do with this group.

Now they wouldn't be attempting to intimidate anyone, would they? And a fierce, irrational hate wouldn't be involved in any of this, would it? And, of course, these people aren't religious fanatics, are they?

jazzolog said...

I think Americans are having a shared nightmare. Libertarian, Scientologist, Survivialist, Green-And-Off-The-Grid---I don't care what they are, they're all tossing and turning, tearing their sheets. The difference among these "groups" amounts to the level of disappointment and rage. What more poignant example can we give than the shooter in the megachurch getting plugged by a female security agent who had placed herself in the hands of God to pull the lethal trigger? Isn't this America in a nutshell? How many layers of meaning can we find in this incident? What more could the media do but run their "hero" fanfare? Could anyone ask Why the f--k does a church have a security agent in there? Christ feeding the multitude.

As far as I'm concerned, dear friends, the whole bad dream goes back 50 years when Yanks opted for the consumer tag for ourselves. At bedtime we heard The Story Of Stuff crooned in our ears and off to sleep we went---ignoring the duties of citizenship...and ultimately forgetting all about them. Nay, even worse---coming in the dream no longer even to believe in what a determined group of citizens can accomplish in what's left of this country. In our rage and panic we're being stampeded. C'mon cowboys and cowgirls, we've got to head 'em off before they run right off the cliff!

Quinty said...

Born in 1940, I can still recall FDR’s voice. Loud and clear as it arrived in a relative’s living room at night through a finely carved, dark stained "cathedral" radio. I didn’t really know who it was back then. Or its importance. But I can still remember the voice.

That was a president. I think the American people during Roosevelt’s time were a much more generous people too.

I recall seeing (a few years ago) a filmed interview from that time of some American soldiers who were asked what they planned on doing when they came home after the war. What was astonishing was their complete humility and lack of greed. These men (and there were quite a few) didn’t want to trespass on the rights of others. They didn’t want more than was their fair due. They just wanted a decent life when they came home.

And, of course, they got it, through the GI Bill of Rights. These New and Fair Deal social programs helped build the middleclass here in this country. Those who could have never gone to college did. Opportunities opened. And government programs stimulated the economy.

Now, with the “Reagan revolution,” there are those who want to take all that away. Including Social Security and Medicare. And they quickly condemn any national healthcare system, even those which work well in other countries (ask them if they would ever trade their system for ours), as “Socialism.” No more need be said. Reagan’s ghost must be gleeful when it witnesses all that. His spirit lives.

The tone and manner of those soldiers way back then was very different from the tone and manner of many Americans today. And after the war Europe did indeed move toward Socialism and even toward Communism. Whereas here we only became more defensive of corporate power and of unbridled “free” enterprise.

This didn’t come about overnight. A strain of this form of rapacious Capitalism has existed in our country throughout its history. it has only intensified in recent years as opportunities for greater wealth and exploitation have arrived. And wherever there is an opening for heightened wealth there will always be those ready to leap at it. That’s the nature of Capitalism.

We still have much to learn about the depths of Bush’s corruption. But we already know it has been quite large, in many ways: not just in paying off giant corporate friends with sweetheart deals. But in whole sectors of the economy. Today, at this writing, we await the FCC decision to allow newspapers to buy up local media. This action will lessen democracy and increase corporate profit. It is supposed to happen next week.

Raw Capitalism has deep roots in our country, going back, perhaps, to Hamilton. Now I know this is controversial, but Hamilton, according to some historians, had a most modern American point of view, and helped put the modern corporate world on its contemporary foundations. This is a world founded upon rapacity and greed, one which even found rationalizations to maintain other human beings in slavery. Never mind workers’ most basic rights.

Quinty said...

What's more, it's especially sad when workers don't fight to protect their own self interests.

A recent opinion poll reveals that a large percentage of Americans believe they will someday be rich. That those who are not rich are merely lazy or somehow wanting. And that anyone who tries can "make it." This to them is the American Dream.

Which is why they oppose capital gains taxes, the so-called "death tax," or raising taxes on the rich. And enthusiastically support the values of the top two percent.

Speak of fanciful projections! Is it any wonder when the US goes off to war a majority of Americans will buy the lies of the president? With a love it or leave it attitude? Waving the flag, us against them. Good v. Evil?

Tom Bombadil said...

And speaking of Dreams and… Nightmares, I believe Quinty may be more of a realist on that one, and I’ll have to disagree with Richard on his 5:19 AM assessment on this thread. I do not think that Americans are sharing the same nightmare. Some are actually rejoicing at what has been happening. The difference between the Libertarians and other groups is a major one! Libertarians are not ”all tossing and turning, tearing their sheets.” There are those who do, and to their credit, some of them have been posting on But all of this is a little bit all too convenient, don't you think? I understand the wishful thinking, but who are we trying to fool here, being, as George Buddy does well to remind us ( The Donkey, the Elephant and the Libertarian bull), that ”libertarians normally enjoy voting for Republicans in presidential elections”. As I was also recently reminded here by my good friend Nausicaa, 72% of the Libertarian vote went to George W. Bush in 2000, and AGAIN, in 2004, amazingly, still a whopping 59%, considering it had been more than one year since the invasion of Iraq, to which many Libertarians are supposedly opposed (not all of them, mind you - far from it - if you visit the Ayn Rand Institute, you'll find that there are those who apparently think that we are on the right course and that we should also have invaded Iran to boot).

I understand all the acrobatic back flipping on the part of Libertarians who, besides their usual platform of contesting the legitimacy of "government" (any government - so this is right-up their alley), find it now, and for good reasons, politically expedient to distance themselves from the Bush administration, BUT I believe that they do have a serious credibility issue, here. After all, this is what they wanted (welfare cuts, limitations on corporations' responsibility and on the government's ability to regulate them, Bush's tax cuts, intended not only to encourage "entrepreneurs" but, in Grover Norquist's words, to "starve the beast" and reduce social spending)- they voted for it, willingly and knowingly, and they voted again AFTER the invasion of Iraq (those of them who vote) - and this is what they got. Again, George Buddy's point is a good one ”their impact is rather limited -- especially since their whole fiber and soul is dedicated to the Ludwig von Mises Austrian School of Pure, Unadulterated Capitalism."

Except that their impact is not all that limited, depending on how you look at it, not really, not insofar as the exploitation of their ideology can be seen as DIRECTLY responsible - in great part - for the political situation this country is facing. Their political influence has been as important as the influence of the religious right to that regard. The invisible part of the libertarian iceberg is that it has indeed been serving as the ideological basis for the marketing of the Gingrich/Bush revolution. The GOP has taken the libertarian "Government is Bad" horse and ridden far with it.

What's the matter?

Aren't Libertarians happy anymore with the Libertarian New World Order this administration has been delivering?

As I read recently in a related comment:

"We're creating a free-market libertarian paradise in Iraq... That was Paul Bremer's mission, remember?
.....Welcome to Blackwater Libertarian Paradise, people. Private Military Companies like Blackwater, whether they are hired by governments or by private clients, like communications, petrochemical and insurance companies, and other corporate interests all the world over, are the way of the Libertarian New World Order not just in Iraq, but everywhere, including here at home. Remember, these guys were really the "first responders" when Katrina devastated New Orleans. Of course their mission was not to help the poor dark-skinned people left homeless by the floods, apparently the "Christian thing" to do was to protect the property of the rich whites living on the high ground. First things first."

Good point! Though obviously drooling with sarcasm, sadly, the poster didn't make anything up either; Blueroregon, for instance, reports that according to the platform of the libertarian party of Oregon adopted in convention 5 March 2005, "the government - federal, state, and local - should only be protecting the victims of Katrina from looters and should NOT be helping with relief, rescue, disaster insurance, or evacuation."

So, there you have it, all is well, people. And if George W. Bush could run for a third term, it is a safe bet that he would still find a majority of libertarians to vote for him. Besides, he makes government look bad, and there is nothing a libertarian likes more, now, is there?

jazzolog said...

Our conservative friends like to remind us that we guys pushing 70 don't actually remember FDR's voice, and that we're dupes to romantic nostalia---as usual. We've heard the "fear" soundbyte so many times that we THINK we remember him doing a fireside chat, but we don't. As for me, I remember distincty the radio announcement that he was dead---but probably mostly because of the reactions of my parents.

They also like to point out that Americans weren't those nice, generous GIs with the candy bars. We were naive, not generous. Of course the Americans of that period whom the rightwing admire were busy making trade deals with the Nazis, deals that helped those German captains of industry cruise right through the devastation of their country and emerge richer than ever.

Tom's probably right that Libertarians don't toss and turn all night. They may fret at what the capitalist masters are up to, but they just get up, go to the computer, and research more paranoia. "Global warming is a hoax being perpetrated at Halliburton headquarters up on the top floor of a spire in Dubai. From this paradise of ski resorts in the desert, the rich and insane have figured out how to knock off 80% of the human race. The only way to stop them is to cut off taxes and destroy all government. Ron Paul will save us"---in his few remaining years. (There are no taxes in Dubai, by the way.)

Quinty said...

The chink in the Libertarian argument, it seems to me, is that there are large collective social problems which only government can deal with. The Libertarian approach would leave them all neglected and unsolved. And these problems affect us all.

This doesn’t mean that we have to necessarily “love” big government. It simply means that there is no other large enough sector which can deal with many of our urgent social needs. Certainly not the private sector, which, as we all know, is primarily focussed on profit.

Libertarians love individual freedom. Well, fine. And rugged individualism can be, I suppose, a fine way of life. If that’s what suits you.

Perhaps those who desire to live in the woods, far from any town or neighbors, should be allowed to do so without being disturbed. That is, if any distant woods where a man can completely escape remain today in the United States. But if anyone does sever all ties he should remember this: no taxes/no services. Though it would seem inhumane not to medevac someone with an urgent medical need to a good hospital in the city.

Now if I feel any lack of freedom it’s not because some of my money goes to the government. It’s only taxes, after all. And if taxes are too high then that’s why they should be graduated. Why the poor shouldn’t have to pay any at all and the rich should pay the lion’s share. Should we pity the rich for being rich? Should the reward for becoming rich be a complete break from the rest of society?

And as for the burdens of the rich: how many summer homes, mansions in the city, mountain resorts, private planes, customized private railroad cars, chauffeur driven limos, enormous yachts, births, private islands, European chalets, estates (this is just to get this started) does one have to have?

Let the rich pay high taxes!

What else are they good for? :) :) :)

Quinty said...

Regarding American optimism....

Nightmare Before Christmas
By Bob Herbert
The New York Times

Saturday 22 December 2007

Christmastime is bonus time on Wall Street, and the Gucci set has been blessed with another record harvest.

Forget the turbulence in the financial markets and the subprime debacle. Forget the dark clouds of a possible recession. Bloomberg News tells us that the top securities firms are handing out nearly $38 billion in seasonal bonuses, the highest total ever.

But there's a reason to temper the celebration, if only out of respect for an old friend who's not doing too well. Even as the Wall Streeters are high-fiving and ordering up record shipments of Champagne and caviar, the American dream is on life-support.

I had a conversation the other day with Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. He mentioned a poll of working families that had shown that their belief in that mythical dream that has sustained so many generations for so long is fading faster than sunlight on a December afternoon.

The poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners for the Change to Win labor federation, found that only 16 percent of respondents believed that their children's generation would be better off financially than their own. While some respondents believed that the next generation would fare roughly the same as this one, nearly 50 percent held the exceedingly gloomy view that today's children would be "worse off" when the time comes for them to enter the world of work and raise their own families.

That absence of optimism is positively un-American.

"These are parents who cannot see where the jobs of the future are that will allow their kids to have a better life than they had," said Mr. Stern. "And they're not wrong. That's the problem."

Record bonuses on Wall Street at a time when ordinary working Americans are filled with anxiety about their economic future are signs that the trickle-down phenomenon that was supposed to have benefited everyone never happened.

The rich, boosted by the not-so-invisible hand of the corporate ideologues in government, have done astonishingly well in recent decades, while the rest of the population has tended to tread water economically, or drown.

A study released last month by the Pew Charitable Trusts noted that "for most Americans, seeing that one's children are better off than oneself is the essence of living the American dream." But for the past 40 years, men in their 30s, prime family-raising age, have found it difficult to outdistance their dads economically.

As the Pew study put it: "Earnings of men in their 30s have remained surprisingly flat over the past four decades." Family incomes have improved during that time largely because of the wholesale entrance of women into the work force.

For the very wealthy, of course, it's been a different story. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the after-tax income of the top 1 percent rose 228 percent from 1979 through 2005.

What seems to be happening now is that working Americans, and that includes the middle class, have exhausted much of their capacity to tread water. Wives and mothers are already working. Mortgages have been refinanced and tremendous amounts of home equity drained. And families have taken on debt loads - for cars, for college tuition, for medical treatment - that would buckle the knees of the strongest pack animals.

According to Demos, a policy research group in New York, "American families are using credit cards to bridge the gaps created by stagnant wages and higher costs of living." Americans owe nearly $900 billion on their credit cards.

We're running out of smoke and mirrors. The fundamental problem, the problem that is destroying the dream, is the extreme inequality pounded into the system by the corporate crowd and its handmaidens in government.

As Mr. Stern said: "To me, the issue in America is not a question of wealth or growth, it's a question of distribution."

When such an overwhelming portion of the economic benefits are skewed toward a tiny portion of the population - as has happened in the U.S. over the past few decades - it's impossible for the society as a whole not to suffer.

Americans work extremely hard and are amazingly productive. But without the clout of a strong union movement, and arrayed against the mighty power of the corporations and the federal government, they don't receive even a reasonably fair share of the economic benefits from their hard work or productivity.

Instead of celebrating bonuses this Christmas season, too many American workers are looking with dread toward 2008, worried about their rising levels of debt, or whether they will be able to hang on to a job with few or no benefits or how to tell their kids that they won't be able to help with the cost of college.

It's not the stuff of which dreams are made.

jazzolog said...

We now have enjoyed the magical voodoo of Free Market solutions to mankind's problems for a couple of generations. As usual, the taxpayer must clean up after those guys...whether it's bank collapse or toxic wasteland, somehow taxes become fine for capitalist bailouts. Schools, parks, art, alternate energy incentives? We must be mad to think such things are socially desireable.

I must say capitalism inspires competitive initiative...and socialistic bureaucracy is a constant burden to oversee. I grant them this. However, since the citizenry ends up doing cleanup all the time anyway (in this modern industrialized civilization) we may as well do it all the time. Maintenance rather than crisis-fixing. Hmmm, am I giving a campaign speech or what?

Quinty said...

There's no need to quash the entrepreneurial incentive. Let businessmen be businessmen. Let them earn all the money they want.

Marx's solution to the problem of voracious Capitalism was all wrong. Too forced and unnatural. It ran against human nature. That’s my humble opinion. (I like getting up on that soap box too. Why not? It’s fun up here!)

Though Marx’s analysis of unconstrained greed is as true today as it was in 1840.

And, yes, it has been war ever since.

Unfortunately, history is often left out of the debate. The reasons for government regulation disappear when the regulations work. Those who oppose regulation point out that nothing is wrong. So regulation becomes “intrusive big government.” As if government just had it out for the private sector.

But remove the regulations and the problems return.

No one, so far as I know, is in favor of unnecessary regulations. Claiming that government exerts a gratuitous impulse to regulate is another scam perpetrated by those who would like us to forget history. But who at least intuitively know regulation can constrain their greed. Regulation, after all, prevents industry from polluting our streams. Undoubtedly a burden on some businesses.

Don’t forget what happened when key industries were deregulated. (I lived in California during the Enron scandal. It didn’t break me, but I can still remember the huge increases in my PG & E bills.)

No one, except perhaps some Paleomarxists (I just invented the word) says business can't be creative and aggressive. An either/or argument is simply misleading. Though those so-called “traditional conservatives,” (those who are making such a big fuss today over Huckabee’s religious conservatism today), would like us to think that government is merely wasteful: an enemy of big business. (What? Corporate “welfare” doesn’t go far enough?)

This is just a legacy of the struggle between labor and the so-called Captains of Industry way back in the nineteenth century. Marxism vs. Capitalism. Why that struggle originally began is easily forgotten. The brutal Capitalist greed which inspired a powerful workingclass reaction. Would anyone want to go back to a twelve hour day and child labor in filthy unsafe quarters with locked doors?

In truth there should be no competition between business and government, but business, unchecked, can still be voracious, as Naomi Klein reminds us. Which is why free enterprise unchecked is good for the few but bad for most of us. (“What’s the matter with Kansas?”)

All we say is: don't exploit, don't pollute, don’t destroy our environment. don't sell us shoddy or unsafe goods, don't lie in your advertising, don’t monopolize and price gauge. And please treat your customers and employees properly. You have all the power in the workplace and if you don’t behave decently then government has an obligation to see that you do. For your greed is not more important than the public good, even if you have convinced millions of Americans that it is.

And as for the larger societal problems the private sector can't solve, then out of simple necessity we have to go to government. Not out of a “love” of big government. But because only government can take on these issues.

If the business sector has found a large important social need which it can exploit for profit, such as the need for healthcare, morally they have no right to stand in the way of a larger overall solution, one which helps everyone in need. Since good healthcare is not a frivolous luxury. it is required by everybody. Like clean water, healthy safe food, safe clean air, public schools, safe bridges and roads, etc.

If corporations, in order to protect their profits, stand in the way of providing these basic needs they have to be fought, as John Edwards constantly reminds us. (Though his national healthcare plan doesn’t look too good.) The public need is greater and more important than the private sector’s desire for profit.

But hell, if you invent a better mouse trap. Fine. Go ahead and market it and become rich. Just be sure to also provide a safe work environment and to pay your employees decently. And, yes, we need inspectors who will insure these mouse traps won’t explode in an unwary customer’s face.

My doctor, who I saw a few days ago, told me his foundation, which is nonprofit and run by a university, expects a %40 hit from Medicare next year. Is anyone aware of these upcoming cuts?

Bush and his fellow “fiscal conservatives” have many tricks up their sleeves, and ruining mandated programs is their way of establishing another argument against funding them. Do we want to see Medicare eliminated because “it didn’t work well?” That’s what they will tell us, that Medicare doesn’t work like all “Socialist” programs. “Big government is bad.”

“Trickle down.” Did those who are in favor of it or who oppose it come with that phrase? Either way, it certainly is evocative, and true. It’s just another scam.

The soap box is yours.

jazzolog said...

Let's pass it over to Maureen Dowd, who connects this morning with our Arms Salesman In Chief~~~

The New York Times
January 16, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
Faith, Freedom and Bling in the Middle East
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia

As a Saudi soldier with a gold sword high-stepped in front of him, President Bush walked slowly beside King Abdullah through the shivery gray mist enveloping the kingdom, following the red carpet leading from Air Force One to the airport terminal.

When the two stepped onto the escalator, the president tenderly reached for the king’s hand, in case the older man needed help. He certainly does need help, but not the kind he is prepared to accept.

It took Mr. Bush almost his entire presidency to embrace diplomacy, but now that he’s in the thick of it, or perhaps the thin of it — given his speed-dating approach to statesmanship — he is kissing and holding hands with kings, princes, emirs, sheiks and presidents all over the Arab world and is trying to persuade them that he is not in a monogamous relationship with the Jews.

His message boiled down to: Iran bad, Israel good, Iraq doing better.

Blessed is the peacemaker who comes bearing a $30 billion package of military aid for Israel and a $20 billion package of Humvees and guided bombs for the Arabs.

Like the slick Hollywood guy in “Annie Hall” who has a notion that he wants to turn into a concept and then develop into an idea, W. has resumed his mantra of having a vision that turns into freedom that could develop into global democracy.

W.’s peace train quickly gave way to the warpath, however, with Mr. Bush devoting a good chunk of time to the unfinished war in Iraq and the possibility of a war with Iran.

In meetings with leaders, he privately pooh-poohed the National Intelligence Estimate asserting that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. On Fox News, he openly broke with intelligence analysts, telling Greta Van Susteren about Iran: “I believe they want a weapon, and I believe that they’re trying to gain the know-how as to how to make a weapon under the guise of a civilian nuclear program.”

Less than a week after the president arrived in the Middle East, three violent eruptions — an Israeli raid killing at least 18 Palestinians, 13 of whom were militants; an American Embassy car bombing in Beirut; and a luxury hotel suicide-bombing in Kabul — underscored how Sisyphean a task he has set for himself.

“This is one of the results of the Bush visit,” said Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader, as he went to a Gaza hospital to see the body of his son, a militant killed in the battle. “He encouraged the Israelis to kill our people.”

Arab TV offered an uncomfortable juxtaposition: Al Arabiya running the wretched saga of Gaza children suffering from a lack of food and medicine during the Israeli blockade, blending into the wretched excess scenes of W. being festooned with rapper-level bling from royal hosts flush with gazillions from gouging us on oil.

W.’s 11th-hour bid to save his legacy from being a shattered Iraq — even as the Iraqi defense minister admitted that American troops would be needed to help with internal security until at least 2012 and border defense until at least 2018 — recalled MTV’s “Cribs.”

At a dinner last night in the king’s tentlike retreat, where the 8-foot flat-screen TV in the middle of the room flashed Arab news, the president and his advisers Elliott Abrams and Josh Bolten went native, lounging in floor-length, fur-lined robes, as if they were Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif.

In Abu Dhabi, Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan gave the president — dubbed “the Wolf of the Desert” by a Kuwaiti poet — a gigantic necklace made of gold, diamonds, rubies and emeralds, so gaudy and cumbersome that even the Secret Service agent carrying it seemed nonplussed. Here in Saudi Arabia, the king draped W. with an emerald-and-ruby necklace that could have come from Ali Baba’s cave.

Time’s Massimo Calabresi described the Kuwaiti emir’s residence where W. dined Friday as “crass class”: “Loud paintings of harems and the ruling Sabah clan hang near Louis XVI enameled clocks and candlesticks in the long hallways.”

In Abu Dhabi, the president made a less-than-rousing speech about democracy while staying in the less-than-democratic Emirates Palace hotel’s basketball-court-size Ruler’s Suite — an honor reserved for royalty and W. and denied to Elton John, who is coming later this month to play the Palace.

The president’s grandiose room included a ballroom, in case Mr. Bush wanted to practice the tribal sword dancing he has been rather sheepishly doing with some of his hosts, something between Zorba and Zorro. The $3 billion, seven-star, 84,114-square-foot pink marble hotel — said to be the most expensive ever built — would make Trump blush. It glistens with 64,000 square feet of 22-carat gold leaf, 1,000 chandeliers, 20,000 roses changed every day, 200 fountains, a dome higher than St. Peter’s, an archway larger than the Arc de Triomphe, a beach with white sand shipped in from Algeria and a private heliport. The rooms, scattered with rose petals, range from $1,598 to $12,251.

Puddle jumping through Arabia, the president saw his share of falcons in little leather hoods — presumably not a Gitmo reference — and Arabian stallions, including one retired stud from Texas — presumably not a W. reference. But there was a distinct dearth of wives and dissidents.

It does not bode well for the president’s ability to push the Israelis and Palestinians that he has done so little to push Musharraf on catching Osama, despite our $10 billion endowment, or the Saudis on women’s rights and human rights, even with the $20 billion arms package.

At a press conference last night, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, was asked what the president and king had discussed about human rights.

“About what?” the prince repeated flatly.

“Human rights,” Condi prompted.

“Human rights?” the stately prince pondered, before shimmying out of the question.

Though W. has made the issue of the progress of women in the Middle East a central part of “the freedom agenda” — he had a roundtable over the weekend with Kuwaiti women on democracy and development — he doesn’t seem bothered that 17 years after his father protected the Saudis when Saddam invaded Kuwait, Saudi women still can’t drive or publicly display hair or skin and still get beheaded and lashed because of archaic laws. Neither does the female secretary of state of the United States.

“It’s not allowed for ladies to use the gym,” the Marriott desk clerk told me, an American woman in an American franchise traveling with an American president.

W. was strangely upbeat throughout the trip — “Dates put you in a good mood, right?” he joked to reporters yesterday, specifying that he meant the fruit — even though back home the Republican candidates were running from him and clinging to Reagan.

The Saudi big shots I talked to were intrigued that W. is now more in the sway of Condi than Bombs Away Cheney. They admire his intention about making peace, even though they’re skeptical that he has the time or competence to do it; and they’re sure that the Israelis need more of a shove than a nudge.

They are also dubious about his attempts to demonize and isolate Iran.

“We don’t need America to dictate our enemies to us, especially when it’s our neighbor,” said an insider at the Saudi royal court. The Saudis invited the Iranian president, I’m-a-Dinner-Jacket, to their hajj pilgrimage last month.

Saudis and Palestinians grumbled that they find it hard to listen to the president’s high-flown paeans to democracy when he only acknowledges his brand of democracy. When Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood won elections, W. sought to undermine them. The results of the elections were certainly troubling, but is democratization supposed to be about outcomes?

They also think W.’s plan cancels itself out. The Israelis don’t have to stop settlements if rockets are coming in from Gaza, and Abbas, the Palestinian president, can’t stop rockets from going out of an area he does not control.

The president who described himself at Galilee as “a pilgrim” makes peace sound as easy as three faiths sharing, when history has shown that the hardest thing on earth is three faiths sharing.

Asked by ABC’s Terry Moran what he was thinking when he stood on the site where Jesus performed miracles at the Sea of Galilee, W. replied: “I reflected on the story in the New Testament about the calm and the rough seas, because it was on those very seas that the Lord was in the boat with the disciples, and they were worried about the waves and the wind, and the sea calmed. That’s what I reflected on: the calm you can find in putting your faith in a higher power.”

Clearly, the man believes in miracles.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Here Bush visits the Sea of Galilee with 2 Franciscan friars.

The site is near where Jesus spoke of the Peacemakers as blessed.

Quinty said...

And on the same topic.....

After sending this recent piece by Chris Hedges out I received an email from a friend in Paris, who works for the UN, telling me she completely agrees, and saw the same suffering when she was in Palestine. That it is even worse now....

The End of the Road for George W. Bush
By Chris Hedges

Sunday 13 January 2008

The Gilbert and Sullivan charade of statesmanship played out by George W. Bush and his enabler, Condoleezza Rice, as they wander the Middle East is a fitting end to seven years of misrule. Despots stripped of power are transformed from monsters into buffoons. And this is the metamorphosis that is eating away at the Bush presidency.

Bush stood in Jerusalem, uncomfortable and palpably bored. He mouthed platitudes about a peace settlement that mocked the humanitarian crisis he aided and abetted in Gaza, the rapacious land grab by Israel in the West Bank and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The diminished George Bush, increasingly irrelevant at home and abroad, is fading into insignificance. A year from now one half expects to see him stand up at the next president's inauguration and screech "I'm melting! I'm melting!" as he sinks into a puddle of slime. He will return, I expect, to his ranch, where he will be able to spend the rest of his life doing the only task for which he has shown any aptitude - cutting down brush with a chain saw.

He may yet rise again to torment us with an attack on Iran, condemning more innocents to slaughter. He and his cigar-smoking soul mate Ehud Olmert would like to go out with one more flash of mayhem and violence. But even this will not ultimately save him. Bush will soon be reduced to the cipher he once was, left to spend the rest of his life trying to salvage a legacy of shame and deceit. In a just world he would be put on trial, if not by the International Criminal Court of Justice then by the U.S. Congress. He would be forced to face up to his lies and wars of aggression. But the moral rot that infects the nation has seeped into the bowels of the legislative as well as the executive branch.

World leaders, including those whom Bush desperately wants to intimidate, now dismiss him. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said a few days ago that relations with the United States are of "no benefit to the Iranian nation. The day such relations are of benefit, I will be the first one to approve of that."

Bush will have flown from Israel to Palestine to Kuwait to Bahrain to the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia to Egypt in search of a legacy, one that he hopes will lift up his name in history. But, isolated and deluded, he has yet to grasp that he and the United States are reviled and detested for our violence, arrogance and greed. The bands played on the tarmac. He was toasted at state dinners. But even our allies, including Kuwait and Egypt, know Bush is a danger to himself and others.

He publicly displayed his inability to connect rhetoric with reality. He promised peace and cooperation, a new era, a Palestinian homeland. He promised solutions that will arise from negotiations that do not exist. Negotiations, in his eyes, are always about to begin. They were about to begin a year ago. They were about to begin with Annapolis. They are about to begin now. The messy issues between the Israelis and Palestinians that he and his administration have never attempted to address - the borders, the expanding Jewish settlements and outposts, the plight of Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem - will all be seamlessly solved ... one day. But the brutal reality of the Israeli occupation barrels forward. The Jewish settlements and outposts continue to be expanded. The crisis in Gaza, with the cuts in fuel and electricity, the deadly army incursions and airstrikes, has turned the world's largest walled prison into a swamp of human misery. And huge new settlements, like Har Homa, continue to rise up on Palestinian soil.

When Bush met with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah he blithely defended the patchwork of Israeli roadblocks that have turned the West Bank into a series of ringed Palestinian ghettos. The roadblocks, he told Abbas, are necessary for Israeli security. He announced that the 1949 Green Line, the borders established by the United Nations, would never be restored. There would be no discussion, he said, of the status of Jerusalem. And the plight of Palestinian refugees would be solved by setting up an international fund, meaning, of course, that none would ever return. In short, he offered an unequivocal endorsement of right-wing Israeli policy with not a murmur of dissent. And the Palestinians can either have it rammed down their throat or rot. Bush will be back, he has promised, in May to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish state. Olmert, no doubt, will again be fulsome in his praise, which is probably what Bush's trip to the Middle East is, at its core, really about. Bush desperately wants someone to pretend with him that he is an agent for peace and statesmanship. Olmert, who knows the callow American leader will give him everything he desires, is happy to oblige.

But as Bush basks in the glow of his own fantasy, the suffering in Gaza, one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters, along with the savage occupation of Iraq, continues to fuel widespread anger and rage. Bush has spent his time in office bolstering the Middle East's most despotic regimes, including that of Gen. Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. He approved a $20-billion arms package for these states. He has backed efforts to crush mainstream Islamic groups that have electoral legitimacy and popular support. He has stood by as these regimes have stifled democratic dissent, and he has, with Israeli encouragement, isolated governments, even friendly governments, in the Middle East that raised feeble protests. But his day is past. There is open revolt. Opinion polls show that two-thirds of Palestinians, and three-fourths of Israelis, do not believe Bush can affect events in the Palestinian territories.

The agenda of the Bush White House is exposed as irrelevant, myopic and counterproductive. Most Arab countries are in open defiance of Washington and are actively reaching out to Iran.

"As long as they [Iran] have no nuclear program ... why should we isolate Iran? Why punish Iran now?" Arab League Secretary-General Abu Moussa told The Washington Post.

The chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, is in Iran for talks. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended December's Gulf Cooperation Council summit. The Iranian president attended the just-completed hajj in Mecca at the invitation of the Saudi monarch, King Abdullah. Tehran is exploring the resumption of diplomatic ties with Egypt, cut since the 1979 revolution, and has offered to cooperate with Cairo in the production of nuclear energy. And the Syrian and Lebanese governments have ignored Washington's warnings to sever ties with Hezbollah and Hamas.

It is the end of the road for George Bush. The world takes less and less notice of him. He strutted and swaggered across the stage. He bellowed and raged. He plundered and murdered. And now he wants to be anointed as a peacemaker. His presidency, like his life, has been a tragic waste. But he at least he has a life. There are tens of thousands of mute graves in Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan that stand as stark testaments to his true legacy. If he wants to redeem his time in office he should kneel before one and ask for forgiveness.


Chris Hedges, the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times and author most recently of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, can be found every other Monday on Truthdig.

jazzolog said...

A Lexicon of Disappointment
By Naomi Klein
This article appeared in the May 4, 2009 edition of The Nation.
April 15, 2009

All is not well in Obamafanland. It's not clear exactly what accounts for the change of mood. Maybe it was the rancid smell emanating from Treasury's latest bank bailout. Or the news that the president's chief economic adviser, Larry Summers, earned millions from the very Wall Street banks and hedge funds he is protecting from reregulation now. Or perhaps it began earlier, with Obama's silence during Israel's Gaza attack.

Whatever the last straw, a growing number of Obama enthusiasts are starting to entertain the possibility that their man is not, in fact, going to save the world if we all just hope really hard.

This is a good thing. If the superfan culture that brought Obama to power is going to transform itself into an independent political movement, one fierce enough to produce programs capable of meeting the current crises, we are all going to have to stop hoping and start demanding.

The first stage, however, is to understand fully the awkward in-between space in which many US progressive movements find themselves. To do that, we need a new language, one specific to the Obama moment. Here is a start.

Hopeover. Like a hangover, a hopeover comes from having overindulged in something that felt good at the time but wasn't really all that healthy, leading to feelings of remorse, even shame. It's the political equivalent of the crash after a sugar high. Sample sentence: "When I listened to Obama's economic speech my heart soared. But then, when I tried to tell a friend about his plans for the millions of layoffs and foreclosures, I found myself saying nothing at all. I've got a serious hopeover."

Hoper coaster. Like a roller coaster, the hoper coaster describes the intense emotional peaks and valleys of the Obama era, the veering between joy at having a president who supports safe-sex education and despondency that single-payer healthcare is off the table at the very moment when it could actually become a reality. Sample sentence: "I was so psyched when Obama said he is closing Guantánamo. But now they are fighting like mad to make sure the prisoners in Bagram have no legal rights at all. Stop this hoper coaster--I want to get off!"

Hopesick. Like the homesick, hopesick individuals are intensely nostalgic. They miss the rush of optimism from the campaign trail and are forever trying to recapture that warm, hopey feeling--usually by exaggerating the significance of relatively minor acts of Obama decency. Sample sentences: "I was feeling really hopesick about the escalation in Afghanistan, but then I watched a YouTube video of Michelle in her organic garden and it felt like inauguration day all over again. A few hours later, when I heard that the Obama administration was boycotting a major UN racism conference, the hopesickness came back hard. So I watched slideshows of Michelle wearing clothes made by ethnically diverse independent fashion designers, and that sort of helped."

Hope fiend. With hope receding, the hope fiend, like the dope fiend, goes into serious withdrawal, willing to do anything to chase the buzz. (Closely related to hopesickness but more severe, usually affecting middle-aged males.) Sample sentence: "Joe told me he actually believes Obama deliberately brought in Summers so that he would blow the bailout, and then Obama would have the excuse he needs to do what he really wants: nationalize the banks and turn them into credit unions. What a hope fiend!"

Hopebreak. Like the heartbroken lover, the hopebroken Obama-ite is not mad but terribly sad. She projected messianic powers onto Obama and is now inconsolable in her disappointment. Sample sentence: "I really believed Obama would finally force us to confront the legacy of slavery in this country and start a serious national conversation about race. But now he never seems to mention race, and he's using twisted legal arguments to keep us from even confronting the crimes of the Bush years. Every time I hear him say 'move forward,' I'm hopebroken all over again."

Hopelash. Like a backlash, hopelash is a 180-degree reversal of everything Obama-related. Sufferers were once Obama's most passionate evangelists. Now they are his angriest critics. Sample sentence: "At least with Bush everyone knew he was an asshole. Now we've got the same wars, the same lawless prisons, the same Washington corruption, but everyone is cheering like Stepford wives. It's time for a full-on hopelash."

In trying to name these various hope-related ailments, I found myself wondering what the late Studs Terkel would have said about our collective hopeover. He surely would have urged us not to give in to despair. I reached for one of his last books, Hope Dies Last. I didn't have to read long. The book opens with the words: "Hope has never trickled down. It has always sprung up."

And that pretty much says it all. Hope was a fine slogan when rooting for a long-shot presidential candidate. But as a posture toward the president of the most powerful nation on earth, it is dangerously deferential. The task as we move forward (as Obama likes to say) is not to abandon hope but to find more appropriate homes for it--in the factories, neighborhoods and schools where tactics like sit-ins, squats and occupations are seeing a resurgence.

Political scientist Sam Gindin wrote recently that the labor movement can do more than protect the status quo. It can demand, for instance, that shuttered auto plants be converted into green-future factories, capable of producing mass-transit vehicles and technology for a renewable energy system. "Being realistic means taking hope out of speeches," he wrote, "and putting it in the hands of workers."

Which brings me to the final entry in the lexicon.

Hoperoots. Sample sentence: "It's time to stop waiting for hope to be handed down, and start pushing it up, from the hoperoots"

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