Sunday, March 15, 2009

Will Shame Save Us?

Bernie Madoff celebrating New Year’s Eve aboard the yacht of his closest friend and mentor, Norman Levy, who died in 2005, and whose fortune Madoff recently appropriated...courtesy of the lady with the camera. By Carmen Dell’Orefice.
Zen is like looking for the spectacles that are sitting on your nose.
---D.T. Suzuki
You cannot avoid paradise. You can only avoid seeing it.
---Charlotte Joko Beck
Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery.
---Annie Dillard
I've spent the 50 days since the Obama inauguration uncharacteristically silent. A mixture of exhaustion and relief took me into a vacation. Also I wanted to see what happens. I never thought of our new President as a progressive or radical, so I didn't have expectation of that kind of change. Nor was it a surprise to hear him say he wants to look forward rather than launch investigations into the last 8 or 18 or 28 years. I thought that was pretty good political judgment. If there's been indictable wrongdoing, there are other groups to look into that. The Justice Department is available, but we know what's become of the Supreme Court.
I have been alert to the rantings of the fundamentalist right, but it should be clear to everyone the loud ones among the bunch are set on self-destruct. Let them do what they have to do. There are quiet, unassuming fundamentalists who have been friendly all along, but not really welcoming to conversation about basic issues. It seems still too early to test those waters. More moderate Republicans have surprised me with their resistance to cooperate and complaints there still isn't enough bipartisanship. I'm disappointed, but I guess those are the rules of the game.
Ah, but there's the word. Game. This week has stirred me awake again. The players have begun to hit the fan. The vast American public has begun to stir...and a rumbling of rage is faint but strong. Mr. Madoff... Could Dickens have made up a better name for this guy? Mr. Madoff was led away in chains, but not before he expressed shame about bilking his friends and trusting investors. Bankers and players love that word "trust." "Security" is another word they like. Security exchange. The phrase reeks of ethics. Yes, Bernie expressed shame...although we know in his heart of hearts he sees himself a hero, sacrificing himself for family. I await some physician report that announces he has a rare condition and only a week to live.
Then we had Cramer vs. Stewart. I saw that hedge fund clown on CNBC only once, while munching a Big n' Tasty at McDonalds. I'm not into TV much anymore, but he looked like a hundred other frantic personalities on the tube who fill our homes with indignity. So Jon Stewart decided to finger him as a real bad guy, and Thursday night brought him on the Daily Show. It really was wonderful---and yes, Cramer too feels shame. He knew all along...but being a good team player---as all American boys are taught to be---he rolled up his sleeves and gave the game his best shot. Surely you know the video is all over the Internet, but you might check The Daily Show's site, and hope Jon's profanity is left in. Bloggers also are trying to build their own transcripts of the thing, for most of the world that can't afford broadband.
Also this week Jim Hightower mustered up some of the sharp rhetoric he used to share with Molly Ivins down in Lone Star country. He takes on that cute NY Times columnist David Brooks, who's been so saddened by the thought the plutocracy might be under scrutiny. Here's a taste of Jim's column this week~~~
"Yet, Brooks and his political brethren are now bemoaning the plight of the plutocrats, assailing the 'redistributionists' who talk of spreading America's wealth. In his column, Brooks cried out for a conservative vision of 'a nation in which we're all in it together — in which burdens are shared broadly, rather than simply inflicted on a small minority.'
"Do we look like we have suckerwrappers around our heads? Where were these tender-hearted champions of sharing throughout the last 30 years, when that same 'small minority' was absolutely giddy with redistributionist fervor — redistributing upward, that is?
"With the full support of their political hirelings from both parties, this minority created tax dodges, trade scams, corporate subsidies, deregulation fantasies, financial hustles, de-unionization schemes, bankruptcy loopholes and other mechanisms that turned government into a redistributionist bulldozer, shoving wealth from the workaday majority into their own pockets.
"Brooks might have missed this 30-year class war, but most folks have been right in the thick of it and are not the least bit squeamish about supporting a national effort to right those wrongs. After all, even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over — and being kicked."
Thirty years. How well I remember the coronation ceremonies for Reagan's 2nd term. The main ball was on television, with King Ronnie and his queen enthroned upstage...and MC Frank Sinatra, avenging himself and his cronies against Kennedy's snubbing of them, shouting out, "It's FOUR more years of PARTY!" And partytime it has been...with no cleanup the next morning. Until now. Ironically CNBC is owned, I understand, by General Electric, the company that picked up Reagan's dead movie career and turned him into its TV spokesperson. How much power was generated by and to GE through his political career has yet to be seen fully...but it's come full circle now. "Progress is our most important product."
Let's not forget Iraq. Today's Washington Post has a book review of sorts by Philip Bennett of a number of volumes just published about the different views of the occupation. They depend on whether you're here or over there. And if you're over there, whether you're a Yank or an Iraqi. What have the Iraqis gone through and what do they think?
"Today, Iraqis are the anonymous authors of their own history. As the U.S. withdraws, the course of 'Iraqification' will depend partly on how Iraqis reveal and resolve their own versions of the last six years. American journalists should once again take up the mission of reporting their stories as increasing security makes that possible. Public interest in these stories may have disappeared, but their importance hasn't. The lessons of the Iraq war, including making 'the people the prize,' are now migrating under Petraeus's command to Afghanistan, another country of strangers."
The photo of Madoff is from the April issue of Vanity Fair, which features a huge artice about the man, his connections, and the friends he betrayed. To introduce the issue, editor Graydon Carter creates a striking image of America right now~~~
"As far as the global economic crisis goes, part of me thinks the U.S. has gone off a cliff pretty much the way Wile E. Coyote does in the Road Runner cartoons. He doesn’t drop immediately; he’s suspended in midair. He knows he shouldn’t be out there, but he’s not plunging! Filled with hope, he begins to gingerly tiptoe his way back to the ledge. He’s almost made it—he’s not going to fall! And then, with a puff of dust, he’s gone, plummeting far, far down into the canyon. As a nation, we might just be in the tiptoeing stage: we know we’ve screwed up big-time, but we’re praying that we can get back to the ledge before gravity takes over."
Will shame be enough? Do we all feel it, share it? What is the current spiritual state of the country? You probably are aware of the survey published last week that shows the fastest growing religious choice in the country is None. That category of belief now is 15%, up from 8% in 1990. This makes "None" the biggest congregation in this nation, outside of Baptists and Catholics. Who do you trust? Organized religion? Banks, doctors, school administrators? Oh well, I still sing in the church choir---so I gotta go.


Quinty said...

Glad to see you’re back.

Maybe we can take advantage of this moment of sobriety and lay down the road rules speculators, bankers and the like will have to play by once again. We’ve done this all before and thanks to Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan (and many others) all that regulation was gradually torn down in the name of “freedom.”

As for the future, because we know we will all eventually forget why we ever set those regulations up in the first place, we should keep Guantanamo open where every five year top banking and financial executives would be forced to spend a month. Where they would have to write ten thousand times on the blackboard: “Greed is not good and I will not steal.” They will enjoy all the benefits the current lodgers now enjoy, the good food, healthy sun, exercise and conviviality apologists for Guantanamo claim.

And why do we have to keep Guantanamo open? Because greed does not go away, and if we forget, once again, why the regulations and rules exist the floodgates of go go speculation and accompanying economic bubbles will open once again.

An old interview with Milton Friedman occurred today on CSPAN. Friedman merrily went about branding everyone who believes in government programs “socialists,” J K Galbraith, even Bill Clinton - yes, Bill Clinton - while admitting he took public scholarship money to go through Rutgers. That he wouldn’t have been able to go to college without this assistance. So why didn’t Brian Lamb ask him if he thought this provision of public money was “socialism?” For, after all, someone’s freedom had to be violated by taxing his hard earned money in order to provide this scholarship money.

Madoff would have been caught if the SEC had been vigilant. But what do you do with these New Deal government agencies to quietly brush them off the stage? Underfund them and put someone in charge who doesn’t believe in the agency’s mission. Who, in fact, is a close friend of the industry he is required to regulate. And then blame the agency itself for its failure. But we all know that.

jazzolog said...

It's taken a bit too long for my sense of debate, but at last some rebuttal has appeared to Cheney's incredible remarks on CNN last Sunday. I still haven't seen anybody address his assertion that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction still are out there somewhere, but Guantanamo and the Endless War On Terrorism are getting some attention.

Look, I understand that when the cops are closing in, everybody in the gang sticks to the same story---no matter how hot the interrogation gets. I was raised on radio too, Mr. Vice President. I also understand this bunch made a hell of a lot of money on the caper, and where it might have been illegal laws were changed, statements were written, and privileges claimed. The looting of the Treasury complete, this administration was a total success! But outside their undisclosed locations, the rest of the world has grumbled, suffered, died, grieved, and now begins to roar and shout.

The current President of the United States will answer Cheney's insinuation on 60 Minutes tonight that Obama isn't interested in protecting the country~~~

"'How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney?' Obama asks. 'It hasn't made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment.'",0,1341738.story

A more heated argument with Cheney and an attack on the very existence of "detention centers" was made Tuesday, by Lawrence Wilkerson, who was Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff~~~

"Recently, in an attempt to mask some of these failings and to exacerbate and make even more difficult the challenge to the new Obama administration, former Vice President Cheney gave an interview from his home in McLean, Virginia. The interview was almost mystifying in its twisted logic and terrifying in its fear-mongering.

"As to twisted logic: 'Cheney said at least 61 of the inmates who were released from Guantanamo (sic) during the Bush administration...have gone back into the business of being terrorists.' So, the fact that the Bush administration was so incompetent that it released 61 terrorists, is a valid criticism of the Obama administration? Or was this supposed to be an indication of what percentage of the still-detained men would likely turn to terrorism if released in future? Or was this a revelation that men kept in detention such as those at GITMO--even innocent men--would become terrorists if released because of the harsh treatment meted out to them at GITMO? Seven years in jail as an innocent man might do that for me. Hard to tell.

"As for the fear-mongering: 'When we get people who are more interested in reading the rights to an Al Qaeda (sic) terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry,' Cheney said. Who in the Obama administration has insisted on reading any al-Qa'ida terrorist his rights? More to the point, who in that administration is not interested in protecting the United States--a clear implication of Cheney's remarks.

"But far worse is the unmistakable stoking of the 20 million listeners of Rush Limbaugh, half of whom we could label, judiciously, as half-baked nuts. Such remarks as those of the former vice president's are like waving a red flag in front of an incensed bull. And Cheney of course knows that."

PS Maureen Dowd this morning likes the way Michelle Obama is ordering Barack into weed duty in the new garden. She wonders why the President isn't as forceful with the Wall Street Fat Cats.

Quinty said...

Listen to the Creatures of the Night. How sweetly they sing - to paraphrase Count Dracula.

Let's hope the AIG anger is channeled into correcting the abuses which created the AIG mess in the first place. For to do so will require popping a lot of American myths - the holy writ lasting over from the Reagan age. Which finds strength in that it appeal to our baser natures. The Creatures of the Night will not go down silently.

Quinty said...

And will Obama genuinely want to do it? If Krugman and Obama's critics are right it doesn't appear as if Obama is willing to push off in a new direction - or, rather the old one: the one Progressives and New Dealers laid in to prevent corporate abuse.

The size of the current bubble is a compelling argument to do so. Will Obama take advantage of the collapse to prescribe the right medicine?

Quinty said...

The natives are getting restless.....

Have you seen that Michele Bachmann is calling for a Jeffersonian replenishment of the Tree of Liberty with the blood of patriots? (That most certainly truly being manure.) And if you have been listening to the Creatures of the Night on talk radio there are calls for all the good citizens of these states to converge on Washington in a might protest. To prevent the surge toward Socialism Obama promises us.

These folks have fanned their own paranoia into a flame and sound quite serious. Perhaps the bluster will merely emptily pop. But this is the kind of talk which encourages certain characters into drastic action. I'm sure the FBI, law enforcement, and the Secret Service are aware.

jazzolog said...

I don't watch much TV as we need satellite out here and we just haven't gotten around to it. But Friday night we were in a motel in Asheville, North Carolina, and happened to tune in MSNBC. There was Keith Olbermann giving up a hunk of his show to this wild Bachmann woman. Is she courting Sean Hannity? Poor Sean reports from exile now, having lost his election and been disposed of as he would do unto us (in his own perfect mind of course). But Michele is even further out: it's time for revolution! She doesn't just want him to fail: she wants to pull out his fingernails personally. Jab him with needles, and apply the electric connectors to his brain and privates.

Keith wonders if there might not be some constitutional restraint against people like this. He wonders where the mainstream Repubs might be to gag the rightwing base a bit. Surely they'd be after the Dems to shut up some nutcase, were the shoe on the other foot. Hmmm, maybe it's time the Hannity/Bachmann show got some shoes thrown at them!

Quinty said...

Problem is, many a nutcase is drawn toward the Republican Party nowadays.

On the left the distinctions were clear. Commies would never be Dems. Socialists, democratic or otherwise, comprised their own party. Sometimes they found common cause with the Dems, such as on Jim Crow. Etc. But let’s not forget those on the far left often saw liberalism as a sell-out.

Perhaps because the weight of gravity today forces all the serious players toward one side or the other everyone (unless a stalwart purist) drifts toward either the Dems or Repubs. (Though the Dems are showing far more independence from Obama than the Repubs ever showed with Bush.) And those on the sidelines have become mere “fringers.” Which may not be giddy as it sounds, since we live in giddy, uncertain times. (Thanks much to Bush.)

The Repubs have become the nesting ground for all the Islamophobes, homophobes, End of Timers, Greed is Gooders, Bomb the hell out themers, Guns are Greaters, Fascisters, and Whatnuters.

Whereas the left on the Dem Party is in open rebellion today claiming Obama is about to solidify the Corporate Imperium. While on the basic, run of the mill right we are told Obama is on the verge of Socializing the entire nation, destroying free enterprise. Quashing all your freedoms as the Founders saw them, which was, of course, long before slavery became taboo. But never mind.

But Stop! That Obama may be in the middle of this does not make him right. Aristotle, let’s not forget (I think I learned this at Bates) never claimed the exact center is the “golden mean.” That the truth can be way over on one side or on the other. In other words, finding the center doesn’t let us off the hook: we still have to think and see. (I do believe the Dems are better at that than the right.)

Is Obama right? Beats me. I really don’t know.

The administration is about to regulate the financial markets. That should tell us a lot. Who’s right. If Obama is serious about constraining greed and future exploitive bubbles or not? If, as the left claims, he is merely propping up the moneyed class once again at our expense. Would he be that crass? I do think he contemplated his legacy long before taking office, and merely buttressing greed would be below him. He would like to be remembered for doing something good. Why not?

As for the Republican argument, forget it. They don’t have a clue. Let the rich, they tell us, solve all our problems: they must know how, after all they became rich. (Or inherited it.) The market is in tune with the stars, the music of the spheres, and can never go wrong. Except when it does.

jazzolog said...

Quinty's comment is a remarkable coincidence, since I rarely think of Aristotle (which I suppose some would say is precisely what's wrong with me) but I thought of Aristotle again today, as I read the feature article in The New York Times Magazine on Freeman Dyson. You've probably heard of him but may need a reminder of who he is and what he's done. In his 80s, this eminent mathematician/physicist without a Phd, this "Obama-loving, Bush-loathing liberal who has spent his life opposing American wars and fighting for the protection of natural resources" has no worries about global warming and thinks climatologist James Hansen, who advised Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," exaggerates. "Coal, Dyson says, contains 'real pollutants' like soot, sulphur and nitrogen oxides, 'really nasty stuff that makes people sick and looks ugly.' These are 'rightly considered a moral evil,' he says, but they 'can be reduced to low levels by scrubbers at an affordable cost.' He says Hansen 'exploits' the toxic elements of burning coal as a way of condemning the carbon dioxide it releases, 'which cannot be reduced at an affordable cost, but does not do any substantial harm.'" To be rid of too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, Dyson favors developing genetically altered trees that gobble up more of it. If you're getting hot under the collar yourself just now, rest assured no one disagrees with him more on this topic than his wife of over 50 years, Imme Dyson. This fascinating article, by Nicholas Dawidoff, concludes in a dialogue between the two of them upon watching once again Al Gore's film~~~

~~~ evening last month they sat down in a living room filled with Imme’s running trophies and photographs of their children to watch “An Inconvenient Truth” again. There was a print of Einstein above the television. And then there was Al Gore below him, telling of the late Roger Revelle, a Harvard scientist who first alerted the undergraduate Gore to how severe the climate’s problems would become. Gore warned of the melting snows of Kilimanjaro, the vanishing glaciers of Peru and “off the charts” carbon levels in the air. “The so-called skeptics” say this “seems perfectly O.K.,” Gore said, and Imme looked at her husband. She is even slighter than he is, a pretty wood sprite in running shoes. “How far do you allow the oceans to rise before you say, This is no good?” she asked Dyson.
“When I see clear evidence of harm,” he said.

“Then it’s too late,” she replied. “Shouldn’t we not add to what nature’s doing?”

“The costs of what Gore tells us to do would be extremely large,” Dyson said. “By restricting CO2 you make life more expensive and hurt the poor. I’m concerned about the Chinese.”

“They’re the biggest polluters,” Imme replied.

“They’re also changing their standard of living the most, going from poor to middle class. To me that’s very precious.”

The film continued with Gore predicting violent hurricanes, typhoons and tornados. “How in God’s name could that happen here?” Gore said, talking about Hurricane Katrina. “Nature’s been going crazy.”

“That is of course just nonsense,” Dyson said calmly. “With Katrina, all the damage was due to the fact that nobody had taken the trouble to build adequate dikes. To point to Katrina and make any clear connection to global warming is very misleading.”

Now came Arctic scenes, with Gore telling of disappearing ice, drunken trees and drowning polar bears. “Most of the time in history the Arctic has been free of ice,” Dyson said. “A year ago when we went to Greenland where warming is the strongest, the people loved it.”

“They were so proud,” Imme agreed. “They could grow their own cabbage.”

The film ended. “I think Gore does a brilliant job,” Dyson said. “For most people I’d think this would be quite effective. But I knew Roger Revelle. He was definitely a skeptic. He’s not alive to defend himself.”

“All my friends say how smart and farsighted Al Gore is,” she said.

“He certainly is a good preacher,” Dyson replied. “Forty years ago it was fashionable to worry about the coming ice age. Better to attack the real problems like the extinction of species and overfishing. There are so many practical measures we could take.”

“I’m still perfectly happy if you buy me a Prius!” Imme said.

“It’s toys for the rich,” her husband smiled, and then they were arguing about windmills.

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!